Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Honoring James Cone, founder of Black Theology

Photo credit: Union Theological Seminary

The Rev. James Cone, founder of black liberation theology, died Saturday morning, according to Union Theological Seminary.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Cone, an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Seminary in New York City. His groundbreaking 1969 book, Black Theology and Black Power, revolutionized the way the public understood the unique qualities of the black church.

Cone was a native of Fordyce, Ark., and received master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University.

We would like to hear how Cone influenced you. We invite you to share 200- to 250-word tributes on UrbanFaith.com. Send your tribute with your first and last names, city, state, and church affiliation (if desired) to [email protected]

 

 

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

Africa on the Rise: Meet This Generation’s African Artists

For a while the most popular literature and television programming about black people captured no sense of African consciousness. We’ve been far removed from The Cosby Show which introduced many of my generation to Miriam Makeba or A Different World which introduced us to divesting from businesses that supported apartheid in South Africa. Those shows and others of the late 80s to early 90s taught my generation that we don’t only have a history in Africa but our actions affect our present and future connection with the continent. But since then we have slipped out of the realm of cultivating such an understanding of our connection to the continent. For the last decade or so, television programming about black people has been driven by self-interestedness over communal values. There has been nothing to remind us of our descendants and ancestors. On the literary front, we were also hard-pressed to get beyond the Zanes and the Steve Harveys of the world. But recently there has been an uprising of African narratives from African-born writers and creators that is breathing a breath of fresh air on literature and on-air/online programming.

We see its presence in the work of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie author of the novel “Americanah” which tells the story Ifemelu, a young woman who journeys from Nigeria to America and back again. It is primarily a love story but it also acknowledges the cultural differences between American black people and non-American black people. Ifemelu captures and critiques these differences on her blog and Adichie uses Ifemelu’s blog posts to break up the narrative arc of the book. Though these blog posts are the work of a fictional character they resonate as fact among African and African American alike. Adichie also has Ifemelu return to Nigeria where she comes to grips with the ways that America has changed her and also the ways in which Nigeria in particular and Africa in general will always be a home to her despite the ways in which she has fallen out of love with it. African-American readers of “Americanah” are forced to take a look at the ways in which American culture influences their perceptions of African people and question the relational disconnect between American and non-American blacks. “Americanah” is at the top of many books lists and is rumored to be optioned for a screenplay starring Luptia Nyong’o as Ifemelu. Adichie’s earlier novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which tells the story of the effects of the Nigerian-Biafran War through the eyes of five different characters, is now a full-length feature film and is currently being screened in major cities. The film features an all-star cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, and Anika Noni Rose.

Teju Cole is also a part of Africa’s uprising in American literature. Nigerian-American Cole was born in the US, raised in Nigeria until the age of 17 and came back to the states. A Distinguised Writer in Residence at Bard College and a regular writer for publications such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, he recently released his novel “Every Day is for the Thief” in the US–it was published in Nigeria in 2007. The novel tells the story of a young man revisiting Nigeria and facing some of the less beautiful aspects of life in Africa, such as watching the audacious Nigerian scammers in action—you know, the ones who e-mail many of us claiming we will inherit millions if we respond to their message. Cole’s is a less glamorous account of revisiting the continent, but he also holds that in tension with the fact the he believes Nigeria is “excessively exciting” to the point of being overwhelming. In an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish Cole said, “But for me, personally, I have not actually really considered seriously living in Nigeria full time. This is my home here [New York and the United States], and this is the place that allows me to do the work that I do…I’m fortunate to be able to travel to many places, and to go to Nigeria often. And so I feel close enough to the things happening there without needing to live there.” This quote captures the beauty of Cole’s work which banks on both his lived experience in Nigeria and life as an Nigerian-American writer trying to maintain some semblance of a connection. His next book will be a non-fiction narrative on Lagos.

Finally the most recent example of Africa’s uprising in American literature and entertainment is the new web series “An African City.” Created by Ghanaian-American Nicole Amarteifio, the series follows five young African women who move to Ghana after educational and professional stints in America and Europe. The show is billed as Ghana’s answer to “Sex and the City” but it is actually smarter than SATC. The characters don’t just navigate the sexual politics that SATC was famous for, they launch into the deep of socio-economic politics on the continent. The show touches on the plight of the underdeveloped countries, the people who hold the power in such countries—mostly men, and the premium placed on the authentic African woman over the African woman who has been corrupted by Western ways. It branches out from self-interest to communal concern. The series also provides viewers with a look at the landscape of Accra, a region that is reaching toward urban metropolis status in the midst of strong rural roots. Shots of dirt roads lined with shacks where vendors sells their wares and old Toyotas putter down the streets offset the young women’s appetite for cosmopolitan fare and fashion. The show balances inherited American sensibilities with ingrained African pride with style and grace within each 11-15 minute webisode.

And lest I be remiss there is Kenyan Lupito Nyong’o. Born in Mexico City and raised primarily in Kenya, she stole our hearts in her first major acting role as Patsy in “12 Years a Slave.” She also steals our hearts every time she appears on a red carpet, gave an awards acceptance speech, or appeared on the cover of or in the pages of a magazine. Her beauty is being celebrated by many–and it isn’t limited to the fashion and beauty industries. Nyong’o is blazing the trails that supermodel Alek Wek set for African women and expanding dominant views of what is beautiful. But it is not just Nyong’o’s beauty that is captivating, it is her    humble spirit and intelligence that is reminding the world that Africa is a force to be reckoned with.

Lupita Nyong’o, Nicole Amarteifio, Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more African-born actresses and actors, producers, writers and other creative types are broadening American understanding about Africa and its people. They are also expanding the African-American consciousness on Africa. We can only hope that this is truly the  start of a beautiful relationship that goes from this generation beyond.

 

 

Social media is the new heart of political protests

Social media lit up as protesters hit the streets on Saturday night and Sunday morning, angry about a black barber and father of a 5-year-old who was fatally shot by police. (Video from CBS News)


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marching arm-in-arm with other civil rights activists. Cesar Chavez hoisting a picket sign in a farm workers’ strike. Gloria Steinem rallying other feminists for equal rights.
During the 1960s and into the 1970s, amid the turbulence of protests for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, every movement seemed to have a famous face — someone at a podium or at the front of a march who possessed a charismatic style, soaring oratory, and an inspiring message.
Not so today.

The new wave of political activism, marked by protests in the nation’s capital and cities across America, looks more anonymous. Since the presidential election of Donald Trump, there have been marches for women, science, the Dreamers — immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children — and most recently, gun control, a response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In all those events, multitudes of voices — some more high-profile than others — have represented each cause.

Have America’s protests changed so they rely more on the masses and less on one captivating leader?
The answer, some experts say, is yes, for two reasons: Progressive politics have moved in that direction — think Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street — and social media has radically transformed activism. Decades ago, it could take weeks of planning, newspaper ads, phone trees and a rousing speaker to organize a successful protest. Now a Facebook post or a series of tweets can fill the streets, jam a state capitol or block an expressway.

“With the rise of social media, it’s definitely a lot easier for people to mobilize more quickly and you don’t necessarily need to have one charismatic leader like Dr. King, who had almost some kind of magical quality,” says Rachel Einwohner, a Purdue University sociology professor. “But you still do need some powerful message that really resonates with a lot of people.”

Social media also makes it harder for a leader to emerge because it frequently traffics in bruising personal attacks, says Dana R. Fisher, a University of Maryland sociologist who is writing a book “American Resistance” about large-scale protests.



“I wonder to the degree to which people can lead in the same way in this era of Twitter and Facebook,” she says. “Everybody’s a critic. … With people trolling and then clashing on social media, it may be harder to create a following in the same way that we saw with these leaders in the past.”

Technology alone hasn’t created the shift. Some progressives believe there’s “something inherently wrong or problematic” about having one dynamic person seize the spotlight, says Fabio Rojas, an Indiana University sociology professor. “Modern progressive social movements see themselves as a very democratic form of politics. When they make decisions, they want a lot of consensus. They want a lot of deliberation.”

Black Lives Matter, which has been in the forefront of protests against police violence and fatal shootings of black men, is among the many movements that have adopted this approach.

“The model of the charismatic leader was not something that we were interested in and in fact, many of us were trained to believe that the people themselves are going to set themselves free, not one person,” says Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the group. It’s “dangerous,” she says, to have one leader because that person becomes “the target of praise or the target of demise.”

Black Lives Matters, she says, was inspired by ’60s activist groups, including the Black Panther Party, which combined militancy and social programs (free breakfast for children), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights organization involved in sit-ins and voter registration that became more radical in its later years.

Cullors says her group, formed in 2013 in response to the acquittal of a neighborhood watch volunteer in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, is sometimes misunderstood.

“People assume because we hit the streets and protested that we don’t believe in anything else … and that because we don’t have a single leader, we’re aimless.” Instead, she says, Black Lives Matter, which has 40 chapters in the U.S., Canada and England, has a clear strategy, including participating in electoral politics. Some members are running for office and in 2016, the group, with other organizations, signed on to a policy plan that called for universal health care and an end to the death penalty.

Another leaderless movement that shook up the establishment, Occupy Wall Street, was influenced, in part, by the Arab Spring, the uprisings in several Middle East countries that brought hundreds of thousands in the streets, leading to the toppling of some regimes.

The sometimes raucous protests in 2011 transformed a park in the heart of New York’s financial district into an encampment with sleeping bags, tents, a makeshift kitchen and a rallying cry — “We are the 99 Percent” — condemning the concentration of wealth in the U.S.

Micah White, the group’s co-founder, says even though it took only a few thousand dollars to launch the movement, half of America had heard of it a month later. “That’s priceless,” he says. “You can’t even get a Super Bowl ad that would reach that many people.”

Many credit Occupy with putting economic inequality on the national radar, but White says the group’s real goal — to end the influence of money on democracy — was “a constructive failure. … The main lesson is that street protests do not translate into political change because elected representatives are not required to listen to the majority.”

During the two months of the Occupy protests, White says, the encampments “devolved into paralysis when asked to come up with a list of demands.” But he also notes there still was a worldwide ripple effect.

“The way social movements are created now is that you release an idea that other people take up as their own,” White says. “That’s precisely why Occupy was spread to 82 countries. We couldn’t have organized Occupy Wall Street in 82 countries. … The strength of leaderless movements is in their capacity to spread extremely quickly. Their weakness is in their inability to make complex decisions.”

Occupy wasn’t the first protest to employ disruptive tactics.

In the late 1980s, members of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to unleash Power) demonstrated on Wall Street and shut down the Food and Drug Administration offices for a day, demanding increased access to experimental AIDS drugs. Code Pink, a women-initiated activist organization, has been a vocal anti-war presence, at times interrupting congressional hearings.

Since then, other social causes have surfaced, notably the recent #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and violence.

And some long-standing crusades, such as the push for tighter gun laws, have a new face — the teens from Parkland, Florida, who organized a massive rally in Washington, D.C., in April.



Video from Complex News.


Trump’s election also spawned Indivisible, a grass-roots organization with some 6,000 local groups, some of whom have held vigils, marches and die-ins concentrating on both local issues and national concerns such as voter suppression, health care and the DREAM Act. Rather than have one person direct activities from the top, “it’s the people who are organizing in their own communities who are best placed to adapt their message,” say Leah Greenberg, Indivisible’s co-founder.

While this democratic approach is effective, experts also say there are benefits to having a leader.

“Social movements need a message and leaders are really good at helping to shape that,” says Rojas, the Indiana professor. “Movements need money and resources and leaders are really good at getting those, too.”

Leaders also can mobilize people behind a common cause.

“A lot of people out there today feel there’s something really wrong and broken with the country, with the world,” says Karthik Ganapathy, rapid response director at MoveOn.org, a public policy advocacy group. “The value of having a centralized leader is there’s someone saying, ‘Here’s what you can do about it.’ As of now, though, he says, there’s no social movement or protest leader who “can really claim that mantle the way that King did.”

But even in King’s day, movements couldn’t be reduced to a face on TV or a voice at the pulpit.

Whether it was the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, the Vietnam War protest at the Lincoln Memorial or the farm workers’ strike in California, each history-making event depended on hundreds, if not thousands of foot soldiers who never saw their names in the newspapers but organized, raised money and engaged in other grass-roots work.

And many leaders were backed by formidable organizations: For King, it was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; for anti-war activist Tom Hayden, the Students for a Democratic Society; for feminist Betty Friedan, the National Organization for Women.

“We will always have voices that rise because they have the clear articulation of the agenda,” says the Rev. William Barber, co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, a civil disobedience movement modeled after a 1968 plan by King to focus attention on race, poverty, and injustice. Back then if you’d asked Chavez or King, he says, “they would never say they were the movement, they would say they were servants of the movement.”

Hasan Jeffries, an associate professor at Ohio State University and expert on African-American history, says the civil rights movement was always decentralized, but the media, looking for someone quotable, would zero in on one person. Often, that was King.

With King’s assassination in 1968, he says, there wasn’t just the loss of a magnetic leader, but a sense his nonviolent approach wasn’t working and a flourishing of the black power movement.

These days, there may be no one dominant leader in the African-American community, but social media like Twitter and Facebook offer a different way to rally supporters.

“Activists are now able to push back, mainly through social media and provide channels for multiple voices in ways that simply were unavailable on a large scale 50 years earlier,” he says.

That doesn’t mean the message gets through, Jeffries adds, noting some people still ask what Black Lives Matter wants, though he believes it’s abundantly clear.

“Do you need a single person to express this? Some may say, ‘Yes,'” he says. “But even when a single person tries to articulate something, if the audience is purposely choosing to be not receptive, it doesn’t matter if it’s one person or 100 people, that voice is not going to be heard. It’s not so much who’s saying it, it’s what they’re saying is the problem.”

Einwohner, the Purdue sociologist, says when history books are written decades from now, they’ll include Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers and giant demonstrations such as the women’s marches.

“I think we’re going to remember this more as a cycle of protests, which were planned and organized by lots of people,” she says. “These rallies didn’t come out of nowhere. People are taking action. I can’t think of a name or a face that necessarily is going to be remembered 50 years from now. But will these movements be remembered? Absolutely.”

Sharon Cohen, a Chicago-based national writer, can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @scohenAP.

 

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

Podcast Shorts: How Do People of Faith Address Violence?

The constant drumbeat of negative news stories about the latest neighborhood or school shooting is unnerving. Some people find that they’ve become numb to most of it, except the most shocking of stories. As people of faith, many of us find ways to peacefully address issues of violence that plague our communities. Dr. Melvin E. Banks, the founder of UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover injustice, gang violence, drug dealers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of topics.

 

The Biggest Risk Facing Young, Black, Christian Men

The Biggest Risk Facing Young, Black, Christian Men

Sincere and Sincerely Misguided Offers

When I enrolled in the Masters of Divinity program at a conservative evangelical seminary, I had no other aspirations than to earn a degree and obtain a ministry position suited to my skills and experience. I thought I would have three or four years once I started school to decide on a ministry placement. But from the moment I arrived on campus, I was assaulted with opportunities.

Numerous individuals and organizations have approached me, offering me church planting and pastoring opportunities all around the country. Well-meaning folks, many of whom are White ministers, are eager to get a biblically faithful, Black, Christian man into leadership and help them become more multi-ethnic and multicultural.

But these sincere offers are sincerely misguided. Most people present me with leadership positions having only just met me. They have no idea about my biblical qualifications, skills, or reputation. They simply see a Black guy with good theology, not a sinner whose call needs to be confirmed. As a result, the landscape is littered with the crushed hopes of churches and ministers who sent their men out too early.

I know churches are excited about any prospective leader, especially if he happens to be Black. But before you launch a promising young, Christian, African American man into ministry too soon, a few words of caution.


DOCUMENTARY ON BLACK PREACHERS BY HISTORYCHANNEL.COM


Beware of Puffing Up

When churches find an African American man with leadership potential, they are understandably enthusiastic. While there are more of these men than we think, there are fewer than we need. But eagerness on the part of church leaders often tempts the young minister to arrogance.

The Bible warns us against puffing up a young minister’s pride. In explaining the qualifications for overseers,      Paul says, “He [the overseer] must not be a recent convert or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1  Timothy 3:6, ESV). The Bible teaches us that a man who is new to the faith must not be given a leadership role in the church too soon. Rather, a man must be tested to ensure that his faith is genuine and his spirituality is mature. Apart from an extended period of discernment, a young man or recent convert is in danger of believing in his own skills and promise instead of desperately clinging to his Savior.

Leaders and laymen alike must measure their comments. Do they affirm a man based on exceptional character or excellent aptitude or because of his color or cultural background? Are they giving him opportunities based on demonstrated diligence or his potential to “reach” a certain demographic?

Connect Young Adult African American Christians to Seasoned African American Christians

Even though God uses men of all races and ethnicities to disciple each other, young, Black, Christian men who are preparing for the pastorate or some other leadership role would uniquely benefit from connecting with others in similar situations. These future leaders should get connected with other Black Christian men who have been or are currently in the same position.

I have personally benefited from the wise counsel of my pastor, who is also African American and has been ministering for nearly 20 years. I also have several other “gray-heads” from around the country that I frequently call on for advice. These men are able to help me keep a humble perspective as I am inundated with offers for ministry. They have helped me maneuver away from positions that would have exploited me for my racial and cultural background, and have guided me into areas that will ensure my long-term stability in the ministry.

Such connections can facilitate accountability so young, Christian men may be empowered to resist the enticement to overconfidence and the threat of isolation. Current church leaders must do all they can—from paying for trips to conferences to allowing time for regular phone calls with a mentee—to encourage these relationships.

Own Your Own Preparation

Not all of the responsibility for sending a man to start in the ministry falls on the current leadership. The upcoming generation of African American Christian leaders should own their own development.

Young men usually have no lack of ambition. We’ll jump at the slightest slice of opportunity. Thinking we have more wisdom than we actually possess often gets us into situations that prove harmful to ourselves and others.

But a young man must take ownership of his own preparation. He should know himself well enough—in light of Scripture—to determine his own spiritual readiness for ministry. Of course, these are conversations that must be had in conjunction with other experienced ministers, but no one else has the potential to know a man as well as he knows himself.

If the elders around him are pushing a young, Black Christian to start a ministry too soon, then he should respectfully yet confidently inform them of their error. It takes two to make a thing go right—or wrong.

God Has a Timeline

Underneath the push to send out young African Americans too soon is a fundamental distrust of God’s sovereignty. Although a church committee would never admit this, what often motivates them is a lack of faith. They sense the pressing call to make disciples of all nations but they don’t trust God to do it. Instead, they try to wrest control of kingdom-building from God and do it themselves. The result is scores of Black Christian ministers who succumb to depression, addiction, and burnout.

Jesus tells us, however, “I will build my church” (from Matthew 16:18, ESV). The work of expanding the church and preparing ministers in the church belongs to Christ. He is the one who shapes a man’s heart and calls him into the field. But Jesus gives humankind a part to play as well. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (from Luke 10:2, ESV). We are to pray that God would send us the men with the gifts, skills, and calling for ministry. This is not to say that we shouldn’t actively prepare men for God’s work. Christian leaders must entrust the Gospel to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (from 2 Timothy 2:2, ESV).

But the Good News is that in the fullness of time “God sent His son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons” (from Galatians 4:4–5, ESV). The incarnation of Jesus Christ testifies that God is thoroughly involved in the process of preparing leaders.

If God had perfect timing in sending His Son as a ransom for many, then He will also have perfect timing in training and sending laborers into His harvest. Faith in the Gospel allows us to realize the need for more young, African American, Christian ministers, yet rest in God’s timing for sending them out.

Tracing Mandela’s footsteps 100 years after his birth

Tracing Mandela’s footsteps 100 years after his birth

QUNU, South Africa (AP) — July 18 marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela, who died in 2013.

Visitors can follow in Mandela’s footsteps from the villages where he was born and raised, to the Soweto township where he became an anti-apartheid leader, to Robben Island where he was imprisoned for years.

THE EASTERN CAPE

“When Mandela was just a child, he walked for miles on this route, moving from one village to another,” said tour guide Velile Ndlumbini as we drove through the picturesque green rolling hills of the Eastern Cape.

The homestead where he was born can be seen in the small village of Mvezo. He lived here until age 2, when his father lost his position as village chief in a dispute with a magistrate.

The family then moved to neighboring Qunu, where Mandela lived until age 9, when his father died. He and his mother then moved 19 kilometers (12 miles) away to Mqhekezweni.

Here he was adopted by the acting regent king and groomed for leadership. Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” that his interest in politics was first kindled listening to tribal elders holding community meetings in Mqhekezweni. A shady spot under a circle of gum trees, Ndlumbini said, is still used for that purpose.

It was Qunu where Mandela returned after 27 years in prison. He built a complex there along the N2 highway for his family, where some still live, and he moved back to Qunu himself after retiring from public life.

Dusty roads lead to his private grave, across from his family’s burial site.

Qunu also houses the Nelson Mandela Museum, which opened on Feb. 11, 2000, the 10th anniversary of his release from prison. It takes visitors from his childhood through his involvement in politics to his triumphant election as president.

Some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south lies the Steve Biko Museum in King William’s Town. Biko was an icon of anti-apartheid activism, an African nationalist and a leader of the grassroots Black Consciousness Movement. He was a major influence on Mandela, and died in 1977 after being arrested and beaten.

In neighboring Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth, an installation called Route 67 showcases 67 artworks symbolizing Mandela’s 67 years of service. The art, all by locals, depicts significant moments on the journey from apartheid to democracy, moving from laser-cut steel figures forming a voting line in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, to a stairway that starts in darkness and progresses to an era of color and new beginnings.



SOWETO

Created in the 1930s by the white government to relocate the black population away from Johannesburg, Soweto became the largest black city in South Africa. Poverty was rampant in the shanty towns and civil unrest was common during apartheid.

Mandela lived in Soweto from 1946 to 1962 and met African National Congress activist Walter Sisulu there.

Mandela’s Soweto home has also been converted into a museum. But the most exhaustive and heartbreaking site is the Apartheid Museum. The entrance is divided into “blankes/whites” and “nie-blankes/non-whites,” followed by a display of “passes” that the black population was required to carry, restricting their movements. The museum details the white settlers’ history in South Africa, the beginnings of apartheid and daily struggles blacks endured, along with the story of how Mandela transformed the African National Congress into a mass political movement.

The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum tell the story of the 1976 Soweto riots. Hector was 12 when he was shot and killed by police firing on student protesters. A famous photo shows his limp body being carried as his sister ran alongside. Some accounts say hundreds died during the protests. The museum contains a heart-wrenching and moving collection of oral testimonies, large-scale photos, audiovisual displays and historical documents about the uprising.

A drive north takes you to Liliesleaf, in the suburb of Rivonia. This farm-turned-museum, once owned by South African Communist Party member Arthur Goldreich, was used in the 1960s as a secret hideout for Mandela and other activists on the run from police. The famous Rivonia Trial ended with Mandela and his comrades sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island.

ROBBEN ISLAND

A 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Town, Robben Island is where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years in prison, beginning in 1964, alongside other heroes of the movement like Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.

The most powerful part of the tour, led by a former prisoner, is a visit to Mandela’s cell, a 7-by-9-foot (2-by-2.7-meter) room. Despite the humiliation and oppression of his years here, this was also where he honed his skills as a leader, negotiator and proselytizer, which put him on the path to the presidency in 1994.

MADIBA’S JOURNEY

For visitors, making a pilgrimage to places connected to Mandela’s life is both distressing and uplifting. While South Africa has come a long way, this young democracy still has a lot of work ahead, including improving living conditions and resources for its majority black population.

A mobile app, Madiba’s Journey, created by South African Tourism and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, can help you trace the footsteps of the man who dedicated his life to freedom.

Christianity and Yoga: Is it Really Okay?

Christianity and Yoga: Is it Really Okay?

As a faith-based yoga and wellness instructor, I am routinely asked whether a Christian can practice yoga. I am confronted with comments such as, “Christians should not participate in yoga, because it is a Hindu practice and opens the spirit up to worshiping Hindu gods.” I have addressed these types of questions, concerns, and more in person after my workshops and classes, via Facebook and email, and it’s a valid concern that deserves a proper response. So let’s get to it!

For starters, more people are practicing yoga now more than ever. According to the 2016 Yoga Study in America conducted by Yoga Journal and the National Yoga Alliance, the number of American yoga practitioners has increased to over 36 million in 2016, up from 20.4 million in 2012, while 34% of Americans say they are somewhat or very likely to practice yoga in the next 12 months—equal to more than 80 million Americans. Some of the reasons why people try yoga include flexibility, stress relief, and fitness. So there you have it! The one component that is debatable isn’t even listed as a top reason why more and more Americans are practicing yoga.

What is yoga really?

One of the concerns I hear from many Christians is the meaning of the word “yoga” and the origin of yoga. The word “yoga” means to yoke or to unite. Nothing strange there. We are a soul, communing with God through our spirit, while we live in a physical body so we can do kingdom work here on earth. However, the origin of yoga is a little more complicated. According to the National Yoga Alliance (NYA), the largest nonprofit association representing the yoga community, yoga was developed up to 5,000 years ago in India as a comprehensive system for well-being on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. But today, millions of Americans use various aspects of yoga to help raise their quality of life in such diverse areas as fitness, stress relief, wellness, vitality, mental clarity, healing, peace of mind, and spiritual growth.

Further, the NYA says that yoga is a system, not of beliefs, but of techniques and guidance for enriched living. Yoga has in recent times branched out in many new directions, some of which are quite different from its traditional emphases. All approaches to yoga, however, are intended to promote some aspect(s) of well-being.

Here or There?

Now lets take a look at Kemetic yoga. Kemetic yoga philosophy says the people of ancient Kemet Egypt practiced a unique style of yoga that predates the yoga of India. Kemetic yoga philosophy also says that the practice and philosophy of yoga in India was informed by knowledge that came out of Africa. Examples of Indian yoga can be found in ancient Egypt, but examples of ancient Kemetic yoga cannot be found in India. The conclusion one can draw from this is: the yoga of Egypt is much older than that found in India.

So do you see why I don’t get caught up in the origin or how man uses God’s gifts? Whether yoga started in India or Africa is still up for debate, but the fact remains that God is the Creator of the mind-body connection.

The Bible speaks specifically about key elements used in most forms of yoga: meditation, breathing, and movement. For me, Acts 17:18 sums it up: “For in Him we live and move and exist.” So I will put truth up against philosophy any day, as philosophy is simply man’s attempt to understand God, His creations, and purpose. Joshua 1:8 reminds me to meditate on His Word day and night; Genesis 2:7 defines the source of my life: “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person”; and numerous Scriptures speak of our bodily posture toward God. King David had a keen understanding that our outward posture is reflective of what’s going on inside, because God, the originator of the mind-body connection, knows that the way we move can positively or negatively affect the heart and mind.

The Evolution of Yoga and Spirituality

Another concern for some Christians is the spiritual component of yoga. Because some Christians believe that yoga is taught as a means to salvation in Hinduism, it is considered off-limits to Christians. Why? Some believe that the system of yoga was defined by a certain group of people and that the entire system can’t be redefined or evolved, but the fact of the matter is that yoga in America has evolved.

Science reveals that the intentional use of the mind, breath, and movement can effect positive change in the physical body. Through scientific research and studies, over time the intention of yoga in America began to evolve from its traditional origins to be repurposed and repacked for a more mainstream appeal to fitness enthusiasts, those facing health challenges and trauma, and others interested in the benefits of this mind-body modality.

The Great Pagan Debate

Did you know that our beloved country has a history of repurposing and repackaging things that we didn’t necessarily discover? Take our beloved Christmas tree for example. Did you know that decorating trees and giving money was a part of worship to various gods during Egyptian times? It is also part of the Germanic pagan solstice tradition.

The exchange of wedding rings did not originate in the church, and various religions worship and practice meditation, prayer, and fasting just like Christians. So should I take my ring off based on the original intent, or stop purchasing Christmas trees and decorations because the Egyptians utilized the tree first? No, I don’t, because I serve a God who can redeem anything, as He is the Creator of all.

Did you know that fasting can be a spiritual practice for some, and for others, fasting may be used to purge toxins from the body or used for weight loss? No one claims fasting as their own because we are all free to use the practice as we see fit, and yoga should be no different.

Share your thoughts on yoga and Christianity below and come back soon for Part 2 of this series.

 

Jahi McMath and the role of race for black patients

Jahi McMath and the role of race for black patients

A photo of Jahi McMath shown at her funeral service at Acts Full Gospel Church in Oakland, Calif. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu


California teenager Jahi McMath, who suffered catastrophic brain injury as a result of a routine tonsil surgery, died on June 22, 2018.

Her death came after four years of her family fighting in court to continue her care in California. Eventually, they moved her to a facility in New Jersey, a state that accommodates religious views that don’t recognize brain death.

Much of the popular discussion in the case centered on the family’s refusal to accept the diagnosis of brain death. However, as a philosopher who writes on bioethics and race, I believe an underappreciated aspect of the discussion was the role of race – both in how the medical personnel dealt with the family and how the family interpreted their interactions with the medical establishment.

The surgery and outcome

On Dec. 9, 2013, the 13-year-old McMath entered Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, California, for what should have been a routine tonsillectomy. The young girl was, according to her mother’s account, frightened that something would go wrong. Her mother reassured McMath that she would be okay.

McMath’s post-surgical complications began about an hour after her surgery. A nurse provided a bin to catch the blood that McMath had begun spitting up. Although the nurses indicated to the family that some post-surgical bleeding was normal, two hours later, McMath’s blood filled two plastic bins and the bandages packing her nose were saturated with blood. Her hospital gown was also covered in blood.

According to the family, four and a half hours passed before a physician saw her, despite the family’s repeated pleas for intervention. The hospital has maintained that they can not discuss Jahi’s case in detail because of privacy laws. Bleeding complications, though rare, can occur after tonsillectomy because tonsils are near arteries.

As a result of the immense blood loss, McMath’s heart stopped and her brain was deprived of oxygen. Three days later, on Dec. 12, 2013, the medical staff at Children’s Hospital declared McMath brain dead. Hospital personnel encouraged the family to withdraw life support and donate her organs.

McMath’s family refused to accept the diagnosis, and a court battle to keep McMath on life support ensued.

A judge in California initially ruled that McMath could remain on life support until Jan. 7, 2014. However, the Alameda County coroner issued a death certificate anyway.

A 2015 photo of Jahi McMath is shown on a video screen next to her uncle Timothy Whisenton.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

Philosopher Jeffrey P. Bishop, who holds the chair of health care ethics at Saint Louis University, writing in Harvard Divinity School bulletin noted the ethical oddities of the case. In California, once two physicians confirm brain death, the patient is legally dead. The body is then technically released to the coroner before being released to the family so that they can make arrangements. In the case of McMath, she was still in the hospital and on a ventilator when these procedures kicked in.

From the beginning, the case was tangled up with all sorts of questions regarding the nature and diagnosis of brain death. Although there are long-established criteria, how brain death is determined in practice can vary. These differences in practices can contribute to confusion, particularly among the lay public, about brain death.

Her family rejected the brain death diagnosis alleging the hospital had a conflict of interest and simply wanted McMath’s organs.

Revisiting a history of medical racism

Rather than dismiss the family’s concerns as paranoid or ignorant, it is important to understand the historical realities faced by black patients in their encounters with the U.S. medical system.

There is a long historical record of using African-Americans for medical experimentation. For example, medical experimentation performed by J. Marion Sims, “the father of modern gynecology,” highlights the medical establishment’s disregard for black people.

Sims, who began conducting his gynecological experiments in the 1840s, is credited with developing a surgical procedure to repair vesicovaginal fistula, a hole that develops between the vaginal wall and the bladder, resulting in incontinence. However, Sims achieved his success by experimenting on enslaved women, often without anesthesia.

Sims wasn’t the only one. During the 19th century, medical schools used both enslaved and free black people, often without their consent, to teach their white medical students anatomy, disease progression and diagnosis. This practice continued after slavery.

Additionally, the graves of African-Americans were robbed and their bodies disinterred so that medical students could use black bodies as cadavers. Aware of these practices, African-American communities were deeply suspicious of local medical schools and unsure whether the medical personnel were actually “treating” them or merely “experimenting” on them.

Few examples of the abuse of African-Americans in medical experimentation loom larger than the Tuskegee syphilis experiment – a 40-year-long study of disease progression of syphilis in 600 men in the Tuskegee, Alabama, area that began in 1932. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service.

None of the 399 men who had syphilis were ever told of their diagnosis. Nor were these men or their partners treated with penicillin once penicillin became the standard treatment for syphilis in 1945. In 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology on behalf of the U.S. government to the eight remaining survivors of the Tuskegee experiment.

President Bill Clinton apologizes to black men whose syphilis went untreated by government doctors.
AP Photo/Doug Mills

One presidential apology, however, could not erase the sense of mistrust that many African-Americans feel toward health care institutions.

And the medical injustice continues: There are wide gaps in outcomes between whites and African-Americans in a variety of diseases. For example, the American Cancer Society reports that, of all the racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., African-Americans, are more likely to die from most cancers.

Lower quality of care?

African-Americans also report lower quality of health care and greater dissatisfaction with the care they receive. In addtion, they are significantly more likely to report experiencing racial discrimination and negative attitudes by health care personnel than non-Hispanic whites.

Medical mistrust and the resulting dissatisfaction have been connected to patient anxiety, as well as lower engagement in health care decision-making between patient and provider.

This mistrust makes African-Americans less likely to use the health care system. Along with other factors, such as limited insurance status and greater geographic distance from health care providers, it contributes to disparate health outcomes.

It is against this backdrop that one must understand the McMath family’s skepticism regarding both her treatment and diagnosis.

McMath’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, told The New Yorker,

“No one was listening to us, and I can’t prove it, but I really feel in my heart: if Jahi was a little white girl, I feel we would have gotten a little more help and attention.”

Nailah Winkfield, the mother of Jahi McMath, speaks next to husband Martin Winkfield during funeral services for Jahi.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Sadly, Winkfield is not alone in her suspicions.

It is possible that the ultimate outcome might still have been tragic. Even with the most attentive care, McMath might have died. However, the family feeling that the medical team did not do all that they could have done for their loved one, and that this, for them, was a function of race, needlessly inflicted additional injury.

Yolonda Wilson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Howard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Fighting Affirmative Action Could Threaten Rich Whites

Fighting Affirmative Action Could Threaten Rich Whites

Perpetually in jeopardy, the use of racial preferences in college admissions is under greater threat than ever.

President Donald Trump has scrapped Obama-era guidelines that encouraged universities to consider race as a factor. He has proposed replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in a 2016 case upholding affirmative action by one vote, with the more conservative Brett Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging Harvard’s preferences for Hispanics and African Americans has uncovered the university’s dubious pattern of rejecting academically outstanding Asian-American candidates — who don’t qualify for a race-related boost — by giving them low marks for personality. Either the Harvard case, or a similar lawsuit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, could put an end to affirmative action.

If it is abolished, though, there will undoubtedly be increased pressure to also eliminate admissions criteria that favor a very different demographic — children of alumni and donors. Colleges are reluctant to drop these preferences of privilege for fear of hurting fundraising. But the political price of clinging to them could be significant.



The fates of affirmative action and what is sometimes called “white affirmative action” have long been intertwined. After the University of California, the University of Georgia and Texas A&M stopped using racial preferences, they discontinued preferences for alumni children as well. Although it’s generally regarded as legal for admissions offices to favor relatives of their graduates and benefactors, these advantages skew white. At Harvard, according to a filing in the current case against the university, alumni children — known as legacies — comprise 21.5 percent of accepted white applicants, compared to 7 percent of Hispanic admits, 6.6 percent of Asian Americans, and 4.8 percent of African Americans. Thus it can be difficult for universities to justify keeping these preferences in the absence of countervailing boosts for under-represented minorities.

Already, student groups at a dozen elite campuses are mobilizing opposition to legacy preferences. Brown University students voted overwhelmingly in March to establish a committee to re-examine the use of legacy status in admissions. These organizations support affirmative action and its demise would further energize them — and likely help them enlist liberal Ivy League alumni, especially those without teenage children. Legacy preference is widely unpopular; 52 percent of respondents to a 2016 Gallup poll said colleges should not consider whether an applicant’s parent is a graduate and only 11 percent said it should be a major factor. Moreover, without affirmative action, universities would likely look for other ways to sustain minority and low-income enrollment. Eliminating admissions edges for wealthy whites would be a logical start.

Data surfacing in the Harvard case could also incite anti-legacy fervor. Harvard and other elite universities typically justify legacy preference, when they talk about it at all, as a legitimate reward for alumni loyalty and volunteer work. They portray it as merely a tiebreaker between applicants of equal merit. Court filings, including Harvard’s internal reports, show otherwise. The university’s Office of Institutional Research found in 2013 that alumni parentage bestows an admissions boost equivalent to that for African Americans, and larger than those for Hispanics, Native Americans, and low-income students. Among applicants given the two highest academic rankings, Harvard accepted 55 percent of legacies, compared with 15 percent of non-legacies. Overall, across six years, Harvard accepted 33.6 percent of legacy applicants, versus 5.9 percent of non-legacies, according to Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono, an expert witness for Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff challenging Harvard’s affirmative action policies.

Legacy preference isn’t Harvard’s only boost for affluent white families. Court documents show that Harvard maintains a list of candidates of special interest to the admissions dean, and accepted 42.2 percent of them. The dean’s interest list includes “all applicants who the Dean of Admissions wishes to keep track of during the admissions process, whether they be children of donors, or an applicant the Dean met at some point in their high school career and wished to keep an eye on,” said Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane. “Putting aside the tracking of this list, all applicants to Harvard go through the same rigorous admissions process.”

One child of a donor was Jared Kushner, now President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. As I reported in my 2006 book, “The Price of Admission,” Harvard accepted Kushner despite an undistinguished high school record after his father, who was not an alumnus, pledged a $2.5 million gift.

Overlapping with the dean’s interest list is what’s known as Harvard’s “Z-List” of applicants who are initially waitlisted and then accepted on condition that they defer enrolling for a year. A filing by the plaintiffs cites my book and supports what I described anecdotally in it: The Z-list is Harvard’s way of quietly ushering in well-connected applicants who may not measure up academically. Of the nearly 60 students per year who Harvard Z-lists, 46.5 percent were legacies and 58.8 percent were on the dean’s interest list. Almost 70 percent were white; 14.3 percent were Asian; 4.4 percent were Hispanic, and 2 percent were black. Only 1.8 percent were the first generation in their families to go to college. Harvard admissions officials have described the Z-list as an effort to encourage students to take a year off before college to relax and mature, as well as to accommodate candidates whom Harvard would like to pluck from the waiting list but can’t find beds for.

Two other significant preferences — for children of faculty and staff, and for recruited athletes — also disproportionately benefit whites. Harvard accepted 46.7 percent of faculty and staff children, who enjoy a larger boost than Hispanics and low-income students, though not as much as legacies, Arcidiacono found. Recruited athletes get the biggest edge of all, with an 86-percent acceptance rate. They comprise 16.3 percent of white students who are admitted to Harvard, as against 8.9 percent of blacks, 4.2 percent of Hispanics, and 4.1 percent of Asian Americans. This racial disparity, which may surprise Americans who see minorities playing college football or basketball on television, reflects that Harvard, like other universities, fields teams in numerous prep-school sports like crew, sailing, fencing and squash.

Harvard’s court filings don’t dispute the scope of these patrician preferences. While the university normally downplays them to avoid the appearance of catering to the rich, in this lawsuit, it’s embracing them — for legal reasons. When Harvard’s treatment of Asian-American applicants came under scrutiny in 1990, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights let the university off the hook. It documented that Harvard admitted Asian-American applicants at a significantly lower rate than white applicants despite slightly stronger SAT scores and grades, but it attributed the higher bar to the university’s boosts for alumni children and athletes, rather than racial discrimination. Harvard is making the same defense now. In the ultimate irony, it’s trying to preserve affirmative action by acknowledging that its admissions process favors wealthy whites. As UC Berkeley economist David Card, an expert witness for Harvard, put it in his December 2017 report, “When exploring whether there is bias against Asian American applicants, it is important to account for the fact that Harvard’s admissions process gives special consideration … to children of Harvard or Radcliffe alumnae or alumni … applicants recruited to play a varsity sport at Harvard, and children of Harvard faculty or staff members.”

Indeed, the best protection for affirmative action may be the threat that its elimination would pose to legacy preference. “Were this court to have the courage to forbid the use of racial discrimination in admissions, legacy preferences (and similar practices) might quickly become less popular — a possibility not lost, I am certain, on the elites” supporting affirmative action, Justice Clarence Thomas — not a fan of either race-based or legacy preferences — observed in 2003.

Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Kennedy — the two moderate justices who provided the key swing votes to preserve affirmative action in 2003 and 2016, respectively — had experienced the blessings of legacy preference in their own families. The son of a Stanford alumna, Kennedy went to Stanford, as did his two sons and one daughter. O’Connor, her husband, and two of their three sons attended Stanford. Delivering its commencement address in 1982, O’Connor assured the graduates that “there is no greater, more foresighted office in this land of ours than the Admissions Office of Stanford University,” and expressed the wish that “you will all be lucky enough to have your children attend this paradise on earth that we love and that we call Stanford.” Don’t be surprised if affirmative action supporters ask Kavanaugh at his confirmation hearing whether the Yale double alum (college and law school) hopes that his two daughters will one day attend his alma mater.

 

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. 

 

Feds Reopen Emmett Till Case

Feds Reopen Emmett Till Case

The Feds have reopened the Emmett Till case, according to the Chicago Tribune and multiple news reports. Last year, the 1955 case, which ignited the Civil Rights Movement, came to light again when Till’s accuser, Carolyn Bryant Donham, admitted that she lied in her testimony about the brutal beating and murder of the 14-year-old Chicago boy in a book, The Blood of Emmett Till, by Timothy B. Tyson. Vanity Fair detailed how Tyson tracked Donham downChicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton wrote a poignant piece at the time about how America always knew it was a lie and The Chicago Defender, which has covered the case extensively over the years, got reaction from Till’s family.

Rwanda proposes stricter clergy guidelines

Rwanda proposes stricter clergy guidelines

Rwandans sing and pray at the Evangelical Restoration Church in the Kimisagara neighborhood of the capital Kigali, Rwanda, on April 6, 2014. Rwanda’s government closed hundreds of churches and dozens of mosques in 2018, as it seeks to assert more control over a vibrant religious community whose sometimes makeshift operations, authorities say, have threatened the lives of followers. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)


After closing more than 700 churches and some mosques in March, Rwandan government officials have moved to institute guidelines for how faith groups operate in the majority-Christian East African country.

Rwanda’s minister in the office of the president has brought to Parliament a draft law that would require Christian and Muslim clerics to attain university education before preaching in churches or mosques. The law would require clerics to have a bachelor’s degree and a valid certificate in religious studies. It would also bar clergy who have been convicted of crimes of genocide, genocidal ideology, discrimination or other sectarian practices.

“I agree with the law. Some of our church groups have been operating in a dangerous manner,” Evalister Mugabo, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Rwanda, told Religion News Service.

Churches and mosques would also be required to institute an internal disagreement resolution body to complement the work of their umbrella organizations and the government’s dispute resolution authority, which resolves conflicts involving different faiths.

webRNS-Evalister-Mugabo1-071118

Evalister Mugabo, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Rwanda. Photo via Evalister Mugabo Facebook

The measure, according to government officials, will bring order among churches, some of which are suspected of misleading people.

Judith Uwizeye, minister in the office of President Paul Kagame, presented the draft law. “Everyone would wake up in the morning and call people to start a church. Setting up a faith-based organization didn’t require anything. We want to bring about better organization on the way faith-based organizations work,” she is quoted as saying.

The draft law received wide support from most legislators in Rwanda’s Parliament. It will move to the committee stage, after which it will be brought back to Parliament for endorsement.

In 1994, the country about the size of Maryland witnessed a genocide that left an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate members of the Hutu tribe dead. Years later, senior church leaders were among those accused of killing citizens or aiding in their deaths and were arraigned before the International Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, in nearby Tanzania.

Despite its dark past, Rwanda, like many African countries, has witnessed an upsurge in churches in both urban and rural areas. But in March, its government took a radical move, shutting down hundreds of them in the capital of Kigali.

The action was replicated in other towns, amid support from some religious leaders and criticism from others. The authorities said the churches lacked basic infrastructure, security and hygiene and were contributing to noise pollution.

Those most affected by the shuttering were small Pentecostal churches. Jean Bosco Nsabimana, founder of Patmos Church, a Pentecostal congregation, questioned why government officials had not targeted bars and nightclubs.

But other religious leaders see wisdom in the government move. “Churches are mushrooming too quickly and are exploiting poor people. If they are not controlled, more and more will continue to come up,” said Innocent Maganya, head of the department of mission and Islamic studies at Tangaza University College. “They are being started for personal gains, not for that of the followers. Without discrimination, a bit of sanity is needed.”



Maganya noted that other countries require pastors to have a degree or certificate. “On the surface, I don’t think they are interfering with freedom of worship, unless there is a hidden motive,” said Maganya.

But Mugabo said the requirement that clergy have a bachelor’s degree will affect many young churches like the Lutheran Church in Rwanda. The Roman Catholic Church has been dominant in Rwanda, and institutions that can offer a degree in divinity for other denominations are few.

“Most of the pastors have certificates from local Bible schools,” said Mugabo. “Global missions must look at this as an emergency.”

With the new rules and regulations, Mugabo has been negotiating for affiliation with the University of Iringa, based in Tanzania. The institution is owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. Mugabo has sought the use of the university’s curriculum in teaching at his church’s Bible school. The university will also award the pastors educational certificates.

“We made this plan because we can’t afford to take many pastors out of the country for study at once. We do not have enough resources, so we decided to adopt mass training from within,” said Mugabo.

— Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

If Ruth Came to America

If Ruth Came to America

When and where we live, when the super-wealthy have robbed the merely wealthy, when the middling classes have lost their savings and the poor their homes, when the issue of immigration is hot and the lives of immigrants are threatened — the issues of poverty and wealth, of immigration and the home-born, mean a great deal. And that is what Ruth is about.

In the biblical story, Ruth was a foreigner from the nation of Moab, which was despised by all patriotic and God-fearing Israelites. Yet when she came to Israel as a widow, companion to her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, she was welcomed onto the fields of Boaz, where she gleaned what the regular harvesters had left behind. Boaz made sure that even this despised foreigner had a decent job at decent pay. When she went one night to the barn where the barley crop was being threshed, he spent the night with her –and decided to marry her.

But if Ruth came to America today, what would happen?

Would she be admitted at the border?

Or would she be detained for months without a lawyer, ripped from Naomi’s arms while Naomi’s protest brought her too under suspicion — detained because she was, after all, a Canaanite who spoke some variety of Arabic, possibly a terrorist, for sure an idolator?

Would she be deported as merely an “economic refugee,” not a worthy candidate for asylum?

Would she have to show a “green card” before she could get a job gleaning at any farm, restaurant, or hospital?

Would she be sent to “workfare” with no protections for her dignity, her freedom, or her health?

When she boldly “uncovers the feet” of Boaz during the night they spend together on the threshing floor, has she violated the “family values” that some religious folk now proclaim? Or has she affirmed that love engages the body as well as the heart, the mind, and the spirit, and that sometimes a loving body comes before a wedding?

Today in America, some of us are outcasts like Ruth; some are prosperous, like Boaz. He affirmed that in a decent society, everyone was entitled to decent work for a decent income. Everyone — yes, everyone! Even, or especially, a despised immigrant from a despised nation. Everyone — not just a certain percentage of the people.

In ancient Israel, everyone had the right simply to walk onto a field and begin to work, begin to use the means of production of that era. And then to eat what they had gathered.

And Boaz could not order his regular workers to be economically “efficient.” They could not harvest everything — not what grew in the corners of the field, not what they missed on the first go-round. Social compassion was more important than efficiency. No downsizing allowed.

Although Boaz was generous-hearted, Ruth’s right to glean did not depend upon his generosity. It was the law.

Ruth was entitled not only to a job, but to respect. No name-calling, no sexual harassment. And she, as well as Boaz, was entitled to Shabbat: time off for rest, reflection, celebration, love. She was entitled to “be” — as well as to “do.”

Because Ruth the outcast and Boaz the solid citizen got together, they could become the ancestors of King David. According to both Jewish and Christian legend, they could thus help bring Messiah into the world — help bring the days of peace and justice.

What do we learn from their story today?

In America today, many of us live in the place of Boaz. Many others live in the place of Ruth. Our society has dismantled many of the legal commitments to the poor that ancient Israelite society affirmed. What are our own religious obligations?

What are our obligations — those of us who still have jobs, who have not lost our retirement funds to the machinations of the banks, or even those who have! What are our obligations to those who are living in cardboard boxes on the streets or parks of our cities? What are our obligations to those who have been evicted from their homes, to those who have no jobs?

Are we obligated only to toss a dollar bill or two into the empty hats of the homeless?

Or are we obligated to write new laws for our own country like the ancient laws that protected Ruth? Are we obligated to create new communities — local credit unions instead of global banks, food coops and neighborhood clinics, groups of caring people who turn an involuntary “furlough” from their jobs into time to learn together, sing together, plan together to make new places of shared work?

Are we obligated to create a society that rubs away the barriers between the rich and poor, between those who speak one language from those who speak another?

What can we do — what must we do — to help bring on the days of peace and justice?

When gospel sermons came on the phonograph

When gospel sermons came on the phonograph

Oak Grove Acapella Singers, a Gospel group of Chester County, Tennessee, being recorded while singing in the office of the preacher at the Oak Grove Church of Christ.
Tennessee State Library and Archives, CC BY-NC-ND

The first truly African-American musical form, the “Spirituals,” took shape in the 17th and 18th centuries within the generations of slaves born into the tough American experience. Music was a daily part of their survival and sustenance.

Spirituals were sung “a cappella,” that is, without instrumental accompaniment. Voices were blended over rhythms provided by clapping hands, stamping feet and makeshift percussion. The words and melodies were improvised, not written down and never sung the same way twice. The singers remained untrained in the formalities of music.

Anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston attributed the power and beauty of spirituals to these very qualities. As she wrote,

“Its truth dies under training like flowers under hot water.”

These early songs, over a hundred or more years later, gave rise to 20th century gospel music as well as secular genres including blues and jazz, R&B (rhythm and blues) and doo-wop, a style of ‘50s vocal group pop.

As an author of a book on the gospel canon, Great God A’Mighty! The Dixie Hummingbirds: Celebrating the Rise of Soul Gospel Music, I have been particularly drawn to a compelling but lesser known outgrowth of the spiritual tradition – the African-American “folk” preachers.

These folk preachers blended homespun sermon and song to offer life lessons on how to survive in a world of inequality and virulent racism.

Recording sermons

A phonograph.
Javier Kohen, CC BY-SA

While the folk preachers may have perfected their preaching skills in Southern churches, they broadened their reach through phonographs records. From the mid-1920s well into the Depression, there were roughly 85 preachers whose hundreds of singing sermons were recorded and heard throughout the black community nationwide via 78-rpm records.

On their records – none longer than three minutes in duration – the preachers, in “call and response” with a handful of select “sanctified” congregants, would sing and opine in rhythm and rhyme about everyday realities like “always pay your furniture man” or “is there harm in singing the blues?”

Their records were advertised in nationally distributed black newspapers, such as The Pittsburgh Courier and The Chicago Defender. Their names were famous within the African-American community and some of the better sellers included Rev. J. C. Burnett, Rev. T.N.T. Burton, Rev. A.W. Nix, and Rev. Sundown Jesse. The most prolific of all was Rev. J. M. Gates of Atlanta, Georgia. His more than a hundred sermons were released on a variety of labels – Paramount, Columbia, Vocalion, Okeh, and Victor – that specialized in records that catered to “race.”

The case of Rev. Gates

What gave Gates prominence, besides his stellar performances, were his sensational titles, many drawn from Biblical verse, others from African-American vernacular. The titles enticed people to buy the record to find out more.

“Dead Cat on the Line” was Rev. Gates taking on marriage infidelity. He opened the sermon by saying,

“If a child is no way like his father, there’s a dead cat on the line.”

His reference was to a time when a cat might get up on the power lines and die from electrocution, cutting off telegraph signals so no messages could get through. The phrase meant “we’re not communicating here.” But with the dead cat festering up there, Gates was also alluding to the problems of infidelity.

Dead Cat on the Line.

“Kinky Hair is No Disgrace” spoke to demoralization stemming from negative value placed on “negro” features.“ Gates preached,

“Skin and hair don’t make the inside of man or woman good…Remember that God looks on the inside and man looks on the outside…And a whole lot of this hair straightening is just strictly so men can see it…You needn’t worry about your hair…You straighten your heart or your brain…Get something straight on the inside. You know it!”

Kinky Hair is No Disgrace.

And his masterpiece was based on a line from the Gospel of Matthew, “Straining at a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel.” “Straining at a gnat,” implied getting worked up about small matters, and “swallowing a camel,” was a reminder to people about missing what was truly important right in front of them, in this case the incongruities of racism. He sang,

Straining at a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel.

“You! You negro-haters. You that can’t sit with him on the street car. You that can’t eat at the same table with him. I’m talking about you who can’t sit in your own automobile with him. Aah, but I’ll tell you what you can do. You can eat what they cook. Sleep in their bed. You can let them drive your car while you sit in the rear and he handle your life in his hands. You’re straining at a gnat and swallowin’ a camel.”

The ConversationThe music of Rev. Gates and his fellow preachers provided the sonic moments for the religious seeds of the budding Civil Rights Movement.

Jerry Zolten, Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Someone Else’s Children

Someone Else’s Children

My husband and I have three adopted children. Three boys. They call each other brothers of another mother. They’re cool with that and so am I. Unfortunately, precious few Christian African American women would agree with my views on adoption.

As a young, married woman 19 years ago, I didn’t have a positive attitude about adoption. Frankly, adoption was the furthest thing from my mind. Both my husband and I were in school full time, working like Hebrew slaves on advanced engineering degrees. Between the two of us we made $18,000 a year in stipends. I thank God for those years (and for that small vegetable patch). Those lean times taught me how to wait on God.

Growing up in the swamplands of North Carolina, I played with trucks and climbed trees. Doll babies and tea sets were never on my gift wish list. After a few years of marriage that changed. It happened one sunny afternoon while I babysat for a college friend. That precious little toddler stole my heart with her sparkling brown eyes and chubby hands. When her mother picked her up two hours later, our one-bedroom apartment never felt so empty.

I soon graduated and tried to replace the longing for a child with a full-time job, volunteering at an urban ministry, church involvement, and writing. But the longing persisted. My husband was still in grad school but he agreed that it was time to start a family. I was 29. One and a half years later and no baby, I hit a wall. I started each day in tears, crying in the darkness of my walk-in closet before work. The crying lasted for months. On the outside, I was doing good things in my church and community racial reconciliation ministry. I was a faithful wife. I was a productive engineer.

On the inside, I was dying. Longing for a child.



At church, someone suggested we consider adoption. I was tired of all the doctor’s visits, the treatments, basal thermometers, and the prayers to God. I wanted relief. I wanted to feel good again, to feel God again. Adoption seemed like a good option.

We did our research. We talked with counselors and social workers. We talked with our friends and parents. We prayed and fasted. We had so many questions about the process, the costs, but especially the kids: What if they’re not black (or black enough)? What if they’re developmentally challenged? What if they’re violent? What if they’re crack babies?

God answered all those questions with peace. As Psalm 34:4 says: I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Along the way my husband and I have met some really wonderful adoptive parents. One couple, Becky and Joe, became part of our family. Our first meeting, though, was a tough one. It was on a Saturday morning in 1997, the year I was struggling with the specter of infertility. As long-time volunteers in an urban ministry, my husband and I were attending a racial reconciliation training conference.

The conference had my full attention until I spotted a white woman holding a beautiful dark-skinned baby across the room. Out of my fragile heart I thought: How could she have my baby? Before long I was wiping tears from my face, crying over the baby my husband and I could have adopted. If we only had money like that white woman.

That white woman was Becky. We were introduced later that day. To my surprise, she was the baby’s foster mother. She and Joe had committed themselves to care and advocate for children “caught in the system.” Over the 15-plus years they were foster parents, Joe and Becky fostered more than 30 children — mostly African American and biracial infants.

This older white Christian couple from the Midwest lived out the ministry of reconciliation described in the Bible. They showed me what sensitivity meant when they learned to properly care for the hair and skin of the little black children under their roof. They demonstrated empowerment and interdependence to me when they intentionality included African American mentors in their lives.

And later, when they adopted two of the brown-skinned children, I supported them, knowing that their heart was centered on seeking God’s will. They didn’t act out of pity for the poor. Their hearts were not shaded with the rosiness of “Love is enough” and “There is no color in God.” It is inspiring to see how my white Christian sister and brother lean on Jesus to help them navigate the treacherous waters of raising black children in America.

Bottom line: Adopting is not an easy fix. For me, becoming the mom of three brothers of other mothers was very difficult. In fact, in the beginning, it was like pulling a scab from a wound I thought had healed. But today I have three boys. Not three rejects or three unwanted children. I have three sons. Some people call them someone else’s children. I call them mine.

What Pastors Can Learn from Barbershops and Salons

What Pastors Can Learn from Barbershops and Salons

I wish churches were more like barbershops.

As a child I kept a love/hate relationship with my barbershop. On the one hand, like any mischievous little boy worth the scars on his knees, I despised the idea of getting a haircut: all a haircut did was pull me away from playing baseball and filling my pockets with dirt. Plus it took a really long time – let me emphasize this – a really long time for one person to get a haircut. The phrase, “I got three heads in front of you,” basically means, “Come back tomorrow.” For women in salons, a short delay can easily turn into a sleepover.

On the other hand, I never receive more compliments or feel better about myself than immediately after a haircut. The teenage me felt empowered by a fresh lining, and – I’ve done the math on this – life becomes 35% better after a haircut. Not just your life – ALL life becomes better.

Almost like church, right? (riiiight) Nowadays the barbershop is the hood’s sanctuary.

More than a Haircut

What we all know about barbershops and salons is almost universally true: it’s not about the haircut. Those take forever, are priced arbitrarily, and there’s no figuring out the person who handles your hair. No way.

But we don’t go to Supercuts instead, because efficiency doesn’t matter that much. (And because, Supercuts). Instead we go to, and sometimes endure, barbers shops and salons because of the experience. There is something about the ability to speak freely in a company of our peers that really makes a difference.

Really, it’s the difference between McDonald’s (Supercuts) and Soul Food Sundays at your grandmother’s house. I’ve been searching for years the right words to capture this experience – the barbershop – as have many books, dissertations, and movies, with varying success. What we know for sure is that it’s more than a haircut.

For sure, it’s the open conversation. The barbershop is where you can truly speak your mind. Whether in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America and their argument over the greatest boxer of all time – Sugar Ray Robinson or Cassius Clay (“his momma called him Clay, I call him Clay”); or in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, where the shop declares, “Ain’t no law for no colored man except the one sends him to the chair”; barbershops have a way of invoking truth telling and raw emotion that is rarely seen outside of the barbershop. A writer I love says it best:

There is no place like a Negro Barbershop for hearing what Negroes really think. There is more unselfconscious affirmation to be found here on a Saturday than you can find in a Negro College in a month or so it seems to me.
-Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (1953)

We need more barbershops, and national media gets this. There are certain conversations we follow on CNN and ESPN—conversations like whether Lebron is greater than MJ—if they seem familiar it’s because these are barbershop debates. Even the panel-style format that pervades talk television today—The Talk, The Chew, and Bill Maher—these are nothing more than barbershop conversations with higher production value. Extreme opinions in the same room? A charismatic ringleader? The View has existed for years in beauty salons; in the early 20th Century they were called “hush harbors.” Safe space. Vibrant, neighborhood space.

Our barbers and stylists are conversation hosts, and they create a space where we can simply BE. We don’t all have to agree, and we usually don’t, but the opportunity to speak and be heard is what I value more than anything else. Protected space.

In a generation before us, the shop was even a political space, where injustices were aired and stories were shared. It’s hard for us to understand this, but for our parents the barbershop was a place to be human in a world that treated them far less: a humanizing space.

And stories are shared; plenty of stories are made up too, but there too was a purpose in this. Mythical space.

And it is still today a place to form our values and affirm ourselves in the way that most sociologists agree is best: with others. We form ourselves in community. We judge ourselves in the presence of others who are like us. The barbershop is, for better or worse, a cauldron of Black identity. Survival space.

And you thought you were getting a haircut…

Better Churches, or More Barbershops?

There’s a narrative of decline in the Black church (all churches really), that churches are dying and aren’t relevant, and being a believer in public is like wearing a scarlet letter. If you’re asking these questions, pay attention to all of this the next time you are waiting in a barbershop or salon—the way you must go this often, and how your appointment has become a ritual of necessity. Everything I’ve said about your local ’shop we should also say about church.

The way one physical space is many different things at the same time for many different people.
The way conversation is open and debate is valued.
The way life outside this space matters, and we’ll help you make sense of it here.
The way people feel like they have to come, because they can’t get this experience anywhere else.
The way my barber even takes Mondays as his day off…Sabbath (preachers should taken note).

I like this. These thoughts excite me. How about…

The way the barbershop/salon is decidedly not a consumer product. It is a respite from the market, where local artisans (OK, bootleggers) but also chefs and designers and artists can find a community of support. Shouldn’t churches be known like this?

I think there’s a lot for us to learn from our barbers, and also, a few lessons we’ve already borrowed that we need to unlearn. Like how some church services take forever to finish. Or how women and kids aren’t always welcome, and vice versa for beauty salons. Or, and perhaps most critically, how we lose our boldness once we leave that space: our words are muted and we begin to play along in the systems of the wider world. Why do we change once we leave? The question is valid of barbershops and churches.

During my last haircut, we somehow had a conversation about religion and boxing and violence and relationships and politics all at the same time. And those who listened soon got involved. I laughed, and one time I cringed, but I thought about it all later. I spent a little money—for support—and I was in community, and the entire experience was a gift. Most of all, I knew I was coming back. On the way home I thought…

“I wish churches were more like barbershops.”

Maybe we’re not so far off. I hope not—for our sake, and for the sake of the many people who have never known God’s love and couldn’t care less about church, but never miss a haircut.

Haiti unrest strands a number of US church groups

Haiti unrest strands a number of US church groups

Volunteer groups from several U.S. states were stranded in Haiti this past Sunday after violent protests over fuel prices canceled flights and made roads unsafe.

Church groups in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are among those that haven’t been able to leave, according to newspaper and television reports.

Some flights were resuming Sunday afternoon, according to airline officials and the flight tracking website FlightAware. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said in an email that two flights bound for Miami and one for New York had taken off Sunday afternoon.

But even getting to an airport could be risky, U.S. officials warned. The U.S. State Department issued an alert Sunday urging its citizens on the island to shelter in place and not to go to an airport unless travelers had confirmed their departing flight was taking off.

Dr. Salil Bhende, a North Carolina dentist, said in a phone interview that a group of about 16 dental clinic volunteers was supposed to fly out Sunday from Port Au Prince but couldn’t make it to the airport because the roads were unsafe. After encountering rubble and garbage in the road, the group turned back to a church about 45 minutes outside the capital city where it was staying. Airline officials told them they might not be able to get a flight home until Tuesday, Bhende said.

“There were a lot of blockages,” he told The Associated Press. “It was very difficult to get to the airport, so we just turned around, basically, to be safe.”

Another member of the group, Pastor Fred Stapleton of Cornerstone Covenant Church in western North Carolina, said the volunteers have plenty of food and feel safe in the church.

“Nobody here is afraid for their life, or anything like that,” he said. “The people have taken care of us. We’ve been kept in a safe place.”

Chapin United Methodist Church in South Carolina posted online Sunday that its mission team is safe but stranded. Marcy Kenny, assimilation minister for the church, told The State newspaper that the group is hoping the unrest will abate enough for them to make it to the airport.

“They’re just waiting for things to die down a little bit,” Kenny said.

About 30 volunteers from a Bradenton, Florida, church were unable to make it to the airport Saturday because of protesters blocking the streets, according to the Bradenton Herald.

The group from Woodland Community Church includes about 18 teens, plus ministers and a handful of parents, said Jill Kramer, whose 15-year-old daughter is on the trip. They tried to leave for the airport early Saturday morning but turned back after they encountered protesters.

Kramer, who spoke to her daughter by phone, said the group has food, water and safe shelter at the nonprofit group where they had been working.

“The mission team, the directors they all decided it just wasn’t worth it to go farther,” Kramer told the newspaper.

— Yonat Shimron

Millennials, Faith, and the Future of the Black Church (Video Transcript)

Why aren’t more millennials in church?

Allen:  With everything going on our country, a lot of churches are experiencing low attendance in general, and millennials, in particular, being absent in their churches. And a lot of people are wondering why you think that might be? Why is it we aren’t seeing our generation in church as much, or as much as people might desire, and what are some ways that we might think about meeting that chronic crisis, right now, in black church communities. That low attendance of millennials and how might we invite, or engage, millennials with that reality?

Brianna:  So, I could tell you from my research that three things black millennials are concerned with the church: Family dynamics, outreach, and social justice. And if you think about churches, there are a lot of churches that don’t include those, right? Family dynamics means not just classes, right, but actually to see what it means to have a healthy family as millennials because many of the people in our generation didn’t get to see it. And so I’m not surprised that you have Reggie and Bree, who have an influx of millennials because they actually get to watch it in action, right? They get to believe in something that they may have never seen.

Brianna:  Another thing is outreach. If you remember, maybe a couple decades ago, everyone was building fellowship halls, right? And gyms. And they were promising that the kids were gonna come from impoverished neighborhoods and have a place to play, and they were gonna do homework, and then if you think it through, that really never happened, and fellowship halls and gyms and all those things that we’ve paid big money to build, were actually not being used. And so it was almost like your grandmother’s furniture when you put the plastic on it, right? And nobody can really go in there, but it just looks good? And so it was that kind of situation, but by the time it was time to go back and use it, it had already dry rot. And that’s what’s happening a lot of times with the buildings that were built a couple decades ago, and so millennials are not gonna continue to put money into an edifice, you know, that no one’s gonna be able to use.

Brianna:  So when I asked in my research, “What’s a cause worth giving?” The answer was, “A cause that gave.” And so outreach was really important and black millennials are not seeing that you’re willing to go outside the walls of your church, and you’re willing to not treat people like a notch on your belt, then that doesn’t look like outreach or something you wanna participate in, or sow into.

Brianna: And then justice. I know the Methodist church came out with this article that said millennials didn’t like politics mixing in their pulpit. That’s white millennials, that’s not black millennials, and so it was very important for black millennials to know that justice was gonna be important in the church. Because we can’t divorce real life, so we went through this point where everybody was like, “You gotta wake up, you’re not equal,” you know, that’s what our parents were telling us, insert Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, they were like, “oh let’s go burn the whole country down,” right? So they went from telling us to wake up, to slow down, take a nap, and we’re like what do we do? ‘Cause we wanna burn everything down, you know, because now we get it, and so really just finding that middle ground, what does it mean? I mean, we have different gifts that can benefit the movement in ways that we didn’t have before, like technology, right? So when you see something that says, “Not your grandmother’s movement,” on the one hand it can look disrespectful, right? Because we know that there’s so much to build upon. It’s not your grandmother’s movement, ’cause we have so much technology! But it is your grandmother’s movement because we wouldn’t have a movement without them.

Brianna:  So, social justice, family dynamics, and outreach are important. The things that were not as important are the things that we’re majoring in most times in church.

Gabby:  I wanted to echo something that Brianna mentioned about white millennials and not black millennials, and I dealt with this and actually before Brianna and I had a friendship, I knew her research because I was being asked to provide data to my congregation about millennials. And so I did what I was asked, but all of the resources given and that I could find were about white, middle America millennials, which are not the same thing as African Americans between the ages of 21 to 35, and even the years that we give for millennials, some start at 1980, some start later. But, what I will say is it’s really important contextually if you are serving black and brown people, to find black and brown research. And it might be somebody who hasn’t finished their doctorate yet but they’re doing the work. It might be Brianna Parker, it might be Josh, it might be some of us, but you’ve gotta find people who know your context, and obviously, that is one of the biggest reasons why millennials are stopping coming inside of the doors of these churches, it’s because we’re doing … I was gonna say in blackface, but I’m … You know.

Brianna:  No, that’s true.

Gabby:  We are black ministers, but we’re using white tools. And I just graduated from Yale Divinity, so I get that we get our tools from where we get them from, but we’ve got to contextualize them for our people. And what you’re seeing is a more educated group of folks … And I’m not saying educated by degrees, I’m saying by Google, by social experience, by what we have processed, you’re seeing millennials who are like, “I may not know what you should be teaching me or preaching to me, but I do know this doesn’t feel like my context.” And so you’re not gonna keep people in the church by trying to make them assimilate into a way of thinking that is not their own. You’ve gotta do the work that matches the context that we minister in.

Is tech in church harmful or helpful?

Allen: Is the technology, whether that’s social media … the information age with our ability to search and research anything at a moment’s notice, is that helpful or hurtful? What are some ways we can think about that?

Gabby: I think technology is helpful, let me just start there. I think it’s very, very helpful but I think it goes back to us as the Black Church having to ask ourselves, are we offering something that people need to actually physically be here to access? Or, are we just creating these spaces where whether you’re here or not, you feel the same way?

I liken it to … my background is in music … so, I liken it to around 2007, 2008, when the music industry was going crazy because people were no longer buying CDs and people were starting to stream. The same conversation happened, which was how are record labels going to survive? How are artists going to survive? If they’re not buying the music, people must no longer want to invest in music. But what was shifting was people didn’t want to pay for that content. What sustained the music industry was touring. So, at the same time, when folks were streaming and not buying music, ticket sales to concerts and experiences were through the roof.

I liken that to the church. We have to create a space where, yeah, I can stream it, but I want to be there. I want to catch the energy. I want to have the conversations afterward. I want to have that community. What we’re finding is a lot of times in these megachurch spaces we’re losing that. Where people come and they go and so what’s the difference between sitting here or sitting in my bed? If there’s something else … if there’s something human and if I’m seeing … if I’m communicated with …if I can have a touchpoint that’s different in the same way that touring sustained the music industry. People will watch a concert, but that will prompt them to buy tickets and be there themselves. I think we have to figure out, as the church, what can we offer that makes people want to connect with us directly in addition to just hearing and receiving The Word digitally?

What Do Millennials Need From the Generations Before Us?

Allen: What is it that Millennials need from the generations before us right now in this moment, as they’re thinking about how to engage us in a church context; as believers inside and outside the church? What might we need from the generations that have come before us?

Reginald: Conversation and dialogue. Non-judgmental dialogue. We need your ears. Many of us don’t have positions right now, but you have ’em. So, listen to people when they talk to you. Not to respond, but to hear them. Active listening, my wife taught me. I had to learn that the hard way. Active listening. Listen to people. Dialogue. Don’t debate. We in this together. Listen to people dialogue. Have conversations, and you’ll be surprised at all God may reveal to you through somebody who may be younger; but yet, there’s no age limit on wisdom.

Gabby: I used to tell our members, “When you talk to a millennial, don’t look at them as your child. Look at them as what you were like when you were that age”. Because, we have a problem where each generation keeps infantilizing us, and we’re not children. So, you might have a child who’s 32, but I’m not your child. So, think about when you were 32, and how grown you were; and have a conversation with me from there. And so, I think that there’s a mindset thing happening where it doesn’t matter what my age looks like. Engage me for what I’m bringing to the table, not for your assumptions about who I am.
Brianna: No one has ever put a limit or any restrictions on me in certain areas; but leadership has been one, right? So, you have to get old enough to lead, but you don’t have to get old enough to give. At the point that I can invest in your ministry financially, I should be able to invest, and have a seat at the table, and have a voice in the room. And so, I think if there’s one thing you can do, it’s give millennials both voice and value. That’s gonna be important because we don’t just want to believe that you want us there like a notch on your belt, ’cause that’s tacky. We wanna believe that you want us to be there to be a legitimate part of the conversation. That when we speak, that we have just as much opportunity to see whatever we say activated as someone who’s older than us.

And I think often times millennials are not taken seriously, because we still say things like, “Well, you know the elders are the ones with the money.” Well, that’s not true, and I know you don’t believe somebody on a fixed income is making more than people who are going out and working every day. You don’t believe that. But what we do, is we exploit our elders, because we know that they give in a way that is sacrificial, and a way that millennials don’t; ’cause we haven’t bought into the black church, or any church like that. And so, don’t exploit seniors, and don’t minimize what millennials have to give.

Good Tree, Bad Tree: Tips on Evaluating Relationships

Good Tree, Bad Tree: Tips on Evaluating Relationships

Tree imagery appears throughout Scripture when describing human beings. When Jesus began to heal the blind man in Mark’s Gospel, He asked him if he saw anything. The man responded and stated: “I see men like trees, walking” (see Mark 8:24, NKJV). Jesus Himself used this imagery to describe the interconnectedness of human beings. One of the most profound statements that He made was connected to something we try to figure out all the time in this life—relationships: “…for a tree is known by its fruit” (from Matthew 12:33, NKJV).

The “Job Interview”

One of the most frustrating things I notice in unhealthy or failed relationships is the lack of accounting when it comes to examining another person’s fruit. Sadly we mistake the honeymoon phase of dating relationships as the true nature of another individual. Anyone can go on a job interview dressed up and ready to answer questions impressively. This is precisely what dating tends to look like. The one thing the job interviewee knows? Putting one’s best foot forward increases his or her chances at getting hired.

I’m willing to bet you that a man will not reveal on the first date that he’s possessive, jealous, and insecure, and has expectations that you treat him like his mother treated him. I’m also pretty confident that a woman probably will not reveal that she is looking for someone to treat her like her last boyfriend or someone who knows exactly what she’s thinking without her saying it. Nor will she reveal any other emotional baggage she may carry. Let me give you a simple secret to help you see through that “impressive resume” on the first couple of dates: Time!

Taking Some Time

I know. I know. It sounds elementary and simple. I am pretty sure the heavens didn’t open up after that revelation. Sadly, this truth is avoided like the plague when it comes to entering relationships and causes more frustration than most people would like to admit. In addition to a tree being known by its fruit, Jesus also revealed that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18, NKJV).

Let me put it this way. Entering a new relationship is like planting a seed. When you begin to water that relationship seed, it will begin to break through any dirt (i.e., any unrevealed vices) that either one of you have and reveal one another’s true nature. Of course, that watering occurs by means of the “living water” (see John 7:38). Afterward, things will begin to bud in the relationship and eventually trees will emerge with accompanying fruit. Here’s the key. Whether or not the other person’s tree bears good fruit depends on their response to your watering.

Please hear my heart on this. Developing a healthy relationship requires an effort on behalf of both parties. If you begin to feel like you are the only one attempting to develop your relationship, then you will begin to feel unattended to and lacking nourishment.

The Fruit Test

Once you’ve overcome the time obstacle, you can begin to properly evaluate a relationship and look for fruit. The good thing about this process is that everyone produces fruit of some kind. The only difference is the marketability of that fruit. Would you go into a grocery store and buy rotten apples or oranges? Why would you do the same thing as it pertains to a relationship? Here are some things to look for when evaluating relationships: “Now the [fruit] of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery… murders…” (from Galatians 5:19–21, NKJV).

Ask yourself: Is this person adulterous? I know what you’re asking. Isn’t this supposed to be an article on dating? What does adultery have to do with dating relationships? I’m glad you asked. Jesus says that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (see Matthew 5:28). Do you find them looking at other people when you two are together? This is an indication that they are adulterous, at least as far as their heart is concerned. This bad fruit can help you when you examine the relationship.

You might also want to ask yourself: Is this person a murderer? I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I am not talking about people who may be imprisoned for taking the life of another person. I am talking about people who are locked up in a different way. Scripture is very clear when it says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (from 1 John 3:15, NKJV). Does your significant other have disdain for other ethnic groups? Does he or she make disparaging remarks about others that are hurtful? God saw fit that this issue was serious enough to warrant mentioning and should lead each of us to examine the people in our leaves for this potential bad fruit. Those are just two items on a long list of what Paul deems to be bad fruit. Check out the others on the list in Galatians 5 and determine whether your significant other shows signs of bad fruit.

The Good News

People can exhibit things you should be looking for in a significant other. The Apostle Paul calls this good fruit. Some examples of good fruit? Love, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (see Galatians 5:22–23).

Take time out now to examine past relationships in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Have you seen any of the fruit mentioned above at work in those relationships? More importantly, can you take lessons learned from those situations and move forward with a new conviction? The important thing about the blind man seeing “men like trees” in Mark’s Gospel was that his healing was incomplete. He needed a further touch from Jesus. With that touch he was restored and saw everyone clearly (see Mark 8:25b). Although examining the fruit of others to evaluate our relationships is important, there is still a need to rely on and allow Christ to place His hand on those relationships for full clarity and direction. If you keep these things in mind, your relationship will truly become like a tree planted by the rivers of water (see Psalm 1:3) and flourish in Christ.

#DanRyanShutDown — Do protests really change policy?

#DanRyanShutDown — Do protests really change policy?

As I watched a diverse group of activists, beyond frustrated with gun violence in Chicago, shut down the Dan Ryan, one of the busiest expressways in the Chicago area, I felt a solidarity with their cause. Led by Father Pfleger of St. Sabina Church and Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday, July 7, thousands of activists from all areas of the city and the suburbs screamed “shut it down” right before they took over all four lanes of the expressway on the northbound lanes from 79th Street to 67th Street.

When I texted a friend of mine, who is very active in her South Side Chicago community, she was a lot less enthused about the event.

“What I don’t get is we’re primarily killing each other. How does marching on the highway reduce crime in our own community?”

I countered that it’s hard to ignore the problem when people practice civil disobedience. Then she responded, “Agreed, but it doesn’t influence or shape policy.”

She has a point about us killing each other, but I’m not sure I agree that civil disobedience and non-violent protests won’t change policy. This past spring, there were organized national marches in Chicago and across the nation against gun violence in schools and in the streets — nothing much has changed…yet. As of the first week in July, more than 1300 people have been shot in Chicago this year, according to The Chicago Tribune. And new school shootings seem to happen on the regular. But we’ve seen how peaceful protests have turned a bad situation around in the past.

President Trump has argued that Chicago has some of the toughest gun control laws, but some suggest the laws are actually too lenient. Whatever your political bent, that doesn’t take away from the fact that we need to continue the tradition of putting our faith in action to make change happen and our communities safer. Next week, I’m not sure anyone will remember this march. But the pressure does let politicians know that although we join them in their thoughts and prayers, we also demand more effective solutions. Gov. Rauner, we heard you, but are you listening?

Hidden figures: How black women preachers spoke truth to power

Hidden figures: How black women preachers spoke truth to power

Sojourner Truth Memorial in Florence, Massachusetts.
Lynne Graves, CC BY-ND

Each semester I greet the students who file into my preaching class at Howard University with a standard talk. The talk is not an overview of the basics – techniques of sermon preparation or sermon delivery, as one might expect. Outlining the basics is not particularly difficult.

The greatest challenge, in fact, is helping learners to stretch their theology: namely, how they perceive who God is and convey what God is like in their sermons. This becomes particularly important for African-American preachers, especially African-American women preachers, because most come from church contexts that overuse exclusively masculine language for God and humanity.

African-American women comprise more than 70 percent of the active membership of generally any African-American congregation one might attend today. According to one Pew study, African-American women are among the most religiously committed of the Protestant demographic – eight in 10 say that religion is important to them.

Yet, America’s Christian pulpits, especially African-American pulpits, remain male-dominated spaces. Still today, eyebrows raise, churches split, pews empty and recommendation letters get lost at a woman’s mention that God has called her to preach.

The deciding factor for women desiring to pastor and be accorded respect equal to their male counterparts generally whittles down to one question: Can she preach?

The fact is that African-American women have preached, formed congregations and confronted many racial injustices since the slavery era.

Here’s the history

The earliest black female preacher was a Methodist woman simply known as Elizabeth. She held her first prayer meeting in Baltimore in 1808 and preached for about 50 years before retiring to Philadelphia to live among the Quakers.

First African-American church, founded by Rev. Richard Allen. D Smith, CC BY-NC

An unbroken legacy of African-American women preachers persisted even long after Elizabeth. Reverend Jarena Lee became the first African-American woman to preach at the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. She had started even before the church was officially formed in the city of Philadelphia in 1816. But, she faced considerable opposition.

AME Bishop Richard Allen, who founded the AME Church, had initially refused Lee’s request to preach. It was only upon hearing her speak, presumably, from the floor, during a worship service, that he permitted her to give a sermon.

Lee reported that Bishop Allen, “rose up in the assembly, and related that [she] had called upon him eight years before, asking to be permitted to preach, and that he had put [her] off; but that he now as much believed that [she] was called to that work, as any of the preachers present.

Lee was much like her Colonial-era contemporary, the famed women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. Truth had escaped John Dumont’s slave plantation in 1828 and landed in New York City, where she became an itinerant preacher active in the abolition and woman’s suffrage movements.

Fighting the gender narratives

For centuries now, the Holy Bible has been used to suppress women’s voices. These early female black preachers reinterpreted the Bible to liberate women.

Truth, for example, is most remembered for her captivating topical sermon “Ar’nt I A Woman?,” delivered at the Woman’s Rights National Convention on May 29, 1851 in Akron, Ohio.

In a skillful historical interpretation of the scriptures, in her convention address, Truth used the Bible to liberate and set the record straight about women’s rights. She professed:

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, because Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

Like Truth, Jarena Lee spoke truth to power and paved the way for other mid- to late 19th-century black female preachers to achieve validation as pulpit leaders, although neither she nor Truth received official clerical appointments.

The first woman to achieve this validation was Julia A. J. Foote. In 1884, she became the first woman ordained a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion AMEZ Church. Shortly after followed the ordinations of AME evangelist Harriet A. Baker, who in 1889 was perhaps the first black woman to receive a pastoral appointment. Mary J. Small became the first woman to achieve “elder ordination” status, which permitted her to preach, teach and administer the sacraments and Holy Communion.

Historian Bettye Collier-Thomas maintains that the goal for most black women seeking ordination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was simply a matter of gender inclusion, not necessarily pursuing the need to transform the patriarchal church.

Preaching justice

An important voice was that of Rev. Florence Spearing Randolph. In her role as reformer, suffragist, evangelist and pastor, she daringly advanced the cause of freedom and justice within the churches she served and even beyond during the period of the Great Migration of 20th century.

In my book, “A Pursued Justice: Black Preaching from the Great Migration to Civil Rights,” I trace the clerical legacy of Rev. Randolph and describe how her prophetic sermons spoke to the spiritual, social and industrial conditions of her African-American listeners before and during the largest internal migration in the United States.

In her sermons she brought criticism to the broken promises of American democracy, the deceptive ideology of black inferiority and other chronic injustices.

Randolph’s sermon “If I Were White,” preached on Race Relations Sunday, Feb. 1, 1941, reminded her listeners of their self-worth. It emphasized that America’s whites who claim to be defending democracy in wartime have an obligation to all American citizens.

Randolph spoke in concrete language. She argued that the refusal of whites to act justly toward blacks, domestically and abroad, embraced sin rather than Christ. That, she said, revealed a realistic picture of America’s race problem.

She also spoke about gender discrimination. Randolph’s carefully crafted sermon in 1909 “Antipathy to Women Preachers,” for example, highlights several heroic women in the Bible. From her interpretation of their scriptural legacy, she argued that gender discrimination in Christian pulpits illustrated a misreading of scripture.

Randolph used her position as preacher to effect social change. She was a member and organizer for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which led in the work to pass the 18th Amendment, which made prohibition of the production, sale and transport of alcoholic beverages illegal in the United States. Her affiliation with the WCTU earned her the title “militant herald of temperance and righteousness.”

The ConversationToday, several respected African-American women preachers and teachers of preachers proudly stand on Lee’s, Small’s and Randolph’s shoulders raising their prophetic voices.

Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Associate Professor of Homiletics, Howard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

It had been a long day. Not long because I had crammed one activity after another into a very small window of time, but long in the tangible way I had felt every hour pass. Even though I arrived late to pick up my son from track practice, his older brother and I ended up having to wait for him to come out of the building. As he opened the van door, pitched his backpack into the van, and hopped onto the seat, I skipped my customary “Hi, how was your day” greeting. My mind was too harried to bother with perfunctory courtesies.

I swerved into the exit lane of the school driveway, but just then a man walking alongside a bicycle stepped into the crosswalk. He appeared to be talking to himself. At the precise moment when my car stopped to wait for him to pass, he turned and saw me. Now he was coming back toward the van. Oh no, not today, I thought. But yes, today was the day, and it has now become to me an act of mercy and life-altering grace that I will never forget.

I rolled down my window, lowered the radio volume so he wouldn’t hear the Christian music playing, and fixed my face with an impassive look that I hoped would indicate an absence of hostility but also a need to finish quickly whatever our interaction would be.

When he came to the window, I was expecting him to start explaining what he needed. But instead, he handed me a piece of notepaper that I could see was about half full of writing. As I started to read, he began saying something that I couldn’t quite make out, but I could tell he was probably hearing impaired. His note basically related that he was new in town, didn’t have a place to stay, had no friends or family in the area, and hadn’t eaten in three days. He concluded with a simple request for money to buy food.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the experience, I realize that should have been my first clue that something unexpected was about to happen. Even with all his apparent needs—without a home, physical and perhaps cognitive impairments, hunger, no family—he had narrowed his request down to one thing: I’m hungry. Can you help me get some food? I see this now for what it was: raw humility.

I looked up from the note and explained that I didn’t have any cash. Usually I at least have some loose change in my ashtray or the well in the driver side door, but not today. So being satisfied that I had dispatched my obligation as best I could, I apologized for being unable to help and began rolling my window back up. Unlike other people in his situation I’ve met before, he didn’t look angry, nor did he become aggressive. He took the note back from me, smiled, and started walking back in the direction he was originally going.

As I pulled out onto the road, I said to my sons, “I really need to start carrying some cash so I can help when situations like this come up.” They both mumbled, “Yeah,” and I could hear in their voices that surly cynicism people get when they hear someone say something that they knew would quickly be forgotten. They were right. I had said this before.

But this time it felt different.

Continuing in the vein of my day, I started mentally processing what had just happened. Unsolicited, I heard and felt God’s whisper in my heart, saying, “You don’t have any cash, but you can still give him something to eat.”

Duh, of course … I did have my debit card! In a flash, it hit me with such intensity that it came bursting out of my mouth without me really intending it to. “Hey, I have a card!” I shouted.

Now my sons were energized too. They both sat up straighter in their seats and started looking for a place we could stop and buy our stranger something to eat. At the same time, we all spotted the Burger King to our left. In my new excitement and haste to rectify my original un-helpfulness, I swung the van into the turn lane and practically skidded into the BK drive-thru line. We were all thinking the same thing: we needed to hurry because he might not be in the near vicinity for too long. My sons both started yelling things we could order, and we settled on grilled chicken, fries, and a sprite. We figured if he hadn’t eaten in three days, his stomach might be sensitive, so grilled rather than fried seemed to fit the bill. I also was price conscious because my own finances were pretty slim.

After we ordered and paid, we started looking for him. Panic began to rise as we scanned the street in front of us and the sidewalk on both sides and didn’t see him.

“There he is!”

My younger son spotted him in the parking lot of a corner convenience store where he appeared to be talking with another driver about his plight. I made a half u-turn into the store parking lot and pulled up beside our friend. When he shifted on his feet to face us, I could see on his face a flicker of recognition, but just shy of familiarity. My older son was closest to him, so I handed the bag of food to him and he reached out the window. A look of sheer surprise spread over the man’s face. Clearly he couldn’t believe we were back. My son handed him the bag, and tears welled up in the man’s eyes.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you so much, and God bless you,” the man said. We blessed him back and pulled off.

I knew what had just happened, but I also knew something else had happened. That simple hand-off of food had ushered something “other” into our midst. A hush fell over all three of us, and my spirit bore witness that the interior of my van had been transformed into holy ground. The presence of God was overwhelming. Tears started running down my face, and I saw that my younger son was struggling to hold back the tears that sat pooled right behind his eyelids. Finally he said, “Gosh, he was so grateful … poor guy.”

I heard what my son said, but I also heard someone else speaking: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me. Thanks for feeding Me when I was hungry.” Then again: “When you give to the poor, you lend to the Lord. Thanks for the loan; I’ll pay you back.”

I was speechless. On a day when I felt the burden of so much of my own need, and was almost near the edge of panic about my own money situation, the Lord Himself visited my little tribe and gave us an opportunity to see Him, and to be blessed not just by Him but with Him. God was there as real as I’ve ever experienced Him. I saw Him in the man’s unashamed humility, his open gratitude, his peaceful demeanor despite what had to be a grinding existence, and his ready forgiveness of my earlier rejection. This man may indeed be a pauper by earthly standards, but he was just as sure a prince by eternal standards. In that simple act of obedience, I had received so much more than I had given.

Since my meeting him that day, now more than a month ago, I have thought of him every day and prayed for him when I thought to do it. He makes me wonder how many times, in our harried and distracted living, we miss the opportunity to see Jesus because we don’t recognize Him when we see Him.

Our cities and urban areas are full with people who need to be fed, clothed, comforted. But I believe we pass Him by because of the “distressing disguise” in which he appears to us. Run-down tenements, trash-strewn alleys, and overrun housing projects are not usually our idea of heavenly places. But heaven is where Jesus is, and I think maybe He’s waiting for us to realize that truth.

I almost wish I could see my hungry friend again, just so I could thank him. Through his humanity and his need, he gave me a glimpse of Someone I desperately needed to see. He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.

Two-Minute Parenting Podcast Shorts

Two-Minute Parenting Podcast Shorts

There’s nothing like sage advice from an elder to keep you grounded as a new parent and inspired by your faith. Below you’ll find a compilation of two-minute parenting podcast shorts by Dr. Melvin E. Banks, founder of UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.). We’ve pulled them from Dr. Banks’ daily radio program called Daily Direction, which covers a variety of issues and topics. So when your little one takes a short nap, get your coffee or tea, find a spot on the couch, and enjoy!

Here are some tips for parenting young children

The birth of a child is a profound miracle

How do you prepare for a new baby’s arrival?

Has child discipline gone out of style?

Children’s ministries have worthy missions

How can we transmit our values to the next generation?

A baby shares the nature of its parents

How can parents discourage violence in children?

Some parents let their children learn from failure

The terrible-two age frustrates many parents

Parents still love their children after discipline is over

Are you an adopted child?

Marian Wright Edelman imitated her parents’ values

Here are habits some say you can blame on your parents

Child abuse and child neglect are serious issues

Powerful Stories Hidden in Abandoned Cemeteries

Powerful Stories Hidden in Abandoned Cemeteries

Photo credit: Gravestones at St. George Cemetery in southern Illinois. (Nick Schnelle for ProPublica Illinois)


It’s impossible to see from the street, so you would never know it’s there.

To get to St. George Cemetery, especially its oldest section, you have to make your way past branches and thorns, across the weathered hills and over downed trees. Eventually, dozens of scattered headstones, some of them knocked over, come into view. And there, sitting upright, is the gravestone of William Chapman, an African-American veteran of the Civil War who died March 21, 1904.

My interest in abandoned African-American cemeteries started in graduate school when I was assigned to write a story about a black woman named Rose Sturdivant Young, who was leading the charge to restore an abandoned cemetery in North Carolina. Her father, mother and other ancestors are buried there.

African-American cemeteries across the country have largely been neglected, their powerful histories obscured by weeds, debris and, as much as anything, the passage of time. Few people know their locations. Fewer still know the stories of the people buried there.

When I came to ProPublica Illinois as a reporting fellow, I saw a chance to look into this issue. I focused on two cemeteries in St. Clair County, a few miles southeast of St. Louis across the Mississippi River: St. George and Booker T. Washington Cemetery. I spent time hiking the grounds with folks who are trying to unearth and preserve the histories of the cemeteries, as well as trying to keep up the cemeteries themselves.

Both cemeteries once served as the final resting places for the black communities in and around St. Clair County. Of the thousands of people buried in the two cemeteries, close to 30 African-American veterans have been identified, including at least one — Chapman — from the Civil War. But they were more than just cemeteries. Black residents, according to local lore, used Booker T. Washington as a shelter during the East St. Louis race riots in 1917, when white mobs murdered dozens of black citizens. After the riots, many of the victims of the violence supposedly were buried there.

“The black cemeteries are being destroyed, accidentally or on purpose,” said Judy Jennings, a U.S. Air Force contract specialist and amateur historian who, for nearly two decades, has been researching the cemeteries, especially Booker T. Washington. “It’s important to preserve this history.”

It’s difficult to estimate the number of abandoned cemeteries among the thousands of licensed and unlicensed cemeteries in Illinois. The state doesn’t seem to keep track and no one, as far as I can tell, has studied the issue in enough detail to compile a list. But funeral home directors and others I spoke with said there could be many, from plots on private farms and other family property to large cemeteries like St. George and Booker T. Washington.

As segregation eased over the decades and other cemeteries began to allow blacks to be buried, Booker T. Washington and St. George became overgrown and neglected. Over time, many people forgot they existed.

Today, Booker T. Washington sits in a large bowl at the bottom of a hill and frequently floods. Conditions at St. George, which is hidden deep in the woods, are worse. In fact, logging trucks drove through the cemetery in July 2016 and crushed a number of the headstones. Police investigated the incident but no one was charged.

After spending time in St. Clair County and talking with descendants of some of those buried at Booker T. Washington and St. George, as well as with researchers like Jennings, I concluded the abandonment of the cemeteries was mostly the result of a series of unfortunate circumstances, instead of deliberate neglect.

Other abandoned cemeteries probably faced similar fates. People stopped burying loved ones there and, because these are not public lands, there’s no taxpayer money to maintain them. Over time, no one was left to do the weeding and other necessary upkeep. Owners — private citizens when they opened — died and, according to the St. Clair County Genealogical Society, which has studied the cemeteries, it was unclear who took over ownership.

Only a few descendants still try to maintain plots.

Perhaps the best we can do after so many years is recognize that these cemeteries were once central to African-American communities and learn what we can from them. If you are aware of any abandoned historically black cemeteries in Illinois or know of historical societies researching this area, please get in touch. Email me at [email protected].

 

Can you love authentically if you were raised to be toxic?

Can you love authentically if you were raised to be toxic?

It’s not easy to be hated by the person who is supposed to love you most, and unfortunately, being toxic has become normalized in our culture.

Many see misdirected aggravation, gaslighting, physical abuse, and more as “love tactics.” When a child only knows pain as a source of love, then they too love in that way and any other form of healthy love seems abnormal.

However, the question is, can a person ever love authentically if they were raised to be toxic?

The assumption is no. When someone is exposed to consistent, toxic stress, they are vulnerable to mental and physical illness that can sometimes develop into a genetic trait, according to Hey Sigmund; therefore this behavior is biologically passed on through generations.

However, despite the science behind the effects of toxic love, there is always hope for a better life.

Fighting for Love

“I just felt like I wasn’t loved by my mom, says Monique, a woman in her 40s who was often told she wasn’t good enough. “I felt growing up in my mom’s house I wasn’t allowed to be me, an individual.”

To suit her mother’s perfect image of a family, Monique, was to participate in certain activities without any consideration of her talents or desires. While at the same time, her brother was given free reign to participate in activities of his choice throughout their childhood.

And to make matters worse, Monique’s father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would often abuse her. She recalls him touching her to satisfy his physical desires and severely beating her when she reported it to her incredulous mother.

Fortunately, Monique found refuge in her grandmother’s home, where she found the kind of love her mother envied. Monique remembers her mother punishing and verbally abusing her as a result of the love she received from her grandmother.

Like many girls, Monique found herself looking for love in empty relationships during her teen years that lead to a forced, terminated pregnancy and physical and emotional abuse similar to the treatment she received from her own father.

Eventually, Monique met a gentle and caring man named Laz. However, Laz’s compassion and gentleness were unfamiliar to her, which ultimately lead to Monique returning to one of her previous, toxic relationships.

She went on to marry a former flame named Xavier and stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years.

Towards the end of my [3rd] pregnancy, I found out he was cheating and when I confronted him, he hit me,” says Monique who recalls her toxic relationship that mirrored her childhood. “He asked, ‘Who are you to question me?’…It felt like because of the way I grew up, if I wasn’t getting hit, then it wasn’t love,”

After her divorce, Monique fought against her toxic past. She made the decision to rise above her father’s mental illness, her mother’s jealousy and apathy, and their collective effort to make her their emotional punching bag for their marriage troubles.

Although the struggle did not end after her marriage when it came to love, her children, and health, she remains hopeful enough to fight for the love she deserves. She charges her will to carry on to God, because without Him, she would have taken the final blow to end her suffering.

Turning Off the Gaslight

Bella was born to a Catholic family that rejected her mother for having a baby with a man that she later learned was married. The rejection caused her mother to make multiple attempts to prove her worth to the family by making Bella seem exceptional, but in private her mother was spiteful and unloving as the list of accomplishments grew.

“[My mother] did everything for me to prove herself, but not for the love of me,” Bella explains. “She worked hard to put me through private school and extracurricular activities, but at home I was repeatedly told I was nothing; sometimes she even called me a waste of a human being. To this day, she has never told me she loves me.”

Whenever something would go wrong in Bella’s life, she would automatically blame herself as a result of her relationship with her mother. Even when her husband and father of their two children committed adultery, she took the blame.

As time went on, Bella lost the love of her life, her job, and believed that she would never be loved which drove her into a suicidal state .

Until one day, Bella decided that she had enough and began to fight for her life, beauty, and self-love through therapy. “Once I figured out that I wasn’t this awful, unlovable monster that I was made to believe as a reality by someone who was unloved, it turned my world upside down in a great way,” Bella says. “It never would have happened without me doing the work in therapy.”

As a result of her treatment, Bella was led to a love that she has been enveloped in for the last four years. Even though the pain of rejection transcended through two generations, love won in the end.

“In the middle of all of this, I met a man who just rained love on me,” Bella joyfully exclaims.

Is there hope after a toxic upbringing?

“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of [your abuser], which I also hate” (Revelations 2:6, NIV).

In the beginning of this article, the question was, can a person love authentically if they were raised to be toxic? The answer is yes, but you must fight for it.

It is easy to nurse the scars of someone that you love, because love is to be unconditional, right? But what good is unconditional love when a person’s pain has replaced the spirit that you desperately want to love?

That is spiritual warfare and it is best to back away and allow God to handle it if they are unwilling to get help. It is important to recognize the signs of someone who has been abused and trying to regain power, which can include verbally sharing memories of their toxic loved ones.

Fortunately, Bella and Monique worked past those painful memories found a way to defeat them so that the tradition of toxicity ended with them and a reign of love could begin.

What healing advice do you have for someone who grew up in a toxic environment? Share your thoughts below.

Millennials, Faith, and the Black Church

Millennials, Faith, and the Black Church

UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.) and Urban Faith led an open dialogue with millennial influencers on Millennials, Faith, and the Future of the Black Church at the 104th Hampton Minister’s Conference. The panel included: Precepts for Living Editor Allen Reynolds (moderator); Minister Christian Brown, Children and Youth Minister at Mount Moriah Baptist Church and author of the self-empowerment devotional Rise and Shine; Rev. Dr. Brianna K. Parker, curator and founder of the Black Millennial Café (BMC) and author of What Google Can’t Give; Minister Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes, who, along with her husband Pastor Andrew Wilkes, were featured in Essence magazine for their work with the young adult ministry at the Greater Allen A.M.E Cathedral of New York. and Reginald Wayne Sharpe Jr, former pastor of The House of Hope Church in Macon, GA.

This is the first part of a series of video shorts pulled from the hour-long panel discussion. 


Why aren’t more millennials in church?

Read the Transcript


Tech in the church — harmful or helpful?

Read the Transcript


What Do Millennials Need From the Generations Before Us?

Read the Transcript

How to heal African-Americans’ traumatic history

How to heal African-Americans’ traumatic history

Do you smell it? That foul odor that floats in the air, when something you thought was dead is unearthed.

That’s the smell of ole man Jim Crow crawling back into our daily lives.

One of the most horrendous and abhorrent forms of Jim Crow violence – the racial caste system that operated between 1877 and the mid-1960s, primarily in Southern states – was the publicly sanctioned use of “racial terror lynchings.” These killings were perpetrated by those who enjoyed the protection of white supremacist social policies designed to maintain strict control of African-Americans through the systemic use of terror.

Documenting those lynchings is the goal of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, or NMPJ, which opened on April 26, 2018.

But our question is: How do memorials to that dehumanizing violence help the African-American descendants of such treatment heal from their history?

History as trauma

Jim Crow was grounded in the lie of Black inferiority. Dismantling the impacts of that lie on individuals and communities has been an ongoing effort of members of the Association of Black Psychologists, of which we both are members. The organization was founded almost 50 years ago so that “psychologists of African descent … can assist in solving problems of Black communities and other ethnic groups.”

As psychologists, we ask the complex question: Can memorials to a dehumanizing and traumatizing history, the Jim Crow history, provide a path to restorative justice, psychologically, socially and politically?

For African-Americans, history and trauma aren’t just in the past. Indeed, it would be simpler to help our communities heal if Jim Crow were but a memory.

In the last 50 years or so, black Americans thought ole Jim Crow had died. But really, ole man Crow had simply gone to finishing school and emerged as James Crow, Esq. He had polished up his language and was operating in an alleged system of diversity and multiculturalism, soft-selling his system of exclusivity as “traditions.”

Those traditions were called “states’ rights” and “customs,” “school choice” and “law and order.” Then there are the Jim Crow practices that disproportionately target Black Americans: mass incarceration, police brutality and the war on drugs.

One of the clearest examples of ole man Jim Crow resurfacing has been the documented public assaults and assassinations of Black bodies during the last 10 years. Men, women and children of African ancestry are being beaten, bruised and executed by police across the country simply for being Black and alive. Our communities experience direct and vicarious trauma every day.

Now, to this daily terror, add historical trauma for Black Americans.

Historical trauma is the cumulative phenomenon where those who never directly experienced trauma (enslavement, rape, lynchings, murder) can still exhibit signs and symptoms of the trauma.

That historical trauma can be observed in African-Americans’ unresolved grief, expressed as depression and despair and their harboring of unexplained anger, expressed as aggression and rage. Often they internalize oppression by accepting the lie of inferiority, which can then lead to self-loathing.

This historical trauma must be addressed. It functions as a persistent sickness, a deadly virus – in the family, in the African-American community and in the larger society.

Memory as medicine

The establishment of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice begins a long-awaited process of healing from the unspeakable and unacknowledged acts in our history, whose echoes can still be heard today. It is an excellent example of one step towards the process of healing historical trauma for persons of African ancestry.

By accurately documenting the gravity of the massacres, the NMPJ names the nameless, counts the uncounted and frees the victims, who were savagely desecrated, from the perpetrators of the atrocities of racial terror lynching.

The NMPJ was established in an effort to promote social justice that can be liberating and validating to African-American people. Its mission aligns with that of the Association of Black Psychologists, which is the “liberation of the African Mind, empowerment of the African Character, and enlivenment and illumination of the African Spirit” – all with the goal of restoring humanity, promoting optimal functioning and insuring psychological wellness.

Most trauma experts recognize that the restoration of memory is healing. Developing a story in which the victim is held blameless from the infliction of abuse is essential for rebuilding a sense of independence and self efficacy.

In our work as psychologists, we understand that helping our clients manifest resilient, powerful stories can help them negotiate the distress of historical trauma.

Focusing on strengths can help descendant African-Americans learn to overcome challenges and tap into reservoirs of strength and self-determination. For example, understanding that many of the African-Americans represented in the NMPJ were killed because they stood up for injustice, had the strength to resist and fought for the freedoms of subsequent generations can be healing.

Stories that heal

In an earlier work, we advanced an argument that there is a set of general healing goals that are important to consider for persons of African ancestry. Those healing goals, taken together, allow us to reconstruct understandings our community and ourselves.

Christening ceremony for Noah Maasai Woodson Reed, which echoes a practice during enslavement, when black babies were held to the sky to ask for protection and blessing. Kamilah M. Woodson, Author provided

This is done through helping us take back our individual and collective identities and stories, especially those that replicate and reflect our true and righteous African heritage. The goals also allow us to restore our spirits, sense of self, sense of wonderment and potential.

We then can recognize the divine within, as well as promote our community members’ interdependence and interconnectedness – truly embodying the African proverb, “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.”

Recently, scholar Shawn Ginwright argued that addressing the ongoing exposure of African-Americans to dehumanizing experiences calls for a shift to healing-centered engagement instead of trauma-informed care. That departure shifts the focus from “what’s wrong with you” to “what’s right with you.”

For example, rather than locating the trauma within the individual, a healing-centered engagement would address the issues that created the trauma in the first place, and would view the individual holistically, highlighting strengths and resilience.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice helps restore memories that demonstrate the violence perpetrated against black people during the horrific epoch of publicly sanctioned lynching was not the fault of the victims and survivors of African ancestry.

The memorial defies the lie of Black inferiority.

The danger of accurately retelling the horrific stories of people of African ancestry in the U.S. is that it may create new trauma. Pairing accurate histories with healing-centered engagement can limit this risk.

For example, the Association of Black Psychologists, in partnership with the Community Healing Network, conducts Emotional Emancipation Circles. These national self-help groups focus on overcoming the lie of black inferiority and the emotional legacies of enslavement and racism.

The ConversationWe believe that the restorative memories developed in public spaces like the National Memorial for Peace and Justice create a shared story that can inoculate African-Americans from ongoing dehumanization.

Taasogle Daryl Rowe, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University and Kamilah Marie Woodson, Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology (Clinical Psychology by Training), Howard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Celebrating the Life of Dr. James Earl Massey

Celebrating the Life of Dr. James Earl Massey

Homegoing Celebration Service Details:

Date:  Saturday, July 7, 2018

Place:  Metropolitan Church of God, 13400 Schaefer Hwy, Detroit, MI 48227

Time:  The family hour is at 9:00 a.m., followed by the funeral service at 10:00 a.m. 

Video from an interview with Faith & Leadership.

Dr. James Earl Massey worked through seven decades with joy and faithfulness. What was his secret?

“Spiritual reality is a key to a serene and happy life; we must not look at the things that are seen. We must live by the things that are unseen, which calls for true faith in God. As long as a person has that, there’s a steadiness and a surety by which they can live. After all, in the beginning — God. And in the end — God. And in-between — God,” Massey explained in an interview with Faith & Leadership back in 2010.

The distinguished pastor, theologian, musician, and author known the world over went home to be with Jesus on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Massey will be laid to rest on Saturday, July 7, 2018, at the Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit, MI, where he served as senior and founding pastor for more than 20 years (1954-1976). He was 88.

Affectionately called the “Prince of Preachers,” Massey was spiritually formed by Wesleyan theology, the Holiness movement, and African American tradition. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a colleague and friend, shaped and influenced him, along with mentor Howard Thurman. Massey authored several articles and 18 books, including Aspects of My Pilgrimage, The Responsible Pulpit, Designing the Sermon, The Burdensome Joy of Preaching, and Sundays in the Tuskegee Chapel. He was the on-air voice of the Church of God broadcast, “The Christian Brotherhood Hour” (1977-1982), dean of the Tuskegee University Chapel (1984-1989), dean emeritus and distinguished professor of the Anderson School of Theology (1989-1995), and senior editor for Christianity Today magazine in 1995. Massey earned a bachelor’s degree at William Tyndale College, a master’s from Oberlin Graduate School of Theology, and a doctorate from Ashbury Theological Seminary. He is survived by his wife, Gwendolyn.

Social Media Tributes

Across social media, heartfelt tributes show the impact Massey had on so many — he preached and lectured at more than 100 colleges, universities, and seminaries in the United States and on four continents.

Frederick Douglass: ‘What Is July 4th to the Negro?’

Frederick Douglass: ‘What Is July 4th to the Negro?’

In the nineteenth century, many American communities and cities celebrated Independence Day with a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was usually followed by an oral address or speech dedicated to the celebration of independence and the heritage of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. On July 5, 1852, the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, New York, invited the Black abolitionist and civil rights leader Frederick Douglass to be the keynote speaker for their Independence Day celebration. The Fourth of July Speech, scheduled for Rochester’s Corinthian Hall, attracted an audience of 600. The meeting opened with a prayer and was followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence. When Douglass finally came to the platform to deliver his speech, the event took a jarring turn. Douglass told his audience, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked them, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?”

Within Douglass’ now-legendary address is what historian Philip S. Foner has called “probably the most moving passage in all of Douglass’ speeches.”

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

On this and every July 4th, Americans might do well to re-read and reflect on Douglass’ famous message. It challenges us to move beyond the biases and blind spots of our own cultural privileges and consider those around us for whom, as Langston Hughes said, “America has never been America.”

Read Douglass’ complete speech here, and watch actor Danny Glover recite an excerpt from the address below.

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing.”

Who said that? That is a false statement. Blacks suffer from mental illness just like their white counterparts. In fact, when you think of everyday stressors, systematic-racism such as police brutality, education and health care gaps, and sexism that impacts black women, blacks are more likely to be at risk for developing a mental condition.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a perfect time to shed light on what many deem as nonexistent problem. Schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder, bulimia, ADHD, OCD and social anxiety are examples of mental illnesses that people battle daily. In the black community, many choose not to acknowledge mental illness as a sickness. Diseases such as diabetes and cancer are accepted as normal and natural, but what so many fail to realize is that blacks are no different than any other race when it comes to these illnesses. We are not exempt from mental illness.

While some experience mental illness only once in their life (depending on the illness, environment, life stressors, and genetics), others battle mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of us think that we do not have a problem and truly believe that everyone else is the issue. Unfortunately, these myths and illusions force us to suffer in silence and not seek treatment. Mental illness affects “everyday functional” people and it is not limited to the homeless man talking to himself. It impacts a person’s emotions, perception, and behaviors.

As a person with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, the comments said to me have been heartbreaking and mind-blowing because it prevented me from seeking help. I thought that I was making it up in my head even though I didn’t feel well for years. Finally diagnosed at 25, my doctor stated that the illness started around the age of 13. Can you imagine having cancer without being diagnosed for over 10 years? You would die. Well, I can tell you that I was dying on the inside and it led to multiple suicide attempts. My illness can get so debilitating. At one point, it stopped me from doing basic things such as going to work, talking, eating and showering.

Here are some of the myths that we must stop saying!

Myth #1: Only white people commit suicide.

Fact: According to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate of black children in between the ages of 5 and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2013  and the rate among white children committing suicide declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys. While whites still have highest suicide rates in the country, suicide rates among black youth have significantly grown over the past decade. Unfortunately, black youth are killing themselves more frequently than their elders. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24 and a leading cause of death among school-aged children younger than 12 years in the United States.

Myth #2: Medication doesn’t work and/or they make you feel worse.

Fact: Medication is necessary for some individuals in their mental recovery. While they are NOT cures for mental illness, they are vital for treating the symptoms. Some may need medication for the rest of their lives (depending on the illness) and others only need it for a specific time. Nonetheless, medication is not a sign of weakness and it does not mean the person is crazy. It is no different from taking medication for high blood pressure or insulin for diabetes. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick too, if you don’t take care of it. And no, this is not to say that everyone with a mental illness will need medication, but it is an invaluable help to many.

Myth #3: Black people don’t go to therapy.

Fact: Though there has been a deep-rooted stigma about seeking therapy, Blacks are increasingly seeking therapy for mental illness. Therapy is great whether you have a mental illness or not. Therapy helps you to work on yourself, dissect problems, face fears and overcome obstacles such as breakups, loss of a loved one, financial challenges, self-image issues, abuse, etc. As mentioned previously, blacks deal with oppression daily and therapy can help us work through it. Those who are still hesitant to try therapy can look into other ways of getting help. The support of a life coach has also been shown to be beneficial for many.

Myth #4: You can pray it away.

Fact: As a Christian, I have seen God perform miracles in my life. But when you say to a person “just pray,” you are assuming that they are not praying and dismissing how they feel, challenging the sincerity of their faith, and most likely preventing them from getting treatment. You would not say “just pray” to a person who broke a leg. You would tell them to go to the doctor for an x-ray and cast. We must treat mental illness the same. God also gives us resources to use on earth and sometimes that may be therapy and medication when a person is battling a mental illness.

Damian Waters is a marriage and family therapist in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he serves predominantly African American clients. On the issue of the stigma surrounding blacks seeking therapy, he says, “There’s some shame and embarrassment. You’ll tell someone that you went to the doctor, but you won’t tell that you went to the counselor or psychiatrist. Also, there is the idea that their faith should carry them through, though often their problems are larger than that.”

As a way to honor those with mental illness, please think before you speak, and encourage those who need help to seek treatment. Mental illness is just as serious as any other disease and those affected by it should not be judged or outcast. Mental illness is a flaw in brain chemistry, not a character flaw, or a white people problem.

 

Can you think of other myths surrounding Blacks and mental illness? Share them below along with your thoughts on putting the myths to rest once and for all.

Faith and [email protected] by Southwest (SXSW)

Faith and [email protected] by Southwest (SXSW)

By Sederia Gray  [email protected]

AUSTIN, Texas–South by Southwest, known for its music festival and hailed as one of the most well-attended gatherings in the world, has introduced the topic of faith into its social impact series.

Through 10 faith-based sessions held on March 12-13, topics at the mass meetup in Austin, Texas, included faith in film, faith in the workplace, pride in interfaith communities, sacred activists: spirituality and resistance, and finding faith in digital games.

Also new this year — #OHUBHouse, part of the three-year-old Opportunity Hub initiative to bring black and Latino HBCU students to SXSW through a program called [email protected] The inclusion-focused #OHUBHouse system organized four days of programming for students of color from more than 60 colleges and universities to network with top leaders in the tech industry.

The conference, which took place March 9-17, typically draws more than 300,000 attendees and creates opportunity for participants to exchange diverse thoughts. Advocates and adversaries express their opinions on issues such as inclusivity, diversity and innovation. The faith-related sessions were no different.

The focus of the new sessions was the “intersection and impact of faith in culture, technology, and entertainment,” according to SXSW materials.

Hip-hop artist Jasiri X, who spoke on a panel about spirituality and resistance, focused on advocacy that is driven by faith. He and other panelists shared how their faith influences their community activism.

NASA scientist Dr. Jennifer Wiseman and the Rev. Dr. Lucas Mix, a theologian and biologist, explored biblical interpretations of life in an ancient, evolving universe in a session about life emerging in an ancient universe. They also discussed how faith and science can be incorporated into understandings about the origins of life.

Mia Parton, a panelist at a session on pride and interfaith communities, said SXSW is good at integrating society and communities.

Mia Parton Community Activist, President & CEO, Aeparmia Engineering

“I think SXSW is the best conference in the world because of its diversity, because of its inclusivity,” Parton said. “What SXSW did with incorporating faith sessions is what makes it wonderful.”

The importance of creating a space where people can have open conversations is important in today’s society, participants said.

“I think SXSW is the best conference in the world because of its diversity, because of its inclusivity,” Parton said. “What SXSW did with incorporating faith sessions is what makes it wonderful.”

The importance of creating a space where people can have open conversations is important in today’s society, participants said.

They added they were excited to experience faith at SXSW as they learned through a diverse group of experts and advocates. Conference organizers touted the new track as a way to remind people that faith and spirituality can be part of all aspects of people’s lives.

“I love that SXSW gave me the opportunity to speak and to a lot of other people as well,” Parton said. “I don’t know how SXSW does it, but I do know that they did an amazing job.”

 

‘A Spiritual B-12 Shot’: Why Churches Are Buying Out Black Panther Screenings

‘A Spiritual B-12 Shot’: Why Churches Are Buying Out Black Panther Screenings

By Adrienne Samuels Gibbs  [email protected]

Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ did it. Virginia’s Alfred Street Baptist Church did it too. And even in Memphis at New Direction Christian Church and in Los Angeles at Hill City Church, the pastors approved of it. 

What is “it”? Buying out theaters for screenings of Black Panther, the first superhero movie in recent memory that features an all-Black cast, a Black director, Black stylists and makeup artists, a Black soundtrack, and a big budget, pro-Black piece of the Marvel universe. No, it does not carry the overt religious message of The Passion of the Christ, but church leaders say a culturally positive superhero story can be a boon for the faithful.

 “This is mind-altering,” says Pastor Otis Moss III, the senior pastor of Trinity, a church that embraces spiritual discussions after major movie events. Moss’ church purchased 1,200 tickets to the movie – the equivalent of about seven theaters. “It’s important for the ‘family’ to see it together,” he says. He even is working on a study guide for Black Panther.

“People are truly excited to witness Africa viewed not as a struggling, destructive, painful continent, but to see Africa through the lens of African-centered eyes,” Moss says.

The moment is historic, and to hear the actors tell it, spiritual too.

By all measures, Black Panther is on track to exceed most advance ticket sales for big-budget films opening on President’s Day weekend as city after city sells out multiple theaters well in advance. Early estimates from Imax and Fandango placed opening ticket sales around $165 million before a single theater even showed the Ryan Coogler-directed film.

Churches play a big part in this economic engine. With congregations large and small buying out one to 10 theaters and watching the film with the “family,” sales are skyrocketing. The trend is clear. By encouraging members to watch the film in their finest African dress, and by also creating study guides and film talks to engage members, the body of Christ is embracing and anchoring the largest cultural moment of 2018.

This is the stuff a progressive Black church can get behind.

Moss, who has collected comic books since he was 10, can spout out the history of Black Panther and is fascinated with how the spirit of the king in this tale can transfer from person to person, but can only live within a person who has lived a life worthy of the spiritual possession. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. From a purely artistic standpoint, Moss shares this admiration of comic book storytelling and illustration with his children and encourages his congregation to use movies such as this one to help envision a just future and a world where Black power is embraced.

“I had decided (about the screening) when I saw the trailer months ago,” says Moss, who is uniquely positioned to discuss movies and spirituality because he studied cinematography in college and very nearly went to grad school for it. He points out that Superman was originally a superhero for Jews, and the X-Men were originally created to embrace the differing ideas of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Black Panther gives historians and spiritualists a lot to decipher.

 “Our study guide will talk about the real Wakanda: ancient Egypt and ancient Ethiopia, Timbuktu, great Zimbabwe,” Moss explains. “All these incredible African nations we were not taught about in school and the African origins of Christianity and Judaism and its connection to Islam. The Black Panther gives us a springboard to lift off the lid about racism and colonization.”

Trinity bought out eight theaters in a predominantly Black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. When members arrive, they will be greeted by drummers, photographers, and a festive, celebratory atmosphere.

Leaders at Alfred Street Baptist bought out 885 seats–or around six screenings–at a theater near the church with three staggered start times.

Like Trinity, this is not Alfred Street’s first movie rodeo. But unlike Trinity, Black Panther is intensely personal to the congregation, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley says. That’s because member Jesse Holland was the writer commissioned to pen the Marvel accompanying book, “Who Is The Black Panther?”

“If there is anything worth, as a family of faith, us to go and watchwe purchase the theater,” Wesley explains. “Jesse Holland is a member of our church … That made it even easier for us to support it. He will be there to give commentary. He’ll be leading our Faith and Film series. We thought this was a great way [to support] given the magnitude of the film.”

 Alfred Street plans to gather in small groups for discussion afterward. And the pastor, who has a 10-year-old who will attend the screening, also is using it as a way to further connect with the kids. “It keeps church relevant,” he adds and laughs when describing his outfit for the event. He will definitely be “daishiki’d up,” he says.

“If the church only deals with stuff that was in the Bible, we would have no relevance in the world,” Wesley says. “Our mission is not to sit around and have prayer meetings and read the Bible. Members are going to see it and why don’t we see it as a family together.”

Many other churches would seem to agree judging from the large number of Black Panther screening Facebook invites swarming social media. Everyone is going to see it.

At New Direction Church, church leader Dr. Stacy L. Spencer hopes the men get some uplift from it, as a way to counter the effect of Black men being killed by police.

“Young men are inundated day in and day out with negative images and it’s emotionally castrating to them,” says Spencer, whose four-campus ministry has helped more than 25,000 people. “There has been a desert as it relates to a cultural icon, a superhero that young Black kids can rally around… To take young people to a movie and to imagine us as strong, to imagine us as heroic is a spiritual B-12 shot, a cultural B-12 shot… They can be heroes as well.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based writer whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Forbes and Essence. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two young sons who, sadly, are a wee bit too young for Wakanda part one. But for part two, they’ll be ready.

Jekalyn Carr: A Force To Be Reckoned WIth

Jekalyn Carr: A Force To Be Reckoned WIth

Jekalyn Carr is a force to be reckoned with.

Known for her chart-topping single Greater Is Coming, Carr is also a Grammy-nominated and Stellar Award-winning gospel artist, minister, and songwriter who unapologetically proclaims her love for Christ. She walks boldly and proudly in her calling and encourages others to do the same.

Carr began singing at the tender age of 5 and was called to preach at 13. In a short amount of time, Carr has garnered both national and international reach: a Billboard No. 1 Top Gospel Album (The Life Project) and No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart and No. 1 on the Gospel Digital Song chart for You’re Bigger. The song also peaked at No. 33 on the Adult R&B Radio Airplay chart. Her audience rapidly grew, landing her collaborations with gospel legends Shirley Caesar and Dorothy Norwood and performances on BET’s Joyful Noise and TV One’s Triumph Awards. Recognized by Jet magazine as “One of the Top Ten Faces You Need to Know” and included in Ebony’s Power 100 of the most influential people, she is well beyond her years and a true inspiration for today’s youth.

Her new single, You Will Win, is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Her words of wisdom remind us that with God and positive people in our life all things are truly possible.

Urban Faith: How is your upcoming album different from your other projects?

Jekalyn Carr: With each assignment God gives us we should go from faith to faith and glory to glory, and this album is full of inspiration. I’m excited for the people of God to be changed and inspired.

Urban Faith: How have your parents inspired your career?

Jekalyn Carr: My ministry is built on my relationship with Jesus and my parents made sure that they protected my gift. They made sure to surround me with people who instill me with values that push me into my destiny.

Urban Faith: Adding author and actress to your already amazing accomplishments, at 20 years old are you excited to share your forthcoming book You Will Win and new album One Nation Under God? When will your book and album be released?

Jekalyn Carr: In January 2018, my book and album will be released. I share tips on how to win. At the end of the day, we are declaring it and speaking it but we must also be thinking like a winner, talking like a winner, and connected to winners. You can’t say you want to win and you are connected to people who look defeated or are defeated. You have to make sure you connect to people who have overcome. Whatever giant you face in your life, this book will help you. It is time for the people of God to take our victory title back. It’s time for us to declare our true identity and that’s a champion.

Urban Faith: Can you talk about your involvement in the OWN TV show Greenleaf?

Jekalyn Carr: Yes, I had a lot of fun and was blessed for the opportunity. My episode premiered on September 6. My Dad also produced a song entitled Hold Me Close and it is now available on the Greenleaf soundtrack.

Urban Faith: When you think of the word “success,” what comes to mind?

Jekalyn Carr: When I think of the word “success,” I do not simply minister because I have the skillset to, but I want to see people prosper and see the fruit behind my labor by hearing how blessed people are through testimonies. That is my definition of success.

Urban Faith: How do you prepare for your day with having a busy schedule?

Jeklayn Carr: With a busy schedule, I start my morning by prayer and declaring positivity over my day.

Urban Faith: In the pursuit of our calling, sometimes we find ourselves drained because we lack balance. How do you find time to find time to take care of yourself and what do you like to do for fun?

Jekalyn Carr: I take time to have fun and relax. I enjoy going to the movies, hanging out with family, getting my hair and nails done.

Urban Faith: What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t discovered their purpose or is afraid to step out on faith?

Jekalyn Carr: There is a reason God has equipped you with your gift. There are people who are in need of your gift. That’s why it important to step out and do what God has designed you to do. You will find that as long as you are operating outside of your purpose, you are just functioning. When you operate in purpose, you will prosper and want people to be transformed because of your gift. Whether your gift is a preacher, a doctor, a teacher or athlete, you can’t afford to sit down on what God has placed on the inside of you. Ask God for the strength to allow your gift to be activated but also ask for boldness so you can walk into it and be successful in it.

To learn more about Jekalyn Carr, visit her website www.myjekalyncarr.net or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

15 Questions for Success: Mike Smoke

15 Questions for Success: Mike Smoke

Recently, we have been working hard to bring you quality content on faith and work and plan to continue shedding light on people who are successful in making their work and faith collide in their respective industries. Each entrepreneur and professional featured in our “15 Questions for Success” series provides us with their road map to success and answers questions on how their faith plays out in their careers.

Our latest installment of the “15 Questions for Success” series features Mike Smoke, Second Vice President at Northern Trust Bank . Check out what Mike has to say about faith and work below:

 

1. When people ask you what you do, how do you answer that?

I work in the Wealth Management department at a bank downtown, I ensure my ultra-high net worth clients have all the information and resources they need to manage their wealth.

2. When you think of the word “successful,” who is the first person that comes to mind and why?

My grandmom, simply because she completed successfully the job that was before her, raising her children, having a successful career herself, and being a pillar in the family.

 

3. What role does faith play when it comes to your career?

My faith in God gives me the confidence to approach my job and give it all I’ve got. My faith helps me overcome challenging times, reminding me that there are bigger problems in this world, and helps me refocus to come to solutions faster.

4. What does the first 60-90 minutes of your day look like?

Emails, emails and more emails.

 

5. What are you world-class at that people might not realize?

I am in the people business, so understanding people, reading people to some degree, being high in emotional intelligence is something I consider essential for this role.

 

6. How has knowing your personality type affected your life and how has it played a role in any life decision?

I think greater than my personality type, understanding who I am and what I bring to the table has helped me in many areas of my life. Understanding who I am at the core, has helped me refocus when something temporarily throws me off my center. I can always go back to center, since I have a strong sense of who I am and who I aspire to be.

 

7. What do you most love about what you do?

I enjoy helping people, I enjoy solving problems, and thinking big picture about solutions.

 

8. What should someone ask to determine their passion?

What activity do you do that makes you feel alive? What, when you do it, makes you feel like you have superpowers?

 

9. How do you define success?

To me, success is feeling good about what you do, from the core of one’s being.

 

10. What habits or skills are most important to living a successful life?

Authenticity. Being true to who you are and not feeling moved off that block.

 

11. If you instantly lost everything, what steps would you take to become successful again?

I would rebuild from the place of what’s important to me. Then take baby steps until what I lost is recovered.

 

12. How do you maintain productivity throughout the day?

Since college, almost every day I write down my daily “TDL”—to do list. I only list 2-5 things, but these things are the big gains that I wish to accomplish by the end of the day. It helps me focus on what really matters.

 

13. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Listen to your gut and stay consistent at the gym .

 

14. What books would you recommend on career and business to someone just starting out?

How to Win Friends and Influence People – my favorite.

 

15. What advice would you give someone interested in making a career change?

Research, research, research. Find peace within, then LEAP.

 

#HarveyTaughtMe Part 1: Storms and Skeptics

#HarveyTaughtMe Part 1: Storms and Skeptics

I have been working in the city of Houston since 2012 and in my five years of living in the state of Texas I never experienced a “real” hurricane making landfall—until Harvey. What our city experienced was something much more than any of us could have imagined, as so many homes, vehicles, businesses, churches, and lives were lost.

For a bustling city of over 7 million people, Harvey seemed to freeze time as access to every major highway and feeder road was restricted by flood waters. Many families spent days in their homes unable to venture beyond their subdivisions for groceries, medication, or even to help other friends and loved ones in need.

Growing up on the East Coast, I was accustomed to the challenges of snowstorms and blizzards, but I had never experienced a natural disaster that seemed to devastate so many people so quickly. Hurricane Harvey, however, did more than simply usher in a season of destruction and devastation for the city.

Disaster seemingly brings the best and worse out of people, and while I saw a few reports of people taking advantage of the misfortune of others, the sense of love and camaraderie that I witnessed among our people in the aftermath of Harvey was overwhelming. In a season of boiling racial tension, highlighted by the acts of terrorism in Charlottesville, it was refreshing to be in Southeast Texas and watch people of all races, ages and economic backgrounds work together for the benefit of the community.

For a workaholic like myself, Harvey literally slowed me down long enough to reflect on life, God, and the needs of my community.

As our city weathered the storm, I was reminded of the story of Job, a man of God who survived a storm both in his personal life and physically (Job 38:1). As I revisited the text, I was amazed at some of the parallels I saw between Job’s storm experience and our own modern-day experience here in Houston. And, as the storm continued I gleaned lessons that I would like to share with the readers of Urban Faith.

Lesson 1: Skepticism Surfaces In The Storm

“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’ 10 He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:9-10)

Storms never just affect us.

In Job’s case, everything he lost as a result of this “test”—his livestock, servants, and children—Job’s wife lost as well. In this text, she is grieving and her statements to Job suggest that she has a knowledge and maybe even a relationship with God. However, in the face of the loss and hurt, she is feeling her words communicate a distrust or a frustration for this God that Job seemed to cling so closely to.

As I followed social media during Hurricane Harvey, one of my major frustrations surrounded the ways in which people, especially those who were not in Houston during the storm, began to call out churches and pastors in the city for not responding to the crisis in a way that they deemed appropriate. The constant refrain seemed to be, “How could these churches and pastors who live off the offerings and donations of the people of the city be doing NOTHING to help them?”

As a staff clergy member of a larger primarily African American congregation in Houston, it was disheartening reading these posts and hearing the chatter of the skeptics in the crowd. This was especially difficult while being aware of knowing the planning, research, partnerships, and projects our own staff was working on behind the scenes to implement when it was safe to travel back to our building and re-open it.

Storms, disaster, and loss have a way of bringing out the skeptics- those looking for a reason to affirm their distrust for God and the institutions that serve in God’s name. The key is knowing the heart of God (and those who serve God) and remembering that temporary silence is not always an indication of apathy. Instead, it may be conduit to strategizing how to be most effective in the face of the storm.

Check back soon for Part 2 and more lessons on what #HarveyTaughtMe from Dr. Mitchell.

 

 

Loving Past Segregation in America’s Churches

Loving Past Segregation in America’s Churches

It’s no secret that Sunday morning is often referred to as the most segregated day of the week, when Christians of all races come together to worship among their ethnic peers. However, do most Christians prefer to fellowship this way, even in the most segregated areas in America?

A few weeks ago, 24/7 Wall Street released a list of the most segregated cities in America. Detroit topped the list, which included locales such as Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis, DC, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Birmingham.

For many churchgoers, segregated congregations in these areas aren’t ideal, but are simply a matter of comfort.

Anisha Howlett, a sales professional who lives in Farmington HiIls (a predominantly white suburb of Detroit), attends The River-New Wine Glory Ministries, a Pentecostal church in Southfield, Michigan. “As of right now, my church is predominantly black; however, our vision is growing and we encourage and welcome people from all walks of life to join our church,” Howlett says.

“We desire having diversity in the church because it reflects the kingdom and culture of heaven. We’ve had speakers from all over the world visit us [from countries] such as India and Italy. We also have a group of Hispanics who began attending our church last year, and we have integrated a sound system for them to listen during services as their interpreter translates to them in Spanish.”

Howlett says that it’s human nature to feel more comfortable around your own race, but notes that it’s not Biblical to confine our religious activity to ethnic groups. She also explains that the Christian church must make an effort to reflect the true body of Christ. She enjoys connecting with people from other races and encourages the greater community to do the same.

“We should want to worship with other Christians who are a different race, Howlett says. “We are spirit beings with a natural body but not bound to our own skin color. To bring heaven on earth, we must begin to integrate races in the church. Worship besides your white friend. Worship besides your black friend. The church won’t be as effective to the world (salt & light) until churches become multi-cultural which resembles the kingdom of God.”

Linda Madison, a media relations strategist in the DMV area prefers multicultural churches that focus on Christian fellowship and true reflection of Christ’s outgoing and boundless love. Her love experiences living on the west and east coasts have allowed her to experience very different communities.

“I live in a predominately African-American community in Prince George’s County, Maryland, yet I work, in a very diverse office,” Madison says. “When I lived in Los Angeles some 20 years ago, I attended Church on the Way, pastored by Jack Hayford who is white and the church was multi-racial.”

Madison is not a fan of racially segregated churches, calling them “not okay.”

“The racial makeup of a church is important to me as long as we are all there for a common goal, which is to serve the Lord,” she says.

Madison believes race shouldn’t matter for Believers who are coming to serve God. “In Jesus’ eyes there were only two factions: Jews and Gentiles. Even so, His charge to us, His people, was to love each other as we love ourselves.”

Ultimately, many Christians follow the example of their leadership when welcoming believers of all races and ethnicities to worship together. However, with today’s influx of digital platforms, it’s easy to find Christians of various races listening to the same sermon on their phone or computers, but sharing a pew makes a more powerful statement of coming together as a Church.

“I think it begins with the Pastors to make sure they’re encouraging diversity in their church,” Howlett suggests. “They must be loving on all walks of life. They must preach against sin such as racism. Preach the unadulterated Word of God — the words of Jesus — and it’ll draw all men to your church.”

Here are a few verses to reflect on concerning unity within the Church:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17: 20-21

 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” I Corinthians 1: 10

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:25-28

 “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” Psalms 86:9 KJV

Black clergy call for churches to foster healing in the aftermath of Charlottesville

Black clergy call for churches to foster healing in the aftermath of Charlottesville

(RNS) A coalition of African-American clergy is calling on churches to serve as sacred spaces for healing in the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville, Va., and as the nation grapples with racism and other bigotry.

“We urge churches across the country to create safe and sacred spaces for prayer, healing, dialogue and honest conversations about the history and reality of racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and white supremacy in this nation,” the black clergy said in a Friday (Aug. 18) statement.

“Our youth and young adults especially need a place to process this assault on their being and the very soul of this nation.”

The group, which spearheaded the first-ever “African American Clergy Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill a month ago, also denounced the hatred displayed recently in Charlottesville and the “subsequent inflammatory and detestable words of President Donald Trump supporting the hateful actions of the KKK, Nazis and white supremacist groups.”

The 10 initial signatories include leaders of the National African American Clergy Network, the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative and the National Council of Churches, as well as officials of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ.

The black clergy called on Congress, denominational leaders, and particularly white evangelical church leaders to speak out against the “evil” of white supremacy.

They also took issue with President Trump’s assertion that “many sides” were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville.

Declaring, “No, Mr. President. There are not many sides,” the group questioned his contention that “fine people” were among both sides in the protests that turned violent and left three people dead.

“These ‘fine’ people intimidated churchgoers, attacked clergy and threw bottles from the tops of steps into the crowd of counter protesters — those who were standing against their hatred, bigotry and white supremacist values,”  the online statement said.

On July 18, members of the clergy group protested the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts affecting programs including food stamps and Meals on Wheels; 16 people were arrested. A week later they joined others in a protest of the Senate’s unsuccessful efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; 31 people were arrested.

The Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune who drafted the statement, said the group plans to return to Capitol Hill in September to urge members of Congress to be more outspoken against white supremacy. The clergy also plan to visit five states represented by Congress members who hold key roles in considering the proposed budget.

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

How to avoid the mundane and dream with purpose

The alarm goes off. Your eyelids crack open as your brain starts to register the piercing foreign and unwelcome sound chosen out of a list of stock options that came with the device. In that moment, you choose. You can attempt to acknowledge that another day has indeed started or you can prolong this inevitability with one of modern history’s greatest inventions: the snooze button.

Just like all other inevitabilities, it is time to face the fact that another day has come, and with it, your routine. A lot of times, you can pretty much predict or foresee what the day is going to look like. If you have a 9-to-5, you know that you need to get up to make sure you’re out the door in enough time to beat traffic and make it to work on time.

Then you work all day, come home, eat something, unwind, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Before you know it, you’re caught in this cycle and your life has become the one word childhood dreams and imaginations dread: mundane.

The Drum Major Instinct

As Christians, we believe fundamentally that we are all created for a God-given purpose. We believe that there is a reason we are on this earth, that our lives mean something. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 and Ephesians 2:10 reinforce this belief. We serve a great (i.e. massive, full of grandeur) God and He made us so surely we are meant to be great, right?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to this feeling of being meant for something greater in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.” He states, “We will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first… It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”

It is a natural inclination to want to be significant.

When we consider purpose, we must consider that which we were commanded. We’ve all heard them before: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Then, Jesus’ last instructions before He ascended to Heaven were, “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This is our purpose.

Love God, love people, make disciples. In everything we do, we can point back to these three things. It’s vague and specific at the same time. How can we do these things when we are just normal people?


A word on Purpose from the late Dr. Myles Monroe


Lyle’s Story

Most people will never know Lyle Gash. He was a boy with Downs Syndrome in a rural town in the foothills of North Carolina.

When he was born, his mother and father were told he would not make it through the night. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the week. Then, when he did, they were told he wouldn’t see a year. And so on, and so forth for his 24 years of life.

Lyle survived multiple open heart surgeries, kidney failure, and various other health complications. He finally went home to heaven at 24.

One might ask, “What was the point of his life? He struggled for 24 years then died. Where’s the purpose?”

Well, one year, Lyle’s mother had an idea. Watching her baby boy suffer in pain, she wanted to do something to make him feel at least a little better.

She noticed whenever he received “get well soon” cards his mood was significantly better. She wrote a simple Facebook appeal to all who would read it: “Let’s collect 10,000 cards for Lyle.”

It seemed like an insurmountable feat. However, once word got out, cards came zooming in from all over the world. Lyle even got a special card from President Barak Obama and his family. All of a sudden, the story of a boy with Downs Syndrome in small-town North Carolina was impacting the lives of thousands of people that he never would’ve dreamed of meeting.

Lyle’s story serves as a very important lesson: as long as there is breath in your body, you have purpose. It’s up to us to seek out that purpose in our everyday lives.

It’s up to us to never lose our wonder. Whether we realize it or not, in our seemingly mundane lives, we have the opportunity to dream, to encourage others, to delight in creation, and to take advantage of every second of every day.

We can search out beauty and joy. We can take pause and acknowledge the miracle of every breath we take in. We can help others. Life becomes so much more meaningful when it becomes about more than just you. Don’t let the mundane steal your purpose.

Rev. Al Sharpton’s thousand-minister march gains steam after Charlottesville

Rev. Al Sharpton’s thousand-minister march gains steam after Charlottesville

(RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton says his thousand-minister march is all the more urgent now than when he began planning it months ago.

The Pentecostal-turned-Baptist minister says the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., has sparked more interest and a greater need for clergy of many faiths to speak up at the march set for Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The march will begin at the Washington memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and end at Justice Department offices to protest increased hate crimes, discrimination and mass incarceration.

The 62-year-old president of the National Action Network, a predominantly black, Christian organization, talked with RNS about his plans. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you sum up your reaction to the events of Charlottesville over the weekend?

Charlottesville was a very startling and repulsive reminder to us of the issue of hate and the issue of racism and anti-Semitism that is still alive and practiced in the country. It seems now to have been revived and, in many ways, given moral equivalency with those that protested by the president of the United States. We need a president that’s clear that anti-Semitism and hatred and the kind of public display of bigotry that we saw is unacceptable.

How do faith leaders need to respond to President Trump’s series of comments about the violence in Charlottesville?

We had already called for 1,000 ministers of all faiths — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim — to meet at King’s memorial and march to the Justice Department, saying we do not want to see the moral authority of Dr. King’s dream undermined no matter who the president. And we’ve had several hundred ministers already sign. After Charlottesville happened — and then the president’s reaction — it has intensified and we’re getting calls from all kinds of ministers from all faiths saying we must make a statement.

Our hope is that when you looked at those Nazis carrying torches talking about “You will not replace us,” we can contrast that with rabbis linking arms with Baptist ministers and Muslims marching in the spirit of Dr. King. They went to Robert E. Lee’s monument. We’re going to King’s monument and marching to the Justice Department. I heard growing up that the best way to expose a dirty glass is put a clean glass next to it. Faith leaders must stand up and show a dignified, nonviolent way.

Have your plans for the Ministers March for Justice changed in light of Charlottesville, whether in numbers or logistics or security?

Our security concerns have grown ’cause we always now have to be concerned about whether some people will try and do a counter thing — I’m talking about from the right. I get up every day facing death threats. That’s normal when you’re high-profile. So our security concerns increase although we’ve had no direct threats.

As I’ve talked to a lot of the ministers that have called and joined in now, a lot of them said that, yes, we always agreed with the idea of a march but I think we didn’t understand the urgency until we saw that footage on Saturday night. I think what that has done is brought back, into everyone’s living room, why we need to keep marching. This is much worse than we thought in terms of a spirit of hate and immorality.

How does this march compare to some of the previous ones you were involved in – including the march just before the Trump inauguration and the one on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington?

This one is for faith leaders. We’ve only asked for ministers. Now, others might come but it will be led by — and the program will be — rabbis, clergy members of the various parts of Christendom, Muslims and Hindus. Because we want to make a statement that hundreds of faith leaders came to Washington on the day of Dr. King’s dream. That is a big difference from us bringing tens of thousands of people —  we want to make a clear statement from the moral and the faith leaders of this country.

Don’t forget Dr. King’s organization was named the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was very specific that it was religious-based and National Action Network is that as well. We’ve not heard from the faith community in a very public, united way and that’s the difference this march is.

What does it say to you about where we are as a country, or about its people of faith, that ministers are going to gather this way?

It gives hope that there are people that are willing to stand up. We’ve gone through rough periods in our history before and faith leaders lead us through. What do we remember about the ’60s? We remember when Rabbi (Abraham Joshua) Heschel joined Dr. King in Selma. We remember how it was a rabbi that was the speaker right before Dr. King at the March on Washington. When we all started coming together and raised the high moral questions, it set the climate for change. And you will always have other things going on, but when people know that those whom they go to on their Sabbath to get guidance are standing up, it brings it to another dimension. And I think it is extremely important that we do this, particularly at this time.

What do you think clergy and other people of faith should be doing at this time beyond sermons and marches?

I think that they’ve got to get into the community. They’ve got to get into the schools. They’ve got to get into the local gatherings, the town halls, the planning board meetings. And we’ve got to beat back this spirit of hate. We’ve got to go and do the work. Faith without works is a dead thing, the Bible says. And I want to lay that challenge out at the march: We’ve got to come off our pulpits and out of our cathedrals and save the soul of this nation.

Copyright 2017 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

Is it time for the Church to respond to hip-hop’s dominance?

Is it time for the Church to respond to hip-hop’s dominance?

The Nielsen company is most widely known as the company that measures television ratings, but it also wields its considerable research apparatus in the realm of popular music. Recently, its annual mid-year report made headlines around the blogosphere after it revealed that for the first time, more people listened to the combined genres of R&B and hip-hop than any other musical form, dethroning rock’s position at the top.

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone who’s been paying much attention, because hip-hop music and culture has been steadily moving closer and closer toward the center of American culture for decades now. Nineties rap icons Dr. Dre and Jay-Z have become multimedia moguls with their own product lines and exclusive platforms, and the house band for NBC’s flagship late-night TV show is legendary Philly hip-hop band The Roots, whose leading men Amir “Questlove” Thompson and Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter helped produce the biggest smash hit Broadway recording in decades.

Reluctant to Adapt

Hip-hop has long been a mainstream form of musical expression.

And since evangelical churches are known for adopting trends and idolizing the notion of relevance, it seems telling that, outside of a few counter examples, very few churches are intentionally embracing hip-hop as a form of worship music.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Chief among them is a centering of whiteness and white cultural norms. Even for people who do not hold any active racial animus in their conscious thoughts (and who would therefore resist the term racist as a self-descriptor), there are still both conscious and subconscious ways that the tastes, priorities and experiences of people of color are marginalized or overlooked in favor of a “mainstream” aesthetic that is often white and middle class. Therefore, most white megachurches have worship bands that sound more like U2 than they do Lecrae, even though in 2017 people tend to listen more to the latter than the former.

But white privilege doesn’t explain the reluctance that many Black churches and church leaders demonstrate in their interactions with hip-hop culture. While gospel music has undoubtedly been heavily influenced by hip-hop music and culture (through trailblazing artists like Kirk Franklin and Tye Tribbett), there are still plenty of Black congregations where the attitude communicated by both leaders and laity is that it’s not holy if it doesn’t have a choir or a Hammond B-3 organ. Though the cultural signifiers are different, there’s still a sense of cultural superiority and a reluctance to get outside of it.

Missing the Point

In my conversations with White pastors and worship leaders, there’s also an expressed sense of apprehension about engaging with hip-hop for fear of doing it wrong; those who do it poorly are rightly accused of disrespecting the artform, and those who do it too well open themselves to accusations of cultural appropriation. Often I hear from pastors who feel like it’s fine for a church to embrace hip-hop, but only if hip-hop is an authentic cultural value of their congregation. When I hear that, I feel like what they’re telling me is, “Sure, you should do hip-hop, because you’re Black and you grew up with it. But my church doesn’t have many Black people.”

This also misses the point somewhat, because what that Nielsen report tells us is that hip-hop music (and the culture surrounding it) is no longer just the domain of a minority subculture. It is a huge part of mainstream popular culture, and as it relates to contemporary music, it is the dominant culture. When Beyonce drops an album, it’s news. After 2016’s Lemonade, even middle-aged white comedians were conversant enough to make jokes about “Becky with the good hair.”

At this point, it seems like most churches end up in one of four quadrants. When it comes to hip-hop, they either:

  • Ignore it
  • Denounce it
  • Tentatively embrace it
  • Go all out in support of it

It’s been my experience that most churches take option No. 1, while some more reactionary churches end up in option No. 2 (mostly out of fear and ignorance). And the few churches I know of that take option No. 4 do so because they’re in multicultural urban contexts (like colleges, military bases or athlete fellowships) where hip-hop is lingua franca.

I think the best move is No. 3—a tentative embrace.

Alternatives and Solutions

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that every church needs to start incorporating trap beats, turntables and air horns into their worship services. It’s still important to maintain a sense of reverence and holiness.

However, what I think is true is that any pastor or church leader who is concerned about reaching people under 40 needs to have at least a basic grasp of certain aspects of hip-hop culture, and—more importantly—recognize that these artifacts are a major part of just how things are today. It could involve allowing the worship leader to experiment with using hip-hop beats as part of the instrumentation.

It might involve inviting local or regional (or, if you have the budget, national) hip-hop artists. It might be learning to incorporate certain hip-hop terms, slogans or mannerisms. (In one overwhelmingly white church, as a guest worship leader I led a call-and-response portion of a song where, instead of saying “amen,” the crowd was encouraged to chant “yes, yes, y’all.”)

Is this risky? Sure. Will there be times when it looks like God’s people are trying too hard to be cool? Probably. Will you make mistakes and offend people along the way? Almost certainly.

But the alternatives are also risky.

A lot of time what I hear from people in their protests of hip-hop is criticism of the rampant misogyny and consumerism, so they feel like their only option is to denounce it. But we also have a ton of consumerism and misogyny in the White House; that doesn’t mean we have to oppose the concept of the Executive Branch. The truth is, pastors should be able to help their people understand and reject the sinful elements in any culture, but you can only really do that well if you can also highlight the honorable elements. If pastors and other church leaders consistently fail in that process, they inadvertently deliver the message that they are out of touch and their judgment is not to be trusted.

And whether they fail consistently, or they just never even try in the first place, the net effect is the same—young people are driven away from the church. Spoiler alert: Jesus had something to say about people who cause others to stumble, and it’s not good.

So this opportunity represents a clear way forward in engaging generations to come with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s hope that God raises up a generation of leaders who are up to the challenge.

 

‘Greenleaf’ Returns Tuesday with All-New Episodes

‘Greenleaf’ Returns Tuesday with All-New Episodes

Finally! The wait is almost over.

Many of us were disappointed last spring when we discovered “Greenleaf” was not returning for three months. However, the OWN series’ two-night, mid-season premiere finally begins August 15 at 10 p.m. ET. “Greenleaf” was also renewed for season three, according to Variety and Deadline.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’d like to give you a brief recap on what you’ve been missing. (Caution: Spoilers ahead, for those of you who’d like to watch the previous episodes ahead of next week’s premiere.)

“Greenleaf” tells the story of an affluent Black family led by the bishop of the fictional Memphis mega church Calvary, but viewers soon learn that this Christian family is anything but perfect. Members of the Greenleaf family include Bishop Greenleaf, Lady Mae Greenleaf, their four children Grace, Charity, Faith (deceased), Jacob, and grandchildren.

So far, Season 1 and the first half of Season 2 have provided viewers with a front-row seat to the lies told by the Greenleaf clan and allies to cover up sexual and emotional abuse, infidelity, and corruption.

During Season 1, Grace finds her way back to her home and church in Memphis after avoiding both her family and the spiritual call to be a leader in the church for years. Viewers have witnessed Grace’s journey in serving as a catalyst for seeking justice on behalf of her sister Faith who was molested by their Uncle Mac and commits suicide as a result of the trauma. And, as the first season continues to unfold, viewers learn that there are, in fact, other girls who experience the same trauma at the hands of Uncle Mac.

The Greenleafs’ son Jacob and his wife Kerissa are working on their strained marriage after Jacob’s affair in Season 1. He also fights to be heard and becomes frustrated with being overlooked by his family.

To add fuel to the fire, Jacob makes the decision to leave Calvary to become an associate pastor at his family’s competition church Triumph, but he soon discovers the lead pastor, Basie Skanks, has a gambling problem and uses Triumph’s money to fund his habit.

Jacob hides the “church meetings” (aka poker games) from his wife but she is not completely clueless. Nonetheless, Jacob is not pleased with the way Basie handles his church affairs and does not want to be associated with the pastor. So, Jacob offers to pay off the debt of Triumph’s second location, in exchange for him becoming the senior pastor of the church, with no connection with Basie and the original Triumph location.

On the other hand, Charity, the Greenleaf’s third daughter, is working on her music career, gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, and her husband Kevin opened up about being attracted to men. Even after Kevin decides to go to counseling and work through his issues in order for their marriage to move forward, Charity files for divorce.

After Charity receives a call from her music producer to travel out of town and record music with a group, she asks her ex-husband to watch their son. However, once Kevin finds himself alone with the family’s attorney, Aaron, whom he finds attractive. By the way, Charity is also attracted to her music producer.

The Greenleaf family often tries to sweep issues under the rug but the fire continues to grow and we all want answers. Will Charity date her music producer? Will Kevin date Aaron? Will Grace find justice and finally have Uncle Mac put in jail? Will Jacob get Triumph 2?

“Greenleaf” does an excellent job at highlighting the challenges that face a pastor and his family, and sheds lights on issues in the black church such as homosexuality and mental illness.

And, although many of these issues are embellished a bit for the sake of television, it is important for Christians to realize that even ministry leaders are not exempt from trials and tribulations any more than their members. I suppose we’ll all have to stay tuned to see what’s in store for Calvary and the Greenleaf clan.

 

 

Author Shares Journey on Beating the Odds in ‘Moments of Surrender’

Author Shares Journey on Beating the Odds in ‘Moments of Surrender’

Moments of Surrender: Revealing the Missing Pieces is a realistic walk through the growing pains of surrendering your life to God. The book is written by Author, Life Empowerment Coach, and Speaker Charlene Bolden who uses her journey from being a child in the foster care system to being whole in Christ as an example for readers seeking peace.

With chapters such as “Fear Paralyzes Your Faith but Faith Paralyzes Your Fear” and  “Cross Your Red Sea,” readers will witness various aspects of the faith journey that are not usually discussed when giving your life to Christ. Historically, African Americans are forced to overcome statistics and stereotypes, especially as a foster child, and Charlene’s story is no different. Instead, the author chooses to look the foster care stigma in the face and deny its power over her.

“I wanted my book to serve as a resource and guide for people to unpack their own journey of surrender,” said Bolden.

Moments of Surrender tells the author’s story of her powerful act of defiance that led her to living a healthy life and answering a call to lead others to God by example. Charlene reveals parts of her journey in the featured segment below:

15 Questions for Success: Avril Speaks

15 Questions for Success: Avril Speaks

For the past few weeks, we have been working hard to bring you quality content on faith and work and plan to continue shedding light on people who are actually successful in making their work and faith collide in their respective industries. Each entrepreneur and professional that will be featured in our “15 Questions for Success” series will give us their road map to success and answer questions on how their faith plays out in their careers.

The second installment of the “15 Questions for Success” series features Avril Speaks, producer and director for BET. Check out what Avril has to say about faith and work below:

When people ask you what you do, how do you answer?

I usually say I am an independent filmmaker, or an independent film producer.

When you think of the word ‘successful’ who is the first person that comes to mind and why?

Ava Duvernay. She is someone who has defined success on her own terms. The movie “Selma” is not what made her successful. She owns and defines her own truth in which she was already successful. She had a unique voice within the film industry before that film and she continues to have one today.

 

What role does faith play when it comes to your career?

Faith plays a huge role because my relationship with God and my interest in film developed around the same time in life, so for me those two always go hand-in-hand. My faith inevitably shows up in my work somehow, even though it is often not in the way that many people would expect.

What does the first 60-90 minutes of your day look like?

It depends on the day. Some days I go to the gym early in the morning. Some days (when I think about it) I’ll read a passage of Scripture. Some days I jump right up and get in the shower. Sadly, other days I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook for an hour (I’m trying to break this habit).

How has knowing your personality type affected your life and how has it played a role in any life decision?

I’m an introvert so I’m not much of a schmoozer. But what that trait has taught me is how to seek out authentic relationships with people. So I’m not really one to “work a room,” but I’m pretty good at finding the one or two people in a crowd that I connect to and those people often end up being valuable parts of my life in some way. I’ve come to realize that my quietness allows me to be an observer, one who thinks thing through before acting out. When making decisions, I weight all the options, rather than jumping into anything too quickly.

What do you most love about what you do?

 Getting to collaborate with other creative people and seeing good stories come to life. I think that human stories and testimonies are powerful and any way I can be part of getting those stories told, it makes me happy.

What should someone ask themselves to determine their passion?

What is that something that makes you lose track of time? What is something that you love doing, even if you didn’t get paid for it?

How do you define success?

Success is having the freedom to do what you love. For some people, freedom comes financially (being able to make a living from doing something you love), for others it comes with time (making time in the schedule to do something you love).

What habits or skills are most important to living a successful life?

 Persistence in making space for those things that bring joy/success.

How do you maintain productivity throughout the day?

Making lists!!!

What advice would you give your 20 year old self?

Trust yourself and the knowledge that you have. I spent so many years doubting that I know anything and that I have something valuable to say (I still struggle with this, actually).

What books would you recommend on career and business to someone just starting out?

Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment by Carole M. Kirschner and

Imagination and the Journey of Faith by Sandra M. Levy

What advice would you give someone interested in making a career change?

Capitalize your strengths. Just because you are changing careers doesn’t mean you have to throw away all of the skills you have acquired in your previous occupation. My hairstylist was an accountant before opening her own salon. She may have switched careers, but that business sense went a long way for her when starting her own business, which is how she has been able to sustain herself for so many years. Think of none of your years as wasted time. Every job you have done in the past was to prepare you for where you are right now or where you’re trying to go.

 

 

Do not apologize for excellence

Do not apologize for excellence

Why are God’s people so surprised when they excel? This question particularly applies when it comes to excelling in jobs and careers. But, the truth is what God has for you is for you, and your career and occupation are no exception.

In fact, stories of excellence among God’s people, regardless of their past, dates all the way back to biblical times.

For example, Moses was a chief strategist of his generation. God equipped him with the strategy to deliver the children of Israel out to Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3).

Noah utilized his talents as a great architect by taking the measurements of the ark that God gave to him in prayer. He then went on to draw it, plan it out, and build it. It was a success because the ark was not destroyed in the flood and the lives of his family members were saved. (Genesis 6:13-22)

Joseph was an economist. He used his God-given gift of interpreting dreams and visions to predict what God was saying and created a financial plan for a nation that catapulted it to becoming a world power. (Genesis 41)

Deborah was a judge in the Supreme Court of her time and respected by many. Also, let it be known that the woman could sing and prophesy too! She was talented and did not apologize for it but used her gifts in excellence. (Judges 4-5)

Lydia was a fabric business mogul who sold “purple” which would have been very expensive at the time. She used her earnings to support the ministry of Paul, and her crib was big enough to invite guests to stay comfortably and she was able to host them after being baptized. Let it also be known that she was a radical worshipper! (Acts 16: 11-15)

Luke, the disciple of Jesus was a beloved physician/doctor! Yet, even with his status, he still served Jesus and obeyed His word. (Colossians 4:14)

Regardless of your field or industry, you have been called to excel in what God has given you. When visiting the dean’s office in school, you should not be surprised seeing your name on the High Honors list because you are called to be first and not last. If you are an attorney, you should not be surprised that you win the toughest cases and have a reputation of excellence.

As a child of God, He expects excellence. In fact, there is no greater compliment to God than when you are at the top of your game.

Do not apologize for excellence. It is a key tailor-made to open the door of greatness that will change your life. Decide today to be great, not just good but great, at whatever you do. Leave a positive mark wherever you go and watch God use you to bring a positive influence that will impact so many others.

 

 

 

Check Out These 5 Podcasts For Black Christian Millennials

Check Out These 5 Podcasts For Black Christian Millennials

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, podcasts have become all the rage in recent years.

If you are a Christian there are a lot of dope podcasts out there. And, if you are a Christian millennial then you are really in luck, because there are podcasts out there just for you.

We’ve sifted through tons of podcasts and found the ones that are best suited for a Christian millennial audience. The Urban Faith team has included some of our favorite podcasts for your listening pleasure below:

Truth’s Table

Truth’s Table delivers exactly what it says: #truth. Not just any old truth, but the truth of Michelle Higgins, Christina Edmondson, and Ekemini Uwan. These three sisters tackle issues of culture, race, politics, and gender all through the lens of Christian faith. If you are a millennial of color and you want to have a faith perspective on the things that matter to our world, then this is the podcast to check out!

Catalyst Podcast

If you’re a millennial and you are a leader right now, or have aspirations of leadership, then the Catalyst Podcast is for you. This podcast interviews Christian and non-Christian leaders from diverse backgrounds about different aspects of their leadership and faith journey. Even if you are not an official leader, this podcast gives tons of insight into the way we all are called to lead in our everyday lives.

Branding for Believers

This weekly podcast is all about equipping entrepreneurs and thought leaders for success. Sometimes being a Christian and getting your hustle on is a hard road to navigate. Dr. Shante Bishop is basically the mentor you need to crack the code for believing bigger things in regards to your success. Put those earphones on and listen to her teach you how to get to the next level.

Jude 3 Project

If you are a Christian millennial and you don’t know how to answer your friends’ questions about the faith, then you need to tune in to the Jude 3 Project podcast. Lisa Fields’ podcast is named after the 3rd verse in the book of Jude, which encourages believers to contend for the faith. In each episode she interviews an expert on topics ranging from “Does the Bible condone slavery?” to “The Church and Sex”. You will definitely get your faith upgraded after listening to this podcast.

Pass the Mic

Jemar Tisby and Tyler Burns dish up some great conversation from a black Reformed theology perspective. They talk about everything from white supremacy to the use of the word “woke”. The great thing about this is that they do it from the unique perspective of two brothers who are in a theological movement that’s not typical for African Americans to be involved in. Listening to Pass the Mic will definitely get you soaked in theological and biblical truth and how to apply it to culture.

What about you? Do you have any podcasts you’d recommend? Share them below.

After two drown in Tanzania, Christians re-examine safety of river baptisms

After two drown in Tanzania, Christians re-examine safety of river baptisms

(RNS) — It’s a rite that dates to the time of Jesus, who was dunked in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. But Christians in East Africa are now taking stock of their faith’s central rite after one such ritual turned tragic in northern Tanzania.

Two Christian farmers, aged 30 and 47, died as their pastors attempted to baptize them in the fast-moving current of the Ungwasi River in Rombo District in the Kilimanjaro region.

The ritual was organized by Shalom Church, a charismatic group in the country.

“Following the incident, we have agreed on some measures that will ensure the safety of our followers during baptism in the rivers,” Samuel Kamigwa, a pastor at the Victory Christian Center, a Pentecostal church in Tanzania, said in telephone interview.

Kamigwa said churches were considering increasing the number of ministers at one baptism event. They would also baptize one person at a time, while others are kept at a safe distance, and will choose a time when the water is calm enough for the ritual.

“As churches, we have to be careful. Baptism is one of the core rites in our faith and it has to continue,” he said.

Drowning during baptism is not uncommon in Africa, and Tanzanian police detained a pastor in connection with the deaths of the two. Local news reports say Kilimanjaro Regional Police Commander Hamis Selemani has warned against using the rivers for such activities unless the safety is confirmed.

In Africa, river baptism is popular, particularly among Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Immersion is viewed as a way of cleansing one’s sins and being reborn into a new life. Affusion, where water is poured over the head, and aspersion, where water is sprinkled on the head, are more common in mainline churches.

The Rev. Wilybard Lagho, vicar general of the Mombasa Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Kenya, said pastors need to be prudent: “If they choose the river, they must take a careful review to avoid endangering lives.”

Last year, six children died in Zimbabwe’s eastern province of Mashonaland during an early morning baptism in a stream by a self-styled prophetess.

And in January 2015, two elderly Pentecostal church pastors drowned in Mutshedzi River in Limpopo Province of South Africa, where they had gone to baptize four junior church members.

(Fredrick Nzwili is a Nairobi-based correspondent)

Will your gift really make room for you?

Will your gift really make room for you?

I am firm believer that we serve a just God. His love for us extends far beyond what we could ever imagine, and as a result of His grace, we are blessed with gifts and the opportunity to reach our full potential regardless of who we are and where we come from.

Proverbs 18:16 tells us, “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.”

I am intrigued by words. According to the Webster dictionary, the word “room” means “an extent of space occupied by or sufficient or available for something.” If a gift is capable of making room for you, that means it has the capacity to provide or provoke exactly what is needed in order to reach our full potential in a variety of areas, including career, family, and finances.

I am very blessed to have people with radical faith in my life. They have stepped out on faith and utilized the gifts that God has given them and are now living very successful lives.

I know single parents that were blessed with gifts in the hair, makeup and fashion industries. They invested in that gift and are now able to support their lives and live out their dreams, because that gift has created financial success.

I know others with a gift of music. They have never gone to music school or received formal training but they will give graduates of The Juilliard School a run for their money when they sing a note or play an instrument because their musical gift is a gift from God.

I, too, have a testimony of what God will do if you utilize the gifts He has given you. Sixteen years ago, God told me that He gave me a gift to write, and He wanted me to write because that was His desire for my life. I took that revelation and never looked back. Then, one day God surprised me with an opportunity to write for Urban Faith and share my gift with the world. It is a great honor to do so and I am grateful and honor Him for this opportunity.

But, how do you know if what you possess is a gift that God has given you? And, furthermore, how do you activate your gift to make room for you? Very simple. It is not limited to the listed points below, but they are a great start:

Believe God

God will always show you ideas and gifts inside of you that are way bigger than you. They are often bigger than what you could have ever dreamed of or expected, and that is great because it means you will need Him to bring them to pass. All you have to do is trust and believe God and what He has for you.

Plan and execute

Planning involves writing the vision and execution involves the how-to. You cannot wake up and expect your gift to magically make room for you. You need a plan. Do your research and find out who has been successful in utilizing the same gifts you have. Then, exercise patience and pray when planning and executing, because your timing is not God’s timing. Seek Him first and He will lead you.

Be willing to learn and be taught

Having a great idea and executing it is great, but to manage success and stability when your gift makes provision for you, you have to have a mindset of learning. Be open to seeking counsel, asking those who are skilled and successful in the area your gifts lie, and listening to their advice. People have sabotaged success and major breakthroughs because they were not willing to listen. Successful people listen.

Be your greatest cheerleader

If you wait for others to believe in you more than you believe in yourself, you will be waiting for a long time. Insecurity is a road block to success. If you do not believe you have a gift, then you will go on with life and never take a real chance on yourself. If you struggle with fear, I challenge you to ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen if I really gave myself a chance?”

It’s time to look within, step out in faith, and let your gift make room for you. You only live once. What is there to lose?

 

50 Years Later: Remembering the Detroit Riots of 1967

50 Years Later: Remembering the Detroit Riots of 1967

On July 23, 1967, Detroit, Michigan, became the scene of a five-day riot that remains one of the deadliest civil disturbances in the United States. The intensity and relentlessness of the riot forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to call on the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to restore peace in the city. By the end of the week, over 2,000 buildings were destroyed, over 1,000 injuries and nearly 50 civilians, military and police officers were killed.

What happened in the Motor City was one of 159 “race riots” that occurred during the long, hot summer of ’67, but it’s the most memorable and influential; for many living in Detroit, the city has never fully recovered.

Despite the national media attention the riots garnered, the story of the Detroit Riot is often skipped over in schools (as most race riots are), so when the trailer for Detroit, an upcoming film that chronicles part of the 1967 riots, was released, many viewers took to social media to vent their frustration about never learning this important piece of American history in school.

 

Historians dispute whether the 12th Street Riot, as it’s called, was actually a race riot because of the multicultural demographic of the rioters. However, race was certainly the catalyst. In the early morning hours of July 23, Detroit police officers raided a local unlicensed drinking club with the expectation of catching a few random occupants. They were instead met by 82 African Americans welcoming two GIs home from Vietnam, and decided to arrest the entire party. While officers waited for transportation, a crowd of onlookers gathered and Walter Scott III threw a bottle at the police, initiating the riot.

As looters tore through the streets of Detroit, city police stood by waiting for the melee to diffuse, which it never did. The arrival of the Michigan National Guard the following day did little to stop the riot as crowds continued to vandalize white- and black-owned business, sparing no one in the process. The riot grew almost effortlessly, fueled by a suppressed rage that seemed to have no end. An overwhelmed police force was found guilty of abusing civilians in their custody, including the tragic shooting deaths of three black men during the Algiers Motel Incident.

Sid. E. Taylor, the founder of Detroit-based SET Enterprises, U.S. Marine, and Vietnam combat veteran, was just 18 years old in 1967 and vividly remembers riding a convertible straight into the middle of the riots with his older brother and a friend.

“A friend of ours was driving the car, I had a video camera and I sat on the back of the car and we were driving around acting silly like we were news reporters filming what was going on,” Taylor recalls. “The National Guard was out there and we drove by an apartment building and somebody pointed a gun at the car and said, ‘You n——- better get out of here before we blow your head off.’ And you know what we did? We lifted the roof and got ourselves outta there.”

Taylor admits that in hindsight it was a bad decision to drive into the riots considering the scale of violence, but he says they were “curiously nervous” because Detroit “had made the news. Every time you turned on the television they were showing the streets and we knew all these places.”

Much of the city was destroyed during the riots, leaving thousands without a place to work or live, and businesses that were unharmed shut down for safety purposes. Taylor and his brother worked for General Motors at the time and were told not to go into work because of the hostile atmosphere throughout the city, which included curfew violations, fights, and multiple fires.

Looters continued to steal millions of dollars of merchandise, including a few of Taylor’s friends who stole TV sets from a local business. “It got so bad that they canceled our work because it was too dangerous to move. Black people were mad and white people were scared and everyone was kinda scared to go anywhere.”

The presence of mainly white military worsened the violence initially, but within 48 hours the riot had been contained and dissipated. In the span of a week, Detroit went from being a leader in race relations for its time to a city reeling from the pain of a tragic and violent race riot. Many of the themes and concerns that arose from the 1967 riot, such as police brutality, racial unrest, and discrimination have emerged in urban centers across the country since: in Los Angeles in 1992, and cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

Famed baseball outfielder Willie Horton drew a comparison between Detroit and Baltimore following the 2015 riots in response to Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. Horton, who now lives in Baltimore, called the recent events “flashbacks” to the moment he left his Tigers game July 23, 1967, and drove into the riots, standing on the hood of his car pleading with the city he loved to restore peace.

Police brutality and the ethics of rioting are far from resolved, but in preparation for the 50th anniversary, Kathryn Bigelow (the only female Oscar winner for best director) hopes her story of the Detroit riots will honor those lost during the incident and incite discussion about these issues. While the film focuses on the harrowing Algiers motel incident, it comes at a prime time in our country and joins many commemorative events like the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67: Perspectives exhibit, which runs through 2019.

The camera Taylor was carrying that day didn’t have any film in it, but the images from his personal memories are just as strong. When asked if he’s excited to see Detroit, he said, “Absolutely. I’m probably going to see it more than once.”

Detroit will open in theaters nationwide Friday, August 4.

Check out the Detroit trailer below:

 

Faith communities offer a pathway to ending AIDS in Africa

Faith communities offer a pathway to ending AIDS in Africa

(RNS) — Since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, many communities of faith have supported millions of people living with HIV and kept future generations free from HIV through their prevention efforts.

Their engagement on the front lines of health, especially in the Global South, predates that of many health organizations. Churches have built countless hospitals and clinics; faith leaders, including women, were among the first responders to HIV.

Today, communities from all faith traditions are engaged in the HIV response. Their continued leadership in ensuring respect for human dignity, justice and rights is critical.

As the world accelerates its efforts to end AIDS, faith communities remain central to our success.

Communities of faith offer a path to many who are hard to reach. Their mission to deliver compassion and care to all in need, including the world’s poorest and those shunned by society, has deepened and broadened the impact of the global response to AIDS.

That special openness has never been more important than today, when ending AIDS requires reaching all who are living with, or who are at risk for contracting, HIV.

I appreciated anew the critical role of the faith community in ending AIDS earlier this month when I was in Addis Ababa for the 29th African Union Summit.

During the meeting, African heads of state recommitted to reaching more people in need, more quickly. Faith leaders and their congregations will play a critical role in these efforts. Across Africa we are “fast-tracking” our efforts.

This includes efforts to revitalize HIV prevention, especially among adolescent girls and young women; consolidate progress on elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; accelerate implementation of HIV testing and treatment for men; and address financial sustainability for the AIDS response. The church has an important role to play in each of these goals.

This plan is based on the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “Fast-Track” approach, which demonstrates that if we front-load resources and apply our efforts to the people and places where the need is greatest, by 2020 we can expand prevention and treatment and put the world on course to end AIDS by 2030.

“Fast-Track” modeling shows that using tools and knowledge we have, we could avert an additional 17.6 million new HIV infections and 10.8 million AIDS-related deaths.

Enormous progress has been made in the global response to HIV. Of the 37 million people living with the virus, more than 18 million are receiving treatment.

But another 18 million men, women and children living with HIV aren’t getting it. Millions more need tailored, age-specific HIV prevention services that embrace the UNAIDS life-cycle approach of ensuring that children are born HIV-free, that they stay HIV-free through their adolescent and adult lives and that lifesaving HIV treatment is available to all living with HIV.

To reach this goal, we must call for global solidarity to quicken the pace of our outreach, in which the faith community must play a leading role.

Whether speaking about AIDS, maternal and child health, vaccines, sanitation, nutrition, family planning or other critical lifesaving issues, church elders are powerful educators. The respect and trust they engender allow them to address sensitive issues in ways that make their congregations comfortable and better able to protect themselves.

Faith leaders can be especially effective talking to young people by encouraging messages of inclusion for all, even the most marginalized. Such talk should be underpinned by scientific evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Reaching this next generation is paramount, given that the largest cohort of young people ever is about to come of age in Africa.

Today in sub-Saharan Africa, young women and girls are eight times more likely to contract HIV than their male peers. Young people rarely visit health centers; educating and protecting them before they are exposed to HIV is essential for ending AIDS.

Faith leaders also have a unique role in reaching men and boys, two groups that rarely intersect traditional health systems unless they have a health emergency. Too many men and boys don’t know their HIV status and aren’t accessing prevention or treatment services. We won’t reach them in the clinics, but we will reach them in their houses of worship.

In addition, faith-based organizations can be particularly effective at reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. In so doing, they make it easier for all people to come forward for services, stay on treatment — and stay healthy. The church’s holistic approach delivers both healing and hope to individuals affected and infected with HIV.

Faith-led, family-centered care clinics teach not just the person living with HIV but also the person’s extended family. By helping those closest to a person living with HIV understand the disease, including the reality that treatment leads to viral suppression, which prevents transmission, faith leaders increase the odds that people with HIV will have the emotional support they need to stay healthy. Caring for and supporting the whole family also means spouses and children remain HIV-free.

Healthy adults can raise healthy children. With families intact, fewer children are orphaned. When communities are protected, nations become stronger, more peaceful and more secure.

The opportunity to end AIDS is within our reach. But getting to the finish line will only be possible with communities of faith working together and continuing their long-standing commitment to compassionate care and service.

(Michel Sidibé is executive director of UNAIDS)

What to do when Jesus sleeps while the boat is rocking

What to do when Jesus sleeps while the boat is rocking

Matthew 8:23-27 KJV

23 And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.

24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.

25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.

26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

27 But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!

This scripture really ministers to me. Before you judge the disciples for running to Jesus in a panic and waking Him up from His sweet nap, may I say that if we truly were honest with ourselves, many of us have been in similar situations.

Have you ever felt as though God was on a yacht drinking His favorite smoothie and enjoying Himself when you are clutching onto the boat with all of your strength because of the storm that is rocking the boat? Have you ever questioned God when you wondered why each time you set sail in faith on what He showed you, all of a sudden the waters of your life turn to angry waves?

If your life has been a smooth sail and you wake up every day with everything laid out and nothing to worry about then we praise God for you! But this inspiration today is for that person who cannot make sense of what is going on.

You gave your life to God and now everything seems chaotic. You have been praying like never before, reading your word, going to church, sending tweets and memes on how good God is, but the more you do, the more you feel as though you are shaking and everything around you is rocking.

Take courage and let your faith be empowered today by the following:

1. You cannot sink in a ship that Jesus is sailing

The disciples followed Jesus onto the ship. He is the Shepherd and He knows everything. The situations you are dealing with have not come to drown you but to teach you how to swim and navigate through life. Don’t worry, you will not sink.

2. While you are pacing around and worrying, Jesus is chilling

The disciples were looking at the storm and wondering why would Jesus be asleep? You have been asking yourself “where is God?” but the reality is Jesus is there. He is resting and waiting to see what your reaction will be. If God is not stressed out, why are you stressed out? This is a perspective issue. How are you viewing your situation? Shift and think like your God. If He is not worried, neither should you.

3. If you cry out to God He will answer.

The disciples saw the waves and water getting in the boat and went to wake up Jesus. A lot of times we think that the disciples were weak for waking up Jesus and acting scared, but the reality is we scream and call on Jesus all the time, because we do not know what to do with the storms we are facing. Guess what, it is okay!

Sometimes crying out to Jesus for help shows us His authority. Jesus woke up and calmed the storm. Even though He rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, the reality is the boat stopped rocking. People may wonder why you cry out to God so much or why you seek God so much and yes God may give you a rebuke here and there but He will answer you and calm your storms. Don’t stop calling on Him, Jesus will pay attention to your situation.

Be encouraged this month, and strive to wake up Jesus in every situation if you have to. Better to call on Jesus even if the boat is rocking, than to wonder if Jesus is even in the boat of your life during a storm!

 

Dear God,

Thank you for encouraging me that each time I follow You, You will walk me into a ship that will begin sailing to my destiny. In that journey, there will be storms, and I may be afraid, but remind me that You are on my boat, and I can call on You. I can come to You to wake You up, and You will ease my fears, and calm the storm. I am honored to serve a God who hears and answers my cry of help…

Blessed be Your name…

Amen.

 

 

 

 

7 Ways to Survive Seminary for Students of Color

7 Ways to Survive Seminary for Students of Color

The other day I got an email from a friend on how he was getting frustrated and tired of reading books and hearing lectures on Eurocentric theology and church history. He wanted to have some color injected into his Bible college and seminary education.

It’s a story I’m all too familiar with. By the end of seminary, most people are screaming at the top of their lungs, “Let me out!” But they press on anyway because they know they have a calling and they know this is the path God has them on in order to equip them. This is even more true for those students who are of non-white ethnicity. The seminary is a far cry from their home culture and the things taught there are taught from a predominantly white historical and theological perspective. Consequently, you can feel like you are being brainwashed or indoctrinated into whiteness or at the very least just made to feel like an oddball or invisible based on the fact of your experience being different from a lot of the other students. I’ve been there. And I would have lost my mind if it weren’t for these principles working themselves out in my life intentionally or unintentionally.

1. Remember why you are there

You are there because you are called. You are there because you want to soak up the knowledge to make you effective in ministry. You are there to connect with like-minded folk who may one day partner with you in ministry. Do not let the overwhelming whiteness take you off course. Learn. Soak it in. Grow.

2. Make two sets of notes

There are two sets of notes to take. Notes for the paper you will write and notes for yourself (Shout out to MK Asante). Some things will be helpful for your academic career but other things will help as you take your seminary training back home.

3. Find the alternative books

When I first started attending Fuller Theological Seminary I had the privilege of working in the library. As I put the books back on the shelves I learned about James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez and so many others. I began reading those books even before I started classes because they spoke from a perspective I understood and was familiar with. Just the exposure alone helped me to tackle some of the lack of diversity I was experiencing.

4. Find like-minded students

There is always, at least, a handful of students of color on any campus. If you can’t find students of color then there are many white students who understand where you are coming from. Reach out and connect. It may be the best thing you have ever done.

5. Find like-minded professors

In an attempt to make their faculties more diverse, most seminaries and Christian universities have hired at least two or three non-white professors who teach from a different perspective. Go and take their classes if you have the opportunity. If you can’t take their classes then find some way to connect with them. They understand your experience and are rooting for your success. Personally, I found Dr. Ralph Watkins and Dr. Jehu Hanciles. Just their teaching and course content helped me to not lose my mind!

6. Ask thought-provoking questions

Don’t just sit in class like a lump on a log. Ask questions—thought-provoking questions. Not solely to cause trouble. Ask questions from your unique ethnic and socio-economic perspective. It will not only bless you but also those in class around you who may be going into these contexts or just those who need to have their world expanded

7. Keep a vital and dynamic relationship with God

Last but not least, keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop reading your Bible. Remember this isn’t about ethnicity. This is about God’s calling on your life.

What about you do you have any other tips to include? What was your experience in seminary like? How did you keep from losing your mind?