The portrayal of Jesus as a white, European man has come under renewed scrutiny during this period of introspection over the legacy of racism in society. As protesters called for the removal of Confederate statues in the U.S., activist Shaun King went further, suggesting that murals and artwork depicting “white Jesus” should “come down.” His concerns about the depiction of Christ and how it is used to uphold notions of white supremacy are not isolated. Prominentscholars and the archbishop of Canterbury have called to reconsider Jesus’ portrayal as a white man.
Through Sallman’s partnerships with two Christian publishing companies, one Protestant and one Catholic, the Head of Christ came to be included on everything from prayer cards to stained glass, faux oil paintings, calendars, hymnals and night lights.
Sallman’s painting culminates a long tradition of white Europeans creating and disseminating pictures of Christ made in their own image.
In search of the holy face
The historical Jesus likely had the brown eyes and skin of other first-century Jews from Galilee, a region in biblical Israel. But no one knows exactly what Jesus looked like. There are no known images of Jesus from his lifetime, and while the Old Testament Kings Saul and David are explicitly called tall and handsome in the Bible, there is little indication of Jesus’ appearance in the Old or New Testaments. Even these texts are contradictory: The Old Testament prophet Isaiah reads that the coming savior “had no beauty or majesty,” while the Book of Psalms claims he was “fairer than the children of men,” the word “fair” referring to physical beauty. The earliest images of Jesus Christ emerged in the first through third centuries A.D., amidst concerns about idolatry. They were less about capturing the actual appearance of Christ than about clarifying his role as a ruler or as a savior.
To clearly indicate these roles, early Christian artists often relied on syncretism, meaning they combined visual formats from other cultures. Probably the most popular syncretic image is Christ as the Good Shepherd, a beardless, youthful figure based on pagan representations of Orpheus, Hermes and Apollo. In other common depictions, Christ wears the toga or other attributes of the emperor. The theologian Richard Viladesau argues that the mature bearded Christ, with long hair in the “Syrian” style, combines characteristics of the Greek god Zeus and the Old Testament figure Samson, among others.
Christ as self-portraitist
The first portraits of Christ, in the sense of authoritative likenesses, were believed to be self-portraits: the miraculous “image not made by human hands,” or acheiropoietos.
This belief originated in the seventh century A.D., based on a legend that Christ healed King Abgar of Edessa in modern-day Urfa, Turkey, through a miraculous image of his face, now known as the Mandylion.
A similar legend adopted by Western Christianity between the 11th and 14th centuries recounts how, before his death by crucifixion, Christ left an impression of his face on the veil of Saint Veronica, an image known as the volto santo, or “Holy Face.” These two images, along with other similar relics, have formed the basis of iconic traditions about the “true image” of Christ. From the perspective of art history, these artifacts reinforced an already standardized image of a bearded Christ with shoulder-length, dark hair.
In the Renaissance, European artists began to combine the icon and the portrait, making Christ in their own likeness. This happened for a variety of reasons, from identifying with the human suffering of Christ to commenting on one’s own creative power.
The 16th-century German artist Albrecht Dürer blurred the line between the holy face and his own image in a famous self-portrait of 1500. In this, he posed frontally like an icon, with his beard and luxuriant shoulder-length hair recalling Christ’s. The “AD” monogram could stand equally for “Albrecht Dürer” or “Anno Domini” – “in the year of our Lord.”
In whose image?
This phenomenon was not restricted to Europe: There are 16th- and 17th-century pictures of Jesus with, for example, Ethiopian and Indian features. In Europe, however, the image of a light-skinned European Christ began to influence other parts of the world through European trade and colonization. But Jesus’ light skin and blues eyes suggest that he is not Middle Eastern but European-born. And the faux-Hebrew script embroidered on Mary’s cuffs and hemline belie a complicated relationship to the Judaism of the Holy Family. The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna’s “Adoration of the Magi” from A.D. 1505 features three distinct magi, who, according to one contemporary tradition, came from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They present expensive objects of porcelain, agate and brass that would have been prized imports from China and the Persian and Ottoman empires.
In Mantegna’s Italy, anti-Semitic myths were already prevalent among the majority Christian population, with Jewish people often segregated to their own quarters of major cities. Artists tried to distance Jesus and his parents from their Jewishness. Even seemingly small attributes like pierced ears – earrings were associated with Jewish women, their removal with a conversion to Christianity – could represent a transition toward the Christianity represented by Jesus. Much later, anti-Semitic forces in Europe including the Nazis would attempt to divorce Jesus totally from his Judaism in favor of an Aryan stereotype.
White Jesus abroad
As Europeans colonized increasingly farther-flung lands, they brought a European Jesus with them. Jesuit missionaries established painting schools that taught new converts Christian art in a European mode. A small altarpiece made in the school of Giovanni Niccolò, the Italian Jesuit who founded the “Seminary of Painters” in Kumamoto, Japan, around 1590, combines a traditional Japanese gilt and mother-of-pearl shrine with a painting of a distinctly white, European Madonna and Child.
In colonial Latin America – called “New Spain” by European colonists – images of a white Jesus reinforced a caste system where white, Christian Europeans occupied the top tier, while those with darker skin from perceived intermixing with native populations ranked considerably lower. Artist Nicolas Correa’s 1695 painting of Saint Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint born in “New Spain,” shows her metaphorical marriage to a blond, light-skinned Christ.
In a multiracial but unequal America, there was a disproportionate representation of a white Jesus in the media. It wasn’t only Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ that was depicted widely; a large proportion of actors who have played Jesus on television and film have been white with blue eyes. Pictures of Jesus historically have served many purposes, from symbolically presenting his power to depicting his actual likeness. But representation matters, and viewers need to understand the complicated history of the images of Christ they consume.
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]
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.
18 “Appoint judges and officials for yourselves from each of your tribes in all the towns the Lord your God is giving you. They must judge the people fairly.
19 You must never twist justice or show partiality. Never accept a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and corrupt the decisions of the godly.
20 Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
In a world where everyone has an opinion of what justice is, and what is wrong seems to be appealing and receiving the most media attention, as believers, it is very encouraging to know God’s pure intention and desire for what true justice is.
In Deuteronomy 16: 18-20 Living Bible Translation there are specific takeaways that are listed to ensure Justice prevails and there is success in the land
Appointing judges and administrative officials to administer justice in every part of the land
Not twisting justice to benefit the rich
Never accepting bribes, because bribes blind the eyes of the wisest and corrupt their decisions
It is important to understand that God cares about what happens to the land we live in. It is a form of great stewardship, when we are able to appoint officials who will govern with wisdom and counsel.
True Justice in God’s eyes, does not involve buying favors, classism or oppression, as we often see in various governments in our current world. He desires for fruitfulness and peace, while those in power, serve in diligence, grace, and integrity for the good of the people.
This week, pray for elected officials. Let us ask God to touch the hearts and minds of those who have the honor to serve at any capacity in our current government. Let us pray for a heart of conviction, wisdom and the desire to do what is right for the sake of the people.
We have a duty as believers to pray and when the opportunity arises, appoint and elect the right officials to rule in our land so that we experience the blessings of peace and prosperity. We cannot give up hope, regardless of what is happening, or ignore the responsibility we have in picking right leaders. God cares for us, His love is unwavering and this year will not be any different. He will guide us to make the right decisions to elect leaders who will move our nation forward. Peace and stability is a great blessing to have, and pursuing pure justice will pave the way for that to happen.
Of late it has been difficult to believe that true and pure Justice can be a possibility in our current world. Thank you for the reminder to trust you, and not take the power of decision for granted. Help me this year to pray for my leaders. All elected officials, in every area of government. Touch their hearts and minds with conviction and the desire to do what is right. Give me the wisdom to do my due diligence in selecting leaders with integrity and not lean on bias or prejudice, but true judgement of character. I desire to have peace and prosperity in the land where I reside. Let that be a blessing I get to experience this year.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Just before students at Meharry Medical College went home for Thanksgiving, Dr. James Hildreth, the school’s president, emailed them a video message that he acknowledged seemed hard to believe. Or at least they had to give it a second listen.
They were told to expect a direct deposit the next day or pick up a check in person. Hildreth, an expert in infectious diseases who helped lead Nashville’s pandemic response, explained that this gift with no strings attached was money from the CARES Act, a major covid-19 relief law passed by Congress in 2020. He asked only that they be “good stewards” of the windfall.
After deep consideration, Meharry’s administration decided to give roughly a third of its CARES Act funding — $10 million — directly to its future doctors, dentists and public health researchers. All told, 956 students received payments.
Meharry’s students had already been heavily involved in the pandemic response, staffing Nashville’s mass covid testing and vaccination sites. But the money isn’t so much surprise compensation for volunteer efforts as it is an investment in a future career — and an assist in overcoming financial hurdles Black students especially face to become medical professionals.
While Black Americans make up roughly 13% of the population, the Association of American Medical Colleges finds Black doctors account for just 5% of the nation’s working physicians — a figure that has grown slowly over more than a century. And studies have found that Black patients often want to be cared for by someone whom they consider culturally competent in acknowledging their heritage, beliefs and values during treatment.
“We felt that there was no better way to begin distributing these funds than by giving to our students who will soon give so much to our world,” Hildreth said.
Cheers erupted in the library as students clicked the video link.
Andreas Nelson fell silent, he recalled later. He went to his banking app and stared in disbelief. “$10,000 was sitting just in my bank account. It was astonishing,” he said. “I was literally lost for words.”
The Chicago native is finishing a master’s degree in health and science at Meharry with hopes of entering its dental school. The average student loan debt in the programtotals more than $280,000. So, undoubtedly, 10 grand won’t make much of a dent in the debt.
But the money in his pocket eases his top concern of making rent each month. Nelson said it feels as though he’s being treated like an adult, allowing him to decide what his greatest needs are in getting through school.
“It’s motivating,” Nelson said. “Because that means they have trust in us to do with this money whatever the cause may be — whether it be student debt, investing or just personal enjoyment.”
Across the board, students at HBCUs rely more on student loans than students at historically white institutions. Roughly 80% take out student loans, according to an analysis by UNCF, formerly known as the United Negro College Fund, and they borrow considerably more.
Meharry was founded a decade after the Civil War to help those who had been enslaved. But the 145-year-old institution has always struggled financially, and so have its students.
Meharry’s average student debt is far higher than other area schools of medicine at Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee, representing both private and public institutions.
Virtually all colleges and universities received allotments under the CARES Act, but HBCUs have been much more aggressive about funneling substantial amounts directly to students, who tend to have greater need. More than 20 HBCUs have erased outstanding tuition balances. Some have canceled student fees.
But Meharry, one of the few stand-alone HBCU graduate schools, is a rare case in cutting checks for students.
“These young people are rising to medical school against all odds,” said Lodriguez Murray, who leads public policy and government affairs at UNCF. “Of course, they have to borrow more because people who look like them have less.”
During the pandemic, major philanthropists have taken new interest in supporting the few HBCU medical schools. Michael Bloomberg committed $100 million to four institutions, including Meharry, to help educate more Black doctors.
Students at Meharry can now apply for $100,000 scholarships. The $34 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies is also going toward other kinds of financial support.
The school is now offering, for no additional fee, expensive test-prep services through a Boston-based company, MedSchoolCoach. The service, which entails paying a doctor by the hour to help with studying, can cost thousands of dollars.
While the price is often out of reach for students tight on cash, acing the benchmark exams toward board licensure is key to landing coveted fellowships, qualifying for lucrative specialties or just finishing on time. And Meharry’s four-year completion rate of roughly 70% is below most schools. The most up-to-date national average is around 82%.
For some, Murray said, a $10,000 windfall may make all the difference in whether they cross the finish line and become a doctor who can afford all their medical school debt.
“Many of those students are borrowing a lot of money to complete their dream, and to become relatively high earners in the future,” Murray said. “The fact that these students are largely coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds means that the funds that Meharry turned around and gave to the students are particularly impactful.”
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.
(RNS) — On the day of a major voting rights debate on Capitol Hill, a social justice coordinator for the Progressive National Baptist Convention said fighting for voting rights is an effort to conquer evil.
“This convention practices a ministry of erosion,” said the Rev. Willie D. Francois III, co-chair of its social justice arm, during a Tuesday (Jan. 18) news conference held in Atlanta and livestreamed on the denomination’s social media.
“What does that mean? We keep showing up so that we wear evil down. The denial of voting rights is evil. The protection of Senate rules over the protection of the public is evil.”
The news conference was held at the historically Black denomination’s midwinter board meeting, just as legislators on Capitol Hill debated voting rights bills that the PNBC, along with a number of other faith organizations, support. However, the bills are not expected to pass.
Francois said the PNBC would be working with Faiths United to Save Democracy, a new coalition that has urged the Senate to change its rule about the filibuster, a stalling technique that requires 60 votes to end it and which is often used by the minority party to stop a bill from passing with a simple majority vote.
“The filibuster that was used to block anti-lynching laws cannot be used right now to block voter expansion,” Francois said. “And so we’re calling on our Senate to reform its filibuster to ensure that we can actually pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and we can also pass the Freedom to Vote Act.”
Regardless of what happens during the current debate, the PNBC leaders said they intend to move ahead with plans to lobby members of Congress in March and register voters weekly in their congregations and communities, aiming to increase voter rolls by 500,000.
The Rev. Adolphus Lacey, a pastor in New York’s Brooklyn borough, said these efforts will continue despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID is real; COVID is a threat,” said Lacey, a PNBC social justice commissioner. “But even more serious than COVID, as real and scary as it is, is to see thousands and thousands of thousands of voters not being able to vote, and it was on our watch. We refuse to stop. We refuse to turn around.”
The denomination’s voter registration initiative will be aimed particularly at millennials and members of Gen Z.
But it will also focus on states with key races expected to have close margins, said the Rev. Darryl Gray of St. Louis.
“We don’t want to just register a half a million people,” said Gray, a PNBC pastor who served in the Kansas Senate in the 1980s and ran an unsuccessful 2020 campaign for Missouri state representative. “We want to register a half a million people in United States senatorial campaigns that are going to be consequential.”
PNBC leaders noted they belong to the denominational home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in a state at the center of voting rights debates. King co-pastored Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was influential in the civil rights movement, also is based in the city.
“We believe it is no coincidence that this convention, born out of the need to fight for justice, is in this state and city at such a time as this when our voting rights are under fierce attack,” said the Rev. David R. Peoples, president of the PNBC.
“This is a call to action from the Progressive National Baptist Convention. We come to not just pray. We come to not just push. We come to not just preserve. We’ve come to protect the right to vote.”
In celebration of the late Dr. Melvin E. Banks, Sr., our founder, and Black History Month, we are featuring his podcast shorts that draw Biblical connections and insight into the life and leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. Amid so much turmoil, take a few minutes and listen to these two-minute podcast shorts.
The church has played a vital role in America’s civil rights struggle. It was the spiritual home to MLK, to the generations that shaped the vision of the late civil rights leader, and now to Sen. Raphael Warnock.
The constant drumbeat of negative news stories about violence, from the rioters who stormed the Capitol to the latest neighborhood or school shooting, is all so unnerving. Dr. Melvin E. Banks offers biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover injustice, gang violence, drug dealers, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the face of violence directed at communities of color and deepening political divisions in the country, King’s words and philosophy are perhaps more critical for us today than at any point in the recent past.
For decades, United Methodist Bishop Woodie White has been writing letters to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., bringing the slain civil rights activist up to date on the latest strides in race relations and some of the remaining challenges that arise each year. By Adelle M. Banks.
By Larry Copeland c. 2013 USA Today ATLANTA (RNS) The King Center is urging communities around the world to participate in a bell-ringing ceremony next month to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King Center...
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication ceremony was described as a mix of worship service and partisan political rally, but there’s scant mention of race, racism or God at the site. What’s going on?
Remembering the life, work, and message of Martin Luther King Jr. -- preacher, peacemaker, prophet. UrbanFaith celebrates the Martin Luther King Jr. Day with this special photo gallery from Life.com. King, the champion of justice and civil rights, said this upon the...
The name Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic in the United States. President Barack Obama mentioned King in both his Democratic National Convention nomination acceptance and victory speeches in 2008, when he said,
“[King] brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial…to speak of his dream.”
Indeed, much of King’s legacy lives on in such arresting oral performances. They made him a global figure.
King’s preaching used the power of language to interpret the gospel in the context of black misery and Christian hope. He directed people to life-giving resources and spoke provocatively of a present and active divine interventionist who summons preachers to name reality in places where pain, oppression and neglect abound.
In other words, King used a prophetic voice in his preaching – the hopeful voice that begins in prayer and attends to human tragedy.
So what led to the rise of the black preacher and shaped King’s prophetic voice?
First, let’s look at some of the social, cultural and political challenges that gave birth to the black religious leader, specifically those who assumed political roles with the community’s blessing and beyond the church proper.
In slave society, black preachers played an important role in the community: they acted as seers interpreting the significance of events; as pastors calling for unity and solidarity; and as messianic figures provoking the first stirrings of resentment against oppressors.
The religious revivalism or the Great Awakening of the 18th century brought to America a Bible-centered brand of Christianity – evangelicalism – that dominated the religious landscape by the early 19th century. Evangelicals emphasized a “personal relationship” with God through Jesus Christ.
This new movement made Christianity more accessible, livelier, without overtaxing educational demands. Africans converted to Christianity in large numbers during the revivals and most became Baptists and Methodists. With fewer educational restrictions placed on them, black preachers emerged in the period as preachers and teachers, despite their slave status.
Africans viewed the revivals as a way to reclaim some of the remnants of African culture in a strange new world. They incorporated and adopted religious symbols into a new cultural system with relative ease.
Rise of the black cleric-politician
Despite the development of black preachers and the significant social and religious advancements of blacks during this period of revival, Reconstruction – the process of rebuilding the South soon after the Civil War – posed numerous challenges for white slaveholders who resented the political advancement of newly freed Africans.
As independent black churches proliferated in Reconstruction America, black ministers preached to their own. Some became bivocational. It was not out of the norm to find pastors who led congregations on Sunday and held jobs as schoolteachers and administrators during the work week.
Others held important political positions. Altogether, 16 African Americans served in the U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. For example, South Carolina’s House of Representatives’ Richard Harvey Cain, who attended Wilberforce University, the first private black American university, served in the 43rd and 45th Congresses and as pastor of a series of African Methodist churches.
Others, such as former slave and Methodist minister and educator Hiram Rhoades Revels and Henry McNeal Turner, shared similar profiles. Revels was a preacher who became America’s first African American senator. Turner was appointed chaplain in the Union Army by President Abraham Lincoln.
To address the myriad problems and concerns of blacks in this era, black preachers discovered that congregations expected them not only to guide worship but also to be the community’s lead informant in the public square.
Such tide-swelling events, in multiplier effect, ushered in the largest internal movement of people on American soil, the Great “Black” Migration. Between 1916 and 1918, an average of 500 Southern migrants a day departed the South. More than 1.5 million relocated to Northern communities between 1916 and 1940.
A watershed, the Great Migration brought about contrasting expectations concerning the mission and identity of the African American church. The infrastructure of Northern black churches were unprepared to deal with the migration’s distressing effects. Its suddenness and size overwhelmed preexisting operations.
The immense suffering brought on by the Great Migration and the racial hatred they had escaped drove many clergy to reflect more deeply on the meaning of freedom and oppression. Black preachers refused to believe that the Christian gospel and discrimination were compatible.
However, black preachers seldom modified their preaching strategies. Rather than establishing centers for black self-improvement focused on job training, home economics classes and libraries, nearly all Southern preachers who came North continued to offer priestly sermons. These sermons exalted the virtues of humility, good will and patience, as they had in the South.
Setting the prophetic tradition
Three clergy outliers – one a woman – initiated change. These three pastors were particularly inventive in the way they approached their preaching task.
Bishop Ransom’s discontentment arose while preaching to Chicago’s “silk-stocking church” Bethel A.M.E. – the elite church – which had no desire to welcome the poor and jobless masses that came to the North. He left and began the Institutional Church and Social Settlement, which combined worship and social services.
Randolph and Powell synthesized their roles as preachers and social reformers. Randolph brought into her prophetic vision her tasks as preacher, missionary, organizer, suffragist and pastor. Powell became pastor at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In that role, he led the congregation to establish a community house and nursing home to meet the political, religious and social needs of blacks.
Shaping of King’s vision
The preaching tradition that these early clergy fashioned would have profound impact on King’s moral and ethical vision. They linked the vision of Jesus Christ as stated in the Bible of bringing good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and proclaiming liberty to the captives, with the Hebrew prophet’s mandate of speaking truth to power.
Similar to how they responded to the complex challenges brought on by the Great Migration of the early 20th century, King brought prophetic interpretation to brutal racism, Jim Crow segregation and poverty in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Indeed, King’s prophetic vision ultimately invited his martyrdom. But through the prophetic preaching tradition already well established by his time, King brought people of every tribe, class and creed closer toward forming “God’s beloved community” – an anchor of love and hope for humankind.
Howard Thurman was a theologian and mystic who taught at both Howard University and Boston University. Photo courtesy of Emory University
‘(RNS) — Hartford International University for Religion and Peace has launched its new Howard Thurman Center for Justice and Transformational Ministry, an expansion of its longtime Black Ministries Program, named for the 20th-century theologian and mystic.
Joel N. Lohr, president of the university that previously was known as Hartford Seminary, said the center fits into the school’s strategic plan that focuses on peace building.
“It was my hope that this would be a moment to grow, to envision a center that would do more to support students, justice and ministry,” he said at a Tuesday (Jan. 11) webinar that officially launched the center and was attended by alumni, as well as Thurman’s grandchildren.
The center, which is a $2 million project, is supported by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant will support a resource center, pay for a Black church scholar and assure that students will not be excluded if they cannot afford the coursework.
The HTC will be led by Bishop Benjamin Watts, who will also continue to lead the Black Ministries Program founded in 1982 by the late Christian Methodist Episcopal Senior Bishop Thomas Hoyt.
“The center’s North Star will be Thurman’s insistence on social justice and responsibility within a spiritual framework,” said Watts in an introductory video during the launch event.
In live comments, Watts spoke of plans to move beyond the center’s regional focus in its two-year certificate course and to become a national model of theological training for pastors and lay people. He said the center also wants to expand the training to include health, wellness and trauma education.
“Those of us of faith have to find ways to continually engage with other persons, and particularly our youth who seem to be falling away from our worship centers,” he said.
During a live interview, Watts asked the Rev. Walter Fluker, editor of “The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman,” to describe the center’s namesake, who died in 1981.
“Thurman, like great mystics — the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu — if you meet them, they’re always laughing, because they understand the deep, tragic sense of life and it’s only because of their deep sense of the tragic that they’re able to look at the world and laugh at the world,” said Fluker, a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. ”To meet Howard Thurman is to meet not a detached mystic unconcerned about the affairs of the world, but a very earthly human being.”
The launch event also featured video comments from the Rev. Andrew Young, a longtime civil rights activist who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and isan alumnus of the Connecticut university, and an interview with former Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum, who earned a master’s in religious studies from the school.
LOS ANGELES (RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at the funeral of the 14-year-old fatally shot by a Los Angeles Police Department officer, recalled coming to Los Angeles 30 years ago to protest the beating of Rodney King by police.
“We keep seeing LAPD get it wrong. And here we are again. How long will it take for you to get it right?” Sharpton asked.
Valentina Orellana Peralta was with her mother, Soledad Peralta, on Dec. 23 in the dressing room of a Burlington clothing store in the San Fernando Valley’s North Hollywood neighborhood when, according to news reports, LAPD officer William Dorsey Jones Jr. fired at a 24-year-old man identified as Daniel Elena Lopez, who had been assaulting a woman in the store. The officer’s shots killed Lopez, and Valentina was also killed when one of the bullets went through a wall.
Both the girl and her mother had come to the United States from Chile.
Sharpton, on Monday (Jan. 10), eulogized Orellana Peralta, who was displayed in a pink dress inside a flower-draped casket during her funeral at City of Refuge, United Church of Christ in Gardena, near Los Angeles.
Today I’m eulogizing 14-year-old #ValentinaOrellanaPeralta who was killed by a LAPD stray bullet as she shopped for a Christmas dress. I’m praying for her parents and loved ones and we will seek justice in her name
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) January 10, 2022
“There is nothing normal about shooting so recklessly that a young teenage girl looking to live the American dream, that was shopping with her dear mother Soledad, possibly getting a Christmas dress, ends up being dressed for her funeral,” Sharpton said. “This could have been my daughter. This could have been your daughter.”
The shooting made international news when President Joe Biden called Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric to congratulate him on winning his country’s election and during that conversation, “offered his deep condolences to the people of Chile for the tragic death” of Orellana Peralta.
Orellana Peralta was remembered as a happy teen who excelled in school, who was an advocate for animals and who yearned to become a U.S. citizen. Her father said she had dreams of becoming an engineer to build robots.
Sharpton, during the eulogy, said it was important to make it clear that “we don’t just fight for our own because we all are our own,” Sharpton said.
“Whether you are from South Central, Harlem, or Chile, right is right … If we call for justice for some, we must call (for) it for all, and I wanted to come 3,000 miles to say, ‘Justice for (Valentina)!’” Sharpton proclaimed.
Added Sharpton: “There are those … around America that talk about refugees coming to America, some from Chile, some from Central and South America, some from Mexico, and they ask me why I stand and fight for them to have rights. I fight for them to have rights because I worship a refugee from Bethlehem.”
“Jesus was a refugee, and you cannot despise refugees and then stand up and say you are a believer in Christ,” he said.
MILWAUKEE (RNS) — Asher Imtiaz is the kind of person who always seems to be wandering into a great story.
Like the time in 2017, when the Pakistani American computer scientist and documentary photographer walked into a Target in Nebraska and ended up being invited to a wedding thrown by Yazidi refugees from the Middle East.
Imtiaz had gone to Nebraska to shoot pictures of life in small-town America in the age of Trump, far from the country’s urban centers. Among his portfolio from the time is another Yazidi family, dressed in patriotic garb and heading to a Fourth of July picnic.
“I went to see America and found these new Americans,” said Imtiaz at a coffee shop on the north side of Milwaukee last year.
Imtiaz fits right in at Eastbrook Church, a multi-ethnic congregation where he serves as a volunteer leader at an outreach ministry for international students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus nearby.
Eastbrook is a bit of an outlier these days, a place where refugees, immigrants and international students are welcome at a time when American evangelicals are increasingly suspicious of newcomers to the United States.
According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute’s Immigration Policies Survey, nearly 6-in-10 (59%) white Evangelical Protestants agreed with the statement “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background.” By contrast, only 31% of Americans overall agreed with that statement.
At an outdoor service at Eastbrook in August, Imtiaz wandered through the congregation greeting friends and exchanging hugs as a diverse worship team led the congregation through a mix of traditional and contemporary songs. The service started with the singing of the traditional Doxology, which begins, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” followed by songs like “You Are Good” and “Way Maker,” by Nigerian gospel singer Sinach.
That was followed by a reading of Psalm 23 in English, Spanish and Yoruba.
The church was founded in 1979 by members of Elmbrook Church, a megachurch about 20 miles to the west. Elmbrook’s then pastor was hoping to get church members more involved in the communities where they lived. Dubbed Eastbrook, it was led for three decades by former missionaries Marc and Nancy Erickson. For the past 11 years the pastor has been Matt Erickson (no relation).
The proximity of the university campus led to an intentional outreach to college students, especially those from overseas, which continues four decades later.
Every fall, church members give tours of Milwaukee to newly arrived international students, who are then invited to have dinner at the homes of church members. Many of those students come from Christian backgrounds and are seeking to connect with a church, said Imtiaz, who was raised as an Anglican in Pakistan, a country where only about 2% of the population is Christian.
Those students are also looking for friendship. Imtiaz pointed to a 2012 study of international students in the South and Northeast, which found that 40% of those students had no close friendships with Americans. Through the outreach at Eastbrook, their students often make friends in their first days in the country. Many of them end up spending holidays with church members and making longtime friendships.
“It’s basically providing a home away from home,” he said.
The church also operates an International Community Center on the south side of the city, where a number of recent refugees and other immigrants have settled. The center teaches English as a Second Language classes and provides support with issues like housing and education. About 30 people will end up dropping by the center most days, Dan Ryan, senior director of mission at the church, said in an interview in early January 2022.
Ryan said the church is helping resettle some recent refugees from Afghanistan. He understands that some of his fellow evangelicals around the country are resistant to the idea of resettling refugees. Since refugees are here in the States, he said, churches need to reach out in love.
“Yes, have your political ideas,” he said. “But don’t lose sight of the people involved.”
Ryan said that the church and the center are very open about the Christian motivations for their outreach efforts. But they also steer clear of proselytizing. Their main goal, Ryan said, is to show love and welcome to their new neighbors, a point echoed by Matt Erickson.
“It’s a ministry of care and concern and tangible ways of loving people welcoming people,” he said.
“These folks are treasured by God and valuable in his sight,” said Erickson, who spent several years on the staff of World Relief, a Christian organization that helps resettle refugees in the United States.
While he’s not shy about talking about faith, Imtiaz doesn’t see himself as a “Christian photographer.” He said that Christians in the United States sometimes see their neighbors as “projects” or prospective converts, rather than seeing them as people first. He takes a slower approach, trying to befriend people and see them as a neighbor who is valuable in God’s sight.
As a photographer, Imtiaz practices something he calls “God at ‘I’ level” — trying to connect with the people he photographs as human beings, long before taking their picture.
Like many churches in the United States, Eastbrook has felt the pressure of the country’s political polarization inside the church. Erickson said that Eastbrook has always tried to bring together people from different backgrounds, as task made more difficult by the broader conflicts in American public life over race, politics and increasingly, COVID-19.
He often turns to a verse from the New Testament Book of Galatians, in which the apostle Paul urges his readers to “bear one another’s burdens.”
“The last couple of years have given us lots of opportunities to live that out,” he said. “Sometimes we are doing it well and sometimes we are not. Part of being a body is that we have to learn to talk with each other, and we have to learn how to understand each other.”
During his sermon at the outdoor service in August, Erickson urged church members to ground their lives in the Bible and its message of love, rather than on the noise of the outside world. Without that solid foundation, he said, their lives won’t reflect the kind of love God wants them to share.
“Brothers and sisters, I just want to ask us today, are we giving more time to the news, are we giving more time to social media than we are to the Word of God and letting it sink into our lives?” he said. “I’m not trying to be legalistic. I’m just sick of us being brainwashed and want us to stand in the kingdom.”.
Among the people at Eastbrook that Sunday were Mahitha Voola and Manna Konduri, both originally from India, who came to Eastbrook through the church’s outreach to international students and ended up staying after graduation.
From the beginning, people at the church made them feel at home.
“They say, ‘Oh, taste and see the Lord is good,’” Voola said, quoting a verse from the Psalms. “I’ve tasted that love of God through these people and through the church. I feel very blessed to be part of it.”
The two said they hope to pass on the welcome they have received.
“Today we are the recipients of this love,” Konduri said. “Tomorrow, maybe we will be the ones to show that to someone else.”
Eastbrook’s ethic of welcome, Imtiaz said, has been as much a boon for him as it is for the newcomers.
He’s particularly interested in documenting the story of immigrants and refugees, whom he likes to refer to as “new Americans.” For several years he lived in an apartment complex where newly resettled refugees were living so that he could get to know them. He ended up photographing a number of neighbors after building friendships. When he got COVID-19 — a mild case — one of his former neighbors, a woman from Iraq, would send him soup.
Imtiaz hopes that his photographs and work at the church will inspire people to get to know their neighbors, no matter where they come from.
“If I can go to Nebraska and go to Target and meet 400 Yazidis, anybody else can,” he said.
As we navigate change in our world caused by the pandemic, social, economic, and governmental transformation, wisdom of all types is necessary. Leaders are trying to find new ways to engage those they lead and everyone is working to communicate more effectively in our dynamic moment.
UrbanFaith sat down with one of the most influential leaders in the world, Bishop T.D. Jakes who has seized the opportunity to share his insight and experience on how to remain faithful to our purpose as we communicate in our dynamic context. In his new book Don’t Drop the Mic he shares his wisdom on how to faithfully communicate regardless of the audience. It has been called one of Bishop Jakes’ best books as he explores clear and effective communication in our everyday lives and on the world’s biggest platforms. Bishop Jakes has led a megachurch with tens of thousands of members, The Potter’s House for decades, become an entrepreneur, filmmaker, talk show host, producer, and raise his children without dropping the mic. Two of his children are now successful pastors in his ministry network, Sarah Jakes Roberts and Cora Jakes Coleman. This book explores how he stayed true to his message while adapting his method through the years. Full interview is linked above.
In promising to rebuild the department of education from the ground up, Mayor-elect Eric Adams and incoming schools Chancellor David Banks vowed to seek input from students.
So far, they seem to be practicing what they preach. Adams’ transition team for education includes four “youth co-chairs”: two high school students and two college students from the City University of New York. Adams included dozens of other CUNY students on his transition team through an internship program.
Chalkbeat spoke with co-chair Mia Payne, a senior at Manhattan’s Talent Unlimited High School, who has been on the forefront of pushing for more civic education in New York City schools.
The 17-year-old Bronx resident has been a leader the past two years with YVote, a youth civic engagement organization. As a civic fellow with Next Generation Politics — a related youth-led organization focused on cross-partisan civic engagement — Payne grappled with issues such as cancel culture, immigration, police reform and critical race theory, the academic framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism.
After sending a memo with ideas on increasing voter registration and civic engagement in schools to Sanda Balaban, co-founder of YVote and Next Generation Politics, Payne connected with the education department’s Civics for All team, inspiring them to start a student advisory group.
“Mia is a deep thinker about how to improve NYC schools and how to improve the Bronx and NYC more broadly,” Balaban said. “Last spring when all of our YVoters were analyzing mayoral candidates, almost all wanted to do a write-in campaign ‘Mia for Mayor.’”
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations on your role as a youth co-chair. Do you know if previous transition teams have had such a role?
I think this is the first time that they’re having it. When I learned about that I looked at my position differently because I’m like, ‘OK, are they gonna put me on the transition team as a publicity stunt for hearing youth voices or are they actually going to address the issues that I’m concerned about and take them into consideration?’
So that’s kind of like an extra level of responsibility. A lot of the time, politics is just a picture game. It’s all about image. But I’m a product of the NYCDOE. I go to school, I’m impacted by this. This isn’t another policy or administration for me. This is my real life. So I have to make sure that I get that across.
And what exactly is your role?
I wanted to make sure that my stories and experiences are not being exploited, so I had to make the platform my own.
It’s not really responsibilities, like creating meeting agendas or anything, it’s more like, ‘You’re a participant like everyone else, but because it’s the first time we have youth as co-chairs, your story is going to be highlighted through a 10-minute session in the agenda.’
So yeah, I had that 10-minute session, but then also, something that really pushed me — I’m like, there’s people in this meeting that have the power to change these issues I’m so concerned about by shifting culture. I didn’t want to let it be another panel where we’re gonna talk about issues and problems. I want it to actually lead to tangible action.
So after the first meeting [out of three], where David Banks was like, ‘Tell me what you want. What are Day 1 priorities? What are actual tangible solutions?’ — that was my motivation because I’m like, okay, ‘cause I already know a lot of organizations that have been waiting for someone to ask that question.
And so literally following up that meeting, I spent the whole weekend just kind of filling out a Google doc of everything that I feel like we need to be focused on, like integrating New York City schools, redesigning the curriculum, career and college readiness, prioritizing to the mental health of the students, reimagining their schools’ culture, and ways to spotlight our teachers.
Tell me a little more about what you’d like to see changed.
We have one of the most segregated school systems in the country, which is mind-boggling to me because New York City is so diverse, and then you go inside the schools and ethnic diversity isn’t reflected.
So, a factor towards resolving this is the city needs to abolish the specialized high school admissions exam. I feel like a student’s potential shouldn’t be measured from their ability to answer math or ELA questions on an exam.
It is very much an equity issue with the screening of our schools. And there needs to be funding for the opportunity for every school district to redesign their own community-driven diversity plan.
We should expand education with emphasis on marginalized populations. I feel like that does not get talked about enough. There’s youth in the juvenile justice system that need quality education, homeless youth, migrant children — they’re not receiving the same education, simply based on their circumstances, which is not right. Everyone needs a quality education regardless of background or circumstances because that is how you’re progressing in society. The justice system is supposed to be a rehabilitation system, and you can’t rehabilitate someone without giving them education.
You also mentioned career and college readiness.
There is definitely a lack of college support in New York City schools, especially now with the pandemic because of understaffing.
We can have partners with nonprofits or different programs that want to do this — that want to get students mentored and give resources. That can help ease the caseload for schools. Teachers can’t provide the individualized feedback and attention that every student deserves because of an intense amount of classes they have to teach.
Another thing is just connecting with the College Now program [where New York City high school students take CUNY courses]. That’s really what got me interested in education. I took an urban education course at Hunter College and that was life-changing for me, honestly. It really just opened my eyes about the interconnectivity of American systems. I didn’t know the history of it. I didn’t know that if you’re strategically trying to target Black and brown students from an education, you’re trying to diminish a whole population within themselves. You’re depriving them of unlocking the potential and creativity of their minds and restricting them from being productive, powerful, and contributing members of society.
And [it helped me notice] how voting is so important. If you don’t have civics education, then politicians don’t care if millions are outside rallying for climate change, if less than 10% of that crowd is going to take their demands to the ballot box.
I’m working on expanding Civics for All week right now with the DOE in creating a student advisory team for the Civics for All department. Students may not know anything about government when they graduate, and statistically, it’s marginalized communities that aren’t receiving that knowledge, leaving them unequipped and civically illiterate in a nation that is governed by democracy.
And you mentioned mental health.
Students feel pressure to succeed and are worried about imperfection because their worth and potential are measured by their grades. I feel like we have to redefine what success is and reimagine a school’s culture — this is a broad issue because it has to do with the global culture of education and the way in which students are pressured to be elite. But students need to know that when they go beyond their initial expectations of themselves, and they’ve reached a level of nobility that society isn’t mature enough to honor, that is the real point of success. You should never have to bear that burden of having to get a 1600 on your SAT or having to get 100 in every class, to be seen as brilliant.
I don’t think the traditional way of testing is really effective. Students are very aware that big testing companies are just making a buck off of their stress. They’re very aware of it, but they still go through it because they want to go to college. They joke about it, but it then leads to actual anxiety attacks and leads to actual suicidal thoughts. I’m very concerned about how normalized it’s getting within my generation and the paradox of advocating for mental health while falling victim to mentally demanding educational expectations.
So we have to evaluate the way that we test students in a way that’s actually effective. Like performance based-assessments so students go into college and work spaces with public speaking and teamwork skills, rather than only knowing pen and paper. We need performance-based assessments that really say, ‘I need you to reflect on the curriculum. I need you to be creative.’
When are you going to be chancellor?
My focal point right now isn’t education, though it is something I prioritize when being civically engaged. I’m looking into engineering. I will be double majoring in aerospace engineering, and civil and environmental engineering. I find intersection in almost every issue. So in civil and environmental engineering, I find a connection between redlining policies and the disproportionate placement of highways that directly impact Black and brown neighborhoods, along with toxic waste facilities and other forms of environmental racism. And with aerospace engineering I want to kind of branch out the solutions to climate change to come up with innovations.
And then I want to minor in international policy and management so that I can spearhead multinational organizations that can bring those innovations to developing countries and understand how to do that throughout the world.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
(RNS) — One year ago at the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, the world witnessed one way in which Christian nationalism imperils American democracy. We’ve all seen photos and footage of the mob violence perpetrated by Americans waving Christian flags, clad in Christian clothing, saying Christian prayers. As some increasingly isolated and radicalized religious conservatives react to their loss of power, the threat of their political violence is real. But it is not the only way Christian nationalism jeopardizes our democracy.
The fact is, Christian nationalist ideology — particularly when it is held by white Americans — is fundamentally anti-democratic because its goal isn’t “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Its goal is power. Specifically, power for “true Americans like us,” Christians in an almost ethnic sense, those who belong — the worthy. Stemming from this, the most salient threat white Christian nationalism poses to democracy is that it seeks to undermine the very foundation of democracy itself: voting.
We can see this connection long before the 2020 presidential election or recent efforts to restrict voter access throughout the country. As historian Anthea Butler recounts, at a 1980 conference Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Moral Majority, spoke about electoral strategy to Christian right leaders including Tim LaHaye, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Sr. and then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.
Weyrich famously explained:
“Many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome. Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
In Weyrich’s own words, the goal of these Christian right leaders wasn’t more Americans exercising their democratic rights. The goal is “leverage” and, with it, victory. Over the next few decades, Weyrich and other organizations he co-founded, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, tirelessly promoted legislation to restrict voter access, guided by the belief that voting must be controlled, lest the wrong sorts of people determine the outcome.
In a recent study I conducted with co-authors Andrew Whitehead and Josh Grubbs, we documented this same strong connection between Christian nationalist ideology and wanting to limit voter access. We surveyed Americans just before the November 2020 elections and thus before Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” began to dominate the narrative on the right. We use a scale to measure Christian nationalism that includes questions about the extent to which Americans think the government should declare the U.S. a Christian nation, that America’s success is part of God’s plan and other such views.
Even after we accounted for political partisanship, ideological conservatism and a host of other religious and sociodemographic characteristics, Christian nationalist ideology was the leading predictor that Americans felt we already make it “too easy to vote.”
You may ask, “Who exactly is voting too easily?” The obvious answer is the bogeyman trope of fraudulent voters — those pets, dead people and undocumented immigrants Trump warned about in spring 2020. This myth of widespread voter fraud is decades old and has been thoroughly debunked numerous times. Yet, unsurprisingly, we also found that Christian nationalism is the leading predictor that Americans believe “voter fraud in presidential elections is getting rampant these days.” And it bears repeating: Americans who affirm Christian nationalism already felt this way before the 2020 presidential election.
But other evidence suggests Christian nationalism doesn’t just hope to exclude fraudulent voters. For adults who believe America should be a “Christian nation,” their understanding of who should vote is even more narrow. For example, we asked Americans whether they would support a policy requiring persons to pass a basic civics test in order to vote or a law that would disenfranchise certain criminal offenders for life. These questions hark back to arbitrary Jim Crow restrictions white Southerners used before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Once again, Christian nationalism is the leading predictor that Americans would prefer both restrictions.
Part of the reason for this is, as Weyrich explained in 1980, electoral leverage. Americans who subscribe to Christian nationalism likely assume persons excluded by civics tests and lifetime felon disenfranchisement (younger Americans and ex-convicts who are disproportionately Black) would be political threats, not allies.
Yet another reason also involves how white Christian nationalists view voting in general. In data we collected in August 2021, we asked Americans to indicate whether they felt voting was a right or a privilege. Though constitutional language repeatedly states voting is a right for citizens, Americans still debate the issue. As I show in Figure 1, the more Americans embrace Christian nationalism, the more likely they are to view voting as a privilege (something that can be extended or taken away) rather than a right (something that shall not be infringed). Indeed, at the extreme end of Christian nationalism, the majority hold this view.
Other evidence beyond voter access suggests Christian nationalism inclines Americans to favor institutional arrangements that preserve their political power. In the same October 2020 survey we used for the earlier study, we found that the more white Americans affirmed Christian nationalist ideology, the more likely they were to reject the popular vote as a means of selecting the president, to favor the Electoral College and to disagree that gerrymandering needed to be addressed to ensure fairer congressional elections (see Figure 2). Why? Almost certainly because these arrangements currently give white, rural, conservative Americans an electoral advantage even when they are numerical minorities. Again, the goal is power, not fairness or democracy.
As scholars of right-wing political movements point out, democracy is gradually eroded under some ideological covering, one that stokes populist anxiety with menacing tropes about cultural decline and justifies anti-democratic tactics to “save” or “restore” the nation — to make the nation great again. In the United States, white Christian nationalism is that ideological covering. In the minds of white Americans who believe America should be for “Christians like us,” increasing ethnic and religious diversity is a threat that must be defeated for God to “shed his grace on thee.”
Moreover, Americans who subscribe to Christian nationalism already thought voter fraud was rampant before November 2020. Today, in the aftermath of Trump’s “Big Lie” about a stolen election, which is still believed by over 80% of the most ardent believers in Christian nationalism, electoral integrity is viewed as hopelessly compromised. Thus, they see restricting voter access to those who prove worthy, and maintaining institutional advantages provided by the Electoral College and gerrymandering, as necessary strategies for preserving power and preventing what they see as their own imminent persecution under a Democratic administration.
The threat of Christian nationalist violence like what we saw on Jan. 6 is real. Yet because such threats are so obvious and shocking, and the role of Christian nationalism in them is so blatant, they make gaslighting about them more challenging. (Though Republican leaders are certainly trying, just the same.) In contrast, the threat of Christian nationalism as an ideological covering for voter suppression is perhaps more destructive because its influence is more subtle and its effects (electoral outcomes) are more consequential. Demagogues like Trump will no longer need to mobilize Christian nationalist violence after an electoral loss once they’ve ensured they’ll never lose in the first place.
(Samuel L. Perry is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of two books on Christian nationalism, including the award-winning “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States” (with Andrew L. Whitehead) and the forthcoming “The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy” (with Philip Gorski). The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Ahead of the Trend is a collaborative effort between Religion News Service and the Association of Religion Data Archives made possible through the support of the John Templeton Foundation. See other Ahead of the Trend articles here.
With the flurry of shopping, spending money and traveling to see family, stress can feel inevitable during the holidays.
You might already know stress can affect your own health, but what you may not realize is that your stress – and how you manage it – is catching. Your stress can spread around, particularly to your loved ones.
As a social-health psychologist, I have developed a model on how partners and their stress influence each other’s psychological and biological health. Through that and my other research, I’ve learned that the quality of intimate relationships is crucial to people’s health.
Here’s just a sample: Relationship stress can alter the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. A study of newlyweds found levels of stress hormones were higher when couples were hostile during a conflict – that is, when they were critical, sarcastic, spoke with an unpleasant tone and used aggravating facial expressions, like eyerolls.
Cortisol is a hormone that plays a key role in the body’s stress response. Cortisol has a diurnal rhythm, so its levels are usually highest soon after waking and then gradually decline during the day. But chronic stress can lead to unhealthy cortisol patterns, such as low cortisol levels upon waking or cortisol not tapering off much by the end of the day. These patterns are associated with an increase in disease development and mortality risks.
My colleagues and I found that conflict altered cortisol levels of couples on the day they had a dispute; people with stressed partners who used negative behaviors during the conflict had higher cortisol levels even four hours after the conflict ended.
These findings suggest that arguing with a partner who is already stressed could have lasting biological health effects for ourselves.
Here are three ways you can reduce the stress in your relationship, during and after the holidays.
First, talk to and validate each other. Tell your partner you understand their feelings. Talk about big and little things before they escalate. Sometimes partners hide problems to protect each other, but this can actually make things worse. Share your feelings, and when your partner shares in return, don’t interrupt. Remember, feeling cared-for and understood by a partner is good for your emotional well-being and promotes healthier cortisol patterns, so being there for each other and listening to each other can have good health effects for both you and your partner.
Next, show your love. Hug each other, hold hands and be kind. This too lowers cortisol and can make you feel happier. One study found that a satisfying relationship can even help improve vaccination response.
Then remind yourself that you’re part of a team. Brainstorm solutions, be each other’s cheerleaders and celebrate the wins together. Couples who unite to tackle stress are healthier and more satisfied with their relationships. Some examples: Make dinner or run errands when your partner is stressed; relax and reminisce together; or try a new restaurant, dance or exercise class together.
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That said, it’s also true that sometimes these steps aren’t enough. Many couples will still need help managing stress and overcoming difficulties. Couples therapy helps partners learn to communicate and resolve conflicts effectively. It’s critical to be proactive and seek help from someone who is trained to deal with ongoing relationship difficulties.
So this holiday season, tell your partner that you’re there for them, preferably while you’re hugging. Take each other’s stress seriously, and no more eyerolls. It’s not so much the stress itself; it’s the way that both of you manage the stress together. Working as an open and honest team is the key ingredient to a healthy and happy relationship, during holiday season and into the new year.
Let’s face it. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Perhaps you expected to be married by now. Perhaps you did not anticipate being single again. Perhaps that big decision you made — the decision you sought godly counsel on and that you thoroughly prayed through before making — is not working out. Despite your surprise, God knew all along where you would be right now.
When life’s unexpected twists happen, I think the first thing we wonder is, “Where is God?” Yet the text in Genesis 39 says that when Joseph’s brothers sold him and he was taken down to Egypt to work in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the Lord was with Joseph. So much for the theory that if God is in your situation, you won’t have any troubles or struggle with feeling alone.
Where is God? He is right there!
When the wind was tossing around the disciple’s boat, where was Jesus? Walking on the water to meet them. He even invited Peter, an ordinary fisherman, to come walk with Him on the water too. Peter did — that is, until he became absorbed with where he was. After that he started to sink in his own fear and unbelief.
Sometimes the single life can be overwhelming. The weight of dealing with and solving problems on your own can take a toll on your strength and your faith. However, we are all equipped to walk on water, so to speak — the troubled waters of our lives. If we look down at our state of affairs, we can only hope to sink. But by keeping our eyes up, locked on the Author of our faith, we will overcome. If we are able to take a deep breath and say, “This is only a test,” we can apply ourselves to finishing the course.
The choice is to either roll over and die a slow, painful death while repeating the mantra, “Why me? Why me?” or to rise to the occasion. Realizing I have an invisible enemy who wants me to cave in is usually enough to make me perk up and decide I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing my demise.
It’s easy to say things can’t get any worse, but the truth of the matter is that they can. I recall a particularly bad year in my life when everything that could go wrong did. With each new setback I would say, “Things couldn’t get any worse than this.” And then things would get worse. Again I would say, “Things just couldn’t get any worse.” And then they would. Around the fifth time I was tempted to utter these ill-fated words, I caught myself. “Things couldn’t get — Oh, never mind!”
Wallowing in what can’t be fixed has never fixed anything. Don’t go there. Instead, take God’s advice:
“Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor O Jerusalem the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:1-2).
Now let me break that down to a Michelle paraphrase: “Snap out of it! Push out of your fog and buck up! Don’t wimp out. Flex some muscle, locate your power, and use it.”
Fortify yourself with your faith in God and with what you’ve learned. Purposefully put your best face forward, even when your insides don’t match your outward expression. Get over the past. Shake off the bad influences and people who cling to you but are not contributing to your progress. Pull yourself together. Climb above your situation and gain a new perspective.
Notice that the people of Jerusalem were given the work of freeing themselves. No fairy godmother was going to show up to free them. It’s important to kill unrealistic fantasies and expectations and be grounded in God’s promises. How do you free yourself? By embracing the truth and wielding it like a weapon. If the truth is what makes you free, then what is true? God is still on the throne. Though you are standing alone, you are still standing. Therefore there is hope. Deal with your attitude.
When you take stock of your life not at eye-level but at faith-level, you will find something good to work with. Something great to hold out for. Something that will give you the strength to grit your teeth and hang on. Take note that God has been faithful so far. Though you may not feel your best, you are, in fact, living above the circumstances. This is just a test, and you are still standing.
The rest hinges on your own determination and the decisions you make as you move forward. The old saying “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet” would perhaps be written by God this way, “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the LORD” (Isaiah 54:1). If you take the time, you will find that no matter what your circumstance is, God has equipped you not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish right where you are. This is the ultimate preparation for life no matter what your relationship status.
Whether you are single, divorced, or widowed, life happens. Just remember that each test can result in an amazing testimony if you purpose to stay connected to the One who promises to be your life partner forever.
Where do you see yourself in two years? What about five years? Do you have a detailed plan for achieving these goals? It’s easy to live from day to day without thinking about the specific steps you need to take to reach your future goals successfully. Many of us may be so bogged down with trying to balance work with school, responsibilities at a job, and expectations from others that we think there is no time left in the day to plan. But if we are going to be successful, we must make time to think about where we want to go, and create a map that will take us there. As a Christian, keep in mind that it is not enough for you to simply implement a plan you thought of on your own. Be sure to pray as you plan your future. Below, find three steps to help you achieve the resolutions you set for the New Year and the plans you make for your future.
1. Set a specific goal
2. Write the goal
3. Making necessary adjustments to reach the goal.
Across the world students, teachers, parents, professors, pastors, and caregivers are beginning a new year facing numerous challenges. The uncertainty of the pandemic, the logistics of classes, and the worries about the economy are one thing. But the larger questions about purpose, relationships, and faith impact us far beyond the classroom year after year. UrbanFaith interviewed Jonathan Banks, author of Raise Your GPAabout how we can have success this school year and beyond. The full interview is above.
Prisoners pray before getting baptized inside an evangelical cellblock at the Penal Unit N11 penitentiary in Pinero, Santa Fe Province, Argentina, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Prisoners who want to be allowed in an evangelical cellblock must comply with rules of conduct, including praying three times a day, giving up all addictions and fighting. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
ROSARIO, Argentina (AP) — The loud noise from the opening of an iron door marks Jorge Anguilante’s exit from the Pinero prison every Saturday. He heads home for 24 hours to minister at a small evangelical church he started in a garage in Argentina’s most violent city.
Before he walks through the door, guards remove handcuffs from “Tachuela” — Spanish for “Tack,” as he was known in the criminal world. In silence, they stare at the hit-man-turned-pastor who greets them with a single word: “Blessings.”
The burly, 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) man whose tattoos are remnants of another time in his life — back when he says he used to kill — must return by 8 a.m. to a prison cellblock known by inmates as “the church.”
His story, of a convicted murderer embracing an evangelical faith behind bars, is common in the lockups of Argentina’s Santa Fe province and its capital city of Rosario. Many here began peddling drugs as teenagers and got stuck in a spiral of violence that led some to their graves and others to overcrowded prisons divided between two forces: drug lords and preachers.
Over the past 20 years, Argentine prison authorities have encouraged, to one extent or another, the creation of units effectively run by evangelical inmates — sometimes granting them a few extra special privileges, such as more time in fresh air.
The cellblocks are much like those in the rest of the prison — clean and painted in pastel colors, light blue or green. They have kitchens, televisions and audio equipment — here used for prayer services.
But they are safer and calmer than the regular units.
Violating rules against fighting, smoking, using alcohol or drugs can get an inmate kicked back into the normal prison.
“We bring peace to the prisons. There was never a riot inside the evangelical cellblocks. And that is better for the authorities,” said the Rev. David Sensini of Rosario’s Redil de Cristo church.
Access is controlled both by prison officials and by cellblock leaders who function much like pastors — and who are wary of attempts by gangs to infiltrate.
“It has happened many times that an inmate asks to go to the evangelical pavilion to try to take it over. We need to keep permanent control over who enters”, said Eric Gallardo, one of the leaders at the Pinero prison.
Jeremias Echague shows his tattoo from inside his cell within the evangelical cellblock he joined at the Correctional Institute Model U.1., Dr. Cesar R Tabares, known as Penal Unit 1 in Coronda, Santa Fe province, Argentina, where the 19-year-old waits for his final sentencing for homicide, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Many here began peddling drugs as teenagers and got stuck in a spiral of violence that led some to their graves and others to overcrowded prisons divided between two forces: drug lords and preachers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Rosario is best known as a major agricultural port, the birthplace of revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara and a talent factory for soccer players, including Lionel Messi. But the city of some 1.3 million people also has high levels of poverty and crime. Violence between gangs who seek to control turf and drug markets has helped fill its prisons.
“Eighty percent of the crimes in Rosario are carried out by young hit men who provide services to drug gangs, whose bosses are imprisoned and maintain control of the criminal business from jails,” said Matías Edery, a prosecutor in the Organized Crime Unit in Santa Fe province.
Anguillante says that his life as a contract killer is behind him; God’s word, he says, turned him into “a new man.”
In 2014, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing 24-year-old Jesús Trigo, whom he shot in the face. Anguillante says that face haunts him at night, and he tries to chase the memory away by praying in his small prison cell.
Jeremias Echague shows his tattoo from inside his cell within the evangelical cellblock he joined at the Correctional Institute Model U.1., Dr. Cesar R Tabares, known as Penal Unit 1 in Coronda, Santa Fe province, Argentina, where the 19-year-old waits for his final sentencing for homicide, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Many here began peddling drugs as teenagers and got stuck in a spiral of violence that led some to their graves and others to overcrowded prisons divided between two forces: drug lords and preachers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
About 40% of Santa Fe province’s roughly 6,900 inmates live in evangelical cellblocks, said Walter Gálvez, Santa Fe’s undersecretary of penitentiary affairs, who is also Pentecostal.
As in other Latin American countries, the spread of evangelical faith in Argentina took root especially in the “most vulnerable sectors, including inmates,” said Verónica Giménez, a researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research of Argentina.
In Pope Francis’ home country, the Roman Catholic Church is still the dominant religion. But a survey by the council found that the percentage of Argentine Catholics fell from 76.5% to 62.9% between 2008 and 2019 while the share of evangelicals grew from 9% to 15.3%.
“This increase in the faithful took place even more in prisons,” Gálvez said.
Gimenez, the researcher, said that is echoed in other parts of Latin America, such as in Brazil, where the huge Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has 14.000 people working with prisoners.
The growth is remarkable in a country where Catholics had a near-monopoly on prison chapels until a few decades ago.
“There are still Catholic chapels inside prisons but their priests are almost without any work to do,” said Leonardo Andre, head of the prison in Coronda, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Rosario.
Catholic priest Fabian Belay, who runs the Pastoral of Drug Dependence, said that priests are indeed active, but use “different methods” than the cellblock strategy.
“We disagree with the invention of religious cellblocks because they create ghettos inside prisons,” he said. “We bet on integration and not a religious segregation.”
Deacon Raul Valenti, who has been working in the Catholic pastoral for three decades, said, “The evangelicals do their work in the religious cellblocks, while we do them in the other ones, the ones that are called hell.”
He insisted they are not in conflict: “We just have different views. We share, a lot of times, religious activities inside the prison.”
Ruben Munoz, an evangelical pastor from the church Puerta del Cielo, or “Heaven’s Door,” who served two years in prison for robbery, baptizes an inmate in a kiddie pool, at an evangelical cellblock inside Penal Unit N11 in Pinero, Santa Fe province, Argentina, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021. Over the past 20 years, Argentine prison authorities have encouraged the creation of units effectively run by evangelical inmates. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
The Puerta del Cielo (“Heaven’s Door”) and Redil de Cristo (“Christ’s Sheepfold”) congregations are among those that exert strong influence in Santa Fe’s prisons. They began to evangelize inmates in the late 1980s and today have more than 120 pastors working inside prisons.
During a recent service at the Redil de Cristo church in Rosario, the Rev. David Sensini asked those who had been imprisoned to identify themselves. About a third in the room raised their hands. They then closed their eyes and lowered their head in prayer.
Víctor Pereyra, who was wearing a black suit and tie, served time at the Pinero prison. Today, he owns a produce shop and also works maintenance jobs.
“I don’t want to go back (to prison). Today I have a family to look after,” he said.
Pop-style hymns blared from loudspeakers while three TV cameras recorded the ceremony for other worshippers watching at home via a YouTube channel.
“No one else is going to jail. Not your children, not your grandchildren,” the pastor shouted to the crowd. “Change is possible!”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
All week long, African Americans have been celebrating Kwanzaa across the U.S.
Perhaps you may attend a Kwanzaa celebration at your church or even participate in Kwanzaa in the comforts of your own home, but do you really know why? What is Kwanzaa and why do so many African Americans choose to celebrate the holiday?
Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created and developed Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga is an author, professor, and scholar-activist who is passionate about sustaining Pan-African culture in America with an emphasis on celebrating the family and the community.
There are three main ideas that are foundational to sustaining Kwanzaa tradition. The first idea is to reinstate rootedness in African culture. The second is to serve as a consistent, annual, public celebration to strengthen and confirm the bonds between people of the African diaspora. And finally, Kwanzaa is to familiarize and support the “Nguzo Saba,” also known as the “Seven Principles,” which are each celebrated during the seven days following Christmas.
These seven principles represent the values of African communication. They include the following:
Umoja or Unity
Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
Nia or Purpose
Kuumba or Creativity
Imani or Faith.
People celebrate Kwanzaa in numerous ways and have different practices that have been incorporated into their celebrations.
Are you unsure as to how you and your family can participate in a Kwanzaa celebration? A good way to start is to decorate your home or living quarters with the symbols of Kwanzaa.
First start by putting a green tablecloth over a table that is centrally based in the space in the space you intend to decorate. Then, place the Mkeka, a woven mat or straw that represents the factual cornerstone of African descent, on top of the tablecloth.
Place the Mazao, the fruit or crops placed in a bowl, on top of the Mkeka symbolizing the culture’s productivity. Next, place the Kinara, a seven-pronged candle holder, on the tablecloth. The Kinara should include the Mishumaa Saba, seven candles that represent the seven central principles of Kwanzaa.
The three candles placed on the left are red, symbolizing struggle, the three candles to the right are green, symbolizing hope, and one candle placed in the center is black, symbolizing those who draw their heritage from Africa or simply just the African American people. The candles are lit each day in a certain order, and the black candle is always first.
Next, include the Muhindi, or ears of corn, used to symbolize each child. However, if there are no children present, place two ears to represent the children within the community.
Also, include Zawadi, gifts for the children, on the table. And finally, don’t forget the Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to symbolize family and unity within the community.
You may also choose to decorate the rest of your home with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some children usually take pleasure in making these flags or they may be purchased instead. African national and tribal flags can also be created to symbolize the seven principles.
Other ways to celebrate may include learning Kwanzaa greetings, such as “Habari Gani,” which is a traditional Swahili greeting for “What is the news?”
Other activities for celebrating Kwanzaa is to have a ceremony, which may include lighting the candles, musical selections played on the drums, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussing African principles for that day and/or reciting chapters in African heritage. Be creative!
Have you and your family been participating in your own Kwanzaa traditions? Share them below.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu has died at the age of 90.
Archbishop Tutu earned the respect and love of millions of South Africans and the world. He carved out a permanent place in their hearts and minds, becoming known affectionately as “The Arch”.
When South Africans woke up on the morning of 7 April, 2017 to protest against then President Jacob Zuma’s removal of the respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Archbishop Tutu left his Hermanus retirement home to join the protests. He was 86 years old at the time, and his health was frail. But protest was in his blood. In his view, no government was legitimate unless it represented all its people well.
There was still that sharpness in his words when he said that
We will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us.
These words echoed his stance of ethical and moral integrity as well as human dignity. It is on these principles that he had fought valiantly against the system of apartheid and became, as the Desmond Tutu Foundation rightly affirms,
an outspoken defender of human rights and campaigner for the oppressed.
But Archbishop Tutu didn’t stop his fight for human rights once apartheid came to a formal end in 1994. He continued to speak critically against politicians who abused their power. He also added his weight to various causes, including HIV/AIDS, poverty, racism, homophobia and transphobia.
His fight for human rights wasn’t limited to South Africa. Through his peace foundation, which he formed in 2015, he extended his vision for a peaceful world “in which everyone values human dignity and our interconnectedness”.
He also became relentless in his support for the Dalai Lama, whom he considered his best friend. He condemned the South African government for refusing the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a visa to deliver the “Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture”in 2011.
Archbishop Tutu came from humble beginnings. Born on 7 October, 1931 in Klerksdorp, in the North West Province of South Africa where his father, Zachariah was a headmaster of a high school. His mother, Aletha Matlare, was a domestic worker.
One of the most influential figures in his early years was Father Trevor Huddleston, a fierce campaigner against apartheid. Their friendship led to the young Tutu being introduced into the Anglican Church.
After completing his education he had a brief stint teaching English and History at Madibane High School in Soweto; and then at Krugersdorp High School , west of Johannesburg; where his father was a headmaster. It was here that he met his future wife, Nomalizo Leah Shenxane.
It is interesting that he agreed to a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony, although he was Anglican. This ecumenical act at the very early stage in his life gives us a hint of his commitment to ecumenical work in later years.
He quit teaching in the wake of the introduction of the inferior “Bantu education” for black people in 1953. Under the Bantu Education Act, 1953, the education of the native African population was limited to producing an unskilled work force.
In 1955 Tutu entered the service of the church as a sub-deacon. He got married the same year. He enrolled for theological education in 1958 and, after completing his studies, was ordained as a deacon of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 1960, and became its first black dean in 1975.
In 1962 he went to London to pursue further theological education with funding from the World Council of Churches. He earned a Master of Theology degree, and after serving in various parishes in London, returned to South Africa in 1966 to teach at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice, Eastern Cape.
One of the lesser known facts is that he had special interest in the study of Islam. He had wanted to pursue this in his doctoral studies, but this was not to be.
The activities he was involved in in the early 1970s were to lay the foundation for his political struggle against apartheid. These included teaching in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland and, thereafter, a posting to London as the Associate Director for Africa at the Theological Education Fund, and his exposure to Black Theology. He also visited many African countries in the early 1970s.
He eventually returned to Johannesburg as the dean of Johannesburg and the rector of St. Mary’s Anglican Parish in 1976.
It was at St Mary’s that Tutu first confronted the then apartheid Prime Minister John Vorster, writing him a letter in 1976 decrying the deplorable state in which black people had to live.
On 16 June Soweto went up in flames, when black high school pupils protested against the forced use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, and were mowed down by apartheid police.
Bishop Tutu was thrust deeper and deeper into the struggle. He delivered one of his most passionate and fiery orations following the death in detention of the black consciousness leader, Steve Biko in 1977.
His role as the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, and later as the rector of St. Augustine’s Church in Orlando West in Soweto, saw him become an ardent critic of the most egregious aspects of apartheid. This included the forced removals of black people from urban areas deemed to be white areas.
With his growing political activism in the 1980s, the Arch became a target of the apartheid government’s full scale victimisation and faced death threats as well as bomb scares. In March 1980 his passport was revoked. After much international outcry and intervention, he was given a “limited travel document” two years later to travel overseas.
His work was recognised globally, and he was awarded Nobel Prize for Peace in 1984 for being a unifying leader in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.
He went on to receive more distinguished awards. He became the Bishop of Johannesburg in 1984, and the Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986. In the following four years leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison, the Arch had his work cut out for him. This involved campaigning for international pressure to be brought on the apartheid through sanctions.
After 1994, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its primary goal was to afford those who committed human rights abuses – for or against apartheid – the opportunity to come clean, offer legal amnesty to deserving ones, and to enable the perpetrators to make amends to their victims.
Two greatest moments in his personal life took his theological outlook beyond the confines of the Church. One was when his daughter Mpho declared she was gay and the church refused her same sex marriage. The Arch proclaimed
If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.
South Africa is blessed to have had such a brave and courageous man as The Arch, who truly symbolised the idea of the country as a “rainbow nation” . South Africa will feel the loss of the moral direction of this brave soldier of God for generations to come. Hamba kahle (go well) Arch.
David E. Talbert, Director of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, has written and directed a delightful musical with more black and brown faces than you typically see in a movie of its type. Talbert’s son inspired him to write the film after they started to watch one of his childhood favorites, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Let’s just say his son wasn’t feeling it.
“My son is looking at me like, what is wrong with this dude? And he asked if he could get up and play with his Legos? I said you don’t like the movie? He says, ‘mmmm.’ And as he walked away, I looked at him, and I looked at that screen. I’m like, oh, on his wall, he has Miles Morales and Black Panther. And that’s when it occurred to me. He didn’t do it because he didn’t see anybody that looked like him on that screen,” said Talbert.
That’s when Talbert approached Netflix about what happened with his son and the fact that there aren’t any holiday musical options with a majority of people of color. Scott Stuber, the head of original films at Netflix, agreed with him and decided they had to do something about it. So they did.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within.
Urban Faith talked with Talbert about his movie, its nods to the Black church, and advice he’d give to aspiring filmmakers of color.
David E. Talbert, Director of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, on Magic Man G and the influence of African American culture and music.
It’s impressive that Netflix was so receptive to your Christmas movie vision as I’ve heard that Black filmmakers struggle with getting blockbuster-type movies made.
Well, we do, but you know, before Black Lives Matter, and the racial and political unrest, and the pandemic, there was a wave and a Renaissance that was happening. And you know, from Get Out that Jordan Peele did — you know, Black people never lived past five minutes in a horror movie. They paid us by the minute. But Jordan Peele broke the mold with that. And then Ryan Kyle Coogler with Black Panther. You can’t watch a Marvel movie unless you see, God rest his soul, Chadwick Boseman, his character, or the general or the little sister, you’ve gotta see them in those worlds now. And so those films normalized people, representation, and genres. And that’s what this film is doing, too. It’s normalizing people of color in worlds of wonder. And I think this Renaissance is happening, and Netflix knew that they were ahead of the curve. They knew that we not only wanted it as a Black community, but the world wants it, too. We’re number one in 23 countries worldwide, and we’re in the top 10 films in 70 countries around the world.
You’ve spoken about the nods to the Black Church in your movie. Did you grow up in the Black Church?
My great grandmother was one of the founding pastors of the Pentecostal movement in DC. — Pastor Annie Mae Woods. I grew up in a storefront church, three generations of holiness preachers I was raised under. And you know, I watched the Word of God change people’s lives. And just words moved people to tears, to reconciliation, to reform. In addition to that, there’s no better theater than the Black church. I mean, watching the sisters shout and then somebody tried to touch their purse, and they stopped mid-shout to get their purse. But it was a community full of heart and warmth and love and messaging, and meaning that moved me as a kid and stays with me as an adult.
How did those experiences shape you as a director?
Well, you write what you know. You write stories and pieces of stories you’re inspired by, that you grew up with. I mean, Jeronicus Jangle is the journey of Job. He had everything, lost everything, and he got everything back. He lost his faith, he lost his belief, he questioned God, he questioned himself, he’s like all of that. But it was a path, it was his journey to get back to what he had, and even more so. I’m not a religious person at all. I’m a proud member of bedside Baptist. But I’m spiritual. I’m not about religion; I’m about relationship more. But these things are in me. These are my part of my DNA. And so, I never do my art to preach to anybody, but the themes or lessons of morality will always be in there because that’s who I am.
Share more about the symbolism of Black culture and the Black Church in the movie.
The background dancers were the Pips in the Temptations, and the Four Tops and the Dramatics, and all those groups are grown men dancing and choreographed movement that we love. And with “Magic Man G,” that’s the Black church. I mean the shout music in there. It was like New Orleans. But that’s shout music up in Magic Man G. And then the emotion of this day and a spirit. And, you know, all of that is entrenched in African American music, soul music, music from the continent. In the snowball scene, that’s an artist from Ghana, Bisa Kdei. So, we just want to celebrate our music that we love, but that’s universal. The world loves our music. And so, I wasn’t shy about doing what moves me—and growing up in a Black church, this is the music that moved me.
What advice would you give for future filmmakers of color?
That all is possible, and don’t put yourself in a box. Don’t let anybody else put you in a box. You know, my grandmother told the story of what they did when she was growing up. She said that they took grasshoppers that used to jump six feet high into the air and put them in an old jelly jar. They would poke holes in the jelly jar and put a grasshopper in there. When they took the grasshopper out the next day, the grasshopper only jumped six inches because that’s all the room they had. The grasshopper then who could jump to the sky had been taught that he could only jump this high. And she told me that to say never forget how high you were created to soar. As artists and inventors and innovators, we can soar to the sky. Don’t let people put you in that jelly jar, poke holes in it, and then teach you that you can only soar six inches.
When Ashlee Wisdom launched an early version of her health and wellness website, more than 34,000 users — most of them Black — visited the platform in the first two weeks.
“It wasn’t the most fully functioning platform,” recalled Wisdom, 31. “It was not sexy.”
But the launch was successful. Now, more than a year later, Wisdom’s company, Health in Her Hue, connects Black women and other women of color to culturally sensitive doctors, doulas, nurses and therapists nationally.
As more patients seek culturally competent care — the acknowledgment of a patient’s heritage, beliefs and values during treatment — a new wave of Black tech founders like Wisdom want to help. In the same way Uber Eats and Grubhub revolutionized food delivery, Black tech health startups across the United States want to change how people exercise, how they eat and how they communicate with doctors.
Inspired by their own experiences, plus those of their parents and grandparents, Black entrepreneurs are launching startups that aim to close the cultural gap in health care with technology — and create profitable businesses at the same time.
“One of the most exciting growth opportunities across health innovation is to back underrepresented founders building health companies focusing on underserved markets,” said Unity Stoakes, president and co-founder of StartUp Health, a company headquartered in San Francisco that has invested in a number of health companies led by people of color. He said those leaders have “an essential and powerful understanding of how to solve some of the biggest challenges in health care.”
Platforms created by Black founders for Black people and communities of color continue to blossom because those entrepreneurs often see problems and solutions others might miss. Without diverse voices, entire categories and products simply would not exist in critical areas like health care, business experts say.
“We’re really speaking to a need,” said Kevin Dedner, 45, founder of the mental health startup Hurdle. “Mission alone is not enough. You have to solve a problem.”
Dedner’s company, headquartered in Washington, D.C., pairs patients with therapists who “honor culture instead of ignoring it,” he said. He started the company three years ago, but more people turned to Hurdle after the killing of George Floyd.
In Memphis, Tennessee, Erica Plybeah, 33, is focused on providing transportation. Her company, MedHaul, works with providers and patients to secure low-cost rides to get people to and from their medical appointments. Caregivers, patients or providers fill out a form on MedHaul’s website, then Plybeah’s team helps them schedule a ride.
While MedHaul is for everyone, Plybeah knows people of color, anyone with a low income and residents of rural areas are more likely to face transportation hurdles. She founded the company in 2017 after years of watching her mother take care of her grandmother, who had lost two limbs to Type 2 diabetes. They lived in the Mississippi Delta, where transportation options were scarce.
“For years, my family struggled with our transportation because my mom was her primary transporter,” Plybeah said. “Trying to schedule all of her doctor’s appointments around her work schedule was just a nightmare.”
“I’m more than proud of her,” said Plybeah’s mother, Annie Steele. “Every step amazes me. What she is doing is going to help people for many years to come.”
Health in Her Hue launched in 2018 with just six doctors on the roster. Two years later, users can download the app at no cost and then scroll through roughly 1,000 providers.
“People are constantly talking about Black women’s poor health outcomes, and that’s where the conversation stops,” said Wisdom, who lives in New York City. “I didn’t see anyone building anything to empower us.”
As her business continues to grow, Wisdom draws inspiration from friends such as Nathan Pelzer, 37, another Black tech founder, who has launched a company in Chicago. Clinify Health works with community health centers and independent clinics in underserved communities. The company analyzes medical and social data to help doctors identify their most at-risk patients and those they haven’t seen in awhile. By focusing on getting those patients preventive care, the medical providers can help them improve their health and avoid trips to the emergency room.
“You can think of Clinify Health as a company that supports triage outside of the emergency room,” Pelzer said.
Pelzer said he started the company by printing out online slideshows he’d made and throwing them in the trunk of his car. “I was driving around the South Side of Chicago, knocking on doors, saying, ‘Hey, this is my idea,’” he said.
Wisdom got her app idea from being so stressed while working a job during grad school that she broke out in hives.
“It was really bad,” Wisdom recalled. “My hand would just swell up, and I couldn’t figure out what it was.”
The breakouts also baffled her allergist, a white woman, who told Wisdom to take two Allegra every day to manage the discomfort. “I remember thinking if she was a Black woman, I might have shared a bit more about what was going on in my life,” Wisdom said.
The moment inspired her to build an online community. Her idea started off small. She found health content in academic journals, searched for eye-catching photos that would complement the text and then posted the information on Instagram.
Things took off from there. This fall, Health in Her Hue launched “care squads” for users who want to discuss their health with doctors or with other women interested in the same topics.
“The last thing you want to do when you go into the doctor’s office is feel like you have to put on an armor and feel like you have to fight the person or, like, you know, be at odds with the person who’s supposed to be helping you on your health journey,” Wisdom said. “And that’s oftentimes the position that Black people, and largely also Black women, are having to deal with as they’re navigating health care. And it just should not be the case.”
As Black tech founders, Wisdom, Dedner, Pelzer and Plybeah look for ways to support one another by trading advice, chatting about funding and looking for ways to come together. Pelzer and Wisdom met a few years ago as participants in a competition sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. They reconnected at a different event for Black founders of technology companies and decided to help each other.
“We’re each other’s therapists,” Pelzer said. “It can get lonely out here as a Black founder.”
In the future, Plybeah wants to offer transportation services and additional assistance to people caring for aging family members. She also hopes to expand the service to include dropping off customers for grocery and pharmacy runs, workouts at gyms and other basic errands.
Pelzer wants Clinify Health to make tracking health care more fun — possibly with incentives to keep users engaged. He is developing plans and wants to tap into the same competitive energy that fitness companies do.
Wisdom wants to support physicians who seek to improve their relationships with patients of color. The company plans to build a library of resources that professionals could use as a guide.
“We’re not the first people to try to solve these problems,” Dedner said. Yet he and the other three feel the pressure to succeed for more than just themselves and those who came before them.
“I feel like, if I fail, that’s potentially going to shut the door for other Black women who are trying to build in this space,” Wisdom said. “But I try not to think about that too much.”
Close-up view of ancient stones during sunset at UNESCO World Heritage Site at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK.
As we immerse ourselves in the holiday season and get into the full swing of the Christmas season, I’ve heard people accuse this celebration of having origins in paganism. Yes that’s right paganism. I’m talking about the good old garden-variety orgy and sacrifices paganism.
If you don’t know your church history you will be taken aback. When you find out that this holiday that we have known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is rooted in ancient Roman fertility rites it may throw you for a second.
This same holiday that has inspired so many songs and beautiful movies was also inspiration for people to release their inner lusts. Yes Christmas has pagan roots, but that isn’t a reason to drop it just yet. I will get into the reasons for that but first let’s start with a little history just in case you are not convinced of its pagan origins.
Christmas was created as a holiday that coincided with the pagan Roman holiday of Saturnalia, a week-long festival that involved sexual license and human sacrifice that revolved around the Winter Solstice and the pagan god Saturn. Early Christians succeeded in converting large numbers of pagans by allowing them to continue to practice Saturnalia as “Christmas.”
In fact no one knows the actual date when Jesus was born. The date of December 25th was chosen to coincide with the Winter Solstice in which the sun was reborn. This seemed to be a likely date for the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2).
So yes Christmas does have some pagan origins and many of the things we do to celebrate Christmas (Christmas trees, mistletoe, gift giving) are leftovers from the older pagan holiday.
But it would not be fair or factual to declare that it’s a complete pagan holiday. It is a Christian holiday with some practices that contain pagan roots.
Whether we should celebrate or not celebrate Christmas is an issue of conscience. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans regarding holy days:
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. (Romans 14:5-8)
In other words it’s not about the origins of the day but whether you can give honor to God with a clear conscience by celebrating that day. For most people, Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth and the arrival of hope in the world, not a pagan festival.
This is the way they have grown up and it does not offend their conscience because they partake in festivities in honor of Christ’s birth and not to the Roman god Saturn or to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.
Others may have a hard time with it due to knowledge of the origins of Christmas. This is their prerogative. The key thing is whether it will bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
And that brings me to another reason we shouldn’t drop the celebration of Christmas and condemn those who do. Christmas is for pagans because Jesus is for pagans. What do I mean by that?
I think the story of the three wise men illustrates my point. The three wise men from the east were unchurched “pagans”. They weren’t schooled in the rabbinical schools at Jerusalem. They weren’t raised as children to observe the Mosaic law.
They were pagan astrologers and all they had was a star. But what that star led them to changed their lives.
Christmas is for pagans because everyone needs Jesus. Today we are always in danger of being inordinately focused on our gifts and presents. While we are decking our halls and making our lists we may be ignoring those who need to find Jesus.
If this season of toys and wrapping paper and office parties can be used as a springboard to talk about the greatest gift God has given the world then let’s keep celebrating. We must figure out ways to turn it away from the consumer-driven season it has become and make it more like the star that attracted the wise men to Bethlehem.
Let’s focus on Christmas being a tool to inspire people to worship the God of the universe. This is what the world needed back then and this is what the world still needs now.
Bishop Kenneth Ulmer has been pastoring for decades in Inglewood, CA. He has seen more than his fair share of racism on the streets and on stages across the country. But he has recently launched a campaign to work toward racial understanding and reconciliation that has captured the attention of Christians across racial lines. UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with him to discuss his work to confront racism and bring people together. The below interview is edited for length and clarity.
You’ve been around for a long time, you’ve seen the ups and downs when it comes to race? Why did you decide to get involved with such an event like this, for people to come together and talk about this important topic?
I think you just answered it, it is the the importance of coming together. And talking about it, you know, the Bible does a passage where the Bible says, Come, come, let us reason together. And our efforts is simply first of all, to start with coming together, which, especially in these days of division, and schisms, and “isms” that should be “was-ims” all the divisions in the body of Christ, just coming together is an achievement. Yes, I’ve been doing this for a while…and I don’t think I have ever in my life or ministry seen a season and a time where the world is as divided. But more importantly, and more grievously more painful, is that the church is likewise significantly divided. And I think what bothers me is that many don’t know, don’t realize it, or didn’t get the memo, or whatever. And we’re kind of going on in business as usual.
But it is not, as usual, but in many cases, in terms of COVID, and everything, will never be the same. The issue is, what are we going to look like on the other side of this, and the exhortation is, don’t come out of this empty handed. Don’t come out of this, having learned nothing, haven’t having achieved anything, having made no progress. Look around, reach around, grab around for what God is saying to you. I would say, What is God saying to the church? You know, the exhortation of, of John, he did have ears. Here, listen, get it, catch it, what the Spirit is saying to the church, what he is saying, you know, the Prophet said, God is doing a new thing. And I love that verse. And I think it’s Isaiah 43, where it says…don’t miss this…don’t you see that God is doing a new thing? And so I think, ultimately, our gathering is to come together, to reason to wrestle to dialogue, even to dispute and debate. You know, what are you hearing God’s saying, what is God saying, now? What are the words of the marching orders for the body of Christ, when we come through this thing, and of course, all of us would admit that we didn’t know we, we did, none of us knew we would still be in it this long.
And, I gotta tell you, I’m not a prophet, not a son of a prophet, but I think things may get worse before they get better. And by that, I mean, this is not going to be a quick fix. It’s a major cultural shift. And there’s a major cultural shift as relates to the body of Christ as relates to the mandate the commission of the church.
Why do you enjoy talking about race? Like you don’t mind embracing it. Like you don’t mind stepping into it. When a lot of people are going, I think I’ll avoid that conversation. What do you enjoy about it?
I think it’s the new frontier. I say we’re in the desert. I think it’s the new battlefield. And I think it’s a battlefield where God can God desires. And I declared God will get glory. But it’s a battle we cannot avoid. It’s a battle we cannot did not it’s a reality that we cannot deny. But I think I think it is it’s one of those desert lands, is one of those wilderness lands, is one of those battles that God is going to bring us through. But the idea is you got to… I love that passage where in Second Chronicles, where God says to the Prophet Joshua, “Look, the battle is mine. The battle is not yours. I got this.” But then he says, “but tomorrow, you got to go to the battlefield.” Whoa, whoa, whoa, if the battle is yours, Lord, why can’t I watch you take it now? I’ll just be the cheerleader on assignment. God said No, no, no, it’s my battle. When I win through you.
And I think it’s a season where it’s those of us who are willing to take the risk of going into the battle that is in fact God’s, and that God will win. I have some white friends who admit, and I love them for admitting, “Man, I can’t even afford this.” Like I know a couple of white friends of mine who said some public stuff [that cost them]. [A friend and I] did a video about George Floyd and everything. And I have I noticed friends of mine who stood up and talked about the oneness in the body of Christ and racism and stuff. And that friend had a back door revival. He had members of families, some of them longtime families who left his church just for admitting just for mentioning it. And so, I think there’s a price to it, and I have some friends who are not willing to pay that price. But my only excitement is [that] I think it is the new battlefield where God will get glory. But he needs soldiers like us to take the battlefield.
A brown man taught me how to love and He taught me about faith, too.
On a Friday night, He was tragically killed by brutal state-sanctioned force for “crimes” he did not commit.
Left to die there in cold blood, his body hung lifelessly before his weeping mother.
Back then, Calvary trees did bear strange fruit.
He died a living sacrifice.
The Ultimate Martyr for the benefit of all. And all He ever asked for was our faith. In Him. In Love. In the mountain-moving, overflowing, miracle-working, revolutionary and soul saving power resting in His pierced hands.
But we want safe Jesus.
We want a sweet by and by in the sanctity of our own hearts and silence in the face of skeptics.
We want prayers answered but doubt every chance we get.
We sit 21st century Jesus in a cute little box decorated with our every wish.
We are a generation clinging to faith by a thread….
Yet, we’re trapped in 21st century strait jackets threaded in skepticism and laced in fair-weather Christian faith.
Yet, we’re searching for God in places we need not… as He stands, pierced hands, open-wide.
Yet, we’re too blind to see the same brown man who casted out demons, walked on water, and healed with the touch of His hand is the same One we bow before today.
Whatever happened to that “I won’t go unless your presence goes with me” type faith?
That “I’d rather be burned alive than to bow before your idols” type faith?
That “PUT ME IN A LION’S DEN, IF YOU WANT TO” type faith?
That “ran my biological clock but still expecting” type faith?
That “come against giants… with a SLINGSHOT” type faith?
That “I don’t see the promised land, I don’t see it, but Lord….I’ll walk” type faith?
I want a throwback type faith.
That old-school faith you could feel in your bones.
The type that made Aunty jump in circles in the church.
That sit in your prayer closet and pour out your heart.
That never woulda made it without you.
That—“this is my last dollar, Lord, be my last dream.”
I won’t settle for a Sunday morning and done type faith.
I want to see. And touch. And hear. And taste the goodness of God 25/8.
These hands, they WILL heal, WILL bless, WILL be lifted to praise the Lord.
The sea-splitting, earth moving, life-breathing, King of kings and Lord of lords!
The Name above all names, worthy of ALL our praise.
The One to whom every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess.
The One who was, and is, and is to come.
The only God in history that ever came down in human form and humbled himself to relate to me.
So if anyone should ever ask, a brown man taught me how to love, and he taught me about faith, too.
A curious command and promise opens Isaiah 54:1-3. While Isaiah is speaking directly of the little post-exilic community in Judea, he is also speaking more broadly of the future glory of True Israel. We just saw the anguished victory of the Suffering Servant in the passage before; now the Servant’s task is seen as fulfilled, and the prophet breaks into a hymn and shouts of praise from the “barren, childless woman,” welcoming the dawn of the New Age.
Hold up… did we read that right? What reason could a childless woman possibly have to rejoice? It’s ironic that Isaiah uses a childless woman to illustrate Christ’s eternal covenant of peace for his Bride. In Old Testament culture, being childless was a shameful state, yet this was the culture into which Christ would come. When God spoke through the prophet of a “redeemed barrenness”, he spoke directly against Israelite culture. It’s one thing to glorify motherhood, yet another entirely to idolize it.
Some of the greatest recorded blessings of God came through barren women; women who were tormented and marginalized by their own culture – even by those in their own households. We need look no further than Elizabeth, Sarah, and Hannah; motherhood in each of their cases was a supernatural act of God, for God’s purposes alone. Even barren places birthed great fulfillment – after all, can anything good come from Nazareth? Yes, and amen! Christ himself didn’t come into Israel at a time of the great kings, or after a great victory in battle; he was born into Israel when there was no fruit on the fig tree; true to the words of Isaiah, he came to Israel after a lengthy silence from God, “like a root out of dry ground.”
In God’s economy, the barren woman so often receives a double portion; temporal blessing, as well as eternal. Sarah became the mother of nations, Hannah nursed the prophet who would anoint a king after God’s own heart, and Elizabeth reared the herald of the coming Christ. All provided symbols of supernatural Kingdom fruitfulness and expectant hope beyond the temporal into the eternal.
Yet the fruit-bearing in view in Isaiah 54 shows an even greater miracle – fruitfulness in glory is promised from no birth process whatsoever, either natural or supernatural. This is truly worth noting then, as God specializes in creating ex nihilo – in bringing something from absolutely nothing.
Christ, the Greater Legacy
According to the 2010 US Census, the number of single fathers in 2010 was 1.8 million, compared to 600,000 in 1982. About 46% were divorced, 30% were never married, 19% were separated, and 6% were widowed. This means at the very least that 1.8 million children are growing up perhaps never having known “mother” in a functional sense. Add this to the number of young men and women who have never rightly known “father”, and the social and spiritual opportunity grows in proportion to the crisis.
My husband raised two young children to adulthood as a single father. Today, they are beautiful and Godly people, making their own way yet still in need of occasional ‘parenting’, guidance and mentorship. I often wish that I had known them as little people, privy first-hand to the stories that now live fondly as exaggerated legends around our kitchen table! The addition of our daughter-in-law has brought our number of children to three, increasing our joy exponentially. There’s a depth to their acceptance, love, respect, and care for me that I deeply appreciate, in part because I do not know what it is to have children of my own. It is beyond precious, indeed.
I feel a similar depth of love to the numerous and diverse young people who stream through our home on a regular basis. They don’t look like me, and do not carry my name. I am learning their histories rather than having experienced them. Yet when we who have known no children open our hearts to those who are seeking ‘mother’ or ‘father’, absence meets absence, longing meets longing, and love is born … ex nihilo.
Many of us will come to fulfillment in motherhood somewhat akin to the way that Christ met Paul, as to one “untimely born.” Paul didn’t meet Christ in the natural manner of the apostles, walking alongside him on the crowded roads during his earthly ministry; yet his comparatively unconventional encounter with the glorified Christ on the dusty road to Damascus held no less value, meaning, or impact than that of the other apostles. Such is it with spiritual motherhood, “untimely born.”
Spiritual motherhood offers an opportunity to become a wise and compassionate influence to our current “social orphans,” adults who have been left with a parental void of wise counsel, compassion, and/or love. When the Church steps in to address their spiritual and life issues, she speaks against a long line of opportunists offering an endless supply of false identities to while away their hours, days and years.
As spiritual parents, we anticipate Christ in glory as he gathers in the nations under his Name alone, the only Name by which we are eternally known. We are able to enlarge God’s tent and ours far beyond parameters restricted by our own name or blood. By intimately ushering the motherless through the practical and spiritual aspects of life, the “never-married” and the childless all participate in the redemptive Kingdom building process, and foretaste this joy that Isaiah has in view.
Children are a memorial, biologically and spiritually. Naturally, my husband and I want see the name of Ellis continue after we are gone, but our desire is far greater to see the name of Christ magnified through subsequent generations. The question then is, whose name will our children memorialize? Our personal one which is temporal and will one day pass away, or the Name that is eternal and above all?
The Cause for Praise
Once one has borne children, one can’t know what it is like not to have borne them; bearing children and not bearing children are two different existential frames of reference. Of course, the woman who has borne children can know what it is to mother one not of her own blood, if not through adoption then certainly through mentorship. Conversely, the barren woman may never know the joy of bearing children, yet the joy in view in Isaiah 54 is apparently one that can only be known in the absence of natural child-bearing. Through spiritual motherhood, the barren woman experiences a cause for praise that the natural mother will never know, receiving blessing in the temporal and storing up treasure in the eternal.
As I reconcile my own infertility and search for meaning and purpose within it, I begin to recognize the great Kingdom potential that lies within me. Spiritually speaking, we are all barren apart from the regenerative power of Christ to draw us to Himself and make us new. Motherhood – indeed parenthood in any form – should be life-changing for all involved as we share joys and sorrows, disappointments and victories, and find meaning in them from God’s perspective.
Through the influence of older and wiser spiritual mothers in my life, my question has changed from “How does God fit into my infertility,” to “How does my infertility fit in with God? Isaiah 54 takes me beyond wanting comfort for “what has not been”, and helps me resist those who treat my “untimely motherhood” as a mere consolation prize. When I see the nations stream through my front door hungry for “mother” and Godly counsel, I realize that even my infertility may have a great and exalted impact on the Kingdom.
Truly, to be regarded as “mother” when one technically and biologically is not so is a simultaneously exquisite and humbling experience – in fact, it brings a surprising and unspeakable joy. Quite frankly, it makes me want to shout…
Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes III is no stranger to speaking truth to power and empowering black communities. He has been leading Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX for decades as they empower Black people spiritually, economically, and politically.
UrbanFaith sat down with Dr. Haynes to discuss their recent #100DaysofBuyingBlack initiative which honors and extends the legacy of Black Wall Street as part of their commemoration of 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre and bombing of Greenwood in 1921. Friendship West encourages us to buy from black businesses starting with this 100 day campaign and continuing into the future. More information about the initiative is below.
Friendship-West Baptist Church is taking things to the next level in the conclusion of its year-long commemoration of the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Okla. by promoting 100 Days of Buying Black (100DBB). Participants are challenged to use Black-owned businesses for their service and product needs for 100 days nationwide. Led by senior pastor and social justice activist, Rev.
Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, the goal of this challenge is to continue the legacy of Black Wall Street by circulating dollars within the Black community to strengthen its economic base. 100 Days of Buying Black will start on September 23, 2021 and will end on December 31, 2021.
As Friendship-West strives to carry the torch and reimagine a new Black Wall Street for Black communities across the nation, participants are encouraged to track and report their weekly spending with black-owned businesses. Friendship-West will measure the number of dollars spent in the black community by participants and provide weekly check-ins. Participants can visit friendshipwest.org/buyingblack100 to download the weekly spending tracker and report their amount.
Something I’ve always struggled with while studying the bible is the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament. The New Testament holds a special place for most Christians because it contains the records of Christ’s life. As we strive to become more like Christ, it is easy to focus exclusively on this series of books while neglecting the wisdom and historical context provided by the Old Testament. On the other hand, I’ve witnessed people strip that same historical context from this part of the bible for personal and political gain. So I decided to try and develop a better understanding of what this collection of books is trying to say for myself.
One of the aspects of the Old Testament that often goes overlooked are the books of prophecy (Isaiah through Malachi). Compared to some of the more popular Old Testament books, these stories tend to be less self-contained and also require some outside knowledge of the context in which they were written to make much sense. One historical event in particular sticks out in these books, the Babylonian captivity.
But I want to focus on how things got to this point. How could a God that claims to love his adherents also allow them to be enslaved, conquered, and killed. The answer lies in the nature of covenants. One of the oldest and most important covenants in the Bible is between God and Abraham. It provides the cultural narrative of the Jewish faith, that God promised to protect and guide the descendants of Abraham so long as they remained loyal to him alone. Pretty simple, but the region where Jerusalem is located has always been a hotly contested area of land. All around Israel, powerful cities increased their strength beneath the banners of false gods and idols. Over the course of centuries, Israel declined in prominence from the golden age of King David as places like Babylon, Persia, and Egypt began to thrive. Instead of remaining faithful to the invisible promises of God, Israel forsook it’s covenant in order to gain a fraction of the wealth and influence seen sprouting up in the neighboring nations.
Ultimately, it is this betrayal that caused the downfall of Jerusalem. A promise takes two sides to uphold and God showed the people of Jerusalem grace by giving them an example of what awaited them in the future. Isaiah 2:6-9 follows the prophet Isaiah as he tries to convince the people of Jerusalem to return to God’s covenant. His diagnosis is very clear. Israelites abandoned God in favor of sorcery, sexual ritualism, and idolatry. Despite the warnings from the prophet and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, Israel persisted until their eventual destruction and captivity. But why? What force could be so powerful that it would prevent an entire nation that had been blessed beyond desire in the past to forsake their faith?
At the heart of the problem is pride. Isaiah 2:6-9 illustrates the relationship that Israel had with these idols. They were works of art on some level, seemingly erected by patrons in order to display not just their piety but also their wealth. They literally erect works made from their own labor and worshiped them as if they are gods. In return, these idols made them prosperous. Eased political tensions within the region came about as a result of this cultural cross-pollination which facilitated trade which, in turn, made Jerusalem very wealthy. Gold and silver were seemingly endless in those days. In their quest to elevate their nation and by extension themselves, Israel broke their covenant with God thus removing his blessing and making them vulnerable to Babylonian invasion.
My first impulse when researching this topic was to point my finger at the world around me and externalize the accusations leveled against Israel onto American culture or the modern church, but that misses the point entirely. Culturally, we have an idea of Babylon as greedy, vain, sexually immoral, and paganistic. On closer inspection, however, Israel was just as guilty of all of these things if not more. What is the point of judging Babylon when they were ignorant of God’s power entirely. In much the same way that Israel bore witness to the full power of God in its history and chose to forsake that in favor of idols; there are certainly places in my life where my faith fails despite the overwhelming blessings God has given me in the past. There are certainly places in my life where I put myself on a pedestal so the admiration of others drowns out the guilt I feel. Instead of trying to deny that those parts of me exist, perhaps it’s better to recognize the areas in my life where I put myself before Christ and address them. This might not be everyone’s story, but if you think you’re too holy, well-respected, or ecclesiastic enough to never struggle with pride then I have a trophy to sell you to commemorate your spiritual enlightenment.
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is shown at Moody Temple CME Church in Fairfield, Ala., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Jefferson-Snorton is the CME Church’s first and only woman bishop. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)
When an opening for bishop arose in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 2010, Teresa Jefferson-Snorton looked around to see if any women were offering to be candidates.
She knew that since its founding 140 years earlier by Black Methodists emerging from slavery, the denomination had never elected a woman bishop.
“I was like, oh my goodness, this can’t be,” she recalled. “If no one steps forward, it gives the church a pass.”
Jefferson-Snorton, who had spent decades as a pastor, chaplain and theological educator, undertook several months of intensive prayer before discerning she was “feeling a call to this” from God. Then she put her name forward.
“To an extent, it was a political statement,” said Jefferson-Snorton.
Despite opposition from some who said the denomination wasn’t ready for a woman bishop, she was elected the CME’s 59th bishop, overseeing 217 churches across Alabama and Florida.
This story is part of a series by The Associated Press and Religion News Service on women’s roles in male-led religions.
Jefferson-Snorton said people there have come to accept her in the role — if awkwardly at times.
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is shown at Moody Temple CME Church in Fairfield, Ala., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Jefferson-Snorton is the CME Church’s first and only woman bishop. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)
“I can’t tell you how many times people said, ‘Yes sir,’ to me,” she said. “I just remind them, ‘Yes ma’am’ is OK.”
Eleven years later, she remains the CME’s only woman bishop, a status made vivid in an official photo of the church’s college of bishops, where she sits among 16 men, all in purple and white vestments.
Most major Black Christian denominations in the U.S. have no doctrinal bar to ordained women leaders in the way that Catholicism and some other denominations do, and women have preached and been ordained in historically Black churches since at least the 19th century.
Yet denominational leadership remained all-male until the 21st century, and women are still the exception in the top rungs.
The Rev. Gina Stewart, senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church, leads a worship service Dec. 5, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. Stewart is the first female president of a major Black Baptist organization, the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)
Earlier this year, the Rev. Gina Stewart became the first woman president of a major Black Baptist organization, the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society, an organization that responds to disasters and fights poverty, hunger and human trafficking.
“Whenever a woman is placed in a role that is traditionally male, there’s always some negativity that surrounds it,” Stewart said, but in her first 90 days as president, she has received congratulatory calls from some male denominational leaders and support from her male predecessors, without encountering “any major resistance.”
“There’s a shifting taking place,” Stewart said, noting that more women have been promoted to lead important departments in the church.
“We know that it’s long overdue,” added Stewart, who is the senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. “But we give those organizations that are making the effort credit, taking the initiative and giving women that opportunity.”
Religious organizations still need to do more to provide women chances for leadership development, said the Rev. Maisha Handy, associate professor of religion and education at the Interdenominational Theological Center, a consortium of historically African American seminaries in Atlanta.
“We’ve certainly made strides around that in recent years, in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go,” said Handy, who is also executive director of the Center for Black Women’s Justice at ITC.
Women pastors often receive assignments to smaller congregations with fewer resources or opportunities to gain experience and preparation for denominational leadership, Handy said.
“It’s not just about ordination. It’s about placement,” said Handy.
When Black denominations got their start in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, according to Handy, their biblical interpretations were affected by the cultural attitudes around them. “When you think about the kind of patriarchy and misogyny that is intrinsic to American history and culture, it makes sense that it was reflected also in those denominations,” she said.
To be sure, women have long exercised authority in non-ordained roles, outnumbering men in local church membership and also leading their own organizations within denominations.
But from the first, women had limited access to the pulpit, though some challenged those barriers.
“If the man may preach, because the savior died for him, why not the woman?” Jarena Lee, the first woman lay preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, asked in the early 19th century.
A sister denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, ordained Mary Small, its first woman minister, in 1898. By the mid-20th century, the CME and AME churches were ordaining women as well. Records are less precise among the more decentralized Baptists, but women’s ordination was long the exception among them.
In 2000, Vashti Murphy McKenzie was elected the first woman bishop in the AME Church. McKenzie, now retired, was later joined by more women bishops, though men still comprise most of the AME episcopacy. The AME Zion Church followed, electing Mildred “Bonnie” Hines bishop in 2008, as did the CME with Jefferson-Snorton in 2010.
Jefferson-Snorton, who in October was elected chair of the governing board of the National Council of Churches, said she is still sometimes questioned about biblical passages that are cited to justify giving men sole power to preach or lead. She cites other passages, such as one declaring that in Christ there is neither male nor female.
“I often start with the story of Resurrection morning,” when Jesus’ female followers were told to “go and proclaim” he had risen from the dead, she added.
“If Jesus had not intended for women to be bearers of good news, that would never have happened,” said Jefferson-Snorton.
But to those who are “more hostile” in questioning women’s ministry, “I often say to them, ‘God called me to this ministry, so if you have a problem with it, you need to talk to God, because I did not call myself,'” she said.
In the Church of God in Christ, a historically Black Pentecostal denomination, women have made their influence felt in other ways. Traditionally only men have been recognized as ordained ministers or bishops, while women have led its Women’s Department, which oversees auxiliaries. COGIC officials didn’t respond to questions about women’s roles in the denomination.
But after the death of her husband, COGIC’s first elected presiding bishop, Mother Mary P. Patterson, a retired real estate agent who headed her own travel agency, founded the Pentecostal Heritage Connection, dedicated to planting historical markers honoring COGIC leaders across the South. In November, a ceremony unveiling the final marker, an 8-foot aluminum sign on a corner in Little Rock, Arkansas, was attended by regional religious leaders, a representative of the governor and scholars who traveled to the state for the occasion.
Mother Mary Patterson, poses at her dining room table in her Memphis, Tenn., home Dec. 1, 2021. The material on the table was used by Patterson in her recent campaign to post historical markers about Church of God in Christ leaders. In the Church of God in Christ, where only men have traditionally been recognized as ordained ministers or as bishops, women like Patterson have nevertheless played key roles in its Women’s Department — which oversees auxiliaries — and in other ways. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)
Sherry Sherrod DuPree, a Florida historian and former president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, said Patterson’s effort is an example of how women lead in a denomination known for its patriarchal hierarchy.
“She is a quiet praying lady who ‘stays in her lane’ but is active in getting jobs done without fanfare, one of the skills of COGIC women,” said DuPree.
Patterson said, “it shows other young women that you don’t have to be behind the pulpit in order to do a work for the Lord.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
In the guise of helping pastors, parents, and teachers “understand” and “reach out” to Generation Z, this book showcases the very problems it tells readers to avoid. White chides church leaders for clinging to the models of previous generations (door-to-door evangelism, large events) even while demonstrating a remarkable tone deafness to the deeper concerns of this generation (racism, homophobia, violence in schools, and the list goes on).
White begins the book by drawing on standard research from Pew, Gallup, and Barna to demonstrate the scope of the problem—young adults going AWOL from religion if they ever had religion in the first place. So far, so good as books go; White can be a clear and effective writer when he’s not lazily quoting his own previous books ad nauseam.
And then things get vague. The church needs to be “countercultural,” he asserts, but he has an easier time telling us what this isn’t than what it is. It’s not the Benedict Option, in which Christians withdraw from society and politics; it’s not fundamentalism, which is a thoroughgoing rejection of the modern world; it’s not the tactic of the religious right, which is to politicize the bejesus out of faith.
Instead, countercultural means for “the church to be the church” and “truly Christlike.” Which is nice, but tells us nothing.
I’d be more likely to give White the benefit of the doubt about counterculturalism if he weren’t showing on every page that his Christianity is not, in fact, countercultural. It’s bowing to a very specific 1950s American Christianity. So it’s “countercultural” by the measures of today, but not in a good way.
Consider what he has to say about women. To reach Generation Z, he tells readers, it’s important to “target men” first and foremost. His church (which he reminds us many times has been successfully growing despite the godless landscape of . . . um, North Carolina, the nation’s tenth-most-religious state) “unashamedly” puts men first in its marketing materials, sermons, music choices, and décor.
What does it mean to target men? It means you think about male sensibilities in terms of music and message, vocabulary and style. . . . When I give a message, I talk like a man talks, specifically, the way a man talks with other men. Direct and maybe a little rough around the edges. But men talk football, not fashion. So I cater to a man’s humor, his interests, his world, his way of thinking, his questions. (148)
If you can reach men, he says, women and children will follow (“if you get the man, you get everyone else within his orbit”).
There are some real problems with this argument. First, this is supposed to be a book about reaching people in their teens and early twenties. One of the major shifts in American culture is that many adults are delaying marriage until their 30s or not getting married at all. So this whole evangelistic focus on older men with wives and children totally ignores the demographic we purchased this book to learn more about.
Second, he never thinks to challenge the patriarchal structure that would dictate that if you can get a man to church, his wife and children will automatically and obediently follow: If it worked in America in the 1950s, by golly, it’s surely good enough for us now!
What’s especially myopic about that lack of self-awareness is that this is supposed to be a book about “understanding” Generation Z. But this is a generation that can sniff out inequality and white male privilege like a basset hound, God bless them. They care about diversity and inclusion, even to the point where they don’t want to work for companies that don’t share those values.
Why, then, would White assume Gen Zers would fall in line with churches that so obviously disregard gender equality? If they won’t be associated with the old boys’ club when they’re getting a paycheck for it, why would they do so on their own time?
Third, the advice to “target men” may be having the opposite long-term effect from what White wants, which is more butts in the pews. There’s solid longitudinal evidence that young women are now leaving religion at even higher rates than young men—which is a reversal from previous generations. This exodus is likely due to many factors, but it’s not hard to imagine that enduring a childhood of sermons that drew proudly upon hypermasculine football metaphors and assumptions that women were considered less important may play a part. Just thinking out loud here.
It’s not just in this particularly egregious “target men” section that White’s lack of concern for women is made clear; it’s pervasive in the book’s citations and assumptions. He quotes or mentions five men for every woman (yes, I counted). And almost everyone he quotes, male or female, is white. He gives the obligatory nod to MLK, and then . . . nothing. As though African Americans have had little of value to say in 50 years.
We have to do better than this. And doing better begins with an activity White doesn’t seem to have engaged in much: listening to Generation Z directly.
Talking less and learning more.
Not just calling them to account for their generational sins, but being sensitive to the way they rightly call bullshit on their elders.
Participants at the 3rd Symposium on Misleading Theologies sit in a session on Nov. 22, 2021, in Nairobi, Kenya. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili
NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — When some African church pastors ordered their followers to eat grass or gulp petrol or even drink poison-laced water, their congregations have obeyed the instructions, thinking the practices would bring them closer to God.
Many other pastors take their wellness advice a notch higher, claiming to heal conditions such as disability and barrenness and diseases such as HIV and AIDS, and, more recently, coronavirus. It’s not unheard of for pastors to hold their congregations spellbound as they promise to bring the dead back to life.
In recent years the All Africa Conference of Churches, an umbrella group for several Protestant denominations on the continent, has moved to combat theological claims that harm Christians, holding a series of symposiums to educate clergy and unify their churches against faith healing and other practices.
“All these pronunciations, fake testimonies and things like these are really destructive. They are not life-giving, but life frustrating,” said the Rev. Fidon Mwombeki, a Tanzanian Lutheran pastor who is the general secretary of the AACC.
Based in Nairobi, the AACC is the continent’s largest association of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Indigenous churches and has a presence in 42 countries. It brings together churches, national councils of churches, theological and lay training institutions and other Christian organizations.
Since 2019, the group has organized three symposiums in which theologians, clerics and lay Christians have met to explore the subject of misinformation. Some of the themes tackled in the prior conferences include power and authority, wealth and poverty, government regulation of religious organizations, and health and healing.
“If we don’t pay attention, (misleading theologies) will undermine human dignity and put the lives of people at stake. You see in some churches the minister sending people out to eat grass. This is unacceptable,” said the Rev. Bosela Eale of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, AACC’s director of theology, interfaith relations and leadership, at the most recent Nov. 22-24 symposium, held in Nairobi.
Participants at the 3rd Symposium on Misleading Theologies in Nairobi, Kenya, hold group discussions on Nov. 22, 2021. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili
The theologians are warning against dangerous teachings and practices, such as: the prosperity gospel; sexual abuses in demonic exorcism and blessing for fertility; the use of toxic substances and liquids in religious rites; and demanding huge sums of money for prayers and pastoral services, among others.
Religious observers say many of the worst abuses of theology come in faith healing.
The Rev. Simangaliso Kumalo, an associate professor of religion and governance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal-Pietermaritzburg, warns that the popular belief that Jesus cures every sickness poses challenges for managing epidemics, pointing to Pentecostal churches that have, he said, spiritualized COVID-19.
“For them, the corona is not a mere virus,” Kumalo told the conference. Pastors preach that, “because members of Pentecostal churches are children of God, the virus would not infect them, or if it does, they would be healed by Jesus, the physician.”
He highlighted conspiracy theories that say viruses such as COVID-19 are God’s punishment to disobedient humanity.
Monica Nambaba, an official at the Africa Christian Health Associations Platform, said spurious teachings about health have hurt Africans in the past. “Some people with conditions such as HIV have died after religious leaders told them to stop medication after attending healing prayers,” she said.
Pastors should instead be conscious of their power to sway people’s attitudes about health measures. “If the religious leaders can use their platforms to correct this, it will go a long way in helping the communities,” Nambaba said.
According to Veronica Ngum Ndi, a disability and development professional from Cameroon, people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to faith healing attempts. Telling a person with a permanent disability that God will one day allow them to walk again is destructive, she said, and commanding them to drop their crutches because they have been cured, as some pastors do, can only worsen their problems. “Some have been injured badly in the process,” said Ndi.
At the same time, some of the church leaders and theologians at the symposium advocated for a reconsideration of African traditional healing practices, many of which have been suppressed or lost in the continent’s missionary era.
“We are referring to those aspects that make traditional healing practices beneficial. These aspects must be recovered because they are not incompatible with the gospel,” said the Rev. Herve Djilo Kuate, a pastor in the Evangelical Church of Cameroon.
Advent is a wonderful time for reflection and devotion as believers look forward to Christmas and its significance for our faith. UrbanFaith had the opportunity to have a Q & A session with Katara Washington Patton, the author of Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional. The exchange is below, edited for clarity.
It is so good to have you share with UrbanFaith again and your new and relevant book. Advent is a great opportunity to reflect, be inspired, and deepen our relationship with God and others, so I’m grateful for your book.
1. A lot of people are not as familiar with Advent as some of the other major holidays such as Christmas and Easter. What is Advent and why is it important for believers?
Advent is the period leading up to the observance of our Savior’s birth–Christmas; Advent is observed during the four weeks before Christmas and normally begins the last Sunday of November. Advent means to anticipate the coming of Christ (remembering how people anticipated His birth and how we anticipate His second coming).
2. What inspired you to write a book of devotionals for this holiday season?
I love devotionals; they have been one of my main sources of growth. They are shorter readings you can do mostly every day, which increases your faith through reading and reflecting on Scripture. So, whenever I’m given the opportunity—as I was by my publisher with this book—I jump at the chance to write material that can help people grow in faith. This one particularly is for the entire family…so adults and children can learn from it.
3. You were very intentional at making this a FAMILY devotional, why is that important to you?
We know Family can mean…grandmother and child, two parents and children, auntie, uncle, big sister, etc. So I like the fact that families—whatever your definition is—can center themselves around a scripture and reading and explore its meaning, have activities to do. This can be done alone as well but it is written at a level children will understand too. I think that’s important…for my family, my child has a different Christian education than I did. I went to Sunday school every Sunday because my mom was the superintendent and my dad a teacher; today, pre-pandemic, my child was in a class at church maybe once a month or so (due to several reasons like the format of classes at our church); and now with the changes due to capacity limits and the pandemic, she’s not in a class. Where does she learn those fundamental lessons we learned? In family devotions, I hope and pray.
4. I love the format of your devotions, why did you decide to include activities as well as the traditional prayer and Scripture inspirations?
I’ve always been a person who looks at learning and even ministry from a practical stand point. If I can’t apply this lesson to my life, then it’s just words. Activities help reinforce the application of the lesson. I’m always going to look for a way to bring home the point through activities.
5. How has choosing devotion during Advent and Christmas impacted your faith journey?
I loved rediscovering many of the stories I selected: Jesus’ genealogy, Simeon and Anna, even Noah and the rainbow, Elizabeth and Mary, even Abigail and David– all to drive home the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love. I think we need to tell these stories over and over again to remind ourselves and to teach our children of the goodness of God and the amazing faith journey we have been presented with as we journey ourselves. Utilizing these devotions can also help us connect the faith stories within the Bible to our own faith story based on our belief in our savior’s birth.
6. What advice would you give to our audience who may be trying to grow in their faith?
Other than read my books?! Lol. Honestly, read your Bible and supplemental material of your choosing faithfully. If you find one devotional or book isn’t giving you enough or inspiring you to read regularly, find another. There are so many different formats we can utilize for Bible reading and devotions that you can find something that is speaking to you in the moment. Being consistent is key. I enjoy waking up and having that time with God; I understand it may be car time for another or bed time or lunch time for others—but the consistent practice of carving out that time to study, reflect, and pray has been my saving grace.
Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional is available everywhere books are sold.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV).
Have you ever known someone who never meets a stranger?
Folks who live their lives in such a way that nearly everyone they meet becomes a new friend astound me with their generosity of spirit. I admire their courage and zest for life, which compels them to embrace even those they do not know well, knowing that each creature has gifts to share with the world.
As a faith leader, when I meet folks with those sorts of spirits, I see some of the Spirit of Christ who, although divine, shared meals with the poor, sick, and sinful, laid hands on the infirm, and drew close to the crowds without reservation.
Even in His dying moment, Jesus stretched His arms wide as though embracing all of us and declared forgiveness over us because we did not realize what we were doing. Jesus is the embodiment of the grace of hospitality, and I would argue that hospitality is the biggest gift we, the body of Christ, can offer the world right now.
The Fear Factor
The current social and political climates have caused me to take a step back to examine what Scripture teaches us about welcoming strangers among us. I confess that I focus much of my time concerning myself with the sins that other people perpetrate on each other. I concentrate on the news stories about hate crimes without giving much consideration to the ways that I allow hate and fear to fuel my actions.
The truth is that fear motivates so much of what we do. Our fears prevent us from loving and practicing hospitality in the ways that our faith demands of us. In today’s social media culture, many of us have a fear of rejection. As humans, many of us also have a fear of not knowing which prevents us from meeting new people and having new experiences.
We also often have fears of being powerless that cause us to try to stay in places that make us feel powerful. We allow our fears to impede upon our ability to love.
Before turning outward and critiquing national and international leaders, I want to encourage us, especially during this introspective liturgical season called Lent, to look within to ask ourselves how we are practicing the kind of hospitality that Scripture and the example of Jesus Christ demand of us.
Love Thy Neighbor?
Many of us have learned the classic stories about hospitality in Sunday School and Sunday morning sermons.
We have heard about Abraham and Sarah, who unknowingly hosted angels who foretold the birth of Sarah’s son. In the passage from Hebrews I cited at the top of this article, the author alludes to that passage from Genesis. Despite the many admonitions throughout the Hebrew Bible to care for the foreigner, widow, and orphan, we, like the lawyer in Luke 10, often ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
In response to that question, we have heard Luke’s well-known story of the Good Samaritan who, despite his vastly different culture and faith, cared for an Israelite stranger he found injured on the side of the road. Even after hearing such a dramatic story of sacrificial love, we continue to struggle with caring for our neighbors. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the story is the way it condemns us for the times we fail to show love to people who are just like us.
We have become politically motivated to care for immigrants in recent months, as we should, but we mistreat those who sit right next to us in the pew or who share our offices at work!
Jesus tells Israelite listeners the story of an Israelite man who was robbed as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest passed by and walked on the opposite side of the road to avoid helping. Then, a Levite, a religious leader from the priestly tribe of Levi, passed him. Only a Samaritan, a man who was from a different culture and faith background, cared for the man.
Many commentaries have explained that the priest and the Levite probably did not interact with the victim because of concerns about ritual purity, but does that not cause us to consider our priorities? We cannot prioritize legalism over mercy and love. Here was Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, essentially urging His listeners to ritually defile themselves because mercy is at the heart of the Gospel.
The Missing Link
What the world needs from the church is for us to be the church. The time is now for us to commit ourselves to following Jesus Christ in our actions. It was the way the early Church first began to thrive.
As J. Ellsworth Kalas puts it in his book The Story Continues: The Acts of the Apostles for Today, “The Christian church was born in a time and culture when the marketplace of beliefs was crowded to its borders. Religion was everywhere … This meant that it was easy to talk religion, but also that it was difficult for the decision to get serious. No wonder, then, that the followers of Christ were known as ‘people of the Way.’”
The earliest Christians stood out, and they increased in number because they lived their Christianity; for them, it was not simply an interesting intellectual idea. They attracted converts because of their countercultural way of viewing religion as more than a list of philosophies.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided a practical understanding of this concept in his sermon “A Knock at Midnight,” which appears in his 1963 book of sermons called Strength to Love. King preached, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state … if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace.”
In other words, from the Scripture we read, to the prayers we pray, to the songs we sing, our worship is real and lived and must transform us from the inside out. The church is not a place to go; the church is a thing to do. We call the physical buildings in which we worship churches, but the church is the body of Christ, at work in the world.
So, what does living our faith teach us about hospitality?
A Place Where Ministry Happens
One of my mentors in ministry began a new pastorate at the end of 2016. After examining the needs and challenges of ministry at her new church, she chose as her theme of her church “Radical Hospitality.” The new framework of thinking about the church as a place where radical hospitality happens has changed it in practical ways in just a few short months.
Church members are beginning to imagine their worship space as first and foremost a place where ministry happens. That sounds obvious, I know, but so many churches have gotten away from thinking of themselves as being ministry spaces above all else.
One of the most drastic changes she has made as pastor has been to reimagine the parsonage, the house that is owned by the church for use by pastors and their families. That house now serves a dual purpose. It is both a “meeting house” where retreats, Bible study, and meetings can occur, and it provides accommodations for the pastor and visiting ministers.
Knowing my colleague, and understanding what it means to be “radical,” I am expecting that in the months and years to come, her new ministry will continue to grow and transform to become more welcoming for all people.
It is our task, as the Samaritan did in the Gospel of Luke, to embrace all we meet. As Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, we do not know the actual identity of those we encounter each day. Scripture teaches us that if we open our hearts to the possibility, each stranger has gifts to share with us that will enhance our lives. My fellow people of the Way, let us go forward with joy to spread Christian hospitality.
Jaimie Crumley is a minister, blogger, podcaster, and ministry consultant. She blogs about race, gender, history, and Christian faith at iamfreeagent.com.
Share your thoughts on ministry and hospitality below.
Christmas is a stressful time for many, so not surprisingly it’s also known as the season for arguments.
Some assume it’s because we share the time with family members, who we’re more likely to argue with because of bottled-up resentment or some other annoyance we’ve been secretly nurturing. Others put it down to alcohol.
But, in either case, under normal circumstances, people are usually adept at keeping potentially hurtful comments to themselves. So why is it that we’re more likely to say things we might later regret during Christmas?
Over the past three years, we’ve been studying why people say things they later regret. Released in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, our research discovered in eight experiments over three years the same variable consistently explains why people disclose things that cause them anguish.
From innocuous faux pas to more serious disclosures of secretive information, in each experiment we found “arousal” explains tendencies to disclose information that probably should have been concealed.
Christmas is stressful, and stress leads to chronic arousal. When people are aroused, they’re more likely to say things they probably shouldn’t.
So what is arousal? And why does it cause people to say things they later regret?
Essentially, arousal is the degree to which an individual is awake and alert. You might assume being awake and alert would increase rather than decrease the accuracy of what we say – but this appears not to be the case.
The reason is that arousal uses up so-called “cognitive resources” — basically brainpower. Because there are less conscious cognitive resources available for controlling what comes out of our mouths, our minds default to more automatic, and seemingly less considered, responses. When we lose conscious control over what we say, it becomes more likely we’ll disclose information that we would otherwise keep to ourselves.
Our research finds that information we’re usually careful about concealing, such as secrets and very personal information, is more likely to be disclosed when we default to more automatic responses. We found arousal makes people reveal more personal information, disclose secrets, reveal incriminating information and share frowned-upon experiences with strangers.
In our first experiment, we asked participants to write dating profiles. We evoked arousal with half the participants. They disclosed more embarrassing, emotional, intimate and even incriminating information on their dating profiles than those who were relatively relaxed.
A posthoc study found those people who disclosed such information were less likely to be chosen for a date. The study suggests people who aren’t chilled out are viewed as less ideal partners.
In our second experiment, we found people were more likely to disclose times when they said mean or malicious things to others online, suggesting that arousal increases the disclosure of information that people do not normally like to disclose. Relaxed people, it seems, are better at concealing information and keeping secrets.
In our third study, we evoked arousal by getting people to jog on the spot for 60 seconds. The results found participants were more likely to share embarrassing stories (open up to others) after physical exercise. Usually, people might disclose personal information like this to friends and family, but it seems people are more likely to open up to strangers when aroused. This finding suggests that doing physical exercise together might be a better way of getting to know someone than more docile pursuits such as sitting around.
It seems that lowering arousal is the key to gaining more control over what we say. The problem is that the times when we ought to be careful — such as job interviews, media engagements, important work meetings, or romantic encounters — are often arousing, and it is not easy to remain calm and relaxed.
So what are some things people can do to minimize unintended disclosures and save the family from a memorable Christmas for the wrong reasons?
Some techniques are known to reduce daily stress levels and are useful for situations when we’re most riled up. These approaches include consciously controlling your breathing and listening to chilled music. Other techniques for longer-term benefits mirror the advice of health professionals – reduce how much coffee you drink, eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep.
Not only do these steps make you healthier, they also reduce your stress levels and ultimately your control over what you say.
So when you’re opening your pressies or digging into your turkey this Christmas, try to chill out and relax. Turn on the music, breath deeply, and reduce the chance of saying something you might later regret.
Turkey dinners, desserts for days, decorating the house, planning for parties, and power-shopping until the wee hours of the mornings — yes, it’s that time of the year. And just as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve come at the same time each year, without fail every holiday season, the very people you’re supposed to be cherishing are the ones who seem to bring you the most stress.
Unfortunately, the picture-perfect family dinner we see on television is not something that always translates to our personal situations. With crazy relational dynamics that can test one’s patience and sanity, there’s a bit of dysfunction in every family — and it’s often heightened during the holidays.
While on the surface certain family members may appear to be the enemy, they are people to whom God has connected you for a reason, and they’re often the first opportunity we have to learn to “love your neighbor.” As the old saying goes, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” With that in mind, here are five tips to help you navigate family drama during this most joyful season.
1. Learn how and when to say no. You can’t satisfy everyone in your family, and the quicker you realize that the better you and your family will be. Set boundaries for yourself and your personal relationships. With pressure to shop for gifts, attend holiday parties and family gatherings, as well as your usual everyday demands of work and family, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You have to remember that you’re just one person, you can’t do everything. You may not be able to go to every party that you’re invited to and you may even have to make adjustments to plans for traveling to see different relatives. Set priorities and stick to them.
2. Accept your family’s differences. We all have that aunt or uncle who drinks a little too much and lets their mouths get them into trouble. Or there’s the cousin who always comes late with the main dish — so the family is waiting for hours to eat. Whatever your family scenario, remember that we all have our own idiosyncrasies that can be irritating — and honestly we all probably have a bit of crazy deep down inside. It doesn’t mean you condone or agree with certain behaviors, but you just don’t let it hang you up. Don’t sweat the small stuff that you can’t change.
3. Keep it simple. Whether it’s with gift-giving, hosting a family gathering, or cooking a dish for a family potluck — make it easy on yourself. While you may want to stick to traditions, it’s okay to make adjustments. Instead of cooking, maybe you can buy a prepared dish. You may want to do it all on your own as your mother did back in the day, but know that it’s okay to ask for help. Get other family members involved with planning and preparing holiday meals or gatherings. When it comes to gifts, stick to a budget. Be real about your financial situation; if you can’t afford to buy everyone — or anyone — a gift, it’s okay. Your presence really is enough.
4. Keep conversations light. Avoid hot-button issues during the holidays. Keep conversations light and focus on the good. Trying to flesh out unresolved conflicts at the dinner table is probably not a good idea — especially because of the spirit of the season. Try to find things that you have in common with your loved ones and bring those elements into your conversations. Often tension and angst arise from misunderstandings and miscommunication. Find common ground, which will help in the end to build stronger bonds that last beyond the Christmas dinner at Granny’s.
5. Take time out for yourself. Focusing on everyone else, it’s easy to forget about yourself. If it’s no more than 15 minutes or an hour, take some time for you. Do something you want to do. Seeing a movie, reading a book, journaling, exercising — whatever you need to do to tend to your mind, body, and soul do it. Even Jesus needed some time alone.
The Real Reason for the Season
When it’s all said and done, remember what the holidays are really all about. Taking time to be thankful for the blessings in your life, celebrating the birth of Christ and looking ahead to the New Year, it’s a time to reflect and put things in a proper perspective.
After all, Jesus had supper with Judas (who betrayed Him) and Peter (who would later deny Him). If He can forgive and show love, shouldn’t we follow His lead and extend grace to those special relatives who annually work our last nerve?
So how do you survive the stress that the holidays can put on family relationships? Share your thoughts and tips for coping below.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s government on Sunday approved the immigration of several thousand Jews from war-torn Ethiopia, some of whom have waited for decades to join their relatives in Israel.
The decision took a step toward resolving an issue that has long complicated the government’s relations with the country’s Ethiopian community.
Some 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. Community leaders estimate that roughly 6,000 others remain behind in Ethiopia.
Although the families are of Jewish descent and many are practicing Jews, Israel does not consider them Jewish under religious law. Instead, they have been fighting to enter the country under a family-unification program that requires special government approval.
Community activists have accused the government of dragging its feet in implementing a 2015 decision to bring all remaining Ethiopians of Jewish lineage to Israel within five years.
Under Sunday’s decision, an estimated 3,000 people will be eligible to move to Israel. They include parents, children and siblings of relatives already in Israel, as well as orphans whose parents were in Israel when they died.
“Today we are correcting an ongoing injustice,” said Pnina Tamano Shata, the country’s minister for immigration and herself an Ethiopian immigrant. She said the program was a response to people who have waited “too many years to come to Israel with their families” and to resolve a “painful issue.”
In a joint statement with Israel’s interior minister, she said the decision came in part as a response to the precarious security situation in Ethiopia, where tens of thousands of people have been killed over the past year in fighting between the government and Tigray forces.
It was not immediately clear when the airlift would begin. The government appointed a special project coordinator to oversee the effort.
Kasaw Shiferaw, chairman of the group Activists for the Immigration of Ethiopian Jews, welcomed Sunday’s decision but said there was still a long way to go.
“On one hand, this decision makes me happy. Three thousand people are realizing a dream and uniting with their families,” he said.
“But it’s not a final resolution. Thousands are still waiting in camps, some for more than 25 years. We expect the government to bring all of them,” he said.
I’ve been fortunate enough to never feel death. Sure, I’ve known people who have passed away and they’ve had a profound effect on my life. However, I don’t think anything can prepare you to lose someone before their time. That frank and unrelenting grief as you grapple with the fact that you have to keep moving forward alone seems like it could crush you anyday. I didn’t even know this feeling existed until I tried to take my first step into the future.
For me, that means graduate school in another city far away from my home and the people I’ve grown up with and came to love. I don’t know why, but whenever I think about leaving it seems impossible. I can’t shake this sense of foreboding that if I go, then I turn my back on the life I have here. Despite this, I feel compelled to step forward. I know that staying safely nestled in my comfort zone isn’t the goal God has for my life. So, I am torn between the stability and community of my home and the responsibility I have as a child of God with gifts and talents.
Another biblical hero faced a similar dilemma. Abraham had always longed for a son. When God finally blessed his wife with a child, he was overjoyed and loved the child deeply. One day, God instructed Abraham to take his son to the top of Mt. Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. Despite the immense love for his son, Abraham recognized that everything in his life came and went by the favor of God, including his son. Abraham obeyed, not so much to offer his son to God, but to return to the creator what was his to begin with. Honored by his obedience, God allowed Isaac to live and provided a ram to replace the child.
This is one of the most elementary bible stories, but I feel as though it is taken for granted. The crux of the story is sacrifice. To Abraham, Isaac was everything he ever wanted. To be asked to give him away was the same as asking for his own life. He was in a safe place. Then, God called him from that place and asked him to risk everything. Abraham obeyed without question. In turn, not only did he keep his son, but he was blessed with another sacrifice entirely. The Binding of Isaac is often repeated but seldom understood. To me, it illustrates humanity’s relationship with God, the value of obedience, and the security and peace available when you trust in God.
Perhaps the reason I am having such a hard time moving on is because I pride myself on the relationships I built in my home. However, the truth is that these deep and beautiful relationships would never have come into existence without the grace and favor of God. Furthermore, as a Christian, I have a mandate to use the gifts at my disposal to spread God’s love as far as possible. As long as I am working with that goal in mind, then I must move forward to greater and greater things even if that means leaving people who can’t follow me through that journey. I can move forward with the knowledge that those same people will reap the benefits of my obedience, if not now than in the future.
There is no reason to be afraid of moving forward. In the same way that there was a ram in the bush for Abraham, God sees the sacrifices we make every day. While right now it might seem like your whole life is being put on the altar, these shifts happen with intention and when you submit to the will of God, he provides everything you need and more. Perhaps from this perspective, those goodbyes don’t have to seem so long.
Gratitude may be more beneficial than we commonly suppose. One recent study asked subjects to write a note of thanks to someone and then estimate how surprised and happy the recipient would feel – an impact that they consistently underestimated. Another study assessed the health benefits of writing thank you notes. The researchers found that writing as few as three weekly thank you notes over the course of three weeks improved life satisfaction, increased happy feelings and reduced symptoms of depression.
While this research into gratitude is relatively new, the principles involved are anything but. Students of mine in a political philosophy course at Indiana University are reading Daniel Defoe’s 300-year-old “Robinson Crusoe,” often regarded as the first novel published in English. Marooned alone on an unknown island with no apparent prospect of rescue or escape, Crusoe has much to lament. But instead of giving in to despair, he makes a list of things for which he is grateful, including the fact that he is the shipwreck’s sole survivor and has been able to salvage many useful items from the wreckage.
Defoe’s masterpiece, which is often ranked as one of the world’s greatest novels, provides a portrait of gratitude in action that is as timely and relevant today as it has ever been. It is also one with which contemporary psychology and medicine are just beginning to catch up. Simply put, for most of us, it is far more helpful to focus on the things in life for which we can express gratitude than those that incline us toward resentment and lamentation.
The benefits of gratitude
When we focus on the things we regret, such as failed relationships, family disputes, and setbacks in career and finance, we tend to become more regretful. Conversely, when we focus on the things we are grateful for, a greater sense of happiness tends to pervade our lives. And while no one would argue for cultivating a false sense of blessedness, there is mounting evidence that counting our blessings is one of the best habits we can develop to promote mental and physical health.
Gratitude has long enjoyed a privileged position in many of the world’s faith traditions. For example, the Biblical Book of Psalms counsels gratitude that is both enduring and complete, saying, “I will give thanks to you forever” and “with my whole heart.” Martin Luther writes of gratitude as the heart of the Gospel, portraying it as not merely an attitude but a virtue to be put into practice. The Quran recommends gratitude, saying “Whoever gives thanks benefits his own soul.”
Recent scientific studies support these ancient teachings. Individuals who regularly engage in gratitude exercises, such as counting their blessings or expressing gratitude to others, exhibit increased satisfaction with relationships and fewer symptoms of physical illness. And the benefits are not only psychological and physical. They may also be moral – those who practice gratitude also view their lives less materialistically and suffer from less envy.
Why gratitude is good for you
There are multiple explanations for such benefits of gratefulness. One is the fact that expressing gratitude encourages others to continue being generous, thus promoting a virtuous cycle of goodness in relationships. Similarly, grateful people may be more likely to reciprocate with acts of kindness of their own. Broadly speaking, a community in which people feel grateful to one another is likely to be a more pleasant place to live than one characterized by mutual suspicion and resentment.
The beneficial effects of gratitude may extend even further. For example, when many people feel good about what someone else has done for them, they experience a sense of being lifted up, with a corresponding enhancement of their regard for humanity. Some are inspired to attempt to become better people themselves, doing more to help bring out the best in others and bringing more goodness into the world around them.
Gratitude also tends to strengthen a sense of connection with others. When people want to do good things that inspire gratitude, the level of dedication in relationships tends to grow and relationships seem to last longer. And when people feel more connected, they are more likely to choose to spend their time with one another and demonstrate their feelings of affection in daily acts.
Of course, acts of kindness can also foster discomfort. For example, if people feel they are not worthy of kindness or suspect that some ulterior motive lies behind it, the benefits of gratitude will not be realized. Likewise, receiving a kindness can give rise to a sense of indebtedness, leaving beneficiaries feeling that they must now pay back whatever good they have received. Gratitude can flourish only if people are secure enough in themselves and sufficiently trusting to allow it to do so.
Another obstacle to gratitude is often called a sense of entitlement. Instead of experiencing a benefaction as a good turn, people sometimes regard it as a mere payment of what they are owed, for which no one deserves any moral credit. While seeing that justice is done is important, supplanting all opportunities for genuine feelings and expressions of generosity can also produce a more impersonal and fragmented community.
There are a number of practical steps anyone can take to promote a sense of gratitude. One is simply spending time on a regular basis thinking about someone who has made a difference, or perhaps writing a thank you note or expressing such gratitude in person. Others are found in ancient religious disciplines, such as meditating on benefactions received from another person or actually praying for the health and happiness of a benefactor.
In addition to benefactions received, it is also possible to focus on opportunities to do good oneself, whether those acted on in the past or hoped for in the future. Some people are most grateful not for what others have done for them but for chances they enjoyed to help others. To envision gratitude at its best, imagine a person hoping and perhaps even praying for an opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.
In regularly reflecting on the things in his life he is grateful for, Defoe’s Crusoe believes that he becomes a far better person than he would have been had he remained in the society from which he originally set out on his voyage:
“I gave humble and hearty thanks that God had been pleased to discover to me, even that it was possible I might be more happy in this solitary condition, than I should have been a liberty of society, and all the pleasures of the world… It was now that I began sensibly to feel how much more happy this life I now led was, with all its miserable circumstances, than the wicked, cursed, abominable life I led all the past part of my days.”
Reflecting on generosity and gratitude, the great basketball coach John Wooden once offered two counsels to his players and students. First, he said, “It is impossible to have a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” In saying this, Wooden sought to promote purely generous acts, as opposed to those performed with an expectation of recompense. Second, he said, “Give thanks for your blessings every day.”
Some faith traditions incorporate such practices into the rhythm of daily life. For example, adherents of some religions offer prayers of thanksgiving every morning before rising and every night before lying down to sleep. Others offer thanks throughout the day, such as before meals. Other less frequent special events, such as births, deaths and marriages, may also be heralded by such prayers.
When Defoe depicted Robinson Crusoe making thanksgiving a daily part of his island life, he was anticipating findings in social science and medicine that would not appear for hundreds of years. Yet he was also reflecting the wisdom of religious and philosophical traditions that extend back thousands of years. Gratitude is one of the healthiest and most nourishing of all states of mind, and those who adopt it as a habit are enriching not only their own lives but also the lives of those around them.
Dr. Tony Evans is one of the most influential pastors and theologians in the United States and his daughter Priscilla Shirer is one of the most well-known authors and speakers. UrbanFaith sat down with them to discuss their documentary Journey with Jesus and their book Divine Disruption written as a family holding onto faith in the midst of grief.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines worship as “to honor or show reverence for as a divine being or supernatural power.” This seems a functional working definition but anyone will tell you that worship means so much more than this. Perhaps your clearest experience has been in church, lost in the buzz of music. Maybe you first felt worship in the deep, sinking envy of celebrity. Worship pushes us to sacrifice everything from time to money to ambitions.It is also an experience highly prized by God. From the Hebrew exile from EgypttoJesus’ ministry on Earth, exclusivity in who we worship has been one of the main themes throughout the Bible. Even Lucifer, who is described as being crafted by God with instruments inside his very being, is described as perfectly fit for worship. So why does God prize this quality so highly and what exactly qualifies as worship?
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul expounds on what worship should mean to believers. He says that we should “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” He calls this true and proper worship, which is a pretty radical and quite frank definition of what worship means in the Bible. It is not just an act of sacrifice or a passionate outpouring of emotion, worship comes from a place deeper than that. Worship is a mindset that comes from a place of absolute faith which motivates one to act mercifully and with empathy. From here, it seems pretty self-evident why God places such a high premium on this quality.
In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says the following while giving his fundamental sermon on the mount: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. For better or worse, this has become somewhat of a contentious verse within the church.
In a country where capital is very highly prized, it is easy to slip into the total pursuit of wealth and justify the ethics for the quest after the fact. It’s easy to find yourself devoting every minute of your life pursuing more and more wealth for more than the sake of survival but because that wealth gives your life value. This is not a phenomenon exclusive to wealth, however. Fashion, celebrity, public attention, academic pursuit, all of these things can become objects we worship by devoting ourselves to them entirely without leaving room for God in our lives. Instead of bending our lives to fit God in, we sometimes try to bend God.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have hobbies or interests, or that you can’t pursue wealth in any measure. We are each unique individuals made with specific talents and goals. This is more to say that whatever those talents and passions are, we must be sure that they are being used in service of our creator and not in pursuits of narcissistic self-aggrandizement.
On June 5, 2020, it had been just over a week since a white Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, killed George Floyd, an unarmed, African American man. Protests were underway outside Central United Methodist Church, an interracial church in downtown Detroit with a long history of activism on civil rights, peace, immigrant rights and poverty issues.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the church was no longer holding in-person worship services. But anyone walking into its sanctuary that day would have seen long red flags behind the pastor’s lectern, displaying the words “peace” and “love.” A banner reading “Michigan Says No! To War” hung alongside pictures of civil rights icons Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as labor-rights activist Cesar Chavez. In line with her church’s activist tradition, senior pastor Jill Hardt Zundell stood outside the building and preached about her church’s commitment to eradicating anti-Black racism to her congregants and all that passed by.
In our sociology and political science research, we have both studied how race, religion and politics are intimately connected in the United States. Our recent book, “Race and the Power of Sermons on American Politics” – written with psychologist James S. Jackson – uses 44 national and regional surveys conducted between 1941 and 2019 to examine racial differences in who hears messages about social justice at church. We also examined how hearing those types of sermons correlates with support for policies aimed at reducing social inequality and with political activism.
For centuries, many Americans have envisioned that their country has a special relationship with God – that their nation is “a city on a hill” with special blessings and responsibilities. Beliefs that America is exceptional have inspired views across the political spectrum.
Many congregations that emphasize social justice embrace this idea of a “covenant” between the United States and the creator. They interpret it to mean Americans must create opportunity and inclusion for all – based in the belief that all people are equally valued by God.
Politics in the pews
In our book, we find that, depending upon the issue, between half and two-thirds of Americans support religious leaders taking public positions on racism, poverty, war and immigration. Roughly a third report attending worship settings where their clergy or friends discuss these issues and the importance of politically acting on one’s beliefs.
African Americans and Hispanic Americans tend to be more supportive of religious leaders speaking out against racism and attempting to influence poverty and immigration policy. On the whole, African Americans are the most likely to support religious leaders expressing political views on specific issues, from poverty and homelessness to peace, as we examine in our book.
Black Americans are also more likely to attend worship settings where clergy and other members encourage them to connect their faith to social justice work. For example, according to a July 2020 Pew Research Center poll, 67% of African American worshippers reported hearing sermons in support of Black Lives Matter, relative to 47% of Hispanics and 36% of whites.
Race also affects the relationship between hearing such sermons and supporting related policies. When statistically accounting for religious affiliation, political party and demographic characteristics, attending these types of congregations more strongly associates with white Americans supporting progressive policy positions than it does for Black Americans and Hispanics.
White worshippers who hear sermons about race and poverty, for example, are more likely to oppose spending cuts to welfare programs than those who hear no such messages at their place of worship.
This is not the case for African Americans and Hispanics, however, who are as likely to oppose social welfare spending cuts regardless of where they worship. In other words, while hearing sermons about social justice issues informs or at least aligns with white progressive policy attitudes, this alignment is not as strong for Blacks and Hispanics.
Clergy of predominantly white worship spaces are often more politically liberal than their congregants. Historically, this has translated into members pushing back when clergy take public positions that are more progressive than their congregation’s.
This may explain why white parishioners who chose to attend congregations where they hear social justice-themed sermons tend to be more politically progressive, or more open to sermons challenging previous views, than are other white parishioners.
From words to action
However, when it comes to the connection between hearing sermons and taking political action, race doesn’t matter as much. That is, when taking into account religious affiliation, party affiliation and social demographics, people who hear social justice-themed sermons in their places of worship are more likely than other Americans to engage in political activism, regardless of their race.
For example, during the months following Floyd’s murder, Black, white and Hispanic congregants who heard sermons about race and policing were more likely than others to have protested for any purpose in the past 12 months, according to data from the 2020 National Politics Study. More specifically, white Americans who attended houses of worship where they heard those types of sermons were more than twice as likely to participate in a protest as other white worshippers. Black and Hispanic attendees were almost twice as likely to protest, compared to those attending houses of worship where they did not hear sermons about race and policing.
The difference between people who attend houses of worship with a social-justice focus and people who did not attend religious services at all is even more striking. White Americans who heard such messages at religious services were almost four times more likely to protest than white Americans who did not attend services; Black and Hispanic Americans were almost three times as likely.
Today, many Americans are pessimistic about inequality, political divisions and ethnic conflict. Yet, as these surveys show, social justice-minded congregations inspire members to work for policies that support their vision of the public good.
Bringing mindfulness to the challenges of children can help parents to better enjoy the precious early years
Parents can struggle to enjoy the present. Children fill parental minds with lists of things to do and challenges to overcome. Many mums and dads struggle to enjoy the moment they are in, even as they know this stage won’t last forever.
When we practice mindfulness, we tune our thoughts into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than living in the past or imagining the future. This simple-sounding approach has been shown to have many benefits. Psychological research suggesting it can relieve stress, anxiety and depression.
How to be a mindful parent
Imagine you are juggling the children’s homework with cooking the dinner. You are longing for that time of the evening where you can sit on the couch for a few hours before you go to sleep, and it all starts again.
If you can practice mindfulness and be in the “here and now”, rather than trying to multitask or get through your immense to-do list, you may find that you can enjoy even these routine daily tasks.
You might choose to sit down with your child while they’re doing homework and look at this as time for you to connect with them and give them your attention. You might also enjoy a cup of tea while being fully present with your child, taking the time to be there for them and for yourself. Following this, you can turn your attention fully to the task of cooking. But rather than rushing the process and being on auto-pilot, you may be better able to enjoy this task too: the smells, the creativity, and the enjoyment of making a nutritious meal for your family.
When my little ones used to ask me to read to them before bed, I would often skip a few pages to hurry the process. I was tired and desperately wanted to get some time for myself. Once child number four arrived, I became more aware of how fast the time goes. Now I am the one who starts story time and loves to sit with my little boy and smell his hair, feel his soft skin and touch his warm body. I now find these times to be a blessing and enjoy being in the moment. Reading no longer feels like a chore.
Practice makes perfect
Mindfulness improves with practice, and it can be challenging for those starting out. But while mindful parenting doesn’t magically make things easier, it can help us to get more enjoyment out of things we often take for granted. This in turn can give us more of that energy we so desperately need.
King Richard is a film honoring the legacy of Richard Williams, father of Tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams which is in theaters everywhere and on HBO Max this Friday, November 19.
The film tells the story of Richard and the Williams family’s remarkable journey from the rough environment of Compton, CA to the fame and fortune of professional tennis stardom. KingRichard is the Williams family’s tremendous story of faith, perseverance, and triumph that is truly inspiring. The cast was phenomenal and I left the theater wanting to put into action the value for planning, humility, and passion that the family exemplified.
UrbanFaith sat down with Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton who play Venus and Serena to discuss the experience of bringing the lives of these legends to the big screen alongside Will Smith.
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.
Dealing with a mental illness is never easy but with the proper strategies and tools, you can learn to manage your mental health while living a happy life.
Self-care is the root for coping with mental illness. I never understood the meaning of self-care until I was hospitalized. It sounds simple to take care of yourself but you would be surprised by how many people neglect self-care.
Many of us tend to take care of everyone else without realizing that we are more valuable and effective if we take the time to give ourselves some TLC. 3 John 1:2 says “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.”
God desires for us to be healthy. But, how can He dwell within in us if we aren’t healthy in our mind, body, and spirit?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the United States. It is also common for individuals with depression to have an anxiety disorder or vice versa. In fact, 6.7 percent of the United States population has major depressive disorder (MDD).
However, the good news is that 80 percent of those treated for depression and anxiety show improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. In addition to clinical treatment, there are a variety of coping mechanisms that help manage your symptoms.
Feeding your spirit can include praying and/or reading your Word. However, we, as Christians, may also want to consider opening our minds to additional coping strategies that will impact one’s spirit, body, and mind.
I have been in therapy for a year and a half, and it has been a long process but I am reaping the benefits for sticking it out. Find a therapist that you like and feel comfortable talking to. Therapy offers personal insight, empowerment, coping strategies, prevention of future illness distress, and someone to talk to without judgment. I was hesitant in the beginning because I thought to myself “I am not crazy. I do not need therapy.” However, I am glad I put my fear aside and gave it a try. While you can talk to a friend, family member or pastor, I recommend that you speak with a person who has a background in mental illness.
2. Balanced Diet
It is not rocket science but the foods we eat impact our illness. If your mental illness is a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, it is important to be conscious of how food affects you. I have noticed when I consume an obsessive amount of comfort foods such as ice-cream and cookies, I feel worse. Here is the problem with overeating; it decreases your energy because your body must work harder to break down the food. Not to mention, overeating can lead to being overweight. A balanced diet helps with concentration and energy levels. According to Everyday Health, foods such as turkey, walnuts, fatty fish, whole grains and green tea help with depression.
You do not have to go to the gym every day if that is not your thing but you can take a walk, attend a dance class, play sports or play with children. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals , such as endorphins. Endorphins, also known as the feel-good chemical, interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Exercise also helps to alleviate stress, improve self-esteem, and sleep.
4. Create a support group
It can be frustrating when you have a mental illness and no one understands you and/or judges you. Finding the right support team is important. This may include a life-coach, therapist and/or psychiatrist, significant other, family or friends. Each individual should help in some way by meeting a need or needs. If the relationship is not healthy then you may want to consider removing them completely from your life. You should be able to share with your support group whether you are having a good or bad day. When you struggle with a mental illness, every day will not be sunshine and rainbows, and that is okay.
5. Listening to nature sounds
Before I go to sleep, I play sounds of waves as it helps to relax my mind and body. I enjoy hearing the sounds of waves, raindrops, and waterfalls. When most of us take vacations, we tend to go to the beach, tropical islands or lakes to relax and rejuvenate. So, it makes sense that the sound of nature such as birds chirping and waves help many relax, specifically, the sound of water. According to an article by the Huffington Post, water gives our brain rest from overstimulation and induces a meditative state.
6. Himalayan Salt Lamp
I had no idea of the benefits of a Himalayan salt lamp. The lamp is a carved piece of rock from the Mountains in Northeast Pakistan and stretches across approximately 186 miles from the Jhelum River to the Indus River. The Himalayan salt lamp releases negative ions which promote a relaxing environment and increases the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. WebMD explains it perfectly. Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin which help to alleviate depression, stress, and boost energy.
While journaling is not anything new in the mental health world, I think it is important for anyone struggling with a mental illness. It helps you be honest with yourself, track changes, create goals and express feelings through journaling. The beautiful thing about journaling is that you can be as free as you want and it is a judgment-free zone. You can journal once a day, a few times a day or every few days; there is no set schedule so it does not feel like a chore. If you are in therapy, journaling can allow you to write topics and concerns that you can discuss in therapy that will better aid you in your recovery and healing. Journaling helps to clarify your thoughts, reduce stress and solve problems. It has also been proven that journaling is one of the most effective coping skills.
While the above seven strategies mentioned are not the only strategies for coping and taking care of yourself, it is important to find what works for you. Take the time and step outside of your comfort zone for managing your mental illness and begin your journey to healing. God often pushes us outside of our comfort zone to strengthen our faith in Him and ourselves.
Meanwhile, racial injustice and high-profile police killings of Black men have amplified stress. During the summer of 2020, amid both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, a CDC survey found that 15% of Black respondents had “seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days,” compared with 8% of white respondents.
For a variety of reasons, many African Americans face barriers to mental health care. But as a sociologist who focuses on community-based organizations, I find that strengthening relationships between churches and mental health providers can be one way to increase access to needed services. In research with my collaborators Eunice Wong and Kathryn Derose, I analyzed data on the prevalence of mental health care provision among religious congregations and found that many African American congregations offer such programs.
Need versus access
Roughly 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness in a given year. Yet fewer than half of adults with a mental health condition receive mental health services.
African Americans utilize mental health services at about one-half the rate of white Americans. In part, this underuse may stem from African Americans’ often fraught relationship with medical establishments in the U.S., given their histories of racial bias and malpractice against people of color. Part of the reason may also derive from stigma among some African Americans perceiving mental illness and seeking help as signs of weakness. Treatment “deserts” where mental health providers are scarce may also be a factor.
Care at church
One often overlooked resource for mental health care, however, are churches. For the past decade, the National Congregations Study has documented the prevalence of mental health care provision among places of worship in the U.S. Based on data from the NCS’ 2018 survey, 26% of congregations provide mental health programming, and 37% of people who attend religious services attend one of these congregations. Such programming can include support groups, meetings and classes focused on addressing mental health concerns.
Previously, my co-researchers and I analyzed 2012 NCS data to better understand mental health resources within religious congregations. One of our goals was to identify factors that contribute to a congregation offering mental health care. These factors include having more members, employing staff for social service programs and providing health-focused programs. Other significant predictors include conducting community needs assessments, hosting speakers from social service organizations and being located in a predominantly African American community.
Based on the new 2018 survey, 45% percent of African American congregations offer some form of mental health service and nearly half of all African American churchgoers attend a congregation with such programs. These rates show an increase since 2012, and are roughly 50% greater than those among predominantly white congregations.
This research supports longstanding observations about African American congregations as critical sources of spiritual, emotional and social support for their communities. Many religious people see their spiritual health and mental health as intertwined, and research indicates that spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation, can also support mental health.
Our research suggests that building collaborations between African American congregations and the mental health sector is a promising strategy to increase access to needed services. Given that 61% of African Americans say they attend worship services at least a few times a year, congregations may provide an accessible resource.
At times, pairing religion and mental health may prove harmful. Some congregations see mental health problems as a product of personal sin, for example, and stigmatize people suffering from mental illness.
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But congregations can also be helpful environments. When clinical treatment is supplemented with social support, the likelihood of successful outcomes is greater, and houses of worship often provide built-in social networks. People participating in a congregation-led grief recovery group, for example, can be involved in the congregation beyond their weekly meeting. In addition, some mental health professionals provide pro bono services for congregation-based programs.
Social worker Victor Armstrong, the director of North Carolina’s Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, asserts that African American faith leaders can play a “pivotal role” in mental wellness. He suggests shifting language to focus on “wellness” rather than “illness” in order to decrease stigma, among other recommendations.
Greater collaboration between congregations and mental health providers could help stem the growing mental health crisis, particularly within African American communities.
(RNS) — Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, known as a four-star general and as a onetime secretary of defense, was remembered at his funeral at the Washington National Cathedral Friday (Nov. 5) as a man of the Episcopal faith.
Longtime colleague and friend Richard Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state under Powell, recalled how their regular 7 a.m. morning calls shifted to 9:30 on Sunday mornings, after his supervisor had returned from church.
“Colin loved the church: He loved the ceremony. He loved the liturgy. He loved the high hymns, which made him extremely happy,” said Armitage, who served with Powell in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, during the private ceremony that was livestreamed on YouTube.
“And he would answer the same way every Sunday. He said, ‘Oh yes, I was at church. And I want you to know I’m in the state of grace.’ And I would answer the same way every Sunday: ‘Colin, if you’re not in the state of grace, who among us is?’ And that was every day for almost 40 years, the same opening remarks.”
Powell, who died Oct. 18 from COVID-19 complications, was honored at a nearly two-hour private ceremony. Hundreds of people gathered under the cathedral’s neo-Gothic arches, including President Biden and two former presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and their wives, and former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother Colin Luther Powell for burial,” said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who met the general’s casket at the doors of the cathedral with Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
Some family members of Powell, 84, had key roles in the service that mixed the high church liturgy of the cathedral with the military precision of uniformed service members bearing Powell’s coffin and escorting his family.
His son, former Federal Communications Chairman Michael K. Powell, gave a tribute, along with Armitage and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who preceded Powell in that position. His daughter, Annemarie Powell Lyons, read from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The Rev. Stuart A. Kenworthy drew on that Scripture as he spoke of Powell’s faith.
“Colin knew his God through all his years,” said Kenworthy in his homily, a role the former Army National Guard chaplain also played at the 2016 funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan. “His faith was of first importance, and his life was marked by those words of the Prophet Micah.”
He also encouraged those remembering Powell to embrace their Christian faith.
“God raised Jesus so that you and I might share in his resurrection, and if you turn to him and accept him in faith, he will come into you and raise you into that new and eternal life now,” Kenworthy preached. “Just as he has for your beloved Colin, who now stands upon another shore and in a greater light, with that multitude of saints that no mortal can number.”
Prior to the homily, the Rev. Joshua D. Walters, rector of the Powell family’s church in McLean, Virginia, read words of Jesus from the Gospel of John: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Congregants, masked during the continuing pandemic, stood to sing the hymns “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and “Precious Lord.” Soloist Wintley Phipps sang “How Great Thou Art.”
In an earlier statement issued after Powell’s death, Curry noted Powell was a lifelong Episcopalian.
“I pray for his family and all his many loved ones, and I give thanks for his model of integrity, faithful service to our nation and his witness to the impact of a quiet, dignified faith in public life,” the presiding bishop said at the time. “He cared about people deeply. He served his country and humanity nobly. He loved his family and his God unswervingly.”
Though not generally known for his ties to religion, Powell was noted for comments he once made about then-Senator Obama’s faith.
Obama, in a statement released on the day of Powell’s death, spoke of his deep appreciation of Powell’s endorsement of his presidential candidacy when the general had been affiliated with past Republican administrations.
“At a time when conspiracy theories were swirling, with some questioning my faith, General Powell took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could,” said Obama in the statement, referring to rumors that he was a Muslim.
At the time, Powell said, “The correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian.”
But then Powell added a follow-up: “But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
Powell also was among the top picks of likely voters who were religious and considering potential vice presidents when the then-senator was seeking the presidency in 2008.
But Armitage and other speakers mostly put politics aside as they recalled the man who was their friend, family member or colleague.
The former deputy secretary of state noted he and Powell had different preferences for hymns. Armitage recited the final verse of “Rough Side of the Mountain,” which speaks of standing “before God’s throne” when the race of life has concluded.
“Be real quiet,” Armitage told the congregation. “Listen real carefully. And you might hear our savior say, ‘Colin, welcome home. And here’s your starry crown.'”