How to put your faith to work in response to today’s violence

How to put your faith to work in response to today’s violence

No one can deny that our nation is angry, hurt and frustrated due to the senseless violence that continues to plague us; however, the way we address today’s issues is absolutely critical, particularly for us as Christians. Here are a few suggestions on how we can respond to the violence and pain through active faith.

Local Victim Remembered at Orlando Massacre Vigil in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaPray in unity.

Now, more than ever, the church is commanded to pray in unity. In Matthew 18, Jesus emphasizes the importance of collective spirituality by saying, “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Yes, times are tough and you may find it difficult, but praying together not only obeys these words of Christ, but also serves as a powerful tool of encouragement and reminds us that we are not alone in the struggle. Besides, Christianity is a communal faith, and historically, many African and African-influenced cultures have always valued collective spirituality. Most importantly, we must remember that we serve a God who answers prayer, not always in the ways we expect, but always effective according to His will!

Educate yourself and others.

Hosea 4:6 declares, “For my people perish for lack of knowledge.” In order to actively address today’s issues, it is absolutely critical that we are prepared, both spiritually and intellectually. Take the time to educate yourself on the laws, procedures and government systems that affect both you and your family. However, it is just as important to equip yourself with Scriptures that will assist you in learning strategies that respect government while actively advocating against injustice and violence. Throughout the Bible, Jesus teaches us the importance of knowing your rights as both citizens of your home country and citizens of God’s kingdom. (Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 4:38-53, Mark 3:1-6) It is imperative that you know your rights in order to prevent them from being violated.

Be persistent and hopeful in seeking justice.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable that is not often shared among members of the Church. It is a parable about a persistent woman who goes to a judge to receive justice. Although he is not righteous, the judge gives the woman justice because of her persistence. As Christians, will we have enough faith to be persistent and seek God, even when dealing with a broken and unrighteous government?

The call to action here is clear. Keep seeking justice, even in a broken system, because the persistence will eventually bring about change.

Love your neighbor.

In the midst of all that is going on, this is the key. We have to choose to love our neighbors the way God loves (Matthew 22:38-39). We must love because we have been shown love, even when it is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Showing acts of love to our neighbors, particularly to those who historically have not always shown love in return, will begin to build the bridges across the ravines of fear that divide our nation and lead to the violence in the first place.

It is important to see here that love covers a multitude of sins, the sins that separate us from one another and God. Fear drives a lot of the sin of violence in this nation.  It is the fear that we will keep killing one another, fear that things will not change, fear between races, and fear within communities. However, it is perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

 

Share your thoughts on the recent violence and your plan of action as a Christian in today’s society below.

Movement to build affordable housing on church land reaches Florida

Movement to build affordable housing on church land reaches Florida

(RNS) — As Miami-Dade County in Florida grapples with a housing affordability crisis, houses of worship are being recruited to build affordable homes on vacant or underutilized church land.

The national nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners on Thursday (April 21) announced $1.3 million in grant funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation that would go toward helping 15 South Florida congregations convert underused church property.

The nonprofit will assist clergy, who may lack the resources or knowledge to cut housing deals, in navigating the development process, negotiating long-term ground lease agreements and vetting development partners, such as architects and designers.

This effort is part of the nonprofit’s Faith-Based Development Initiative that launched in 2006 in the Mid-Atlantic region, where it has helped faith-based organizations create or preserve more than 1,500 affordable homes and one community-based health clinic.

So far, $8.5 million has been committed in a new push to help congregations in Atlanta, New York, Baltimore, Miami and Seattle build affordable housing on their properties.

In South Florida, this money is being made available just as Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in early April declared a state of emergency over housing affordability.

Faith leaders, along with county and housing officials, on Thursday (April 21) gathered at Koinonia Worship Center to talk about the steps congregations could take to build housing on their church land. The gathering was held in partnership with the Collective Empowerment Group of South Florida, a group of local churches that aims to provide homebuyer training and credit counseling services in the area.

David Bowers, vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, said this effort makes “radical common sense,” allowing congregations that are “sitting on a resource” to “be good and faithful stewards.”

“We will share lessons from you with others in cities around the country who are at work as we expand this movement,” Bowers, who is also an ordained minister, said Thursday.

Over the last few years the county has partnered with faith-based organizations to build seven affordable rental developments, said Jorge Damian de la Paz, a representative of the mayor, at the Thursday gathering. These projects stretch across Miami-Dade County, from Miami Gardens down to Richmond Heights.

Citing property records, de la Paz said there are more than 1,220 parcels in Miami-Dade County currently being used exclusively for religious purposes. This includes churches, synagogues and mosques. In total, houses of worship sit on at least 95 million square feet of land in Miami-Dade County, he said.

“Religious organizations, in aggregate, are some of the largest owners of land in Miami-Dade County,” de la Paz said.

“Some of these lots could potentially be used to build affordable housing or … some type of community facility to serve congregants in a new way and generate additional revenue to the organization,” he said.

One example is Second Baptist Church of Richmond Heights. In 2016, the church opened the Reverend John & Anita Ferguson Residence Apartments, which provides 79 units of affordable housing for seniors.

The Rev. Alphonso Jackson, pastor of Second Baptist Church, helped oversee the project, which was a vision of the former pastor, the Rev. John Ferguson, who secured the land adjacent to the church.

“It was our desire to complete the vision he had,” Jackson said on Thursday.

Jackson said they sought to secure the necessary funds to build the project in a way that “wouldn’t be a burden to the church.” They formed a community development corporation and dealt with housing bonds, tax credits and grant funding.

Although it was years in the making, “it ended up being a wonderful project,” Jackson said.

“It adds to the community. It increased the property value of the community. It is not an eye sore. It is something very nice … We are very proud of it,” he said.

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Devotion: The Yoke of Invisible Slavery

Devotion: The Yoke of Invisible Slavery

Scripture Reference

John 8:31-38 NLT

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. 38 I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.”

Slavery is a terminology that creates discomfort in conversations because it represents one of the worst atrocities a human life can undergo. It is easier to deny or be hush about it. Openly acknowledging that the human mind is capable of manufacturing an ideology to oppress and detain, mistreat and dehumanize another human being can be difficult for the mind to wrap around. Yet Jesus was not afraid to address slavery head on.

Jesus reveals the type of mentality we should have towards sin which is detest, avoid and conquer it. Sin is a master that loves slaves. There is nothing good that comes out of it. It will seduce, manipulate, use, and deplete you. And just when you think you are done, it will create a small sense of relief to trick you into thinking you are okay, only for you to succumb to another cycle that keeps going on and on.

It is easy to look at slavery from the perspective of what you know from history. However, there is a yoke of slavery that lurks every day in your life and that yoke is sin. Jesus desires for you to be free and live with no fear.

Have you been battling something that keeps making you sin over and over again? Are you accustomed to it to the point of not desiring to seek freedom? You have to win in the mind and believe that you can be free and stay free. It is not by your might, but through Jesus Christ.

You deserve to see what a life of freedom looks and feels like. There is no human you will ever meet who loves and prays for slavery. So why should you accept sin as your master when you have the option of freedom? Jesus is able free you and shares tools through His Word on how to stay free. Release yourself from the yoke of sin, and step into the freedom that God desires for you.

 

Prayer

Dear God,

I want to be free, I desire to live a life of freedom. Give me a mindset that does not desire to sin, but desires to obey you willingly. Inspire me to believe that I can be whole and live a life that is pleasing you. Surround me with people who love freedom in you, and hold me accountable to live a life that establishes a legacy that I was your child, and I lived a life of wholeness, purity and divine freedom. I desire this blessing,

 

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Students of color in special education are less likely to get the help they need – here are 3 ways teachers can do better

Students of color in special education are less likely to get the help they need – here are 3 ways teachers can do better

Conversations around race and disability often get left out of schools. FG Trade/E+ via Getty Images
Mildred Boveda, Penn State

When I was a special education teacher at Myrtle Grove Elementary School in Miami in 2010, my colleagues and I recommended that a Black girl receive special education services because she had difficulty reading. However, her mother disagreed. When I asked her why, she explained that she, too, was identified as having a learning disability when she was a student.

She was put in a small classroom away from her other classmates. She remembered reading books below her grade level and frequent conflicts between her classmates and teachers. Because of this, she believed she received a lower-quality education. She didn’t want her daughter to go through the same experience.

Ultimately, the mother and I co-designed an individualized education plan – known in the world of special education as an IEP – for her daughter where she would be pulled out of class for only an hour a day for intensive reading instruction.

When compared to white students with disabilities, students of color with disabilities are more likely to be placed in separate classrooms. This may lead to lower educational outcomes for students of color in special education, as students with disabilities perform better in math and reading when in general education classrooms.

A student of color with down syndrome uses a tablet in the classroom.
Students with disabilities perform better academically when placed in general education classes. Robin Bartholick via Tetra images/GettyImages

Researchers, such as University of Arizona education scholar Adai Tefera and CUNY-Hunter College sociologist of education Catherine Voulgarides, argue that systemic racism – as well as biased interpretations of the behavior of students of color – explains these discrepancies. For example, when compared to students with similar test scores, Black students with disabilities are less likely to be included in the general education classroom than their non-Black peers. To curb this, teachers can take steps toward being more inclusive of students of color with disabilities.

As a Black feminist researcher who focuses on the intersection of race and disability, here are three recommendations I believe can help teachers to better support students of color with disabilities.

1. Inform families of their rights

Federal law requires that schools provide parents and guardians with Procedural Safeguards Notices, a full explanation of all the rights a parent has when their child is referred to or receives special education services. These notices need to be put in writing and explained to families in “language that is easily understandable.”

However, research shows that in many states, Procedural Safeguards Notices are written in ways that are difficult to read. This can make it harder for families, especially immigrant families, to know their rights. Also, families of color report facing greater resistance when making requests for disability services than white families do.

When meeting with families, teachers can take the time to break down any confusing language written in the Procedural Safeguards Notice. This can assure that the families of students of color are fully aware of their options.

For example, families have the right to invite an external advocate to represent their interests during meetings with school representatives. These advocates can speak on behalf of the family and often help resolve disagreements between the schools and families.

Educators can tell families about organizations that serve children with disabilities and help them navigate school systems. The Color of Autism, The Arc and Easterseals are striving to address racial inequities in who has access to advocacy supports. These organizations create culturally responsive resources and connect families of color with scholarships to receive training on how to advocate for themselves.

2. Talk about race and disability

Despite the growing diversity within K-12 classrooms, conversations around race are often left out of special education. This leaves a lack of attention toward the issues that students of color face, like higher suspension rates and lower grades and test scores than their white peers in special education.

When teachers talk about race and disability with their colleagues, it can help reduce implicit biases they may have. Also, dialogue about race and disability can help to reduce negative school interactions with students of color with disabilities.

Arizona State University teacher educator Andrea Weinberg and I developed protocols that encourage educators to talk about race, disability, class and other social identities with each other. These include questions for teachers such as:

Do any of your students of color have an IEP?

Has a student with disabilities or their family shared anything about their cultural background that distinguishes them from their peers?

Are there patterns of students not responding to instruction?

The protocols also encourage educators to consider their own social identities and how those may shape how they interpret students’ behaviors and academic needs:

Who do you collaborate with to help you better understand and respond to students’ diverse needs?

In what ways are students and teachers benefiting from the diversity represented in the classroom?

Educators using these questions in the Southwest, for example, say they help a mostly white teacher workforce understand their role in disrupting inequities. One study participant said, “These things are not addressed, and they’re not talked about among faculty.”

3. Highlight people of color with disabilities in the classroom

Often, classroom content depicts disabled people – especially those of color – as people at the margins of society. For example, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Tom Robinson, a Black character with a physical disability, is killed after being falsely accused of a crime. Teachers can incorporate thoughtful examples of disabled people of color in their lesson plans to help students better understand their experiences.

When teaching about Harriet Tubman, educators can mention how she freed enslaved people while coping with the lifelong effects of a head injury. Tubman’s political activism provides a historical example of disabled people of color who helped improve society for all.

A man and a woman in a wheelchair pose together next to a painting.
Famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo suffered from spinal and pelvic damage after a bus accident. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid/flickr

Art teachers can highlight Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and how she boldly addressed her physical disabilities in self-portraits. Disabled people’s experiences are frequently shown from the perspective of people without disabilities. In her art, Kahlo displayed herself with bandages and sitting in a wheelchair. Her portraits featured her own reactions to having disabilities.

Physical education teachers can discuss current events, such as recent news about Olympian Simone Biles’s attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety. Her openness has sparked international conversations about less noticeable disabilities.

Teaching students about the contributions that disabled people of color make to our society emphasizes that neither race nor disability should be equated with inferiority.The Conversation

Mildred Boveda, Associate Professor of Special Education, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grand Rapids pastors mobilize in wake of fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya

Grand Rapids pastors mobilize in wake of fatal shooting of Patrick Lyoya

(RNS) — Pastors in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are taking action as the city reels in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4. Video footage of the shooting was released on Wednesday (April 13), sparking protests outside the city’s police department.

Lyoya, who is Black, was pulled over last week for a mismatched license plate. Video footage shows a white officer shooting Lyoya in the head after a brief scuffle. Lyoya and his family arrived from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014 as refugees, and he leaves behind his parents, two young daughters and five siblings.

In the days since Lyoya’s death, a group of Black pastors in Grand Rapids, called the Black Clergy Coalition, has been organizing community events to promote dialogue, healing and justice.

“We think that our faith perspective is critical in this hour, to not just discuss policy change, which is necessary, but to also discuss the spiritual and faith dynamic,” said Pastor Jathan K. Austin of Bethel Empowerment Church in Grand Rapids. “We must continue to keep our trust in the Father so that people don’t lose trust in this time because of the heartache, the pain.”

On Sunday (April 10), the group helped organize a forum for community discussion in response to Lyoya’s death. The discussion took place at Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids — the location was intentional, according to the church’s senior pastor, Bishop Dennis J. McMurray, who noted the wider church’s historic role in guiding civil rights movements and said the Black Clergy Coalition is drawing on that legacy.

“It was unreal, the level of cooperative dialogue and understanding that took place,” McMurray told Religion News Service. “If these conversations would have started almost anywhere else, the volatility that could be associated to something as devastating as what we’re facing could have been a bomb that goes off that would cause so many other issues.”

The group also helped host a Thursday press conference at the Renaissance Church of God in Christ and a noon Good Friday service at the church, where they took up a collection for the Lyoya family.

The Rev. Khary Bridgewater, who lives in Grand Rapids, said the city’s racial and religious landscape informs how local leaders are responding to Lyoya’s death. Grand Rapids has a population that’s over 65% white and about 18% Black. It’s also the headquarters for the Christian Reformed Church, a small, historically Dutch Reformed denomination, and is home to over 40 CRC churches. According to Bridgewater, leaders shaped by the CRC’s reformed theology are often more likely to advocate for change within existing systems.

According to Bridgewater, “It’s very hard for most CRC churches to look at a system and say, ‘This is wrong, we’re going to act as activists to push the system into a different state.’ They’re more inclined to say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and have a conversation with the leaders and try to do things differently.’” Bridgewater says this theology can bump up against the Black church’s prophetic tradition of change-making. For this reason, he said, Christian groups in Grand Rapids need to have theological discussions around topics like justice and citizenship.

Nik Smith, a Grand Rapids activist and member of Defund the GRPD, agrees the city’s religious culture is shaping local leaders’ responses.

“The nonprofits are run by Christian folk who are just waiting for Jesus to come, not realizing not only was he here already, but he’s given us things to live by,” said Smith. “So we have to be seeking justice actively in our community. We can’t just say, let’s pray. Prayer is not going to bring Patrick back.”

Smith has been involved in Defund the GRPD since 2020, when the coalition first began advocating for reducing the police budget and refunding over-policed communities. Though Smith doesn’t identify as a Christian as strongly as she once did, she believes the Bible highlights the consequences of earthly authorities wielding too much power and the importance of working to make the world a better place. For Smith, defunding the Grand Rapids Police Department is part of securing a better future.

For years, the city’s police department has been criticized for racial profiling and for drawing guns on Black children. Joseph D. Jones, who is a city commissioner and pastor, told Religion News Service he wants to address police and community relations by looking at “root causes” of socio-economic inequality and other disparities while also addressing training for officers.

“I do believe in the absolute power of prayer,” Jones added. “I’m asking those who do pray … to pray for the family of Patrick, to pray for our city, to pray that angels are encamped around our city to protect our city and to pray that God restore and change the hearts of those who desire to engage in anything that is seen as evil in our country and our world,” Jones said.

Austin of Bethel Empowerment Church said the Black Clergy Coalition has long been advocating for police reform and specifically wants to see better diversity and culture training for officers and changes in how the department responds to police shootings.

“I am going to allow the wheels of justice to roll, and we pray that they roll properly,” said McMurray, who is also part of the coalition. “We are working, but we’re also watching.”

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Balance: Interview with Touré Roberts

Balance: Interview with Touré Roberts

UrbanFaith sat down to interview Touré Roberts, the visionary leader and founder of ONE (formerly OneChurch LA) to discuss his new book Balance.

Touré Roberts is a man who wears many hats. He is a husband, father, producer, pastor, author, speaker, and business executive with churches and homes in two cities. His wife Sarah Jakes Roberts who wrote the foreword to his most recent book is one of the most sought after speakers in the country. Saying Roberts needs balance to maintain his success is an understatement. But Touré has uncovered an unconventional approach to balance…as a place to live from. An overview of the book is below.

Imagine learning to tap into the awareness, the sensitivity and highest thought patterns that enable the most successful outcomes in life, love and business. What would your life look like if you were able to break the patterns of inconsistency that keep you from your absolute best? These goals are not only possible—they are what you were made for! In Balance, bestselling author Touré Roberts guides us on the eye-opening journey that unpacks the divine formula that makes this a reality. This illuminating guide brings a unique and eye-opening perspective to the evasive concept of balance.

Devotion: Life has a louder voice

Devotion: Life has a louder voice

Scripture Reference

Matthew 28:1-10 NLT

1 Early on Sunday morning,[a] as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Death has a sting, a pain that can linger and never leave the soul. The death of Jesus by crucifixion was not a glamorous thing to behold. It was painful, tormenting, heartbreaking and shattering of any form of hope for those who were present. As we read the journey He took, the imagery that plays in our minds reveals how difficult this moment of destiny was for Jesus and His disciples.

When He died, I can imagine a pain of finality that may have been felt by those who loved and cared for Him. Losing someone dear, someone you love and care for is not easy. Losing them to a painful death can be heartbreaking and it can create a traumatic scar that never leaves.

It was important for Jesus to rise up again because the only voice that is capable of shutting down the loud voice of death is life. When He rose on the third day, the powerful testimony of His resurrection was a reminder for believers all over the world to believe, and hope again.

Have you dealt with situations that seem final to you? Are you plagued with thoughts of feeling that life is not worth living? Do you sense or feel that you are at the end of your road? If your answer is yes to any of those questions, you need to fight to live. If you need help, you can get it.

Living and moving conscious of daily decisions that push you to choose better, act wiser, and try for the best takes courage and sometimes can be a battle of the will. However, life has a louder voice than death. The dead cannot breathe air or experience moments.

Do not allow the finality of circumstances, trials, or tribulations make you feel as though life is not fair or worth it. You matter, and your presence in this life, living and learning and growing allows you to make a greater impact than being dead and in the grave. Fight for your dreams, push yourself to achieve the best that you can in this lifetime and believe God to make your life worth living for, because it is.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Thank you for what you did for me through love, by sending Jesus Christ to die for me. I acknowledge the power of the cross and the reminder that you desire for me to live. Help me today to push myself to live life with joy as Jesus died for me to be filled with peace and joy. Teach me how to maximize my days, weeks and months with what matters, and show me how to use my time here on earth wisely. I desire to live a fulfilled life, and I trust you that you will show me how to.

 

In Jesus Name,

Amen

Holy Saturday-A Reflection

Yesterday, churches around the nation gathered in person and virtually to commemorate the death and murder of Jesus. What a way to die, executed with his boys nowhere around, with the exception of John who he left in the care of his mother. He died in front of his mother. All of these people who loved Jesus, whether at the cross or not, had to live with the fact that they are now living in the world with a dead Jesus. We know now, because of history, that this part is an ongoing story, but even this part has a finality to it. Death is like that. Death is part of the process of living this life, and grief is its own beast of a complicated companion that comes with doing life with someone. These people had to grieve Jesus. God, the Father, had to watch his Son die. God lost His Son. Can you imagine it?

Who were your ones? Who are the people you love and loved so deeply, that your history is now split between before this person and after this person? Did you cry? Do you still cry? How did the gift that is grief show up for you? I believe in our liturgical imaginations, we have created services for almost every other day of Holy Week to commemorate, except for Saturday, because we just don’t know how to sit in grief. Grief can be an all consuming force to deal with, but grief is the price we pay for love, and they were loved. Sunday will get here in its own time, but we should take a page out of the Jesus story in this way too. There’s a reason that grief makes the story.

Theologians will debate about what He’s doing during this time, and the possibility of Him snatching the keys of hell and the people that will rise with him. What we know is that the people left on this side of the river Jordan had to grieve. And that alone is the gift here. The gift is frankly permission to grieve, and to feel feelings. It’s an invitation to learn how to sit in our Satur….sadder-days. It’s an invitation to not run and rush through the grief, but to trust God to get in the grief with you, since God knows what it’s like to live with the loss too. May we all learn how to be still on sadder-days, and hold in tension that this ongoing story, just with the added character of grief.

Give Me Your Feet: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Give Me Your Feet: A Maundy Thursday Reflection

Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday, and I am thinking of that night so long ago. I am putting myself in the scene, this soul-weary, overweight, middle-aged black woman who needs Jesus with everything in me. In my mind I am there with the disciples. I am present with my Jesus. You are there, too. Can you see it? The upper room in the drafty edifice, us stumbling in exhausted. We are starving. It’s just before the Passover Feast. So much has happened. So much will happen.

We gather together for a simple supper. Even Jesus has a kind of weight-of-the-world weariness about him. He’s talked a lot about going away lately, but he is fully present now, and his love has arms that hold us close. Still, a sadness lingers in his eyes. It reminds me of how the poet prophet Isaiah describes him, as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

The table is set, and we recline where we’re seated, grateful to be with him. Our cups are lined like guards before us, full of wine. A basket of bread lies in the center of the table. Later he will tell us the wine is his blood poured out, and the bread his body broken. Later. Now we sit. Night, as thick and palpable as fog, surrounds us. The flames on the candles bow and rise in the breezy room, as if they too, worship our Lord.

Then Jesus sets aside his outer garments and dons an apron like a slave would wear. He pours water in a basin. We exchange puzzled looks.

“Give me your feet,” he says.

We are stunned silent, each of us carefully removing our sandals, unsure of what to say–what to do–faced with such shocking humility. Foot washing is the worst of tasks, despised by a servants gesture. Yet Jesus kneels before us, one by one, and washes our feet. I watch Him move from person to person. Dear God, Jesus is on His knees, pouring water on our rough soles. The Son of God, the Son of Man, washes us as if the pitcher contains, then releases, his own tears. The water slips between our toes, and the filth of the world falls to the ground, ground now hallowed by His presence. We couldn’t help but feel emotional. Some of us wailed as he worked.

He sure knows how to make a mess of things.

When he gets to me I choke out his name, “Oh, Jesus,” I cry. Hot salty tears roll from my cheeks, and drop onto Jesus’ hand as he reaches up to wipe my face. “Master, let me wash yours,” I beg him.

He gently, but firmly refuses me. “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this,” he says to me.

“I can’t let you wash my feet,” I say.

He speaks kindly to me. “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be a part of what I’m doing.” So I let him wash me, my Jesus, dressed as a slave, as I sit there, amazed.

He cleanses us all, every one of us. “Do you understand what I have done to you?” he asks. His brown eyes shine in the candlelight. “You address me as ‘Teacher,’ ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”

Act like it, and live a blessed life.

Jesus makes things so messy, and then sets them right with such a simple, homely message, but it is good news. When he is done with you, you are washed as white as snow.

It wasn’t too long after that last meal that he left us, only to return in three days, and go again, leaving us with his Holy Spirit. As I reflect on that day, I hear the sound of His voice, resonate, yet soft, and feel His breath warm on my face, as he leaned into me and asked me, ‘give me your feet.’

I think of this every Maundy Thursday, as we world weary travelers, parched and, hurting, and oh so vulnerable, gather. We are looking for Jesus, needing water, and trusting our souls, and soles to his servants. Sometimes we sit shoulder to shoulder reclined. Waiting. Humbled. Remembering. And our feet are washed clean, while God’s slave cradles them in the circle of his tear-stained hands.

Scripture references taken from Isaiah. 53:3, NKJV and John 13:12-17, The Message.

Holy Tuesday Devotional

Holy Tuesday Devotional

Matthew 21: 18-46

When we left off yesterday, Jesus had committed destruction of property by flipping over tables of transaction and exploitation and uprooting the things that shifted His Father’s house from being relational and full of salvation. That left us to consider what tables we need to flip over, beginning with some of the ones in our hearts. What a mighty God we serve!

We pick up today with Jesus who is heading to the temple, and starts off the morning cursing a fig tree, condemning it saying it would never produce again. While we can argue about how harsh this is or isn’t, what is irrefutable is that the tree wasn’t doing its job, and Jesus had enough. And it seems as though, because He is headed to the temple, He’s not going to be stopped by the trees that aren’t doing their job. He already dealt with that yesterday, and is about to encounter it again.

When Jesus arrives at the temple, He attracts a crowd because, well, He’s Jesus. The crowd He attracts meets Him on the temple floor, and Matthew’s Gospel starts off this encounter with the authorities questioning his authority. Those who are systematically in places of authority and power want to know who or what validates Jesus as an authority figure. One could argue that there is an issue here of will. Because the Pharisees might’ve had the authority, but Jesus Christ, who is amongst the people, has the power. It’s a dangerous world when systemic authority is threatened by the people who have been empowered. I am more than sure that if we look at lived experiences Jesus shows us that just because you have authority, doesn’t mean you have power. Our faith is one that often reminds us that human-given authority is no match for God-given authority. And Jesus responds with a question, that frankly the only way it can be reconciled is with a divine answer.

We then pick-up Jesus who is engaging in what I refer to as the ultimate roasting session. He keeps sharing these parables about working in the vineyard, AND the treatment of the workers. He likens himself as the son of God, to a servant, a worker in the vineyard, and a slave. He keeps reinforcing that He is with the marginalized least of these. Thanks be to God for a savior who constantly positions himself to be for, with, and by the people. It is reassurance to us that no matter who you are, as long as you’re doing your work in the vineyard, serving the kingdom, Jesus says that you’ll inherit the kingdom of God. The Pharisees don’t like this, much like many modern authority figures, and are plotting to murder him. But if the words of Jesus be true: for Himself, for the people, and for us; no plot, no plan, no attack, no assassination, can stop the work of the people. Nothing can negate that we shall inherit the kingdom of God. Get to and keep to your work. Even if you don’t have authority, you always have the power to do your work in the vineyard. 

This week isn’t over, and we have a few more lessons to learn, but today, think about what it means to do your work anyhow. After all, Friday soon come….

Surprise deliverance: When Freedom Shows Up

Surprise deliverance: When Freedom Shows Up

Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11 NLT

21 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, 

5 “Tell the people of Jerusalem,

    ‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

    riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

6 The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. 

8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

    Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Praise God in highest heaven!”

10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This story is very powerful, inspiring, and intriguing. As Jesus was preparing Himself for the very painful journey of the cross that was ahead of Him, He performs an act that reveals His thoughtfulness, intentionality, and commitment to destiny.

In Bethphage, there was a village that had a donkey and its foal that mattered to Jesus. A donkey is an animal that is symbolically and literally a beast that bears burdens. Donkeys can carry heavy loads and tread on difficult paths while being submitted to their owners.

  • Jesus picked an animal that was used to carry and bear burdens for people as a symbol that He had come to bear the burdens for humanity. As the disciples placed their cloaks on the donkey and its foal for Jesus to sit on, He was reminding us that He was mantled and graced for this heavy and great burden ahead of Him.

 

  • The donkey and foal were tied up and may not have known what was going to happen to them in the future, but Jesus had a plan. He was going to liberate both of them, and no one was going to get in the way of it. He specifically gave the disciples instructions, in case someone questioned them. Their response was to say “The Lord has need of them, and He will send them right away”.

 

  1. If Jesus can incorporate an animal in the story of redemption to symbolize how attentive He is to the details of destiny fulfillment, why are you questioning the details that God keeps unveiling in your life about how much He wants to use you?

 

  1. Imagine if the donkey and the foal resisted and kicked the disciples causing them to come back empty handed. Of course Jesus would have found an alternative, but the donkey and its foal would have never known the honor of deliverance from a Savior who understands and feels the weight of carrying heavy burdens.

 

The donkey and its foal walked on roads covered with cloaks and branches from trees as the crowd honored Jesus. They could not honor Jesus without honoring the donkey and the foal that were with Him. Do not resist the moment Jesus calls for you. His desire is to bestow love and grace on you. He is not one to hide you, but desires to walk with you through the journey, and ensure honor is bestowed upon you.

This week, think about the moments Jesus has pulled on you whether through prayer, His word, or a decision that He asked you to make. Why have you not obeyed? What expression of love from Jesus are you blocking when you resist Him? Isn’t it time to try pure freedom and experience what it feels like to have a Savior who understands and loves you? A Savior who has the power to loose you from every hold and bondage? He will not leave you there, but will walk with you until you fulfil the prophetic word He has spoken over your life.

If Jesus cared about a donkey and its foal, give yourself some credit and acknowledge He cares and has great plans for you. It is not a matter of if He is able, it is all about when you yield and obey His call. He is a loving Savior with open arms who desires to bless you and deliver you, to walk through this life with you in liberty and grace. It is time to answer Jesus. He has been calling for you for a while.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Today I am grateful for your kind heart, your intentionality, and ability to plan ahead with my life in mind. A lot of times, I behave as though you do not know me, but you do. Nothing changes your mind about me. Help me to see myself from the perspective of love that you have for me. Incline my ear to be sensitive to your calling. Forgive me for when I have resisted you because of fears that who I was or what I have done is too much for you. You have come to lift up every burden in my life.

I yield to you and desire to receive the honor of walking in freedom with you. This is my portion and I choose to walk in it by faith.

In Jesus Name,

Amen

The forgotten story of Black soldiers and the Red Ball Express during World War II

The forgotten story of Black soldiers and the Red Ball Express during World War II

Shown here in May 1945.These black soldiers were attached to the 666th Quartermaster Truck Company that was part of the Red Ball Express. National Archives
Matthew Delmont, Dartmouth College

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had a problem. In June 1944, Allied forces had landed on Normandy Beach in France and were moving east toward Nazi Germany at a clip of sometimes 75 miles (121 kilometers) per day.

With most of the French rail system in ruins, the Allies had to find a way to transport supplies to the advancing soldiers.

“Our spearheads … were moving swiftly,” Eisenhower later recalled. “The supply service had to catch these with loaded trucks. Every mile doubled the difficulty because the supply truck had always to make a two-way run to the beaches and back, in order to deliver another load to the marching troops.”

The solution to this logistics problem was the creation of the Red Ball Express, a massive fleet of nearly 6,000 2½-ton General Motors cargo trucks. The term Red Ball came from a railway tradition whereby railmen marked priority cars with a red dot.

From August through November 1944, 23,000 American truck drivers and cargo loaders – 70% of whom were Black – moved more than 400,000 tons of ammunition, gasoline, medical supplies and rations to battlefronts in France, Belgium and Germany.

These Red Ball Express trucks and the Black men who drove and loaded them made the U.S. Army the most mobile and mechanized force in the war.

Black soldiers are seen filling up gasoline tanks for dozens of trucks used to transport military supplies.
In this October 1944 photograph, Black soldiers are filling up gasoline tanks for the Red Ball Express. AFP via Getty Images

They also demonstrated what military planners have long understood – logistics shape what is possible on the fields of battle.

That’s a point well known in today’s war in Ukraine: As the Russian invasion stretches into its second month, logistics have been an important factor.

Supplying the front lines

The Red Ball Express gave the Allies a strategic advantage over the German infantry divisions, which were overly reliant on rail, wagon trains and horses to move troops and supplies.

A typical German division during the same period had nearly 10 times as many horses as motor vehicles and ran on oats just as much as oil. This limited the range of the vaunted Blitzkrieg, or lightning attacks, because German tanks and motorized units could not move far ahead of their infantry divisions and supplies.

Driving day and night, the Red Ball truckers earned a reputation as tireless and fearless troops. They steered their loud, rough-driving trucks down pitch-black country roads and through narrow lanes in French towns. They drove fast and adopted the French phrase “tout de suite” – immediately, right now – as their motto.

Gen. George C. Patton “wanted us to eat, sleep, and drive, but mostly drive,” one trucker recalled.

A convoy of trucks carrying military supplies is seen on a narrow road.
A convoy of U.S. trucks heads toward the front lines loaded with military supplies from the Belgian port of Antwerp in spring 1945. Photo12/UIG/Getty Images

James Rookard, a 19-year-old truck driver from Maple Heights, Ohio, saw trucks get blown up and feared for his life.

“There were dead bodies and dead horses on the highways after bombs dropped,” he said. “I was scared, but I did my job, hoping for the best. Being young and about 4,000 miles away from home, anybody would be scared.”

Patton concluded that “the 2½ truck is our most valuable weapon,” and Col. John D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander’s son, argued that without the Red Ball truck drivers, “the advance across France could not have been made.”

Fighting Nazis and racism

The Red Ball Express was a microcosm of the larger Black American experience during World War II. Prompted by the Pittsburgh Courier, an influential Black newspaper at the time, Black Americans rallied behind the Double V campaign during the war, which aimed to secure victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home.

Many soldiers saw their service as a way to demonstrate the capabilities of their race.

The Army assigned Black troops almost exclusively to service and supply roles, because military leaders believed they lacked the intelligence, courage and skill needed to fight in combat units.

Despite the racism they encountered during training and deployment, Black troops served bravely in every theater of World War II. Many saw patriotism and a willingness to fight as two characteristics by which manhood and citizenship were defined.

A Black solider stands near a sign that says Red Ball Highway.
In this Sept. 5, 1944, photograph, Cpl. Charles H. Johnson of the 783rd Military Police Battalion waves on a Red Ball Express convoy near Alenon, France. National Archives

The boundaries between combat roles and service roles also blurred in war zones. Black truck drivers often had to fight their way through enemy pockets and sometimes required armored escorts to get valuable cargo to the front.

Many of the white American soldiers who relied on supplies delivered by the Red Ball Express recognized the drivers’ valor at the time.

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An armored division commander credited the Red Ball drivers with allowing tankers to refuel and rearm while fighting. The Black drivers “delivered gas under constant fire,” he said. “Damned if I’d want their job. They have what it takes.”

A 5th Armored Division tank driver said, “If it wasn’t for the Red Ball we couldn’t have moved. They all were Black drivers and they delivered in the heat of combat. We’d be in our tanks praying for them to come up.”

Logistics in Ukraine

Days into the war, Ukraine’s armed forces destroyed all railway links between Ukraine and Russia to thwart the transport of Russian military equipment and tanks.

Relying on trucks and road networks, Russian convoys encountered fuel shortages and counterattacks from Ukrainian military and civilians.

Dozens of trucks with Russian military supplies are seen on a highway.
A convoy of Russian military vehicles moves toward the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on Feb. 23, 2022. Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Russian military’s ability to move supplies across extended distances – as well as Ukraine’s ability to disrupt those supply lines – is pivotal in determining the future direction of the war.The Conversation

Matthew Delmont, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History, Dartmouth College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Faithful Service: An Interview with Stacey Abrams

Faithful Service: An Interview with Stacey Abrams

We were honored to interview Stacey Abrams a woman who is making history daily. Stacey Abrams was the first African American major party nominee for Governor in Georgia, running again in 2022, is one of the most prominent advocates for voting rights in the nation, and is former Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Stacey Abrams is a graduate of Spelman College and has been involved in public service for decades. What many may not know is that Ms. Abrams is the daughter of two ministers and her faith informs who she is and how she serves daily. UrbanFaith sat down for this exclusive interview to talk about faith, family, public service, voting rights, and Ms. Abrams historic run for governor. Full interview is above!

 

#staceyabrams #fairifight #georgia #abrams #voting #faith #umc #methodist #family #spelman

The significance of a meal

The significance of a meal

Scripture Reference

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”

18 “As you go into the city,” he told them, “you will see a certain man. Tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My time has come, and I will eat the Passover meal with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus told them and prepared the Passover meal there.

20 When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table[a] with the Twelve. 21 While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”

22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?”

23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?”

And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”

26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant[b] between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

30 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Out of all the scenarios that Jesus chose to culminate final moments with His disciples, the last supper was one of His top picks. He had communed with them before, and they had shared meals together, but this was different.

Jesus was aware there was a great trial that was ahead of Him, that would be triggered by one of the disciples He had poured into all along. I can imagine the crushing feelings and thoughts that were going through His mind, as He shared with the disciples the truth of what He had always known, it would be one of His own who would betray Him.

There is a posture that Jesus models to us: how to deal with betrayal in the works. A lot of times, solutions are provided after betrayal happens, wisdom is shared after the fact, but what do you do when you come into the knowledge of a betrayal in the works?

 

  1. Maintain your cool

Jesus was not erratic or irrational. The bible states in verse 21: “And while they were eating, He said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me”. His calmness to the situation reveals the posture that He had regarding what was going on. He was not afraid, everything was under control, He was keenly aware of that, and nothing was going to pull Him out of character.

 

  1. Maintain the main perspective

Jesus understood this was necessary for the fulfillment of destiny and prophecy. He was not weak. He understood the betrayal was part of the process. This reveals His maturity and focus on what was important, the cross. Fulfilling the will of His father was priority to Him, and nothing was going to stop that. Everything was working together to bring the prophecy to pass

 

  1. Maintain your integrity

Jesus understood, the disciples would come to the realization of the full context of what He meant during this Supper after His crucifixion. He was careful to maintain the integrity of Judas and not expose him to the disciples, because that could have meant harsh retaliation from them. He wanted the disciples to remember how to handle their enemies, and how to deal with delicate situations like this in a manner that was Christ-like.

 

There will be moments in your life when you will discern or become aware of betrayals that are in the works against you. It may be painful. For a moment, you may desire to come out of character to prove a point. My prayer for you is that you will remember that you have a Savior who understands the pain of betrayal because He overcame it. In that moment, may you find refuge in His love and guidance, to help you navigate through the emotional turmoil you may have, and ensure you make the right choices that will avoid regret in the years to come.

Prayer

Dear Father,

Many times I have held on to the pain of betrayal thinking that no one understood the pain I was in. I am glad to know you understand and you empathize with me. You were betrayed by one of your own disciples, but you proactively forgave him and never allowed the betrayal to become a hindrance to your destiny and purpose.

 

Teach me and help me to overcome betrayals that have occurred in my life, and give me the courage to learn from them and become better as I grow to be more like you. Surround me with the right people who will provide me with sound wisdom and help me to make decisions that will not compromise my faith walk. I believe you will guide me through the hard and tumultuous moments of my life with grace and strength.

 

In Jesus Name,

 

Amen

A Constant reminder of His goodness

A Constant reminder of His goodness

Scripture Reference

 

Deuteronomy 8:1-11 NLT

1“Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. 5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.

6 “So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. 8 It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. 9 It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. 10 When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

11 “But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today.

As human beings, there is a fragility that we carry within our existence that makes us forget easily. We tend to focus on what is next, and desire to move on to the next big thing. This human nature may cause us to miss important moments in our lives, when God shows Himself strong and mighty.

It is the desire of God to see us prosperous. God wants us to multiply and grow in the blessings He has bestowed upon us as we willingly obeying Him. The Lord continues to reveal Himself to us through everything we do or experience.

Remove the notion or mentality that God desires to see you suffering or going around and around in cycles. He is not rejoicing over your bondage and hardship, but has provided a way of escape through His word and by the willful power of your obedience.

Your mind can begin to play tricks and games on you, to make you think that you are so minute in the presence of God, and your destiny is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. That is not true. The Lord desires His provision, blessings and sustenance to outlive you, and touch the next generations.

Simply said, it is a compliment to God when you are living your best life. That is what He desires for you. Remind yourself today, you are blessed, things are working out for your good, and obeying God wholeheartedly is a heritage that will yield more profits to you than losses.

Prayer

Dear Father,

I would like to take this time to thank you, for the blessings you have bestowed upon my life over the years. Sometimes I lose focus and wallow in self-pity because I am constantly reviewing what I do not have, or criticizing myself for what I have not yet done. I receive the reminder that I have the power to change my life, by the power of obedience, free will, trusting, and believing your word.

I desire to have a legacy that testifies to your faithfulness in my life. Let me desire the blessed life, and be willing and obedient to follow the pathway of righteousness. This is my heart’s desire, beginning today.

In Jesus Name,

 

Amen

Why the future of the world’s largest religion is female – and African

Why the future of the world’s largest religion is female – and African

Nigerian women greet each other at St. Charles Catholic Church in Ngurore, Nigeria, on Feb. 17, 2019. AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
Gina Zurlo, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

At the start of 2019, Bill and Melinda Gates released a list of facts that had surprised them the previous year. Number four on their list: “Data can be sexist.”

“There are huge gaps in the global data about women and girls,” they explained.

My interest was piqued – not only as a demographer, but as a woman and mother of girls.

I research women in global Christianity and am frequently asked what percentage of the religion is female. The short answer is 52%. But the long answer is more complicated – women make up a much more substantial part of Christianity than that number makes it seem.

The goal of my research is to put the spotlight on Christian women’s contributions to church and society and fill in gaps in our data. Headlines about religion may be focused on the words and actions of Western male leaders, but the reality of the worldwide church is quite different. More and more Christians live outside Europe and North America, especially in Africa – and women are central to that story.

Measuring faith

Social scientists have shown for decades that women are more religious than men by a variety of measures – everything from frequency of private prayer to worship service attendance. Christianity, the world’s largest religion, is no exception. Data from the Pew Research Center show that, compared to Christian men, Christian women are more likely to attend weekly church services (53% versus 46%), pray daily (61% versus 51%), and say religion is important in their lives (68% versus 61%).

It’s not a new trend. In the Gospels, women were the last at the foot of Jesus’s cross, the first at his tomb. Research has shown they were critical to the growth of the early church, being more likely to convert to Christianity than men, and most of the early Christian communities were majority female. Throughout history, women were exemplars of the faith as mystics and martyrs, royal women converting their husbands and supporting convents, and founders of denominations and churches that are now all over the world. Women make up the majority of Christians today.

What researchers don’t have is comprehensive data on women’s activities in churches, their influence, their leadership or their service. Nor are there comprehensive analyses of Christians’ attitudes around the world about women’s and men’s roles in churches.

“Women, according to an old saying in the Black church, are the backbone of the church,” notes religion and gender scholar Ann Braude. “The double meaning of this saying is that while the churches would collapse without women, their place is in the background,” behind male leaders.

But there’s not much actual data, and without good data, it’s harder to make good decisions.

Two women wearing head coverings pray inside a church.
Christian women pray during a Christmas Mass in Our Lady of Fatima Church in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2021. AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

At the center of the story

My current research is illustrating that women are the majority of the church nearly everywhere in the world, and that its future is poised to be shaped by African women, in particular.

Christianity continues its demographic shift to the global south. In 1900, 18% of the world’s Christians lived in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania, according to my research. Today that figure is 67%, and by 2050, it is projected to be 77%. Africa is home to 27% of the world’s Christians, the largest share in the world, and by 2050, that figure will likely be 39%. For comparison, the United States and Canada were home to just 11% of all Christians in the world in 2020 and will likely drop to 8% by 2050. Furthermore, the median age of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa is just 19.

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One of the most common refrains about the church in Africa is that it is majority female. “The church in Africa has a feminine face and owes much of its tremendous growth to the agency of women,” writes Kenyan theologian Philomena Mwaura.

Or as a Nigerian Anglican bishop recently told me, “If anyone tells you a church in Nigeria is majority male, he’s lying.”

It’s clear that women have been a crucial part of Christianity’s seismic shift south. For example, consider Catholic sisters, who outnumber priests and religious brothers in Africa – and on every continent, in fact. Mothers’ Union, an Anglican nonprofit that aims to support marriages and families, has 30 branches in Africa, including at least 60,000 members in Nigeria alone. In Congo, women have advocated for peacebuilding, including through groups like the National Federation of Protestant Women. Next door, in the Republic of the Congo, Catholic sisters were at the forefront of providing shelter, education and aid in postwar recovery efforts.

Yet here, too, more precise data about African women’s contributions and religious identities is lacking. And beyond quantitative data, African women’s narratives have often been ignored, to the detriment of public understanding. As African theologians Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Rachel Angogo Kanyoro have stated, “African women theologians have come to realize that as long as men and foreign researchers remain the authorities on culture, rituals, and religion, African women will continue to be spoken of as if they were dead.”

Far from dead, African women live at the center of the story – and will continue to do so as healers, evangelists, mothers and the heartbeat of their churches.

The Conversation

Gina Zurlo, Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Whose vote counts? Whose doesn’t?

Whose vote counts? Whose doesn’t?

(RNS) — Millions of Texas voters headed to the polls earlier this month in the state’s primary elections — but the democratic system they participated in is markedly different from the recent past.

After last year’s enactment of sweeping voting restrictions by the Texas Statehouse, the primaries served as a first chance to see how damaging these laws would truly be. It’s too soon to get the full picture, but early signs are ominous: Roughly 30% of absentee ballots cast were rejected by election officials, a massive increase from the 2020 general election when fewer than 1% of ballots met the same fate.

Regrettably, this is likely a mere preview of what’s to come for millions of voters across the nation. In 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. This includes limiting mail balloting, purging voter rolls and reducing poll hours on Election Day. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access were introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions and more are certain to come.

This isn’t just about who will or will not be able to vote in elections. When combined with the toxic partisanship that is dividing our country — and the fact that large portions of our population and numerous elected leaders still cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election — an undeniable truth emerges: Our democracy is in deep peril.

As the first registered religious lobbying organization in the United States, we at the Friends Committee on National Legislation believe civic engagement of all people is vital to the democratic life of our country. This begins with the fundamental right to vote. Quakers and other people of faith understand that voting is not just a basic civic right but a moral requirement. At the center of our faith is the unwavering belief in and commitment to the equality and dignity of every human being. Safeguarding the integrity of the voting process for all people and removing, not raising, barriers to the full participation of disenfranchised people in our electoral process is vital to our democracy and our integrity as a nation.

What happened in Texas and in other states violates our democratic principles and our moral conscience. We know voters of color are most directly impacted by efforts to suppress their voice, both historically and today. These communities are also leading the voting rights movement, often at great personal risk. This is only the latest chapter in a long struggle against disenfranchisement of Black and brown communities in the United States. Our faith calls us to help uproot racism and discrimination wherever it exists, including at the ballot box, and to help transform our nation into the beloved community we envision.

This call to protect elections as the bedrock of democracy is not new. Earlier this year, in anticipation of Martin Luther King Day, advocates launched a large scale effort to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. This bill would revitalize American democracy by making elections more accessible, secure and transparent, and by ensuring that states do not pass discriminatory laws that restrict access to the ballot box. The effort failed due to a filibuster but has not been abandoned.

Even as Congress rightly focuses on the crisis in Ukraine and the president’s economic agenda, voting rights must remain a top priority for the nation. Currently, efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887 have real momentum in Congress, with a bipartisan group of senators working to find common ground.

This alone will not end all voter suppression, but it could be a successful vehicle for additional necessary reforms, including amendments to prevent state legislatures from overturning election results, making Election Day a holiday, supporting small-donor financing, instituting gerrymandering reforms or making absentee/vote-by-mail easier.

And despite the failed vote, senators should keep pushing for the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. History has taught us the advancement of voting rights has never come quickly or easily — and raising the moral conscience of our nation on these issues is an important role of the faith community.

Quakers believe our democracy can live up to its potential only if the government safeguards the integrity of the voting process and ensures full participation for all people. The push for voting rights is a moral imperative and requires the urgent passage of nationwide voting rights legislation. Advocates and people of faith won’t rest until real action is taken. The Senate shouldn’t either.

(Bridget Moix is the fifth general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation in its 80-year history. She brings with her more than 25 years of work in peacebuilding. Moix also leads two other Quaker organizations: Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

Will you recognize Him when you see Him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this time it felt different.

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

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

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

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

“There he is!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legendary Woman: An Interview with Michelle McClain Walters

Legendary Woman: An Interview with Michelle McClain Walters

As more women than ever continue to move into positions of leadership and all women seek their purposes it is important to have role models from Scripture to help inspire and encourage us. Michelle McClain Walters has identified not only role models, but Biblical principles that can be learned from their stories to help women and men discover and walk in God’s calling for their lives. UrbanFaith sat down with Michelle to talk about her new book Legendary Woman: Partnering with God to Become the Heroine of Your Own Story, which captures the wisdom and encouragement we need for this moment. The full interview is linked above and more about the book is below.

In today’s times of women go-getters, entrepreneurs and bosses, Michelle McClain Walters uses her faith and God’s promises to motivate women to their calling! The book highlights the legendary women who aren’t just those in traditional powerhouse positions in business, finance or politics, but also the everyday women — the single mom, the prayer leader, the stay-at-home wife— who choose to say yes to God, are also indeed, legendary. She also shares the twelve characteristics of a legendary woman,and challenges women to identify their defining moments—those moments when your destiny intersects with an epic need within your family, community, nation, or your world—and be willing to say yes to the legendary role God has uniquely fashioned for them. 

Marcus Garvey’s Dark Mirror

Marcus Garvey’s Dark Mirror

Marcus Garvey’s Dark Mirror

In NPR’s February 17th episode of Throughline, Marcus Garvey takes center stage as an enigmatic, underrated, revolutionary figure on a mad quest to reconnect former American slaves to their motherland via the Black Star Line. Marcus Garvey is not a widely discussed figure for a few reasons, chiefly the fact that he is a revolutionary. He possessed a vision on Blackness that transcended culture and context, a nation of people bound impregnably by race alone. However, this grand ideal for the freed children of the African Diaspora would never come to fruition, much like the fated black star line. 

There is a great metaphor in the Black Star Line, it encapsulates everything about Garveyism. As mentioned in the podcast, it would eventually be Garvey’s ruin when it proved to be much less profitable than expected, causing Garvey to begin selling bad stock in a bankrupt company. However, the Black Star Line persists in the cultural imagination, through television shows and in literature. There is something common in the motivations that built the Black Star Line, in the dream the line came to represent. However, our lives as Black people have only grown increasingly complex since Garvey’s death in 1940. Even the dream of sailing back to Africa seems to have lost its allure through the maelstrom of time. And yet, Garvey and his ideas seem undying, like embers on dry grass that refuse to dim. Instead, they splinter off into wild emanations like Pan-Africanism and Rastafarianism. In this way, Garveyism still affects our lives especially within the Black church. In some sense, Garvey’s view of the Black church became realized decades later during the civil rights movement. One the other hand, his worldview would birth forth Rastafarianism, a derivative distillation of his beliefs. Like two sides of the same coin, these two forces fight for Garvey’s legacy and so too are we placed between them as people affected by these very ideas. By finding our place within this conflict, we are able to live more nuanced, more freelives by choosing what ideas we allow to influence our decision on a daily basis. But in order to develop in this area, we first need to understand what Garveyism is and how it differs from its Rastafarian cousin. 

The following quote is from an article written 1962 edition of the Journal of Negro Education by John L. Graves. He quotes Garvey as saying, “ If the white man has the idea of a white God, let him worship his God as he desires. Since the white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out to see our God through our own spectacles[…] we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.”  

In a sense, this sentence tells you everything one needs to know about Marcus Garvey’s relationship with Christianity. The tenants, cultural additions, and governing philosophy of a religious belief is not so important as the Black authenticity expressed throughout said belief. This authenticity is not expressly depicted through art or skin color but specifically nationalism. Garvey presents Ethiopia as the heart of Black culture, an imagined ancestral motherland whose culture presents some sort of refuge for the vision of a unified black identity. This view of religion is quite utilitarian. It removes the supernatural element of belief from religion and places the culture and ambition of men above the will of God. While this might seem like a bold claim, it is actually pretty common. For instance, the rise of the Anglican church only occurred due to the fact that King George the 3rd wanted to divorce his wives so he created a national religion with himself at the head. To a degree, origins of African-American churches during enslavement had similar roots. For some slavemasters, allowing slaves to practice Christianity became simply another method of control. There were slave bibles specifically edited to remove any part concerning fair treatment and release of slaves. Even Mormonism coincided with the rising national pride of a newly independent America and the buzzing fervor of manifest destiny. In all of these cases, the man-made objective that causes the schism (in these scenarios) became central to the movement for the remainder of its existence. For the Anglican Church, a national church would give rise to a new sense of national identity during an age where such ideas were novel. For Slave Churches, obedience and patience in the face of oppression became the objective. In the heights of the Civil Rights era, Martin Luther King Jr. took these same tenants and used them against those same oppressive forces through peaceful resistance. Even the Mormons today are one of the fastest growing religions both at home and abroad due in part to their potent evangelicalism and motivating sense of divinity. When viewed through this context, it is no wonder that Garvey’s ethnocentric view or religion would spawn a belief system for the diaspora, by the diaspora. However, before I begin to describe how Rastafarianism and Garveyism intersect, there are a few more ideas Garvey espoused that are important to understand. 

For Marcus Garvey, assimilation was never an option. In my own words, Garveyism is an attempt to create a western system of culture for the African Diaspora. However, instead of creating a wholly organic culture, a lot of Garvey’s ideas are copied directly from the governing political ideologies of the time. A good example of this is racism in and of itself. Garvey firmly believed in the separation of the races, hence why the Black Star Line became such an important part of his life. He was so committed to this idea that he would go on to give several speeches at KKK rallies extolling the virtues of Jim Crow. For Garvey, the oppression of his life was not so much that racism existed. This, to him, was the natural order. Instead, the real oppression was that Africa and the people from there were shattered and divided in a world that was becoming increasingly connected and organized along racial lines.

In this sense, he was a Black nationalist. He believed that people could be categorized along racial lines and that these groups deserved autonomy. Garvey sought to center the Black world around Ethiopia, one of the oldest centralized states on the African continent. He hoped to foster a national sense of unity across the entire African Diaspora in order to resist the colonial powers threatening Black people at home and abroad. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a Black supremacist, in a way, he had a keen sense of equality. He believed that given a fair hand, people will work to increase their own quality of life and legacy. This idea of self-determination is common today, however, we tend to apply it on an individual basis. To Garvey, personal advancement is the responsibility of the race as a whole and only when the races are unified will there be social harmony. In the March 1st, 2003 edition of the Journal of Black Studies, Otis B. Grant quotes Garvey as saying,

 “African Americans should stop making[…] noise about social equality, giving the White people the idea that we are hankering after their company, and get down to business and build up a strong race, industrially, commercially, educationally and politically, everything social will come afterwards.”

To me, this is an excellent encapsulation of Garvey’s beliefs. Garveyism’s goal is racial unity, but the means of reaching that point seems to be copying the popular institutions of one’s society and creating replicas exclusively for the profit and benefit of your own race. While publicly, Garvey might have downplayed his relationship to the church, he was very interested in continuing his Garveyite project within the Black Christian community. In 1921, he attended the foundational ceremony of the African Orthodox Church in Chicago. I find this very interesting because instead of trying to revive traditional African belief systems, Garvey endorsed a specifically Christian, ethnic worldview for his ideal vision of society. This process of replication then assimilation of western ideas is the heart of Garveyism. Instead of trying to find something authentic and new from the black perspective, he sought to create a mirror of the world around him. Viewed in this way, the fate of the Black Star Line and the rise of Rastafarianism seem soaked in bitter irony. 

  There was a lot of hype around the Black Star Line from both its proponents and its detractors. For Black people, it represented something of their own. However, by this time in his career, Garvey was a bit of a social pariah for giving a series of speeches at KKK meetings. Today, we would just say he was canceled. He ended up getting cheated out of ships of good quality and then was forced to hire an incompetent crew for those ships. In order to keep his operation running, he essentially committed mail fraud and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in 1925. The reason that I find this so ironic is because this venture inflamed every contradiction within his ideology. In a world where races must compete as unified blocks, when one race controls a majority of the resources in an area, they are not inclined to extend those resources fairly across racial lines. So instead of getting the quality ship that you pay for, you get cheated and nobody cares and then they throw you in jail. Had there been more racial equity between Garvey and his business associates, perhaps they would have been inclined to see him as a human being and not as someone unworthy of the decency of fair trade. 

Matthew 6:24 says plainly that man cannot serve two masters. To me, Garvey’s vision of Christianity attempts to do just this. By using Christianity as the catalyst for Pam-African, nationalist sentiment, Garvey positions Ethiopia as the new chosen land for Black people. Salvation, then, becomes less an exercise in humanity but a right of birth and race. Much like the Black Star Line that came before, Garvey’s vision for Christianity would ultimately collapse and give rise to something much more potent and sincere. In a follow up piece, we will discuss Marcus Garvey, his view of Christianity, and his relationship with Rastafarianism. 

Small oil producers like Ghana, Guyana and Suriname could gain as buyers shun Russian crude

Small oil producers like Ghana, Guyana and Suriname could gain as buyers shun Russian crude

A woman sells drinks on a street in Georgetown in Guyana, one of South America’s poorest countries, March 1, 2020. Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images
Jennapher Lunde Seefeldt, Augustana University

As the U.S. and Europe cut back purchases of Russian oil, and energy traders shun it for fear of sanctions, the search is on for other sources. Attention has focused on Iran and Venezuela, both of which are led by governments that the U.S. sought until recently to isolate. But emerging and less-developed producers could also play roles.

Among the world’s many oil-producing countries, a few are positioned to jump the list and become increasingly active. They include the West African nation of Ghana (No. 33), along with Guyana (No. 42) and Suriname (No. 69), two small adjoining countries on the north Atlantic coast of South America. All three nations have become oil producers within the past 12 years, working with large companies like ExxonMobil, Tullow Ltd, Chevron, Apache, Total and Royal Dutch Shell.

I study factors that influence levels of democracy and social justice within nations, especially as they relate to natural resources and economic structures. As I see it, these newer producers are in a unique position compared to other oil-exporting nations, such as Nigeria and Ecuador.

In too many cases, developing nations opening their economies to oil production have been expected to accept the terms companies demand, with little room for negotiation and continued exploitation of host communities. In contrast, Guyana, Suriname and Ghana are better situated to obtain favorable terms.

Social scientists coined the term “resource curse” to describe countries that are rich in natural resources such as oil, but have poor economic growth or development. One challenge for these nations is negotiating equitable deals with foreign investors.

Striking better deals

As world markets grapple with the current oil price shock, niche producers are in especially favorable positions to secure advantageous contracts and more favorable terms from international energy companies. For example, oil companies typically pay host countries royalties on their revenues that average about 16%. To date, Guyana and Suriname have accepted fees of less than 6.5% in an effort to attract investors. Under current conditions, they may be able to ask for more during new contract negotiations.

Oil production started in Guyana in late 2019, and currently the country produces over 340,000 barrels per day. Guyana learned from its first block contract with ExxonMobil to demand more “local content” – a key condition in oil negotiations that refers to hiring local workers and using locally made goods and equipment. Natural resources minister Vickram Bharrat has called that agreement, made by a previous administration, “one of the worst ever between a government and an oil company,” and Guyanese officials say they will seek more-favorable terms in future agreements.

Suriname’s new offshore oil discoveries offer potential. Small operations are currently producing about 20,000 barrels per day, and major projects are expected to start by 2025.

Suriname is demanding increased insurance from oil companies in the event of an oil spill, along with prepared emergency cleanup procedures. These processes are continually reviewed and criticized, keeping companies on their toes.

Ghana started oil development in 2007 and now produces about 163,000 barrels per day. However, ExxonMobil pulled out of the country in 2021, reportedly to focus on higher-value projects elsewhere, and depressed demand during the COVID-19 pandemic cut into Ghana’s oil exports.

Men on an offshore oil platform in coveralls and helmets, smiling
Ghanaian President John Atta Mills turns a valve to symbolically open oil production in the Jubilee field off Ghana’s west coast, Dec. 15, 2010. Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images)

Now, Ghana’s national oil company, Ghana National Petroleum Corp., is taking a larger role, buying shares in oil fields from companies like Occidental Petroleum. Greater state involvement is raising uncertainty about how much access Ghana will offer to foreign oil companies. Some, including Tullow Oil and Aker Energy, are producing there now, but Tullow’s shares have plummeted in recent years, and there has been speculation that it may leave Ghana.

Managing oil income

Nations and states that produce oil or other natural resources often put their royalties into sovereign wealth funds instead of simply adding them to general treasury funds. A sovereign wealth fund is essentially a rainy day pot that the government can use in times of economic stress to continue funding major priorities, such as infrastructure projects and social programs.

Some of these funds, notably in Norway and Alaska, have produced significant benefits for residents. However, some experts argue that they aren’t necessarily well suited for developing nations.

According to this view, the success of these funds depends on many hard-to-control variables, such as whether the country has a diversified economy, its level of corruption and global events like commodity price collapses. And managing the funds requires significant technical skills.

Ghana created an Oil Heritage Fund in 2011, and Guyana and Suriname are in the process of doing so. All three may need assistance to manage these funds effectively and maximize benefits for their citizens.

Transparency and peer support

Recognizing that it can be challenging for developing countries to negotiate with major corporate investors, a number of nongovernmental organizations have become active in this sector. One that’s particularly relevant to oil production is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which seeks to publicize information about extraction practices, contracts, taxing and spending processes, and more. This benefits the public by tracking where revenue goes and promoting accountability.

The New Producers Group works to help countries manage resources effectively through peer-to-peer relationships and knowledge exchange. Emerging producers can learn from other nations’ experiences and collaborate with other governments on issues that affect them all. For example, the organization has held several events recently, analyzing what the global transition away from fossil fuels means for emerging oil producers, and how these countries can manage the transition while working to end poverty.

As members of both organizations, Ghana, Guyana and Suriname have access to tools that many early producers did not. All three countries have participated in multilateral meetings and exchanges with peers and shared information with local citizens.

Keeping the public informed helps to hold government officials and corporations accountable and promotes public involvement. Citizens and civil society watchdogs criticized ExxonMobil’s first contract in Guyana for not including citizen feedback and being created behind closed doors.

Public involvement and transparency also reduce the potential for corruption, a common problem in resource-rich nations. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in nations worldwide. On a scale with 100 as the worst score, Guyana and Suriname scored 39 and Ghana scored 43, so all three states have significant room for improvement.

As the world slowly transitions away from fossil fuels, emerging producers are acutely aware of the need to seize the moment for development’s sake, but also seek to meet climate change pledges. Guyana and Suriname may have an asset in the fight against climate change: dense forests that can absorb large quantities of carbon, helping to offset emissions.

[Over 150,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.]

Guyana has unveiled a Low Carbon Development Strategy for 2030 and has partnered with Norway to generate carbon credits for protecting its forests. I see partnerships like these as ways to advance environmental goals alongside the social and economic development that these nations desperately need.The Conversation

Jennapher Lunde Seefeldt, Assistant Professor of Government and International Affairs, Augustana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Making religious sense of climate change on small islands

Making religious sense of climate change on small islands

(RNS) — The middle of a war that is grabbing the world’s attention may not be the best time to reflect on climate change. But the latest report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that one crisis is not taking a pause while we settle another.

The news from this sixth IPCC assessment, unsurprisingly, is not good.

As The New York Times summarized it, “The dangers of climate change are mounting so rapidly that they could soon overwhelm the ability of both nature and humanity to adapt, creating a harrowing future in which floods, fires and famine displace millions, species disappear and the planet is irreversibly damaged.”

Nowhere does the future appear more harrowing than for the inhabitants of small islands, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, whom rising seas threaten to literally wipe off the map. But as imminent as the physical danger is, how the inhabitants reckon with what they are facing is often at odds with the scientific understanding.

In a chapter on small islands, the IPCC report to its credit recognizes that “material and non-material symbols that express collective meaning” are “often overlooked in adaptation policies and plans.”

As it happens, many of these communities are composed largely of Bible-believing Christians, and what they believe matters because “(e)xternally-driven adaptation efforts in rural small-island communities that exclude community priorities, ignore or undervalue IKLK (indigenous knowledge and local knowledge), and are based on secular western/global worldviews, are often less successful.”

In other words, it is important to know where the affected communities are coming from — not least, religiously.

Take the outer Fijian island of Ono. When Amanda Bertana, a sociologist at Southern Connecticut State University, went there to study relocation plans, she found a devout Christian population that believes that rising sea levels are the result of God’s disapproval of their immoral behavior and, at the same time, that they won’t be flooded into oblivion.

Why not? Because in the ninth chapter of the Bible’s Book of Genesis, God promises Noah after the waters recede, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of the flood.”

For Bertana, this rejection of the secular narrative of coastal degradation is “a form of emotional self-preservation” — one, to be sure, that undermines efforts to get them safely relocated. This comforting promise not to flood the Earth again has been widely embraced among sea-level-threatened islanders.

But University of Oxford geographer Hannah Fair, also working in the South Pacific, has found alternative climate-related interpretations of the Noah story.

Some Fijians see in Noah a model for disaster preparation. Others, in a less orthodox interpretation, regard Noah as a villain who used his wealth for self-protection and those who drowned as victims.

Meanwhile, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, University of Texas anthropologist Brent Crosson found that the Afro-Christian denomination of Spiritual Baptists has adopted a biblical understanding of environmental destruction based on a (mis-)reading of Psalm 24.

That psalm begins, in the King James Version, “The Earth is the Lord’s.” But since the English creole spoken in Trinidad does not employ the possessive apostrophe-s, the Spiritual Baptists say, “The Earth is the Lord.”

This has led them to see the Earth as God’s body, suffering harm from human activity. That includes the activity of oil companies, which despite providing Trinidad with significant wealth nevertheless are considered vampires consuming the planet’s lifeblood.

Writing in a forthcoming collection of essays, “Climate Politics and the Power of Religion,” Crosson sees in this interpretation of Scripture an “ethics of injury” that “forms the basis not only for empathy but for new legal regimes that, despite many challenges in implementation, define the Earth as a person with rights.”

Those who track religion and climate change tend to divide the world into Pope Francis-type progressives and white evangelical deniers. But there are more environmental theologies in heaven and earth, dear reader, than are dreamt of in their philosophies.

(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Celebrating God’s answers

Celebrating God’s answers

Scripture Reference

The Temple’s Dedication

13 Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River, and Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues complied at once with the command of King Darius. 14 So the Jewish elders continued their work, and they were greatly encouraged by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel and decreed by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia. 15 The Temple was completed on March 12, during the sixth year of King Darius’s reign.

16 The Temple of God was then dedicated with great joy by the people of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the people who had returned from exile. 17 During the dedication ceremony for the Temple of God, 100 young bulls, 200 rams, and 400 male lambs were sacrificed. And 12 male goats were presented as a sin offering for the twelve tribes of Israel. 18 Then the priests and Levites were divided into their various divisions to serve at the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as prescribed in the Book of Moses.

Celebration of Passover

19 On April 21 the returned exiles celebrated Passover. 20 The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were ceremonially clean. So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. 21 The Passover meal was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile and by the others in the land who had turned from their corrupt practices to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. 22 Then they celebrated the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days. There was great joy throughout the land because the Lord had caused the king of Assyria to be favorable to them, so that he helped them to rebuild the Temple of God, the God of Israel.

There is a relief and a comfort that comes from the completion of a thing. When you pray and ask God to do something for you, or you step out in faith and begin a project or a task, there is a blessing when you see the completion and the success of it.

It gives you hope, courage, and strength to keep pushing especially during the times when you are waiting on God. It gives you strength in the seasons which require patience, endurance, and long suffering.

 

  1. Remember, God’s will for your life is continuous. He is always working on something within you to make you better. Look within yourself frequently to see what areas God is desiring to mature and grow you as you wait for the manifestation of prayers you have prayed.

 

  1. Everything God does that manifests as answered prayer, will bring glory to Him. You will always feel drawn to God to appreciate and honor Him.

 

  1. God desires to bless you and answer your prayers. He delights in fulfilling and meeting your needs. It is the will of the enemy to make you think that God desires your continuous suffering. Trust His love for you and believe that He is working it out for your good.

 

In Ezra 6:15, there was a date that the temple was completed. A specific month. We serve a God of specifics. He has scheduled the completion date of every test and trial that you are dealing with today.

Believe again, that very soon, you will be celebrating His goodness, faithfulness, and love towards you. You will rejoice because you will see the completion of a thing, and the power of God’s provision to see it through.

Prayer

Dear God,

There are moments in my life where I have felt a strong sense of loneliness, because I thought you forgot about me. I wondered if you would ever come through for me and bring me victory. Today I believe there is an expiration date to my trial. My answer is scheduled and very soon, by the power of perfect timing and your divine provision, I will see the completion of the promises you have shared with me.

Help me to count the many blessings I have experienced so far. Teach me not to compare myself with others. Let me steward my time, treasure, and talents with great diligence and grace as I expect the breakthrough of answered prayer. I believe this by faith, and encourage my heart to trust you again.

 

In Jesus Name

Amen

Andrew Young, at 90, views his civic, political roles ‘as a pastorate’

Andrew Young, at 90, views his civic, political roles ‘as a pastorate’

(RNS) — Andrew Young, a former civil rights leader, Georgia congressman and United Nations ambassador, doesn’t use “the Rev.” before his name much.

But the man who directed Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s said every stage of his adult life has been a form of ministry.

“I have viewed everything I’ve done as a pastorate,” Young, a onetime small-church pastor, said in a Wednesday (March 2) interview. “I really thought of Congress as my 500-member church.”

Likewise, he recalled making “pastoral calls” and praying with ambassadors representing some of the 150 countries that were then U.N. members.

“My model for almost every job I’ve had has been the model of a pastor servicing a congregation,” Young said. “As the mayor of Atlanta, I just had a million-member church.”

Born into, raised in and ordained by the Congregational Church — now known as the United Church of Christ — he has been a member of Atlanta’s First Congregational Church, a predominantly Black house of worship, since 1961. As he prepares to turn 90 on March 12, he continues to preach there on the third Sunday of each month.

Young is marking his birthday with a four-day celebration from March 9–12, starting with a livestreamed “Global Prayer for Peace” worship service at the Atlanta church, followed by a peace walk, debut of the book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young” and a sold-out gala.

The graduate of what was then called Hartford Theological Seminary spoke to Religion News Service about voting rights battles then and now, religious aspects of the civil rights movement and his memories of working with King.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You intend to preach on peace and reconciliation to mark your 90th birthday. Has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed your planned message?

No, it hasn’t. Russia’s invasion has made my message even more central to the problems we’re having around the world. And Russia’s invasion is tragic and it’s even more tragic because it’s televised. But there are similar situations in many, many countries — in Latin America, Africa and other parts of Europe. And in these United States, we’re having a battle to protect the right to vote here in 2022.

You originally had plans to pursue dental school instead of seminary. What made you change your mind and do you ever regret the route you ended up taking?

My father chose dentistry. I never chose dentistry. Even as a 12-year-old, though I might have been working in a dental laboratory that my father wanted me to learn the business, I knew I didn’t want to do anything that confined me to an office. I’ve always been too full of energy and too rambunctious to stay in one place.

Even though you ended up doing ministry of different sorts, you also didn’t stay in one pulpit as some people pursuing ministry do.

We likened the ministry of the civil rights movement to the ministry of Paul and the apostles. Martin had one church. Most of us were ordained. But we pastored communities, cities, and we saw ourselves as pastors to the nation and to the world.

You were a staffer and later president of the National Council of Churches, which has risen and declined in prominence over the years. What do you consider the state of ecumenical relations now?

We have not been able to worship in our congregation for two years now. But we have (online) services, and I usually preach every third Sunday. And I get calls from as far as Switzerland and Tanzania, California, London, where friends somehow find it.

I don’t know what state the organized church is (in). But I think people are becoming and have become more seriously spiritual than at any time in my life.

The book “The Many Lives of Andrew Young” notes that when you entered the civil rights movement, you wrote, “I’ve had about enough of ‘church work’ and am anxious to do the work of the church.” Is there something about the movement’s religious aspects that many may not know?

That it was grounded in social gospel and in biblical theology. That Martin Luther King did his doctorate in the time of people like (theologians) Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, and he carried Howard Thurman’s little book “Jesus and the Disinherited” in his briefcase all the time. And during the civil rights movement, we had worship every night.

You mentioned voting rights earlier. How do you feel about the state of voting rights, given that you helped lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as it sought improved voting rights and now all these years later, it’s still a topic of contention?

I’m shocked that we still have to struggle for the right to vote.

And I think that the changes in Georgia — they are structured now to steal the election. And the voting rights bills that were sent to, I think, some 30 states, they’re the same bill with the same level of corruption and the licensing of voter control. And we don’t have a Congress or a Supreme Court that’s willing to stand up now.

There’s a lot of photos in the new coffee table book about you. Are there any that relate to your religious life, your ministry, that mean the most to you?

Well, actually the one that shows me getting beat up in St. Augustine. That was probably the biggest test of my faith because I ended up leading about 50 people, mostly women and children, into a group of a couple hundred Klansmen who had been deputized by the sheriff to beat us up. I left them on one side of the street and I crossed over, trying to reason with the Klan. I was doing pretty good until somebody came up behind me and hit me with something, and then I didn’t remember anything.

But that was (shortly) before the Congress voted to pass the ’64 Civil Rights Act. And I got up and I went down to the next corner and tried to talk to the Klan on that corner. And fortunately there, when they swung at me, I ducked. And a great big policeman, biggest policeman I’ve ever seen — he was about six-six, six-seven — he walked up and said, ‘Let these people alone. You’re going to kill somebody.’ And he moved the Klan out of the way, and we were able to march.

That was one of the times that nonviolence was really on trial.

You are continuing to preach at First Congregational in Atlanta about every month — often at services featuring jazz music. It doesn’t sound like you’re anywhere near just putting your feet up at age 90.

No. There’s a song, old spiritual, that folks used to sing: “I keep so busy serving my Jesus, I ain’t got time to die.”

I just feel blessed. I have lived a blessed life. You can’t earn it, but I’ve tried to be faithful.

TERRAFORM: An Interview with PROPAGANDA

TERRAFORM: An Interview with PROPAGANDA

It is clear to see that brokenness pervades our world as we look at the news headlines. We encounter the same brokenness in our communities and households. But when we recognize our ability to impact the culture that surrounds us in the same way we are impacted by it. UrbanFaith sat down with artist, entrepreneur, and now author PROPAGANDA to discuss his new book Terraform: Building a Better World. Full interview is above, more information on the book is below.

In this deep, challenging, and thoughtful book, Propaganda looks at the ways in which our world is broken. Using the metaphor of terraforming—creating a livable world out of an inhospitable one—he shows how we can begin to reshape our homes, friendships, communities, and politics. In this transformative time—when we are redefining what a truly just and equitable world looks like, and reflecting on the work that needs to be done both in our spiritual and secular lives—Propaganda rallies readers to create that just world. He sheds light on how nefarious origin stories have skewed our views of ourselves and others and allowed gross injustices, and demonstrates how great storytelling and excellent art can create and shape new perspectives of the world and make all of us better.

The Freedom of Discipline: A Reflection

The Freedom of Discipline: A Reflection

You’re going to rebel once you get to college,” they said to me.

“They” were my high school friends. I was always the Goody Two-Shoes of the group and they always let me know just how weird I was and just how much they hoped I would change my ways. My friends believed that I was a Goody Two-Shoes because my mom was strict. She had very specific guidelines about with whom and where I could socialize when I was in high school. While I thought some of the rules were a little extreme, as all teenagers do, I mostly understood and always respected them.

However, it wasn’t the rules that kept me disciplined. It was me.

Well, it was actually the Holy Spirit. I just didn’t know it back then. 

While I’m grateful for my mother’s rules, and even plan to repeat many of them with my own children to ensure their safety, I wasn’t interested in being a rebellious child in the first place. I had zero interest in parties. I never desired to take a drink. Sneaking out of the house was not on my radar. I loved to study. I was completely obsessed with being in the band and on the speech team. My idea of a good time was diving into a good book and grabbing a white chocolate mocha from the local Caribou Coffee. To put it frankly, I was genuinely uninterested in what a lot of other teens were into. I never understood why kids my age were interested in certain activities and substances that would jeopardize their health and safety for a few fleeting moments of fun. It just wasn’t worth it to me.

Fast forward to college.

To be honest, I was so nervous about college for this very reason. I knew that the college atmosphere was about drinking, partying, and being as irresponsible as possible with your newfound freedom. I figured I’d struggle making friends due to my “Goody Two-Shoes” nature. Who wants to hang out with the girl who would rather read a book than go to a party?

I was right.

When many of my college peers found out that I wasn’t into going to the club on Friday night, they showed no interest in pursuing a friendship. Others befriended me, but they also tried to make it their mission to get me to engage in certain activities that I was not comfortable with. They were convinced that I was too uptight and “just needed to loosen up a bit.” Eventually, I was the one walking away from those friendships.

Thankfully, I found some friends who accepted me for who I was, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was it about me that wasn’t interested in what everyone else my age was interested in?

Let’s be real here. Your college years and your twenties are known for happy hours, going to the club, random hookups, and the like. Yet, not only was I uninterested in the typical idea of fun, it actually made me feel rather uncomfortable and I avoided it at all costs. The big question I couldn’t answer at the time was, “why?” 

When I was 16, I began slowly pursuing a relationship with Christ. I started to learn even more about Jesus as I matriculated through college. During my senior year, I completely surrendered my life to Christ. My heart was all-in and I never looked back. 

The stronger my faith grew, the more disciplined I became in my thinking and my actions. However, I didn’t make the connection at the time between my faith and my personality. I thought my personality was just one that didn’t identify with the same thought patterns and behaviors as many other people I knew.

“Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:4–7, BSB).

The beauty of a relationship with Christ is that we get to walk in freedom. I think sometimes this freedom gets taken for granted. It doesn’t always feel like a super spiritual feeling that we may have imagined it to be. We may not feel like we are floating on air, dancing in the fields with butterflies, and smiling from ear to ear on a daily basis. In fact, many of our days will be challenging, stressful, and mundane. That does not negate the fact that we are still walking in freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from the Law, freedom for our future, and freedom to walk in the fruit of the Spirit.

Walking in this freedom may look like a loss of interest in certain activities as the Holy Spirit reveals to you their sinful nature. Walking in freedom might also look like a newfound discipline in the habits you set for yourself and the goals you desire to accomplish. Perhaps this freedom looks like a care for your future that you didn’t have before. Prior to Jesus, you were living day by day, taking life as it came, without much of a plan for tomorrow. Now, you look forward to the future and align your daily actions with that hope.

I was baptized when I was 16. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, but my 16-year-old brain didn’t understand the vastness of the freedom that I was walking in. All I knew was that my thought process and desires were much different than those of my peers. I couldn’t explain why, but I was confident in my choices. While others described my discipline to be restrictive, I found my discipline to be the most freeing thing ever, and I still do. The choices I made 10 years ago have resulted in abundant fruit as I enter middle adulthood. By following Christ, I am not a slave to the consequences of poor choices I could have made when I was younger. Seeing the fruits of my labor motivates me to continue with a more disciplined lifestyle now because I know that I will continue to bear fruit as I get older.

I’m now a 30-something year-old married mama of two little girls and the need for discipline is even more prevalent today than it was 10 years ago, but for different reasons. It’s easy to feel like children, discipline, routines, structure, etc., take away the freedom from your life. Adulthood reminds you that the ways of your younger years just don’t cut it anymore. The donuts you ate for breakfast show consequences around your midsection and at your next doctor’s visit. The late nights you once tolerated in your twenties result in poor job performance the next day when you’re in your thirties. As a parent, your life now revolves around the needs of your children. You lay down your selfish desires to serve your family. You wish you could have more time to yourself, but your children need to eat lunch. All of these realities can, understandably, make you long for those younger years that “felt freer” than the ones you are living in. 

Much like submission to Christ results in freedom from sin, submission to the discipline that is required of adulthood results in freedom from the long-term consequences that lack of discipline will result in.

Discipline is freeing.

The Christian life is freeing.

But we must value the result of freedom more than the short-term pleasures of sin.

The fruit you will bear as a result will always be worth it.

When God is honored

When God is honored

Scripture Reference: Ezra 6:1-12 NLT

So King Darius issued orders that a search be made in the Babylonian archives, which were stored in the treasury. But it was at the fortress at Ecbatana in the province of Media that a scroll was found. This is what it said:

“Memorandum:

“In the first year of King Cyrus’s reign, a decree was sent out concerning the Temple of God at Jerusalem.

“Let the Temple be rebuilt on the site where Jews used to offer their sacrifices, using the original foundations. Its height will be ninety feet, and its width will be ninety feet.[a] Every three layers of specially prepared stones will be topped by a layer of timber. All expenses will be paid by the royal treasury. Furthermore, the gold and silver cups, which were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple of God in Jerusalem, must be returned to Jerusalem and put back where they belong. Let them be taken back to the Temple of God.”

So King Darius sent this message:

“Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River,[b] and Shethar-bozenai, and your colleagues and other officials west of the Euphrates River—stay away from there! Do not disturb the construction of the Temple of God. Let it be rebuilt on its original site, and do not hinder the governor of Judah and the elders of the Jews in their work.

“Moreover, I hereby decree that you are to help these elders of the Jews as they rebuild this Temple of God. You must pay the full construction costs, without delay, from my taxes collected in the province west of the Euphrates River so that the work will not be interrupted.

“Give the priests in Jerusalem whatever is needed in the way of young bulls, rams, and male lambs for the burnt offerings presented to the God of heaven. And without fail, provide them with as much wheat, salt, wine, and olive oil as they need each day. 10 Then they will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the welfare of the king and his sons.

11 “Those who violate this decree in any way will have a beam pulled from their house. Then they will be lifted up and impaled on it, and their house will be reduced to a pile of rubble.[c] 12 May the God who has chosen the city of Jerusalem as the place to honor his name destroy any king or nation that violates this command and destroys this Temple.

“I, Darius, have issued this decree. Let it be obeyed with all diligence.”

There is a powerful thing that happens when God is honored and revered. Honoring God’s presence in a city, country or human life, provokes God to move. King Darius in Ezra 6:1-12 declared the construction of the house of God to be built with his full endorsement.

He covered the full expense from the royal treasury and ensured the work would not stop until completion. As a man of authority, he recognized he was limited to what he could do. We see his humility in Ezra 6:10 where he requests for prayers for his wellbeing and his sons.

Many times, we limit God’s provision because we prepare our hearts to receive rejection. We take on this posture to avoid feeling disappointed. However, there are seasons in our lives when God sends people who have the ability to change our lives completely by their influence, authority and endorsement.

God sent providers are not concerned with how many years you have been dealing with your trial, or test, all they want to see is success move in your life and a fast pace. God desires to send great men and women who recognize His sovereignty but are humble enough to admit their need for Him.

God responds to honor from anyone. Sometimes we struggle with the fact that we serve a God who is not biased. I would dare ask you, would you desire for your breakthrough or blessing to have bias? It shouldn’t matter how God helps you, all you want is the manifestation of what God has for you. That is the power of honor.

Honoring God reminds us that He will use anyone or anything to accomplish His will for our lives. Our posture is to keep our heart and minds in a place of humility, and prepare ourselves to move quickly when the blessing or the answer is provided.

As you believe God to make a way for you, deal with any bias in your life that would make you sabotage answered prayer or quick manifested breakthroughs that show up in an unexpected way.

The answer is coming, the provision is coming, believe God and expect. When it shows up, as an act of faith, move in diligence and watch God be God.

Prayer

Dear God,

I believe, I am in the season of sudden surprises and miraculous breakthroughs. Deal with any fears or disappointment in me that would cause me not to believe you. Remind me that you know where I am and just as you used King Darius to honor you, you will touch great men and women to bless me and turnaround my life. I stand in faith and begin to prepare for that beginning today,

In Jesus Name

Amen

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

How do students’ religious lives influence their academic ones? Image Source via Getty Images
Ilana Horwitz, Tulane University

In America, the demographic circumstances of a child’s birth substantially shape academic success. Sociologists have spent decades studying how factors beyond students’ control – including the race, wealth and ZIP code of their parents – affect their educational opportunities and achievement.

But one often overlooked demographic factor is religion. The U.S. is the most devout wealthy Western democracy. Does a religious upbringing influence teens’ academic outcomes?

Over the past 30 years, sociologists and economists have conducted several studies that consistently show a positive relationship between religiosity and academic success. These studies show that more religious students earn better grades and complete more schooling than less religious peers. But researchers debate what these findings really mean, and whether the seeming effect of religiosity on students’ performance is really about religion, or a result of other underlying factors.

My latest research underscores that religion has a powerful but mixed impact. Intensely religious teens – who some researchers call “abiders” – are more likely than average to earn higher GPAs and complete more college education. By religious intensity, I refer to whether people see religion as very important, attend religious services at least once a week, pray at least once a day, and believe in God with absolute certainty. Theological belief on its own is not enough to influence how children behave – they also need to be part of a religious community. Adolescents who see an academic benefit both believe and belong.

On average though, abiders who have excellent grades tend to attend less selective colleges than their less religious peers with similar GPAs and from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds.

The takeaway from these findings is not meant to encourage people to become more religious or to promote religion in schools. Rather, they point to a particular set of mindsets and habits that help abiders succeed – and qualities that schools reward in their students.

Religious landscape

People of any religion can demonstrate religious intensity. But the research in my book “God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success” centers on Christian denominations because they are the most prevalent in the U.S., with about 63% of Americans identifying as Christian. Also, surveys about religion tend to reflect a Christian-centric view, such as by emphasizing prayer and faith over other kinds of religious observance. Therefore, Christian respondents are more likely to appear as highly religious, simply based on the wording of the questions.

Based on a 2019 Pew survey and other studies, I estimate that about one-quarter of American teenagers are intensely religious. This number also accounts for people’s tendency to say they attend religious services more than they actually do.

The abider advantage

In my book, I examined whether intensely religious teens had different academic outcomes, focusing on three measures: secondary school GPA; likelihood of completing college; and college selectivity.

First, I analyzed survey data collected by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which followed 3,290 teens from 2003 to 2012. After grouping participants by religious intensity and analyzing their grades, I found that on average, abiders had about a 10 percentage-point advantage.

For example, among working-class teens, 21% of abiders reported earning A’s, compared with 9% of nonabiders. Abiders were more likely to earn better grades even after accounting for various other background factors, including race, gender, geographic region and family structure.

Then working with survey measurement expert Ben Domingue and sociologist Kathleen Mullan Harris, I used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to see how more and less religious children from the same families performed. According to our analysis, more intensely religious teens earned higher GPAs in high school, on average, even compared with their own siblings.

But why?

Scholars like sociologist Christian Smith have theorized that increased religiosity deters young people from risky behaviors, connects them to more adults and provides them more leadership opportunities. However, I found that including survey measures for these aspects of teens’ lives did not fully explain why abiders were earning better GPAs.

To better understand, I went back to the National Study of Youth and Religion, or NSYR, and analyzed 10 years of interviews with over 200 teens, all of whom had been assigned individual IDs to link their survey and interview responses.

Many abiders made comments about constantly working to emulate and please God, which led them to try to be conscientious and cooperative. This aligns with previous research showing that religiousness is positively correlated with these traits.

Studies have underscored how habits like conscientiousness and cooperation are linked with academic success, in part because teachers value respect. These traits are helpful in a school system that relies on authority figures and rewards people who follow the rules.

A teenage boy in a blue shirt works on an assignment in class.
Traits like cooperation can play an important role in students’ success. Will & Deni McIntyre/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

Post-graduation plans

Next, I wanted to know more about students’ college outcomes, starting with where they enrolled. I did this by matching the NSYR data to the National Student Clearinghouse to get detailed information about how many semesters of college respondents had completed, and where.

On average, abiders were more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than nonabiders, since success in high school sets them up for success in college – as also shown by my analyses of siblings. The bump varies by socioeconomic status, but among working-class and middle-class teens, abiders are more than 1 ½ to 2 times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than nonabiders.

Another dimension of academic success is the quality of the college one graduates from, which is commonly measured by selectivity. The more selective the institutions from which students graduate, the more likely they are to pursue graduate degrees and to secure high paying jobs.

On average, abiders who earned A’s graduated from slightly less selective colleges: schools whose incoming freshman class had an average SAT score of 1135, compared with 1176 at nonabiders’.

My analysis of the interview data revealed that many abiders, especially girls from middle-upper-class families, were less likely to consider selective colleges. In interviews, religious teens over and over mention life goals of parenthood, altruism and serving God – priorities that I argue make them less intent on attending as highly selective a college as they could. This aligns with previous research showing that conservative Protestant women attend colleges that less selective than other women do because they do not tend to view college’s main purpose as career advancement.

Grades without God

Being a good rule follower yields better report cards – but so can other dispositions.

My research also shows that teens who say that God does not exist earn grades that are not statistically different from abiders’ grades. Atheist teens make up a very small proportion of the NSYR sample: 3%, similar to the low rates of American adults who say they don’t believe in God.

In fact, there is a strong stigma attached to atheism. The kinds of teens who are willing to go against the grain by taking an unpopular religious view are also the kinds of teens who are curious and self-driven. NSYR interviews revealed that rather than being motivated to please God by being well behaved, atheists tend to be intrinsically motivated to pursue knowledge, think critically and be open to new experiences. These dispositions are also linked with better academic performance. And unlike abiders, atheists tend to be overrepresented in the most elite universities.The Conversation

Ilana Horwitz, Assistant Professor, Fields-Rayant Chair in Contemporary Jewish Life, Tulane University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Pray for Ukraine’: Religious leaders call for peace and God’s protection

‘Pray for Ukraine’: Religious leaders call for peace and God’s protection

(RNS) — At the top of the website for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is a simple, three-word message.

“Pray for Ukraine!”

“May God hear our loving petitions and soften the hearts and minds of all, those within and outside Ukraine, during these dangerous times,” wrote the UOC’s Council of Bishops, in a statement responding to news of the Russian invasion this week.

The bishops of the UOC, founded by immigrants, were among a host of religious leaders asking God to intervene on behalf of Ukraine. The prayers asked for an end of hostilities and for the protection of civilians — and in at least one case, for a defeat of Russian forces.

“Send your heavenly legions, O Lord, commanded by the patron of Kyiv, Archangel Michael, to crush the desires of the aggressor whose desire is to eradicate our people,” the UOC bishops wrote in an online prayer.

Calls for peace also echoed from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which planned to hold a prayer for peace Thursday (Feb. 24), according to an announcement on the cathedral’s website. The announcement linked to a “prayer for the cessation of civil strife.”

“Lord Jesus Christ our God, look down with Thy merciful eye upon the sorrow and greatly painful cry of Thy children, abiding in the Ukrainian land,” that prayer read. “Deliver Thy people from civil strife, make to cease the spilling of blood, and turn back the misfortunes set against them.”

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow stressed the common religious history of Russia and Ukraine “dating back to the baptism of Russia by the holy prince Vladimir, equal to the apostles,” and said that the Orthodox church could help heal the current conflict, reported the Orthodox Times.

“As Patriarch of All Russia and Primate of the Church, whose flock is in Russia, Ukraine and other countries, I deeply empathize with all who have been touched by misfortune,” Kirill said in a statement. “I call on all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. I appeal to bishops, pastors, monks and laity with an appeal to provide all possible assistance to all victims, including refugees, people left without shelter and means of subsistence.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked Catholics to fast for peace on Ash Wednesday (March 2). Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, also called for a day of prayer.

“In this time of fear and uncertainty, we stand in solidarity with the Church in Ukraine and offer our support,” Malloy said in a statement. “We call on all the faithful and people of good will to pray for the people of Ukraine.”

https://twitter.com/USCCB/status/1496888441409257479?s=20&t=MqRp5Sh4Zf5eQYVgitAmeQ

Faith-based and humanitarian groups expressed concerns about a possible mass exodus of refugees. Along with praying for those affected by the invasion, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, called on political leaders to prepare to protect displaced people.

“The humanitarian implications of a full Russian invasion must be a central consideration in the U.S. and international response,” Vignarajah said. “Thousands could lose their lives, and millions more could lose the only home they have ever known. The U.S. and its allies must prepare to respond to the very real possibility of a mass exodus of Ukrainian refugees. Protecting the displaced cannot merely be an afterthought.”

Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization, encouraged its members to pray and fast and to hold public vigils for peace on Ash Wednesday.

“Pax Christi USA urges the international community to stand united against the invasion of Ukraine and in support of diplomacy and dialogue to bring this crisis to an end,” the group said in a statement.

In the United Kingdom, the archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a joint pastoral letter in response to the invasion, with calls for prayer along with liturgical texts and readings in support of peace. Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop Stephen Cottrell invited Anglican church members to make Sunday a day of peace and to join the call of Pope Francis for prayers on Ash Wednesday.

“Peace, therefore, is so much more than the absence of war,” they wrote. “It is a gift, and it is also a decision, a gift that must be received. It is a choice we make that shapes the way we live well alongside each other. It characterises our relationship with God. It comes into being by seeking justice.”

Leaders of the United Church of Christ began their prayer, posted online, with a quote from the Book of Proverbs: “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

“Hear our prayers for all those who will die today because of war in Ukraine and other war-torn countries all over this world. Grant them an end to the suffering of this world and eternal peace that is only found in You,” the UCC officers wrote.

A number of faith leaders took part in an online vigil for peace this week — including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church; Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Mohamed Elsanousi, executive director of The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, as Religion News Service reported earlier this week.

“The drums of war are beating louder with each passing moment,” said Tarunjit Singh Butalia of Religions for Peace USA during the vigil. “We must stand up as people of faith and people of peace to speak truth to power.”

Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, head of worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community, prayed that world leaders would try to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine before it can spread into a wider conflict.

“I pray that the world’s leaders pay heed to the need of the hour and value, above all else, their obligation to ensure the peace and stability of the world. May Allah the Almighty protect all innocent and defenceless people and may true and lasting peace in the world prevail,” he said in a statement.

Prayers for Ukraine were offered during a recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee in Nashville, Tennessee, and Southern Baptist leaders and other influential evangelicals offered prayers via social media.

“Christ have mercy. Pray for Ukraine,” tweeted Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

https://twitter.com/AdamGreenway/status/1496683559234514953?s=20&t=S6equWVmQH7dPALVIEpwbg

 

https://twitter.com/DavidAFrench/status/1496732331373170688?s=20&t=S6equWVmQH7dPALVIEpwbg

“Do not imagine for a moment prayer doesn’t matter,” tweeted Bible teacher Beth Moore. “Pray for Ukraine. Pray for divine intervention. Miraculous protection.”

https://twitter.com/BethMooreLPM/status/1496837327657656325?s=20&t=S6equWVmQH7dPALVIEpwbg

The World Evangelical Alliance and the European Evangelical Alliance called for an end of hostilities in Ukraine and withdrawal of all Russian troops.

“We are gravely concerned to yet again witness armed conflict that will inevitably lead to tragic loss of human lives, including innocent civilians who only desire to live in peace,” the WEA’s secretary general, Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher, said in a statement. “We call for an end to the hostilities, an immediate ceasefire and respect for Ukrainian territorial integrity.”

The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace organization, urged U.S. leaders and the international community to pursue diplomacy and deescalation rather than a military response to the crisis in Ukraine.

The group also passed along a message from Quakers in Ukraine calling for peace. “It is very important for us to convey that Ukrainians are peace-loving people and very kind. In the last two months, when we got together and started our meetings, we agreed that there is no one among us who would see war as the answer, or believe that violence is the way out,” the message read. “We categorically condemn any aggression, expansion, and pressure.”

Claire Giangravé, Adelle Banks, Jack Jenkins and Emily McFarlan Miller contributed. 

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Lent and the Least of These

Lent and the Least of These

During Lent, we commemorate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. As if it were New Year’s Eve, most Christians make a Lenten resolution, consecrate it with prayer, and stick it out until Easter. Our concern for particularity in this moment, while laudable, can prevent us from grasping — and being grasped by — a broader sense of mission. The immediacy of figuring out, “What am I going to give up?” can prevent us from asking, “What sort of person is God calling me to be within the church and the world?” The first question pivots around our personal aspirations; the second one opens up a vista of service and mission. Developing the latter theme, we might approach Lent as an opportunity to embrace the care of Christ and emulate his ministry of coming alongside and caring for the least of these.

Embracing the care of Christ can be painful, for it often requires a prior admission that we are wounded. Many recent college graduates work hard to secure employment and repay loans, only to experience job loss, a reduction of responsibility, or another economic shift causing them to move back in with their parents. They are wounded. Some 222,000 veterans have returned from Iraq to a jobless recovery, a gridlocked Congress, and employers who cannot grasp the relevance of leadership skills honed in a military context. They, too, are wounded.

Our individual ailments differ, but we share an Augustinian solidarity. The bishop of Hippo suggests that we are Good Samaritans, called to love across differences of race, class, religion, and other social realities. Yet we are also recipients of God’s boundary-bursting, Samaritan love — Jesus found us by the side of the road, bandaged our wounds, and nursed us into wholeness by the power of his Holy Spirit.

As a community whose health has been and is being restored, Christ calls us to tend to the social ills of his people and all people. Matthew 25:31-46, in particular, underscores the importance of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those who are in prison, and welcoming the stranger.

By caring with and for society’s most vulnerable members — Jesus calls them “the least of these” — we bear witness to the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in Christ. We embody his love by performing acts that immediately address the maladies of drug addiction, domestic violence, and chronic sickness. Moreover, our engagement in intermediate, systems-transforming work on behalf of the least of these — inmates, immigrants, gay and lesbian military personnel, and so on — testifies to the restorative justice of God’s kingdom in Christ.

Such care, whether personal or structural, does not itself build or establish God’s kingdom. To claim that it does collapses human initiative into divine work (making devils out of those who may oppose it for well-argued reasons) and, more dangerously, runs the risk of idolizing the stratification of power that enables such change (e.g., relief and development arms of denominations or national governments become sacrosanct instruments beyond critique). Our individual and collective care for “the least of these” represent necessary and yet feeble attempts to follow in the footsteps of our Lord who prioritized the marginalized in his ministry. Our call is not about politics, not about ideology, but about modeling the love and justice of Christ. Cornel West has famously remarked that, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” What does our Christian faith look like out on the street?

Lent reminds us that the church’s social service and justice-making efforts fall short of God’s glory, that our best attempts to repair the world are still broken, leading us to depend anew on the care of Christ. We are weak, but the consolations of our Lord are strong; through him we discover the strength to love, the power to carry on.

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson: ‘One can only come this far by faith’

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson: ‘One can only come this far by faith’

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Immediately after President Joe Biden introduced Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court at a White House event on Friday (Feb. 25), the federal appeals court judge stepped up to the podium and appealed to the divine.

“I must begin these very brief remarks by thanking God for delivering me to this point in my professional journey,” she said. “My life has been blessed beyond measure, and I do know that one can only come this far by faith.”

Jackson’s words marked the beginning of what promises to be a historic confirmation process: If approved by the U.S. Senate, Jackson, 51, who currently serves on the D.C. Court of Appeals, would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution, and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded, will inspire future generations of Americans,” she said.

Biden noted the landmark nature of Jackson’s nomination during his introduction, making good on a campaign promise to push for a Black woman on the country’s highest court.

“For too long, our government, our courts, haven’t looked like America,” he said. “I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications. And that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”

While outlining Jackson’s professional credentials and personal story — such as her two Harvard degrees and family members in law enforcement — Biden argued that she “strives to be fair, to get it right, to do justice.”

If confirmed, Jackson would also be the first federal public defender on the Supreme Court and would bring the total number of women serving on the bench to four — the most in U.S. history.

Jackson did not mention a specific faith tradition in her remarks, so it was not immediately clear whether she would alter the religious makeup of the Supreme Court, which currently consists primarily of Catholic and Jewish justices (Justice Neil Gorsuch was raised Catholic but attended an Episcopal Church in Colorado).

Lawmakers and liberal religious organizations celebrated Jackson’s nomination.

“I applaud the historic nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Georgians want a nominee who is fair, qualified, and has a proven record of protecting Americans’ constitutional rights and freedoms. I look forward to reviewing this nomination,” Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, himself a pastor, said in a statement.

Longtime racial justice activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, who runs the National Action Network, tweeted out a statement of support for Jackson, calling her “exceptionally well qualified” and possessing the “experience, character, integrity, and dedication to the Constitution and the rule of law to serve on the nation’s highest Court.”

The National Council of Jewish Women also praised Biden’s choice of Jackson.

“As the only national Jewish organization which actively vets and endorses federal judicial nominees, NCJW follows the guidance of our tradition which affirms the importance of having ethical, unbiased judges like Judge Jackson who will fight for justice for everyone each and every day,” the statement read. “Her keen intellect, integrity, background, and lived experience are what we need on the Court.”

Religion has been a point of interest in recent Supreme Court nomination battles, particularly the debate over Justice Amy Coney Barrett. When she was nominated by former President Donald Trump in 2020, many observers questioned whether her conservative brand of Catholic faith would influence how she approached issues such as abortion.

Although Jackson reportedly has not ruled on a case narrowly focused on abortion, her appointment nonetheless drew attention of groups concerned about the issue. Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, an anti-abortion group, said in a statement she expects Jackson to be “a reliable vote for the far left and the Biden administration’s radical abortion agenda.”

Meanwhile, Jamie L. Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, which advocates for abortion rights, praised Jackson as a jurist with “a long and distinguished record of legal work and judicial decisions that protect and advance the constitutional rights of marginalized Americans, including women and pregnant people, immigrants, and people with disabilities.”

Manson also made mention of Jackson’s April 2021 Senate confirmation hearing to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Manson said Jackson expressed “a clear and firm commitment to the principle that true religious liberty involves both freedom of and freedom from religion.”

During that hearing, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley noted Jackson had served on the board of Montrose Christian School. The Maryland school, which has since been closed, operated under a statement of faith that declared “we should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death” and outlined a belief that marriage exists only between a man and a woman.

In responding to Hawley, who said he agreed with the statements, Jackson distanced herself from the school’s beliefs. She said she did not “necessarily agree with all of the statements,” and was not previously aware of their existence.

She went on to express support for religious liberty, describing it as a “foundational tenet of our entire government.”

When Captivity has an end date

When Captivity has an end date

Scripture

Ezra 1: 1-8

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia,[a] the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom: 

2 “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:

“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! 4 Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.”

5 Then God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. 6 And all their neighbors assisted by giving them articles of silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock. They gave them many valuable gifts in addition to all the voluntary offerings.

7 King Cyrus himself brought out the articles that King Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his own gods. 8 Cyrus directed Mithredath, the treasurer of Persia, to count these items and present them to Sheshbazzar, the leader of the exiles returning to Judah.

There are particular trials or situations that we deal with for such a long time, that it becomes a part of us. We connect and identify with the issue, wake up and go to bed with it, add it to our schedules and regular life, because that is all we know. We have never seen what life would be like, without it.

The danger we face when this happens, is we never prepare for what life will be like when we are free of this trial or situation. When the time of liberation happens, we can end up having withdrawal symptoms, missing the trial because we were so accustomed to the dysfunction it created in our lives.

There is a reason why God identifies Himself as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The ending of a thing is just as powerful as its genesis. It symbolizes finality, the ushering of a new season, the conclusion of what was.

As a believer, there are certain things you should desire to end in your life. We were not created for constant bondage and captivity. To refuse to yearn for freedom is equivalent to the belief that we are serving God out of routine and religiosity, not out of the faith that He is able to deliver. When was the last time you truly believed and asked God for deliverance, and expected that He would do it?

Ezra 1 is a powerful chapter that depicts the timing of God and the power He has over the hearts of those in leadership. God is so true to His word, that He touched the heart of a king to release the children of Israel who were in captivity, so that a word He had released to the Prophet Jeremiah years before would be fulfilled.

  1. Do not give up on any prophetic word that you received from the Lord. He is not a liar, it may not manifest the way you want it to, or when you think it is supposed to, but it will come to pass
  2. Renew your mind daily, to ensure you are not in double captivity. It is one thing to constantly deal with your trial, but another, to invite that trial to become bondage in your mindset. You begin to believe that you are worthy of the captivity, and in the moment liberation comes, you may detest freedom, because your mind is bound
  3. Survive if you have to, but do not quit. The blessing of surviving after a storm is the evidence that you are an overcomer. Living in survival mode and becoming a survivor mean different things. To become a survivor is a sign of victory. You endured something that should have broken you, but you made it to the other side. Living in survival mode is a mindset that makes you believe there is nothing better out there for you, and there is no point in trying. You live life to just make sure you are alive, not living life because you are alive
  4. When your captivity ends, worship and thank God because His deliverance has come. Do not allow yourself to become bitter and angry because of the years you have spent dealing with the trials and tribulations. It is not easy, and you will hurt and cry sometimes, but do not become bitter. Bitterness will blind you, and corrode you with anger. When freedom comes, your hope will have been tainted and all you will have is regret

Captivity has an end date, and the trial you are facing today, has a season that God has called “End”. Do not give up, do not stop praying, remember He is faithful, and He is watching His word to perform it in your life.

Prayer

Dear God,

Today, give me the heart of a child, to pray and share with you where it hurts. Let me not assume that you are not powerful enough to deliver me. Forgive me, for placing my situation at a higher place of focus than the power of your love for me. You will save me, you will deliver me, you will favor me, you will release me from every captivity, because you are a good God, and you keep your word. Remind me today, I serve a God of pure integrity, and revive my faith and hope in you that this trial, has an expiration date. This too, shall come to pass, and I will live to testify of your goodness towards me.

In Jesus Name

 

Amen

Run For Gold: An Interview with Kim Bass

Run For Gold: An Interview with Kim Bass

Kim Bass is one of the most well respected and prolific writer/producers in the nation. He achieved TV gold as writer and producer on three of the most well known and inspirational TV shows for black audiences: In Living Color, Sister Sister, and Kenan & Kel.

UrbanFaith sat down with him to discuss his newest film Tyson’s Run which is in theaters everywhere March 11.

   

More information on the film is below:

When fifteen-year-old Tyson attends public school for the first time, his life is changed forever. While helping his father clean up after the football team, Tyson befriends champion marathon runner Aklilu. Never letting his autism hold him back, Tyson becomes determined to run his first marathon in hopes of winning his father’s approval.

With the help of an unlikely friend and his parents, Tyson learns that with faith in yourself and the courage to take the first step, anything is possible. In theaters nationwide on March 11, 2022. Find tickets at TysonsRun.com

Black seminary grads, with debt higher than others, cope with money and ministry

Black seminary grads, with debt higher than others, cope with money and ministry

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The Rev. Melech E.M. Thomas attended two seminaries and graduated from the second, a historically Black theological school, in 2016.

That academic journey has put him in the pulpit of an African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Carolina.

But his pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree also left him about $80,000 in debt.

“The tuition was less, but I still had to live,” he said, describing other seminary-related costs after his transfer from Princeton Theological Seminary to the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. “I’m in seminary full time. And I got to make sure I’m paying rent, that I’m eating, all those other expenses.”

Thomas traveled to the nation’s capital in early February for a meeting with other graduates, leaders and students of Black theological schools to discuss possible solutions for the disproportionately high debt of Black seminarians.

Delores Brisbon, leader of the Gift of Black Theological Education & Black Church Collaborative, said it’s important for leaders to understand the sacrifices being made by students who pursue seminary degrees in historically Black settings.

“We need to address this issue of debt,” she said, opening the collaborative’s two-day event, “and determine what we’re going to do about it.”

According to data from the Association of Theological Schools, debt incurred by Black graduates in the 2019-2020 academic year averaged $42,700, compared with $31,200 for white grads.

Data shows 30% of Black graduates in the 2020-2021 academic year had debt of $40,000 or more, compared with 11% of white graduates.

Thomas, 34, said his debt, necessary to achieve his degree and gain ordination, has led to a church appointment that “pays me enough to pay rent,” but not his other living expenses. Yet, Thomas said he knows he’s in a better situation than some other graduates of historically Black seminaries.

“I’m grateful,” he said. “But it’s extremely tough.”

The collaborative includes five Black theological schools — Hood Theological Seminary, Interdenominational Theological Center, Payne Theological Seminary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology and Shaw University Divinity School. Lilly Endowment Inc. has given three grants between 2014 and 2020 totaling $2.75 million to the In Trust Center for Theological Schools to help facilitate coordination and increased mutual support between the schools, including the recent meeting about student debt.

The Rev. Jo Ann Deasy, co-author of a 2021 report on the ATS Black Student Debt Project, told the dozens gathered at a Washington hotel that the project came about as researchers discovered how “Black students were just burdened by debt more than any others.”

She said ATS is seeking to help change perceptions about what the project calls the “financial ecology of Black students” as seminarians seek training to become religious leaders, churches hope to hire them and theological institutions consider expanding financial networks to aid them.

“We’re trying to help people shift their understanding of finances from really individual responsibility to a broader systemic understanding of how finances operate in our communities and in our churches,” she said. “This is just a part of that shift toward understanding that it’s not the students’ fault but that this is a bigger issue that we need to address together.”

The report described “money autobiographies” of students who sought financially stable circumstances as they attended theological schools, whether historically Black, white or multiracial.

“They noted the disparities in financial support, particularly from congregations and denominations, between themselves and their White colleagues, a disparity that was often not seen or acknowledged by their peers or the institutions they attended,” the report states.

The average annual tuition for an M.Div. — before any scholarships are considered — is $13,100 for free-standing Protestant schools and $12,500 for Protestant schools related to a college or university. Chris Meinzer, senior director and COO of ATS, said that, on average, it takes students about four years to complete an M.Div. degree.

Seminary graduates who attended the Washington event spoke of having few scholarship options and having to take out loans to pay for expenses including or beyond tuition.

“It’s the cost of being enrolled and the cost of student fees along with your books,” said the Rev. Jamar Boyd II, senior manager of organizational impact at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, which supports African American ministries. Depending on the class and the number of books required, it could amount to as much as $600 to $700 in a semester, said Boyd, 27, a graduate of Virginia Union University’s theological school.

“If you’re a full-time student taking three or four classes, that’s a paycheck,” he said.

Minister Kathlene Judd, a theologian in residence at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation in North Carolina, said she eventually chose debt over the mental stress of working, studying and supporting a family at the same time.

She worked in information technology as she went through seminary and continues that career as she pays off her debts after originally hoping to pay for seminary without taking out loans.

“If I’m being fully transparent, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” said Judd, 38, who graduated from Shaw University Divinity School in 2020.

She said it was a “big decision” to borrow money to continue the education she felt God called her to pursue.

“But honestly, it came down to my mental and emotional health,” she said.

Many students and grads, like Judd, are at least bivocational.

The Rev. Lawrence Ganzy Jr. is in his fourth year at Hood Theological Seminary, where he attends a track that allows him to pastor an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in South Carolina while taking classes on Friday nights and Saturdays. During the week, he’s an admissions officer for Strayer University.

Prior to seminary, his work through the Carolina College Advising Corps, a government program for University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduates to counsel low-income high school students, helped him afford the start of his theological studies.

“That paid for my first year of seminary,” said Ganzy, 26. “Then when I got to the next year, that money was gone.”

Keynoting the opening night of the collaborative meeting, the Rev. Michael Brown, president of Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio, pointed to the portion of the Lord’s Prayer that says “forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us” in the Gospel of Matthew.

“Debt keeps us chained to the past and it doesn’t open up possibilities for the future,” he said, “and so the idea of the forgiveness of debt in the Lord’s Prayer is that it releases you to do things for God.”

During the event, graduates spoke of the additional financial struggles they faced, such as debt affecting their credit scores as they try to purchase a car and escalating rent, sometimes in historically Black neighborhoods that have been gentrified.

Brisbon pointed out that Black theological schools may have small endowments and may not get support from their alumni, in part because of the often-lower salaries received by their graduates.

“Black preachers may love their school as much as somebody else but they can’t give money that they don’t have,” she said.

The ATS report noted that a 2003 Pulpit & Pew study found that, on average, Black clergy salaries were about two-thirds those of white clergy. In a 2019 Christian Century essay, scholars noted that a study by the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference found that one-third of Black pastors believed they were “fairly and adequately compensated as a professional” while 67% said that they had “particular financial stress” at that current time.

The Rev. Leo Whitaker, executive minister of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, told Religion News Service that some clergy in the more than 1,000 churches in his Black state denomination are often “bivocational if not trivocational” to make ends meet, especially when they are located in a region like the state’s Northern Neck rather than the city of Richmond.

Whitaker suggested to collaborative members that they look to U.S. government programs that offer debt forgiveness to educators and doctors who serve in needy communities, noting they should offer the same for seminary grads. He hopes collaborative members will discuss his idea with seminary and education officials.

“You’re serving a stressed community and you’re financially stressed yourself without the ability to make the necessary funds and it’s not about them having a choice of where they choose to serve,” he said, noting that Methodist bishops appoint clergy and Baptist clergy go where congregations have called them to serve. “In ministry our location is not always assigned to us by choice.”

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic Black denomination, said laypeople and clergy may not be aware of the sacrifices made by seminarians and recent graduates as they pay seminary tuition that is far more than what she paid 40 years ago.

“Most of our highly organized denominations don’t really have a grasp on what they are actually doing or not doing to support theological education,” Jefferson-Snorton added. “Although in many cases we promote it, we encourage it. But we don’t resource it and I think that needs to be brought to the attention of the church.”

RNS receives funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. RNS is solely responsible for this content.

Prayers work

Prayers work

Scripture Reference

8:1 Then Bildad the Shuhite replied to Job:

2 “How long will you go on like this?
You sound like a blustering wind.
3 Does God twist justice?
Does the Almighty twist what is right?
4 Your children must have sinned against him,
so their punishment was well deserved.
5 But if you pray to God
and seek the favor of the Almighty,
6 and if you are pure and live with integrity,
he will surely rise up and restore your happy home.
7 And though you started with little,
you will end with much.

8 “Just ask the previous generation.
Pay attention to the experience of our ancestors.
9 For we were born but yesterday and know nothing.
Our days on earth are as fleeting as a shadow.
10 But those who came before us will teach you.
They will teach you the wisdom of old.

20 “But look, God will not reject a person of integrity,
nor will he lend a hand to the wicked.
21 He will once again fill your mouth with laughter
and your lips with shouts of joy.
22 Those who hate you will be clothed with shame,
and the home of the wicked will be destroyed.”

In the journey of life, there are moments that will come where life will be difficult. Things will not make sense. It could be a hardship season for you. When those seasons come, it is easy to resort back to a place of fear, second guessing our faith, and wondering if God is really alive.

This scripture Job 8:5-8 reveals the power of prayer while seeking God in those difficult life seasons. What does seeking God look like? How do you seek God in a time of trouble?

  1. Do not be afraid to ask Him if you need help. A lot of times, there is a sense of guilt or fear wondering whether God can handle your situation. But the reality is seeking Him reveals He cares and acknowledges the effort you make
  2. Praying and asking for wisdom until you get the assurance that God has heard you. He will provide what you need. Assurance may not automatically come to you in prayer. However, as you seek Him regarding the situation, His peace will manifest that assures you He hears and will attend to you
  3. Be alert as you pray for the instructions that will accompany the prayers. God may impress on you to forgive an offense, or do something that may not seem relevant to what you are inquiring about in prayer, but obey even if it does not make sense to you in the moment.

You should never judge yourself in your expression of pleading with God in prayer. The posture of pleading should not be misconstrued with begging. If you have been begging God to answer your prayers, your viewpoint of Him may be one of trying to convince Him you are worthy of a breakthrough or an answer. Pleading with God is making an earnest appeal to Him from a posture of faith. Your faith in God’s power and sovereignty pushes you to appeal to Him for your breakthrough.

Pleading often pulls from an established testimony with God. You have seen His power and miraculous grace and you are confident in what He is able to do.

This scripture also reveals the power of knowing the history of God’s work in the world. Finding out what God has done from previous generations, allows us to see the continuous integrity of God’s ability to provide and take care of His own. During a time of need, you may pull on the God of your parents or grand-parents or someone who is dear to you, who has walked with the grace and power of God in such a way that it convinced you of His existence. When you know this beautiful history, it can be used to affirm your faith in the moments you need prayers answered.

I have learned that in this life, there will be trials and tribulations that you will go through. Prayer will make it possible for you to live life with hope. When you get to those seasons, may you be reminded that prayer works, a history with God is powerful, and your faith can give you the confidence to make an appeal for what you need from Him.

He is able to restore you to a prosperous state. That is something you should always desire.

 

Prayer

Dear Father,

I thank you today, for those who came before me, who consistently served you and established a history of faithfulness with you. I know I am an answered prayer for someone else. As I pray, help me to build a history with you, that others will be inspired by, that will make them believers in your Presence. I release any form of guilt that makes me feel afraid to appeal to you. By faith I believe, as I am seeking you earnestly, you will restore me to my prosperous state.

In Jesus Name

Amen

Mary Lou’s Sacred Jazz

Mary Lou’s Sacred Jazz

Mary Lou's Sacred Jazz for Urban FaithMary Lou Williams inspired Duke Ellington and a generation of future jazz legends. But it’s her sacred jazz, and journey of faith, that captivated my spirit. 

The brilliant jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, who died in 1981 at age 71, was a prolific artist, writing and arranging hundreds of compositions and released dozens of recordings. Along the way, she worked with jazz giants such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and served as a mentor to other seminal figures, including Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.

Williams, who often stated that she wanted to be a force for emotional healing through her music, began focusing on faith-based compositions during the 1960s. From 1963 until 1970, she composed a number of hymns and three Mass settings that garnered attention within the American Catholic church as well as from the Vatican. Her liturgical music even inspired Ellington to write his own Sacred Concerts.

As I sit in my Manhattan apartment, I am surrounded by the spirit of Mary Lou Williams: the record cover photo from her 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival solo concert looks out from above my computer; recordings dating back to 1938 sit on a CD shelf devoted strictly to Williams’ music; and my own sheet music scores are all over the living room futon as I finish putting together a songbook to accompany my own sacred jazz recording, From This Place.

Even more important than these physical items is the recognition in my own spirit of an affinity, a sense that I am continuing in Williams’ legacy of bringing together jazz and liturgy, whether I am literally playing her compositions with my trio or playing my own pieces in a local or faraway church. Why does Mary Lou Williams matter, and how has she given so much inspiration to me?

Rather than give a complete chronological overview of Williams’ work (which has been done with great aplomb elsewhere), I’d like to briefly recount Williams’ journey of faith — her conversion to Catholicism, her liturgical music — and how my own personal journey has been influenced by this bold woman’s inspiring path.

The Roots of Conversion

Mary Lou's Sacred Jazz Second picture for Urban FaithIn 1952, after a career that had included being principal arranger, composer, and pianist for bassist Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy in the late 1920s and 30s, writing big band arrangements for Goodman and Ellington, orchestral arrangements of her original pieces, and playing extended trio engagements at respected New York jazz venues, Mary Lou Williams set sail for a nine-day performance tour in England. Her nine-day tour turned into a two-year European sojourn.

Williams’ conversion to Christianity had its roots in Paris. While she had experienced many successes in her career, she also had many disappointments, both in business affairs and in her desire to take care of those less fortunate than herself (often members of her extended family). Her brilliance as a forward-thinking composer and performer belied the lack of opportunities she was afforded to record as a bandleader. Her family in Pittsburgh had the impression that Williams was a wealthy woman (and she indeed often sent money home to aid her relatives); however, Williams struggled all her life to survive financially as a jazz musician. During her sojourn in Paris, she began to feel a growing depression, a sense that music held little meaning for her.

While in Europe, one of Williams’ patrons, an American expatriate and practicing Catholic named Colonel Edward L. Brennan, introduced her to a church with a garden. It was of this place that Williams later remarked that she had “found God in a little garden in Paris.” Around this same time, she began seeking solace in prayer and in reading the Psalms. She also grew more reclusive as she questioned her career as a musician and attempted to find a way to get close to God.

Returning to the States in late 1954, Williams began withdrawing from the performing world. She did several radio and television appearances, and also recorded the important chronicle of jazz music, A Keyboard History, but turned down offers to perform in nightclubs, feeling that their environments were sinful. She continued her inward spiritual search, briefly attending Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church before embarking on an austere diet of prayer and service that began at Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic church in her Harlem neighborhood. Williams reportedly made lists of up to 900 names of people she would pray for every day: she would spend hours in the church in prayer, then return home to attend to family members (who had moved in with her from Pittsburgh), some of whom had addictions to drugs. Even though she needed money, she continued to turn down performance offers.

In 1956 and ’57, Williams met two priests who proved influential in her spiritual formation and her return to public performance. Father John Crowley met Williams’ close friends Dizzy and Lorraine Gillespie while working as a missionary in Paraguay. Crowley, a jazz lover, met with Williams when he returned to the East Coast. He urged her to stop taking in musicians and family with addiction issues. He also suggested that she offer her music as a prayer for others, nudging her towards her eventual decision to re-enter the jazz scene as an active performer.

A Jesuit priest, Father Anthony Woods, was introduced to Williams by Barry Ulanov, the great jazz writer who had himself converted to Catholicism from Judaism. Woods, who was based at the large St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue, gave catechism classes that Williams attended with Lorraine Gillespie. Woods helped Williams learn how to pray for others without writing out each name on her lengthy prayer lists. Perhaps most important, he encouraged her to return to her music. In 1957 both Williams and Gillespie were baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church.

A Marriage of Jazz and Faith

Williams’ conversion began a ten-year period of bringing together jazz and liturgy, from 1962 to 1972. In ’62 Williams composed “Hymn for St. Martin de Porres” for the Dominican lay brother who was the first person of color to be canonized in the Catholic Church. The piece appears on the 1964 recording Black Christ of the Andes, released on Williams’ own record label, Mary Records.

In 1964 Williams convinced the Pittsburgh bishop, John J. Wright, to help sponsor the first Pittsburgh Jazz Festival. At that festival, which included Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, and others, Melba Liston arranged much of Williams’ original material (including “St. Martin de Porres” and “Praise the Lord”) for a 25-piece band.

Pittsburgh was also where Williams composed the first of her three Masses. In 1967 she was hired by Bishop Wright to teach music at Seton High School, a Catholic girls’ school in the city. Williams began writing her first Mass (simply entitled Mass) during her teaching: according to Williams, she would write eight bars at a time and then teach the new material to the students. In July of the same year, her complete Mass was performed in Pittsburgh’s St. Paul’s Cathedral with a small choir of thirteen voices and piano.

In 1968 Williams was commissioned by the New York Catholic Diocese to compose a Mass for Lent. Mass for Lenten Season was performed for six Sundays at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in New York in 1968. The instrumentation included saxophone, flute, guitar, piano, bass and drums (or bongos). These first two Masses have never been recorded in their entirety.

That April, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Williams composed two tribute pieces for the civil rights leader. “If You’re Around When I Meet My Day” and “I Have a Dream” were both performed by a children’s choir on Palm Sunday of 1968.

In March 1969 the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace commissioned Williams to write the Mass for Peace. This papal commission was an opportunity that Williams had dreamed about for years.

This third Mass, which combined jazz-rock and gospel, is the best known of the three Masses. Williams self-released the work on Mary Records and premiered Music for Peace in concert at Columbia University’s St. Paul’s Chapel in April 1970. She presented the piece in churches and schools for several years before it was performed as part of a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 1975. She also expanded the Mass for Alvin Ailey, who choreographed and performed the work, now known as Mary Lou’s Mass. (See the video above to hear my interpretation of “Gloria” from Mary Lou’s Mass).

From 1977 to 1981, Williams was artist-in-residence at Duke University, where her history of jazz classes had long waiting lists — Williams’ love of educating young people made her an extremely popular teacher. She formed the Mary Lou Williams Foundation just prior to her death on May 28, 1981.

Traveling with Mary Lou

My own journey with Mary Lou Williams began two decades ago.

In 2000, Dr. Billy Taylor asked me to lead my group at the Mary Lou Williams Festival at the Kennedy Center. I was excited and felt a huge responsibility to learn about Williams — at that time, I did not yet know any of her work. I had heard Williams’ name, and knew that she had been a pioneering jazz musician who had mentored Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk — but I had not yet listened to that much of her music.

Fortunately, I found ample resources with which to begin my research: trumpeter Dave Douglas had recently released the recording Soul on Soul, a tribute to Williams; author Linda Dahl had recently released her biography of Williams, Morning Glory; and I visited the wonderful Mary Lou Williams Collection at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

The revelation about Williams’ sacred output was especially of interest to me, as I had moved from Chicago to New York in 1997 to accept a position as music director at All Angels’ Church, an Episcopal parish on the Upper West Side. While at All Angels’, I composed the beginnings of two Mass settings, Psalm settings, and new music for old hymn texts. After leaving that position in 2000 (right around the time of my Kennedy Center performance). Inspired by Williams, I realized that I had a book of music that might have a life outside of one congregation.

Like Mary Lou Williams, I began making contacts with churches when I would travel, and started presenting my sacred music in the context of worship services, something I do to this day. Like Williams, I feel passionately that jazz has much to offer the church: its life, richness, and ability to move hearts is sorely needed as part of the musical palette offered in worship music today. Like Williams, I converted to Catholicism. (I was received into the church in 2009.) While my decision to convert was not because of Williams, her courage to follow the leading of God’s Spirit — both in music and in faith — provided me with constant encouragement, comfort, and sometimes a kick in the pants to move forward.

Going back and rereading portions of Morning Glory, I resonate even more deeply with Williams’ struggles as a bandleader and composer. At times, I have felt discouragement, confusion, and loneliness as I have wrestled with where God is leading me. I have wondered why my path does not seem to be conventional. But then I look at the photo of Williams above my computer, and I’m reminded that I’m not alone. This strong, talented, sensitive, passionate woman has laid the groundwork for me and many others who follow in her wake. How could we not be emboldened by her remarkable example?

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More Mary Lou

For additional information on the life and music of Mary Lou Williams, check out these selected resources.

Online:

The Mary Lou Williams Collection at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University has an online exhibit dedicated to Williams.

The Mary Lou Williams Foundation is managed by Father Peter O’Brien, Williams’ former manager.

Deanna Witkowski’s website features video clips of her musical seminar Moving With the Spirit: The Sacred Jazz of Mary Lou Williams.

In Print:

Historian Tammy Kernodle’s biography Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams gives ample attention to Williams’ spiritual conversion and liturgical music. And the aforementioned Morning Glory, by Linda Dahl, is another significant biography of Williams:

On CD:

Both Mary Lou’s Mass and Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ of the Andes have been reissued in the last several years by Smithsonian Folkways, and are available on iTunes as well as at Amazon.

Williams’ non-liturgical recordings are also noteworthy and substantial. Two of Deanna Witkowski’s personal favorites are Live at the Cookery and Zodiac Suite. In addition, Nite Life includes a half-hour spoken commentary by Williams.
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Related Article: A Chanteuse of Sacred Jazz

Photos from the Mary Lou Williams Foundation website.

Whoopi Goldberg awkwardly demonstrates how the idea of race varies by place and changes over time

Whoopi Goldberg awkwardly demonstrates how the idea of race varies by place and changes over time

On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Whoopi Goldberg said, “I don’t want to make a fake apology.” Youtube
Robyn Autry, Wesleyan University

Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of ABC’s “The View,” set off a firestorm when she insisted on Jan. 31, 2022 that the Holocaust was “not about race.” Hands outstretched, she went on to describe the genocide as a conflict between “two white groups of people.”

As someone who writes and teaches about racial identity, I was struck by the firmness of Goldberg’s initial claim, her clumsy retraction and apologies, and the heated public reactions.

Her apology tour on her own show the next day, on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and on Twitter raised more questions about her views on race, antisemitism and the Holocaust. Goldberg also seemed unaware of the non-Jewish victims of the Nazis. By the end of the week, the president of ABC News described Goldberg’s remarks as “wrong and hurtful” and announced that she was suspended from the show for two weeks.

How did a conversation about the controversial banning of the Holocaust graphic book “Maus” by the Tennessee Board of Education, which Goldberg opposed, turn into such a media spectacle? And what does it tell us about the social norms guiding how we talk about race and violence?

Filling the void

Sociologist and American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jonathan Markovitz defines “racial spectacles” as mass media events surrounding some racial incident that is passionately debated before dying down.

Think of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee or Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s apology to the Cherokee Nation after taking a DNA test. Markovitz argues that the lack of ongoing public conversation about racism fuels these events, leaving Americans to react intermittently to shocking violence and salacious confessions. While it’s not bad that these events get people talking about race and racism, Markovitz worries that what is learned is limited because emotions tend to run high and these moments quickly fade from the news cycle.

In the absence of sustained national dialogue, shows like “The View” and comedians like Goldberg can easily become lightning rods. The American public often overestimates their ability to unpack complicated social issues. Are they public intellectuals or entertainers? Critics might also ask why someone like Goldberg, who has already demonstrated odd thinking about racial identity and a willingness to defend racist acts, would have such a huge platform in the first place. But this isn’t just about Whoopi Goldberg.

Let’s clear up a few points: Race is an elastic social category, not a fixed biological one; Jewish identity and experience are not synonymous with whiteness; and Jewish people have historically been treated as a distinct racial group. The Holocaust was the systematic genocide of some 6 million Jews from 1941 to 1945, fueled by the Nazis’ belief that they were an inferior race. Other victims included Poles, Roma, gay men, lesbians and others.

The Holocaust is one of the most extreme and tragic examples of what sociologists Michel Omi and Howard Winant referred to as “racial projects.” In their work on racial formation, they used that term to describe how racial categories are formed, transformed and destroyed over time. In other words, the fact the Jewish people themselves may disagree over whether they are a racial or ethnic group does not undo their long history of being categorized and marginalized as such.

Still, it is unsurprising that an American, perhaps especially a Black one like Goldberg or myself, would think that race is about skin color given how it plays out in our lives. As a graduate student studying racial violence and collective memory, I was stunned to learn how ideas about racial difference varied wildly across societies and how those ideas could morph within the same society over time.

I learned that race is a social idea that is propped up by observable traits, only one of which is skin color. The racialization of Jewish people may not be about complexion, but physical markers are still often used to differentiate and stereotype the Jewish body.

[Interested in science headlines but not politics? Or just politics or religion? The Conversation has newsletters to suit your interests.]

It is also important to understand ongoing antisemitism in the U.S. and efforts to deny that the Holocaust even happened. Goldberg’s remarks were clearly the sort of “excitable speech” that gender theorist Judith Butler writes about, disorienting us by bringing violent histories to bear on us today. The way we talk about the past matters – as does the way people are held accountable for misrepresenting it – because so much of it helps to explain the contours of existing conflict.

Another lesson

At the same time, dismissing Goldberg’s comments and the backlash would mean missing an opportunity to appreciate what can result. For example, in light of the recent controversy, the Anti-Defamation League announced it will revise its definition of racism to include both race and ethnicity.

In this moment, people are talking about Jewish identity, racism and a violent history we’re meant to “never forget.” But they’re also talking about Blackness.

What can we make of the frenzied rush to chastise and publicly ridicule a Black woman for talking about race in the wrong way? On the one hand, this is similar to other celebrities condemned for racist speech whose apologies get scrutinized.

Yet, the Goldberg affair feels different to me. It reignites a recurring suspicion that Black people, while oppressed, suffer from twisted bigoted racial thinking – that Black people are not innocent victims after all. When a Black celebrity makes racist remarks, suspicions reawaken that perhaps it is a collective failing. This sort of projection of individual acts onto an entire group as if it were a shared trait is anti-Black.

Yes, many of us think Goldberg got it horribly wrong. And yes, her apologies made matters worse. There are better ways to think and talk about race and racism.

But observers shouldn’t be surprised when these conversations go awry, considering how little time is spent openly having them in the first place.The Conversation

Robyn Autry, Associate Professor of Sociology, Wesleyan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Devotion: The Healing power of redemption and restoration

Devotion: The Healing power of redemption and restoration

Scripture Reference

Job 42: 1-6, 10-17

1 Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
    It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
    things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
    I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.’
I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

10 When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! 11 Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money[a] and a gold ring.

12 So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. 14 He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with their brothers.

16 Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four generations of his children and grandchildren. 17 Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life.

Where Do We Go from Here? for urban faithNobody likes to deal with pain. I am yet to meet someone who desires to sign up to a conference or a webinar that desires to explore the benefits of pain. It is not a norm in our society nor is it a comfortable topic.

Pain can be depressing. Depending on who you talk to, it can have a negative connotation to it. It has the power to connect you to people based on the experiences it brings, but also can isolate you from people because of the triggers it creates.

Job is always described in many sermons by preachers all over the world as the template of suffering. I believe as you read this, your thoughts are already coming up with a picture of what you think I will share regarding his experience. However, today, I want to show you a different aspect of Job that you never considered.

Job, was a man who honored and valued friendship. Joshua 42:10 reveals a hidden gem of divine perspective that we miss as Christians when we deal with pain. Job had gone through the agony of asking and inquiring of the Lord, so why he was dealing with this trial? His pain was public, everyone saw it, he was probably the talk of town and most likely a daily conversation at the dinner table in many homes.

Imagine how he must have felt, when his closest friends began inquiring of him if he was sure he had not done anything to bring this pain and harsh trial into his life. I believe that must have been painful. Think of the people who are close to you, who see your everyday life and understand your values, questioning you because your situation is so far-fetched and hopeless, that the only rational explanation that makes sense is, you are to blame for your pain.

Have you been judged? Have you dealt with a life situation that doesn’t make sense to those around you?  Have the questions from those close to you, become like a sting to your soul because of the audacity they show, to inquire as to why you are where you are?

How did Job move from a place of such agony and frustration to a place of a divine turnaround? His restoration was was provoked by a decision he made.

  1. He willingly forgave his friends, and prayed for them. Job could have easily let his friends go and become bitter. I believe he had already experienced bitterness and there was nothing good that came out of it. He chose to seek the wellbeing of those he cared for by praying for them
  2. He took his eyes off of his life, and did what he knew was best, pray. Job always prayed for those he loved. Job 1:5 shares how he always rose up early to pray and consecrate his children in case they had sinned against God. The pain of the trial Job was going through, made him forget what he was great at, praying for others. When he turned back to it, and prayed for his friends, his heart was softened to view his life differently. If not checked, pain can isolate and bring such anger to your life, that repels those who care about you

When he did this, the Lord restored his fortunes, his brothers and sisters showed him sympathy and comforted him while giving him money and gifts.

This season you are dealing with, is not here to consume you. God can restore and redeem you, in a way that makes you heal from the pain you went through, and desire to live a long fruitful life. He is a prayer away. Be encouraged.

Prayer

Dear Father,

It is difficult for me to see the good in the pain I am going through right now. I have found myself angry with you, and wondering if you even love me. Thank you for Job, you never gave up on him, and I know you will not give up on me. Give me the strength to view my situation from a different perspective and beginning today, let my prayers be heartfelt, because I have the faith, that very soon, you will transform my life, and cause me to have joy and be comforted.

In Jesus Name

Amen

Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month

Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month.  Each year U.S. residents set aside a few weeks to focus their historical hindsight on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country.  While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.

The History of Black History Month

First, let’s briefly recount the advent of Black History Month.  Also called African American History Month, this event originally began as Negro History Week in 1926. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, is credited with the creation of Negro History Week.

In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month.  He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Objections to Black History Month

Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races.  Some argue that it is unjust and unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group.  Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year.  Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the remaining eleven months.

Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history.  Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month.

1. Celebrating Black History Months Honors the Historic Leaders of the Black Community

I have the privilege of living in Jackson, Mississippi which is the site of many significant events in Black History.  I’ve heard Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, speak at local and state events.  It’s common to see James Meredith, the first African American student at Ole Miss, in local churches or at community events.

Heroes like these and many more deserve honor for the sacrifice and suffering they endured for the sake of racial equality.  Celebrating Black History Month allows us to pause and remember their stories so that we can commemorate their achievements.

2. Celebrating Black History Month Helps Us to Be Better Stewards of the Privileges We’ve Gained 

Several years spent teaching middle school students impaled me with the reality that if we don’t tell the old, old stories the next generation, and we ourselves, will forget them.  It pained me to have to explain the significance of the Harlem Renaissance and the Tuskegee Airmen to children who had never learned of such events and the men and women who took part in them.

To what would surely be the lament of many historic African American leaders, my students and so many others (including me) take for granted the rights that many people before them sweated, bled, and died to secure.   Apart from an awareness of the past we can never appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the present.

3. Celebrating Black History Month Provides an Opportunity to Highlight the Best of Black History & Culture 

All too often only the most negative aspects of African American culture and communities get highlighted.  We hear about the poverty rates, incarceration rates, and high school drop out rates.  We are inundated with images of unruly athletes and raunchy reality TV stars as paradigms of success for Black people.  And we are daily subject to unfair stereotypes and assumptions from a culture that is, in some aspects, still learning to accept us.

Black History Month provides the chance to focus on different aspects of our narrative as African Americans.  We can applaud Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S.  We can let our eyes flit across the verses of poetry Phyllis Wheatley, the first African American poet and first African American female to publish a book.  And we can groove to soulful jazz and somber blues music composed by the likes of Miles Davis and Robert Johnson.  Black History Month spurs us to seek out and lift up the best in African American accomplishments.

4. Celebrating Black History Month Creates Awareness for All People

I recall my 8th grade history textbook where little more than a page was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement.  I remember my shock as a Christian to learn about the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church because in all my years in churches and Christian schools no one had ever mentioned it.

Unfortunately it seems that, apart from intentional effort, Black history is often lost in the mists of time.  When we observe Black History Month we give citizens of all races the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which they may have little awareness.

5. Celebrating Black History Month Reminds Us All that Black History Is Our History 

It pains me to see people overlooking Black History Month because Black history—just like Latino, Asian, European, and Native American history—belongs to all of us. Black and White, men and women, young and old.  The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness.  Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.

Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month

As a believer, I see racial and ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s manifold beauty.  No single race or its culture can comprehensively display the infinite glory of God’s image, so He gave us our differences to help us appreciate His splendor from various perspectives.

God’s common and special grace even work themselves out in the providential movement of a particular race’s culture and history.  We can look back on the brightest and darkest moments of our past and see God at work.  He’s weaving an intricate tapestry of events that climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And one day Christ will return. On that day we will all look back at the history–not just of a single race but of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue–and see that our Creator had a plan all along.  He is writing a story that points to His glory, and in the new creation, His people won’t have a month set aside to remember His greatness. We’ll have all eternity.

Originally published in February 2020

How 18th-century Quakers led a boycott of sugar to protest against slavery

How 18th-century Quakers led a boycott of sugar to protest against slavery

English Quakers on a Barbados plantation. Image courtesy of New York Public Library
Julie L. Holcomb, Baylor University

Buying items that are fair trade, organic, locally made or cruelty-free are some of the ways in which consumers today seek to align their economic habits with their spiritual and ethical views. For 18th-century Quakers, it led them to abstain from sugar and other goods produced by enslaved people.

Quaker Benjamin Lay, a former sailor who had settled in Philadelphia in 1731 after living in the British sugar colony of Barbados, is known to have smashed his wife’s china in 1742 during the annual gathering of Quakers in the city. Although Lay’s actions were described by one newspaper as a “publick Testimony against the Vanity of Tea-drinking,” Lay also protested the consumption of slave-grown sugar, which was produced under horrific conditions in sugar colonies like Barbados.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, only a few Quakers protested African slavery. Indeed, individual Quakers who did protest, like Lay, were often disowned for their actions because their activism disrupted the unity of the Quaker community. Beginning in the 1750s, Quakers’ support for slavery and the products of slave labor started to erode, as reformers like Quaker John Woolman urged their co-religionists in the North American Colonies and England to bring about change.

In the 1780s, British and American Quakers launched an extensive and unprecedented propaganda campaign against slavery and slave-labor products. Their goal of creating a broad nondenominational antislavery movement culminated in a boycott of slave-grown sugar in 1791 supported by nearly a half-million Britons.

How did the movement against slave-grown sugar go from the actions of a few to a protest of the masses? As a scholar of Quakers and the antislavery movement, I argue in my book “Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labor Economy” that the boycott of slave-grown sugar originated in the actions of ordinary Quakers seeking to draw closer to God by aligning their Christian principles with their economic practices.

The golden rule

Quakerism originated in the political turmoil of the English civil war and the disruption of monarchical rule in the mid-17th century. In the 1640s, George Fox, the son of a weaver, began an extended period of spiritual wandering, which led him to conclude the answers he sought came not from church teaching or the Scriptures but rather from his direct experience of God.

In his travels, Fox encountered others who also sought a more direct experience of God. With the support of Margaret Fell, the wife of a wealthy and prominent judge, Fox organized his followers into the Society of Friends in 1652. Quaker itinerant ministers embarked on an ambitious program of mission work traveling throughout England, the North American Colonies and the Caribbean.

The restoration of the British monarchy in 1660 and the passage of the Quaker Act in 1662 brought religious persecution, physical punishment and imprisonment but did not dampen the religious enthusiasm of Quakers like Fox and Fell.

Quakers believe that God speaks to individuals personally and directly through the “inward light” – that the light of Christ exists within all individuals, even those who have not been exposed to Christianity. As Quaker historian and theologian Ben Pink Dandelion notes, “This intimacy with Christ, this relationship of direct revelation, is alone foundational and definitional of [Quakerism]. … Quakerism has had its identity constructed around this experience and insight.”

This experience of intimacy with Christ led Friends to develop distinct spiritual beliefs and practices, such as an emphasis on the golden rule – “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” – as a fundamental guiding principle.

Quakers were to avoid violence and war-making and to reject social customs that reinforced superficial distinctions of social class. Quakers were to adopt “plain dress, plain speech and plain living” and to tell the truth at all times. These beliefs and practices allow Quakers to emphasize the experience of God and to reject the temptations of worldly pleasures.

Stolen goods

In slave traders’ and slave holders’ minds, racial inferiority justified the enslavement of Africans. By the 18th century, the slave trade and the use of slave labor were integral parts of the global economy.

Many Quakers owned slaves and participated in the slave trade. For them, the slave trade and slavery were simply standard business practice: “God-fearing men going about their godless business,” as historian James Walvin observed.

Still, Quakers were far from united in their views about slavery. Beginning in the late 17th century, individual Quakers began to question the practice. Under slavery, Africans were captured, forced to work and subjected to violent punishment, even death, all contrary to Quakers’ belief in the golden rule and nonviolence.

Individual Quakers began to speak out, often linking the enslavement of Africans to the consumption of consumer goods.

John Hepburn, a Quaker from Middletown, New Jersey, was one of the first Quakers to protest against slavery. In 1714, he published “The American Defence of the Christian Golden Rule,” which cataloged, as no other Quaker had done, the evils of slavery.

Although the publication of Hepburn’s book coincided with statements issued by the London Yearly Meeting, the primary Quaker body in this period, warning of the effects of luxury goods on Quakers’ relationship with God, “The American Defence” did not result in any significant outcry among Quakers against slavery.

A portrait of man with a white beard, wearing a hat and a long coat.
Portrait of Benjamin Lay. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; this acquisition was made possible by a generous contribution from the James Smithson Society

Quaker Benjamin Lay also published his thoughts about slavery. He also refused to dine with slaveholders, to be served by slaves or to eat sugar. Lay also dressed in coarse clothes. When smashing his wife’s dishware, he claimed that fine clothes and china were luxury goods that separated Quakers from God. Lay’s actions proved too much for Philadelphia Quakers, who disowned him in the late 1730s.

Quaker antislavery and sugar

Like Lay, Woolman too was shocked when he saw the conditions of enslaved people. For Woolman, the slave trade, the enslavement of Africans and the use of the products of their labor, such as sugar, were the most visible signs of the growth of an oppressive, global economy driven by greed, an evil that threatened the spiritual welfare of all. Consumed most often in tea, sugar symbolized for Woolman the corrupting influence of consumer goods. Soon after his travels through the South, Woolman, who was a merchant, stopped selling and consuming sugar and sugar products such as rum and molasses.

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The sweetness of sugar hid the violence of its production. Caribbean sugar plantations were infamous for their high rate of mortality and deficiencies in diet, shelter and clothing. The working conditions were brutal, and tropical disease contributed to a death toll that was 50% higher on sugar plantations than on coffee plantations.

Until his death in 1772, Woolman worked within the structure of the Society of Friends, urging Quakers to abstain from slave-grown sugar and other slave-labor products. In his writings, Woolman envisioned a just and simple economy that benefited everyone, freeing men and women to “walk in that pure light in which all their works are wrought in God.” If Quakers allowed their spiritual beliefs to guide their economic habits, Woolman believed, the “true harmony of life” could be restored to all.

Eighteenth-century Quakers’ attempts to align religious beliefs and economic habits continued into the 19th century. Woolman, in particular, influenced many who believed it possible to create a moral economy. His journal, published in 1774, is an important text about religiously informed consumer habits.

In the 1790s and again in the 1820s, British consumers, Quaker and non-Quaker alike, organized popular boycotts of slave-grown sugar. Although the boycott of sugar and other products of slave labor did not bring about the abolition of slavery on its own, the boycott did raise awareness of the connections between an individual’s relationship with God and the choices they made in the marketplace.


This article is part of a series examining sugar’s effects on human health and culture. Click here to read the articles on TheConversation.com.The Conversation

Julie L. Holcomb, Associate Professor of Museum Studies, Baylor University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips is the Chief Engagement Officer of the TD Jakes Foundation, a well respected pastor and education advocate. But his journey was not easy or simple. His book Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns details his journey, his context, and his perspective on one of the most important topics for us everyday: how to educate our children and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. He masterfully blends personal stories with scripture, statistics, history, and context to help us understand and impact the education system. Check out the full interview above!

You can get the book here

The world united to pray to save the boy in the well. Why not children who die in war?

The world united to pray to save the boy in the well. Why not children who die in war?

(RNS) — Over the past week, much of the world was gripped by the heartbreaking story of Rayan, a 5-year-old boy who had plunged 104 feet into a well in Morocco. For five days thousands of people went to Tamorot in northern Morocco to help and pray, while around the world hundreds of millions followed closely. On Saturday evening (Feb. 5), hopes rose as he was pulled out of the deep shaft, but the jubilation was short-lived as the news broke within minutes that he had passed away.

Images of Rayan, his grieving mother and the heroic rescue effort united much of the world around what practically no one could find disagreeable: the hope that an innocent child caught in devastating circumstances could be reunited in health and safety with his worried parents.

For many of us as Rayan departed this world, we still pray for that reunion in the next life, and are moved to contribute to his grieving family in any way that we can.

For readers of Scripture, Rayan’s time in the well brought to mind the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob (peace be upon them), in the Quran, similar to that of the Bible. In the Quran, however, Joseph’s time in the well is a focal point of an entire chapter that offers comfort to those facing a trial.

Rayan, certainly, was not thrown into the Moroccan well by envious brothers, as Joseph was. Poor infrastructure seems to have been the main reason for his death, and the fact that no one was to blame made it easy to gather everyone in sympathy.

But I can’t help but wonder while watching this unfold how differently the story of Rayan would be told, or if it would be told at all, had he been a child stuck in a crater caused by an airstrike from a military drone. Or if he was a refugee who had slipped to his death in a camp.

Figures are not for a blameless child to die due to unnecessary war. Some 1,600 children died or were maimed in Afghanistan every year for two decades, according to Save the Children, which also estimates that 25 children die or are injured each day in conflicts around the world.

Cruelty to a child is one of the few things that can still elicit a pure human reaction from most of us. It’s why the mother of Emmett Till wanted to leave the casket open after her son’s brutal murder. In her own words, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my boy.” By doing so, she sparked the civil rights movement.

It’s why the image of baby Alan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee who washed ashore at a Turkish resort, shocked the world in a way that statistics never could. It’s why the image of over 60 Palestinian children on the cover of The New York Times did more to humanize the plight of the Palestinian people than almost all the coverage of the bombardment of Gaza combined. And it’s why the image of young Jakelin Caal, who died trying to cross the border into the United States, shook so many of us to our core.

We despise the unjust death of children, but when children die in war we feel complicit in that injustice, either through our participation in harmful policies or silence about the consequences. Many of the powers directly responsible for children’s deaths are aware of our disgust and will try to thwart coverage or sympathy that may lead to direct challenges of their use of force.

We’re told to sympathize with the child who resembles Joseph. It’s far harder for us to see ourselves as the brothers who threw him into the well.

While the brothers of Joseph were driven by envy, we’re driven by greed or apathy. The reason doesn’t matter to the child. Our repentance is to do what we can for that child, and the other children who need our help.

Rayan was a beautiful, innocent child who brought out the best of his countrymen, and the purest of sentiments from around the world. How do we then reckon with the harm of so many unholy wars and man-made tragedies in which so many beautiful children die in ugly ways? What is the work we need to do so that they may live in dignity and calm?

(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Devotional: The favor that pushes purpose to fruition

Devotional: The favor that pushes purpose to fruition

Key Scripture

“This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” (Ezra 7:10, NLT)

Full Scripture Ezra 7:1-26

 

There are moments in everyone’s life when the question of purpose will come up. Discovering, pursuing, and fulfilling purpose is one of the greatest achievements that can happen to a human life.

When you understand and know your purpose, it becomes easy to know what direction you need to take to manifest and walk in it.

In Ezra 7, we are introduced to Ezra who had devoted himself to the study and observance of the law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. Ezra was a teacher, and he loved teaching. He found his purpose in teaching and learning the law, and sharing that with others.

His commitment to this purpose brought such favor from God which caused King Artaxerxes to write a letter of his approval of him and funded him adequately as he went to Jerusalem.

A lot of times we stress out and worry about where our provision will come from when in reality, the provision is always connected to purpose. It is wise to set time, energy, and focus in discovering and committing ourselves to what we have been destined to do in this life.

Remember:

  1. You have a specific reason for being alive, God has a destiny for you
  2. Your purpose will not be difficult for you because purpose motivates. You are graced for it
  3. Discovering your purpose does not mean you will have all the answers, however, you will sense a strength and confidence to pursue it even if you are not sure how it will end
  4. God will place confirmation and signs on your path to encourage you that you are on the right track. This will come through unexpected provision, favor for open doors, kindness from people with influence who can bless you to fulfill your destiny. Make sure you stay alert and avoid sabotaging yourself through fear or pride

 

Ezra was a teacher, that was his purpose and he committed to it. God blessed him because he was walking in his purpose. The favor that was bestowed upon him allowed that purpose to come to fruition by touching so many lives by his obedience to his call.

Do not give up on your purpose, do not look down on it. Even if other people do not understand it, your purpose is worth pursuing. You are an answered prayer. Someone is waiting for you to manifest your purpose.

 

 

Prayer

Dear God,

This week, reveal to me my purpose. Remind me why I am here. Open my eyes to see clearly what I need to do to fulfill my destiny. Grace me with the courage to receive your favor and provision to pursue my purpose without fear. Let me be a testimony like Ezra by committing to the reason you have created me. I know you will reveal to me and guide me because I desire to leave a great legacy.

 

In Jesus Name

Amen

Quitting online church is abandoning the one for the 99

Quitting online church is abandoning the one for the 99

(RNS) — “I agree online church is an intriguing idea to include families and individuals affected by disability,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “But I don’t think it can work.”

I spoke those words in 2009, in a casual conversation with other inclusive ministry leaders about what it might look like for churches to be truly accessible to disabled people. I wasn’t opposed to online church at the time. I simply couldn’t imagine how to make it work.

The ideal model, we were convinced, would be hybrid church, building online communities linked with traditional in-person churches, so attendance could be fluid and connections built in ways that included people of all ages, abilities and availability to be present in the same space as the church building. Well-equipped megachurches with large budgets already had the technical abilities to stream services and host online discussion groups. Most churches were and still are small and faithful, though, with resources more limited.

To implement a hybrid model, we knew we would need a system of training, funding and support. We lacked all three. But even if we had the money, time and expertise to do it all, we would need buy-in. We needed leaders to believe disabled people deserved to be fully included in the church, as people like anyone else rather than as service projects to pity, perpetual children to patronize, or pets to pat on the head.

At that time, every American church with a robust inclusive ministry had one thing in common: The pastor had a child or a grandchild diagnosed with a disability. Churches didn’t change to become welcoming unless leaders loved one specific disabled person first. I didn’t know what it would take for more churches to say yes to even considering inclusive online services.

A decade later, COVID-19 proved to be the catalyst for such change. Churches began shifting to online models en masse, to keep people safe from a deadly virus. As weeks passed and we could see that this new normal wasn’t leaving anytime soon, church leaders began moving their faith communities online.

Disabled people who had begged for more accessible models of ministry, who had been told online church wasn’t possible, watched as their requested accommodations became realities. While we were excited to finally be able to engage with our churches through new programs, our pain was undeniable.

Jesus tells a parable, recorded in Luke 15 and Matthew 18, known as the parable of the lost sheep. In it, a shepherd has 100 sheep and one goes missing. The good shepherd goes after the one lost sheep and brings it back to the other 99 with a spirit of joy and celebration. But is that a cute story we read like pure fiction, or do we believe it?

Consider, for a moment, that the story is one disabled person and 99 abled people, and instead of a field, the setting is a church. When one needed to be able to participate in the community of believers from home or a hospital using technology, we in the church stuck with the 99. Those virtual church options that were called impossible for the one became possible when COVID-19 safety measures, like not meeting in person, were necessary for the remaining 99 as well. The accommodation was never impossible for the one. We made a choice that the 99 abled people were worthy of such an option becoming available, which revealed what we believed about the one disabled person: They alone were not worthy, not in how church worked prior to the pandemic.

Now, as churches reopen their in-person services, the inclusive hybrid model can finally work, right?

Yes, but some people don’t want it that way. This past weekend Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the conservative sect of Anglican churches and an opinion writer for The New York Times, argued for the end of online church, even though she acknowledged the practice would re-marginalize some members who have been included by online worship connection.

As for whether or not online church should be an option, it already is and it’s not going away. The logistics of Communion practices, for example, are worthy of consideration and planning, but let’s consider and plan those. Should online church happen? No matter your answer, it is happening.

This debate extends to how we classify relationships as well; is a person you only know online a friend, or does friendship require physical proximity? Communal embodied experiences within friendships or worship don’t require physical proximity. Conversely, I have been physically present in church services without anything being embodied beyond the most superficial appearance.

My personal preference will always include in-person engagement with the people I call my church, usually in the building we also call church. I understand other people have their own preferences, and I see no benefit in weighing whose disabilities or circumstances justify each choice. As with other accommodations for disabled people, abled people will benefit as well: Shift workers and single parents and displaced individuals, be it by choice or necessity, can all benefit from worship models including online possibilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of adults are disabled. One in 10 adults age 18 and older — and double that for those 65 and older — have a disability that impacts one or more areas of functioning enough to require support from others. We know COVID-19 disproportionately harms people with medical vulnerabilities, and some people who need to stay home to avoid COVID also stay home for part or all of flu season, in addition to hospitalizations, surgeries, sleep disorders and other circumstances preventing church attendance.

The most important fact we keep overlooking in these debates, though, is that disabled people are more likely to have those conditions that make COVID-19 the riskiest: three times more likely to have heart disease, twice as likely to have diabetes and the most likely to be immunodeficient by nature or due to medications. Relatedly, disabled people experience higher rates of poverty, less stable employment and lower rates of both driving and having access to a vehicle to drive than abled people do — all of which hinder church attendance as well.

Given those statistics, we aren’t talking about one lost sheep but more like 10 or 20 lost out of every 100. With online church, disabled people — including me and my family — were welcomed to church in more ways and more often than ever before. Let’s keep that up rather than shouting, “Hey, Jesus, we’re gonna take that one you brought back and throw them to the elements and predators! We’re going back to the way it was.”

We have the framework in place to continue to welcome disabled people who worship from home, even as in-person services become safer. The choice is easy. Keep welcoming us.

(Shannon Dingle is a Christian writer and activist. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

Let’s not gloss over the faith of Black figures this Black History Month

Let’s not gloss over the faith of Black figures this Black History Month

Every Black History Month we see a million memes, quotes, and images of Black people who have played an important role in shaping the story and lives of black people in America. We have heard about Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Rosa Parks more times than we can count. If we’ve grown up with good black history education which is rare in these yet to be United States of America, then we might know Booker T. Washington or Maya Angelou. We know there is an active attempt to publicly whitewash black history as though the systemic destruction, repression, and marginalization of our history wasn’t enough. As a result it becomes more important than ever to teach and tell Black History.

But in an attempt  to reclaim our history, let us not forget the key role faith played in the lives of so many of our black leaders. There is a reason why belief in God and practice of faith were so key in the lives of many (but not all) people we talk about during Black History Month. So let’s lift up the faith of our black heroines and heroes this month as we continue to live out our own faith. Below are just some notable examples of historical moments and key black leaders who were influenced by their faith.

 

Denmark Vesey

Denmark Vesey was an abolitionist and former slave who planned and organized an armed slave rebellion to free the slaves in Charleston, SC. Charleston was the largest slave trading port in the United States during the early 1800s. He was the slave of a ship captain who won the lottery and paid for his own freedom with his earnings, but was not able to pay for his family’s freedom. As a result he became intent on ending the institution of slavery itself. Vesey was a worshipper and small group teacher at the African Church which became Mother Emmanuel AME Church, and his faith informed his advocacy for abolition.

He was inspired by the Haitian revolution and planned to flee to Haiti with the freed slaves after the rebellion. He inspired other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, David Walker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is well noted that the abolition of slavery was a result of the work of Christian abolitionists.

The Christianity of Vesey and David Walker after him did not advocate for passive waiting to slavery to end. As he read Isaiah, Amos, and especially Exodus he were convinced that armed rebellion could be used by God to bring freedom to enslaved Africans. He began to preach a radical liberation theology from the Old Testament almost exclusively as he prepared for rebellion. Denmark Vesey resurfaced as a popular figure in recent years in the aftermath of the horrendous shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in 2016.

 

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was the founder and vice-chairperson of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which successfully unseated the all-white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic Party’s convention in 1968. This and other efforts earned her the title “First Lady of Civil Rights.”

In 1962, Fannie Lou became involved with the Civil Rights Movement when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee held a meeting in Ruleville, Mississippi. She and 17 others went to the county courthouse and tried to register to vote. Because they were African American, they were given an impossible registration test which they all failed.  Fannie Lou’s life became a living hell. She was threatened, shot at, cursed and abused by angry mobs of white men including being beat almost to death by the police and imprisoned in Mississippi in 1963 for registering to vote.

Fannie Lou Hamer often sang spirituals at rallies, protests, and even in jail. Her faith in God is what she felt carried her through those difficult experiences. She quoted the Bible to shame her oppressors, encourage her followers, and hold her ministerial colleagues in the SCLC and SNCC accountable. She was a devout member of William Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, and let her faith permeate everything she did.

 

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander, JD is a civil rights lawyer and advocate, a legal scholar and the author of the New York Times best seller “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The book helped to start a national debate about the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States and inspired racial-justice organizing and advocacy efforts nationwide.

Alexander performed extensive research on mass incarceration, racism in law and public policy, and racial justice to write her book published in 2010. She has lectured and taught widely on her work as a professor of law and religion at Stanford University, The Ohio State University, and Union Theological Seminary. The New Jim Crow became a foundational text for many of the reforms being advocate for by various organizations involved in the recent push for criminal justice reform and the movement for black lives.

Alexander was driven by her faith to advocate for justice system reforms, believing that God called her to it and seeing it as her reasonable service. Her faith drives her advocacy for justice for the marginalized, care and compassion for all people, and teaching. She feels as though her work in law and faith are inextricably linked, and that people of faith are poised to serve one of the most important roles in changing the system. She is currently a visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York exploring the spiritual and ethical dimensions of the fight against mass incarceration.

 

 

https://www.nps.gov/people/denmark-vesey.htm

https://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/people/denmark_vesey.html?pepperjam=&publisherId=120349&clickId=3860507074&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=affiliate

https://urbanfaith.com/2021/10/faith-endurance-of-civil-rights-activist-fannie-lou-hamer-revealed-in-new-biography.html/

https://divinity.yale.edu/news/michelle-alexander-mass-incarceration-believing-possibility-redemption-and-forgiveness

https://www.nytimes.com/by/michelle-alexander

A Salute to Black Civil Rights Leaders, Richard L. Green, Chicago: Empak Enterprises,1987, p. 11

UrbanFaith is Expanding!

UrbanFaith is Expanding!

Hear the Word you need when you want it.  

UrbanFaith, published by UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has teamed up with HarperCollins Christian Publishing to launch UrbanFaithStudy.com, a subscription-based digital platform with an expanding library of more than 100 video sermons and studies from well-known African American Christian voices. We know it’s hard for young adults to find churches they feel welcomed in and even harder to find leaders they can trust to teach the Word in a way they can hear and understand it. UrbanFaithStudy.com provides the empowering teaching you want that stays faithful while being relevant. 

“I am pleased to see this robust and unique platform featuring strong voices and transformative messages by African American pastors and authors,” remarked Jeff Wright, CEO of UMI. “I know it will be a blessing to many people.”

UrbanFaithStudy.com offers culturally relevant, topical sermons delivered by pastors such as Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III; Dr. Dominique Robinson; and husband and wife team Pastor Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Pastor Andrew Wilkes. Bishop Walker is the International Presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship and pastor of the historic 30,000-member Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. Dr. Robinson is a religious scholar, theological educator, preacher, writer, activist, and advocate who serves as an assistant professor of preaching at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX. HBCU and Ivy League-educated pastors Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Andrew Wilkes co-founded the Double Love Experience Church in Brooklyn, NY, a growing congregation of believers committed to the liberating, love-powered ministry of Jesus. 

“What an extraordinary opportunity to house digital archives of hope & possibility in the era of a global pandemic, racial reckoning & resilience. It is my prayer that the sermons we offer will help those who hear them know that God has not left them. Even in these times. To share this in partnership with two brands that curate accessible & timely content: UMI & HarperCollins [Christian] is a dream.” – -Pastor Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes

UrbanFaithStudy.com will also launch book study curricula for believers looking for deeper engagement and group study content that engages the church with culturally relevant topics. These curricula are by well-known African American voices, including New York Times bestselling author Jemar Tisby; beloved author and speaker Crystal Evans Hurst; Grammy Award-winning artist Lecrae; and Bible teacher, pastor, and author, Jada Anae Edwards.  

“When teaming up with UMI more than a year ago, we knew creating a video platform to host engaging, life-changing biblical content would showcase both organizations’ ability to reach new audiences,” said Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “The church is evolving, becoming more dependent on technology to deliver sermons, Bible studies, and other curricula. When designing UrbanFaithStudy.com, we used our strengths to achieve more than we could if we had each approached the project separately.” 

UrbanFaithStudy.com will serve many consumers, including church congregations, divinity students, young preachers, and individuals seeking to understand how faith informs cultural engagement. The monthly subscription is $5.95 for individuals and $19.95 for churches. To subscribe, visit UrbanFaithStudy.com. 

A God with a heart for the marginalized

A God with a heart for the marginalized

Devotional Scripture

10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. 11 Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. 13 Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.
14 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. 15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
16 Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.
17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.

Help for Homeless

Of late, I have been thinking about the orphaned, widows and those who are struggling to make ends meet. The feelings of despair and hopelessness can become every day emotions if there is no stability in the area of provision.

Currently, there are millions of people who are one paycheck away from poverty. Many carry the burden of shame, fear and trauma of what will happen to them if they are not able to make ends meet.

A lot of times, in the midst of trial and tribulation, one can feel as though no one sees or understands the plight they are going through. However, in Deuteronomy 24:10-21, we see the thoughtfulness of God.

God cares. He is thoughtful and attentive to your needs. You may not have the courage to pray or ask Him because you are afraid of disappointment. Maybe all your help is gone, you are starting over, going through a break-up or a divorce. A loved one who was your main source of support financially is gone, and now you are picking up the pieces of what is left of their memory and trying to make the best out of the situation you are in.

God’s senses are alert and keen to your needs. Provision may not appear in the form or the way that you thought God would bring it to you, but open your eyes and look again. In the times of old, He instructed those who were harvesting to leave some of the harvest behind, because He knew there were those who did not have fields to harvest from, and what was left behind would be their only meal.

God is constantly providing for you. It may be through:

  • Ideas
  • A fresh perspective
  • A helping hand from a stranger

 

You will never know if you do not ask, seek, or make your request known. This week, do not wallow in your sorrows, reach out for help. Sometimes your provision is a phone call or an email away.

What you need, is within arm’s reach. You have to stretch yourself by faith, be humble and ask, believing that on the other end, God has already touched a heart to help you in your time of need.

If He did it before, He is able to do it again, do not assume that God has written you off. You are in His thoughts, and He wants the best for you. He has placed the provision in your path, all you need to do is ask Him to show you what to do, and where to go, and He will guide you.

Prayer

Dear Father,

This week, to reveal to me the fears I have of receiving or asking for help. Remove any form of pride, shame or condemnation that lingers in me, that would cause me to suffer in silence. I believe what I need, you have already provided. Lead me to the path of provision that has my name on it. Open my eyes and show me who I can confide in regarding what I am dealing with, and let me have the faith that you have already made the way.

Lord, If I am the answer to someone’s prayer, show me how I can be of help, and place me in the pathway of the people I am supposed to help this week. Nudge me, when I ignore your voice and affirm me, when I do what is right. Thank you for reminding me, you will use people to bless me, and you will use me to bless others.

Regardless of what I am dealing with today, lift my spirits up, and remind me that you are a thoughtful God, you have always had me in mind, and all things will work out for my good.

 

In Jesus Name

Amen