Dancing in the Darkness: An Interview with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III

Dancing in the Darkness: An Interview with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is one of the most prolific prophetic voices of our generation. He is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL and his new book Dancing in the Darkness gives practical wisdom to face the darkness in our lives with prophetic hope. UrbanFaith editor Allen Reynolds sat down with his fellow HBCU and Yale alumnus, the one and only Rev. Moss to discuss his new book Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times. You can find the book everywhere books are sold and more about the book is below.

Rev. Moss serves as Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ which was the home church of President Barack and Michelle Obama. He has won multiple awards for his short film Otis’ Dream about his grandfather’s fight to vote in the United States. His parents were on the front line of the Civil Rights Movement, and he has been at the forefront of the fight for justice and civil rights in the 21st century. He calls himself a blues man committed to uniting love and justice in the tradition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. More about the book is below.

Once again, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first observed in the 1960s, it is midnight in America—a dark time of division and anxiety, with threats of violence looming in the shadows. In 2008, the Trinity United Church in Chicago received threats when one of its parishioners, Senator Barack Obama, ran for president. “We’re going to kill you” rang in Reverend Otis Moss’s ears when he suddenly heard a noise in the middle of the night. He grabbed a baseball bat to confront the intruder in his home. When he opened the door to his daughter’s room, he found that the source of the noise was his own little girl, dancing. She was simply practicing for her ballet recital.

In that moment, Pastor Moss saw that the real intruder was within him. Caught in a cycle of worry and anger, he had allowed the darkness inside. But seeing his daughter evoked Psalm 30: “You have turned my mourning into dancing.” He set out to write the sermon that became this inspiring and transformative book.

Dancing in the Darkness is a life-affirming guide to the practical, political, and spiritual challenges of our day. Drawing on the teachings of Dr. King, Howard Thurman, sacred scripture, southern wisdom, global spiritual traditions, Black culture, and his own personal experiences, Dr. Moss instructs you on how to practice spiritual resistance by combining justice and love. This collection helps us tap the spiritual reserves we all possess but too often overlook, so we can slay our personal demon, confront our civic challenges, and reach our highest goals.

Five faith facts about former President Barack Obama’s new book: ‘A Promised Land’

Five faith facts about former President Barack Obama’s new book: ‘A Promised Land’

Video Courtesy of 60 Minutes


Former President Barack Obama’s new book, “A Promised Land,” only mentions four pages in its index under the category “faith and.”

But the title of the book by the 44th U.S. president invokes biblical imagery — a land promised by God to his people — and Obama includes the role of religious institutions, faith leaders and personal traditions throughout the 750-page book. On the page after his dedication of the tome to his wife and daughters, Obama features the words from an African American spiritual: “Fly and never tire/There’s a great camp-meeting in the Promised Land.”

While friends and strangers have told him they believe God engineered his road to the White House, Obama says he didn’t view his political path as a call from God.

“I suspect that God’s plan, whatever it is, works on a scale too large to admit our mortal tribulations; that in a single lifetime, accidents and happenstance determine more than we care to admit,” he writes, “and that the best we can do is to try to align ourselves with what we feel is right and construct some meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve play at each moment the hand that we’re dealt.”

Video Courtesy of Dallas City Temple

Here are five faith facts about Obama from his highly anticipated book released Tuesday (Nov. 17):

He’d rephrase his ‘guns or religion’ remark.

Obama was asked at a 2008 California fundraising event for wealthy donors why he thought working-class Pennsylvania voters opted for Republicans. His response included the words “they cling to guns or religion,” referring to frustration over job losses in their region.

The former president calls that response “my biggest mistake of the campaign,” one that he said could have been due to fatigue or impatience.

“Even today, I want to take that sentence back and make a few simple edits,” Obama writes. “I would say in my revised version: ‘and they look to the traditions and way of life that have been constants in their lives, whether it’s their faith, or hunting, or blue-collar work, or more traditional notions of family and community.’”

He said “the best policies in the world don’t matter to them” when Republicans tell working-class people that Democrats oppose traditions they may cherish. He later notes that Sarah Palin, Republican opponent John McCain’s running mate, included his original words during her 2008 Republican National Convention speech.

Video Courtesy of Libro.fm

He respected his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, before he had to part ways.

Obama writes that, especially from his perspective as a young man, “the good in Reverend Wright more than outweighed his flaws.” Obama had noted, as he attended and joined Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, that some of the pastor’s sermons were “a little over the top.” But when news coverage showed his pastor speaking of an America that believes in Black inferiority and white supremacy “more than we believe in God,” Obama chose to withdraw his invitation for Wright to give the invocation as he announced his candidacy.

And after more of Wright’s sermons started appearing in loops on broadcast media, Obama distanced himself from the minister with a speech on race that drew a record number of online watchers.

Then, after Wright “unleashed a rant for the ages” at a National Press Club appearance, Obama says he was forced to “permanently sever my relationship with someone who had played a small but significant part in making me the man that I was.”

Obama recalls a time later, as he awaited primary vote outcomes, how a couple of African American longtime friends reviewed campaign highs and lows and took turns “acting out some of the more excruciating lines” from Wright’s Press Club appearance: “we all started to laugh and couldn’t stop, the kind of deep, tear-inducing, falling-out-of-your-chair laughter that’s a kissing cousin to despair.”

Another minister helped him regain confidence.

While Wright’s use of “audacity of hope” gave Obama a book title and a key phrase for his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, another minister influenced him by shoring up his confidence.

The Rev. Otis Moss Jr., whose son succeeded Wright at Trinity UCC, called Obama early in the controversy surrounding Wright. Moss knew some Black Americans had questioned whether Obama was ready for the White House.

Obama writes that Moss described himself and other civil rights veterans as “the Moses generation” who marched, were jailed, ”got us out of Egypt,” but could only go so far.

“You, Barack, are part of the Joshua generation,” Obama says Moss told him. “Perhaps you can learn from some of our mistakes. But ultimately it will be up to you, with God’s help, to build on what we’ve done.”

Moss’ words about leading Americans “out of the wilderness” were what Obama says he needed to move on from the Wright controversy and forward in his campaign.

“It’s hard to overstate how these words fortified me, coming as they did almost a year before our Iowa victory, what it meant to have someone so intimately linked to the source of my earliest inspiration say that what I was trying to do was worth it, that it wasn’t just an exercise in vanity or ambition but rather a part of an unbroken chain of progress.”

Obama — who later spoke of successive generations in his speech about race — said Moss’ public support, along with that of other co-laborers with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., such as the Rev. Joseph Lowery and the Rev. C.T. Vivian, helped boost support of his campaign among Black Americans.

He tried to keep his prayer life private.

Obama mentions his “broader skepticism toward organized religion” but says he often turned to private prayer.

Not long after he was shown the Lincoln Bible on which he would be sworn in, Obama paused before entering the inaugural platform.

“For a brief moment, before trumpets sounded and I was announced, I closed my eyes,” he writes. “And summoned the prayer that had carried me here, one I would continue to repeat every night I was president. A prayer of thanks for all I’d been given. A prayer that my sins be forgiven. A prayer that my family and the American people be kept safe from harm. A prayer for guidance.”

Months before that moment, Obama had paid a visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall — where pilgrims have long left petitions to God — as he was feeling the weight of what lay ahead if he became president.

“I’d written my own prayer on a piece of hotel stationery,” he writes. “I had assumed those words were between me and God,” he said of the personal request he placed within a crack in the wall. “But the next day they showed up in an Israeli newspaper before achieving eternal life on the internet.”

He’s not superstitious but carried religious symbols among his collection of charms.

Obama writes that he never had a rabbit’s foot or lucky number as a child.

“Over the course of the campaign, though, I found myself making a few concessions to the spirit world,” he says.

He developed a habit during his campaign of carrying five or so tiny mementos people had given him, from a biker’s “lucky metal poker chip” to a nun’s silver cross.

“My assortment of charms grew steadily: a miniature Buddha, an Ohio buckeye, a laminated four-leaf clover, a tiny bronze likeness of Hanuman the monkey god, all manner of angels, rosary beads, crystals and rocks,” he writes.

Obama calls them a “tactile reminder” of the people he had met and of their hopes.

“If my cache of small treasures didn’t guarantee that the universe would tilt in my favor,” he writes, “I figured they didn’t hurt.’’

Obama delivers veiled rebuke to Trump in Mandela address

Obama delivers veiled rebuke to Trump in Mandela address

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, left, delivers his speech at the 16th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, July 17, 2018. In his highest-profile speech since leaving office, Obama urged people around the world to respect human rights and other values under threat in an address marking the 100th anniversary of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela’s birth. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

In his highest profile speech since leaving office, former U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday denounced the policies of President Donald Trump without mentioning his name, taking aim at the “politics of fear, resentment, retrenchment,” and decrying leaders who are caught lying and “just double down and lie some more.”

Obama was cheered by thousands in Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium as he marked the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth by urging respect for human rights, the free press and other values he said were under threat.

He rallied people to keep alive the ideals that the anti-apartheid activist worked for as the first black president of South Africa, including democracy, diversity, gender equality and tolerance.

Obama opened by calling today’s times “strange and uncertain,” adding that “each day’s news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines.”

“We see much of the world threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal, way of doing business,” he said.

A day after Trump met in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama criticized “strongman politics.”

Video from The Washington Post

The “politics of fear, resentment, retrenchment” are on the move “at a pace unimaginable just a few years ago,” Obama added.

“Those in power seek to undermine every institution … that gives democracy meaning,” he said.

The first African-American president of the United States spoke up for equality in all forms, adding: “I would have thought we had figured that out by now.”

Obama praised the diversity of the World Cup champion French team, and he said that those countries engaging in xenophobia “eventually … find themselves consumed by civil war.”

He noted the “utter loss of shame among political leaders when they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and lie some more,” warning that the denial of facts — such as climate change — could be the undoing of democracy.

But Obama reminded the crowd that “we’ve been through darker times. We’ve been through lower valleys.”

He closed with a call to action: “I say if people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

The crowd gave him a standing ovation in the chilly South African winter.

“Just by standing on the stage honoring Nelson Mandela, Obama is delivering an eloquent rebuke to Trump,” said John Stremlau, professor of international relations at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.

He called the timing of Obama’s speech auspicious — one day after Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and said the commitments that defined Mandela’s life are “under assault.”

“Yesterday, we had Trump and Putin standing together; now we are seeing the opposing team: Obama and Mandela.”

This was Obama’s first trip to Africa since leaving office in 2017. Earlier this week, he stopped in Kenya, where he visited the rural birthplace of his late father.

Obama’s speech noted how Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, kept up his campaign against what appeared to be insurmountable odds to end apartheid, South Africa’s harsh system of white minority rule.

Mandela, who was released from prison in 1990 and became president four years later, died in 2013 at the age of 95. He left a powerful legacy of reconciliation and diversity along with a resistance to inequality — economic and otherwise.

Since leaving the White House, Obama has shied away from public comment on the Trump administration, which has reversed or attacked his notable achievements. The U.S. under Trump has withdrawn from the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal while trying to undercut the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.”

Obama’s speech drew on his great admiration for Mandela, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner whom America’s first black president saw as a mentor.

When Obama was a U.S. senator, he had his picture taken with Mandela. After Obama became president he sent a copy of the photo to Mandela, who kept it in his office. Obama also made a point of visiting Mandela’s prison cell and gave a moving eulogy at Mandela’s memorial service in 2013, saying the South African had inspired him.

Many South Africans view Obama as a successor to Mandela because of his groundbreaking role and his support for racial equality in the U.S. and around the world.

Stremlau, who attended the speech, called it “a tough, strong condemnation of Trump and all that he stands for.”

“Obama hit out at lying, insecurity and putting down others. Obama said he can’t believe it is necessary to once again speak up for equality and human rights,” Stremlau said. “He pulled it together in a carefully worded, measured speech, which urged all to live up to Mandela’s standards and values.”

President Obama designates historic civil rights sites including black churches

(RNS) In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.

And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.

“This national monument will fortify Birmingham’s place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history,” said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of the church, in a statement.

Obama’s proclamation also cites the role of Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, from which protesters marched before being stopped by police dogs.

In his proclamation Thursday (Jan. 12), Obama said the various sites “all stand as a testament to the heroism of those who worked so hard to advance the cause of freedom.”

In other acts, all timed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be observed on Monday, the president designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina.

He cited the role of congregations in all three areas — from sheltering civil rights activists at Bethel Baptist Church to hosting mass meetings at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to providing a school for former slaves at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena Island, S.C.

The designations instruct the National Park Service to manage the sites and consider them for visitor services and historic preservation.

“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.