Howard Thurman’s Vision

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howardthurmanTheologian Howard Thurman might not have wished his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, would be as important today as it was when he wrote it in 1949.

Sadly, the African-American mystic would have hoped that his vision of Jesus’s love overpowering fear and hatred of the marginalized and most vulnerable people in our society would have been taken to heart by all who call themselves Christians.

Thurman grew up in Florida in the early 1900s, in a segregated Daytona. His grandmother had been enslaved and told him stories of slave preachers. Much of his young life was centered around the church and people who came to speak there. He remembered Mary Mcleod Bethune singing and talking about her dreams for education for Negro youth.

He was an exceptionally smart youth; since there were only three high schools for black youth in all of Florida, he boarded with relatives in order to go to the Florida Baptist Academy. Because he graduated as valedictorian, he earned a scholarship to Morehouse College. He eventually went to Rochester Theological Seminary in New York (many other seminaries did not accept Negroes).

Thurman was considered a mystic because of his ability to put himself into a place where he felt himself to be in the presence of God. In Disciplines of the Spirit, he calls that place the Inner Sea. Over a long career with many distinguishing chapters, including being dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, founding the interdenominational Fellowship Church in San Francisco, being honored by Eleanor Roosevelt, and being an influence on Martin Luther King Jr., there was yet one painful issue that he came back to again and again.

In 1935, Thurman chaired a delegation sent on a pilgrimage of American students to India, Burma, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). After a talk at the Law College of the University of Colombo, he had tea with the principle. The principle said this to him:

“. . . During all the period since then [Emancipation] you have lived in a Christian nation in which you are segregated, lynched, and burned. . . I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think you are a traitor to all the darker peoples of the earth. I am wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defense of your position.”

While referring to this painful episode in his memoir, With Head and Heart, as “the paradox of being a black Christian minister who was representing and, by implication, defending a religion associated in the minds of many of these nonwhite peoples with racism and colonialism,” Jesus and the Disinherited was his book-length answer.

In this time when Christianity has been hijacked by political agendas that again marginalize people of color, the poor and the powerless – and all the intersections of those categories – Jesus and the Disinherited should be a wake-up call to members of the Jesus Movement and those who would be part of the Beloved Community.

Jesus, a radical outcast, preached a radical love, and especially radical love for those, in Thurman’s words, with their backs against the wall. Why, then, “is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and national origin?” he asks.

And in just 102 pages, he gives a prescription for doing so.

 

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By Their Fruits You’ll Know Them

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When I was in my 20s, I went out with a man who made himself objectionable to my friends.

One friend, an older man, tried to talk to me about the relationship. He pointed out that if a person is kind to everyone, that is a good character trait. But, he said, if someone like my boyfriend was only nice to me but unkind to others, it could mean he was just trying to get something from me.

I was hurt, and the relationship went on to a predictably unhappy ending. It took many years for me to gain the wisdom to see that my friend had given me some serious life advice.

I thought of this unhappy episode Saturday morning while listening to Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition. He interviewed David French of The National Review. This was before the Northern California shooting, and not a week after the Sutherland, Texas, rampage.

Mr. French was there to accuse “Twitter activists” of being unfair to politicians who offer “thoughts and prayers” after mass shootings.

“. . .the prayer life of a Christian is something that’s very, very rich,” he said. “And prayer saturates their lives. . .So when you’re targeting prayers, a Christian, for example, would look at that and be, frankly, kind of puzzled by it.”

As a Christian, as someone who believes in the power of prayer, and as a “Twitter activist,” I bristled at Mr. French’s words. Perhaps you had to hear his patronizing tone. He spoke as if only Christians have a rich prayer life and as if “Twitter activists” are heathens.

Mr. French went on to say that “it’s not that these politicians are offering thoughts and prayers and no action . . . “ Yet he equivocated about what kind of action these politicians are supposedly taking. In fact, Mr. French said that he can’t even imagine what kind of action might have been appropriate after the Las Vegas massacre.

When Mr. Simon suggested that it is the difference in reactions to domestic terrorism and imported terrorism, Mr. French said, “But different mass killings demand different kinds of responses. They’re not all the same.”

He concludes by saying, “What use is an activist tweet anyway?”

Well, I’ll you, Mr. French. The more people who are talking about the problem of gun violence in this country by home-grown terrorists, the better. The politicians you say we twitter activists are criticizing unfairly are white male members of the GOP such as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who only like government when it is used to hurt people, such as punishing tax “reform” (read tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy) and taking away any kind of a safety net for the most vulnerable among us.

I do not believe them when they speak of thoughts and prayers. Mr. French, you quoted Scripture on the air; I’ll quote back at you: “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) This is Jesus speaking, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, where he has spoken about the poor, the humble, and hypocrites. It doesn’t get any more “Christian” than that. And the fruits of the politicians who talk about “thoughts and prayers” when they have the power to take action (“Faith without works is dead” James; not a scriptural principle, Mr. French, but actual Scripture) to prevent these tragic, senseless, avoidable murders is nil. If a bill is brought to the Senate or the Congress that might actually help citizens of the United States, and I include Puerto Ricans here, these politicians will do their damnedest to derail it.

I learned my friend’s lesson well, because what he was really telling me was “You will know them by their fruits.” That’s what I look for in a politician. They can say whatever they like, but what do they do?

If they do good in the rest of their dealings, fine, I believe them when they send thoughts and prayers. If they don’t, like our current GOP-controlled Congress, I don’t believe them. And I’m not puzzled by twitter activists who criticize them.

Adventures in Twitterland

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Here’s a tip: If you use Twitter, don’t mention “white men” and “guns” in the same sentence unless you want to hear from every angry white man with a gun in the country.

I did and got more than 600 angry notifications and still counting.

Oh, their white female counterparts chimed in also; it’s hard to tell sometimes because not one of them uses his or her own name and the majority use an avatar for their profile picture.

I was called everything from an ignoramus to a cow to an old hag to cunt. It was suggested that since I obviously was alive during World War II, I should know how important white men with guns are. And I should be reported to the FBI. These are some of the less offensive remarks!

In just seven words in which I suggested that white men with guns are dangerous in our society, it somehow also turns out that I am racist, sexist, a “libtard,” a race-baiter, and a traitor to my country.

Here’s the irony: The respondents jumped all over themselves to charge that Muslims, African-Americans, and Mexicans are the truly dangerous people; one gentleman suggested that I am a racist while using the “N” word.

And Chicago. I can’t even count how many people mentioned Chicago. These people’s Supreme Leader started talking about what a morass Chicago was during his campaign and even this week brought up Chicago after Ali Vitali of NBC asked him about extreme vetting for gun buyers. You might recall this was when he said that with gun control, the slaughter in Sutherland, Texas, would have been much worse.

Then the “conversation” (of which I was no longer a part) turned to the stated “fact” that the white male killers are all Democrats, liberals, and atheists.

I forebore to bring up the white men with guns who originally plundered this continent and decimated the indigenous peoples.

I forebore to bring up the white men with guns who herded human beings they’d kidnapped onto ships , tossed some overboard if they needed to lighten the ship, and sold the rest into slavery.

I forebore to bring up the mass murder of freed African-Americans by white men with guns during Reconstruction, or the lynchings that have continued to this day.

I also forebore to call any of these people by derogatory, vile names or make suggestions about violent sexual acts they could perform on themselves.

I’m not seeking sympathy or comfort. I’m a big girl now and we have to know what is going through the minds of the opposition in order to respond to it. But how does one respond to people who appear to be brainwashed from birth? And who are so insecure that they threaten 65-year-old women who don’t agree with them?

I know that not all shooters are white men. However, when the shooter IS a white man, we can be damn sure that nothing will be done to prevent it happening again. The GOP simply refuses to put the word “domestic” in front of “terrorism.”

 

 

He Accentuates The Positive

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Harry Bell, left, with CT NAACP head Scot Esdaile

“Instead of dope in a vein, hope in a brain,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. when he made a guest appearance on “A Different World” many, many years ago.

Harry Bell was 9 years old at the time and he never forgot it.

He had a good reason to be sensitive to messages about drug use. His young birth mother was an addict and she left him at the hospital where he was born in Bridgeport, CT. His aunt, Marvetta Bell, raised him. He grew in low-income housing where he witnessed peers be defeated by the negative situation of their young lives.

Mr. Bell chose a different path. “I always knew that with every negative situation, there is a positive way out,” he says in his bio. That positive way out for him was to create a series of coloring books called “Color a Positive Thought,” and he hopes to them into the hands of as many children as possible.

coloring book“I wanted to create something fun, educational and empowering at the same time,” he recalled. “I dwelled on it for weeks, considering many different ideas. During this time, I was hit with a huge blow that will affect my entire life. My son was diagnosed with Type One diabetes.”

But, “the day I thought my life had ended was the day my life began,” he says now. Seeing his son having to grapple with a negative situation, he tried to find a coloring book that would make him feel better. He couldn’t anything so he dug up an old shoebox full on inspirational quotes and sketches that he had collected in his youth. A friend who was a graphic designer took the sketches and ideas and turned Mr. Bell’s vision into a coloring book with his son’s face on the cover.

That was that, he thought, but his son loved it so much he took it to school with and showed his friends and teachers. One teacher passed it around to her coworkers and it ended with an invitation to talk to her class about each page. Soon, a news station called asking for an interview. It snowballed from there.

“Before long I was getting calls from local media, schools, churches, parents, daycare center, and libraries to speak or to do interviews about the book. Everybody wanted copies. Suddenly, I realized this was my calling.”

In addition to the coloring book, Mr. Bell has created two programs through his work as a school resource officer. One is a mentoring program that was inspired by his own mentor, Howard T. Owens. “The mentors are from low=income areas but they made it through,” he said. They’ve all experienced the negative influences that youth are going through, so their relationships with their mentees have authenticity to them.

Munchkin Fridays is another program that Mr. Bell started three years ago. It’s appropriately named, as those who participate are youngsters, and who doesn’t love a Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkin or two on a Friday?

He gives out doughnuts to about 60 children and with each one offers a positive message. Dunkin’ Donuts is now donating the tasty treats.

In a world that has many people feeling negative about a whole lot of things, Mr. Bell’s optimism and energy is refreshing and inspirational. I’m tempted to ask him to make a coloring book with positive messages for adults!

Mr. Bell is available for book signings and speaking engagements. His website, where the coloring books can be purchased, is http://www.colorapositivethought.com/

Remember All the Souls

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In the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, the last Sunday of October is when All Souls Day is commemorated. We ring the bell and name the people in our congregation and in our hearts who have died during the past year.

I think every day of the anonymous souls around the world who have died in violent circumstances in recent months, as well as the souls who die in the US and whose names we generally know.

I think of the fact that each of these souls had a mother and father, possibly children, possibly siblings, and hopes and dreams for their future.

It feels as if it has been a particularly violent year, so I made up this list of deaths from unnatural causes in 2017 so far; I know there are deaths I have missed. I didn’t look them up in any particular order and yet, as you can see, there is an order to them; there is also a sad, sad pattern.

Niger                                     4

Barcelona                            14

England                               34

Puerto Rico                         51           probably higher

Las Vegas                            59

Harvey                                 82

Irma                                    134

Mogadishu                         500

Unarmed black men killed by police        977 since Jan. 1

Rohingya Muslim             3,000 plus

Yemen                                 5,000 plus

Syria                                    3,000 in one month reported Oct 1

Baptist minister Robert Lowry (1826 –1899) wrote some of the most beloved hymns that we still sing today. “Shall We Gather at the River” refers to souls crossing the great divide:

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Refrain: Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

Please take a moment this Sunday, or today, or tomorrow, or every day, to think of all these souls and hope that they did reach the silver river.

You can hear the hymn at https://youtu.be/6Z3pMfCTQHU.

 

 

Prayer As Action

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For people in power to respond to a disaster by saying “My thoughts and prayers are with them” is a meaningless gesture unless that person follows it up with action to avert another disaster.

Yet there are times when prayer is the best action one can take.

I was privileged to see Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry last week and hear his powerful preaching. It was in a city I’m not really familiar with, and as I wandered around trying to find the place where the post-service luncheon was to be held, I was approached by a man.

He asked whether I would donate something toward bringing his brother from Puerto Rico to the mainland in exchange for a chocolate bar. I hadn’t brought sufficient cash with me to do so, and I explained this to him and also that I had now made two donations to the Hispanic Federation to help Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Marie.

Then I told him that I would pray for his brother, and the man’s face lit up as if he’d just been told he’d won a lottery. “Will you?” he exclaimed with joy. “Absolutely!” I said. “May I hug you?” he asked. “Absolutely!” I said. And we hugged.

I’m not sure who felt more blessed.

We talked a while about Puerto Rico’s travails, and he told me that he himself had only moved to the mainland shortly before the hurricane. He seemed glad to be here, and I hoped the mainland was treating him well. When we parted, something special was going on for each of us.

I believe that prayer is action; sometimes it is the only action one can take. I don’t pray for specifics much these days, and I don’t pray for a situation to go “according to God’s will.” Many people, and I have been one of them, hear in those words that God’s will might be that one has to endure a crisis without complaint; that suffering lies ahead and one just has to suck it up.

What comes after “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer is the most important part: “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

In other words, may God’s will for perfect reconciliation, perfect love, perfect peace, and perfect understanding come to human beings as it has come to those who have met God “not through a glass darkly,” but face to face.

I do pray that an afflicted person will know themselves to be surrounded with love and support and encouragement. I do pray that that person’s heart will be open to accepting help that might be unrecognizable at first. I do pray that they be strengthened and inspired by the Holy Spirit to see a solution where there wasn’t one before. And I do pray that Jesus may break down any barriers to healing inner wounds that prevent someone from accepting all the help that is available, divine and earthly.

At the luncheon I went up to the head table to get a picture of Bishop Curry, who had that morning preached prophetically about going to the mountaintop where heaven and earth come together to get strength to return to the trials and tribulations of our world and seek solutions to them.

An elderly woman next to me was telling the bishop that she prayed for him every day. The same light shone out in his face as I had witnessed a short time before on the Puerto Rican man. The bishop fairly lunged across the table to grasp her hands and thank her and then insisted she come up onto the dais and have her picture taken with him.

I’m not sure who felt more blessed.

You can hear the Bishop’s prophetic preaching below. The video was started long, long before sermon time, so you might want to advance it.

As The World Spins

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The US continued to spin out of control last week. To recap:

  1. #POTUS wants Congress to decertify the Iran Nuclear Deal, saying that Iran has not kept to its agreement (it has), that he consulted with all our allies on this step (couldn’t have; we don’t have any allies who would agree with this and who are all still solidly part of the deal), and that it will make us much safer (it won’t).
  2. #POTUS signed an executive order ending ACA subsidies, saying that will lower premiums (it won’t) and give Americans better health care (it won’t) and claiming that the subsidies went into the pockets of insurance companies (they won’t).
  3. #POTUS blamed Puerto Rico for Hurricane Irma’s devastation, then said he’ll always be with them (he won’t).
  4. #POTUS said he met with the president of the US Virgin Islands (he didn’t, mainly because for better or worse, he is the president of the US Virgin Islands).
  5. #POTUS told the white supremacist Values Voters Summit that “we will return to Judeo-Christian values,” obviously not understanding that Judeo refer to Jews and the Values Voters constituents hate Jews. Also, what values: homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, sexual predation? But on the bright side, “We will say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
  6. #POTUS and Sean Hannity laughed and talked while seated at a retreat ritual on a military for which everyone else stood in silence. But black athletes who kneel respectfully during the National Anthem are sons of bitches.
  7. I could go on, but I really wanted to talk about the strange bedfellows that resisting an unbalanced, moronic, corrupt government makes. Did I ever think I’d have anything in common with Eminem? Surely not! But he perfectly expressed the rage I and so many others are feeling in the video presented at the Hip Hop Awards. No, I wasn’t watching the Hip Hop Awards; wasn’t even aware of them. But the video went viral and more power to Eminem.
  8. Did Puerto Ricans ever think that their saviors would be heavily tattooed, back-country looking military veterans? Probably not, but Jason Maddy and his 11 comrades, acting as volunteers, are bringing water, food, and hope to the most isolated parts of the island. Why? “Because they’re fellow Americans, and if we were in that situation, we’d want someone to help us.”

    If I were ever to have the honor of meeting these gentlemen, I’d kiss their feet. I hope I never have the misfortune to meet Donald Trump because I would probably be arrested after the encounter.

  9. Meanwihle, while Twitter fuels my outrage because I see bad news so quickly, it has also been a source of some comic relief from unknown fellow tweetweetters who yet feel like good friends. Shoutout to @casey for best tweet of the week:
  10. And a special shoutout to England, who will not dignify a visit from POTUS as a state visit and will not allow him to meet the queen. I’ m sure officials are afraid he’d touch her inappropriately. On the other hand, if he did meet her and did touch her inappropriately, that would be lese majesty, off with his head.