Sunday, January 28, 2007

African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction: Super Bowl Style

African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction:
Super Bowl Style

The more direct quotes I read from the two Super Bowl coaches, Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears) and Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts), the more amazed I am by their coaching styles. And, the more I become convinced that their way of relating to their players follows directly in the lineage and heritage of the history of African American soul care and spiritual direction.

In “Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction,” my co-author (Karole Edwards) and I highlight the myriad ways that past African Americans sustained and healed one another. In dynamic case after case, African Americans “climbed in one another’s casket” of despair, identifying with each other’s pain. They then, on the basis of their Christian hope in Christ, brought hope to one another by “celebrating the empty tomb” and thus experiencing Christ’s resurrection power.

Coaching: Mentoring Men as Iron Sharpens Iron

Just a few current examples from the coaching lives of Smith and Dungy will suffice to demonstrate that these two African American coaches understand how to mentor others with biblical soul care and spiritual direction. Chicago Tribune writer, David Haugh, in his January 28, 2007, story entitled “The Lovie Connection” emphasizes how with Smith, “like mentor Dungy, being his player’s friend and counselor comes easily.”

When Bear’s player Tank Johnson lost his best friend, Willie B. Posey, in a nightclub shooting, more than anything, Johnson needed to know that he wasn’t alone. As Haugh says, “That’s when Lovie Smith picked up the phone to pick up his defensive tackle’s spirits.”

These two men of quiet strength, bonded by five years together on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ staff and by similar Christian convictions, hope that the necessary focus on their skin color doesn’t overlook a shared coaching style evident in Smith’s phone call to a troubled Johnson.

“He’s a Coach Who Listens a Lot”

As Johnson records of Smith, “He called me and said, ‘Hey, Big Guy, how are you doing? I’m going to call you every day through this process to make sure you’re OK,’” Johnson recalled. “That means a lot when you’re on pins and needles about a lot of things in your life. But it’s that kind of thing that makes Lovie different. He’s a coach who listens a lot.”

Wow! This is classic soul care. An empathic concern for how another human being is doing in the midst of a struggle. A consistency of follow-up (not just there in a crisis, but there day after day). Listening a lot.

Unfortunately, the two most negative sports writers in Chicago, Jay Mariotti of the Sun Times and Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune, just never got it (and they rarely do). When Smith and the Bears stood behind Tank (not for his unwise choices or foolish behavior, but behind the person, the man), they tried to tank Smith. Morrissey falsely and foolishly accused Smith of having “no concept of right and wrong.” It is Morrissey and Mariotti who have absolutely no concept of sustaining and healing, no concept of humble empathy for another human being’s plight and pain. No concept of biblical, historical soul care and spiritual direction.

Lovie’s Love

But enough about them. Back to Lovie’s love.

When Bears’ rookie safety Danieal Manning started feeling a little lost in the big city and the bigger world of an NFL starter, Smith related his own small-town Texas upbringing to the Corsicana native and helped pull him through. “Coach Lovie understood me,” Manning said. “He understands us.”Whenever Rex Grossman sought reassurance during a very trying season, Smith invited him into an office that doesn’t require appointments.“One of the first things Lovie said to me when I got here last year was he wanted to be involved with the players’ lives and wanted to know how they’re doing so he has an open-door policy,” wide receiver Rashied Davis said. “Some coaches, it’s us against the coaches. You just don’ feel that here.”

Another “Wow!” Pastors and counselors have much to learn from Lovie’s love. Understanding. An open door policy (as John Piper would say to pastors, “Brothers, we are not professionals, meaning, drop the CEO office concept and be a caring human being). Equality. Universality (we’re all in the same boat). Humility.

The Mentor of the Mentor

In Indianapolis, Colts’ players who have described similar experiences with Dungy this week feel the same way. And from whom do you think Smith adopted his mentoring style?

On January 26, 2007, another Chicago Tribune sports’ writer focused on Tony Dungy in an article entitled “Indianapolis: Strength in Sorrow.” Terry Bannon’s subtitle says it all: “Colts Band together When a Teammate Suffers Family Tragedy.”

Colts’ player Reggie Wayne lost his brother in a car accident on September 24, 2006. Who was there for Reggie? Tony Dungy, of course.

“The thing about coach Dungy is his office is always open if I ever need him,” Wayne said. “He’s never too busy for us. I always knew if I had a problem, I could go to him.” Sound familiar?

“How You Get through Problems”

“Football is lifelike, but just because our guys are on television they’re not bigger than life,” Dungy said. “They go through all the things that everyone else does, all of us do. You’re not immune to it.”

“That’s one of the things that has helped me be there and counsel our guys when they do have problems. I believe God has me here for a purpose. I have a strong Christian inner faith. That’s what drives me and I use that to help those guys.”Dungy is known as a coach who treats his players as people first, which shapes his approach to their personal lives. “I tell guys all the time they’re not immune to it, they’re going to have problems,” Dungy said. “It’s how you get through them that’s important. That’s how I was raised, and I’m glad I was raised that way.”

A third “Wow!” Always available. Human. Honest. Christian counseling. Inner faith. Driven to help others. Treating people as people. Facing problems and finding hope.

Passing the Baton of Soul Care

You read what Dungy said about where he learned his “soul care.” He was raised that way. Smith got it from Dungy, Dungy got it from his parents. His parents got their soul care philosophy and practice not from school, but from the school of hard knocks. They got it from the beautiful and powerful heritage of African American soul care.

How does one learn to help others to move “beyond the suffering?” By facing one’s own life suffering, as African Americans have, and then by living face-to-face with Christ in order to move beyond suffering to healing hope.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In the Bigger Picture of Life: Super Bowl, Race, and Faith

In the Bigger Picture of Life: Super Bowl, Race, and Faith

All the buzz in Chicago is about “Da Bears!” The Chicago Bears are headed to the Super Bowl headed by Coach Lovie Smith. There are so many intriguing story lines in this match-up of the Bears and the Colts.

One of the most intriguing is the solid relationship that Smith shares with the Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. Best friends, they are now pitted against each other: the Windy City versus the Indy City.

Making History in Black History Month: “It Means a Lot”

As many have noted, with both men being African American, history will be made in Black History month in February. And historic it is. In the bigger picture of life, Smith and Dungy form a social triumph of major proportion.

''It means quite a bit for me being the coach of the Chicago Bears and being able to lead our team to another Super Bowl,'' Smith said. ''But being the first black coach to lead his team to the Super Bowl, of course our players knew about it and they wanted to help us make history today. So I feel blessed to be in that position.”

''It means a lot,'' Dungy said after the Colts' 38-34 victory. ''I'm very proud to represent African American coaches, but more than that, it's about the Indianapolis Colts.''

The Bigger Picture of Life: Christian Faith

What has been conspicuously missing in the national media attention is the main element in each man’s life. In fact, in their own words, it is ultimately what makes them who they are—their Christian faith.

At a Chicago news conference on Monday, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama noted that Smith and Dungy present "a good lesson for all of us. To see two African-American coaches go to the Super Bowl when it has been historically difficult for black coaches to break into the NFL is terrific," Obama said. "But what makes it even better is that they are both men of humility, they are both men of God. They never trash talk. They are not yellers and screamers on the sidelines. They are a couple of class individuals."

Indeed, they are both men of God, men of Christ.

Dungy recalls one of his first interviews for a head coaching position. "One guy did ask me, 'If you get this job, is this going to be the most important thing in your life? Are you going to treat my team as the most important thing?' "No, I'm not," Dungy said. "I didn't think I was going to get that job and I didn't. But for faith to be more important than your job, for family to be more important, we all know that's the way it should be, but we're all afraid to say that sometimes. Lovie isn't afraid to say it, and I'm not afraid to say it."

"I know the type of person Lovie is," Dungy said. "He has the same Christian convictions I have. He runs his team the same way. I know how those guys are treated in Chicago and how they play—tough, disciplined football without a lot of profanity from coaches or a win-at-all-costs atmosphere."

Dungy told an audience of more than 1,200 at the Convention Center last year that his Christian walk is even more important than sports. "That is really the main element in my life. Athletics is important, but without the Christian part it is kind of empty," the famed coach said.

Lovie Smith is a Christian and has made no attempt to hide his beliefs. Smith says that he relies on his Christian faith, which was cultivated in him during his childhood. "Everything that I am is based on my faith. It has been a big part of me," he says. "At a young age, I called on God to help me, and He was there as a comfort for me. That is something that I have leaned on ever since."

Faith Active in Life: "Staying with It Through the Storms"

In an era when many often ridicule men of faith as weak and incapable of making it successfully in the “real world,” it is empowering to understand how Smith and Dungy have been energized and guided by their faith. Their Christianity impacts everything they do as coaches and has enabled them to treat their players with a respect that has produced loyalty and productivity.

For years Dungy couldn't get a coaching job, not only because there were so few blacks in the NFL but also because conventional football wisdom considered him too nice, too polite, too "laid-back" to be successful in a cutthroat, demanding business.

Dungy said he shares more similarities than differences with Smith, adding, "Lovie's probably a little smarter than I am."

Said Smith: "I would not use 'laid-back.' I think our styles are similar. We try to treat our players as men and we expect them to behave that way. We have certain standards."

"As you look at young coaches coming through the ranks, a lot of them have a mental picture of how a coach is supposed to act, and I think what Tony Dungy showed me was that you didn't have to act that way. Be yourself and just believe in what you know and stay with that through the storms and you can get the job accomplished."

Super Bowl Champions: Winners in the Game of Life

As a “Chicago kid,” I have to root for the Bears in this one. But as a “Christian man,” I’m rooting for both Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy. They have what it takes to be winners in the game of life. They have Christ, and He has them.

One will come away a Super Bowl Champion. However, both will come away winners in the game of life.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Here's the Thing

Here's the Thing

I just returned from the wonderful experience of engaging two-dozen graduate students in a week-long course on the history of soul care. One-third of that course focused on the history of African American soul care.

Here's the thing . . . (as "Mr Monk" from the TV show "Monk" would say): These well-educated men and women, many of them African Americans, kept saying, "In high school and college we read books and had courses on African American history. But we NEVER heard about their Christian faith."

What's up with that?

Having read more than 500 primary sources in the research and writing of "Beyond the Suffering," I am floored by the amount of biased editing that has to occur in order to obscure and down-right leave out the tremendous Christian faith perspective of a multitude of enslaved African Americans.

Here's the thing . . . as my students communicated, "Now, armed with hundreds of power quotes and true stories, we can go back into our churches, our counseling offices, our youth group, and our homes and tell young Black men and women: 'You have a great faith legacy!'"

Indeed. Everywhere in African American history we learn of movement beyond suffering to healing hope on the basis of faith in Christ. That's the thing!

When suffering hits home, embrace it, face it, but always learn how to grow through it and to find God in it. That's the legacy left to us by African American believers. It is their gift to all Americans.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Founding Fathers, Part II

Founding Fathers, Part II[1]

Over 100 years before the historic I Have a Dream speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., African Americans were preaching Dream messages. Reverend Absalom Jones’ Thanksgiving Sermon, is a tremendous example.

Rev. Jones chose as his text, Exodus 3:7-8. Jones starts by briefly highlighting God’s sustaining care and healing comfort for Israel. He then relates the historical Exodus narrative to current African American life on the basis of God’s unchanging nature.

“The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the deliverer of the innocent, and of those who call upon his name. He is as unchangeable in his nature and character, as he is in his wisdom and power. The great and blessed event, which we have this day met to celebrate, is a striking proof, that the God of heaven and earth is the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.

He Has Seen: Paying Attention to the Earthly Story of Suffering

In classic sustaining style, Rev. Jones next shows that God has been watching every event of their earthly story. “He has seen the affliction of our countrymen, with an eye of pity.”
[3] To emphasize how important it is to pay attention to the earthly story, Jones presents an outline of African American history hauntingly similar to ours in Beyond the Suffering: capture, middle passage, auction block sale, enslavement, separation from family, work from sunup to sundown, deprivation of food, clothing, and shelter, torture of the body, and withholding of religion from the soul.

Jones prefaces each point with the repeated phrase concerning God, “He has seen.” Thirteen times. Can you hear it? Feel it? Imagine it? Place yourself in the congregation.

“He has seen.” “Oh, yeah!” “He has seen.” “Preach it!” “He has seen.” “Come on!” “He has seen.” “Glory!” “He has seen.” “Yes, he has!” “He has seen.” Clapping. “He has seen.” Standing. “He has seen.” Swaying. “He has seen.” Hands raised. “He has seen.” Shouting. “He has seen.” “Amen!” “He has seen.” Tears streaming. “He has seen.” Kneeling.

He has not only seen; he has also heard. Jones preaches, “Inhuman wretches! though You have been deaf to their cries and shrieks, they have been heard in Heaven. The ears of Jehovah have been constantly open to them. He has heard the prayers that have ascended from the hearts of his people; and he has, as in the case of his ancient and chosen people the Jews, come down to deliver our suffering countrymen from the hands of the oppressors.”
[4] The suffering Jews and the suffering African Americans are one people of God.

Four times Pastor Jones repeats the phrase, “He came down.” Healing hope. God sustains and he saves. He climbs in the casket and he rolls the stone away leaving an empty tomb. He sees, and he comes down.

What worship response is appropriate? Celebrate the empty tomb! “O! let us give thanks unto the Lord: let us call upon his name, and make known his deeds among the people. Let us sing psalms unto him and talk of all his wondrous works.

What ministry response is appropriate? Work to extend justice and freedom. “Let us unite, with our thanksgiving, prayer to Almighty God, for the completion of his begun goodness to our brethren in Africa.”
[6] True to the African American soul care and spiritual direction tradition, sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding are societal as well as individual. Liberation starts with spiritual freedom from sin through Christ. It continues with personal freedom from slavery. However, it is never finished until there is universal freedom from the slavery of sin and the sin of slavery.

[1]Excerpted from, Kellemen, Beyond the Suffering, Baker Books, 2007.
[2] Warner, p. 540.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 541.
[5] Ibid., p. 542.
[6] Ibid.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Founding Fathers, Part I

Founding Fathers, Part I[i]

Historians of American history frequently emphasize our “founding fathers.” Politically speaking, they highlight white males like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and James Madison. Spiritually speaking, they feature white males such as Roger Williams, Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, Jonathan Edwards, and Isaac Backus.

Sadly, they have often left African American founding fathers missing in action. In particular, the spiritual founding fathers of independent African American church life have been neglected, relegated to the back seat of the historical bus.

Walking the Talk: Modeling Christian Manliness

Throughout church history, developing and displaying the character of a soul physician was the absolute prerequisite before focusing upon competence in soul care and spiritual direction. This has certainly been the case with African American founding fathers as they strove to practice what they preached. In particular, we learn from them that we sustain, heal, reconcile, and guide as much by our actions (our model) as by our interactions (our message). People listened to their words of counsel because they witnessed them heeding their own counsel.

E. Franklin Frazier contends that the historic Black Church was somewhat passive due to its other-worldly focus.
[ii] However, firsthand accounts draw a different portrait altogether. Traditionally, manhood has been a central theme in the independent Black Church.[iii] Bishop B. W. Arnett described the organizing conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) in 1816 as “the Convention of the friends of Manhood Christianity.”[iv]

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, an early leader in and the official historian of the AMEC, believed that the separation of the AME from the white Methodist Episcopal Church was “beneficial to the man of color” in two ways. “First: it has thrown us upon our own resources and made us tax our own mental powers both for government and support.” Secondly, it gave the black man “an independence of character which he could neither hope for nor attain unto, if he had remained as the ecclesiastical vassal of his white brethren.” It produced “independent thought,” “independent action,” and an “independent hierarchy,” and the latter “has made us feel and recognize our individuality and our heaven-created manhood.”

Personally, Payne experienced numerous opportunities to live out his Christian manhood. Payne was devastated when a new law forced him to stop teaching his fellow African Americans. Wavering on the precipice of doubt, he girds up the loins of his mind with the solemn words, “‘With God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. Trust in him, and he will bring slavery and all its outrages to an end.’ These words from the spirit world acted on my troubled soul like water on a burning fire, and my aching heart was soothed from its burden of woes.”
[vi] Payne engages in a spiritual conversation with himself in which he exhorted himself to see life from God’s eternal perspective.

Payne then pens a lengthy poem expressing both his feelings and theological reflections. Of this spiritual exercise, he concludes, “The writing of this poem was the safety-valve which let out the superabundant grief that would otherwise have broken my heart and sent me headlong to an untimely grave.”
[vii] Some males decry poetry or journaling as less-than-masculine. However, Payne, like King David before him, understands the manly value of candid “psalming.”

Other males disparage depending on others during times of spiritual despondency. Not Payne. In response to his internal battle with his external situation, he received letters of spiritual consolation from the poetess, Miss Mary S. Palmer, and her sister Miss Jane Keith Palmer. He reflects in response to these letters, “At a time when my heart seemed ready to burst with grief and my lips ready to deny the existence of God, or to blaspheme his holy name for permitting one race to grind another to powder, such white friends were exceedingly dear and precious to me. I looked on them then, and regard them now, as God’s angels sent to strengthen me when the powers of darkness seemed to be let loose against me and against the race which I was so earnestly serving. I can never cease to remember them without emotions of gratitude and love.”

Given Payne’s circumstances and the culture of the day, we find here triple humility. He models the humility to dependently receive help, to gladly receive help from females, and to non-judgmentally and non-defensively receive help from whites.

[i]Excerpted from Kellemen, Beyond the Suffering, Baker Books, 2007.
[ii] Frazier, The Negro Church in America.
[iii] Becker, “The Black Church,” in Fulop, African-American Religion, p. 180.
[iv] Arnett, Proceedings of the Quarto-Centennial Conference of the A.M.E Church, p. 384.
[v] Payne, A History of the A.M.E. Church, I, pp. 9-12.
[vi] Payne, Recollections of Seventy Years, p. 28.
[vii] Ibid., p. 34.
[viii] Ibid., p. 39.