Wednesday, December 31, 2008

He Has Seen! Part 3

“He Has Seen!”:
Absalom Jones’ Historic New Year’s Message, Part III

The history of New Year’s Eve “Watch Night” services and of New Year’s Day messages is long and varied, carried out in white churches and black churches. In African American churches, a major part of that history traces back to the Rev. Absalom Jones.

After providing sustaining care, Rev. Jones next explains God’s healing involvement in the African American plight. “. . . in this situation, they were not forgotten by the God of their fathers, and the Father of the human race. Though, for wise reason, he delayed to appear in their behalf for several hundred years, yet he was not indifferent to their sufferings. Our text tells us that he saw their afflictions, and heard their cry: his eye and his ear were constantly open to their complaint: every tear they shed was preserved, and every groan they uttered was recorded, in order to testify, at a future day, against the authors of their oppressions.”

Trust His Heart

Do you detect Jones’ underlying message? God’s delay in rescuing the Israelites and his delay in rescuing African Americans are part of his wise and caring plan, no matter how inscrutable that plan may appear to human eyes.

Next, with stirring imagery, Jones describes the personal nature of God’s healing presence. “But our text goes further: it describes the judge of the world to be so much moved, with what he saw and what he heard, that he rises from his throne—not to issue a command to the armies of angels that surround him to fly to the relief of his suffering children—but to come down from heaven in his own person, in order to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians. Glory to God for this precious record of his power and goodness.”

Christian Healing Hope

Jones personifies historic healing. For over two thousand years, Christian healing has underscored the encouragement that comes through enlightened eyes that see God at work behind life’s miseries and mysteries. Its practitioners have understood that when life stinks, our perspective shrinks. Therefore, they have diligently listened for God’s eternal story of deliverance. They have asked, in the midst of messes, “What is God up to in this?” They have worked with suffering people to co-create faith stories and Exodus narratives so that people can rejoice in the truth that “It’s possible to hope.”

When all seemed dark and hopeless, they communicated that “God is good. He’s good all the time!” Healing soul physicians enabled their spiritual friends to say with the Apostle Paul, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9b). They celebrated the resurrection and raised the roof because of the empty tomb.

They have also emphasized faith eyes or spiritual eyes by using scriptural truths to enlighten people to enter new dimensions of spiritual insight and to empower them to cross the threshold toward new levels of spiritual maturity. If sustaining brought surviving, then healing produced thriving. Even when situations could not change, attitudes and character could. Historic healers followed a biblical sufferology (theology of suffering) that taught that crisis provided a door of opportunity which could produce forward gain from victim to victor. Through creative suffering, they placed themselves and their spiritual friends on God’s anvil to be master-crafted according to his perfect will.

[i] Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering, p. 34, from Foner, Lift Every Voice, p. 75.
[ii] Ibid.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

He Has Seen! Part II

“He Has Seen!”:
Absalom Jones’ Historic New Year’s Message, Part II

The history of New Year’s Eve “Watch Night” services and of New Year’s Day messages is long and varied, carried out in white churches and black churches. In African American churches, a major part of that history traces back to the Rev. Absalom Jones.

He Has Heard!

God has not only seen; he has also heard. Rev. 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.”
[i] The suffering Jews and the suffering African Americans are one people of God.

He Came Down!

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.

[i] Kellemen, Beyond the Suffering, p. 226.
[ii] Ibid., p. 226.

Monday, December 29, 2008

He Has Seen!

“He Has Seen!”:
Absalom Jones’ Historic New Year’s Message, Part I

The history of New Year’s Eve “Watch Night” services and of New Year’s Day messages is long and varied, carried out in white churches and black churches. In African American churches, a major part of that history traces back to the Rev. Absalom Jones.

A New Year’s Day Message

Absalom Jones was born in slavery on November 6, 1746, in Sussex, Delaware. At age sixteen he moved to Philadelphia, and by age thirty-eight he was able to purchase his freedom. Along with Richard Allen, he became a lay preacher for the African American members of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1794, he was ordained a deacon in the African Episcopal Church, and in 1804 he was ordained a priest.

On January 1, 1808, in Philadelphia’s St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church, Jones preached a sermon entitled “A Thanksgiving Sermon on Account of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade.” The sermon parallels American slavery, the bondage of the Jews in Egypt, and God’s personal and powerful Exodus rescue of His people.

Jones begins his message by reading Exodus 3:7-8, “And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task-masters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” Commenting on this passage, Jones first highlights God’s sustaining care 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 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.”
[ii] To emphasize how important it is to pay attention to the earthly story, Jones presents an outline of African American history hauntingly similar to mine 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.

The God Who Sees

Like Hagar in the wilderness, Absalom Jones, with faith-eyes sees the God who sees us. In our lives, do we believe in a God who sees our affliction even when it appears He has turned His eyes from us and turned a deaf ear to us?

When God sees, what does He do? In Part II of this mini-series, Rev. Jones will continue his New Year’s message and answer that question for us.

[i] Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, p. 225, quoted in Warner, p. 540.
[ii] Ibid.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who Is Saint Nicholas?

Who Is Saint Nicholas?

*Note: So many people enjoyed this Christmas blog post in 2006, that I plan to re-post it every Christmas season. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

The origin of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time, the area was part of Greece and is now on the southern coast of Turkey.

His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man.

Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled, and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, that there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves, and robbers.

After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need. They also help us to understand something of the “Santa myths.”

One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.

Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him.

So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy.

However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves!

In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe.For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Legacy of African American Christian Christmas Celebration, Part III: Go Tell It on the Mountain

The Legacy of African American
Christian Christmas Celebration
Part III:
Go Tell It on the Mountain

For years now, Kwanzaa has been supported as a way to bring African American tradition into the Christmas celebration. However, what is severely lacking in Kwanzaa is the Christian legacy of African American Christmas celebration. This “mini-series” of blogs will explore the legacy of African American Christian Christmas Celebration.

Mutual Ministry through Slave Spirituals

Too often we see the spirituals simply as words and notes on a printed page. We forget that they emerged as communal songs which were heard, felt, sung, shouted, and often danced with great meaning.

To appreciate the meaning, message, and mutual ministry of the slave spirituals, it is essential that we understand how and why they were composed. Carey Davenport, a retired black Methodist minister from Texas, had been born enslaved in 1855. He vividly depicts the spontaneous nature of slave spirituals. “Sometimes the slaves went down in dugouts and hollows and held their own service and they used to sing songs that come a-gushing up from the heart.”

These were not polished, practiced anthems designed to entertain. They were personal, powerful psalms designed to sustain. “Songs were not carefully composed and copyrighted as they are today; they were ‘raised’ by anyone who had a song in their hearts.”

Slave spirituals were shared songs composed on the spot to empathize with and encourage real people in real trouble. Anderson Edwards, a slave preacher, remembers, “We didn’t have song books and the Lord gave us our songs and when we sang them at night it just whispering so nobody heard us.”

The creation of individual slave spirituals poignantly portrays soul care-giving at its best. When James McKim asked a slave the origin of a particular spiritual, the slave explained, “I’ll tell you; it’s this way. My master call ordered me a hundred lashes. My friends see it and are sorry for me. When they come to the praise meeting that night they sing about it. Some’s very good singers and know how; and they work it in, work it in, you know; till they get it right; and that’s the way.”
[5] Spirituals were born from slaves observing and empathizing with the suffering of their fellow slaves as a way of demonstrating identification and solidarity with the wronged slave.[6]

Go Tell It on the Mountain

It is in this context that Linda McDonnell describes the spontaneous composition of “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”[7] The author is unknown but the song was passed from generation to generation. “Go tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere, Go tell it on the mountain, Our Jesus Christ is born.”

It might have been lost, according to McDonnell, if not for the work of an African American church choir director from Nashville named John Wesley Work. “Shortly after the Civil War, Work, began gathering the songs of the former slaves as a way of helping his congregants understand their ancestors. Work’s collections soon made their way to nearby Fisk College, where the Fisk Jubilee Singers were touring the world with their arrangements of African American spirituals. Work’s son and grandson followed him as collectors of Black spirituals, as well as musicians in their own right. The Works are credited with saving hundreds of African American spirituals, including “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” from being lost. With the help of Work’s brother Frederick, John Work II arranged “Go Tell It on the Mountain” for the Fisk Jubilee Singers. When the Fisk choir debuted the song in 1880, audiences around the world were brought to tears. In 1909 it was published in a book of Black spirituals by Thomas P. Fenner. The musical version we know today was arranged by John Work III and published in 1940.”

And now you know, the rest of the story.

[1]Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering, p. 147; Raboteau, Slave Religion, p. 243.
[2]Rawick, From Sundown to Sunup, p. 34, emphasis added.
[3]Holmes, Joy Unspeakable, p. 109.
[4]Rawick, The American Slave, vol. 4, Texas, pt. 2, pp. 6-7.
[5]McKim, “Negro Songs,” in Katz, The Social Implications of Early Negro Music, p. 2.
[6]Goatley, “Godforsakenness in African American Spirituals,” in Hopkins, Cut Loose Your Stammering Tongue, p. 132.
[7]McDonnel, “The History of Go Tell It on the Mountain, December 15, 2008.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Legacy of African American Christian Christmas Celebration: Part II: Hardships Do Not Make It Too Hard to Love

The Legacy of African American
Christian Christmas Celebration
Part II:
Hardships Do Not Make It Too Hard to Love

For years now, Kwanzaa has been supported as a way to bring African American tradition into the Christmas celebration. However, what is severely lacking in Kwanzaa is the Christian legacy of African American Christmas celebration. This “mini-series” of blogs will explore the legacy of African American Christian Christmas Celebration.

A Brief Break from Horrible Hardships

Booker T. Washington discussed his memories of Christmas in The Booker T. Washington Papers. Washington noted that Christmas was the favorite holiday of the year for most slaves. It allowed them a respite from the horrible hardships and an opportunity to join as families to celebrate together.

During the Christmas season for slaves in Virginia, the slaves ceased to work for up to ten days. Some slaves received a present from their master. Washington recalled that a master who did not give his slave presents was looked down upon by other masters.

Family Love Remembered at Christmas Time

Though everything fought against them, enslaved African Americans battled gallantly to maintain family cohesion—a cohesion that provided a sturdy platform from which to handle life courageously and to celebrate Christmas even during the horrors of enslavement.

Jennie Hill was born and enslaved in 1837 in Missouri. Florence Patton interviewed the ninety-six-year-old Hill in 1933. During her interview while talking about Christmas memories, Hill adamantly resisted the notion that enslaved families lacked closeness. “Some people think that the slaves had no feeling—that there was no heartbreak when the children were torn from their parents or the mother taken from her brood to toil for a master in another state. But that isn’t so. The slaves loved their families even as Blacks love their own today. . .”

Communicating the message of African American family love was so important to Reverend Thomas Jones that he bore witness to it on the very first page of his narrative. “I can testify, from my own painful experience, to the deep and fond affection which the slave cherishes in his heart for his home and its dear ones. We have no other tie to link us to the human family, but our fervent love for those who are with us and of us in relations of sympathy and devotedness, in wrongs and wretchedness.”

The slave narratives and interviews tell remarkable stories about family love celebrated at Christmas and year round. One ex-enslaved person, reflecting back on his favorite Christmas memories, recalls his enslaved father’s character. “I loved my father. He was such a good man. He was a good carpenter and could do anything. My mother just rejoiced in him. . . . I sometimes think I learned more in my early childhood about how to live than I have learned since.”
[iv] All he ever needed to learn, he learned in his enslaved home.

Will Adam’s father, a foreman on a Texas plantation, always came home exhausted after a long day’s work. However, he never failed to take his son out of bed and play with him for hours.

Satan longs to blind African Americans to their legacy of family love. He wants all of us to believe that hardships make it too hard to love. These Christmas reflections from enslaved African Americans teach hardships do NOT make it too hard to love.

[i]Jessica McElrath, “Slaves and Christmas Celebration,”
[ii]Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering, p. 84, from Blassingame, Slave Testimony, p. 593.
[iii]Andrews, p. 211.
[iv]Johnson, God Struck Me Dead, p. 80.
[v]Rawick, The American Slave, vol. 4, Texas, pt. 1, p. 2.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Legacy of African American Christian Christmas Celebration: Part I: Jesus First

The Legacy of African American Christian Christmas Celebration
Part I: Jesus First

For years now, Kwanzaa has been supported as a way to bring African American tradition into the Christmas celebration. However, what is severely lacking in Kwanzaa is the Christian legacy of African American Christmas celebration. This “mini-series” of blogs will explore The Legacy of African American Christian Christmas Celebration.

Jesus First

A major reason for celebrations like Kwanzaa is the lack of knowledge about the Evangelical Christian legacy in African American history. Thus it is important to explore how and why African Americans turned to Christianity given the hypocritical religious culture of many of the Christian slave owners. In the midst of suffering through the ordeal of the sin of slavery, how did God save enslaved people from the slavery of sin?

Of course, it is equally important to acknowledge the inner battled that resulted from such hypocrisy. Daniel Alexander Payne explains. Born to free parents in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1811, during his ordination in 1839, he describes the testing of faith caused by Christian duplicity. “The slaves are sensible of the oppression exercised by their masters; and they see these masters on the Lord’s day worshiping in His holy Sanctuary. They hear their masters professing Christianity; they see their masters preaching the Gospel; they hear these masters praying in their families, and they know that oppression and slavery are inconsistent with the Christian religion; therefore they scoff at religion itself—mock their masters, and distrust both the goodness and justice of God. Yes, I have known them even to question His existence.”

If spiritually famished African Americans were going to convert to Christianity, then they had to convert on the basis of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as revealed in the Bible, not on the basis of Christianity revealed in the lifestyles of the Christians they knew.

Christ’s suffering for humanity’s sin was the key that unlocked their hearts and enlightened their eyes. “Jesus quickly became the ardent personification of the slaves’ own suffering.”
[ii] Their suffering at the hands of Christians caused them to identify with a suffering Savior who suffered at the hands of religious leaders.

At the same time, African American Christians clearly recognized and constantly emphasized the difference between Christ’s sinlessness and their personal need for forgiveness from sin. The recurring theme of the conversion narratives was salvation from sin, not from suffering. Yes, Christ shared with them the experience of unjust suffering. But more importantly, they shared in Christ’s suffering for their sins.

Pastor James W. C. Pennington, reflecting on his conversion, seamlessly expresses his understanding of suffering and of sin. Without minimizing for a moment the evils of slavery, he maximizes for all eternity the horrors of his own enslavement to sin and Satan.

"I was a lost sinner and a slave to Satan; and soon I saw that I must make another escape from another tyrant. I did not by any means forget my fellow-bondmen, of whom I had been sorrowing so deeply, and travailing in spirit so earnestly; but I now saw that while man had been injuring me, I had been offending God; and that unless I ceased to offend him, I could not expect to have his sympathy in my wrongs; and moreover, that I could not be instrumental in eliciting his powerful aid in behalf of those for whom I mourned so deeply."

Rejecting the “slaveholding gospel” of the institutional Church of that era, the enslaved African Americans gave birth to a regenerated Christianity that reflected fundamental Christian doctrine while maintaining compatible African traditions. Their cultural practice of biblical Christianity provided the new orientation toward existence that they needed given their shattered external circumstances and sinful internal nature. It created the new narrative of present resilience made possible by a Savior who suffered with them because they were sinned against. It also created the new narrative of future hope made possible by a Savior who suffered for them because they were sinners.

Christmas with Jesus First

Therefore, Christmas for African American believers was a celebration of the One Person they could both identify with and entrust themselves to. One unnamed slave described his Christmas conversion joy. “After my conversion I was happy, and I spent a whole week going over the community, telling everybody what happened to me. I was the happiest person in the whole world. I have gone on praising the Lord since that time.”

More than anything, Christmas was an internal celebration of a free gift to an enslaved people. It was the remarkable wonder that God in Christ had broken into a broken world and unshackled the bonds of their soul, even if the physical bonds yet remained shackled.

Pastor Peter Randolph expands on the nature of a converted Christmas response. “The eyes of my mind were open, and I saw things as I never did before. With my mind’s eye, I could see my Redeemer hanging upon the cross for me. I wanted all the other slaves to see him thus, and feel as happy as I did. I used to talk to others, and tell them of the friend they would have in Jesus, and show them by my experience how I was brought to Christ, and felt his love within my heart—and love it was, in God’s adapting himself to my capacity.”

The African American Christian Christmas was a joyous internal celebration of the greatest gift ever given: Jesus Christ. A suffering people empathized with a suffering Savior. A suffering people submitted to a Savior who submitted His will to His Father. A suffering people rejoiced that unto them a child was given, unto them a Savior was born.

Of course, their internal joy was mitigated by their horrible external situation. In Part II we will see how African American Christians responded on Christmas to their external situation with the truth that hardships do not make it too hard to love. We’ll see something of the family Christmas joy that moved beyond the suffering.

[i]Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, Baker Books, 2007, p. 104. Quoted in Payne, “American Slavery Brutalizes Man,” in Foner, Lift Every Voice, p. 177.
[ii] Andrews, Practical Theology, p. 18.
[iii] Pennington, “The Fugitive Blacksmith,” in Katz, Five Slave Narratives, p. 52, emphasis added.
[iv] Johnson, God Struck Me Dead, p. 140.
[v] Randolph, From Slave Cabin to Pulpit, p. 1.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Warren/Obama Connection and Controversy: We Report, You Decide

The Warren/Obama Connection and Controversy:
We Report, You Decide

President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Presidential Inauguration has stirred controversy with liberal groups and gay rights proponents. They complain because Warren adheres to socially conservative convictions including his pro-life stance against abortion and his opposition to gay marriage. They ignore that he has also championed issues such as a reduction of global poverty, human rights abuses, and the AIDS epidemic.

Almost two years ago to the day (December 1, 2008), Pastor Warren was heatedly criticized by right wing religious and political groups for inviting then Senator Obama to speak at his church (Saddleback Community Church) during Warren’s second annual AIDS Conference. An open letter signed by Phyllis Schlafly, head of the conservative Eagle Forum, and 17 others contended “If Senator Obama cannot defend the most helpless citizens in our country, he has nothing to say to the AIDS crisis. You cannot fight one evil while justifying another.” The din became sufficiently loud that Saddleback posted a response stressing Warren’s disagreement with Obama on abortion but noting that “Obama was invited to share his views on AIDS, not abortion or any other issue.”

Unity in Opposition

How ironic that it takes an Evangelical Pastor and a Democratic President to unite the left and right in America! The common denominator in their vehement opposition to any joint appearances is called “secondary separation.” This is the conviction that you cannot join in any coalition with a member of that coalition who disagrees with you on any significant moral issue, even issues not directly addressed in the coalition.

For example, when Warren invited Obama, Dr. Wiley Drake, pastor of First Baptist Church in Buena Park, CA, and Second Vice President of the 42 million-member Southern Baptist Convention told the Los Angeles Times, “You can’t work together with people totally opposed to what you are. This kind of conference is just going to lead people astray.”

On the other hand, Richard Land, head of the denomination’s influential Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its principal Washington strategist, agreed with Warren. “Rick is having a summit on AIDS, and Barack Obama has said some compelling things about the issue. I work all the time in coalition with people to the right and left of me, when we’re in agreement on a specific issue. One of the markers of Evangelicals is the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Where Do You Stand?

So where do you stand on this issue and issues like them? Where do you draw the line?

Was Warren wrong to invite Obama to his AIDS Conference? By doing so, do you think Warren implicitly approved of all of Obama’s positions, even though he disavowed specific views publicly?

Was Obama inconsistent to invite Pastor Warren to deliver the invocation? By doing so, do you think Obama implicitly approved of all of Warren’s positions, even though he expressed public disagreement with some specific views?

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Journey: Forty Days of Promise

The Journey:
Forty Days of Promise
Celebrating the Legacy of
African American Christianity

Thirty days from now you are invited to join me on a forty-day journey. I will be blogging, Lord willing, during the forty days from Martin Luther King Day on January 19, 2009, to the end of Black History Month on February 28, 2009. The title will be: The Journey: Forty Days of Promise--Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity. I know, technically, that is forty-one days. February 28 will be a day of reflection on the previous forty-day journey. I will highlight each day a stirring narrative from Black Church history. Then I will ponder application of this legacy to our lives today. Finally, I will include discussion questions so that you can individually, or in your family, or corporately in your church ponder the implications for your life and ministry.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How's Your Spiritual Love Life? Part Six: Desiring God

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?
Part Six: Desiring God

Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? Why do we love God or fail to love God? The biblical answers to these questions might surprise you. Join us on a journey of spiritual discovery in our new blog series on How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

Yesterday we explored our longing to enjoy our heavenly Father. Today we explore several additional biblical portraits of our longing for our Father who art in heaven.

Longing to Entrust Ourselves to Our Father

When we say that we long for Father, we mean that we long to enjoy him and also that we long to entrust ourselves to him (Psalm 40:11; Psalm 62:11-12; Isaiah 6:1-3; Psalm 63:1-8). Entrust implies that we rely upon and place our confidence in Father’s faithful strength to keep us safe and secure. The cry, “Abba, Father,” represents our most basic relationship with God—a relationship of intimate trust. For believers, this means that every second that we trust God, we are fulfilling our purpose. Every time we cling to God, we glorify him while achieving our destiny.

Longing to Engage in Our Father’s Good Purposes

We revel in Father when we enjoy him, we take refuge in Father when we entrust ourselves to him, and we respect him when we engage in our Father’s good purposes. We long for the applause of heaven.

The Apostle Paul, awaiting his martyrdom, reminds his protégé, Timothy, that he has engaged in God’s purposes, and now longs for God’s high-five.

You take over. I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming (Eugene Peterson, The Message, p. 2172, 2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Father fashioned our souls to long for His “Well done thou good and faithful servant!” His pleasure with us is our pleasure (Luke 3:22; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Longing to Emulate and Reflect Our Father

We long to enjoy Father, entrust ourselves to Him, engage in His purposes, and we long to emulate or reflect Him. We want to hear God say, “That’s my boy! That’s my girl!” We want people to say of us, “Like Father, like son and daughter.” Our souls experience shalom when we fulfill our destiny of mirroring Father (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 5:1-2).

Longing to Exalt Our Father

Some may be ready to mount a protest. “What about exalting God? Doesn’t the Westminster Confession of Faith teach that our chief duty is to glorify God and love Him forever? You’ve got the love Him part, what about the glorify Him part?”

Totally true. We long to exalt Father. However, how do children exalt and honor parents? Is it not by enjoying parents, trusting parents, engaging in parents’ purposes, and emulating or imitating parents? When we enjoy, entrust, engage, and emulate, then we exalt our Father. We glorify God by loving Him forever.

If people notice that my son wants to be with me, smiles as we talk, enjoys my presence, then they think, “Must be a pretty cool dad.” As Piper reminds us, “Never forget that God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 14).

If people observe my daughter trusting me, depending upon me, believing in me, then they say, “Great father.” If people see that my children join me in my values, living for Christ like I try to, then they comment, “Wow! Some parent.” If people find my children following my lifestyle examples, reflecting something good in me, then they respond, “He must be quite a man.”

People will honor our Father when we enjoy Him, entrust ourselves to Him, engage in His good purposes, and emulate His character. God will be honored and we will be at peace. Our longings satisfied. Our thirsts quenched.

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

So, how’s your spiritual love life? Prayerfully ponder:

*Who do I trust in to keep me safe and secure?

*Who do I cry to and cling to?

*In what ways do I long for the applause of heaven?

*What will it mean to me to hear God’s “Well done!” and to receive God’s high five?

*When people look at me, do they say, “Life Heavenly Father, like son or daughter”?

*How well am I exalting God by enjoying, entrusting, engaging in His purposes and emulating Him?

*How well am I glorifying God by loving Him forever?

[i]Developed from materials originally published in: Kellemen, Bob. Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2007.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How's Your Spiritual Love Life? Part Five: Longing for Father

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?
Part Five: Longing for Father

Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? Why do we love God or fail to love God? The biblical answers to these questions might surprise you. Join us on a journey of spiritual discovery in our new blog series on How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

We Are Worshipping Beings Who Long

As worshipping beings we long for Father. We are faith-in-Father-beings. Our souls are a magnet polarized toward FATHER, longing for peace with our Father of holy love. The essence of our humanity centers on our loving trust in God the Father. This is the fundamental unifying factor in the human personality.

We are truly human only in fellowship with our Creator. Communion with God is precisely the natural state of true humanity. Man is truly man only when he participates in divine life and realizes in himself the image and likeness of God, and this participation in no way diminishes his authentically human existence, human energy and will (Maximos the Confessor, quoted in Neil Anderson, The Common Made Holy, p. 52).

The deepest longing in the human soul is to be in relationship with Someone who absolutely delights in us (“This is my beloved . . .”) and who fundamentally values us (“. . . in whom I am well pleased”). God created our souls with an ardent desire, a yearning, an appetite for relating. Our prevailing and prominent desire is for a relationship with our Father who art in heaven.

Longing to Enjoy Our Father

So when we say that we long for our Father, what do we mean? What do we long for when we long for our heavenly Father? First, we long to enjoy our Father. Enjoying God is foreign to us today, yet it is a continual biblical theme, it was common to our parents in the faith, and it is our holy calling and happy privilege.

The Psalmists sing, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” (Psalm 63:3). “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6). Our Father’s unfailing love is the umbilical cord of our life (Psalm 107:9; Psalm 136:1-26; Proverbs 19:22). Speaking of God’s husband-wife relationship to His people, Walther Eichrodt writes:

In choosing her to be his wife, he is not amusing himself, but fully committing himself to put his love into effect by founding a community, within which it is his will to enter into an intimate relationship with his people, and through them with all humanity. When he disciplines, it is not a light-hearted disregard for his unheard-of graciousness, nor a chilly withdrawal, nor yet a penalty enforcing the letter of the law. But a solemn act of calling to account, carried out in a fit of blazing indignation, to bring about a realization of what a grave thing it is to put his holy will to shame, and at the same time to show how seriously he takes his human partner (­Eichrodt, Ezekiel: A Commentary, p. 209).

Enjoying God is biblical and it is historical. Aelred, summed God and our relationship to Him when he wrote, “God is friendship.” Satisfying friendship, at that. “The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied” (Edwards, “The Christian Pilgrim,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, p. 2).

Enjoying God is biblical, historical, and wonderful. “The pleasure God has in his Son will become my pleasure, and I will not be consumed, but enthralled forever” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p 28). He quenches our thirst and captivates our souls.

The suffering church militant of this present evil age is to cultivate one great impulse throbbing in her soul, viz. an aching longing for the Bridegroom to come to her, to take her in his arms, with nothing within herself to wrest her away, and to be held there for ever. Until such time as he is pleased to come, she is to center her life around the love of Jesus Christ, the King, Bridegroom and Husband of his church, to her his Queen, Bride, and Spouse, and of hers to him (Ray Ortlund, Whoredom, pp. 168-169).

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

In tomorrow’s blog, Lord willing, we will explore four more aspects of our longing for God our Father. Until then, let’s examine our spiritual love life. Prayerfully ponder:

*In what ways is my life evidencing that my soul is a magnet polarized toward my heavenly Father?

*In what ways is my life evidencing loving trust in God the Father?

*In what ways is my life evidencing the deepest longing of the human soul to be in relationship with God the Father who absolutely delights in me and who deeply values me?

*In what ways is my life evidencing the longing to enjoy my heavenly Father?

*In what ways is my life evidencing that my heavenly Father’s unfailing love is the umbilical cord of my life?

*In what ways is my life evidencing the truth that the enjoyment of God is the only happiness that satisfies my soul?

[i]Developed from materials originally published in: Kellemen, Bob. Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2007.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How's Your Spiritual Love Life? Part Four: Designed for Relationship

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?
Part Four: Designed for Relationship

Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? Why do we love God or fail to love God? The biblical answers to these questions might surprise you. Join us on a journey of spiritual discovery in our new blog series on How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

Designed for Relationships

Because God is relational, all reality is relational. God, therefore, designed us for relationship. Henri Nouwen, though separating our relationality from our rationality more than I would, illustrates our core nature.

Somehow during the centuries we have come to believe that what makes us human is our mind. Many people seem to know the definition of a human being as a reasoning animal. But what makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think but our ability to love. It is our heart that is made in the image and likeness of God (Robert Durback, Seed of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader, p. 197).

Henry Scougal and John Piper more accurately, I think, dissect relational reality. “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love” (Scougal, The Life of God, p. 62).

How else do we assess the beauty of an invisible heart than by what it loves? Someone might suggest, “By what it thinks.” But clear and accurate thought is beautiful only in the service of right affections. The devil himself is quite an able intellect. But he loves all the wrong things. Therefore his thinking serves evil and his soul is squalid. Or perhaps someone would suggest that we can assess the beauty of a soul by what it wills. Yes, but there is half-hearted willing and whole-hearted willing. You don’t judge the glory of a soul by what it wills to do with lukewarm interest, or with mere teeth-gritting determination. To know a soul’s proportions you need to know its passions. The true dimensions of a soul are seen in its delights. Not what we dutifully will but what we passionately want reveals our excellence or evil (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 18, emphasis added).

Face-to-Face, Faith Beings: We Are Worshipping Beings

Designed by God, we are face-to-face beings. In relationship to God, we are faith beings. Faith is the core of the original human personality. That core involves entrusting ourselves to Someone who transcends us, yet draws near to us. In the innermost chamber of our soul resides a worshipping being; the ability to worship from the heart is what makes us human.

By these descriptions, there are no atheists. Everyone must put their trust in Someone or Something. Even Madelyn Murray O’Hair. Consider these excerpts from her diary, found by the IRS in 1999.

A 1959 entry reveals an almost pathetic despair: “The whole idiotic hopelessness of human relations descends upon me. Tonight I cried and cried, but even then, feeling nothing.”

1973 New Year’s Wish List: A mink coat, Cadillac, cook, housekeeper. “In 1974 I will run for the governor of Texas, and in 1976, the president of the United States.” Ironic that in 1976 we elected one of the most committed Christians ever to be president.

In 1977 she wrote: “I have failed in marriage, motherhood, and as a politician.”

One poignant phrase appears again and again. In half a dozen places, O’Hair writes, “Somebody, somewhere, love me.”

Reflecting on her words, Chuck Colson writes:

How telling that this hostile and abrasive person, who harbored nothing but hatred for God and his people, who believed human beings were merely the product of a cosmic accident, would nevertheless cry out to the great void for someone just to love her. What a powerful example of the fundamental truth that we are made for a relationship of love with our Creator, and that we can never fully escape from our true identity and purpose. No matter how much we may deny it intellectually, our nature still cries out for the love we were made to share. To paraphrase the famous words of St. Augustine, even the most bitter atheist is restless until she finds her rest in God (Colson, Prison Fellowship Ministry, 1999).

God is our primal relationship, whether we face it or not, whether we like Him or not. We always live oriented toward God—either with our faces or our backs oriented to Him.

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

So, how’s your spiritual love life? Prayerfully ponder:

*If our ability to love is what makes us human, then how human am I? How loving am I?

*If the worth of the soul is measured by the object of its love, then of how much worth is my soul? Who or what is the object of my love?

*If we can assess the beauty of our heart by what we love, then how beautiful is my heart? Who or what do I love?

*Am I loving all the right things or all the wrong things?

*Who or what does my soul delight in? Who or what is my soul passionate about?

*Who or what do I entrust my soul to?

*We are made for a love relationship with our Creator. Is my face turned toward Him or is my back turned toward Him?

[i]Developed from materials originally published in: Kellemen, Bob. Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2007

Monday, December 15, 2008

How's Your Spiritual Love Life? Part Three: Religious Affections

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?
Part Three: Religious Affections

Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? Why do we love God or fail to love God? The biblical answers to these questions might surprise you. Join us on a journey of spiritual discovery in our new blog series on How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

We Are Motivated by Religious Affections

The Puritans called our spiritual longings “religious affections.” By “affections” they did not mean emotions, but something deeper. Emotions are reactive; affections are directive. As Jonathan Edwards explains: “Affections are the mainspring of human actions. The Author of human nature not only gave affections to man, but he made them the basis of human actions” (Edwards, Religious Affections, p. 9). Earlier he wrote:

The affections are the spring of men’s actions. All activity ceases unless he is moved by some affection—take away desire and the world would be motionless and dead—there would be no such thing as activity or any earnest pursuit whatsoever. Everywhere the Scriptures place much emphasis on the affections (Edwards, Religious Affections, p. xxviii).

The energy behind life is relational/spiritual. Relationships are fundamentally what move us. As John Owen describes:

Relational affections motivate the soul to cleave to and to seek relationships. The affections are in the soul as the helm is in the ship; if it be laid hold on by a skillful hand, he turneth the whole vessel which way he pleaseth (Owen, Temptation and Sin, p. ix).

Like God, as image bearers, we are persons-in-relationship. Spiritual relationships are the Holy of Holies of the soul because there truly is a God-shaped vacuum in the human soul.

We hunger for God while attempting to keep him far from our spiritual diet. When I worked on a psychiatric inpatient unit, I counseled a young man diagnosed as manic-depressive (what is now called bi-polar affective disorder). He experienced intense mood swings. At times he struggled with bouts of crippling depression, at other times he suffered from incapacitating elation. During one of his elevated periods, I asked him what would happen if he slowed down. “When I slow down, when my mind takes a break, then I languish alone in a bottomless, loveless pit.”

As we worked together, I encouraged him to invite God into the pit and onto the mountaintop. “Whatever you are experiencing,” I shared, “God is there and wants to experience it with you.”

In the ensuing days, weeks, months, and even years, he was able to face his spiritual dread. Though I believe that part of his struggle was physical, I believe that another part was spiritual. In his highs and lows, he escaped God, or at least tried to. All non-biological issues are relational issues, and ultimately spiritual ones. Blaise Pascal describes what occurs when we attempt to quench our spiritual thirst in non-God ways.

What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there once was in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself (Pascal, Pensées, VII, Paragraph 425).

So how’s your spiritual love life? Prayerfully ponder:

*What moves and motivates you to action?
*What desires impel and compel you?
*What are you earnestly pursuing and why?
*What is the energy behind your life?
*What fundamentally moves you?
*What is your soul cleaving to and seeking?
*Who or what is at the helm of your soul?
*What is in the Holy of Holies of your soul?
*What do you fill the God-shaped vacuum of your soul with?
*What do you fill your hungry soul with?
*What is your source of true happiness?
*What are you filling your infinite abyss with?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Racial Identity in American Life

Racial Identity in American Life

Here’s an interesting article by Jesse Washington of the AP.

Here’s the original link:

Obama's True Colors: Black, White ... or Neither?

By JESSE WASHINGTON, AP National Writer Jesse Washington, Ap National Writer – Sat Dec 13, 2008

A perplexing new chapter is unfolding in Barack Obama's racial saga: Many people insist that "the first black president" is actually not black.

Debate over whether to call this son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan biracial, African-American, mixed-race, half-and-half, multiracial — or, in Obama's own words, a "mutt" — has reached a crescendo since Obama's election shattered assumptions about race.

Obama has said, "I identify as African-American — that's how I'm treated and that's how I'm viewed. I'm proud of it." In other words, the world gave Obama no choice but to be black, and he was happy to oblige.

But the world has changed since the young Obama found his place in it.

Intermarriage and the decline of racism are dissolving ancient definitions. The candidate Obama, in achieving what many thought impossible, was treated differently from previous black generations. And many white and mixed-race people now view President-elect Obama as something other than black.

So what now for racial categories born of a time when those from far-off lands were property rather than people, or enemy instead of family?

"They're falling apart," said Marty Favor, a Dartmouth professor of African and African-American studies and author of the book "Authentic Blackness."

"In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois said the question of the 20th century is the question of the color line, which is a simplistic black-white thing," said Favor, who is biracial. "This is the moment in the 21st century when we're stepping across that."

Rebecca Walker, a 38-year-old writer with light brown skin who is of Russian, African, Irish, Scottish and Native American descent, said she used to identify herself as "human," which upset people of all backgrounds. So she went back to multiracial or biracial, "but only because there has yet to be a way of breaking through the need to racially identify and be identified by the culture at large."

"Of course Obama is black. And he's not black, too," Walker said. "He's white, and he's not white, too. Obama is whatever people project onto him ... he's a lot of things, and neither of them necessarily exclude the other."

But U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, a black man who by all appearances is white, feels differently.

Butterfield, 61, grew up in a prominent black family in Wilson, N.C. Both of his parents had white forebears, "and those genes came together to produce me." He grew up on the black side of town, led civil rights marches as a young man, and to this day goes out of his way to inform people that he is certainly not white.
Butterfield has made his choice; he says let Obama do the same.

"Obama has chosen the heritage he feels comfortable with," he said. "His physical appearance is black. I don't know how he could have chosen to be any other race. Let's just say he decided to be white — people would have laughed at him."

"You are a product of your experience. I'm a U.S. congressman, and I feel some degree of discomfort when I'm in an all-white group. We don't have the same view of the world, our experiences have been different."

The entire issue balances precariously on the "one-drop" rule, which sprang from the slaveowner habit of dropping by the slave quarters and producing brown babies. One drop of black blood meant that person, and his or her descendants, could never be a full citizen.

Today, the spectrum of skin tones among African-Americans — even those with two black parents — is evidence of widespread white ancestry. Also, since blacks were often light enough to pass for white, unknown numbers of white Americans today have blacks hidden in their family trees.

One book, "Black People and their Place in World History," by Dr. Leroy Vaughn, even claims that five past presidents — Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge — had black ancestors, which would make Obama the sixth of his kind.

Mix in a few centuries' worth of Central, South and Native Americans, plus Asians, and untold millions of today's U.S. citizens need a DNA test to decipher their true colors. The melting pot is working.

Yet the world has never been confronted with such powerful evidence as Obama. So as soon as he was elected, the seeds of confusion began putting down roots.

"Let's not forget that he is not only the first African-American president, but the first biracial candidate. He was raised by a single white mother," a Fox News commentator said seven minutes after Obama was declared the winner.

"We do not have our first black president," the author Christopher Hitchens said on the BBC program "Newsnight." "He is not black. He is as black as he is white."

A Doonesbury comic strip that ran the day after the election showed several soldiers celebrating.

"He's half-white, you know," says a white soldier.

"You must be so proud," responds another.

Pride is the center of racial identity, and some white people seem insulted by a perception that Obama is rejecting his white mother (even though her family was a centerpiece of his campaign image-making) or baffled by the notion that someone would choose to be black instead of half-white.

"He can't be African-American. With race, white claims 50 percent of him and black 50 percent of him. Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all," Ron Wilson of Plantation, Fla., wrote in a letter to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

Attempts to whiten Obama leave a bitter taste for many African-Americans, who feel that at their moment of triumph, the rules are being changed to steal what once was deemed worthless — blackness itself.

"For some people it's honestly confusion," said Favor, the Dartmouth professor. "For others it's a ploy to sort of reclaim the presidency for whiteness, as though Obama's blackness is somehow mitigated by being biracial."

Then there are the questions remaining from Obama's entry into national politics, when some blacks were leery of this Hawaiian-born newcomer who did not share their history.

Linda Bob, a black schoolteacher from Eustis, Fla., said that calling Obama black when he was raised in a white family and none of his ancestors experienced slavery could cause some to ignore or forget the history of racial injustice.

"It just seems unfair to totally label him African-American without acknowledging that he was born to a white mother," she said. "It makes you feel like he doesn't have a class, a group."

There is at least one group eagerly waiting for Obama to embrace them. "To me, as to increasing numbers of mixed-race people, Barack Obama is not our first black president. He is our first biracial, bicultural president ... a bridge between races, a living symbol of tolerance, a signal that strict racial categories must go," Marie Arana wrote in the Washington Post.

He's a bridge between eras as well. The multiracial category "wasn't there when I was growing up," said John McWhorter, a 43-year-old fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Race and Ethnicity, who is black. "In the '70s and the '80s, if somebody had one white parent and one black parent, the idea was they were black and had better get used to it and develop this black identity. That's now changing."

Latinos, whom the census identifies as an ethnic group and not a race, were not counted separately by the government until the 1970s. After the 1990 census, many people complained that the four racial categories — white, black, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska native — did not fit them. The government then allowed people to check more than one box. (It also added a fifth category, for Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.)

Six million people, or 2 percent of the population, now say they belong to more than one race, according to the most recent census figures. Another 19 million people, or 6 percent of the population, identify themselves as "some other race" than the five available choices.

The White House Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the census, specifically decided not to add a "multiracial" category, deeming it not a race in and of itself.

"We are in a transitional period" regarding these labels, McWhorter said. "I think that in only 20 years, the notion that there are white people and there are black people and anyone in between has some explaining to do and an identity to come up with, that will all seem very old-fashioned."

The debate over Obama's identity is just the latest step in a journey he unflinchingly chronicled in his memoir, "Dreams from My Father."

As a teenager, grappling with the social separation of his white classmates, "I had no idea who my own self was," Obama wrote.

In college in the 1970s, like millions of other dark-skinned Americans searching for self respect in a discriminatory nation, Obama found refuge in blackness. Classmates who sidestepped the label "black" in favor of "multiracial" chafed at Obama's newfound pride: "They avoided black people," he wrote. "It wasn't a matter of conscious choice, necessarily, just a matter of gravitational pull, the way integration always worked, a one-way street. The minority assimilated into the dominant culture, not the other way around."

Fast-forward 30 years, to the early stages of Obama's presidential campaign. Minorities are on track to outnumber whites, to redefine the dominant American culture. And the black political establishment, firmly rooted in the civil rights movement, questioned whether the outsider Obama was "black enough."

Then came the primary and general elections, when white voters were essential for victory. "Now I'm too black," Obama joked in July before an audience of minority journalists. "There is this sense of going back and forth depending on the time of day in terms of making assessments about my candidacy."

Today, it seems no single definition does justice to Obama — or to a nation where the revelation that Obama's eighth cousin is Dick Cheney, the white vice president from Wyoming, caused barely a ripple in the campaign.

In his memoir, Obama says he was deeply affected by reading that Malcolm X, the black nationalist-turned-humanist, once wished his white blood could be expunged.
"Traveling down the road to self-respect my own white blood would never recede into mere abstraction," Obama wrote. "I was left to wonder what else I would be severing if I left my mother and my grandparents at some uncharted border."

Friday, December 12, 2008

That's My King!

That's My King!

Dr. S. M. Lockridge (March 7, 1913 to April 4, 2000) was the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a prominent African American congregation located in San Diego, from 1953 to 1993. He also served as a guest lecturer at many schools, including The Billy Graham School of Evangelism.

His best-known message is a six-minute description of Jesus Christ, known as "That's My King!"

Here's a link to a YouTube version of his empowerng message:

It starts twenty seconds in. It's well worth the wait!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How's Your Spiritual Love Life? Part Two: The Holy of Holies of the Soul

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?[i]
Part Two: The Holy of Holies of the Soul

Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? Why do we love God or fail to love God? The biblical answers to these questions might surprise you. Join us on a journey of spiritual discovery in our new blog series on How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

Hunger Was God’s Idea

Hunger was God’s idea. He created us with a soul that thirsts for what only relationships can quench. The Hebrew word for soul comes from a word that means “throat”—the organ through which we take in nourishment, fill our hunger, and quench our thirst. The Hebrews used physical body parts to represent immaterial aspects of our personality. Proverbs 25:25 is one example: “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.”

As the throat craves physical satisfaction, so the soul craves personal, relational satisfaction. We long for and are motivated by a thirst for intimate involvement and union. These longings for relationship are part of our essential being as created in God’s image.

Love is to the soul what breathing is to the lungs and food is to the stomach. Without connection, we shrivel; we starve to death. With mutual, risky, giving, grace relationships we thrive. The exact center of our being is our capacity to give and receive in relationships.

What motivates us to do what we do? What impels us? In training counselors, I like to tell them, “Go where the action is.” The action is relational because we are relationally motivated. We pursue what we perceive to be pleasing.

“We have an immense void inside that craves satisfaction from powers and persons and pleasures outside ourselves. Yearning and longing and desire are the very stuff of our nature” (John Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 48).

As the Puritan writer, Henry Scougal, reminded us, “the soul of man has in it a raging and inextinguishable thirst” (Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, p. 108). We’re motivated to quench our relational thirsts.

Worship: The Holy of Holies of the Soul

We were born desiring worship. In our original design, God implanted in us a fundamental nature that must worship.

When I began working toward my doctorate at Kent State University, I decided to develop relationships as a precursor to sharing my faith. Or so I thought. Two weeks into my initial semester, our professor assigned a paper on humanistic psychology. As the class discussed our viewpoints, our professor encouraged me to share my position. “Bob, you wrote an interesting paper contrasting humanistic psychology with Christian thinking.” So much for my “go slow” approach. During the ensuing discussion, one student was particularly vocal against my views.

About a month later, in a course on counseling the culturally different, a Native American presented the guest lecture. Toward the end of her talk, she invited us to stand to worship the spirit of the four winds. Two students remained seated—myself and the woman who had vocally opposed my views in the other class. As soon as class ended, she marched up to me to thank me for not standing. “You gave me the courage of my convictions. But to be honest, I’m not sure what I believe in. You seem so strong and sincere in your faith. Could we talk about your relationship to God?”

This young woman exposed her fundamental spiritual nature. I could have said of her what Paul said of the people of Athens, “I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22).

So how’s your spiritual love life? Prayerfully ponder:

*What quenches my thirst?

*What satisfies my soul?

*What fills my hunger?

*What do I crave?

*Can I say with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you, and on earth I desire nothing besides you”?

[i]Developed from materials originally published in: Kellemen, Bob. Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2007.

How's Your Spirtual Love Life, Part One: Great Lovers

How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?[i]
Part One: Great Lovers

Why do we do what we do? What motivates us? Why do we love God or fail to love God? The biblical answers to these questions might surprise you. Join us on a journey of spiritual discovery in our new blog series on How’s Your Spiritual Love Life?

Learn to Be a Great Lover

Often I’ve been tempted to market the counseling program I chair with the hook, Learn to be a great lover! but I’ve always had second thoughts. Too much possibility for misinterpretation. Frequently I’ve been tempted to start a first counseling session with the question, How’s your love life? I never have. Might be misinterpreted.

How’s your love life? Are you a great lover? Want to learn to be one? Keep reading.

Post-modern Christianity careens between the two extremes of fluffy, surface experientialism, and cold, aloof scholasticism. Biblical Christianity joins head and heart. We need a biblical theology that teaches us how to relate.

Changeless Truth for Changing Times

John Calvin, in his classic work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, explains that love is fundamentally what moves us. “God begins his good work in us, therefore, by arousing love and desire and zeal for righteousness in our hearts; or, to speak more correctly, by bending, forming, and directing our hearts to righteousness.”

And Augustine, in his now famous quote, notes of God, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

Great Lovers Wanted

The Trinity marvelously fashioned us to reflect God, relate like God, representatively rule for God, and rest in God. God created us with the capacities to relate. He designed us to love Him with our entire being—worshipping Him as we enjoy and exalt Him. By creation, we are spiritual beings who worship, and, therefore, long to exalt, enjoy, and entrust ourselves to God.

So, how’s your love life? Could your relationship with God use some biblical truth and some resurrection power multipliers? Then come back tomorrow as we share relevant biblical principles for loving God passionately. Until then, prayerfully ponder:

*What do I value?
*What do I pursue?
*What do I treasure?

[i]Developed from materials originally published in: Kellemen, Bob. Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2007.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

God's Healing for Life's Losses

RPM Ministries is excited to announce their newest one-day conference:
God’s Healing for Life’s Losses:
How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting

Experience engaging PowerPoint presentations, relevant biblical teaching,
personal healing, and equipping to minister to your hurting friends.

Presented by Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., LCPC

Bob is the Author of five books, including God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting (BMH Books, 2009); Chairman, Master of Arts in Christian Counseling and Discipleship Department, Capital Bible Seminary; and Director of the Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network for the American Association of Christian Counselors.

Attend and You Will Learn How To:

*Apply to your life a four-stage biblical model of facing life’s losses with courageous honesty.
*Apply to your life a four-stage biblical model of finding healing hope by finding God.
*Apply proven biblical principles to help hurting people to move through the biblical stages of hurting and grieving: candor, complaint, cry, and comfort.
*Apply proven biblical principles to help hurting people to move through the biblical stages of hope and growth: waiting, wailing, weaving, and worshipping.
*Practice skillfully the biblical counseling and soul care arts of sustaining and healing.
*Build healing communities where Christians find courage and comfort in God and each other.

Comprehensive, Compassionate, Culturally-Informed
Biblical Grief Counseling

Students of human grief have developed various models of typical grief responses. However, these models fail to assess whether the responses correspond to God’s process for hurting (grieving) and hoping (growing). Dr. Bob Kellemen, in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, equips you to apply eight scriptural stages in your response to life’s losses—helping you to find hope when you’re hurting. Bob will also empower you to minister healing hope to others so that they can face suffering face-to-face with God.

Attend the God’s Healing for Life’s Losses Seminar To:

*Experience personal healing and biblical hope.
*Encounter God in the midst of your suffering.
*Empathize with hurting people more compassionately.
*Encourage suffering people more competently.
*Empower your congregation to become a “hospital for the hurting.”

God’s Healing for Life’s Losses Seminar Schedule

8:00-8:45--Registration and Continental Breakfast
8:45-8:55--Praise and Worship
8:55-9:00--Greeting and Prayer
9:00-10:30--Session One: Launching the Journey of Grief: Honesty with Yourself and with God—Candor and Complaint
10:45-12:00--Session Two: Inviting God to Join Your Journey: Finding God Even When You Can’t Find Answers—Cry and Comfort
12:00-1:00--Lunch Provided
1:00-1:15--Praise and Worship
1:15-2:30--Session Three: Deepening Your Journey During the Dark Night of the Soul: On the Road to Hope—Waiting and Wailing
2:45-4:00--Session Four: Traveling with God on the Journey of Faith: Joining the Larger Story—Weaving and Worshipping
4:00--Closing Benediction
4:00-4:30--Optional Book Signing

RPM Ministries,,
PO Box 270, Crown Point, IN 46308, 219-662-8138
Changing Lives with Christ’s Changeless Truth
Comprehensive, Compassionate, Culturally-informed
Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation