Friday, February 27, 2009

The Journey: Day 41--Our Day of Reflection


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

Our Day of Reflection


Thank you for joining me over the past forty-day journey. As promised at the outset, on our 41st day we pause to reflect.

My Reflections

In the introduction to Beyond the Suffering, Karole and I noted that the book is a gift to African Americans and a gift from African Americans. As a gift to, it honors the tremendous contributions made by African American believers—contributions frequently neglected by most historians. As a gift from, it equips and empowers all people of all races as we learn life lessons from heroes of Black Church history.

It is my prayer that the past forty days have serve a similar purpose. That my longest-ever blog series has been a gift to and a gift from African Americans.

It never ceases to amaze me that so few people are aware of these great believers and their great life stories. I hope their treasure will now remain unburied.

Your Reflections

Reflecting on everything you’ve read during these forty days, what topics and themes stand out to you? Why? What will you do with these concepts?

How can we keep the gift going and growing?

How can we expand intercultural ministry and relationships?

Biblical Reflections from the Past and Into the Future

Finally, let’s leave with two biblical reflections.

*Reflection # 1: Hebrews 11:1-12:3

The great past cloud of witnesses, though dead, their lives yet speak. I’m thankful that our legacy outlives us. I’m thankful for the African American legacy. Their legacy encourages and empowers me to live beyond the suffering and to leave a loving legacy for future generations.

*Reflection # 2: Revelation 7:9

When the Apostle John peers into the future, he does not see a homogenized eternity. Instead, he sees a multi-cultural future throng gathered together for ever and ever in joint worship of the King of Kings. I’m thankful that diversity will outlive the old heaven and the old earth. I’m thankful that in the new heaven and the new earth our differences will be celebrated. I want to live today in light of that future intercultural day.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Journey: Day Forty--The Tournament of Narratives


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

Day Forty: The Tournament of Narratives


Welcome to day forty of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Day Forty: The Tournament of Narratives

The idea of an American “national narrative” drawn from Scripture was not new. When European Christians immigrated to America, they chose a dominant biblical lens through which to view themselves corporately. They were, according to Puritan John Winthrop, “a city upon a hill.” As God’s new chosen people fleeing the religious tyranny of Europe, if they obeyed God they would “find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies.”

From the earliest period of their migration to the New World, European colonists spoke of their journey as the New Exodus of a New Israel from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land of milk and honey. For these early European Americans, America already was the Promised Land. White Europeans left Europe in an exodus due to persecution, finding religious and political freedom and likening it to the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea.

For their ancestors, the message rings true to this day—they are God’s chosen people and America is an especially God-blessed land. In fact, many would be shocked to realize that anyone has ever seen it any differently.

Bound for the Promised Land

Whereas Europeans freely sailed to the “land of the free,” Africans were stolen away from their free lands, stowed in the hideous holds of the slave ships, and brought to the “land of bondage.” For Europeans the Exodus already occurred, for Africans it was yet future. Europeans lived in the Promised Land. Africans were bound for the Promised Land.

“For African-Americans the journey was reversed: whites might claim that America was a new Israel, but blacks knew that it was Egypt, since they, like the children of Israel of old, still toiled in bondage. Unless America freed God’s African children, this nation would suffer the plagues that had afflicted Egypt.”

Could two biblically-based visions of one nation be any more different? Both shared a common stock of biblical metaphors: Egypt, Exodus, the Promised Land. However, each saw the vision through different lenses.

Lift Every Voice

James Weldon Johnson summarizes the African American perspective brilliantly. Lift Every Voice has been called “The African American National Anthem.”

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring,Ring with the harmonies of liberty;Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at lastWhere the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;Thou who hast by thy might, led us into the light,Keep us forever in the path, we pray.Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,True to our God, true to our native land.


We’ve come this far by faith. The journey has been dark, but it’s taught us great faith lessons leading us toward the light. God calls us on our voyage to live an emancipated spiritual life. Through Christ’s power at work within us, we can stand, as one, true to God and true to our native land.

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Concerning the “Tournament of Narratives,” how surprised are you that there have been such diametrically opposed views of the American experience?

2. How can your understanding of these dissonant viewpoints equip you to minister more effectively cross-culturally?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Journey: Day Thirty-Nine:


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

Day Thirty-Nine: Following the North Star


Welcome to day thirty-nine of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Day Thirty-Nine: Following the North Star

We follow the North Star guidance of African American sisters of the Spirit by encouraging spiritual sisters with the good news that the Spirit intimately indwells them. Jarena Lee reminds us of this truth because she experienced it.

In the course of six years, five of her family members died, including her husband. “I was now left alone in the world, with two infant children, one of the age of about two years, the other six months, with no other dependence than the promise of Him who hath said—I will be the widow’s God, and a father to the fatherless.”

Along with Lee, we need to help our spiritual friends to see the two primary ways that the indwelling Spirit ministers. First, he uses his other children. Lee recounts,

Turning to Our Brothers and Sisters

“Accordingly, he raised me up friends, whose liberality comforted and solaced me in my state of widowhood and sorrows. I could sing with the greatest propriety the words of the poet, ‘He helps the stranger in distress, the widow and the fatherless, and grants the prisoner sweet release.”

Such awareness is vital. The temptation when we are hurt by people is to turn only to God. This pseudo-spirituality is not the way of the Spirit. African American female exemplars like Lee demonstrate that the Spirit uses brothers and sisters of the Spirit to sustain, heal, reconcile, and guide us.

Turning to Our Heavenly Father

Second, the Spirit does indeed work directly in and on our hurting hearts. Lee understood this truth, also. “I can say even now, with the Psalmist, ‘Once I was young, but now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’ I have ever been fed by his bounty, clothed in his mercy, comforted and healed when sick, succored when tempted, and every where upheld by his hand.”

This “balancing” awareness is also crucial. The temptation when we are helped by people is to keep turning only to people. As we’ve seen continually in this chapter, these sisters of the Spirit led people to the Spirit for his sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. Our source of spiritual care is not either/or. It is both/and.

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. What do these inspiring messages from sisters of the Spirit inspire you to do?

2. Which of the sisters of the Spirit do you identify with the most?

The Journey: Day Thirty-Eight--Calling Out a People


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

Day Thirty-Eight: Calling Out a People


Welcome to day thirty-eight of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Day Thirty-Eight: Calling Out a People

In September 1832, in Boston, Massachusetts, Maria Stewart did something that no American-born woman of any race before her undertook. “She mounted a lecture platform and raised a political argument before a ‘promiscuous’ audience, that is, one composed of both men and women.”

According to her personal testimony, she was a woman of profound Christian faith, moved by the Spirit to “willingly sacrifice my life for the cause of God and my brethren.” In the climate of that day, she did indeed take her life in her hands. In her characteristic fiery style, familiar to readers of her articles in The Liberator, she argued against the colonization movement to ship African Americans to West Africa. Using biblical imagery she challenged her racially mixed audience asking, “Why sit ye here and die?”

She called blacks and whites to action, in particular urging black Americans to demand their God-given rights. “Her message was unsparing and controversial, intended as a goad to her people to organize against the tyranny of slavery in the South and to resist and defy the restrictions of bigotry in the North.”

Arousing to Exertion

To fully comprehend Stewart’s staggering accomplishments, we have to backtrack to her less than advantageous upbringing.

“I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1803; was left an orphan at five years of age; was bound out in a clergyman’s family; had the seeds of piety and virtue early sown in my mind, but was deprived of the advantages of education, though my soul thirsted for knowledge. Left them at fifteen years of age; attended Sabbath schools until I was twenty; in 1826 was married to James W. Stewart; was left a widow in 1829; was, as I humbly hope and trust, brought to the knowledge of the truth, as it is in Jesus, in 1830; in 1831 I made a public profession of my faith in Christ.”

Married at 23, widowed at 26, converted at 27; she challenged a nation at 28. In the fall of 1831, she entered the offices of William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the newly established abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. Stewart handed Garrison the manuscript of her challenge to African Americans to sue for their rights. Relegated to the paper’s “Ladies Department,” both ladies and gentlemen received her confrontation.

Stewart entitled her work Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality: The Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build. She told her readers that she “presented them before you in order to arouse you to exertion, and to enforce upon your minds the great necessity of turning your attention to knowledge and improvement.” Here we have a young, female, African American widow writing in a white male abolitionist tabloid as a spiritual director to motivate her people to learning and action.

The Sable Hue
Stewart adeptly used a bevy of spiritual direction skills to inspire her audience. For example, she avails herself of the guiding competency of scriptural exploration.

“Many think, because your skins are tinged with a sable hue, that you are an inferior race of beings; but God does not consider you as such. He hath formed and fashioned you in his own glorious image, and hath bestowed upon you reason and strong powers of intellect. He hath made you to have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea (Genesis 1:26). He hath crowned you with glory and honor; hath made you but a little lower than the angels (Psalms 8:5) . . .”

Using the biblical truth of the imago Dei (image of God), she guides her readers toward the counter-cultural but scriptural truth that, “It is not the color of the skin that makes the man, but it is the principles formed within the soul.”

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Maria Stewart focused upon who we are in Christ and the imago Dei. What did she stir up in your heart when you read her words of challenge?

2. How could you apply her example to your life and ministry?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Makes Biblical Counseling Biblical???

Comprehensive, Compassionate, and Culturally-Informed
Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation

For over a quarter-century in ministry, I have followed a focused mission, vision, and passion. By God’s grace I seek to equip God’s people to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth through comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed biblical counseling and spiritual formation.

Many have asked me to summarize the words comprehensive, compassionate, and culturally-informed. In response, I’ve condense my view of biblical counseling and spiritual formation in less than 500 words.

Biblical Counseling/Spiritual Formation Is Comprehensive

Truly biblical counseling addresses the complexity of life lived in a fallen world. The Bible profoundly describes existence through the “CFR Narrative”: our Creation in God’s image, our Fall into sin, and our Redemption in Christ. Only when taken together can we understand people, diagnose problems, and prescribe solutionsbiblically.

Biblical counseling follows a holistic approach to the nature of human nature. People are created in the image of God, reflected in our relational (spiritual, social, and self-aware), rational (images and beliefs), volitional (motivations and actions), emotional (responses and reactions), and physical capacities. Only when united can we help the whole person to become a whole person.

Biblical counseling takes a robust approach to counselor training. It refuses all shortcuts as it recognizes the need for equipping in the “4Cs”: biblical content, Christlike character, relational competencies, and Christian community. Only when combined can we produce truly effective soul care-givers and spiritual directors.

Biblical Counseling/Spiritual Formation Is Compassionate

As the modern biblical counseling movement enters it third generation, we must learn to integrate truth and love. We need to listen to the biblical wisdom of passages such as Ephesians 4:15 (speaking/embodying the truth in love), Philippians 1:9 (our love abounding in depth of insight), and 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (we loved you so dearly that we gave you not only the Scriptures but our own souls). No longer can the caricature be true of “take two verses and call me in the morning.” Biblical counselors enter deeply, personally into the lives of parishioners and counselees.

As compassion grows, our focus is expanding. Whereas some early approaches to biblical counseling highlighted almost exclusively confronting the sinning (surely a vital aspect of biblical counseling), current models must equally emphasize comforting the suffering. Historic models of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding are allowing us to combine parakaletic soul care and nouthetic spiritual direction. Compassionate biblical counseling lovingly and humbly addresses suffering and sin through prescribing grace as God’s solution for our disgrace.

Biblical Counseling/Spiritual Formation Is Culturally-Informed

Modern biblical counseling had been the exclusive domain of white males. Now many diverse, new voices are being added to the biblical counseling movement. As we listen to the previously silenced voices of women and minorities, biblical counseling is being enriched.

As we hear their inspiring voices, we learn how to counsel more effectively in intercultural settings. Not only that, but the application and interpretation of this diverse biblical wisdom greatly enhance all areas of biblical counseling theory and practice.

The Journey: Day Thirty-Seven--Your Maker/Your Husband

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

Day Thirty-Seven: Your Maker Is Your Husband

Welcome to day thirty-seven of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Thirty-Seven: Your Maker Is Your Husband
[1]

Julia Foote exemplifies in her life and teaching a common thread among female African American care givers—Jesus is the ultimate Spiritual Friend. These sisters of the Spirit understood that human spiritual friendship never replaces the Divine Spiritual Friend and that the human spiritual director must always direct others to the Divine Soul Physician.

Foote was born in 1823, in Schenectady, New York, the daughter of former slaves who purchased their freedom and espoused a strong Christian belief. From age ten-to-twelve, she studied diligently, especially the Bible. At fifteen, her parents moved to Albany where she was converted and joined the African Methodist Church.

At nineteen, she married George Foote, a sailor, and moved to Boston where she joined the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and began to grow deeply in her faith. Her deepening Christian experience caused a rift between her and George, and he threatened to send her back to her parents. Though they stayed together, they grew more alienated, especially when Foote began to hold evangelistic meetings in her home.

Biblical Sufferology

Speaking of why God might allow human suffering and the breakdown in human relationships, such as the one between her and her husband, Foote explains:

“God permits afflictions and persecutions to come upon his chosen people to answer various ends. Sometimes for the trial of their faith, and the exercise of their patience and resignation to his will, and sometimes to draw them off from all human dependence, and to teach them to trust in Him alone.”

For Foote, this was not some theoretical model stuck somewhere in her head. Bereft of the intimacy she longed for with her human husband, she turned more profoundly and passionately to her heavenly Groom.

Maker and Husband

When her husband left for six months at sea right after yet another argument over her faith, Foote writes:

“While under this apparent cloud, I took the Bible to my closet, asking Divine aid. As I opened the book, my eyes fell on these words: ‘For thy Maker is thine husband (Is. 54:5). I then read the fifty-fourth chapter of Isaiah over and over again. It seemed to me that I had never seen it before. I went forth glorifying God.”

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Julia Foote typified pointing others to Jesus as their ultimate Spiritual Friend. Why do you think this theme was so common among African American female soul physicians?

2. How could you apply this theme to your life and ministry?

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Journey: Day Thirty-Six--Unbosoming Our Spiritual Conflicts

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

Day Thirty-Six: Unbosoming Our Spiritual Conflicts


Welcome to day thirty-six of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Thirty-Six: Unbosoming Our Spiritual Conflicts
[1]

Earlier we learned of Zilpha Elaw’s early life of freedom in Philadelphia and of her spiritual freedom through conversion at age eighteen. In 1810, at age twenty, she married Joseph Elaw whose nominal Christianity strained their marriage. Joseph died of consumption in 1823. For the next two years, Elaw led a school for black children. In 1825, she closed the school to pursue her sense of calling from God—a calling that included a five-year ministry in England.

Throughout her ministry, Elaw emphasized mutual spiritual friendship. She addressed the dedication of her autobiography to “the Saints and faithful Brethren in Christ” in London. Reflecting on their fellowship together, she writes,

“If, therefore, there is anything in the soul reviving and thrilling Christian fellowship we have enjoyed together in the Spirit of Christ, and in the holy communion with which we have so frequently met together in the house of God, mingled our ascending petitions at the throne of grace, unbosomed our spiritual conflicts and trials to one another, and listened with devotional interest to the messages of gospel mercy, and the unfolding mysteries of divine grace . . .”

Images of Spiritual Friendship

Notice how replete her language is with images of spiritual friendship. Its purpose is to revive the soul; its mode is the practice of awe-inspiring Christian community. Its foundation is the joint worship of Christ; its pattern is mingled fellowship of Christians.

Its starting point is sustaining—so beautifully pictured by the phrase “unbosomed our spiritual conflicts and trials to one another.” Its high point is healing—so clearly summarized by the concept of grace-based spiritual conversations—“listened with devotional interest to the messages of gospel mercy, and the unfolding mysteries of divine grace.”

A Community of Disciples

As Jesus with the Twelve and Paul with Timothy, Titus, and Silas, Elaw maintained a community of disciples. Also like Jesus and Paul, Elaw had a discipleship plan or model. Specifically, she focused on the “pursuit of the higher attainments of experiential spirituality.” In the context, Elaw explains the vision associated with that statement. The goal of her mentoring spiritual direction was “the love of God being richly shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost” (communion and connection with Christ) and “the apprehension of, and conformity to, the love of Christ” (conformity to Christ).

Elaw not only had a purpose; she had a plan. In ancient language, we would call it “practicing the presence of Christ.” In today’s language, we would call it “practicing the spiritual disciplines.”

In her language, it sounds like this. “Spirituality is such a practical acquaintance with spiritual things, and abiding sense of the existence and agency of spiritual and invisible beings, and converse with them, as gives a complete ascendancy to the moral and mental powers over the animal propensities; but it more especially consists in a discernment of the presence and operations of the Holy Spirit, fellowship with God and his Son Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, together with an habitual and deep consciousness, and a blooming prospect of the momentous realities of a future life.”

This is “classic” spiritual formation—emphasizing a growing attunement to spiritual realities, putting off the old propensities and putting on the new person in Christ, practicing the presence of God, habituating oneself to the graces of God, and focusing upon the hope of heaven.

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Which images of spiritual friendship could you apply to your life?

2. What community of spiritual disciples do you lead or want to lead?


[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Journey: Day Thirty-Five--Emptying Our Crop

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

Day Thirty-Five: Emptying Our Crop

Welcome to day thirty-five of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Thirty-Five: Emptying Our Crop
[1]

Earlier we met Amanda Berry Smith as we listened to how her biological mother and grandmother guided her. Other female relatives and non-relatives were part of her community of counselors.

Smith recounts the agony of her soul due to a loveless marriage with her husband, James. One particular morning her heart was so sore that she felt she “could not bear any more.” She prayed, “Lord, is there no way out of this?” As she wept and prayed, “the Lord sent Mother Jones.”

In Mother Jones’ presence, Smith tries mightily to suppress her tears and her troubles. Seeing through the façade, Mother Jones pointedly inquires, “Well, Smith, how do you do?”

The dam burst. “O, Mother Jones, I am nearly heart-broken; James is so unkind.” Smith then shares everything she had tried, in her own effort, to change her husband, and “yet he was unkind.”

Mother Jones joins with Smith by sharing her story. “Well, that is just the way Jones used to do me.” She then integrates God’s story into her story and Smith’s story. “But when God sanctified my soul He gave me enduring grace, and that is what you need . . .”

At that moment, the spiritual light bulb came on. “That is just what I need; I have always been planning to get out of trials, instead of asking God for grace to endure.” Through Mother Jones’ mother wit, God enlightened Smith to the realization that finding God is more important than finding relief.

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. We discovered numerous examples of mother wit in Amanda Berry Smith’s life and ministry. Which ones stand out to you? Why?

2. How could you apply them to your life and ministry?

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Journey: Day Thirty-Four--Sisters of the Spirit

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

Day Thirty-Four: Sisters of the Spirit

Welcome to day thirty-four of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Thirty-Four: Sisters of the Spirit
[1]

In the South, they faced slavery; in the North, prejudice. Everywhere they confronted double oppression—they were black and they were female.

Their remarkable stories must be told for the sake of all women, regardless of race. Their independence and strength, boldness and courage, ministry and sacrifice, care and concern, despite overwhelming obstacles, provide extraordinary models for women today.

The historical invisibility of African American Christian women is inexcusable. As the following pages attest, history is replete with countless black female exemplars of soul care and spiritual direction. Their obscurity is due to our willful blindness, not their lack of brilliance. Shining a light on their stories illuminates for all of us the visible, palpable ways in which they sustained, healed, reconciled, and guided, not only individuals, but an entire nation.

Mother Wit

Feminine African American spiritual directors followed the ancient model that Moses outlines in Deuteronomy 6:6-7. “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

With biological children and with “spiritual” children, with females and with males, older African American women shared their “mother wit”—their proverbial wisdom found in the Scriptures, cultivated in community, and applied to daily life. One former slave from Louisiana offers her picturesque description of mother wit. “I got Mother Wit instead of an education. Lots of colored people in offices and school don’t seem to know what Mother Wit is. Well, it’s like this: I got a wit to teach me what’s wrong. I got a wit to not make me a mischief-maker. I got a wit to keep people’s trusts. No one has to tell me not to tell what they say to me in confidence, for I respect what they say, and I never tell. I’m glad I had good raisin.’”

The mother wit schoolhouse was life, the textbook was the Bible. The lesson plan highlighted the generational passing of insights for living. The curriculum included reconciling (being taught “what’s wrong”), guiding (not being a “mischief-maker”), rapport building (“keep people’s trusts”), confidentiality (“I never tell”), respectful listening (“I respect what they say”), and so much more.

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. What impact could knowledge of African American sisters of the Spirit have upon Americans? African Americans? African American females?

2. Why do you think that the history of African American females like these is so infrequently highlighted? What could be done to reverse this pattern?

3. Who has offered you mother wit: biblical wisdom filtered through mature life experience applied to your specific life situation? How? What impact has it had on you?


[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

The Journey: Day Thirty-Three--Empowering the Black Family

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

Day Thirty-Three: Empowering the Flock


Welcome to day thirty-three of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Thirty-Three: Empowering the Flock
[1]

Perhaps the founding fathers’ greatest legacy was that they did not endeavor to leave a personal legacy, but a corporate one. Ministry was not about themselves, but about empowering and equipping the flock to do the work of mutual ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). Truly they were fathers—birthing a family of shepherds.

Their corporate legacy produced fruit. Because of their examples, African American pastoral care has not simply been about what the pastor does for the flock, but has involved the mutual one another ministry of the flock. “What, then is this distinct emphasis that makes a black perspective in pastoral care and counseling unique? It is the corporate nature of pastoral care and counseling in the black church. . . . The term corporate means that the care of the individual is the function of the whole community, rather than the function of the pastor or any other specially designated person who possesses specialized skills.” On the “old ship of Zion,” there are no passengers, only crew members.

Entering the Great Family of Holy Freedom: Equipping for Family Life

On April 11, 1862, Congress passed a bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia. Rev. Payne, then Bishop of the Second Episcopal District of the AMEC, visited President Lincoln to implore him to sign the bill. When Lincoln signed the bill five days later, Payne authored Welcome to the Ransomed to equip newly freed African Americans.

Using as his yardstick the Apostle Paul’s mentoring of Timothy as Timothy pastored the saints at Ephesus, Payne explains the duty of the laity. “But foremost of all the duties which he enjoined upon the Ephesian ministry and laity were those of making ‘Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks for all men.’”

Having stated the duty and quoted the verse, Payne painstakingly exegetes who to pray to, what to pray for, how to pray, and with what attitude to pray.

Their prayer lives inaugurated, Payne then guides them in the use of their new freedom. “Enter the great family of Holy Freedom; not to lounge in sinful indulgence, not to degrade yourselves by vice, nor to corrupt society by licentiousness, neither to offend the laws by crime, but to the enjoyment of a well regulated liberty. . . Welcome to habits of industry and thrift—to duties of religion and piety . . .” As a wise father, Payne teaches his children how to appropriately use their newfound freedom and growing responsibility.

His counsel ranges from the sublime (“We entreat you to never be content until you are emancipated from sin”) to the mundane (“Work, work, work!”). His advice is practical and culturally sensitive. “Permit us, also, to advise you to seek every opportunity for the cultivation of your minds. . . . Rest not till you have learned to read the Bible.

Payne reserves his most ardent counsel for parents. “But of the children take special care. Heaven has entrusted them to you for a special purpose. What is that purpose? Not merely to eat and to drink, still less to gormandize. Not merely to dress finely in broadcloths, silks, satins, jewelry, nor to dance to the sound of the tambourine and fiddle; but to learn them how to live and how to die—to train them for great usefulness on earth—to prepare them for greater glory in heaven.”
Payne exhorts faithful parents to pass the baton of faith to faithful children who would continue the spiritual relay. In this he follows Paul’s ministry plan. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. African American founding fathers empowered the flock by birthing a family of shepherds. Specifically, what can church leaders today do to equip equippers?

2. What can you do to equip other believers?


[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Journey: Day Thirty-Two--Empathizing with the Flock


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

Day Thirty-Two: Empathizing with the Flock


Welcome to day thirty-two of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Thirty-Two: Empathizing with the Flock
[1]

Allen’s experience with slavery and prejudice, along with his longing to minister in ways that met the specific needs of his African American brethren, equipped him in unique ways to empathize with his people. In an open letter of spiritual consolation entitled To the People of Colour, Allen models dynamic soul care.

“Feeling an engagement of mind for your welfare, I address you with an affectionate sympathy, having been a slave, and as desirous of freedom as any of you; yet the bands of bondage were so strong that no way appeared for my release; yet at times a hope arose in my heart that a way would open for it; and when my mind was mercifully visited with the feeling of the love of God, that he would make way for my enlargement; and then these hopes increased, and a confidence arose as a patient waiting was necessary, I was sometimes favored with it, at other times I was very impatient. Then the prospect of liberty almost vanquished away, and I was in darkness and perplexity.”

Lessons Learned

Consider Allen’s holistic empathy: emotional (“feeling”), rational (“an engagement of mind”), and relational (“an affectionate sympathy”). Notice also how Allen connects his story to their story by telling of his level one external suffering (“having been a slave”) and his level two internal suffering (“I was very impatient;” “I was in darkness and perplexity”). As a shrewd soul physician, Allen understands how to connect with people through story sharing.

He explains exactly why he shares his story. “I mention the experience to you, that your hearts may not sink at the discouraging prospects you may have, and that you may put your trust in God who sees your condition, and as a merciful father pitieth his children, so doth God pity them that love him . . .”

Here Allen skillfully intertwines sustaining consolation (“that your hearts may not sink at the discouraging prospects”) and healing consolidation (“put your trust in God who sees” and “pitieth”). His focus is on turning their focus back to God.
Allen next shifts to guiding by providing a current heroic narrative and a future freedom narrative.

“You will have the favor and love of God dwelling in your hearts which you will value more than any thing else, which will be a consolation in the worst condition you can be in and no master can deprive you of it; and as life is short and uncertain, and the chief end of our having a being in this world is to be prepared for a better (the current heroic narrative), I wish you to think of this more than any thing else; then you will have a view of that freedom which the sons of God enjoy; and if the troubles of your condition end with your lives, you will be admitted to the freedom which God hath prepared for those of all colors that love him. Here the power of the most cruel master ends, and all sorrow and tears are wiped away” (the future freedom narrative).

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Richard Allen modeled spiritual consolation through story sharing, holistic empathy, and providing a current heroic narrative as well as a future freedom narrative. Which of these affectionate sympathy skills would you like to add to your repertoire of spiritual friendship?

2. How will you go about this?

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

The Journey: Day Thirty-One--The Founding

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

Day Thirty-One: The Founding


Welcome to day thirty-one of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Excerpted from, Modified from, and Quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Day Thirty-One: The Founding

Richard Allen was one of the foremost founding fathers of the African American independent churches. Born a slave in 1760, to Benjamin Crew of Philadelphia, Allen came to salvation in Christ around age twenty. He then traveled extensively, preaching the Gospel in Delaware and Pennsylvania. In February, 1786, he preached at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Thinking that he would be there one or two weeks, ministry needs led Allen to a settled place of service in Philadelphia.

Concerned for the wellbeing of African Americans in this parish, he explained that:

“I established prayer meetings; I raised a society in 1786 of forty-two members. I saw the necessity of erecting a place of worship for the coloured people.” However, only three brethren united with him, including the equally-important African American founding father, the Reverend Absalom Jones. Their little band met great opposition, including “very degrading and insulting language to us, to try and prevent us from going on.”

Notwithstanding, the Lord blessed their endeavors, as they established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, with many coming to Christ. Their growing congregation, still without a building, often attended services at St. George’s Church. When the black worshippers became more numerous, the white leaders “moved us from the seats we usually sat on, and placed us around the wall.”

The Founding of the First Independent African American Church

It was at this juncture that one of the most noteworthy events in African American Church history occurred. Taking seats that they thought were appropriate, prayer began.

“We had not long been upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees, H— M—, having hold of the Rev. Absalom Jones, pulling him up off of his knees, and saying, ‘You must get up—you must not kneel here.’ Mr. Jones replied, ‘Wait until prayer is over.’ Mr. H— M— said ‘no, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and I force you away.’ Mr. Jones said, ‘Wait until prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.’”

By the time the second usher arrived, prayer was over, and “We all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct.”

As a result, they birthed the first independent Black Church in the North when they hired a store room and held worship by themselves. Facing excommunication from the “mother church,” they remained united and strong. “Here we were pursued with threats of being disowned, and read publicly out of meeting if we did continue to worship in the place we had hired; but we believed the Lord would be our friend. . . . Here was the beginning and rise of the first African church in America.”

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. What can you learn from Revs. Allen and Jones’ example?

2. How similar or different are race relations today among Christians than in the day of Revs. Allen and Jones?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Journey: Day Thirty--The Black Puritan

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

Day Thirty: The Black Puritan

Welcome to day thirty of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Thirty: The Black Puritan
[1]

Lemuel Haynes affords another exemplar of African American ministerial modeling. Born at West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1753, of a white mother and a black father, Haynes lived his entire eighty years in Congregationalist New England. He completed his indenture in time to serve in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

Privately tutored, Haynes became the first African American to be ordained by any religious denomination. Upon ordination, Haynes then served white congregations for more than thirty years.

Among other accomplishments, he achieved notoriety for a sermon entitled Universal Salvation that defended orthodox Christianity against the threat of Universalism. For this work, he happily accepted the title “Black Puritan,” indicating his depth of Reformation theology. Middlebury College awarded him the master’s degree in 1804, another first for an African American.

At age sixty-five, Haynes left his Rutland, Vermont, parish due to political friction that essentially forced him to choose to resign. His farewell sermon of 1818 emphasized, among other topics, his devotion to the work of the ministry and to the people of his congregation.

Following Paul’s Model

Alluding to the words of the Apostle Paul, Haynes notes that, “He that provided the motto of our discourse could say on his farewell, I have coveted no man’s silver or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessity.”

Like Liele with his black congregation, it was important to Haynes with his white parishioners that they recognized his Christlike diligence. Few could legitimately question his work ethic given that he had preached 5,500 sermons, officiated at over 400 funerals, and solemnized more than 100 marriages.

Godly Motivation

It was also vital to him that they understood his godly motivations. “The flower of my life has been devoted to your service:—while I lament a thousand imperfections which have attended my ministry; yet I am not deceived, it has been my hearty desire to do something for the salvation of your souls.”

Haynes acknowledged and wanted his people to realize that the ultimate Judge of his motivations was Christ. “I must give an account concerning the motives which influenced me to come among you, and how I have conducted during my thirty years residence in this place: the doctrines I have inculcated: whether I have designedly kept back any thing that might be profitable to you, or have, through fear of man, or any other criminal cause, shunned to declare the whole counsel of God. Also, as to the manner of my preaching, whether I have delivered my discourses in a cold, formal manner, and of my external deportment.”

His Personal Epitaph

Haynes personal epitaph tells much about where he placed his focus.

“Here lies the dust of a poor hell-deserving sinner, who ventured into eternity trusting wholly on the merits of Christ for salvation. In the full belief of the great doctrines he preached while on earth, he invites his children and all who read this, to trust their eternal interest on the same foundation” (Epitaph written for himself by Reverend Lemuel Haynes, the “Black Puritan”).

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Lemuel Haynes modeled spiritual connecting through vulnerability, openness, intimacy, and grace. What godly leaders have modeled these traits for you? How?


2. How could you more effectively model these traits in your life and ministry?

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Journey: Day Twenty-Nine--Modeling Ministry

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

Day Twenty-Nine: Modeling Ministry Commitment

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Welcome to day twenty-nine of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Twenty-Nine: Modeling Ministry Commitment
[1]

African American founding fathers emphasized in their messages and modeled in their ministries a Black Protestant work ethic. The oft-imagined, but quite-mistaken view of African American male slaves as lazy and slothful was crushed by both slave and free African American pastors.

Some slaves in the South were able to establish independent churches during the Revolutionary era. Perhaps the earliest to do so was George Liele. Born in Virginia, in 1742, he moved with his master, Henry Sharpe, to Burke County, Georgia, a few years before the Revolutionary War. Liele was converted under the preaching of Baptist Matthew Moore at his master’s church. In 1777, Liele founded a Black Baptist congregation at Yama Craw, outside Savannah.

Eyewitness accounts applauded his commitment to ministry, even while still a lay person. “He began to discover his love to other negroes, on the same plantation with himself, by reading hymns among them, encouraging them to sing, and sometimes by explaining the most striking parts of them.”

Liele’s own account equally expresses his passion for serving God and God’s people. “Desiring to prove the sense I had of my obligations to God, I endeavoured to instruct the people of my own color in the Word of God: the white brethren seeing my endeavours, and that the word of the Lord seemed to be blessed, gave me a call at a quarterly meeting to preach before the congregation.”

Instant in Season and Out

Later licensed (by whites) as a minister, Liele served in Yama Craw and in Kingston, Jamaica. As a pastor, he preached twice on Sunday, and twice during the week. “I receive nothing for my services; I preach, baptize, administer the Lord’s supper, and travel from place to place to publish the gospel, and to settle church affairs, all freely.”

Like the Apostle Paul, Liele supported himself through his own industry. “My occupation is a farmer, but as the seasons in this part of the country, are uncertain, I also keep a team of horses, and wagons for the carrying goods from one place to another; which I attend to myself, with the assistance of my sons; and by this way of life have gained the good will of the public, who recommends me to business, and to some very principal work for government.” Like countless other African American founding fathers, Liele’s industry became a benchmark urging other African American males towards responsibility and productivity.

Liele’s model stuck. One of his converts and disciples, Andrew Bryan, accepted the baton of pastoral leadership at Yama Craw. Like his mentor, Bryan personified sacrificial ministry. White citizens, worried about slave rebellion, had him arrested and whipped twice for holding “illegal” meetings. According to an early Baptist historian, Andrew “told his persecutors that he rejoiced not only to be whipped, but would freely suffer death for the cause of Jesus Christ.”

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. What impact could knowledge of an African American leader like George Liele have upon Americans? African Americans? African American males?

2. How could you apply Liele’s ministry commitment to your life?


The Journey: Day Twenty-Eight--Founding Fathers of the Black Church

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

Day Twenty-Eight: Founding Fathers of the Black Church

Welcome to day twenty-eight of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Twenty-Eight: Founding Fathers of the Black Church
[1]

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. We now seek to recover something of the lost legacy of loving leadership bequeathed to us by African American spiritual forefathers.

Walking the Talk: Modeling Christian Manliness

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne was an early leader in and the official historian of the AMEC. Payne experienced numerous opportunities to live out his Christian manhood. His manliness remaining strong in the twilight years of his life. When he was in his seventies, Payne refused to stay on a train where he would have been seated in Jim Crow conditions. Standing his ground and confronting the white authorities on the train, he said to them:

“Before I’ll dishonor my manhood by going into that car, stop your train and put me off.”

After Payne left the train, “the guilty conductor looked out and said, ‘Old man, you can get on the platform at the back of the car.’ I replied only by contemptuous silence.” Payne then carried his own luggage, walking a great distance over “a heavy bed of sand” to his next speaking engagement in the deep South. Payne literally walked the talk.

Dare to Be a Daniel

How did such Christian manhood develop? Payne credits his father who started him on his purposeful life.

“I was the child of many prayers. My father dedicated me to the service of God before I was born, declaring that if the Lord would give him a son that son should be consecrated to him, and named after the Prophet Daniel.”

Imagine the sense of self, the sense of biblical masculinity that Payne’s father passed to his son.

He did so not only by naming, but also by modeling. Of his father, Payne testifies:

“He was an earnest Christian and a class leader, having two classes under him—what used to be called the Seekers’ Class and the Members’ Class. He was a faithful observer of family worship; and often his morning prayers and hymns aroused me, breaking my infant sleep and slumbers.”

Learning Together From Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. What impact could knowledge of an African American leader like Daniel Alexander Payne have upon Americans? African Americans? African American males?

2. Why do you think that the history of African American leaders like Payne is so infrequently highlighted? What could be done to reverse this pattern?

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Black History Month: Day Fourteen--God's End Game

*Note: For The Journey: Day Twenty-Seven see my earlier post today.

Black History Month: The History and the Controversy
Day Fourteen: God’s End Game

The controversy is clear, yet complex: is Black History Month necessary? A net positive? Is it fair to have one month designated for one cultural group? Does it actually minimize African American contributions by relegating them to only one month? Wouldn’t it be better to integrate all cultures year-round in all our historical studies?

On and on the questions go. Sometimes they cause more cultural tension rather than building intercultural harmony.

Here’s my take; my Readers’ Digest version.

1. God’s End Game: Culture Is Everlasting

According to the Bible (Rev. 7:9-10, among many other passages), cultural, ethnic differences will be celebrated for all eternity. God’s end game is not one homogenous group, but unity in diversity. Such unity in diversity reflects God. Our Trinitarian God is Three-in-One: unity in diversity.

So, while people may debate whether “race” is culturally-constructed, the Bible is clear that culture is God-constructed. God does not want us to be “culture-blind.” He wants us to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate our differences in biblical unity.

2. Our Game Plan: Celebrate Unity in Diversity

Ideally, life could and should be both/and. We could have books that highlight the unique accomplishments of various cultural groups—celebrating their legacy. And, we could have books that integrate in a fair and balanced way the contributions of all cultural groups.

The same could be true of “history months.” We could have months celebrating specific cultural groups. And, we could and should, year-round, celebrate the contributions of all cultural groups.

3. Our Current Game Strategy: Bring Balance to Historical Imbalance

Given the clearly documented lack of past historical balance (dead white guys getting all the press and other cultures and women given little honor), it still makes sense to me to highlight “minority cultures” and women in special months, books, etc. We can do this while also working toward integrating men and women, and people of all cultures, into year-round study and into overview books in fair and balanced ways.

My Final Summary: One Man's Convictions

Here’s another way to summarize my convictions.

*When history becomes truly integrated, then we can enjoy special recognition (special books, special months) and fair and balanced recognition (survey books, year-round study) simply out of the joy of unity in diversity.

*Today, we still need special recognition (special books, special months) and fair and balanced recognition (survey books, year-round study) to make up for the past and current lack of balanced treatment.

The Journey: Day Twenty-Seven--Songs of the Soil and the Soul

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

Day Twenty-Seven: Songs of the Soil and the Soul

Welcome to day twenty-seven of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Twenty-Seven: Songs of the Soil and the Soul
[1]

Slave spirituals about feeling godforsaken emphasize the impossibility, this side of heaven, of quickly and finally resolving all hurt. When honestly sharing their lamentation over the absence of the felt presence of God, enslaved African Americans followed the Psalmists. Most Christians are shocked to learn that, numerically, there are more Psalms of complaint and lament than there are Psalms of thanksgiving and praise. The writers of the spirituals would not have been surprised. They understood and practiced the historic Christian art of sacred discontent.

Their laments included honest complaints about their external world of “Level One Suffering”—what was happening around and to them. Their laments also involved candid complaints about their internal world of “Level Two Suffering”—what was happening in them, in their souls and minds as they reflected on their outer suffering.

William McClain’s terminology of songs of the soil and the soul best captures our concept of external and internal suffering.

“A very real part of the worship of Black people is the songs of Zion. Singing is as close to worship as breathing is to life. These songs of the soul and of the soil have helped to bring a people through the torture chambers of the last three centuries.”

Level I Suffering

As McClain continues, he speaks about the soil of external suffering and the soul of weary hearts.

“These spirituals reveal the rich culture and the ineffable beauty and creativity of the Black soul and intimate the uniqueness of the Black religious tradition. These spirituals speak of life and death, suffering and sorrow, love and judgment, grace and hope, justice and mercy. They are the songs of an unhappy people, a people weary at heart, a discontent people, and yet they are the most beautiful expression of human experience and faith this side of the seas.”

In fact, it was the soil of suffering souls that birthed the spirituals.

“Many of these spirituals were influenced by the surrounding conditions in which the slaves lived. These conditions were negative and degrading, to say the least; yet, miraculously, a body of approximately six thousand independent spirituals exists today—melodies that were, for the most part, handed down from generation to generation. . . . The Negro spirituals, as originated in America, tell of exile and trouble, of strife and hiding; they grope toward some unseen power and sigh for rest in the end.”

Clearly, the spirituals highlight longsuffering faith in a wearisome world.

“These songs of the soul and of the soil have enriched American music and the music of the world. . . . They are the articulate message of an oppressed people. They are the music of a captive people who used this artful expression to embrace the virtues of Christianity: patience, love, freedom, faith, and hope.”

Level II Suffering

Enslaved African Americans clearly understood and addressed the inner mental turmoil caused when a good God allows evil and suffering. Recognition and expression of this reality of the trial of faith kept them from wondering if anyone else ever struggled in similar ways.

Throughout biblical and church history, level two soul suffering often expressed itself in the haunting refrain of “How long, O, Lord” (compare Psalm 13). Enslaved African Americans continued this lament tradition.

My father, how long,
My father, how long,
My father, how long,
Poor sinner suffer here.
And it won’t be long,
Poor sinner suffer here.
We’ll soon be free.
De Lord will call us home.
We’ll walk de golden streets.
Of de New Jerusalem.

Notice the mixture and blending of endurance and assurance, another common historic practice modeled by believing slaves.

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Which do you tend to focus on more: songs of the soil (external suffering) or songs of the soul (internal suffering)? Why do you suppose that is?

2. How could you better highlight both external suffering and internal suffering?

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Black History Month: Day Thirteen--Racism Is a Thing of the Past?

*Note: For The Journey: Day Twenty-Six see my earlier post today.


Black History Month: The History and the Controversy
Day Thirteen: Racism Is a Thing of the Past?

Well, I wanted to start a conversation. And I have!

Someone sent me a private message sharing the opinion that:

1.) Racism is a thing of the past.

2.) The election of Barack Obama proves racism no longer exists in America.

3.) Writing about any one race promotes a “victim mentality.”

4.) We should only read about good people of all races.

I love when people respond to my posts because it inspires me to think deeply and passionately. It does indeed create an ongoing conversation.

Here, in no particular order, are a couple of my thoughts in response to this email.

1.) Victim Mentality? No. Victor Mentality!

I have never written about a victim mentality in my writings on Heroes of Black Church History. In fact, the entire series comes from my book with the title Beyond the Suffering. I would think that Beyond might communicate the Victor Mentality! Writing about the heroes of a given culture is designed to encourage people of all cultures.

2.) Valuing Diversity throughout Eternity


I hope we all understand something. Even if racism were wiped from the face of the earth, the Bible still commands us to value diversity throughout eternity. We will celebrate unity in diversity in heaven for all eternity according to Rev. 7:9-10. The end of racism would not be the end of diversity. It would be the beginning of unity in diversity. There’s a world of difference.

3.) Racism Has Yet to Be Defeated

I would love to believe that one election implies the end of all racism, prejudice, and bias in America. I fear that would be a naïve conclusion.

Practically, we have no way of knowing what motivated the 49% of people who did not vote for an African American President. But more importantly, theologically, we know that we are totally depraved people. Sin will not be eradicated until our glorification in heaven. So, sadly, the hideous sin of prejudice and racism will never totally be eliminated until all sin is eliminated.

4.) Walking the Talk

I always find it interesting when someone says, “Let’s just read about good people of all races and not focus on just one race!”

Here’s the thing. I like to follow-up with the question, “So tell me the most recent book you read, especially the most recent American church history book, that talked about anyone other than dead white guys…”

Or, I’ll ask, “So tell me some great heroes of the faith who are from a culture different from yours…”

Of course, 99% of people can’t provide an answer. In theory, we say we want to read about all people of all cultures. In reality, most general studies books on American church history are only about the dead white guys. And most of us read only about people who are like us.

Now, I’m not against the dead white guys. One day I will be one of them! I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on one of them: Martin Luther.

I just happen to be of the conviction that fair and balanced history is still not being written. That’s why I also write on Heroes of Black Church History. And why I also write on Heroines of Church History. As I said earlier, writing about the heroes of a given culture is designed to encourage people of all cultures.

Let the Conversation Continue

And what do you think?


The Journey: Day Twenty-Six--Sorrowful Joy

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

Day Twenty-Six: Joyful Sorrow

Welcome to day twenty-six of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.


Day Twenty-Six: Joyful Sorrow[1]

Enslaved African Americans blended sustaining and healing because they first holistically experienced sorrow and joy. The following well-known slave spiritual illustrates this truth.

Nobody knows the trouble I see,
Nobody knows like Jesus,
Nobody knows the trouble I see,
Glory hallelujah!

A slave who was initially puzzled by the tone of joyful sadness that echoed and re-echoed in spirituals eloquently explains the paradox.

“The old meeting house caught on fire. The spirit was there. Every heart was beating in unison as we turned our minds to God to tell him of our sorrows here below. God saw our need and came to us. I used to wonder what made people shout, but now I don’t. There is a joy on the inside, and it wells up so strong that we can’t keep still. It is fire in the bones. Any time that fire touches a man, he will jump.”

African American Christians understood that life is lived in the minor key. They knew that they could not avoid or evade suffering.

Frederick Douglass recalls that the spirituals reveal “at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness.” As the slaves reflected on the human condition, they did not demand answers. However they did insist upon candor about suffering and courageous affirmations of joy. The combination often led to a jarring contrast when they juxtaposed earthly suffering and heavenly hope.

An eloquent image of life’s alteration between ups and downs, sorrow and joy, occurs in one of the lesser known verses of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Had.

One morning I was a-walking down,
Saw some berries a-hanging down,
I pick de berry and I suck de juice,
Just as sweet as de honey in de comb.
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down,
Sometimes I’m almost on de groun’.

Wild, Sad Strains

Lucy McKim Garrison sent a letter to the November 8, 1862, edition of Dwight’s Journal of Music that powerfully displays this melding of agony and joy found in the spirituals.

“The wild, sad strains tell, as the sufferers themselves never could, of crushed hopes, keen sorrow, and a dull daily misery which covered them as hopelessly as the fog from the rice-swamps. On the other hand, the words breathe a trusting faith in rest in the future—in ‘Canaan’s fair and happy land,’ to which their eyes seem constantly turned.”

Today’s comforters can imitate the model set by enslaved African Americans who knew how to mingle the many moods of faith, who knew how to sing with “tones loud, long, and deep,” and who “breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish.” Today’s comforters can replicate the soul-stirring honesty of the Psalmists of old who knew how to write psalms of complaint and of celebration, of lament and of longing, who knew how to pour out their souls fully to God.

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. How well are you able to mingle suffering and joy?

2. Are you able to celebrate God’s goodness even while experiencing life’s “badness”?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Black History Month: Day Twelve--Fair and Balanced?

*Note: For The Journey: Day Twenty-Five see my earlier post today.


Black History Month: The History and the Controversy

Day Twelve: Fair and Balanced?

Though we are not nearing the end of Black History Month, we are nearing the end of my ministry series on the history and mystery of Black History Month. What started as a day or two, has become half the month! I’ll focus the rest of the month on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

So What Do I Think?

I’ve been inviting conversation rather than stating my opinion about whether Black History Month is still necessary. Much of the discussion about whether it is necessary has related to whether “main stream” history is accurately covering Black History year-round.

My specialty is Black Church History, so I will speak to that anecdotally. As you will see, I don’t think Evangelical Black Church History is being fairly covered year round…not close!

Anecdote # 1: Research for Beyond the Suffering

As Karole Edwards and I researched the history of African American soul care and spiritual direction, we found plenty of primary sources for Black Church History from 1500-1900 (our time-frame).

However, when we looked in secondary sources written today about American Church history, we found an embarrassing dearth of focus on women and minorities. Even in 2009, most general texts on American Church history continue to focus on dead White guys!

Anecdote # 2: Response from Participants of Heroes of the Black Church Seminars

As I present around the country on Heroes of the Black Church, participants are angry! Fortunately, they are not angry at me. They are angry because in their Evangelical Bible colleges, Christian liberal arts colleges, and seminaries, they are taking Church history courses and hearing nothing about Blacks, especially Evangelical Blacks. And even in their HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) they were not taught about Black Church history, especially not Evangelical African American Christianity.

Stay tuned tomorrow for additional anecdotes demonstrating that Black Church History still lacks year-round fair and balanced coverage…and the implications of that fact.


The Journey: Day Twenty-Five--Heaven Invading Earth

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

Day Twenty-Five: Heaven Invading Earth

Welcome to day twenty-five of our forty-day intercultural journey. From Martin Luther King Day to the end of Black History Month we are focusing on The Journey: Forty Days of Promise—Celebrating the Legacy of African American Christianity.

Day Twenty-Five: Heaven Invading Earth
[1]

The slave spirituals illustrate the counseling skill of integrating sustaining and healing, hurt and hope, empathy and encouragement, the earthly story and the heavenly story.

Thomas Higginson, a New England abolitionist, commanded the first freed slave regiment to fight against the Confederacy. He recorded the songs sung around the evening campfires by the First South Carolina Volunteers. Writing about their slave spirituals, Higginson highlights their symmetry.

“The attitude is always the same. . . Nothing but patience for this life,—nothing but triumph in the next. Sometimes the present predominates, sometimes the future; but the combination is always implied.”

Higginson then illustrates this interplay between patience and triumph. In This World Almost Done, for instance, we hear patience motivated by future hope.

Brudder, keep your lamp trimmin’ and a-burnin’,
Keep your lamp trimmin’ and a-burnin’,
Keep your lamp trimmin’ and a-burnin’,
For dis world most done.
So keep your lamp trimmin’ and a-burnin’,
Dis world most done.

In I Want to Go Home, the final reward of patience is proclaimed as plaintively.

Dere’s no rain to wet you, O, yes, I want to go home.
Dere’s no sun to burn you, O, yes, I want to go home;
O, push along, believers, O, yes, I want to go home.
Dere’s no hard trials, O, yes, I want to go home.
Dere’s no whips-a-crackin’, O, yes, I want to go home.
My brudder on de wayside, O, yes, I want to go home.
O, push along, my brudder, O, yes, I want to go home.
Where dere’s no stormy weather, O, yes, I want to go home.
Dere’s no tribulation, O, yes, I want to go home.

Notice the frequent, swift movement back and forth between the earthly story of hurt and the heavenly story of hope. We find no linear quick-fix progress from hurt to hope as if to sing about pain is to eradicate it. Instead, we discover the constant interplay between empathy and encouragement.

Mingling Hurt and Hope

This mixing is explained by the African American Christian worldview that the sacred and the secular are inseparable. Heaven invades earth and the boundary, the window or membrane between the two, is thin. Thus to move back and forth, to see heaven storm earth and earth combat heaven, is a normal aspect of how African American sufferology views life. The spirituals reflect this deeper perspective, a deeper philosophy of life than is common in modern Western thought which has tended to make life too linear and earth and heaven too segregated.

Their holistic view of all reality exposes how we often wrongly separate hurt and hope. We avoid the raw honesty of the Old Testament saints and the African American believers when we make life and counseling too linear, and when we make earth and heaven too separate. We need to better fuse earth’s hurts and heaven’s hope.

As lay care givers, pastors, and professional Christian counselors, we demonstrate this competency when we journey with our spiritual friends, parishioners, and counselees by helping them to see signs of God’s goodness even when life is bad. We join them in their grand adventure praying, like Elisha, that God will open their eyes to see the world charged with the grandeur of God (2 Kings 6:15-17).

Learning Together from Our Great Cloud of Witnesses

1. Concerning the African American practice of integrating hurting and hoping, What happens when a spiritual friend focuses only on hurting/sustaining? What happens when a spiritual friend focuses only on hoping/healing?

2. How could you apply the integration of hurting and hoping to your spiritual friendships?


[1]Excerpted from, modified from, and quoted from Kellemen and Edwards, Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. Purchase your copy at 40% off for only $10.00 at www.rpmministries.org.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Black History Month: Day Eleven--Shining the Light of Truth

*Note: For The Journey: Day Twenty-Four see my earlier post today.

Black History Month: The History and the Controversy

Day Eleven: Shining the Light of Truth

The last four days, we’ve been “flip-flopping” back and forth, quoting people pro and con regarding whether Black History Month is still needed. Today, those in favor of continuing to celebrate the month have their turn again.

Jessica McElrath surmises that most historians and African Americans believe that Black History Month remains necessary. According to McElrath, Black History Month is the only time of the year when Black History is recognized in many schools. She argues that schools often focus on White History year round, and, therefore, Black History Month is a necessary celebration.

A recent visitor to my blog expressed her convictions powerfully.

“It appears that the prevalence of multi-culturalism has caused many people’s opinions to change on this subject. I remain pro Black History Month. We can be both “the great American melting pot” AND celebrate the unique history of African Americans (or other people groups). These ideas can be mutually exclusive and they can coincide. The point is that American history is not Black history and based on the suffocation and/or misinterpretation of facts about Blacks in America, we therefore need to extract the history of a people whose stories remain distinct. Black History Month shines the light of truth and discovery on Blacks in a broader manner, giving much needed, much deserved attention to the subject than covering it for one week in the classroom. Filling this void is no different than filling the void that led to formal recognition of Women's history for example. Ms. Riley and Mr. Freeman miss the point” (Mona Austin, February 10, 2009).


Encouraging the Conversation

Beginning tomorrow I will finally share my own views on this vital issue.

Stay tuned . . .