April 23 — Cesar Chavez

Today’s Bible reading

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled. — Matthew 5:3-6

cesar_chavez

More thoughts for meditation about Cesar Chavez

Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Arizona. At 35 years old, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the United Farm Workers; UFW),

He employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers. As a labor leader, Chavez led marches, called for boycotts and went on several hunger strikes. It is believed that Chavez’s hunger strikes contributed to his death on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona.

Chavez dedicated his life to improving the treatment, pay and working conditions for farm workers. He knew all too well the hardships farm workers faced. When he was young, Chavez and his family toiled in the fields as migrant farm workers.

After working as a community and labor organizer in the 1950s, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. This union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California in 1965. A year later, the two unions merged, and the resulting union was renamed the United Farm Workers in 1972. In early 1968, Chavez called for a national boycott of California table grape growers. Chavez’s battle with the grape growers for improved compensation and labor conditions would last for years. At the end, Chavez and his union won several victories for the workers when many growers signed contracts with the union. He faced more challenges through the years from other growers and the Teamsters Union. All the while, he continued to oversee the union and work to advance his cause. As a labor leader, Chavez employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farm workers: marches, boycotts and his notorious fasts. He also brought the national awareness to the dangers of pesticides to workers’ health. His dedication to his work earned him numerous friends and supporters, including Robert Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

In a speech entitled Jesus’s Friendship Chavez asserts that “the love for justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being but it is also the most true to our nature.” In that same speech he goes on to say “I have met many, many farm workers and friends who love justice and who are willing to sacrifice for what is right. They have a quality about them that reminds me of the beatitudes. They are living examples that Jesus’ promise is true: they have been hungry and thirsty for righteousness and they have been satisfied.”

About his fasts Chavez wrote, “a fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes…I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice.”

Chavez encourages us in this work saying “it is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”

Cesar Chavez quotes:
  • What do we want the church to do? We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice and for love of brother and sister. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.
  • We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children. People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice. But if you give yourself totally to the non-violence struggle for peace and justice you also find that people give you their hearts and you will never go hungry and never be alone. And in giving of yourself you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love.
  • Every time we sit at a table at night or in the morning to enjoy the fruits and grain and vegetables from our good earth, remember that they come from the work of men and women and children who have been exploited for generations…
  • When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.
  • We shall strike. We shall organize boycotts. We shall demonstrate and have political campaigns. We shall pursue the revolution we have proposed. We are sons and daughters of the farm workers’ revolution, a revolution of the poor seeking bread and justice.
  • Non violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak…Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.
  • We’re going to pray a lot and picket a lot.
  • Jesus’ life and words are a challenge at the same time that they are Good News. They are a challenge to those of us who are poor and oppressed. By His life He is calling us to give ourselves to other, to sacrifice for those who suffer, to share our lives with our brothers and sisters who are also oppressed. He is calling us to ‘hunger and thirst after justice’ in the same way that we hunger and thirst after food and water: that is, by putting our yearning into practice.
  • It is clearly evident that our path travels through a valley of tears well known to all farm workers, because in all valleys the way of the farm workers has been one of sacrifice for generations. Our sweat and our blood have fallen on this land to make other men rich. This pilgrimage is a witness to the suffering we have seen for generations.

More on Cesar Chavez

United Farm Workers Biography [link]

Suggestions for action

Pray the Cesar Chavez prayer:

Free me to pray for others,
for You are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my life
so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others
for in service there is true life.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow,
so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Help us love even those who hate us
so we can change the world. Amen.

April 21 — Anselm

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
    on all humankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.
Do all these evildoers know nothing?
The illuminated beginning of an 11th-century manuscript of the Monologion.

More thoughts for meditation about Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm (1033-1109) was a Benedictine monk, Christian philosopher, and scholar who is recognized for many intellectual accomplishments, including his application of reason in exploring the mysteries of faith and for his definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.”

The brilliance of Anselm’s thinking and writing about the nature of faith and of God has intrigued and influenced scholars since the Middle Ages. His highly respected work, Monologium, rationalizes a proof of God’s existence. His Proslogium, advances the idea that God exists according to the human notion of a perfect being in whom nothing is lacking. Since they were first written, both works have been studied and praised by many of the world’s greatest theologians and philosophers. Circle of Hope recognizes his contribution to the meaning of the atonement with his work Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?). In it he suggests a concept of satisfaction that seems to relate to the way feudal society honored their betters.

Born near Aosta in Italy in 1033, Anselm began his education under the tutelage of the monks of a local Benedictine monastery. After his mother passed away, Anselm observed a period of grief and mourning and then traveled throughout Europe. At that time, the spiritual and intellectual reputation of the monk Lanfranc, who belonged to the monastery of Bec in Normandy, was widespread. Anselm was drawn to Lanfranc, and in 1060 attached himself to Lanfranc’s abbey. The community immediately recognized Anselm’s unique abilities and he was soon teaching in the abbey school. He was made prior of the monastery in 1063.

It was during his days at Bec that Anselm composed his innovative works on the existence and nature of God. Indeed, it was only out of a sense of obligation and submission to the will of the community that he undertook the duties and burdens of administration.

His election to the position of abbot of the community in 1078 speaks to the love and regard in which he was held by his confreres. But Bec was not to be the end of his journey. In 1093 he was summoned to England to become the archbishop of Canterbury, succeeding his master and spiritual director, Lanfranc. Anselm’s years at Canterbury were not lacking in political controversy. He showed great courage in disputing with William II and Henry I in regard to ecclesiastical abuses visited upon the church by those kings. Twice he was banished while making appeals in Rome. Twice he returned to Canterbury, his abilities as an extraordinary theologian, negotiator, and statesman having added luster and authority to the cause of the church.

Throughout his years, Anselm maintained a strong allegiance to his monastic lifestyle and to his intellectual pursuits. He composed several philosophical and theological treatises, as well as a series of beautiful prayers and meditations in addition to his often inspirational correspondence. Anselm held the position of archbishop until his death in 1109. A biography by his contemporary Eadmer provides many insights into the life of this remarkably saintly and scholarly man.

Anselm quotes:

From the Preface to the Proslogion:

I have written the little work that follows… in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes.

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isa. 7:9)

A prayer of Anselm

My God,
I pray that I may so know you and love you
that I may rejoice in you.
And if I may not do so fully in this life
let me go steadily on
to the day when I come to that fullness …
Let me receive
That which you promised through your truth,
that my joy may be full.

A song of Anselm

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

Want more?

Here is another more detailed bio. [link]

Lecture that tells you everything [link]

Suggestions for action

Anselm did administrative work because he was asked to do it. He would have preferred meditating, studying, writing and mentoring to having conflicts with the kings of England. Doing what he did not prefer did not diminish his influence, however. Living with an attitude of obedience grates on most people we know. We don’t always know what we want, but it is often not what we are supposed to be doing! How are you working that out?

Rest in the Lord for a moment and settle down. What is the best thing you can do today despite distracting or detracting circumstances? For now, you can pray and worship, that is something good we can do no matter who is trying to get us to do something  else.

April 15 – Corrie ten Boom

Related image

Today’s Bible reading

You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance. — Psalm 32:7

More thoughts for meditation about Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom (April 15, 1892 – April 15, 1983) and her family helped Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II and, by all accounts, saved nearly 800 lives.

Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom was born in Haarlem, Netherlands, and grew up in a devout Protestant family. During World War II, she and her family harbored hundreds of Jews to protect them from arrest by Nazi authorities. Betrayed by a fellow Dutch citizen, the entire family was imprisoned. Corrie survived the concentration camp and started a worldwide ministry. She later told her story in a book entitled The Hiding Place.

The ten Boom family lived in the Beje house in Haarlem (short for Barteljorisstraat, the street where the house was located) in rooms above Casper’s watch shop. Family members were strict Calvinists in the Dutch Reformed Church. Faith inspired them to serve society, offering shelter, food and money to those in need. In this tradition, the family held a deep respect for the Jewish community in Amsterdam, considering them “God’s ancient people.”

After the death of her mother and a disappointing romance, Corrie trained to be a watchmaker and in 1922 became the first woman licensed as a watchmaker in Holland. Over the next decade, in addition to working in her father’s shop, she established a youth club for teenage girls, which provided religious instruction as well as classes in the performing arts, sewing and handicrafts.

In May 1940, the German Blitzkrieg ran though the Netherlands and the other Low Countries. Within months, the “Nazification” of the Dutch people began and the quiet life of the ten Boom family was changed forever. During the war, their house became a refuge for Jews, students and intellectuals. The façade of the watch shop made the house an ideal front for these activities. A secret room, no larger than a small wardrobe closet, was built into Corrie’s bedroom behind a false wall. The space could hold up to six people, all of whom had to stand quiet and still. A crude ventilation system was installed to provide air for the occupants. When security sweeps came through the neighborhood, a buzzer in the house would signal danger, allowing the refugees a little over a minute to seek sanctuary in the hiding place.

The entire ten Boom family became active in the Dutch resistance, risking their lives harboring those hunted by the Gestapo. Some fugitives would stay only a few hours, while others would stay several days until another “safe house” could be located. Corrie ten Boom became a leader in the movement, overseeing a network of “safe houses” in the country. Through these activities, it was estimated that 800 Jews’ lives were saved.

On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazis of the ten Booms’ activities and the Gestapo raided the home. They kept the house under surveillance, and by the end of the day 35 people, including the entire ten Boom family, were arrested, Although German soldiers thoroughly searched the house, they didn’t find the half-dozen Jews safely concealed in the hiding place. The six stayed in the cramped space for nearly three days before being rescued by the Dutch underground.

All ten Boom family members were incarcerated, including Corrie’s 84-year-old father, who soon died in the Scheveningen prison, located near The Hague. Corrie and her sister Betsie were remanded to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp, near Berlin. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944. Twelve days later, Corrie was released for reasons not completely known.

Corrie ten Boom returned to the Netherlands after the war and set up a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. In the Christian spirit to which she was so devoted, she also took in those who had cooperated with the Germans during the occupation. In 1946, she began a worldwide ministry that took her to more than 60 countries. She received many tributes, including being knighted by the queen of the Netherlands. In 1971, she wrote a best-selling book of her experiences during World War II, entitled The Hiding Place. In 1975, the book was made into a movie starring Jeannette Clift as Corrie and Julie Harris as her sister Betsie.

In 1977, at age 85, Corrie ten Boom moved to Placentia, California. The next year, she suffered a series of strokes that left her paralyzed and unable to speak. She died on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983. Her passing on this date evokes the Jewish traditional belief that states that only specially blessed people are granted the privilege of dying on the date they were born.

Quotes

  • Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.
  • Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
  • When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
  • Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
  • The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.
  • Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.
  • Let God’s promises shine on your problems.
  • Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.
  • Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.
  • Discernment is God’s call to intercession, never to faultfinding.

More?

The movie: The Hiding Place

The Maranatha song associated: [link]

The Corrie ten Boom museum [link]

Suggestions for action

Corrie ten Boom overcame her trauma and proved God’s faithfulness. It propelled her to tell her story and made her world famous. You don’t need to be famous, but don;t you need to tell your story? How do you know Jesus is faithful? Or have you yet to trust Him?

April 10 – Howard Thurman

Today’s Bible reading

Read Isaiah 5:1-7

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.

More thoughts for meditation about Howard Thurman

Born in Florida in 1899, Howard Thurman was raised primarily by his grandmother – a former slave.  He showed signs of a vibrant spiritual life early, and would read the Bible to his grandmother.  Thurman tells the story in his most famous work: Jesus and the Disinherited, how his mother would not permit him to read anything by the Apostle Paul (besides 1 Corinthians 13) because of the abusive theology that the white preachers would perpetrate on her and other enslaved people — biblical mandates to be “good slaves.”

Thurman grew as a pastor and academic, and became a man many people call a mystic. He had a significant bond with Quaker leader and pacifist Rufas Jones of Haverford College (the key leader of the organization that became the American Friends Service Committee). That connection moved him to lead a delegation to meet with Mohandas Gandhi.

As a theologian, Thurman was a pioneer in articulating Jesus’ mission of liberation for oppressed people. He taught that “if you ever developed a cultivated will with spiritual discipline the flame of freedom would never perish.”  He served as one of the pastors of the first intentionally interracial church in the US — The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco.  As a friend of Martin King, Thurman became a spiritual adviser and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Howard Thurman is usually credited with developing the nonviolence theories and tactics that were central to the Civil Rights Movement. He wrote over twenty books besides speeches and articles before he died on this day in 1981.

Listening to Howard Thurman

  • Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace. — from Meditations of the Heart
  • Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
  • Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers.
  • During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.

Suggestions for action

Listen. Thurman was a good listener to God and others, and to his own genius. You have all those resources today, as well. Listen to them and see if you are en-couraged and directed.

April 9 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 5:38-42

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

More thoughts for meditation about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister were born in a Prussian city (now in Poland) in 1906.   His family moved to Berlin a few years later. Bonhoeffer earned a doctorate in theology at the age of 21 from perhaps the most prestigious university in the world at the time – the University of Berlin.   He began to pastor but continued to pursue academic work which took him to Spain and then to Harlem. Dissatisfied with the lack of rigor at Union Seminary, where he was teaching and doing post graduate work, he became a disciple and Sunday school teacher at Abyssinian Baptist Church, where his love for spirituals developed along with his deep desire for the Church to change the world.

Two years after his return to Germany, the Nazi Party rose to power. Bonhoeffer was overtly critical of the regime and a resister from the beginning.  While Hitler and the Nazis infiltrated and found a stronghold in the German Church, Bonhoeffer was building something new in Germany through the Confessing Church.  After only a few months under Nazi control, Bonhoeffer moved to London to work on international ecumenical work, highly frustrated with the state of the German church.

Two years later, rather than going to study non-violent civil disobedience under Ghandi he returned to Germany, responding to the repeated pleas and demands of Swiss theologians and Karl Barth.  The Confessing Church was under fire by the Nazis.  Barth was sent back to Switzerland. Bonhoeffer soon lost his credentials to teach because he was a “pacifist and enemy of the state.”   He began underground seminaries and further resisted.

Bonhoeffer became more involved in direct resistance and was arrested in 1943.  He was part of a group that was responsible both for attempts at liberating Jews and attempting to assassinate Hitler. His pacifism has been widely written about, especially in light of this glaring contradiction.

Dietrich was executed on this day in 1945, two weeks before US soldiers liberated his prison camp.  He is largely considered a martyr for the faith, for peace, and as a Nazi resister.  Among two of his most influential works are Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship – this quote is from the latter:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Want to watch a small documentary about his life? Here is a [link]

Bonhoeffer speaks out against Hitler [link]

Suggestions for action

Bonhoeffer applied himself to unmasking the lies of his culture and the ideologies that took God’s place. It was not easy, since the church was generally in line with them. In spite of state threat and lack of support from the church, he took risks to teach the truth, even moving back to Germany when he would have been safer elsewhere.

That kind of courage is demonstrated in the Bible repeatedly by people whose loves are trained on God. What threat do you feel from those you know and from the great “other” of the powers that be when it comes to expressing your faith in word and deed? Pray for courage. Pray that we are a confessing church in a culture of lies.

April 5 — Pandita Ramabai

Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati 1858-1922 front-page-portrait.jpg

Today’s Bible reading

Shout for joy, you heavens;
    rejoice, you earth;
    burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    the Lord has forgotten me.”

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you! — Isaiah 49:13-15

Ramabai on an Indian post stamp

More thoughts for meditation about Pandita Ramabai

The Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice name Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922) as one of their favorite saints of all time. She was an Indian activist, evangelist and one of the first modern Pentecostals. Over a hundred years before Malala Yousafzai, she campaigned for women’s right to education, and she was extremely active in helping the poor and those oppressed under the Hindu caste system.

Born in a Brahman (highest caste) family in south India, in what is now the state of Karnataka, she started to study at an early age and learned Sanskrit along with sacred Hindu texts, astronomy, physiology and more. This was controversial for a woman to do, but her father encouraged her as he saw her learning more and more about society, religion and activism. She came to be called by the honorific title “pandita” which denotes an Indian scholar.

In 1883 she went to England and taught Sanskrit at an Anglican monastery in Wantage. She met Jesus there. “I realized,” she later wrote, “after reading the fourth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, that Christ was truly the Divine Saviour he claimed to be, and no one but He could transform and uplift the downtrodden women of India.”

As she returned to her home country, she bought a piece of land outside Pune and started a Christian social community for young widows called Mukti, Sanskrit for liberation. She also helped people who were orphaned, disabled or homeless, and when a famine hit India in 1896, Ramabai rescued over a thousand people and brought many of them to the Mukti mission.

In 1905, Mukti was transformed by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Hundreds were saved at the community, and they prayed, worshiped and studied the Word of God in ecstasy. Miracles started to happen as the Holy Spirit gave gifts to the girls at Mukti. This happened at the same time as the mighty Azusa Street revival was going on in Los Angeles, and by the Lord’s providence the groups got in touch with each other. In the January 1908 edition of Azusa Street’s paper The Apostolic Faith, this report from Ramabai was provided:

“One Sunday, as I was coming out of the church, after the morning service, I saw some girls standing near the door of a worker’s room. They seemed greatly excited and wondering. I soon found out the cause. A girl was praying aloud, and praising God in the English language. She did not know the language.”

Many Pentecostal leaders, went to Mukti and witnessed the amazing outpouring among the poor and marginalized. The Mukti community became the cornerstone of Indian Pentecostal mission, like L.A. was in the United States or Oslo in Europe, and thousands were blessed through what God was doing there. Ramabai continued to preach the Gospel, save the poor and campaign for women’s rights in the power of the Holy Spirit until she died on this day in 1922.

Want more?

  • For a more detailed biography of Ramabai’s amazing life, check out Christianity Today’s article about her.
  • Here is a nice promotional video from Mukti today:
  • Here is another video with nice pics but probably not your language. [video]

Suggestions for action

Pray: Lord, help me become as passionate about You and the poor as Pandita Ramabai was, and let her example be an inspiration to many.

Pray for the needy in India and around the world. Thank God for the people who must beg the wealthy for money to care for the poor.

April 4 – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 5:43-48

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

More thoughts for meditation about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was a prophet and an apostle.  Born into a pastor’s family in Atlanta, GA.  He grew into a scholar, preacher, and community organizer.  In 1954, when King was 25, he became a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama.  The next year, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began and King was mixing it up with many people who became  prominent  leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King is famous for his speeches and published works.  His faith drew tens of thousands into passionate civil engagement through marches, rallies, prayer, worship, and non-violent civil disobedience.  He earned global respect of people from all walks of life.  His application of tactics for non-violence change were acts of transformation rooted in the way of Jesus.

A decade after his public work had begun, King was deeply entrenched in the national movement to legally end state-sponsored racial discrimination perpetrated during the Jim Crow era.  He was key in the formation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King caused controversy in the movement because he was drawn to what he believed were two key issues that needed addressing: ending the Vietnam War and economic rights for Black people.  Many opposed him because his “branching out” weakened chances of getting more effective laws in place to protect other civil liberties and alienated some sympathetic whites – notably elected officials.

On this day in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis when he was 39 years old.  His legacy continues to inspire and urge people to work for Justice.

Quotes:

  • Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
  • Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
  • I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
  • I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
  • Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
  • I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
  • Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
  • We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
  • In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
  • Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.

More:

American Experience videos

Hear him for yourself: Anthology

Our celebration of MLK Day.

Suggestions for action

Talk to someone involved in our Compassion Team: Circle of Hope Mobilized for Black Lives Matter. Find out about the ongoing struggle.

Read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

Ask God how to apply the tactic of nonviolent transformation in this era of polarized politics and overt racist rhetoric. Is there a way you can make the effort it takes to get over the color line and love?

April 1 — John Leonhard Dober

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Acts 13:16-52

Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

More thoughts for meditation about John Leonhard Dober

Let’s celebrate one of the Moravian Brethren’s first residents of the Americas who was part of their amazing and extensive missionary efforts in the 1700’s. As you know, the Moravians are still alive and well in the United States. A main center for them is just up the road in Bethlehem, PA.

Leonhard Dober was born on March 7, 1706, in Bavaria, Germany. Like his father, Johann, Leonhard was trained as a potter. When he was nineteen years old, Leonhard walked 315 miles to join his older brother, Martin, in Herrnhut. We do not exactly know how Martin had heard about Herrnhut, the community founded by Protestant refugees from Moravia just a few years earlier. By 1727 about half of the population of Herrnhut came from other parts of Germany. Other members of the Dober family soon joined Leonhard and Martin in Herrnhut: their parents, Johann and Anna Barbara in 1730, and their younger brother Andreas in 1733.

An important event in Leonhard’s life took place in 1731 when Anton, a former African slave from St. Thomas, visited Herrnhut. Count Zinzendorf, on whose land the village was built, had met Anton in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was employed as a servant. Anton, who was baptized, impressed Zinzendorf and his traveling companions with his accounts of the situation on St. Thomas where Africans lived under the harshest of conditions. Zinzendorf sent Anton to Herrnhut where he told the congregation about his sister on St. Thomas who was “eager to learn about Christianity if only God would send someone to teach her.” Leonhard felt he should be the person to go to the Caribbean island and tell the slaves “about their Savior.” The Church, however was not quick to rush into such an enterprise, and it took another year until Dober and David Nitschmann, his fellow missionary, received permission for travel their. They day they left Herrnhut, August 21, 1732, marks the beginning of mission work of the Moravian Church.

Dober and Nitschmann arrived on St. Thomas on December 13, 1732. Nitschmann returned to Europe four months later; Dober remained until 1734 when he was called back to become General Elder, a position he would hold until September of 1741.

Dober served the Moravian Church in many places. He worked in Amsterdam where he tried to evangelize the Jewish inhabitants of that city (1738/39). He was appointed head of Moravian activities in the Netherlands (1741-45), in England (1745-1746) and later in Silesia (1751-58). He was also ordained a bishop of the Church in 1747. After Zinzendorf’s death, Dober became a member of the Directorate of the Unity – a position he held until he died in Herrnhut on April 1, 1766.

Dober’s letter describing his motivation for going to St. Thomas:

Since it is desired of me to make known my reason, I can say that my disposition was never to travel during this time [that period in his life], but only to ground myself more steadfastly in my Savior; that when the gracious count came back from his trip to Denmark and told me about the slaves, it gripped me so that I could not get free of it. I vowed to myself that if one other brother would go with me, I would become a slave, and would tell him so, and [also] what I had experienced from our Savior: that the word of the cross in its lowliness shows a special strength to souls. As for me, I thought: even if helpful to no one in it [my commitment] I could still give witness through it of obedience to our Savior! I leave it to the good judgment of the congregation and have no other ground than this I thought: that on the island there still are souls who cannot believe because they have not heard.

Want more?

A documentary about Dober. Part 1, Part 2

Suggestions for Action

Herrnhut is a good model, don’t you think? Radical Christians crossing lines of nationality and race, prayer, community and imaginative mission worldwide. That’s good Christianity in any era! How are we doing?

Is God is calling you to some new obedience? What will you do about it? You can start by letting others know — even if it takes a long time to be sent into it, it is good to have back up.

April 1 — Easter Sunday

Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?

Today’s Bible reading

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. — Romans 6:3-5

More thoughts for meditation about the origin of Easter

Was Easter actually borrowed (or rather usurped) from a pagan celebration? Some Muslims sometimes claim that Christians compromised with paganism to dilute the original faith of Jesus.

Their argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.

Christians always contextualize their faith in one way or another — we express our message and worship in the language or forms of our culture. But that does not mean we compromise our doctrine. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to the way of Jesus. After all, Christians speak of “Good Friday,” but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

But, in fact, in the case of Easter the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism.

Easter is a celebration with ancient roots

The usual argument for the pagan origins of Easter is based on a comment made by the Venerable Bede (673-735), an English monk who wrote the first history of Christianity in England, and who is one of our main sources of knowledge about early Anglo-Saxon culture. In De temporum ratione (On the Reckoning of Time, c. 730), Bede wrote this:

In olden times the English people—for it did not seem fitting that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s—calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath. The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath … Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

The first question is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival. This is easily answered. The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity. Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7. The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772. So if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance. And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier. It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.

Why the name Easter is not “pagan” 

The second question is whether the name of the holiday “Easter” comes from the blurring of the Christian celebration with the worship of a purported pagan fertility goddess named “Eostre” in English and Germanic cultures. There are several problems with the passage in Bede. He has a sketchy knowledge of pagan festivals, which he freely admitted.

As it turns out, there is no evidence outside of Bede for the existence of this Anglo-Saxon goddess. There is no equivalent goddess in the Norse Eddas or in ancient Germanic paganism from continental Europe. Scholars suggest that the Anglo-Saxon Estor-monath simply means “the month of opening” or “the month of beginnings.” There is no evidence for a pre-Christian festival in the British Isles in March or April.

There is another objection to the claim that Eosturmonath has anything to do with a pagan goddess. Anglo-Saxon days were usually named after gods, such as Wednesday (“Woden’s day”), the names of their months were either calendrical, such as Giuli, meaning “wheel,” referring to the turn of the year; metereological-environmental, such as Solmónath (roughly February), meaning “Mud-Month”; or referred to actions taken in that period, such as Blótmónath (roughly November), meaning “Blood Month,” when animals were slaughtered. No other month was dedicated to a deity, with the exception (according to Bede) of Hrethmonath (roughly March), which he claims was named after the goddess Hrethe. But like Eostre, there is no other evidence for Hrethe, nor any equivalent in Germanic/Norse mythology.

Another problem with Bede’s explanation concerns the Saxons in continental Europe. Einhard (c. 775-840), the courtier and biographer of Charlemagne, tells us that among Charlemagne’s reforms was the renaming of the months. April was renamed Ostarmanoth. Charlemagne spoke a Germanic dialect, as did the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, although their vernacular was distinct. But why would Charlemagne change the old Roman title for the spring month to Ostarmanoth? Charlemagne was the scourge of Germanic paganism. He attacked the pagan Saxons and felled their great pillar Irminsul (after their god Irmin) in 772. He forcibly converted them to Christianity and savagely repressed them when they revolted because of this. It seems very unlikely, therefore, that Charlemagne would name a month after a Germanic goddess.

The name is basically “spring holiday”

One theory for the origin of the name Easter is that the Latin phrase in albis (“in white”), which Christians used in reference to Easter week, found its way into Old High German as eostarum, or “dawn.” There is some evidence of early Germanic borrowing of Latin despite that fact that the Germanic peoples lived outside the Roman Empire. This theory presumes that the word only became current after the introduction of either Roman influence or the Christian faith, which is uncertain. But if accurate, it would demonstrate that the festival is not named after a pagan goddess.

Alternatively, some suggest Eosturmonath simply meant “the month of opening,” which is comparable to the meaning of “April” in Latin. The names of both the Saxon and Latin months (which are calendrically similar) were related to spring, the season when the buds open.

So Christians in ancient Anglo-Saxon and Germanic areas called their Passover holiday what they did—doubtless colloquially at first—simply because it occurred around the time of Eosturmonath/Ostarmanoth. A contemporary analogy can be found in the way Americans refer to December as “the holidays,” or the way people sometimes speak about something happening “around Christmas,” usually referring to the time at the turn of the year. The Christian title “Easter,” then, essentially reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

[Thanks to Anthony McCroy, Christian History, 2009]

Suggestions for action

The Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is Christ’s conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone “Happy Easter!”

Sometimes we have renamed the day “Resurrection Sunday” so people can get some separation from chicks, bunnies and other fertility symbols. Resurrection Sunday makes candy hidden in baskets full of fake grass seems as innocuous as it should be. Like Jesus followers in the past, we also make our own decisions about how we want to live in our culture and present Jesus to it.

Our general mentality is generosity. We are not only transhistorical (thus, this blog) we are genuinely interested in the genius behind most expressions of life in Christ. Having a joyful celebration of new life budding from the cold earth seems like a good way for people in the northern hemisphere to celebrate resurrection! On the other end of the spectrum, keeping faithless imagery and thinking away from the most important and spiritually-potent day of the year could be a sincere way to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection. The resurrection is the constant that spans the spectrum.

March 24 – Oscar Romero

Today’s Bible reading an an excerpt

Read Isaiah 61

The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere.

roemro

More thoughts for meditation about Oscar Romero

Until he was 62 years old, Óscar Romero y Galdámez served as priest, bishop, and finally Archbishop of San Salvador in the Central American nation El Salvador.   On Monday, March 24, 1980 Romero was shot through the heart while lifting the chalice as part of the communion meal.  The day before, in a sermon broadcast by radio, Romero called on Salvadoran soldiers to disobey orders that would contradict a life in Christ — namely carrying out the government’s repression and denial of basic human rights.

His appointment to Archbishop was seen as a “safe” move by conservative elements of the church and the government, while the progressive priests were disappointed.  The latter were involved in criticizing the systemic sin ruining their country and were open with their teaching and activism surrounding class conflict, sometimes implicating the Catholic Church as part of the oppressor class.  Their worldview, and later Romero’s, became widely known as Liberation Theology.

After a friend of Romero’s was assassinated for his “subversive” activities in 1977, Romero was astonished at the lack of help in the investigation he received from the authorities.  He felt the call to follow his late friend, Rutilio Grande, in his work and potentially into death.  His letter to President Jimmy Carter petitions “His Excellency” as a Christian and as someone who cares about human rights to cut off  military aid to the Salvadoran government because it would violently carry out the interests of the military oligarchy not the people. After Romero’s death Carter increased military aid, having previously restricted it to humanitarian.

Romero wrote: “We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood,the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.” ― from The Violence of Love (get it as a free audio book!)

Want more?

Martyr’s Prayer Project video [link]

The movie: Romero. Watch part 7

Oliver Stone’s Salvador [Trailer: link]

Jean Donovan and the murdered nuns [link]

The government admitted to the murder of priests twenty years later [link]

Jon Sobrino on Romero [link, in Spanish]

Summary of U.S. policy decisions. [link]

Suggestions for action

The Salvadoran Church was instrumental in ending the country’s civil war. They risked their lives for the gospel and stood in solidarity with the poor, often at the cost of family ties and livelihoods.  The United States was intimately involved in the repressive policies and work of the death squads. Everybody, in El Salvador and the United States, had a difficult time seeing the evil, even with people dying around them. Consider whether you also are accepting an evil.