Home » Cloud of Witnesses

Category: Cloud of Witnesses

January 23 — Thomas Dorsey

The Father of Gospel Music Wanted to Be a Secular Star

Today’s  Bible reading

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. — Ephesians 5:18-20

More thoughts for meditation about Thomas Dorsey

Thomas Dorsey was 33 years old and had a flourishing career in secular music. In the previous 15 years, the Georgia native had moved to Chicago, completed his musical studies while picking up an endless number of side jobs, and eventually found a way to support himself and his expectant wife as a full-time musician. But it wasn’t to last. In the next months, Dorsey would lose his spouse and newborn son, a tragedy which spurred him to heed the advice of those closest to him. He would leave the secular music scene behind and fully dedicate his musical gifts to the church.

Over the next 60 years, Dorsey became known as the “Father of Gospel Music,” penning hundreds of songs and redefining the genre in beat, rhythm, and tempo. As The Voice reported, the Chicago musician dubbed his work “songs with a message.”

Here’s the full story:

Thomas A. Dorsey was born in Villa Rica, Georgia, a small town outside of Atlanta, in 1899, the son of an itinerant Baptist preacher. When his father and mother married, his mother brought a significant amount of land. But within a few years, the family lost their property, allegedly due to back taxes. Thomas’s father, a respected teacher and preacher, was forced to work as a sharecropper on the very land formerly owned by his wife’s family. In 1908 the Dorseys moved to Atlanta where both parents worked to help the family survive.

The adjustment wasn’t easy for Thomas. He was placed a year behind his classmates in the Atlanta public school system and his peers often made fun of his speech and clothes. Thomas dropped out of school at the age of 10 and began working at a prominent black vaudeville theater, carrying water and doing other odd jobs.

As a young boy, Thomas learned to play the piano from his mother, for whom music had been a significant part of her own family life. After the family moved to Atlanta, he walked 30 miles a week to take formal music lessons. As his musical ability improved, he began playing for churches, house rent parties, bordellos, and women’s teas to help supplement his family’s income.

In 1916, at 17, Dorsey moved north to Chicago to pursue a musical career. Success was initially hard to come by. Dorsey soon learned he couldn’t earn union scale wages as a musician without a card, and he couldn’t obtain the card without a formal music education. To pay for his education, Dorsey worked days at a steel mill in Gary, Indiana, attended school at night, and established his own nightly rent-party circuit (parties organized by tenants to pay for their rent). In 1919, Dorsey completed his musical studies at the Chicago College of Composition and Arrangement and obtained his union card. Now he was free to play anywhere in Chicago and performed with various groups, including the Whispering Syncopators and a jazz orchestra.

Dorsey also joined Pilgrim Baptist Church. A preacher’s kid who had confessed faith in Christ as a child, he had also been influenced by his father’s flamboyant style, which he often imitated on the family porch. But faith wasn’t a serious priority in Dorsey’s life until his early 20s. Initially, Dorsey’s conversion spurred him to end his secular music career, and he began playing for a storefront church. But the salary wasn’t enough to pay his bills. So, once again, Dorsey began to work in jazz and blues clubs. In 1924, Dorsey, with the Wild Cats Jazz Band, debuted with Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, at the Grand Theater in Chicago. Performing with Rainey was a significant career break for Dorsey — she was known as the “Mother of the Blues.”

Despite personal success, depression plagued Dorsey throughout his career. He appeared on stage one night with Ma Rainey and was unable to play. He said, “I could move my fingers. I just couldn’t play. Think of that. I have the muscular ability to move, but I can’t play. In other words, I can’t make music. I can’t create.” Some of those close to Dorsey, however, believed something else was at work. His wife and sister-in-law were unhappy that he had continued to pursue a secular musical career. Dorsey’s wife, Nettie, whom he married in 1925, believed that God had called him to write and sing gospel music and that the source of his inner turmoil stemmed from ignoring God’s calling.

Yet his secular career was rising. In 1928, Dorsey and guitarist Tampa Red released, It’s Tight Like That—a national sensation and a religious scandal. The song’s bawdy lyrics described lovemaking between a man and a woman. It was an instant success, selling over 500,000 copies.

Things began to change for Dorsey in the 1930s when influential church musicians began championing his music. A performance of Dorsey’s composition of If You See My Savior during a morning devotion left people “slain in the spirit.” Two NBC musicians gave Dorsey permission to set up a booth at the 1930 convention where he sold more than 4,000 copies of that song. For his part, Dorsey continued to play secular music while he visited churches and asked pastors to listen to his religious compositions.

In 1932, Dorsey’s battle between secular and sacred reached a tragic resolution. The musician had gone to St. Louis to sing at a revival. During his trip, he received a telegram telling him to return home—his wife had just died in childbirth. His infant son died the next day.

Initially, Dorsey became angry and bitter with God after their deaths, believing that God had wronged him. In his grief, he refused to do anything for God; he only wanted to pursue his secular career. But God had something to say to him, as Dorsey later recounted in The Precious Lord Story and Gospel Songs: “You are not alone. I tried to speak to you before. It was you that should have gotten out of the car and not gone to St. Louis. … I said, Thank you, Lord, I understand. I’ll never make that same mistake again.”

The following Saturday after Nettie’s death, Dorsey met up with his friend Theodore Frye. There, he later said, God gave him the words and melody for Take My Hand, Precious Lord: “Something happened to me there. I had a strange feeling inside … a calm—a quiet stillness. As my fingers began to manipulate over the keys, words began to fall in place on the melody like drops of water falling from the crevice of a rock.” The popularity of Precious Lord throughout the country helped revolutionize the worship atmosphere and later, inspired many in the civil rights movement. Frye introduced the song to Martin Luther King Sr.’s Ebenezer Church. On the day he died, Martin Luther King Jr. requested that Precious Lord play at a future event. Aretha Franklin sang it at his funeral.

Ebenezer Gospel Chorus

Dorsey dubbed his music “gospel blues” due to the similarity of his gospel rhythms and vocals to those heard in blues and jazz clubs. He employed the “call and response” pattern in his songs that also reminded pastors of songs composed and sung by their enslaved ancestors.

Eventually, Dorsey’s style of worship took hold. In 1931, the established “silk-stocking” Ebenezer Baptist Church organized a gospel choir, marking the beginning of gospel music’s acceptance by mainline churches. The energy from the Great Migration also impacted this social musical revolution. Blacks relocating to the North from the South wanted a type of singing that reminded them of home—songs with rhythm, hands clapping, and feet tapping. Frustrated with the Northern worship style, newly arrived Southern blacks who had joined large churches left and began to join storefront churches where worship services resembled the ones they left in the South. Pastors at traditional churches began to take notice.

At Pilgrim Baptist, Dorsey’s own pastor was encouraged by the success of Ebenezer’s gospel choir, and he soon hired Dorsey to serve as the church’s gospel choir director and musician in 1932. Dorsey held that position for more than 50 years. Ebenezer and Pilgrim’s acceptance of gospel music as a religious genre helped to fuel gospel music’s prominence in church worship not only in Chicago but also across the country.

Thomas Dorsey published and performed his own music for decades. He earned his nickname as “The Father of Gospel Music” because of his impact on traditional gospel from the 1930s to 1950s. For most of his life, when he wasn’t playing or leading music in Chicago, Dorsey traveled around the United States demonstrating his music, conducting workshops, presiding over music conventions, and occasionally writing.

More?

Suggestions for action

For what will we use our talents? For what will we strive? It is a question in every era of our lives, from childhood to old age? So there is probably a choice for you today. Sit back and ask what needs to be done. Are read the circumstances, as Dorsey read the tragedy of his life, as see how they inform your choice, knowing Jesus as you do.

January 20 — MLK Holiday

A national holiday rarely intersects with the Christian calendar. But Martin Luther King is so precious to us that we are including his national “birthday” as part of our observances.

Image result for mlk day

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Deuteronomy 15:1-15

However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you.

More thoughts for meditation about the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday

In 1983, Ronald Reagan signed into law the legislation that made a day honoring Martin Luther King Jr. a national holiday. Reagan did not support the legislation. He opposed the King holiday because he thought King did not deserve to be so honored. Plenty of people at the time shared that opinion, and plenty of people still do.

There is, after all, exactly one other American so honored, and that person is George Washington—not Lincoln, not Jefferson. (The third Monday in February, the day we call “Presidents Day,” is officially, as it has always been, in honor of Washington). Giving Martin Luther King Jr., a man who never held public office, an honor that had been reserved exclusively for the father of the country, was a  very loud statement, one that a very conservative president preferred not to make.

Reagan objected because he believed that another federal holiday would just create more government bloat. The King holiday would become the tenth national holiday that came with a paid day off for all federal workers, the cost of which the Congressional Budget Office estimated at $18 million per holiday in 1983 dollars. To those who objected to the cost of the new holiday, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, whose conservative bona fides were no less than Reagan’s, said: “I suggest they hurry back to their pocket calculators and estimate the cost of 300 years of slavery, followed by a century or more of economic, political and social exclusion and discrimination.”

Luckily for the president, the legislation was passed with veto-proof majorities, making his threatened veto a non-issue. So on Nov. 2, 1983, in a Rose Garden ceremony, Ronald Reagan signed the legislation into law with Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, by his side. This is often listed among his accomplishments.

Reagan’s point was not without logic. The original impetus for the holiday came from labor unions with large African-American memberships that sought a paid day off on MLK’s birthday in contract negotiations. And though legislation creating the holiday was a landmark in American racial relations, all the creation of a federal holiday practically does is give a paid day off to federal government workers. It does not give the day a spirit or a meaning.

Many of the people who had worked diligently for years collecting signatures and petitioning legislators to create the King holiday must have experienced a “What now?” moment when they achieved their goal. They had insisted on having an “official” holiday. They were not interested in Reagan’s counter-suggestion that the King birthday be observed like Lincoln’s, which is to say, without closing government offices. But if the King holiday were to keep true to the spirit of the man whose life inspired it, then it had to become more than just another three-day weekend.

In 1994, Sen. Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and Congressman John Lewis of Georgia authored the King Holiday and Service Act, with the intention of transforming the King holiday from a vacation day into a day of civic participation and volunteerism; from what had been a “day off” to a “day on.” President Bill Clinton signed the legislation into law on Aug. 23, 1994.

The Greater Philadelphia King Day of Service has often been cited as the nation’s largest King Day event: (website). There is no doubt Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King left his mark on Philadelphia. His journeys to this city are noted and marked and his wife Coretta authorized the only chapter of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association for Nonviolence in Philadelphia.

Here is a recent article that gives some perspective on King’s reputation [link]

Suggestions for action

Pray through the Deuteronomy passage, whether you are “rich” or “poor.” What is God saying to you?

Get involved in one of the many service projects being planned! Circle of Hope has one planned with MCC.

January 18 – Amy Carmichael

Today’s Bible reading

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.
He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.
Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate.
The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate. — Psalm 34:18-22 (KJV)

Amy Carmichael

More thoughts for meditation about Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was a well-known missionary during the first half of the 20th century. Her 35 books are loved by thousands.

She was born into a well-to-do, Northern Ireland, Christian family. In her teen years, she was educated at a Wesleyan Methodist boarding school; and at age 13, while still in boarding school, she accepted Christ as Savior. When she was age 18, her father died, leaving the family in difficult financial circumstances, as he had given a large personal loan that was not repaid. The family moved to Belfast. There she became involved in visiting the slums, and seeing the terrible conditions under which many women and girls worked in the factories. She began a ministry with these women. It was a work based on faith in God alone, and the Lord met her needs in remarkable ways.

She became acquainted with the Keswick Movement, and it was there that she learned of a close, deeper walk with the Jesus. The founder of the movement, Robert Wilson, a widower, asked her to come and live in his home and be his secretary. She learned much from that employment. She remembered on one occasion at a Keswick meeting when D.L. Moody preached on the prodigal son. Afterwards, he was talking with Robert Wilson and stopped in mid sentence. He was struck with the moment when the father says to the older son “Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.” Moody said, “I never saw it before. Oh, the love of God’s love. Oh, the love. God’s love.” Tears rained down his cheeks. Amy never forgot that spiritual truth—”All that I have is thine.” It reinforced her faith that God knew her needs before she asked and wanted to supply them by faith.

She received a “Macedonian call” in 1892 at the age of 24. The following year, she became the first missionary appointee of the Keswick’s missions committee. She went to Japan. But there and elsewhere her missionary efforts met with disappointment. She left Japan for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), went back to England, and then India, where she caught dengue fever.

In India, she saw that the missionary community was very active but there were no changed lives. She detested the meetings with the other missionary ladies—drinking tea and gossiping, showing very little concern for the salvation of those about them. She felt very alone. One day as she fell to her knees in despair, a verse she had learned long before floated into her memory: “He that trusteth in me shall never be desolate.” From there on she found that to be true throughout her long life of ministry in India. In reflection, she wrote:

Onward Christian soldiers,
Sitting on the mats;
Nice and warm and cozy
Like little pussycats.
Onward Christian soldiers,
Oh, how brave are we,
Don’t we do our fighting
Very comfortably?

She left Bangalore for South India and with the daughter of her host family and several Christian Indian women, began an itinerant ministry through the villages of Tamil Nadu. They were dubbed the “starry cluster,” because the Indians recognized their sincerity and the light shining from them. The members of the band had no salary but looked to God to supply their needs. Their attitude was, “How much can I do without that I may have more to give?” It was during this period of time that Amy took on the habit of wearing Indian dress, which she continued throughout her lifetime.

A life-changing experience took place in 1901. A little five-year-old girl, named Pearl Eyes by Amy, was brought to her by an Indian woman. Her mother had sold her to the temple, and there she was being prepared for temple prostitution. Twice she had run away only to be caught, carried back, beaten, and subjected to sexual service in that Hindu temple. Finally, as she was running away again at night, she met a woman who brought her to Amy. Little Pearl Eyes told her story as she sat on amy’s lap playing with the rag doll she had given her. She described what was done to her in the temple, demonstrating with the doll.

The date was March 7, 1901. Amy never forgot that day nor the child’s story. It was the beginning of her work to rescue of these children who had been dedicated to the temple gods. She founded the Dohnavur Fellowship. In 1918, they began to also rescue baby boys who were also dedicated to the temple gods and goddesses. Other areas of the work over the years were added such as a hospital, schools and publishing house. Amy was not understood by many of the missionaries in India. She was also greatly resented by the Hindu priests and was frequently taken to court on charges of being a kidnapper.

In 1931 Amy had a fall that left her an invalid for the remainder of her life, and she seldom left her bed. It was during this period of her life that she was most prolific in writing. Occasionally someone would wheel her in a wheelchair out onto a veranda where her children could gather to greet her and sing to her.

Amy was very self-effacing. She rarely allowed her photograph to be taken and never referred to herself by name or personal pronoun in her writings.

Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life, another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.

More

BBC2 video

Fan video bio focusing on prostitution

Hour-long English bio

Goodreads quotes pages

Suggestions for action

Amy Carmichael’s life reflects a conviction that we should give our “utmost” for God’s “highest.” Her convictions led her to do very unusual things, especially unusual for a woman in her time. She would want you to ponder whether you are receiving the sanctification from God that sets you apart for your best work on the Lord’s behalf. She would want her example to move you to consider how you should shine God’s light and be a conduit for God’s compassion. The whole world is your mission field, even if you end up in a wheelchair!

January 17 — Anthony of Egypt

Today’s Bible reading an an excerpt

Read James 4:1-12

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony (right wing), 1505-06, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Meditating with Anthony of Egypt

Today is St. Anthony of Egypt’s feast day.

The Catholic Church developed an elaborate system of celebrating the lives of “saints.” Early on, these great people were often the martyrs who gave all believers courage to keep their faith in difficult times. Later, these people were thought to play an intermediary role between Jesus and humanity. Their shrines were thought to be healing, powerful places, and they were thought to be praying for us and taking advantage of their special relationship with God on our behalf. We are not into the excesses of these practices. But we still recognize how they got to be “saints” even though the Bible calls everyone who has been set apart for God in Jesus a saint.

The word “saint” means “holy one.” When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he starts his letter: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you follow Jesus, you are a saint, right along with Anthony.

Anthony was one of the first Christian monks.  A “monk” (from Greek: μοναχός, monachos, “single, solitary” and Latin monachus) is a person who practices strict spiritual discipline to be close to God and serve the Lord’s purpose, living either alone or with any number of other monks. They voluntarily choose to leave mainstream society and live an alternative life, usually according to a rule.

Anthony lived from 251-356 AD (105 years!)  At the age of 20, he was inspired by a passage in Mark: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (10:21). So he made sure his sister was well provided for and then he gave away a large inheritance and all his possessions. He then pursued a life of solitude in the desert, away from a Church that was quickly becoming dominated by the world. In many ways, he was the “anti-Constantine.”

Anthony was illiterate but he became very wise.  He went further into the desert than his ascetic contemporaries in search of an undistracted life with God.  He spent time in an old tomb and eventually he shut himself up in an old Roman fort for twenty years.  In his solitude, he had frequent run-ins with the devil, but triumphed.  His life was written down by the famous bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius [bio], so we know a lot about his struggle and his influential successes. [link to Life of Anthony…]

The Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, once sent Anthony a joint letter, recommending themselves to his prayers. Noting the astonishment of some of the monks present, Anthony said, “Do not wonder that the Emperor writes to us, even to a man such as I am; rather be astounded that God has communicated with us, and has spoken to us by His Son.” Replying to the letter, he exhorted the Emperor and his sons to show contempt for the world and to constantly remember the final judgment.

The holiness Anthony achieved in his solitude ended up being very influential. People came to see him and formed a community around his example. Plus, the leaders of the church called him out of his separation to add his wisdom to the development of the church.

Perhaps the best movements are those begun by people not trying to start them. The monastic movement that Anthony inspired is still inspiring further descendants in the faith today. Circle of Hope honors the spirit of separation from the world and practices that separation invasively.

More?

You might appreciate a bio of Anthony from the Coptic Church [link].

Suggestions for action

Spend half a day in silence some time in the near future (or more if you can). Make a deal with your spouse or roommates that you are going to be silent (maybe get them to do it with you). Unplug completely. See if this small separation from mainstream noise allows you to connect with God in any way.

December 18 — Clara Hale

Today’s Bible reading

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Galatians 5:13-15

More thoughts for meditation about Clara McBride Hale (1905-1992)

Clara Hale had a mission of motherhood. Her life experiences helped make her extraordinarily empathetic to the pain and suffering of other mothers and children. Her compassion gave her an unusual capacity to love and to find solutions.

“Mother Hale” was born in North Carolina in 1905. After her father was killed, her mom moved the family to Philadelphia, Pa. After she married , she had two children, and adopted a third. Her husband moved the family to New York City, but he lost his battle with cancer when Clara was 27.

Through the Great Depression, Hale raised and supported her children, working as a domestic by day and a janitor by night. In 1943, Hale opened a daycare in her home in order to spend time with her children as well as care for others. It grew from a short–term to a long–term care facility. She also took care of foster children.

When Clara Hale retired in 1968 she could not have foreseen that her most notable endeavor, the founding of Hale House, was yet to begin. Hale House started in 1969 when Clara Hale’s biological daughter, Lorraine, brought a mother and child who were addicted to drugs to Hale’s home. She could not refuse the desperate pair. Indeed, she had no choice when the mother disappeared while Hale made a phone call in another room and left the baby behind. Hale took the tiny baby girl and nursed her through drug withdrawals. The young mother had other children, and when she returned to Hale’s residence, she brought the others and left them, too. Eventually she returned to take the children back. Hale sent the family off with her blessing and never charged a penny for her help. Within a few short weeks Mother Hale’s apartment was packed from wall to wall with 22 drug-addicted babies. Some of them were abandoned; some were orphaned. As Mother Hale told the tale to Irene Verag of Newsday, “Before I knew it every pregnant addict in Harlem knew about the crazy lady who would give her baby a home.”

Slowly the Hales (Clara, daughter Lorraine, and sons Nathan and Kenneth) allowed their lives to become virtually consumed by the effort to instill hope and to inject healing into the lives of addicted parents in Harlem. The dedicated family worked day and night to support their cause. Mother Hale kept the frailest of the infants in her own bedroom, cradling them and walking the floors all night when necessary to comfort each one through the painful experience of detoxification. The younger Hales took as many jobs as was necessary to bring in the funds to support the many, many children who came into their home. “It wasn’t their fault they were born addicted. Love them. Help one another,”Hale explained to others, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune.

She later got a home license as a “child care facility” in 1970, called the Hale House. A few years later Hale purchased a larger building. In 1975 she was able to attain a license for child-care. She raised the children as if they were her own and once they were healthy she would help to find families interested in adoption. She took it upon herself to make sure the families were a correct fit and even in some cases turned families down if she thought they could not provide a good enough home for the child. Hale said, “My daughter says she was almost sixteen before she realized all these other kids weren’t her real sisters and brothers. Everyone called me ‘Mommy.’” She eventually helped over 2,000 drug addicted babies and young children who were born addicted to drugs, children born with HIV, and children whose parents had died of AIDS. It was simple, she said; “Hold them, rock them, love them and tell them how great they are.”

It may have been harder than she let on. By 1983, 28,000 women had succumbed to drug–addiction in New York City alone. More than 50,000 children were born chemically dependent. These children were also at high risk of acquiring AIDS from their mothers during pregnancy. In New York State, there were about 250,000 addicts. At least 450,000 were users of cocaine, with one out of every 20 people over the age of 12 involved in drugs.

Today, such people are officially known to suffer from “Substance Use Disorder.” But in the 1980s, rather than declare their situation a national health crisis, society deemed it a crime wave that was sweeping the nation. Mass incarceration and benign neglect of poor minorities became the response, rather than the implementation of well–funded addiction treatment and mental health programs.

After the grant that helped her buy Hale House expired her work became a victim of severe cutbacks of state and city funds. Public agencies with competing services repeatedly harassed the center.

Image result for mother hale house

Successfully supported by individuals, churches, and community groups, Hale House nonetheless became unique in its format and demonstrated a sharp contrast to public agencies for the care of children. In the the program’s early days when funds for food and supplies were few and meeting payroll was a constant challenge, Clara Hale’s personal faith in Christ and the love and active concern of ordinary people were her only reliable sources of strength and support. They brought her disposable diapers, formula, and other items that were in constant demand.

One notable admirer spent more than two years, off and on, trying to track down Clara Hale because no one among his circle of friends knew her name. Finally, John Lennon found her and sent a check for $10,000. “He came with his wife and son and spent time with the children,” Hale had said. After Lennon’s tragic death the following year, Yoko Ono, his wife, sent more gifts, including a check for $20,000, which arrived every year thereafter.

One morning, another fan made her way to Hale’s doorstep. As she emerged from a black limousine, the usual paparazzi who typically pressed for pictures were elsewhere. This was a private visit, for sure. Nonetheless, the presence of Princess Diana made it a royal and memorable one. As the princess stood at the top of the brownstone stairs, she lovingly held a baby in her arms. “Thank you for the work you’re doing here for these children,” she said to Mother Hale.

On February 6, 1985, at the close of the State of the Union message to Congress, President Ronald Reagan turned to Mrs. Clara Hale, seated at the side of the first lady, Mrs. Reagan, and recognized “Mother Hale” for helping babies of drug–addicted mothers in Harlem, N.Y. The president said to members of Congress and to all America, “go to her house some night and maybe you’ll see her silhouette against the window as she walks the floor, talking softly, soothing a child in her arms. Mother Hale of Harlem, she too is an American hero.”

Suggestions for action

Love can accomplish a lot, even if you are needy yourself! Spend a minute a let God love you, needy child who you are.

Our compassion teams often start with a small inspiration or opportunity and grow up to accomplish a lot! Spend another minute and see what love is doing through us, and maybe through you! Give praise for how the love of Jesus flourishes even when the powers-that-be are against it. Maybe it is a good day to imagine how Jesus would like to work through your, or us. Tell someone about the seed of thought you may have and see where it goes.

December 10 — Thomas Merton

Today’s Bible reading

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. — Psalm 139:1-6

More thoughts for meditation about Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, known to the other monks as Father Louis, was born in 1915 in the south of France to a American mom (a Quaker) and Kiwi dad (a painter).  He was baptized as an Anglican. When Thomas was six years old his mother died of stomach cancer. He was sent to live in the U.S. with his grandparents while his father, an artist, often travelled. As an early teen, he was reunited with his dad and educated in Europe until his father died when he was 16. After finishing school, Thomas was agnostic. In 1933, while in Italy, Thomas experienced a sense of spiritual emptiness, anxiety, and a hope that would lead to a dramatic conversion.

In 1938, while finishing up a M.A. in English (focused on William Blake), Thomas joined the Catholic church after experimenting with other forms of Christianity. He was rejected by the Fransiscans and did not feel drawn to become a priest. In 1942, he was accepted as a novice monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

His abbot directed Merton to write his autobiography, which became The Seven Storey Mountain. The book became an unlikely best-seller and is considered today to be one of the spiritual classics of the modern age.

Merton would go on to write poems, articles, essays, and more than 60 books, among them New Seeds of Contemplation, The Sign of Jonas, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, and No Man Is An Island.

In the latter decades of his life he became increasingly interested in Asian religions, particularly Buddhism.  His leadership helped spark Christian-Buddhist dialogue that continues to this day. Merton is an example of a devoted Christian who had dialogue with others respectfully and as a learner. He was particularly interested in Eastern ways of thinking and understanding of self. His conversations about these issues were largely with other monks, Christian and Buddhist, as well as his superiors.

His abbey still receives revenues from his work. His work telling the stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers has been inspirational and influential to many of us. His writings have been translated into over 30 languages.

Merton died on this day in 1968 of an accidental electrocution while attending an interfaith conference of contemplative monks in Thailand at age 53.

Quotes:

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” — Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

More: 

The Thomas Merton Center [link]

Director’s page for “Soul Searching,” a documentary about his life [link]

Suggestions for action

Merton teaches with great inclusion and acceptance. He offering you a path to the deep places of God, starting where you are right now. Feel the freedom of that, and also a bit of the terror of that trust. Enjoy your solitude.

December 5 — Nelson Mandela

Today’s Bible reading

Therefore My people shall know My Name and what it means. Therefore in that day I am the One who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”

How beautiful and delightful on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace,
Who brings good news of good [things],
Who announces salvation,
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
Together they shout for joy;
For they will see face to face
The return of the Lord to Zion. Isaiah 52:6-8

More thoughts for meditation about Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

Mandela was not outspoken about his Christian faith. However, in his autobiography, he noted that he has always been and will be a Christian and that his actions and conviction stem from his Christian faith. He kept his Christian beliefs discreet in favor of his great life work of reconciliation. “He was a deeply religious man; he believed sincerely in the existence of the Almighty,” said Bishop Don Dabula, who first met Mandela in 1962 and met to pray with him whenever he was at his home in Qunu

The former president had the last rites administered by a Methodist minister in his Houghton home as he was nearing death. Nearby, in a private room, long-time friend Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said Mandela’s favorite blessing as he died. “I asked not to be in the room when he died,” said Mpumlwana, who had prayed at the family home regularly towards the end of Mandela’s life. He looked at the time midway during what he knew was Mandela’s favorite blessing and saw it was 8.49pm. He chanted the words that always made the elderly statesman’s face light up when he heard them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. “May the Lord look upon you with kindness, and give you peace. “I later realized that was when he died,” Mpumlwana said.

It is testament to Mandela’s universal appeal that he has been claimed to be everything from a communist to a true liberal by his many admirers. And the image of the father of South Africa’s secular democracy as being deeply religious may well sit uncomfortably with some. But Mandela’s relationship with religion was always significant, if muted.

He was raised and schooled as a Methodist, an experience he recalled fondly in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was married to his third wife, Graça Machel, by the then head of the South African Methodist church, Bishop Mvume Dandala. At a religious conference in 1999, he said: “Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today…Religion was one of the motivating factors in everything we did.”

But Mandela held an aversion to speaking publicly about his own faith for fear of dividing or—even worse—using religion as a political tool, as the apartheid regime did.

“The [apartheid] policy was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings by suggesting that Afrikaners were God’s chosen people and that blacks were a subservient species,” he wrote in his autobiography. “In the Afrikaner’s world view, apartheid and the church went hand in hand.”

The head of the Methodist Church in South Africa, Bishop Zipho Siwa, agreed: “He is a leader whose role was to unite everybody.” Ultimately, his faith, like everything else about Mandela, played to the great theme of his life: reconciliation. This was illustrated in a 1994 speech to the Zion Christian Church Easter conference, in which he said: “The good news was borne by our risen Messiah, who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language,  who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind.”

Want more?

More biography.

Mandela and the church

Suggestions for action

Mandela spent years in prison waiting his opportunity to serve. He had no choice, and maybe you do not either. Will you be bitter when you receive your chance, or ready?

Who can you help reconcile today? Be sincere as you provide a way for people to love. They need your help.

November 30 – Mother Jones

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jeremiah 22

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
    his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
    not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
    with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
    panels it with cedar
    and decorates it in red.

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

More thoughts for meditation

As a social reformer, Mary “Mother” Jones exposed disturbing truths about child and adult factory workers and miners and perpetual poverty in the United States through numerous marches, demonstrations, strikes, and speeches. The influence of Christianity was evident throughout her life. She received a Catholic education as a girl and became a teacher in a convent as a young adult. Letters and speeches by her, and those about her, were filled with the imagery of Christian beliefs.

Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867, and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she began working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union. In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Children’s March from Kensington, in Philadelphia, to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

She wailed about the unjust experiences of the poor like an Old Testament prophet, often dressed in old‐fashioned black dresses that seemed similar to the black habits worn by the Catholic sisters that taught and mentored her during her early years. She was described by others as the “walking wrath of God,” the “incarnation of labor’s struggles” decrying injustice and calling to account its perpetrators. She was even introduced by the author Upton Sinclair one day as “Mother Mary” — an allusion to the New Testament Mary who gave birth to the Christ child and was considered one who interceded on behalf of poor and exploited adults and children.

Her use of the word “hell” is notable. Once she was introduced as a humanitarian and quickly bellowed “I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell‐raiser.”  Two noteworthy quotes that peppered her speeches on behalf of factory workers and miners were “fight like hell until you go to heaven” and “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” When a West Virginia district attorney, Reese Blizzard, in 1902, Called her “the most dangerous woman in America” at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners, the title stuck.

As a passionate public speaker, some people thought she was “unchristian‐like,” mainly because she used of name‐calling, profanity, and dramatic stunts for effect, such as parading children who lost body limbs as a result of accidents in factories and mines. She was compared to John Brown, the abolitionist who believed armed rebellion was the only way to defeat the institution of slavery in the United States. Whether she actually believed such things is doubtful, but the association made her seem “unchristian‐like.” When confronted with the issue of violence in the labor movement she encouraged it at times as a necessary evil. She believed that martyrs died to overcome injustices and the causes that she led were no exception.

Just a few months after her death, the singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded the song “The Death of Mother Jones.” The writer of the lyrics is unknown.

The world today’s in mourning
For death of Mother Jones
Gloom and sorrow hover
Around the miners’ homes

This grand old champion of labor
Was known in every land
She fought for right and justice
She took a noble stand

Through the hills and over the valleys
In every mining town
Mother Jones was ready to help them
She never turned them down

On front with the striking miners
She always could be found
And received a hearty welcome
In every mining town

She was fearless of every danger
She hated that which was wrong
And she never gave up fighting
Until her breath was gone

This noble leader of labor
Has gone to a better land
While the hard working miners
They miss a guiding hand

May the miners all work together
And carry out her plan
And bring back better conditions
For every laboring man.

Want more?

AFL-CIO bio [link]

Suggestions for Action

Jesus was probably considered the most dangerous man in Palestine by the leaders who eventually killed him. Jeremiah was decidedly unpopular with the kings he exposed for their greed and oppression. If we, as Jesus followers, are not at odds with the powers-that-be, or even a threat to the corrupt ones, we might not be too serious about being planted in the soil of a fallen world. Consider who God wants you to stand with and stand up for.

November 29 – Dorothy Day

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 42:1-4

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

More thoughts for meditation about Dorothy Day

Dorothy DayDorothy Day was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1897 to stable, middle class, and marginally Christian parents. After her family experienced several major relocations, Day was raised mostly in San Francisco and Chicago. After two years of college, she dropped out of school in Illinois and moved back to New York City. During these younger years, Day’s interest in adventure grew to include alternative social organizations, particularly socialist anarchism. She began working with several socialist publications around 1916.

Although she had been baptized in the Episcopal Church as a child, at this point she identified as agnostic. The next few years were full of adventure and rocky relationships including heartbreak, abortion, a short marriage, and then an unexpected pregnancy and birth of her daughter, Tamar in 1926. She wished to baptize her child, which caused more tension in her relationship with Tamar’s father. A year later, Tamar was baptized and so was Dorothy, now part of the Catholic church.

In 1932 she met French immigrant Peter Maurin with whom a year later she would found the Catholic Worker movement. The publication of The Catholic Worker (almost named the Catholic Radical) began in 1933 and continues to be published. It’s goals were to promote Catholic social teaching in the depths of the Great Depression and to stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930s.  The vision grew to include “establishing houses of hospitality to care for the destitute, establishing rural farming communities to teach city dwellers agrarianism and encourage a movement back to the land, and setting up roundtable discussions in community centers in order to clarify thought and initiate action.”

She became famous for saying “I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.” By 1941 over 30 independent yet affiliated Catholic Worker communities had formed in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. While the Catholic leaders told her to change the name of the publication because it did not represent the Church, they refused. By the 1960’s, Day became popular with Catholics, organizers, and counterculture leaders. While maintaining radical social ideas and practice, she opposed the sexual revolution of the decade, describing the ill effects she had suffered years before. She continued to be critical of transnational companies like United Fruit and violent governmental policies and praised aspects of Communist movements in Russia, China, and Cuba.

Day was a prolific writer and joined movements for justice. At 75, she spent a week in jail helping Cesar Chavez working for justice for farm workers in California. Dorothy Day died on this day in 1980, three weeks after her 83rd birthday.

More:

The Catholic Worker Movement homepage [link]

The Dorothy Day Collection [link]

Day teaching on TV [link]

Suggestions for action

Dorothy Day’s radical views and uncompromising caused her grief and trouble. But her long loneliness, as she called it, made her faith deep and her influence wide. What is it that you must do?

November 26 — Sojourner Truth

Image result for sojourner truth"

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Joel 2:28-31

“In those days, I will also pour out my Spirit on the male and female slaves.”

More thoughts for meditation

Today we celebrate the prophetess Sojourner Truth, who died on November 26th, 1883 at the age of 86. She is remembered for her relentless, Spirit-filled work as an abolitionist, women’s suffragist, and evangelist.

She was sold as a child into slavery in New York. She worked on a farm and often retreated into the woods nearby where she prayed to God by a “temple of brush” that she had made. In her twenties, she obeyed a vision from the Lord to take her baby, Sophia, and walk away from the family that enslaved her. It was a frightening experience for her to live out on her own, and she considered going back to work on the farm, but Jesus appeared to her in a vision and prayed for her, giving her the strength to continue.

After these and other experiences with God, she saw her life and ministry as uniquely situated to be a leader involved in two movements in the United States: the abolition of slavery, and the right of women to vote. As a woman leader and a former slave, she saw her gifts of leadership and freedom from slavery as something that God wanted for all women and all people who were enslaved. She used her life story and experiences with God as the basis for her political and theological views.

She is also remembered fondly for her straight-gazed challenges to live by faith. When some other notable abolitionists were advocating for violent uprisings to end slavery, Truth asked them the question: “Is God gone?”

Quotes

“If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

“You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.”

“And what is that religion that sanctions, even by its silence, all that is embraced in the ‘Peculiar Institution’? If there can be any thing more diametrically opposed to the religion of Jesus, than the working of this soul-killing system – which is as truly sanctioned by the religion of America as are her minsters and churches – we wish to be shown where it can be found.”

More?

Great bio from her home town association in Battle Creek: [link]

Sojourner Truth’s famous speech of 1851, “Ain’t I a Woman” Re-enactment

Suggestion for action

Look racism and sexism straight in the face and expect the same Spirit of Jesus, who inspired Sojourner Truth, to say something through you, too.

Encouragement from Dru Hart to take a stand: [blog post]