Benjamin Pratt: Love Is a Verb

Christmas in Bethlehem’s Manger Square.

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‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’

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By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author and Contributing Columnist

When I began my work as a pastoral counselor one of the persons who came to me was a woman in her fifties dying of cancer. I can still remember her saying, “It’s not dying that scares me, it’s my fear of dying alone that haunts me.” As her condition worsened she was moved to Baltimore where she had daily treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital but spent her nights in a motel room. One of her neighbors who loved her dearly moved to be with her so she would never be alone at night.

That memory captures for me the essence of our deepest fear and deepest hope—the fear of isolation, the hope of a ‘home’ that holds us with love, presence and compassion.

Love is a verb—an action of compassion!

Whenever I sing Phillips Brooks’ hymn, O little town of Bethlehem, I remember the woman dying of cancer when I sing the line, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Each of us lives with some very deep fears and also very deep hopes. Some of us have identified our fear of isolation and aloneness. As Christians, we also feel the hope and comfort of knowing that in the child born in Bethlehem we are given a home with God, who is with us, cradling us with presence, compassion and eternal love. When our faith is strongest, we’re likely to hold more hope. When our faith is weakened, fear can take over.

Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year.

Few people would deny that we live in a dark and dangerous time—so pressing in upon our lives we don’t even need to name the darkness. The early church chose this time of year, not because they had the slightest idea when Jesus was born, but because they wanted to say that the birth of Jesus brought light to the darkest times of life. Therefore, the “Light of the World” was born into the darkest time of the year.

Phillip Brooks wrote that these two great emotions, fear and hope, meet in the birth of Jesus. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” They converge, and lying between them is a little baby in a manger. How could such a child gather in all the hopes and fears of all the years?

At this time of year, Christians put themselves in the picture: God has invited us to bring our hopes and fears into the birthing room of the child named Jesus, a child whom the angels will call Emmanuel, which means “God Is With Us.” God is the stranger in the manger who has come to give us a home in which we will not be alone, but welcomed with love. It’s a picture both of vulnerability and an opportunity to love.

The title of that picture we have entered is, of course, “Christmas.”

But it’s also like the picture of that woman fearing she would die of cancer all alone, who was met by the love of her neighbor who stayed with her. For wherever human love meets human vulnerability, there is the incarnation, there is the birth of God.

And therein we draw close to the realm that spans most of the world’s greatest religious traditions. God wants to connect with us. We are not alone. That Divine link is waiting, if we recognize it.

Love is a verb and Christians proclaim: God acted on Christmas Eve through Mary in the birthing of a child named Jesus, who later welcomed, loved and adopted us as brothers and sisters into the home of our loving, compassionate, ever-present, living God.

Love is a verb!

Our call in this season—as Christians awaken to the hope found in the Christ child—is to live that hope, and to tell that marvelous story over and over again until the hope within the story becomes part of who we are and what we do.

Those are Phillips Brooks words.

And to those, I add this prayer, which you may want to share with others this holiday season:

Whisper into our hearts, O Lord,
Fill us with hope and quiet our fears.
Love is a verb—
So, challenge us to live the life
Of your love,
Compassion 
And, presence.
Amen

 

 

Care to learn more?

Click this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

GET THE HELPFUL ‘GUIDE FOR CAREGIVERS’

Now, 1 in 5 adult Americans is a caregiver—more than 50 million of us. Together, we are women and men who give of body, mind and soul to care for the wellbeing of others. In this calling, we all need help—more than financial and medical assistance. We know anger, frustration, joy, laughter, purpose, mortality and immortality. We need daily, practical help in reviving our spirits and avoiding burnout.

Benjamin Pratt’s book, Guide for Caregivers, is intended to restore a new and right spirit in us. Our goal is to restore balance to our spirits—to replace sadness with laughter, fear with hope, exhaustion with vitality, mourning with gratitude, emptiness with joy and burnout with a rekindled passion.

Guide for Caregivers is drawn from the wisdom of many caregivers and we have taken their advice: These are short, easy-to-read sections packed with wisdom and practical help! This book is designed to let readers jump in almost anywhere and explore at their own pace.

In nearly a century of living, here’s what my mother taught me about light and darkness

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Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

My mother lived for 95 years through all manner of challenges—from the Great Depression to life-threatening illnesses. In her final year, she had such excellent care that she survived the COVID pandemic, despite needing frequent visits by caregivers in her apartment in Grand Blanc, Michigan. Although she had been receiving hospice care for a month for a variety of illnesses, she still was hoping to greet 2021 and perhaps celebrate her 96th birthday in February. At the very least, she expected to make it to Christmas.

All of us were shocked that she simply and peacefully slipped away on the morning of December 1, which isn’t technically the start of the Christian Advent season—but, in effect, is the first day because all of our family Advent calendars start with December 1. For Christians, Advent is a season in which all of us bring out our holiday lights and do our best to summon bright hopes in the darkest season of the year. In preparation, on November 30, I had laid out the elaborate, lighted, miniature Christmas village that has graced the mantle over our fireplace for many years in December. On another long surface in our living room, I arranged the many Advent calendars we had collected to mark this month. With all of that preparation, on December 1, we were ready to open the first December 1 doors in those calendars.

I know that many families like to open the little doors on Advent calendars at night, perhaps around dinner time—but, we always open them at dawn. In our home, the first rays of sunshine each day angle through the front windows to warmly illuminate our display.

Summer 1956: Mom and Dad with me at Jones Beach, along New York’s Long Island, not far from where Dad served a parish while in seminary.

That custom was encouraged by Mom. She hated dark and gloomy afternoons. Part of her legacy is a family history of depression, which was so severe when she was a young mother of 35 in 1960 that she had to be hospitalized. I was just 5 years old and had no clue at the trauma that ensued. Suddenly, Mom was gone! And so was my little brother Stephen, who vanished as relatives in another city decided it was impossible for my father to care for two small children while Mom was hospitalized. My brother was gone for months.

That trauma—Mom gone with a mysterious unspoken illness and my own shuttling between daytime caregivers for months on end—was especially scarring because we were a clergy family. Dad served a prominent church in northwest Detroit. Mom’s descent into that severe level of depression—and then hospitalization—wasn’t what a pastor’s family should experience, especially 60 years ago when mental health carried far more mythic baggage than it does today.

What do I recall of that dark and mysterious year of disappearing loved ones? I remember that I began to carefully place my collection of stuffed teddy bears around the perimeter of my bed before I felt safe enough to fall asleep. I drifted off in a circle of bears, each night.

And what was Mom’s response to this new night-time obsession she discovered when she finally did return home? She didn’t try to disturb my elaborate circle of bears. Instead, she invited me to begin spinning stories of a fantastic world called Bearland. I had no idea that she was still struggling to recover from a condition that was invisible to me. What I knew was that my entries into Bearland—as narrated by Mom—always began with my journey by bus “into the deep, deep woods” until finally I would spot the first lights of Bearland—and the bears would emerge to greet me. From there, we had wild and suspenseful adventures in fantastical realms. After hundreds of Bearland stories with Mom in the 1960s, I went on to spin thousands—one each night—in the late 1980s and early 1990s when my own children were young.

What Mom taught me in summoning the wondrous realms of Bearland—in the wake of the dark nights of that 1960 year of vanishing loved ones—was that none of us can control what may befall us in life. None of us can avoid calamities. None of us can escape grief and fear.

What we can do is grasp the power of the stories we tell about our adventures. Bearland was far more than a cycle of fairy tales. Bearland was the birth of my vocation as a writer. When I joined with our Publisher John Hile and other colleagues in 2007 to found a publishing house, our simple motto became: “Good media builds healthy communities.”

None of us can avoid the world’s trauma. But—all of us can choose what stories we tell about our lives together, even after loved ones vanish.

And let me be crystal clear about our family’s experience with chronic depression: Mom’s enduring legacy to her four children isn’t the depression itself—no, her real legacy is that she received good medical and psychological treatment and recovered and learned that living with this challenge was just a part of life. Most people contend with some kind of chronic condition in life. This was just one that she had to manage. She knew this condition ran in families and taught us that we should learn the warning signs and know how to respond.

And, that’s where this particular story returns to the theme of light and darkness. One of the warning signs for her each year were the gray dusks that crept ever deeper into the day as our hemisphere whirled toward December. Not surprisingly, I inherited that from her as well. We both knew it; we both dealt with it.

When I arrived to spend an afternoon with Mom recently, her first words were: “Turn on more lights! You can’t see the poetry you’re going to read if we don’t have more light.” She wanted me to read her favorite Robert Frost poems and had the well-worn hardback of his collected works all ready for me to pick up. We set every lamp in her apartment ablaze—even as I read aloud Stopping by Woods.

Light. Darkness. Light. Darkness.

In the late 1950s, a Methodist clergy family’s life was tightly defined by customs such as this bishop’s tea for young pastors and their wives.

Over the years, Mom loved to talk at length about my work as a journalist and publisher, raising global awareness through stories about the world’s colorful diversity of faiths and cultures. She enjoyed my telling her stories of holidays and festivals that I had witnessed in my own travels around the globe. And, she especially liked me to describe the dozens of exotic shrines and holy sites surrounding Jerusalem, where soot from oil lamps has blackened many of the ancient mosaics and icons. Jerusalem is a wonderland of light and darkness. She loved to hear the traditional story of Hanukkah lamps. She also loved my describing Diwali, the Indian festival of light in late autumn when families lay out elaborate displays of flickering flames. Over the years, I even brought her back tiny clay lamps from Jerusalem and Asia that she tucked into corners of her bookshelves.

And so, we fell into a lifelong pattern—trading in a currency of light, darkness, light, darkness.

As a girl, she was born and bred and saturated and sanctified in the language of darkness and light. She was born into an Evangelical Methodist family in Howe, a tiny town in northern Indiana where most families in the 1920s and 1930s were evangelical with a capital “E.” She was a White Ribbon baby from the moment she was born in the family farmhouse in 1925, which meant her mother formally festooned her crib with a white bow as a visible pledge that alcohol would never touch this child’s lips no matter how long she might live! And, although Mom had no personal interest in the Christian Temperance Union by the time she reached college age, she and my father were never drinkers.

When Mom reached her 80s and 90s, as I talked with her about the faith of her youth, she acknowledged that the small-town Indiana version of Christianity was freighted with the traumas of guilt and all the prejudices of white rural life in that era. Throughout her life, she regretted the sometimes overwhelming burdens and biases of that brand of Evangelical fire on herself and on her nieces and nephews.

But let me also be clear about this: She never, ever abandoned her faith that the loving legacy of her own family outweighed any of its flaws.

Light. Darkness. Light. Darkness.

That was a lesson I’ve never forgotten as a journalist. In the midst of trauma, even in the midst of painfully apparent biases and scars, we can rest on a solid faith that light will always shine in the darkness. No person is beyond redemption. Even the most seemingly dark figure we encounter is not without a spark of light. That may sound like high-flown spiritual reflection. Frankly, it’s Journalism 101: Each life is a unique and irreplaceable mix of experiences and values. Our challenge as journalists is to tell the fair, accurate and balanced story.

Our vocation is to be honest about the darkness. And, to lift up the light as well.

A Song That Stretched 

So that’s why Mom, in her 80s, taught me a song that stretched all the way back to her family’s Evangelical tap roots: Brighten the Corner Where You Are. In recent years, we’ve laughed about this old song; and we’ve traded sightings of the song both online and in the movies and on TV. The next time the TCM cable channel reruns the 1931 James Cagney and Jean Harlow classic, The Public Enemy, pay attention to the pompous temperance band that marches right through the worst part of Cagney’s gangster’s lair booming out: Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

At first, this old song seemed to be nothing more than nostalgic amusement of century-old Bible thumping. In one family gathering, just to poke fun at each other, family members would spontaneously bellow the opening verse, guaranteed to spark laughter.

Then, I took time as a journalist to research the story behind the song. It’s easy to trace the song back as far as the evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935) and his famous musical collaborator Homer Rodeheaver. In fact, when 78 rpm records became all the rage, Brighten the Corner became Rodeheaver’s greatest hit! Both of those evangelical collaborators, Sunday and Rodeheaver, have lengthy Wikipedia biographies. It’s easy to think that the story stops there. Tracing the song’s origin is even foggier because, as the musical rights shifted hands, Rodeheaver eventually owned the song outright.

But he didn’t write it.

Ina Duley Ogdon—who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page—wrote the lyrics in 1913. The music was written by Ina’s friend and collaborator in her music ministry, Charles Gabriel. If you look up all the verses, the song may sound like it’s focused on saving poor sinners’ souls—and it certainly was used in countless tent meetings for exactly that purpose. That’s how Mom first heard it nearly a century ago.

But, that wasn’t the song’s original purpose. In fact, the song is about caregiving and disability. Ogdon was part of a noted family of evangelists. She wrote hymns, toured the sawdust trail of visiting evangelists herself, and spoke at services even though she was a woman in a man’s realm. But in 1912, her father suffered a devastating automobile accident and she had to give up her travels, including an invitation from the prestigious Chautauqua circuit, to become his full-time caregiver. She wrote that song out of pent-up frustration and eventually downright anger at the seemingly unfair trauma life had dealt her father—and herself, by extension. She dearly wanted to be out there on the road as a leader of revivals for thousands, not locked away with an invalid. The song was her coming to terms with the spiritual power of the smallest choices we make each day in whatever tiny corner we may be confined.

Mom came to love the song more and more—and seriously relied on its inspiration—as her own physical body gave way to the point that she could no longer walk and could survive only with the help of caregivers who visited her small apartment around the clock.

A Simple Story of a Hat

Mom in one of her many hats enjoying her 95th birthday in February 2020.

In a number of long telephone conversations in recent years, she would discuss with me versions of this question: “What’s left for me to do of any value in this world? What does God want me to do when I can’t seem to do anything?”

Then, we would talk about that old song, because Ogdon was answering those very questions.

Even in the most limited corner of her little home, Mom could be a warm and supportive friend to those around her, especially her own caregivers. And, in Mom’s case, thanks to 2020 technology, she could be loving and supportive to lifelong friends and family she could reach with telephone calls and personal notes. She could live her life as a visible symbol of not only survival, but real thriving.

In her final years, Mom completely lost her hair, a condition that most women would greet with anxiety. Mom celebrated that she could wear a variety of colorful and sometimes quirky hats—most of them with a story connected to the chapeau. Among her favorites was a beautiful white-lace topi or kufi, given to me by the Muslim author Victor Begg who explained, “You do know it’s actually a men’s cap, right?”

“I do,” I said.

For Mom, the hat was a chance for her to tell anyone who asked about the lace cap about Victor and our friendship. Then, this also became an especially welcoming kind of story because the doctor who tirelessly cared for Mom until the very end was a Sudanese-American Muslim. Our entire family now regards Dr. Osama Galal, who would respond to her medical crises at any hour of the day or night, as a living saint—a brilliant light in our midst.

That’s miles and miles from the Evangelical fire of Mom’s childhood and our family’s roots a century ago.

And Then, a Final Ray of Light

That funny old song we once joked about held real wisdom—so much so that my wife Amy and I had a copy of the sheet music nicely matted and framed for her as a gift for Christmas 2019. In our custom of trading in the currency of light and darkness, this would be a perfect beam of light to send her way. Then, as soon as we brought this artful piece home from the framer, I put it somewhere safe in our home until the holiday—and completely lost track of the gift. We searched. We never found it.

So this brings us back to this past week—to the morning of December 1, 2020—when we began our annual ritual of lighting up our home and opening the first doors on our brightly colored Advent calendars. About 8:30 a.m. that morning as we opened the little doors on more than a dozen calendars, my wife declared that we had once again collected far too many calendars! She instructed me to take a half dozen unopened calendars and store them for next year on a shelf in our basement.

In her apartment in Grand Blanc, Michigan, Mom took her last breath. None of us expected it. I wouldn’t receive a call about her passing for a while.

Dutifully following my wife’s instruction, I turned on the basement light and reached up to store the unused calendars, which is when I spotted a flat, brown-paper package I had never noticed on that shelf. Yes, it was the framed sheet music that had been missing for a year! I peeled back the paper wrapping to see the sheet music and read:

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
Brighten the corner where you are.

I laughed out loud! The frame I had lost was found. Now, we had the perfect last Christmas gift for Mom this year. As I went back up into the living room, I kept chuckling at my own forgetfulness for that entire year—and the pleasure that old song had given to me, and to Mom, and to our entire family. What a perfect final present for her.

At 9:30 a.m., the telephone rang.

She was gone.

In our final morning on this earth together, I thought I had found one last gift for her. In fact, I had received the gift myself. Just as she lay dying, I had opened that brown paper wrapping to reveal one final ray of sunlight she had beamed my way.

Of course, I knew what she wanted me to do with that little beam.

She wanted me to give it to you.

And now I have.

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Care to Read More?

YOU’LL FIND MY MOTHER’s formal obituary at the Sharp Funeral Home website.

MY MOTHER ALSO ACTIVELY RECOMMENDED many of the individual books we produced since our publishing house was founded in 2007. Here are just a few of the books she cared about:

Cara Gilger gives us ’99 Prayers Your Church Needs’: We’ve never seen times like these. So, we’ve never seen prayers like these.

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.
St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

“I’ll pray for you.”

How many times have you said those words in this turbulent pandemic year? How many times will you be saying this as winter sets in and the year-end holidays loom? Pew Research says most Americans pray. But how do we pray? What do we say? Beyond frequency of prayer, Pew research tells us little about the details.

That’s where Cara Gilger and her friends lend a hand. Detailed, specific prayer is the focus of a new book by Cara and a nationwide network of 40 talented young clergy, titled 99 Prayers Your Church Needs—But Doesn’t Know It Yet. The book is a cornucopia of words that real people in real communities have lifted up to God in the face of all manner of celebrations and catastrophes.

Among the prayers for celebrations:

  • Blessing someone starting a new job
  • Celebrating a milestone in sobriety
  • Blessing a family making a long-distance move
  • Prayer with a family welcoming a foster child
  • Blessing as a congregation sponsors a refugee family
  • Blessing over a Habitat for Humanity home

Among those for catastrophes:

  • For those who have lost a loved one to an overdose
  • Someone who is struggling with depression
  • A family being deported unexpectedly
  • Prayer with a child over the death of a pet
  • A lament for racial inequality and prayer for reconciliation
  • And, prayer when your church’s sprinkler system goes off causing enormous damage

“That last prayer you listed is mine,” Cara said in an interview about her book. “That actually happened to me.

“Of course, no one has a prayer ready for something so specific: a sprinkler system going off and drenching everything. So, I had to write one myself. This happened at a church I served some years ago that would sometimes rent out space for family events. One day, a family rented space to hold a birthday party. None of the adults realized that a child had found a lighter, had snuck away from the others and was playing with it in our church bookstore. A fire started. The whole building did not burn down, but the fire detectors and alarms went off, sprinklers went off—and we got soaked! We lost carpeting, furniture, books. Yes, that prayer came out of a very tough experience.”

In our interview, I pointed out: “You’ve also got a prayer if a building actually does burn down.” I asked, “Did someone you know experienced that, too?”

Cara said, “Yes, you wouldn’t think it’s a common experience these days to have a church burn down—but out of our circle of 40 people who contributed prayers to this book, we found that two people had experienced fires.”

Why do we need prayers like this?

In our interview, I described the value of this book as “prayer starters.” Of course, each of the 99 prayers included in the book is fully written and ready to use, each text filling most of a single page. Taken together, however, this collection will inspire a fresh approach to prayer in all circumstances. Readers are likely to start developing more of their own prayers, inspired by those in this book.

I asked Cara, “Was that part of your goal here?”

Yes, she said, “in the sense that we want to encourage people to think theologically whatever happens to us as families and as congregations. Think about something as common as a windstorm damaging the church roof. Unfortunately, that happens to a lot of churches every year. So, stop and think about that scenario for a moment. What’s the first thing most of us would do? If your roof suddenly has been blown off your church, you immediately know you want to call your building supervisor and your insurance company but in the anxiety of the moment, we might not think about stopping and asking: Where is God in all of this?

“In that sense,” Cara said, “I do hope that this book is a prayer starter—encouraging people to remember to stop and think theologically and keep praying in all circumstances.”

In the book, Clara describes it this way: “These prayers are not meant to represent all the prayers you might need for your specific ministry, rather, they are a suggested starting point for reflecting on where God is and how God might meet us in these 99 particular moments. Perhaps a sentence or two or a turn of phrase will catch your spiritual imagination and set you on the path to writing a prayer that fits you and your situation authentically.”

This book, in effect, is an opportunity to collaborate with Cara and her contributors. Perhaps the most important sentence in this entire book is on the first page: “Permission is granted to reprint material from this book in worship bulletins or to project material for use in worship.” That makes it easy to use these resources in local communities.

How were these prayers assembled?

That’s a remarkable part of the story behind this book. In the final pages, you’ll find mini-profiles of the book’s 40 contributors. Most are part of a network of young clergy called Bethany Fellows. After their brief profiles, a summary of this program says that, since 1999, the church-related nonprofit “has been encouraging young pastors in their earliest years of ministry. This ministry was born out of the intention of strengthening congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) by helping newly ordained, young pastors transition from seminary to sustained congregational ministry with a strong and healthy pastoral identity.”

Today, a number of programs have branched from the original concept, including an ecumenical network that is open to clergy from other denominations. Visit the Bethany website to learn more.

When Cara was invited by the staff at Chalice Press, the Disciples’ publishing house, to coordinate the gathering of materials for this book—she accepted partly because the project involved these dozens of other clergy nationwide.

Even more resources to inspire creativity

Visit Cara’s own website, CaraGilger.com, and you’ll learn that a great deal of her work these days involves consulting with congregations about ways to “align their practices and structures with their vision for how God is calling them to serve their community.”

Does that sound familiar? Earlier this month, we profiled Emily Scott, the founder of the international “dinner church” movement, and described her new book, For All Who Hunger. In that ReadTheSpirit Cover Story, Emily said that her book also is intended to spark new forms of creative ministry. In that week’s interview, Emily said, “My message is that we need to get more in tune with our own communities. We need to be attuned to our own culture and relationships so we can sense where the Spirit is moving.”

That’s also Cara Gilger’s full-time profession, these days: helping congregations to be better attuned. You can learn more about the programs and professional services she offers at the “Speaking” page in her website.

Plus, you can get a sense of her own voice as a writer, pastor and preacher in the “Blog” area of her website. In fact, she is already preparing for Christmas—the season most Christians refer to as “Advent”—and you will find columns like one titled, Home by Another Way: A Meditation on a Covid Christmas.

Yet another idea: Start a Book Advent Calendar—on a Budget

In fact, here’s one more of Cara’s great ideas—a sort of “Bonus” at the end of this week’s Cover Story.

Among the fresh ideas and resources she has shared recently on her blog is a description of a family tradition she started when her kids were small: A Book Advent Calendar. What a great idea! As a family, open a new book every day leading up to Christmas.

Need suggestions? Our own Front Edge Publishing’s Susan Stitt lists some of the great books we have released in 2020. Susan titles her column, We’re reading now more than ever! Here are 2020 books that make great gifts.

But, you’re probably protesting: Woah! Wait a minute! Cara is suggesting families buy 28 books in December? That’s expensive!

In fact, she’s got some very clever ideas about how to do this for your family and not spend too much money. Cara calls her column, How to Start a Book Advent Calendar on a Budget You’ll definitely want to go read that column over at Cara’s website—and share that with friends as well.

‘For All Who Hunger’—Emily Scott tells how she began uniting a diverse community, one dinner at a time

Emily Scott (center) leads the liturgy of the St. Lydia’s dinner church in 2017 in the congregation’s Brooklyn home.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

As wise prophets have done for thousands of years, Emily Scott could foresee where American forces of isolation and exclusion were headed. She saw this as far back as 2008. Facing these crises, her pastoral inspiration drew from the ancient Christian church that understood the best way to bridge the chasms of race, ethnicity and culture was to start by breaking bread together.

Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and with the United States more deeply divided than most of us have seen in our lifetimes, Emily’s idea of transforming “church” into a meal is taking off in communities scattered coast to coast. In May 2019, our online magazine reported on the trend in an article by Henry Brinton. In his reporting, he cited one of the milestone books in the movement,We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship and the Community of God. Readers who turned to that book found these opening words:

In 2008, Brooklyn pastor Emily Scott announced that her church, Saint Lydia’s, would begin holding their weekly service over dinner. Longing to dispel feelings of isolation that city living fosters for so many young New Yorkers, Scott decided to model her service around the early church practice of Eucharist, having a meal together. From those beginnings and in the span of just a few years, small, independent dinner-church communities emerged all around the world. These communities do not focus on worship first and then eating together later; they understand the meal itself as worship.

Now, Emily Scott is telling her own story in For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World.

If you are intrigued by this flourishing movement, this is The Book you need to read. In the lingo of comics and graphic novels, this is the Origin Story of a spiritual superhero. No, Emily doesn’t claim to have any super powers, but her book certainly tells a heroic story of launching this movement when everything that could possibly go wrong for her fledgling congregation—did.

Anyone familiar with Brooklyn and the larger New York City area knows that finding space—any space!—for a church “start” with zero funding is a seemingly impossible dream. Emily and her friends quickly encountered many forms of that “impossible” challenge. Some of the real-life adventures in this book make for jaw-dropping and page-turning chapters.

If you are interested in learning more about this movement, buying Emily’s book is much like the dawn of the labyrinth movement in spirituality several decades ago. Now, there are dozens of books about that spiritual discipline—but the foundational book remains the 1995 book by the originator of the labyrinth renewal, Lauren Artress: Walking a Sacred Path. If you’ve got a copy of Lauren’s original book on your shelf and occasionally refer to it—you’ll definitely want to have a copy of Emily’s book next to it. You’ll find yourself going back to Emily’s book again and again.

One crucial reason to get this book is that Emily’s story—and the story of the movement—is not instantly available on Wikipedia. No one, as of November 2020, has created those pages. This can lead online searches to branch off toward other resources, some of which have nothing to do with the core movement that stems from 2008.

Where can you find Emily and the real resources online? You can follow Emily right now on Instagram—or on Facebook. She also has a homepage online with more information about dinner church. And, she’s part of a Dinner Church Movement website, as well.

‘Right Back to the Early Church 2,000 Years Ago’

“One reason I wrote this book is that I have seen other things popping up trying to promote ideas that may sound like our dinner church. I’ve seen some things out there that want to take this idea in a whole different way—a more conservative or evangelical way,” Emily said in our interview about her new book. “I’m not interested in being proprietary about this, but I want our story to be preserved in an accurate way. Also, I’m concerned that women’s roles in ministry be properly lifted up. It was just time to have this story out there in book form so people understand how this came about.”

Then, she paused and added, “This is also important to explain: In my book, I clearly credit my own roots in this whole idea. I had my own mentors who helped me and I was part of rich experiences in other congregations that became tap roots for what we did. In fact, it doesn’t even make sense to say that someone invented this—because really what we’re doing here goes right back to the early church 2,000 years ago. One way to describe this is that we’re trying to go back to the core of the church.

“We all know there have been movements similar to this down through the centuries. There are so many influences. There’s the Wesleyan Love Feast; there are Agape Meals. So, what’s unique in what we’re doing now? First, it’s the two words together: ‘dinner church.’ The first person I’m aware of using that phrase, ‘dinner church,’ was my friend Rachel Pollack Kroh who helped me with this—and she’s in the book. Those two words really help people to better understand how we can engage meals in this way.

“The other piece that’s particular to what we’re doing is the way bread and cup are integrated into the meal. This isn’t something you come to church to observe at a distance. We are coming together, cooking the meal and then eating the meal and blessing the cup—all in a way that is completely integrated. It’s a real meal. Then, the idea we’re sharing with people is that every table can be a Eucharistic table. The idea is that God comes to our most ordinary meals.

“We’re saying: The sacredness is right here with us.”

A Place for All the Marginalized

In fact, that’s how Publishers Weekly magazine described her book, when PW recommended her book as one of the top choices in PW’s annual roundup of Religion and Spirituality books for its Holiday Gift Guide. The PW review said:

Lutheran pastor Scott asks in her exceptional debut: If you strip from church all “the creeds and the chasubles,” what would be left? The answer, for her, became St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in New York City, which she founded in 2008 as a place for queer, marginalized, artistic, nerdy, and often lonely lovers of God to gather for bread, wine, and the words of Jesus. She details daily foibles and moments of inspiration that come with working with her congregation. Scott’s writing is leavened by a healthy dose of self-awareness and her stories capture the humanity of her mission and community with a light sacramental touch. Fine observations (“We are holy not because we are good but because we are loved”) and the terrific use of quotes from Joy Harjo, Pablo Neruda and Flannery O’Connor guide readers through Scott’s life within the church.

A Three-Headed Dog in the Midst of Worship

When PW magazine refers to her “exceptional” style that is “leavened” with “fine observations”—the reviewer is pointing to the simple fact that this book is a “good read.” In fact, some sections flow like a novel. Emily did not write this book as a founder trying to insist upon new rules for her readers to follow.

In one word, the style of this book is: wonderment.

There’s an engaging humility in these true stories. For example, Emily’s first attempt at a meal is just a small gathering at a friend’s home. There’s no bright-light revelation that night. Even though Emily strongly feels God’s spirit moving through her community, she often is discouraged—and her rag-tag band of followers become nomads moving through a variety of locations that will give them space. Finally, they find a ramshackle site in Brooklyn that is barely habitable and has only a single bathroom. Then, Emily and her friends make the fateful decision to let a local theater company share the little building as a place they can store their costumes and other gear for productions.

That company is presenting an unusual outdoor production called The Dreary Coast, which involves such horrific figures from ancient mythology as Charon, the ferryman to the world of the dead, and Cerberus, the multi-headed dog. Each night, the troupe’s actors don their costumes in St. Lydia’s basement and ascend into the space used by the dinner church so they can wait in line for the building’s one bathroom.

Quite literally, Christians and Demons mingle in this cramped space—sometimes in the middle of Emily’s liturgy. You won’t put this book down during those scenes, because they are so compelling. And that’s just one section of the adventures experienced by this tiny congregation seeking spiritual solace in the midst of one of the world’s most diverse and daunting cities.

‘Clearing Paths so New Things Can Emerge’

“This is not a ‘how-to’ manual about dinner church. I had no interest in writing that kind of book,” Emily said in our interview, “because that’s not my message. I have never encouraged people to try to mimic St. Lydia’s. And, really, there’s no way to create a carbon copy of what emerged at St. Lydia’s.”

No kidding! In addition to sharing their sacred space with elaborately costumed demons—their Brooklyn neighborhood also suffered the full force of Hurricane Sandy. Some of the toughest lessons the community learned were the direct result of that devastating storm. No one would want to exactly follow Emily’s example.

“My message is not that dinner church is the answer for everyone everwhere. It isn’t. My message is that we need to get more in tune with our own communities. We need to be attuned to our own culture and relationships so we can sense where the Spirit is moving. St. Lydia’s grew organically with the Holy Spirit out of the culture around me in New York. The way people engaged with me in that community at St. Lydia’s will be different than the way other people might engage in other communities.”

In fact, Emily already has moved to a much different congregation, this time in Baltimore called Dreams and Visions. Visit that congregation’s website and you’ll see a photo of Emily leading worship in a socially distanced outdoor setting. Stay tuned! We all can hope that a future memoir will describe Emily’s adventures in Baltimore.

“So, I want to warn readers: Don’t try to copy us,” Emily said in our interview. “That’s the main thing I hope people will understand. Yes, this book is the story of how we became a dinner church at St. Lydias—and what we learned along the way. This book is a call to let the Spirit move us into new forms, based on what each community may discover. I’m encouraging us to build what will meet the hungers and needs of the people living around us—whatever our community may need.

“That would make me happy—if people read my book and it inspires them to create some entirely new form. It may be something quite different from dinner church. We need to be open to following where God is calling us to form new kinds of communities. My real job is to help clear the paths so that new things can emerge.”

Preaching in 2015.

 

Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—Marking the anniversary of those 272 words at Gettysburg

This entry is part 31 of 33 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

WHAT A POWERFUL PHOTO! This is one of only two confirmed images of Lincoln on the day he delivered his Gettysburg Address in 1863. The power of the photo certainly doesn’t lie in its visual clarity of Lincoln himself—it lies in the visual truth of the overwhelming forces surrounding Lincoln at this time. This photo was taken just as Lincoln was arriving, hours before he would deliver his address. He appears here without his trademark stovepipe hat, bareheaded and looking downward, right in the middle of this vast sea of people who are almost submerging him in the press of bodies.

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By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome.

Closeup of Lincoln from the photo above.

Here’s a Lincoln quote for you: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

These are lines from Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, the battlefield that was the high-water mark of the Confederate rebellion, and the beginning of the ebb-tide of civil war. It was a victory, not so much by the Union—but in Lincoln’s mind, for the Union.

This Thursday, November 19, 2020, is the 157th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

On that day it was unusually warm. The trees were newly bare of leaves; fall was in the air in Pennsylvania. It had been rainy and grey. Lincoln had a black band on the tall hat he brought with him for the address, a memorial for his favorite son Willie. Lincoln carried his own real grief over a lost son with him to that graveyard dedication of a nation’s grief over their lost ones.

Grief was in the air. The trees were stark, not only because of the changing season, but from canon fire that had shot off branch after branch in the huge artillery barrage that had opened this turning point battle in a war. The war had cost well over 600,000 lives. That would translate, as a per cent of the U.S. population, to more than 6 million now. Everyone was being touched by suffering and death.

The message that Lincoln brought with him was that this suffering and these deaths were not an end but a beginning—a truly spiritual message: Out of suffering and death we find and see new life. He said: What you see—the cemetery—tells you there is something beyond the grave yard. That is spiritual talk.

When we re-read his 272 words, we find subliminal poetry—and it is all about birth: conceived, brought forth, birth and rebirth. All the major verbs and nouns reflect this generative feminine motif. To him the killing field can most deeply be seen and felt as a birthing place, not to glorify war and death, but to see glory and new life in the honor and dedication to a high ideal sacrificed for on that ground. That ideal was, in Lincoln’s mind, and then in so many hearers’ minds ever since, the idea of freedom and its soul-mate, equality.

Lincoln goes back to the birth certificate of the country. 1776 and the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal. That was what was stamped on the certificate. That is the freedom that self-government is for. It’s not for just ourselves, it’s for everybody. The country, too, needs liberty to be itself.

The date on the birth certificate of America was important to Lincoln, and it had yet to be certified. Some said it could have been 1787 when the Constitution was written and adopted. Lincoln was a lawyer. He was guided by the Constitution. But that, to him, was the text book, the hand book, not the birth record. The law was important. But the inspiration for the law—freedom and equality—was more important.

Nor did he go back, we can conjecture—to 1619 and the first English settlers in Jamestown and the first slaves brought to these shores, racially identified slaves. Lincoln hated slavery. He had seen bound slaves, tied like fish on a line—and had seen the corruption that comes when you make people into property. But that offense, the offense from 1619, was not his message. He was to say soon enough in his Second Inaugural Address, that that offense, which was so rank even to God, had been equally shared by both North and South. Slavery was American, not Southern, and it had been paid for by our blood.

We did not have to re-punish the wrong doer. Lincoln was not a religious fan of the idea of Original Sin. We were not born bad. And it was, as Jesus had said, not ours to judge others. We did not have to argue everyone into accepting their guilt and to take our version of punishment—although there were radicals within his party that thought the righteous North should punish those who cared had so much about their property, the slaves, as to destroy the country. That was not our task. Lincoln really did believe in God by this point in his life, and he really did say “that this nation, under God….shall have a new birth of freedom.”

To this day, Lincoln’s words are still lighting people down in honor, around the world, not just Americans, but as people wanting to be reborn, free and equal, down to the latest generation. In other words, forever.
This is Duncan Newcomer, and this has been Quiet Fire. The spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.

 

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Exploring America’s Religious Diversity: MSU team’s latest book explains a uniquely American religious movement, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Michigan State University School of Journalism Bias Busters team members work on editing the new book 100 Questions and Answers about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Click on the cover to visit the book’s paperback page on Amazon. The book also is available in the Kindle eBook format. If you would like to see all 18 books in the MSU Bias Busters series, visit Amazon.

At the 200th anniversary of the earliest origin of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a new book by the prestigious Bias Busters team at the Michigan State University School of Journalism answers 100 common questions about this uniquely American religious movement. Following the rigorous practices the Bias Busters have used in researching their entire library of 18 books, this new volume was prepared through extensive interviews and research with Latter-day Saints. Members of the church welcome this new book, because—even as they approach their bicentennial milestone—Latter-day Saints still are trying to overcome old myths and stereotypes.

As readers explore this guide, they will learn that Joseph Smith’s original revelation in 1820 led to the formal founding of the church in 1830.

“It was very important for us to include this book in our series, because this is a 200-year-old American religious movement that still is misunderstood by most Americans,” said the founder and leader of the Bias Busters project, MSU School of Journalism professor Joe Grimm. “The church continues its work around the world laboring under stereotypes and misinformation today about things that either never happened—or that happened far in the past. Polygamy is the biggest myth. Early in the church’s history there was polygamy, but that ended more than a century ago. Still, polygamy continues to show up in popular culture—TV, magazines, novels and so on—but these stories from break-away groups. So, it can seem confusing, but the church has condemned polygamy for more than 100 years.

“Another big myth is that the church is racist because they don’t allow Black members to enter the priesthood. That hasn’t been true for more than 40 years. That changed in 1978. The church has come a long way. Just a week ago, the 88-year-old Dallin Oaks, who is next in line to lead the church, gave a talk supportive of ‘Black lives matter’—and made headlines for doing that. There are a lot of surprising things about this church in 2020.”

While disavowing racism in an ongoing series of statements and teachings, the church still is working toward full racial inclusion. As of 2020, for example, no Black member has made it into the top-ranking Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Someday, that may come. Black members now serve in regional and national leadership roles in the U.S. In its global expansion, the church also has active congregations led by Africans in 34 nations across that continent.

Global Gifts of the LDS Church

That’s a very long way from the church’s origins in western New York in 1820. Among the dozens of new religious movements that sprang up on the richly independent American soil in the 18th and 19th centuries, most reached their zenith with a relatively small membership and then disappeared. The Latter-day Saints are unique in surviving for two centuries, thriving and growing into one of the world’s most influential religious groups.

One reason is the church’s outreach in helpful ways beyond the boundaries of its own membership. Among the many widely acknowledged gifts of this church are the extensive genealogical resources offered to anyone who wants to learn more about their family history. The church’s online resources rank among the most successful and widely used among religious websites globally. The main LDS website routinely gets more user traffic than the Vatican’s website, for example. As part of their outreach, LDS staff and volunteers offer their online expertise to help other community groups and nonprofits.

The church also is widely respected for its expertise in helping the needy from providing emergency food to employment counseling. Even beyond their own membership, LDS volunteers use their expertise to help other religious groups and nonprofits organize feeding and emergency-aid programs. The church also strongly supports interfaith dialogue and the protection of religious minorities, having experienced persecution themselves.

Despite all of these positive signs of engagement around the world, myths continue to thrive and non-members don’t often seek answers when they encounter these stereotypes in daily life.

Bias Against the Church

From the start, the church has been marginalized and persecuted, largely by members of other Christian denominations. It has been called secretive, suspicious and even dangerous. Members, including founder Joseph Smith, have been killed.

In describing reaction to his publication of The Book of Mormon, Smith wrote, “my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase … men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution.”

Among the common myths addressed in this new book:

  • Jokes are told about members’ sacred garments, even though traditional religious clothing also is common among many Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and members of other religious groups.
  • The Saints’ temples, reserved for sacraments, are rumored to be secret settings for ominous rituals.
  • And some argue that Latter-day Saints are not Christian because they have some differences in creed from other Christians. A major one is that Latter-day Saints do not believe in an all-in-one trinity of God the father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They believe the three are distinct and work together as one godhead.

Church Members Helped with the Research

Throughout the Bias Busters research and reporting, the LDS church opened facilities, provided information and made church members available for interviews. One of the most helpful was Karin Daines. She is public affairs representative for 11 congregations, a member of the boards of directors of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit and WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit.

Daines told the MSU team, “As you learn about our faith, we want you to know that we welcome your questions. Not only can they help your learning process, but they will enable us to understand your viewpoint and to hopefully create friendships and increase understanding.”

Understanding is one of the Bias Busters’ main goals. Among their other goals are justice and compassion.

Another ally from the church reflected on the pain he has felt from the arrows of prejudice. He wrote, “When our hyper-focusing on differences causes us to lose sight of our common humanity—and treat people as less than human because they’re not like us—we betray the ‘better angels of our nature.’ The world is less full of love, joy, and peace. Everyone suffers when one suffers.”

He wrote that he hoped the student authors “truly understood what it means to and for the groups that they portray … I hope they know that they have the power to make a difference by doing what they do and, especially, by doing it well.”

What’s in the new LDS Guide?

More of the MSU School of Journalism Bias Busters team working on this new book.

This simple, introductory guide answers 100 basic questions people have about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormons. The questions and answers explore topics including identity, religious beliefs, practices, families, customs, dating, marriage, education and work. The book covers contemporary issues about politics as well as outdated stereotypes about polygamy.

This guide is for people in business, education, religion, government, medicine, law and human resources who need a starting point for learning or teaching more about Latter-day Saints.

“These questions allow anyone with an open mind to take a journey from an interfaith or no-faith perspective into the lives of people deeply committed to their faith, doctrines, and a Christian walk of life.” says Dr. Joel Campbell, an associate professor in journalism in the Brigham Young University Department of Communications.

Some of the 100 Questions asked and answered:

  • Are Latter-day Saints Christians?
  • What is the Book of Mormon?
  • Do Latter-day Saints believe Jesus is God?
  • Is coffee not allowed?
  • Why does the church maintain genealogical records?

This is the 18th guidebook to cross-cultural issues published by MSU students, educators and expert allies. The Latter-day Saints guide is part of a faith series-within-a-series, which has explored Jews, Muslims and Chaldeans.

Want to Get the Book?

The easiest stop is Amazon’s page for the paperback version. The book also is available in the Kindle eBook format. If you would like to see all 18 books in the MSU Bias Busters series, visit Amazon.

 

Col. Clifford Worthy asks, ‘Are Americans’ Bindings Breaking?’

A PROPHET OF UNITY—Like the ancient prophets, retired Col. Clifford Worthy has used his life to call for a return to the values that unite us as Americans, including a strong focus on the men, women and children among us who require special care. When his memoir was launched, a huge crowd gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit to celebrate Worthy’s long life and his influential storytelling in The Black Knight.

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EDITOR’s NOTE—As we move through a week of anxiety in America that none of us have experienced at least since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks two decades ago, we are offering an eloquent appeal—you might think of it as a classic Psalm crying out for help and hope—from one of America’s true heroes: retired Col. Clifford Worthy, the oldest living Black graduate of West Point at age 92.

“I’ve been writing poetry for years—sometimes just to have fun about something that amuses me and sometimes to express much more serious concerns about what’s happening in our world,” Col. Worthy told me this week. He was describing a remarkable 3-ring binder that he sent to my home—a folder that held dozens of his poems, which he invited us to share occasionally in ReadTheSpirit magazine. On the very first page of that binder was this new poem he wrote as a personal appeal to Americans to remember our deepest values.

Col. Worthy has faced fear many times in his life, whether confronting dire crises in his own family or warfare in the deadly jungles of Vietnam. He never wavered, as he described in his memoir The Black Knight. His courage stems from his laser focus on values that were engrained in him at West Point—duty, honor and country—all resting on a bedrock Christian faith that has sustained his family through generations of life-and-death challenges.

“I can’t think of a more timely poem to share with readers in this election week,” I told him, then I asked, “Col. Worthy, when you end this poem reminding us of the ‘Glory Road,’ how do you hope readers will understand that phrase?”

He replied that anyone from his faith tradition will know he is pointing to values taught by Jesus—”a road that leads toward fulfillment as we follow the sometimes very difficult path laid out for humanity by Jesus. I like that phrase we’ve used for so long—the ‘Glory Road.’ It’s where we live out these values together. I think we need to be reminded that we share deeper values like this. We’ve got to stop attacking each other. We’ve got to find a way to come together again.”

And here is Col. Worthy’s poem for America—

Or, as Col. Worthy lays out these themes in his poetry, here is:

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Are Americans’ bindings breaking?

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By Col. CLIFFORD WORTHY
Author of The Black Knight

Why are Americans’ bindings breaking?

Why does the national character writhe in dishonorable pursuit?

Why is the hope-sump hemorrhaging?

The political spectra refracts into blinding bitterness.
The American Tories tout exclusion by hawking establishmentarianism to justify loveless fences.
Shamelessly they front Jesus as a prop for political footings.
The East corner of their lips eulogizes family values
Even as the West side of those lips embraces spewers of hate.

Rightist religionists rightfully proclaim, “God is Love!”
On Sunday.
While venomously attacking God’s creatures on Monday through Saturday—
Belying the compassion they had just expressed.

Promotion of self-serving labels assigning good and evil and drawing lines:
Lawbreakers wax into heroes.
Money wins no matter the pain.
Ignoble legality muddies moral waters.

Racism—
Racism in the halls
Racism in the boardrooms
Racism in the cities
Racism in the cemetery—
Racism leaches the land.

Otherness!
Otherness!
Otherness!

Partisan effrontery:
Spinning.
Dizzying the truth.
Invasively abusing the guaranteed freedom.
Thumbing noses at the greater good.

Inept leadership in highest places is endorsed by smirking scalawags—
And the people suffer.

Folk of every making have forgotten how to blush.
Making mockery of One Nation Under God.

All trade beauty for ashes.

Jesus knock is unheeded.

Who still travels the Glory Road?

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Care to learn more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Get a copy of Col. Worthy’s life story, The Black Knight, for yourself—and order more copies for friends and loved ones on your holiday shopping list who are especially interested in stories from our U.S. armed forces. There are many themes in this illustrated memoir, including the challenges Col. Worthy and his wife faced raising a special needs son in an era when professional help for such families was in its infancy.

Clifford Worthy, the great grandson of slaves, was one of the few African-American men of his generation who was accepted and excelled as a Black Knight of the Hudson, a traditional nickname for West Point cadets. Col. Worthy describes his journey to West Point, the many challenges he overcame both in his family and in the U.S. Army, including service in the front lines of Vietnam.

Rick Forzano, former Head Coach of the Detroit Lions praises Col. Worthy’s memoir and his example to all of us. “He has fought his way through virtually every stage in life with his faith in God giving him the necessary strength and courage,” Forzano writes.

And more?

GET IN TOUCH! At 92 and with the distinction of being the oldest living Black graduate of West Point, Col. Worthy receives many requests to appear on podcasts, plus radio, TV and newspaper interviews. He considers each request and has accepted many invitations—so his voice and storytelling already is a popular part of the national conversation. Would you like to get in touch with Col. Worthy to make such a request? Email us at [email protected] 

Still more?

Col. Worthy’s life, his memoir The Black Knight and his poetry are rich in references to African American traditions in family and faith—including essential shared experiences like The Great Migration and centuries of Black church and family reunions. If you are not an African-American reader, you will experience his writing at a deeper level if you also have a copy of the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s 100 Questions and Answers about African Americans. This