MONDAY MEDS – MED #33 – HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK

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MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #33.]


HARRY EMERSON FOSDICK

Imagine for a moment the following scenarios: various brands of religion contesting as to which one is the most appropriate and faithful…. rancorous debates and political fights about the teaching of evolution in public school systems…. a culture and a country besieged by the troubles of war and the ravages of war’s aftermath effects…. books on religion being read by the hundreds of thousands, making them some of the best-selling literature.

While such scenarios could describe contemporary American culture, this was actually the milieu in which Harry Emerson Fosdick participated as a preacher and purveyor of prayer during his storied career in the first half of the 20th century in the U.S. His significance and impact were immense, effecting several generations beyond his active life and, some might say, stretching even into the 21st century.

In his own panoramic review of the great U.S. religionists, Edgar DeWitt Jones tags Fosdick as one of the ”Titans” among “The Royalty of the Pulpit” in American religious history.(1) In the most authoritative biography of Fosdick to date, Robert Moats Miller describes him as “America’s most prominent liberal Protestant preacher when religious liberalism knew its finest, though not unchallenged hour.”(2) Among his detractors, Fosdick was known as “Modernism’s Moses”(3) and “the least hated and best loved heretic that ever lived.”(4)

Fosdick’s prayers from occasions of worship are accessible through a collection, A Book of Public Prayers, which he published when he was 82 years old.(5) Consistent with many of the pastoral prayers of the first half of the 20th century in Protestant circles, they are long. A modern worshiper might have trouble focusing over the stretch of such extended pastoral prayers. Still, these prayers are profoundly reverential and urgently personal. Consistent with his generation of clergy, he uses the “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” and Elizabethan tone of the King James Bible when addressing God. Along with working and thinking, he understands prayer as one of the ways humanity cooperates with God. Frequently he uses exclamation points to express his passionate concerns. Throughout his pubic prayers there is colorful phrasing, parallelisms, and metaphorical flourishes. More often than not, Fosdick’s public prayers include petitions for the public good and for peace.

Fosdick was one of the three major mainstream Protestant clergy who wrote full-length books on prayer in their ministerial careers, George Buttrick and Ralph Sockman being the other two. It was out of his “breakdown” during his first year in seminary that he discovered the centrality of prayer for any meaningful spiritual life. In The Meaning of Prayer, and elsewhere among his forty some odd books, we find how crucially important prayer is to him. (6)

For Fosdick prayer is a natural feature of being human. Through all sorts of avenues, throughout all time, and through all cultures, the realities of praying are revealed. Prayer is a moment of communion with God and vital transaction within an individual. Experiencing the privilege of prayer, we find that God cares for each of us.(7)

Prayer for Fosdick is both a discipline and a dominant desire. Thus, prayer requires practice, and yet it emanates from a passion, that, when elevated and purified, is aware of a divine “alliance” between humanity and God.(8)

Prayer is also for Fosdick something of a battlefield on which the fight for character is waged. Ultimately, for the mature and seasoned pray-er, it is a pathway toward generosity and a posture of unselfishness.

Fosdick believed modern people had at least six significant ways they could pray:(a) as an exercise in interior relaxation and serenity;(b) as an affirmation of life;(c) as an instance of spiritual companionship;(d) as a way for mediating moral conflict;(e) as an occasion of strong desire; and(f) as a mode for releasing power within one’s life and in the society.(9)

Fosdick’s Fundamental Convictions About the Centrality of Prayer
”I learned to pray, not because I had adequately argued out prayer’s rationality, but because I desperately needed help from a Power greater than my own. I learned that God, much more than a theological proposition, is an immediately available Resource; that just as around our bodies is a physical universe from which we draw all our physical energy, so around our spirits is a spiritual Presence in living communion with whom we can find sustaining strength.”(10)

”Prayer is the soul of religion…. Failure in prayer is the loss of religion itself in its inward and dynamic aspect of fellowship with the Eternal. Only a theoretical deity is left to any man who has ceased to commune with God, and a theoretical deity saves no man from sins and disheartenment and fills no life with a sense of divine commission.”(11)

A Prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick

”Make the divine life real, we beseech thee, in our societies. We repent before thee, O God, with sadness of heart. We repent for the cruelty of mobs who burn and slay without justice and without mercy. We repent before thee the unemployed who walk our streets and the poverty that lurks in the deep shadows of our bright prosperities. We repent before thee all wars and rumors of war, where we forget nothing of ancient hatreds and learn nothing concerning the evils of mutual slaughter. Yet beneath all the wrong that bows down our hearts with shame and penitence, we see the forward movement of thy purpose through the ages. Clothe our hearts with a new courage. Strengthen our wills with a new determination. Lure us with a fresh vision. Send us forth to make the divine real in our societies.” (12)

PRAYING WITH FOSDICK:SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Pray today by recalling a “breakdown” moment (or a time of faltering and uncertainty) in your life. Give God thanks for the gifts of that struggle and what it means to you even now. Offer a prayer for others to know that, through prayer, they have access to a power greater than their own.

Day 2 Include in your prayers today petitions for the good of the public sphere and for peace – in your neighborhood, in your region, in the nation, in the world.

Day 3 Give thanks today for the privilege of prayer. Sit quietly for at least fifteen minutes, or longer, and receive the blessed knowledge that God cares for you.

Day 4 Pray today by seeking an understanding about the divine “alliance” you can enjoy between yourself and God.

Day 5 Pray today with profound trust that God is “a spiritual Presence in living communion with whom we can find sustaining strength.” Enjoy your time of “fellowship with the Eternal.”

Day 6 “Practice” the Lord’s Prayer today be reciting it three times in a row on three separate occasions of the day, preferably early morning, noontime, and before going to bed.

Day 7 Pray that one day you may enter into full maturity as a person prayer and experience true unselfishness. Begin the journey toward that posture of generosity by contemplating the occasions for unselfish action that may be yours today.

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: May 24, 1878, born Buffalo, NY, one of two sons of Frank Sheldon Fosdick and Amy Inez Weaver Fosdick; 1900, graduates with B.A. from Colgate University; November 18, 1903, ordained at Madison Avenue Baptist Church; experiences “breakdown” while at Union Theological Seminary, New York City; rests at sanitarium, travels abroad; 1904, graduates from Union with B.D. degree; marries Florence Allen Whitney; two children — Elinor (b. 1911), Dorothy (b. 1913); 1904-1915, serves as pastor, First Baptist Church, Montclair, New Jersey; 1908, becomes professor of preaching at Union; 1915, publishes The Meaning of Prayer; 1918, witnesses war horrors during half-year tour of duty in France with American soldiers, converts to pacifism; called to be associate pastor and preacher, First Presbyterian Church, NYC, NY; May 22, 1922, delivers famous sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?,” interpreting the Bible metaphorically and eschewing the literalistic interpretation of the Bible; John D. Rockefeller pays for 130,000 copies to be distributed to every Protestant minister in U.S.; 1924, delivers Lyman Beecher Lectures (“The Modern Use of the Bible”) at Yale University Divinity School; 1925, Pastor, Park Avenue Baptist Church, NYC, NY; September 21, 1925, featured on the cover of Time magazine; October 5, 1930, first service in new Riverside Church; October 6, 1930, featured on the cover of Time magazine; 1931, heard across the country on National Vespers Radio Hour on NBC; February 8, 1931, ”God of Grace and God of Glory,” hymn which Fosdick composed, is used as part of the Riverside dedication service; 1933, persuades Ruby Gates to testify in her defense the case of the Scottsboro Boys; 1939, among first reviewers of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous book; 1946, retires from Riverside pulpit and his position at Union Theological Seminary; October 5, 1969, dies in Bronxville, New York; buried in Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum, Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York.

NOTES

(1) Edgar DeWitt Jones, The Royalty of the Pulpit (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1951), p. pp. 101-107.

(2) Robert Moats Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

(3) Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet, p. vii and p. 149; see also Bruce Shelley, ”Modernism’s Moses,” Christian History, March 1, 2000.

(4) Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet, p. 198.

(5) Harry Emerson Fosdick, A Book of Public Prayers (New York: Harpers, 1960)

(6) Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Meaning of Prayer (New York: Association Press, 1915, 1949)

(7) Ibid., pp. 1-66.

(8) Ibid., pp. 127-139.

(9) Leo S. Thorne, ed., Prayers from Riverside (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1983), pp. 3-12.

(10) Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Living of The Days: An Autobiography (New York: Harpers, 1956), p. 75.

(11) Fosdick, The Meaning of Prayer, p. ix.

(12) Thorne, ed., Prayers from Riverside, p. 57.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION

Harry Emerson Fosdick, A Book of Public Prayers (New York: Harpers, 1960)

Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Living of The Days: An Autobiography (New York: Harpers, 1956)

Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Meaning of Prayer (New York: Association Press, 1915, 1949)

Edgar DeWitt Jones, The Royalty of the Pulpit (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1951)

Robert Moats Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985)

Leo S. Thorne, ed., Prayers from Riverside (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1983)


© Robert Lee Hill, 2020

WEDNESDAY WORDS – #33 FOR OUR VETERANS ON VETERANS DAY: WHO MORE THAN SELF THEIR COUNTRY LOVED.

WEDNESDAY WORDS – #33

FOR OUR VETERANS ON VETERANS DAY: WHO MORE THAN SELF THEIR COUNTRY LOVED….’

[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do so, that’s fine.) Here, on Veterans Day, are WEDNESDAY WORDS – #33.]


FOR OUR VETERANS ON VETERANS DAY:WHO MORE THAN SELF THEIR COUNTRY LOVED….’

On this national holiday, I’m sending warm greetings and affirmations to all veterans and veterans’ families in greater Kansas City and indeed to all American veterans everywhere who have given sacrificially for the shared values and civic dreams we prize above all others – freedom, justice, and equality for all.

My favorite lines in “America the Beautiful” are in the second verse: “O beautiful for heroes proved/ in liberating strife,/ who more than self their country loved,/ and mercy more than life….” While many can lay claim to that sentiment, our veterans are among the chief patriots “who more than self their country loved….”

During my lifetime, America’s military service personnel have been engaged in one “conflict” or “war” or “skirmish” or “initiative” after another. Our veterans have answered the call whenever it has been issued, and we have witnessed their valor at every turn. That we have not discovered better ways to resolve international differences and global tensions is a commentary on a lack of political will and imagination, and there is much work to do on that front. But our veterans and the families of our veterans have been exemplary in sacrifice, steadfastness and determination. And for that we say “Thank You” once again.

A good friend, who served several tours in Vietnam, once expressed utter humility and hope in one simple statement, and I haven’t forgotten it: “I just did my duty. One day we’ll figure out better methods of dealing with things than shooting at each other.” May we all increase in our sense of duty and our hopefulness for a better world.

– Bob Hill

[Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015, p. 186.]

WEDNESDAY WORDS – WEDNESDAY WORDS – #32 – AUTUMN’S RAIMENT

WEDNESDAY WORDS – #32AUTUMN’S RAIMENT[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do so, that’s fine.) Here are WEDNESDAY WORDS – #32.]

AUTUMN’S RAIMENT


For at least two weeks every autumn, an explosion of color blankets Kansas City and the whole of Missouri and Kansas. The traditional eruption of color in the Northeast has usually already begun, though it may be late depending on rainfall and summer conditions. Low-lying locales in Arizona and Nevada and balmy settings like the coastal areas of Texas and Florida afford other graces but not so much the enrapturing “turning of the leaves” that we enjoy here.

As autumn’s raiment is fully revealed, I suggest you make your way down Wornall Road and behold the colonnade of trees along the Harry Wiggins Trolley Track Trail (a.k.a. Brookside Trail) between Meyer and Gregory boulevards. Some afternoons, manifestations of God’s grandeur, like a 21st century burning bush, will be blindingly present there. On some mornings, the glint of sunrise will caress the tree-tops there in mauve-and-magenta majesty and all creation will seem to have risen in praise.

Our regular lives, necessarily focused on the daily routine, may keep us from visiting picture-perfect displays of autumn’s beauty in famous places elsewhere. But no worries, the beauty is already here, where you and I live, in our own famous places, right down the block and in your yard and here in the heart of the heart of the country on a stretch of neighborhood that waits to bless with effusive visual epiphanies.

There are many signs of God’s gracings in the world, but few as arresting as Kansas City’s oaks and maples offering up their generous evidence of holy transformation.

– Bob Hill

[From ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, p. 185.]

MONDAY MEDS – MONDAY MED #32 – MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) [During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #32.]

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Martin Luther King, Jr. abides in the annals of human history as the leader of one of the greatest liberation movements the world has ever beheld. With a combination of the glorious wisdom of his African-American heritage, the profound depths of his Christian convictions, and the inspiration of his powerful oratory as a Baptist preacher, King arrived at a pivotal moment in U.S. history and rose to the demands and responsibilities of the occasion.

Millions have inherited the fruits of King’s labors, enjoying the maturation of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the fuller enfranchisement of all citizens. Youthful souls have found in King a hero worthy of admiration and emulation. Generations of clergy and laity have been inspired by King’s eloquence and his example of creative leadership and sacrificial service.

Among King’s signal allegiances were:

** Sympathy for people from all walks of life, especially those who are poor, destitute, the left out, the left behind and the left-over.

** Loyalty to the figure of Jesus – as exemplar for social relations and as savior in one’s own personal spiritual quest.

** Fidelity to the prophetic preaching tradition of the African-American pulpit, founded upon the testimony of the Hebrew prophets.

** Steadfast dissatisfaction with the status quo (“business-as-usual”) – in business, politics, social policy, international affairs, and ecclesial matters.

** Openness and receptivity to the graces of new ideas, new tactics, new insights about human life and the ever-expanding possibilities for its betterment.

** Faithful practice of the principles of nonviolence.

** A belief in the power of language – inherited from the religious experience of the African-American heritage – to transform individuals, communities, society, and nation-states.

King’s consistent courage was a marvel to witness. While he is now nearly deified in annual commemorations on the occasion of the U.S. holiday named in his honor, King was often challenged and sometimes vilified during the living of his days. He was chosen to be the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association at a time when most other leaders feared that nothing could ever be changed in any sector of the segregationist South.

With the co-leadership of his close friend and favorite preacher Gardner C. Taylor, he helped to create a new expression of American Protestantism, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which was strongly opposed by leaders among the ranks of African-American Baptists.

During one of the most dramatic civil rights campaigns in Birmingham, Alabama, King drew the ire of seeming allies when he penned his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” addressing the recalcitrance and “gradualism” of his supposedly progressive fellow clergy there and elsewhere.(1)

His opposition to the Vietnam war, leading up to and including his clarifying speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence: Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,”(2) caused him to be roundly castigated by religious and civil rights leaders across the nation as they accused him of mixing civil rights and war.

King’s theology and personal ethos were deeply rooted in his identity as a African-American Baptist preacher. Scholars have long admired King’s intellect and erudition, while at the same time acknowledging that who King was and what he became were largely a result of his being a child of the African-American church.(3)

He was always appreciative of Scripture, particularly the power of the prophets and the ethics of Jesus, and he regularly counseled the traditional practices of worship, praise, and prayer for the spiritual benefit of his congregants and indeed all people.

King was a Baptist preacher in a traditional sense, always ready to proclaim the truth of God’s gospel of love and justice to all hearers. Not all the venues he visited were actual sanctuaries, but whenever he spoke they became so.(4) He was also a traditional Baptist preacher in his offering an “altar call” in nearly all public occasions – to social change, to personal transformation, to community redemption, to salvation. In his leadership of the American civil rights movement, his focus on the motto and mission statement of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was urgent and clear: “To Save the Soul of America.”(5)

One of the more prominent motifs in King’s theology was his unflagging belief that “…. unearned suffering is redemptive.”(6) In fact, King held that the power of unearned suffering could prompt the redemption of an individual, a circumstance, and even a nation: “Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.’”(7)

King is rightly appreciated as one of the premier proponents of nonviolence as an effective organizing principle and tactic for social change. King was not the first nor the fiercest nonviolent activist in the U.S. Howard Thurman and Mordecai Johnson had supported the strategy of Gandhian nonviolence before King was born.(8) But it would be King who would crystalize the searing truth about the catastrophic danger of violence in a globe studded with countless nuclear weapons: “The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”(9)

King’s challenges regarding economic inequities suffered by the poor at the hands of rapacious greed were made crystal clear in his most famous oration, his “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, one hundred years after Lincoln’s pronouncement of the Emancipation Proclamation:“America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”(10) At the end of his life, he was leading SCLC to prepare for a Poor People’s Campaign event in Washington, D.C. And he was assassinated on the balcony of the Loraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, the morning after he soared to heights of eloquence with his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address before a crowd at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in support of striking sanitation workers(11) To the end of his earthly journey, King held fast to a hope for the creation of what Josiah Royce first called “the beloved community.”

With the surfacing of original source material– accompanied by refined research and scholarly scrutiny(12) – King’s spirituality and his actual prayer practices are available for fresh study and discovery.

In his public prayers King often focused on the mode of petition, beseeching God for strength in times of trial and occasions portending adversity. In worship services, either at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, or other religious gatherings, he regularly prayed for social justice to be made manifestly real and vibrant. In times of great difficulty or uncertainty, he prayed for spiritual guidance, for himself and all others.

Among King’s preferred prayers by others were those by Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, John Bunyan, and George Whitefield, as well as the lyrics by hymn composers such as Isaac Watts. Frequently, at significant points in his public prayers and at the conclusion of pastoral prayers in church services, King would cite phrases of one or another of his favorite hymns and gospel songs.

In his prayers and his prayer practices, we see the sources of Martin Luther King’s strength and the wellspring for his faith. When one considers the massive achievements King accomplished in his brief 39 years, it seems altogether reasonable and appropriate to claim that his prayer life was the spiritual engine that fueled his oratorical eloquence, his social activism commitments, and his spiritual leadership.

PRAYING WITH MARTIN LUTHER KING:

SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Pray today by giving thanks to God for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his parents who gave him life, for the Church that nurtured his spirit and set him on his way as a champion of justice, equality, and goodness for all people, and for his perduring eloquence that resounds through the years.

Day 2 In 1953, as part of a series of radio broadcasts from his father’s church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, before he was called to be the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he would be catapulted to the front lines of the civil rights struggle, King offered a prayer “that we may be children of light, the kind of people for whose coming and ministry the world is waiting.”(13) Pray today by pondering how you may be or become a child of the light, “for whose coming and ministry the world is waiting.” Seek God’s guidance as to where you might be of service to dispel darkness.

Day 3 Pray today by recalling one of Dr. King’s first expressions of grand and public eloquence, at the age of 26, in an address to the Mass Meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Association, at Holt Street Baptist Church, on December 5, 1955, in which he reminded his hearers and all of America of the momentous timing of their cause: “… you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression…. there comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair…. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July, and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November….”(14) Pray that you will be able to discern “the times” of your life and act out of your best self with decisive boldness and freedom.

Day 4 King’s eloquence consisted not only in soaring rhetorical flourishes, but also in winsome resonances with people’s daily lives. In the middle of a sermon he preached during his second year as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, King prayed, “Lord, help me to accept my tools. However dull they are, help me to accept them…. then help me to set out to do what I can do with my tools.”(15) Pray today for God’s help to do what you can do with the tools with which you have been equipped.

Day 5 In the latter years of his life, King bore a special passion and burden for the betterment of America’s cities, where so many people languished in poverty and despair. In Chicago, he prayed in front of City Hall: “… we pray for a greater vision of our task in this city; to build together a city of justice where none shall prey upon the weaknesses of others, a city of plenty where greed and poverty shall be eliminated, a city of brotherhood where success is founded upon service, and an honor given for nobleness alone.”(16) Pray this prayer today for the place where you live and for its leaders.

Day 6 King cherished the music of his Christian tradition and often used the words of his favorite hymns and gospel songs in his public prayers. Select one of your favorite hymns/songs and include words from that piece of music in your prayers today.

Day 7 Pray today by considering how you might define “the beloved community” which King envisioned and worked for throughout his entire ministerial career. Seek God’s guidance for the places and the people with whom you might work in the creation of such a “beloved community” right where you are.

BIOGRAPHICAL TIMELINE — January 15, 1929, born Michael Luther King, the second child of The Reverend Michael Luther King, Sr., and Alberta King, at 501 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia; 1934, father changes his and his son’s name to Martin Luther King, in honor of the great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther; May 1, 1936, joins his father’s church, Ebenezer Baptist Church; May 3, 1936, baptized at Ebenezer, age 7; 1942, attends Booker T. Washington High School; 1944, graduates from Booker T. Washington High School early because of early admission and acceptance, at the age of 15, at Morehouse College; Fall 1947, at the age of 18 decides for the vocation of ministry and delivers his first (“trial”) sermon in the fellowship hall of Ebenezer; February 25, 1948, ordained and appointed assistant pastor at Ebenezer; June 8, 1948, graduates from Morehouse College at the age of 19 with B.A. degree in Sociology; 1951, graduates with a B.D. degree from Crozier Theological Seminary; September 1951, enters The School of Theology at Boston University to pursue Ph.D. degree in theology; June 18, 1953, marries Coretta Scott at her parent’s home in Heiberger, Alabama, near Marion, Alabama, in Perry County; September 1, 1954, becomes pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama; June 5, 1955, receives his Ph.D. degree in Systematic Theology from Boston University; November 17, 1955, Yolanda Denise, the Kings’ first child, is born in Montgomery, Alabama; JoAnne Robinson (a leader of the Women’s Political Council and a member of King’s congregation) begins to organize Montgomery bus boycott; December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery for refusing to give up her seat in the “Whites Only” section of the bus; December 5, 1955, King is elected the president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association which will lead the bus boycott efforts in protest of the injustice of Montgomery’s segregated bus system; January 30, 1956, King’s home is firebombed; November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court rules that bus segregation is illegal; December 21, 1956, Montgomery buses desegregate; 1957, founds and becomes first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council; May 17, 1957, speaks to crowd of 15,000 in Washington, D.C.; October 23, 1957, first son Martin Luther III is born in Montgomery; September 20, 1958, is stabbed by a mentally ill woman in New York City at a book signing of his newly released book Stride Toward Freedom; 1959, tours India, visits with Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other Gandhian disciples; The Measure of a Man published; resigns from his pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and moves to Atlanta to direct SCLC activities and become co-pastor (with his father) of Ebenezer Baptist Church ; 1960, arrested as a result of sit-in at Atlanta restaurant; sentenced to four months in jail; Senator John Kennedy and brother Robert intervene for his release; January 30, 1961, son Dexter Scott King is born in Atlanta, Georgia; May 4, 1961; first Freedom Ride buses set out from Washington, D.C. to test practice of Southern Jim Crow statutes and segregation laws; July 27-August 10, 1962, arrested at Albany, Georgia, prayer vigil and jailed for two weeks; 1963, Strength to Love published; March 28, 1963, daughter Bernice Albertine King is born in Atlanta; Good Friday, April 12, 1963, is arrested with Ralph Abernathy by Police Commissioner Bull Connor in Birmingham, Alabama; spend eleven days in jail, during which he writes “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to moderate/liberal white clergymen in Birmingham who have counseled gradualism regarding desegregation; April 13, 1963 Birmingham Campaign launched; May 10, 1963, Birmingham agreement is announced with schools, restaurants and stores to be desegregated and hiring of blacks implemented; all charges dropped against protestors who had filled Birmingham jails; June 23, 1963, leads 125,000 people on a Freedom Walk in Detroit, accompanied by Rev. C.L. Franklin, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church; August 28, 1963, delivers “I Have A Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C. in front of crowd of 250,000, at that time, the largest civil rights demonstration in U.S. history; January 3, 1964, Time magazine names King its “Man of the Year;” Why We Can’t Wait is published; December 10, 1964, receives Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway; February 2, 1965, arrested in Selma, Alabama for protesting voter registration discrimination; “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, 500 civil rights marchers are attacked on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge; King issues a call to clergy and laity to come to Selma to protest; March 21, 1965, more than 3,000 marchers set out for Montgomery, reaching the state capitol Thursday, March 25, 1965, with more than 25,000 marchers; August 6, 1965, President Johnson signs Voting Rights Act into law; January 22, 1966, moves into tenement housing in Chicago, Illinois; 1967, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos Or Community? published; April 4, 1967, delivers “Beyond Vietnam” speech at The Riverside Church, in New York City, New York; November 27, 1967, announces Poor People’s Campaign, focusing on jobs and freedom for poor of all races; February 4, 1968, delivers “Drum Major Instinct” sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia; April 3, 1968, delivers his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at mass rally at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee; April 4, 1968, is assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee; April 9, 1968, funeral services held at Ebenezer Baptist Church and Morehouse College campus; buried at Southview Cemetery, later re-interred in dedicated crypt at Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, now the Martin Luther King National Historic Site; April 11, 1968, Civil Rights Act signed into law by President Johnson; 1977, posthumously award Presidential Medal of Freedom; November 2, 1983, national U.S. holiday proclaimed in honor of King by President Ronald Regan; January 20, 1986, first observance of King national holiday;2004, posthumously awarded Congressional Gold Medal; October 16, 2011, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial officially opens on The National Mall in Washington, D.C.; November 29, 2011, “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits, first publication of King’s prayers, edited by Lewis Baldwin.

NOTES

(1) See Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), pp. 47-49; David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: HarperCollins, 1986), p. 246; and James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1991), pp. 139-142.

(2) Delivered on April 4, 1967, at The Riverside Church in New York City, exactly one year to the day before his death.

(3) See Keith D. Miller, Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King and Its Sources (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1992) and Richard Lischer, The Preacher King: Martin Luther King Jr. and The Word That Moved America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

(4) I’m grateful to Fred Craddock for his insight in this regard; see “Requiem for a King: King the Preacher,” audio recording, April 4, 2004, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri; see also John Lewis, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech Remembered,” PBS NewsHour, August 28, 2003 (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/social_issues/july-dec03/march_08-28.html).

(5) Again, I’m grateful to Fred Craddock for this insight; see “Requiem for a King: King the Preacher,” audio recording, April 4, 2004, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri; see also Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience (New York: Harper & Row, 1967)

(6) Martin Luther King, Jr. “An Experiment in Love,” 1958, in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington (New York: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 18.

(7) Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” 1967, in A Testament of Hope, p. 256.

(8) See The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman: Volume I: My People Need Me, June 1918–March 1936 , Walter Earl Fluker, senior editor, (Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2009)

(9) Martin Luther King, Jr. “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 1960, in A Testament of Hope, p. 39.

(10) Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have A Dream”

(11) For a penetrating and definitive exploration of King’s last oration, see Keith Miller, Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic: His Final, Great Speech (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

(12) See Lewis V. Baldwin, Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010) and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Lewis Baldwin “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers that Open Hearts and Spirits(Boston: Beacon Press, 2012). Lewis Baldwin deserves credit as the chief steward and premier champion for the sharing of Dr. King’s prayer life, made finally accessible in his exemplary description and analyses of King’s prayer life in Never to Leave Us Alone, and, subsequently, in his editing of King’s actual extant prayers in “Thou, Dear God.” Though the prayers by King that have now been published are few (68), Baldwin has taken a monumental step in broadening the shared understanding of King’s life and legacy.

(13) King, “Thou, Dear God,” p. 109.

(14) MIA Mass Meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, Montgomery. Alabama, December 5, 1955, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Volume III: Birth of a New Age, December 55- December 1956 (Berkeley: University of Califronia Press, 1997), p. 72.

(15) King, “Thou, Dear God,” p. 83.

(16) King, “Thou, Dear God,” p. 173.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (New York: Harper & Row, 1958)

Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience (New York: Harper & Row, 1967)

Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Lewis Baldwin “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers that Open Hearts and Spirits (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012).

Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (New York: Harper & Row, 1967)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait (New York: Harper & Row, 1963)

Keith D. Miller, Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic: His Final Great Speech (Jackson, Mississippi: The University Press of Mississippi, 2012)

Keith D. Miller, Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources (New York: The Free Press, 1992)

© Robert Lee Hill, Kansas City, 2020

WEDNESDAY WORDS – #31 – THE DREAMS OF DEMOCRACY

WEDNESDAY WORDS[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do so, that’s fine.) Here are WEDNESDAY WORDS – #31.]


THE DREAMS OF DEMOCRACY

Next Tuesday, on Election Day, the marquees of countless congregations, libraries, colleges, and businesses — all around Greater Kansas City, in the heart of the heart of the country, and all across the United States — will broadcast, as they have done for the past several weeks, a simple statement: “VOTE!” Americans once again will exercise the most toned musculature of any democratic republic in world history.

Not that we all exercise at the same pace or with the same intensity. And not that some folks still refuse to exercise at all. E.B. White, wry-witted New Yorker writer and beloved author of “Charlotte’s Web,” was partially on target when he said, “Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.”

H.L. Mencken, as he was consistently wont to do, once offered a more cutting, cynical assessment of our political process: “Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.” I would quickly point out that such a comment is wrong on so many counts! And yet, Mencken was 100% half-right about democracy being a dream.

Before democracy is enacted and embodied in the shared congress and common commerce of a human community, it is indeed a dream.

Democracy is the dream of citizens ever striving to be more and more of what we say we are.

It is the dream of immigrants who have heard from afar about democracy’s promise, have worked for it to become real in their lives, and have then tasted its full flavor when they actually have become citizens. It is the dream of school children, as they learn of the sorely blemished but still blessed trajectory of the U.S. experiment with freedom over the past 244 years.

It is the dream of citizen groups, as their members organize and gather their collective will to press their cherished concerns.

It is the dream of all who want to live out the virtue of fairness.

Democracy is the dream of all who have been shackled — politically, culturally, and physically — by death-dealing totalitarian systems and deadly dictatorships.

It is the dream of everyone who reads the Declaration of Independence with deep discernment.

It is the dream of us all when we take seriously the gifts of diversity and the challenges of living in a pluralistic world.

It is the dream of each one who carefully interacts with the advance of new technologies and their impact on the global village.

It is the dream of every person who enters a voting booth mindful that the expression of their citizenship is part of the main in our nation’s grand laboratory of liberty.

— Bob Hill

[Adapted from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015, pp. 23-24.]

MONDAY MEDS – MONDAY MED #31 – MAHALIA JACKSON

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) [During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #31.]

MAHALIA JACKSON

Rare is the singer who can sing with verve and power and fill a concert hall with such emotion that hearers are moved to tears. Rarer still is the singer who can effect the same response in the midst of a humble storefront church, in the soaring environs of massive cathedrals, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and at a Presidential Inaugural Ball. Mahalia Jackson was such a singer, and the gospel music world, indeed the world as whole, has yet to hear her equal.

Before Irma Thomas, before Shirley Caesar, before Cissy Houston, before Aretha Franklin, before The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, before Andraé Crouch, there was Mahalia Jackson. Ultimately crowned “The Queen of Gospel,” Mahalia Jackson’s inimitable contralto moved millions around the world, beginning in the church of her childhood years and stretching to every conceivable venue of power and prestige.

A favorite soloist of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she would sing at one of his pinnacle moments before he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in the March on Washington(1) and then again in the dolorous moments of his funeral. With Duke Ellington she introduced gospel music to a new generation of hearers at the Newport Jazz Festival. She sang for Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and four times she graced Carnegie Hall and increased the esteem of that venerated venue because of what she did there. Because of her fidelity to gospel music and her virtuoso talent, she was able to popularize the genre of gospel music, as well as African-American spirituals, more widely than anyone before her. She abides into the 21st century as “the definitive exponent of gospel music.”(2)

DYNAMIC INTERACTIVE PRAYER

The strength of Mahalia Jackson’s voice was matched only by the strength of her faith and her perduring prayer practices. She prayed before performances, as a member of a gospel group and as a soloist. She prayed in church on Sundays and at home every day of the week as well. She prayed for the health and healing of her family members, and she prayed for the peace of her adopted hometown of Chicago after riots broke out there. She prayed standing up and on her knees and always with her matchless voice.

In a momentous occasion, she prayed in an interactive, “bargaining” manner with fervent hopes for her grandfather’s healing. When her grandfather regained his health, she understood that she had made a career decision: “I feel God heard me and wanted me to devote my life to his songs and that is why he suffered my prayers to be answered-so that nothing would distract me from being a gospel singer.”(3)

THE MAJOR “KEYS” OF HER FAITH

The “Keys” in which Mahalia Jackson expressed her abiding Christian faith – musically and spiritually – were rich and profound:

* Life is a “Hallelujah!”(4)There is no greater poverty than the poverty of the spirit. * The faith experiences of prayer, preaching, and music should be full.

* Music conveys as powerfully as any medium devised by humanity the gift of saving grace.

* Modeling one’s life after the manner and ways of Jesus is at the heart of the sanctified life.

* Emotion and expressiveness in the realm of faith need not be feared but rather embraced.

MAKING A JOYFUL NOISE

Joy was the premier theme of Mahalia Jackson’s musical career, life, and faith. “I am a sanctified woman . . . making a joyful noise in praise of the Lord,” she would say to countless interviewers and journalists.(5) Whenever she could she would opine on the difference between the “blue-ness” of the blues and the joy of gospel music. To one observer of the music scene in New Orleans, she said, “The blues are fine for listenin’. But I never would sing them. I was saved. Remember David in the Bible: Sing joyfully unto the Lord with a loud voice? I took his advice.” (6) The joyful character of gospel music enhanced her sense of freedom and hopefulness, as well, she declared: “I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free….It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”(7)

For legions of listeners, she gave fresh interpretations to the music and the meanings of “Amazing Grace,” “How I Got Over,” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” “Didn’t It Rain,” “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,“ ”Silent Night,” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”

PRAYING WITH MAHALIA JACKSON:

SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day #1: Praying with Hope– Pray today as Mahalia Jackson always did, with a strong hope and trust in God’s caring and positive answers to your petitions and intercessions.

(a) Pray with a fervent, expectant tone in your voice and in your spirit.

(b) Pray an open-eyed prayer as you face the horizon.

(c) Pray in an attitude of acknowledging past satisfactions, anticipating future fulfillments and with an openness to today’s glories.

(d) Pray with hope for goodness to enhance the life of another who is dear to you.

Day #2: Praying with Gladness – Pray today with a renewed sense of satisfaction and gladness in your life, wherever and whenever you experience God shining joy on your life.

(a) Today, note at least one thing that causes your life to shine!

(b) At the end of the day, recollect which “mode of music” predominated, the tone of the blues or the gospel.

Day #3: Praying with Sanctified Joy – Pray today with the aid of music, either recorded or created by you.

(a) Choose a favorite hymn, gospel, spiritual

(b) Cultivate the practice of a favorite “hum-at-home” song

(c) At least twice a year in worship, clap your hands in the beat of a song.

Day #4: Praying with Goodness and Holiness in Mind – Pray today with a focus on choosing the good (and thus the path of holiness) over that which is less than good and/or even evil.

Ponder three questions as you pray:

(a) Which will you choose this day: goodness or evil?

(b) Pray with trust and hope that God will lead you to greater loyalty toward God’s loving ways.

(c) Pray as if you were awash in the glory and grace of God.

Day #5: Praying with the Assistance of Music – Before praying today, secure a recording of Mahalia Jackson’s gospel songs. Listen carefully as Mahalia Jackson bends and beautifies the words of treasured traditional songs and introduces you to songs you’ve never heard before. As you pray, let the feeling-tones of Mahalia Jackson’s singing wash over you and infuse you with strength and comfort.

Day #6: Praying “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”– Pray today with the use of the words of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Remember that this was one of Dr. King’s favorite songs, and that he requested it to be sung by her on many occasions when she sang just prior to his speaking. Remember, too, that she sang it at Dr. King’s funeral on April 9, 1968. Ponder the words “weak,” “tired,” “worn.” Pray today that God will strengthen you beyond any thing you’ve ever imagined.

Day #7: Somebody Bigger Than You and I – In one of Mahalia Jackson’s less celebrated songs, “Somebody Bigger Than You and I,” composed by Johnny Lange, Hy Heath, and Sonny Burke, we hear a grand celebration of the generous provision and the loving power of God. After reciting the words to this song, pray for an increased enhancement of your awareness of the graces and greatness of God that are ours to freely share in, if we will be have humble hearts.

Who made the mountains, who made the trees

\Who made the rivers flow to the sea

And who sends the rain when the earth is dry

Somebody bigger than you and I

Who made the flowers to bloom in the spring

Who made the song for the robins to sing

And who hung the moon and the stars in the sky

Somebody bigger than you and I

He lights the way when the road is long

He keeps you company

And with His love to guide you

He walks beside you

Just like He walks with me

When we’re filled with despair

Who gives me courage to go from there

And who gives me faith that will never die

Somebody bigger than you and I

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: October 26, 1911, born in a shack on Water Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, overlooking the Mississippi River, third of six children, to John A. Jackson, Sr. (waterfront stevedore, barber, and preacher), and Charity Jackson; suffers from genu varnum (bowed legs); by age five is singing on Sundays for her father’s congregation, the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church; 1916, mother dies; goes to live with her namesake aunt, Mahala Clark-Paul (“Aunt Duke”); 1921, makes her confession of faith at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church and is baptized in the Mississippi River by Rev. E. D. Lawrence; in her teenage years works as a maid and laundress, but dreams of being a nurse; recordings by Bessie Smith, “The Mother of the Blues,” exert profound influence on her, particularly Smith’s rendition of “Careless Love;” 1927, moves to Chicago, works as a domestic during the week; during her first Sunday service at Greater Salem Baptist Church sings “Hand Me Down My Silver Trumpet, Gabriel” and is immediately asked to join the choir; tours with the Prince Johnson Gospel Singers; 1929, meets Thomas Dorsey, who will eventually writes “Peace in the Valley” for her; begins to forge a solo career, as well as singing in church, sings at political rallies; May 21,1934, receives $25 for her first recording, “God’s Gonna Separate the Wheat from the Tares” and three other cuts; 1936, marries Isaac (“Ike”) Lanes Grey Hockenhull; 1937, becomes a song demonstrator of Thomas Dorsey’s talents as a gospel songwriter; records four tracks for Decca Records, to little commercial success, and is dropped soon afterwards; 1938, records gospel song which also serves as her personal statement: “Move On Up a Little Higher;” 1939, opens Mahalia’s Beauty Salon in Chicago; 1941, divorces “Ike” Hockenhull; 1945-46, tours extensively; 1946-47, records again, with Apollo label, which includes first use in gospel music of the Hammond organ rather than a usual lone piano, as “Move On Up a Little Higher” goes on to sell over 2 million copies, mostly by word-of-mouth in black community; October 4, 1950, performs at Carnegie Hall before racially integrated audience; 1954, her version of “Didn’t It Rain,” makes the Hit Parade; hosts and stars in her own Sunday night radio show for CBS; 1956,appears on The Ed Sullivan Show; 1958, triumphs at Newport Jazz Festival, becoming a celebrated ambassador for gospel music; performs with Duke Ellington in his ‘Black, Brown And Beige Fantasy’ suite; 1959, appears in “Imitation of Life” movie; 1960, sings at inaugural ball for President John F. Kennedy; 1960’s, often performs at rallies headed by Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Dr. Martin Luther King; 1961, is deemed “Most Admired Woman in the World” by Gallup Poll; 1963, marries Sigmond Galloway; August 28, 1963, sings “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned,” at Martin Luther King’s request, immediately before King delivers “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington, D.C.; 1964, receives honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, Lincoln College, Lincoln, Illinois; 1967, divorces Sigmond Galloway; April 9, 1968, sings at Dr. Martin Luther King’s funeral, giving an emotional rendition of Dorsey’s “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” King’s favorite gospel song; begins to bow to pressure to record more secular songs, including Dion’s classic anthem, “Abraham Martin And John;’’ 1969, publishes autobiography, Movin’ On Up; 1970, tours Africa, Japan, and India; May 30, 1971, receives honorary Doctor of Music degree, Marymount College, Tarrytown, New York; October, 1971, gives her last public performance in Germany; January 27, 1972, dies of heart failure, Chicago, Illinois; February 1, 1972, 6,000 mourners attend funeral at Aerie Crown Theater in McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois; February 4, 1972, mayor of New Orleans and governor of Louisiana lead 60,000 people in paying final tribute, New Orleans, Louisiana; buried in Providence Memorial Park, Metairie, LA.

NOTES

(1) At a turning point in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” oration at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, Jackson shouts to King, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin, tell ’em about the dream.” She had heard King’s soaring vision two months earlier when King spoke at the massive “Walk to Freedom” demonstration in Detroit, Michigan, June 23, 1963; See, Bruce Mason, “Behind The Dream and beyond words: The making of a speech,” Common Ground, August 2013, p. 5; Time magazine, Vol. 182, No. 9, August 26 – September 2, 2013, pp. 78-79; Rochelle Riley, “Aretha Franklin reflects on dad’s role in freedom walk,” Detroit Free Press, June 21, 2013; William P. Jones, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and The Forgotten History of Civil Rights (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2013), pp. 196-197.

(2) “Mahalia Jackson remains the definitive exponent of gospel music. She mixed the singing styles of the Baptists with the Sanctified Church.” –http://www.music.us/biography/artist/24102/mahalia_jackson.html

(3) Mahalia Jackson, with Evan McLeod Wylie, Movin’ On Up (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1966) p. 68.

(4) Listening to Mahalia Jackson sing the word “Hallelujah” highlights one of the singular aspects of her musical genius, melisma, the extraordinary art of singing a single syllable with a multitude of varying musical notes.

(5) See Mel Leavitt, Great characters of New Orleans (New Orleans: Lexikos Publishing, 1982), p. 10.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Mojo Magazine, The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion, 4th Edition. (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2003), p. 20.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, & REFLECTION

Robert Darden, People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music (New York: Continuum, 2004)

Laurraine Goreau, Just Mahalia, Baby: The Mahalia Jackson Story, (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1975)

Mel Leavitt, Great characters of New Orleans (New Orleans: Lexikos Publishing, 1982)

Jesse Jackson, Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!: The life of Mahalia Jackson, queen of gospel singers (New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1974)

Mahalia Jackson, with Evan McLeod Wylie, Movin’ On Up (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1966)

© 2020, Robert Lee Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS – WORD #30 – A SIMPLE, NECESSARY WORD

WEDNESDAY WORDS[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do so, that’s fine.) Here are WEDNESDAY WORDS – #30.]

A SIMPLE, NECESSARY WORD

My friend Seymour recently wanted to know if I had a “good word” for him on a gloomy day. He expressed what he said has been on the hearts and minds of several of his friends and what he thought the culture of our nation has been looking for these days.

I told Seymour that what he was requesting sounded a lot like ancient Biblical times when wandering Israelites, among countless others, wondered long and hard: “Is there a word from the Lord?” And I said, “Yes, Seymour, there’s a word.”

I thought about just the right word that might be best for Seymour and for his friends, a word that would provide us all with what we certainly need.

Several words among a plethora of possibilities came to mind that might brighten an overcast spirit and warm a hesitant heart.

Words like “love,” “patience,” “courage,” “tenacity,” “mercy,” compassion,” “freedom,” “peace.”

Certain phrases also came to mind: “community of caring”…. “experiments in democracy” …. “the better angels of our nature”…. “to recognize ourselves in each other’s tears.”
Only one word, though, seemed right.

It is a simple, necessary word. It is a word we need to model for our children, and for the sake of their children.

It is a word we need to intone for our neighbors, where we live and around the world.

It is a word we ourselves so clearly need to hear.

It’s a short word which, when shared freely among teachable spirits and willing hearts, can make for a revolution in values and a transforming change in the world.

It’s a word which, when held close during momentous times like these, can overcome any despair.

For now, I believe that word is “hope.”

Humble and fervent, constant and growing, daunted but undeterred, hope is that quality of life that, according to the apostle Paul, ultimately makes us whole and brings us home: “For in hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:24)

— Bob Hill

[From LOVE ALL WAYS, forthcoming from Caroline Street Press, 2021.]

MONDAY MEDS – MED #30 – THOMAS MERTON

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #30.]

THOMAS MERTON

Among American Catholics, few figures loom larger than Thomas Merton when it comes to describing a “Great Soul” knowledgeable and authentic about prayer. Among American Catholics who rose to prominence in the 20th century, few have experienced a more lasting literary popularity than Thomas Merton. Among American Christians as a whole, fewer still have had a greater impact on the conjoining of social justice and spiritual concerns than Thomas Merton.

The initial arc of Merton’s adventurous life hardly hinted at who and what he would become. Born in France, baptized in the Anglican Church, a student in French and English schools, orphaned as a teenager, Merton headed straight toward a bohemian lifestyle. At Columbia University in New York City, Merton began an earnest, if wayward, pursuit of a literary career. A mystical experience in which he sensed a calling to become a priest led him to become a member of the Catholic Church.

Three years later, after enduring rejection by the Franciscans, he entered Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – Trappists), near Bardstown, Kentucky. From Gethsemani, Merton issued a best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, that touched countless seekers, sojourners, and intrigued onlookers. From then on, his native writing gifts and his passionate devotion to prayer, mysticism, monastic life, and overcoming the social ills of racism, war, and poverty found purchase in the hearts and minds of millions.

In death as in life, Merton remains an enrapturing study of clashing contrasts. He was a monk who treasured solitude, and yet he became famous and attracted intellectual luminaries, civil rights workers, and popular culture celebrities to the gates of Gethsemani. His works on prayer are some of the most compelling ever written in English, and yet he is equally eloquent regarding issues of nuclear disarmament and eradicating world hunger. His premier devotion was to God and yet he loved the good gifts of God’s world deeply. He was a Catholic monk, and yet he was globally catholic in his yearning to learn about prayer from all religious traditions.

While singular in his genius and solitary in his devotional practice, Merton was always a part of a community. His entry into the monastic life was a move toward a greater togetherness with others, his brother monks. His time as a hermit during the last three years of his life would lead him to be connected with the wider reaches of the human family and a decisive journey to Thailand. He always had the hope of a keener unity within community and among all groups.

We learn from Merton that spending time “alone with God” is absolutely necessary for fulfillment as a human being. The evasion of being alone or the attempt to escape from loneliness leads only to greater loneliness. “The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people.”(1)

Merton’s approach to prayer was simple and straightforward, always with an eye to paying attention. “I have a very simple way of prayer. It is centered entirely on attention to the presence of God and to His will and His love.”(2) For Merton, a person of faith begins the first steps in understanding what prayer is all about by knowing the unity of God and humanity in Christ. “He came to be a man like ourselves and, in His own person, to unite man to God.” (3)

Merton understood contemplative prayer as the premier way for us to arrive at loving unity with God’s will for our lives. He viewed Christian contemplation as “an experiential contact with God, in and through Christ, beyond all knowledge, in the darkness of the mystery of divine charity, in ‘unknowing.’”(4) Merton taught and practiced the spiritual discipline of lectio divina, or prayerful reading of the Scriptures. A prime aim of lectio divina is to savor the words of Scripture in such a way that we arrive at what Merton described as the “experiential knowledge” of God “which tastes the sweetness of His infinite goodness.” (5)

For Merton Christian faith is a quite common way of life. The spiritual disciplines, including prayer, are not to be mystified into some sort of elite practices. “This is not a hermitage – it is a house…. What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe….” (6)
While we might yearn for radical rational clarity about life, the world, our faith, and all kinds of other things, Merton viewed the spiritual practices of prayer and contemplation as pathways to the mysterious heart of God. Love – for God, for God’s creation, for neighbors, for oneself in the embrace of God’s love of the world – was Merton’s central concern in so many of the prayers he composed for public use and his own private devotions. Always the intent was not focused on the self, but on how to give back to God.“I pray over and over – make me love You, Lord…. If I pray for love so as to have love and enjoy it, I lose it at once.” (7)

Merton understood humility to be crucial and necessary virtue to enact if one wants to be close to God. In fact, without humility we cannot even begin to know God’s essential nature nor understand who we truly are as human beings. By becoming humble, we gain access to the possibility of true joy. “… we are not capable of fulfilling ourselves…. humility alone can destroy the self-centeredness that makes joy impossible.”(8)

Merton was obviously a reformer – within his own monastic tradition, within the Catholic Church, and, through his correspondence and his books, within an ever-widening arc of ecumenical connections. Always within his vision was the concern for the new. “If our prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life – and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and ‘safe” – God will act in us and through us ….”(9)

PRAYING WITH THOMAS MERTON – SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Pray today by attending to how God is present to you, where you are, as you are breathing. Repeat this “attending” kind of prayer three times throughout your day.

Day 2 Pray today for new ways of loving God, new horizons of understanding others, and for the renewal of our own family of faith, even though we may not yet know how that will occur.

Day 3 Today sit quietly in the presence of God. Instead of using words to form requests of God, silently ponder how you might come to know God in a new and different manner than the ways by which you have previously related to God.

Day 4 Give thanks to God today that the common-ness of faith and prayer is open to one and all, including you.

Day 5 Rest easily as you pray today, quietly accepting: (a) the mystery of God’s love for you and the world; and, (b) abiding in the “unknown-ness” of what God may have in store for your life.

Day 6 In your prayer time today, be “alone with God” by assuming that this time is the most necessary step toward fulfillment and satisfaction in all other aspects of your life.

Day 7 In humility offer yourself to God today as you are, without pretense or swagger. For the rest of the day pray that the attitudes and actions which keep you from being humble will fall away so that you can embrace the joy which God has prepared for you and all of humanity. If you run dry or can’t ponder any such prayer any more, try praying the very famous and famously humble prayer of Merton’s: “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 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.”(10)

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: January 31, 1915, born in Prades, France, son of Own Merton, a New Zealand-born painter, and Ruth Jenkins, an American-born Quaker artist; baptized in the Church of England; August 1915, in response to problems related to World War I, family moves to Douglaston, L.I., New York; October 21, 1921, mother dies of stomach cancer; 1923, Merton moves in with maternal grandparents and his brother John Paul; 1925, father takes him to live with him in Saint-Antonin, France; 1926, enrolls in Lycée Ingres boarding school in Montauban; writes two novels; 1928, father moves him to England, enrolling him in Ripley Court School in Surrey; father is diagnosed with brain tumor; 1930,enrolls in Oakham Public School, a boarding school in Rutland; January 16, 1931, father dies; Tom Bennett, father’s physician and former New Zealand classmate, becomes his legal guardian; 1932, acquires scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge; February 1933, while on holiday in Rome, and recovering from a tooth extraction, finds himself transfixed by the sight of a mosaic of Christ in the apse of a church near Palantine Hill; 1934, leaves Cambridge and returns to U.S.; 1935, enters Columbia University; 1938, completes his master’s thesis, “On Nature and Art in William Blake” and receives BA degree in English; begins doctoral thesis on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry but never completes it; September 1938, has mystical experience about a sense of calling to the priesthood while reading an account of the conversion of Gerard Manley Hopkins; November 16, 1938, is received into the Catholic Church at Corpus Christi Church, NYC; 1939, receives MA degree in English; 1940-41, teaches at St. Bonaventure University; begins to go deeper and deeper into the spiritual life, particularly prayer; April 1940, goes on a retreat during Holy Week at Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – Trappists), near Bardstown, Kentucky; December 10, 1941, enters Abbey Our Lady of Gethsemani, attracted to its emphasis on silence and solitude; March 1942, is accepted as a novice monk; March 19, 1944, makes simple vows; publishes first book, Thirty Poems; 1946, publishes second book of poems, A Man in the Divided Sea; March 19, 1947, makes solemn vows; 1948, publishes autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, to critical acclaim; thereafter publishes many works for the monastery and about the contemplative life until the end of his life; May 26, 1949, ordained as priest and given the name “Father Louis”; 1951-1955, Master of Scholastics (student s for priesthood) at Gethsemani; 1955-1965, Master of Novices at Gethsemani; throughout the 1960’s writes about monastic and contemplative matters as well as about social issues (race relations, war and peace, poverty), through periodicals such as Commonweal, FOR, Katallagete; attains an international reputation and maintains voluminous correspondence with outside contacts; 1965-1968, lives as a hermit on the grounds of the monastery; September 11, 1968, sets out on Asian journey; November 4, 1968, meets the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, India, for the first time; December 10, 1968, two hours after addressing an audience of Asian Benedictines and Cistercians at an ecumenical conference in Bangkok, Thailand, is accidentally electrocuted and dies on the 27th anniversary of the very day of his arrival at Gethsemani; December 17, 1968, funeral at Our Lady of Gethsemani, Kentucky; buried at Gethsemani, with his monastic name “Fr. Louis Merton” imprinted on his grave marker; May 30, 1987, The International Thomas Merton Society is formed at The Merton Center at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Kentucky; 60 volumes of his writings remain in print; September 24, 2015, is one of four Americans cited by Pope Francis in his address before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

NOTES

1 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955), p. 228.

2 Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters , ed., William H. Shannon (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1985), pp. 63-64.

3 Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 38.

4 The Inner Experience, p. 42.

5 Thomas Merton, Cistercian Contemplatives, (Gethsemane, Kentucky: Abbey of Gethsemani, 1948), p. 54.

6 Thomas Merton, Day of a Stranger (Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1981), p. 41.

7 Thomas Merton, Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation -The Journal of Thomas Merton, Volume 1: 1939-1941, ed., Patrick Hart (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 400.

8 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961), pp.180-181.

9 Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (New York: Doubleday, 1973), pp. 164-165.

10 Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1958), p. 79.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION

Thomas Merton, Cistercian Contemplatives (Gethsemane, Kentucky: Abbey of Gethsemani, 1948)

Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (New York: Doubleday, 1973)

Thomas Merton, Day of a Stranger (Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1981)

Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters , ed., William H. Shannon (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1985)

Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2003)

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961)

Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955)

Thomas Merton, Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation -The Journal of Thomas Merton, Volume 1: 1939-1941, ed., Patrick Hart (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996)

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1958)

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1958)
– Bob Hill

© 2020, Robert Lee Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS- WORDS #29 – HONESTY, INTEGRITY, RESPECT, COMPASSION

WEDNESDAY WORDS[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here are WEDNESDAY WORDS – #29.]\

ONESTY, INTEGRITY, RESPECT, COMPASSION

Democracy is based on the premier values within the human community. Chief among these values are honesty and truth-telling.

As history has shown again and again, those who wish to dissolve democratic ideals and establish dictatorial power will first attack journalists in particular and the truth in general. Fascists galore have practiced what Joseph Goebbels codified for Nazi propaganda: Tell a lie long enough and some people will come to believe it.

Honesty, like democracy, is difficult.

Honesty is difficult because it entails the limitations of human discourse. (To say one thing is to refrain from saying something else.) Even when rendered with absolute conviction and good faith, one’s assertions can require restating, clarification, and reframing. Such discourse takes time, patience, and care, all of which are difficult to manage. When an elected official regularly unleashes a barrage of vitriolic attacks and inane assertions via Twitter or Facebook, patience and care are severely undercut. The “Twitterization” of our public discourse contributes mightily to what John Dewey once called “the cult of irrationality.”

Another key component of any functioning democracy is integrity.

Personal, communal, and national expressions of integrity — that is, meaning what you say and saying what you mean, acting on the basis of consistent morality, and coherently reflecting and expressing one’s moral convictions — are essential for any democratic nation to achieve its highest goals, particularly the United States and our lofty ideals of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Along with honesty and integrity, I can’t help but think about respect as a key ingredient of democracy and its flourishing.

Respect is often reflected in our language, especially the language we use to describe others. Truly respectful leaders in our nation know that we are a vast stew of a nation, blessed by the rich reserves of diversity inherent among a rainbow array of U.S. citizens. Also, respectful leaders do not sully the reputations of other leaders with petty slighting or vulgar slandering. Leaders who are committed to respecting all persons would never use racist innuendo to attack any group of human beings — such leaders would not speak of immigrants as “infesting” our nation.

In addition to honesty, integrity, and respect as key features of a strong democracy, I’ve been musing a lot about compassion.

Compassion is as crucial to democracy as justice is. Without compassion, a nation’s government can deteriorate into reptilian brutality.

The quality of compassion, and the concomitant virtues of kindness and mercifulness, are the ultimate characteristics that determine the legacies by which our greatest leaders are remembered. No leader can authentically claim to love freedom who lacks compassion for those yearning for a more abundant experience of freedom and freedom’s gifts.

— Bob Hill

[Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE} LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, pp. 153-155.]

MONDAY MEDS – #29 -FRED CRADDOCK

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #29.]


FRED CRADDOCK

It just may be that church historians will assess Fred Craddock’s singular endeavors – beginning with “As One Without Authority” and culminating with “Preaching” – as the decisive movement in the rescue and renewal of the discipline of preaching for the church in North America at the end of the 20th century.

Augmented by years of study, his own innate gifts, and the disciplines of his academic specialty, Craddock was a master story‑teller. Craddock’s fame in this regard was nurtured first by his family and culture of origin which were richly steeped in storytelling traditions. As a Christian he was further convinced that Biblical stories inspire our stories.

The homiletic which Craddock developed throughout his career as teacher and preacher – and for which he is justifiably renown – is normally called the “inductive” preaching method, as distinct from the deductive methods most widely championed in previous generations in the 20th century. The “inductive” approach uses inference, suggestion, and partial directives to lead and move listeners, learners, readers, and worshipers to conclusions upon which they will decide.

In line with his inductive approach, Craddock regularly used indirect strategies, choices, stories, and recollections, to convey information and prompt inspiration, frequently moving from the particular to the general, from the individual to the group, from the congregation to the entirety of the Church.

Craddock was a person of natural, disarming humility. His humble beginnings provide hope for all whose origins were/are in poverty, and his father and mother, and their differences with regard to church involvements, give hope to all whose parents are not of one accord with regard to religion.

Craddock’s loyalty to the gospel and the Church Universal – in all of its ecumenical manifestations, and specifically to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – was founded on his storied encounters with the Church’s consistent, though not unsullied, history of embodying the grace of God. While he would likely would not have been comfortable with a description of himself as “a high‑churchman” he obviously had a “high” view of church, as evidenced in his life‑long honoring of the Church’s capacity to transmit love, care, and empowerment.

Gracious to the point of over‑solicitousness, Craddock practiced what he preached and preached what he practiced on a daily basis: “The final work of grace in the human heart is to make us grateful.”(1)

Contrary to what Philip Rieff called the “triumph of the therapeutic,” Craddock believed that the life of faith does not revolve around how any of us, collectively or individually, feels. Thus the prayer he prayed daily: “Gracious God, we are grateful for a way of life and work that is more important than how we feel about it on any given day.”(2)

Doubt, questioning, and perhaps, occasionally, ennui may invade one’s soul, even among the most faith‑filled, stout‑hearted of Christians. So, Craddock counseled, be prepared for challenges to your faith along the way: “First off, ask yourself, if you are in a desert or a dry place, if it is a question of faith. It is possible that even [among the most active of Christians] that we can have a problem with our faith. If it is, let the congregation carry you into faith again…. Get some tough devotional materials to use.”(3)

A statement about faith, prayer, and/or Biblical interpretation can be viewed, Craddock held, as a gemstone, from several different angles. “If it can’t be told from at least two different perspectives, it probably isn’t of God.” As one person recollected from a preaching lecture Craddock once gave, “As you do your exegesis, turn the coin over, that is, consider how an opposite interpretation might be true. God’s word has density, complexity.”(4)

Craddock has always believed there is a need for a time of quiet reflection every day. We may use such occasions for remembrance, assessment, musing, and pondering the implications and meanings of life’s events.

On occasion, in sermons or in teaching, and possibly in prayer, the use of “personification” for certain activities, rituals, and/or themes can be strikingly and powerfully meaningful.
Craddock consistently counseled people of faith to choose a key Bible verse or selection of Scripture for their lives. Craddock’s key verse was Luke 6:35c “.. . for [God ] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

In his story‑telling, preaching, and teaching Craddock’s rhetoric was winsomely humorous. He seemed to find the lighter side in nearly every situation. His own self‑effacement – regarding his short physical stature and voice – was sometimes comical, and it made for strong, sympathetic connections with listeners. While he took God and the gospel very seriously, he took himself less so.

There was in Craddock’s demeanor and theological expressions a hesitancy to invoke the supernatural (what might even be called the “magical”) power of God, even in service of someone else’s benefit. Rather, his encounters with God were moments of waiting, discovery, always leading to gratitude. “Sometimes my study moves into prayer – at the moment of discovery. Not that I petition God for a meaning of a text, but that as the text unfolds, there is a discovery and I offer a prayer, usually a prayer of gratitude for an insight…. I don’t make a lot of petitions for myself in my prayers, though perhaps I really should…. I pray more as an intercessor for others; I have lists of people I pray for regularly…. In my preparation for preaching I set aside Friday afternoon and Saturday for a time of entering into a mood, a meditation mood; I don’t go to parties or to a lot of social events on those days; I’m trying to prepare myself and seeking God’s guidance so that I will be an adequate instrument…. During the week I read in the morning, sometimes moving through a book ….. I’ve discovered that I ought to pursue what I naturally resist…. An encounter with Albert Schweitzer altered my approach to scripture…. Hermann Diem, professor of systematic theology, once asked me if I had read Kierkegaard, and I suppose that was a very significant, radical turning point for me…. In the end, I suppose gratitude is the main substance of my prayers, yes, gratitude.”(5)

PRAYING WITH FRED CRADDOCK:SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Pray for the particular needs of someone you know intimately and care for deeply. Imagine how those needs are paralleled in the lives of persons living in Afghanistan, Chile, China, Nigeria, Finland, Canada.

Day 2 Begin your day by praying the prayer with which Craddock began his day: “Gracious God, we are grateful for a way of life and work that is more important than how we feel about it on any given day.”

Day 3 Ask yourself if you are in a desert or a dry place, pertaining to the strength/weakness of your faith. (Remember: Even among the most faithful persons it is possible to experience a problem with our faith.) If you are in such place, request support from your clergy and congregational leaders, and allow the congregation to carry you into faith again.

Day 4 Focus on a key Bible Verse for meditation and study. In the meditation and study, offer prayers of thanks for the insights that are granted. Consider treasuring a central verse (perhaps reading it as a “favorite verse”) as a guideline for the living of your faith each and every day.

Day 5 From time to time, “turn the coin” over in your prayers, asking God for guidance and grace enough to pray in ways that, seemingly, may be contrary to your normal way of praying. If you are praying for health and security for your closest family, try praying for the health and security of persons you have never met. If you give thanks to God for the plentitude you have experienced in this past week, attempt a prayer of thanks for the stretch of want and need that you also experienced on another occasion. Or try the following prayer: “We pray, O God, that You will provide bread for those who know hunger and injustice, and for those who have bread, we pray that You will provide a hunger for justice.”

Day 6 Consider an aspect of faith, an idea garnered from your Christian journey, a notion from the vastness of Christian tradition which might be “personified” in your life. Pray that such a “personification” might visit and/or accompany the members of the church, the leadership of the denomination, your own family on a daily basis.

Day 7 Pray this prayer of petition for yourself: “I pray that at the end of this day, O God, I shall have sufficient humility, gladness, and joy to offer then a prayer of gratitude to You, for the blessings of people, places, activities, and material things that have come my way.”

BIOGRAPHICAL TIMELINE – April 30, 1928, born in Humboldt, Tennessee, the fourth of five children of Fred B. and Ethel Craddock; April 23, 1941, baptized at Central Ave. Christian Church in Humboldt, Tennessee; while attending Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tennessee, serves Glen Alice Christian Church and Post Oak Christian Church; 1948, ordained a minister of the Christian Church at Central Ave. Christian Church; June 9, 1950, marries Nettie Dungan in Central Ave. Christian Church; 1950, B.A. degree from Johnson Bible College; 1953, B.D. degree from Phillips Graduate Theological Seminary, Enid, Oklahoma; serves pastorates in Custer City, Oklahoma; 1953‑1957, teaches at Johnson Bible College; 1957, begins work on Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University; serves as pastor in Columbia, Tennessee; 1961, joins Department of Religion faculty at Phillips University; 1964, receives Ph.D. in New Testament, Vanderbilt; 1965, moves into seminary faculty position at Phillips, eventually holding the chair of Darbeth Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament; 1968‑1969, post‑doctoral study at Tübingen, Germany; 1976‑77, post‑doctoral study at Yale; 1979, becomes the Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament in the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; suffers from Guillain Barré Syndrome, eventually recovering fully; 1993, retires from Candler; 1997, with 80 other members helps to found and serves as first minister of Cherry Log Christian Church in Cherry Log, Georgia; 2001, Craddock Center is founded in Cherry Log, Georgia, in honor of Fred and Nettie Craddock with the simple mission of “Enriching Lives through Service,” for the people of Southern Appalachia, especially the poor and children; served widely as lecturer, preacher, keynoter throughout the U.S.; delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures (Yale), Scott Lectures (Claremont School of Theology), Adams Lectures (Southeastern Baptist Seminary), Schaff Lectures (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), Cole Lectures (Vanderbilt), Westervelt Lectures (Austin Presbyterian Seminary), Smith Lectures (Lexington Theological Seminary), Mullins Lectures (Southern Seminary), Earl Lectures (Pacific School of Religion), Clayborn Landers Lecture (Central Baptist Theological Seminary, KC, KS); given the titles of Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament, Emeritus, Candler School of Theology, and Minister Emeritus of the Cherry Log Christian Church, in Cherry Log, Georgia; March 6, 2105, dies at home; March 9, 2015, funeral held at Cherry Log Christian Church, Georgia; buried at Cherry Tree Cemetery, Cherry Log, Georgia; April 9, 2015, memorial service held at Cannon Chapel, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; April 13, 2015, memorial service held at Meinders Chapel, Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

NOTES

1 The quotes from Fred Craddock are recollected from over two decades of hearing and learning from one who was a master homiletician and legendary preacher and became to the author an exemplar and friend. Sometimes the occasions of Dr. Craddock’s wisdom were gleaned while he was fulfilling a guest lectureship, speaking engagement, or preaching moment at Community Christian Church, Kansas City, Missouri. On other occasions, Dr. Craddock’s sagacious insights were personally gathered while attending his guest appearances in Disciples venues, at seminary lectures, General Assembly events of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and/or other church services.

2 Ibid.

3 The specific origin of this quote has been lost, but it echoes a similar statement by Craddock at the Pension Fund Breakfast at the time of the World Convention of the Churches of Christ, in Long Beach, California, 1991.

4 See NOTE #1

5 From a phone conversation with Dr. Craddock, August 1999.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION

Fred Craddock, As One Without Authority (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1971, rev.1974 and 1979)

Fred Craddock, The Cherry Log Sermons (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001)

Fred Craddock, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, Craddock Stories (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001)

Fred Craddock, Overhearing the Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978)

Fred Craddock, Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985)

Fred Craddock, Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2009)

© 2020, Robert Lee Hill