Category Archives: North America

Vernard Eller — June 18

Bible connection

Read John 10:14-18

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

All about Vernard Eller (1927-2007)

Vernard Eller was an Anabaptist scholar, author, and teacher during some of the most trying eras for peacemakers and simplicity practitioners—the latter half of the 20th Century. He was part of the Church of the Brethren (“cousins” to the Brethren in Christ). Most of his work was with the West Coast part of that family.

His most famous works are The Mad Morality and Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy Over the PowersHe was known as an effective and practical interpreter of radicals like Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Jacques Ellul. Eller was an open critic of materialism and nationalism in the Church as well as a vocal advocate for simplicity, reducing possessions, radical sharing of wealth, and nonviolent conflict resolution.

In a 1980 issue of Messenger magazine Eller said:

“The primary thrust of my life has been to try to bring into focus four different elements not often seen as even being compatible: a strong Christian commitment; solid thought and scholarship; clear and powerful communication; and true wit and humor.”

“To put the matter simply the problem with today’s congregations is that they are usually far more concerned to ‘be’ somewhere than to ‘get’ somewhere; to establish and consolidate a secure position, rather than to push on toward a goal. But according to the New Testament, stability and security are precisely ‘not’ what God intended for the church. Instead, Eller believes, the church should be a do-it-yourself, de-institutionalized, de-professionalized people in a caravan – a community of the outward bound”—from The Outward Bound: Caravaning as the Style of the Church

Eller’s book, The Simple Life; the Christian Stance Toward Possessions (1973), was counterpoint and companion of Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1978).

More

The MAD Morality: An Expose [link]

A short article “The Lord’s Supper is Not a Sacrament” [link]

Wikipedia article for Christian Anarchism [link]

What do we do with this?

Much of what Eller was pioneering for our age we have have summed up in the word “alternativity.” We are not only opposed to the misguided attachments of the church’s past, we are resisting the “mad” morality of the new world order. Resistance is not enough, of course, we want restoration.

It takes some thinking to be a Jesus follower! Take one aspect of this post and write a paragraph about it in your journal. Title it: “The gift Vernard Eller gave me.” Make sure to add how you expect to use the gift.

Frances Perkins — May 14

Bible connection

Perkins’ motto: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” — 1 Cor 15:58 (ESV) 

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
    but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. — Proverbs 14:31 (NIV)

All about Frances Perkins (1880-1965)

Frances Perkins was the first woman cabinet member in U. S. history. She was born Fannie Coralie Perkins in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her B.A. at Mount Holyoke College in 1902. While a student there, Perkins heard a speaker vividly describe the nation’s growing urban and industrial problems. She found her calling.

David Brooks writes of former days in the U.S.A. and Frances Perkins :

Much of American moral education drew on an ethos expressed by the headmaster of the Stowe School, in England, who wrote in 1930 that the purpose of his institution was to turn out young men who were “acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck.” America’s National Institute for Moral Instruction was founded in 1911 and published a “Children’s Morality Code,” with 10 rules for right living. At the turn of the 20th century, Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s institution, was an example of an intentionally thick moral community. When a young Frances Perkins was a student there, her Latin teacher detected a certain laziness in her. She forced Perkins to spend hours conjugating Latin verbs, to cultivate self-discipline. Perkins grew to appreciate this: “For the first time I became conscious of character.” The school also called upon women to follow morally ambitious paths. “Do what nobody else wants to do; go where nobody else wants to go,” the school’s founder implored. Holyoke launched women into lives of service in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Perkins, who would become the first woman to serve in a presidential Cabinet (Franklin D. Roosevelt’s), was galvanized there.

When she was living in Lake Forest, Illinois, and working in Chicago, she was attracted to the Episcopal Church. Perkins was confirmed at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, on June 11, 1905. She remained a life-long Episcopalian.

While working at a Chicago settlement house, she determined to “do something about unnecessary hazards to life, unnecessary poverty” because “our Lord has directed all those who thought they were following in His path to visit the widows, the orphans, the fatherless, the prisoners and so forth.”

Perkins earned an M.A. at Columbia University in 1910. In 1911 she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York in which 146 factory workers died. She took up industrial safety work for the City of New York. Perkins continued her work in industrial relations, serving at the state level with Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt during their respective terms as Governor of New York.

In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her Secretary of Labor. Before accepting the job, she consulted with her friend, Suffragan Bishop Charles K. Gilbert of New York. Receiving spiritual direction was one of her disciplines. She was an associate of the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, and she spent one day a month in silent retreat at their Catonsville, Maryland convent throughout her twelve years in the cabinet

Frances Perkins had a clear vision of her priorities—what God wanted came first. As secretary of Labor under Frankin Roosevelt, she developed programs that bettered the lives of the American people. These included Social Security, workplace safety regulations, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, minimum wage laws, and the forty hour work week. Throughout a life spent championing the rights of working people, the poor, children, and the disadvantaged, Perkins used her Christian faith as her guide. When friends asked why it was important for the fortunate to help the poor she told them, “that it was what Jesus would want them to do.”  [See Michelle Kew at the Francis Perkins Center]

As Secretary of Labor, she was instrumental in helping draft and implement Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. Perkins resigned her post shortly after Roosevelt’s death in 1945.

In 1955 she joined the faculty of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She remained active in teaching and lecturing until her death in New York City.

Quotes

  • I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen.
  • The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.
  • The accusation that I am a woman is incontrovertible.
  • It’s only when we’re relaxed that the thing way down deep in all of us – call it the subconscious mind, the spirit, what you will – has a chance to well up and tell us how we shall go.
  • You can always get sympathy by using the word small. With little industries you feel as you do about a little puppy.

What do we do with this?

Frances Perkins was given a unique opportunity because she held on to her unqiue convictions. They were not uunusual to Jesus, but she stood out in comparison to many people. Her faith and courage made her notable.

Capitalism wants to extract the most profit it can from its workforce. There is always a drift toward injustice and even slavery within it. Recently, the demands for a minimum wage and the rights of unions within the new giant corporations like Apple and Amazon have renewed the fight Perkins succeeded in so well. Human rights assumes people must be responsible for one another. The quest for the “freedom” of individualism is always an aggressive counterpoint to that responsibility. Where are your thoughts on that spectrum? Where is Jesus, as far as you can tell?

Cesar Chavez — April 23

Bible connection

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

All about Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

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

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

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

After working as a community and labor organizer in the 1950s, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. This union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California in 1965. A year later, the two unions merged, and the resulting union was renamed the United Farm Workers in 1972.

In early 1968, Chavez called for a national boycott of California table grape growers. Chavez’s battle with the grape growers for improved compensation and labor conditions would last for years. At the end, Chavez and his union won several victories for the workers when many growers signed contracts with the union. He faced more challenges through the years from other growers and the Teamsters Union. All the while, he continued to oversee the union and work to advance his cause. He also brought the national awareness to the dangers of pesticides to workers’ health. His dedication to his work earned him numerous friends and supporters, including Robert Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

In a speech entitled Jesus’s Friendship Chavez asserts that

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

About his fasts Chavez wrote,

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

Chavez encourages us in the work of justice, saying

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

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

More 

United Farm Workers Biography [link]

An article about his spiritual praxis [link]

What do we do with this?

Pray the Cesar Chavez prayer:

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

Howard Thurman — April 10

Bible connection

Read Isaiah 5:1-7

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

All about Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

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

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

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

Listening to Howard Thurman

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

More

The Howard Thurman Digital Archive [Emory University]

Recent books about Howard Thurman [Christian Century]

“Life Goes On” from Meditations of the Heart. 

A sermon (and also a book):

Here is a biography from PBS:

What do we do with this?

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

Martin Luther King Jr. — April 4

On April 3, 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., second from right, stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left: Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King and Ralph Abernathy.

Bible connection

Read Matthew 5:43-48

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

All about Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

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

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

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

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

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

Quotes:

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

More

American Experience videos

Hear him for yourself: Anthology

King Center Books and Bibliography

King on Non-violence

MLK Memorial issues

Nobel Peace Prize speech and video

What do we do with this?

Find out about the ongoing struggle. Start with the ACLU. Read Kimberlee Johnson’s article about the church’s experience after the murder of George Floyd [link].

Read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness or Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

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

Use your vacation for a civil rights pilgrimage. The Legacy Sites in Montgomery, AL are especially notable.

Oscar Romero — March 24

Oscar Romero

Bible connection

Read Isaiah 61

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

All about Oscar Romero (1917-1980)

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

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

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

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

More

Martyr’s Prayer Project video [link]

The movie: Romero. [IMDB link] Free on YouTube. [Trailer]

Oliver Stone’s Salvador [Trailer: link]

Jean Donovan and the murdered nuns [link]

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

Jon Sobrino on Romero [link, in Spanish]

What do we do with this?

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

Gordon Cosby — March 20

Gordon Cosby

Bible connection

May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. — Matthew 6:10 NRSVUE

All about Gordon Cosby (1918-2013)

On this day in 2013 Gordon Cosby died at the age of 95, just a few years after retiring.

In 1944 Cosby helped invade Utah Beach on D-Day, where he witnessed enormous loss and served those injured and dying. From then on he was convinced of the futility of war and convicted to help the church equip people to make the transition into what is after death.

He planted the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. in 1946. By 1953 the group had become more official and had also purchased land in Maryland to build a retreat lodge for silence and rest. Over the years, nine faith communities and several notable non-profits formed with Gordon and his wife Mary serving as catalysts. The idea was to keep the congregation small so people could go deep and be necessary.

As an activist, Cosby participated in numerous non-violent direct actions as well as creating space for people to organize for justice. In 1960, his church began the first Christian coffeehouse as a place to get the church further into needed social spaces in the world rather than being cloistered. Cosby led people to BE the church for over sixty years, beginning successful and lasting ministries for foster kids, the homeless, people with HIV/AIDS, housing creation, and job training, The Church of the Savior has been a pioneer in numerous inward practices and disciplines such as retreating and linking between urban and rural areas, as well as on the forefront of outward practices such as racial reconciliation and local justice work.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners recounts (link below)

Gordon Cosby never needed or wanted to be out front or become a famous public figure. He could have spoken across the country, and was often invited to do so. But he instead decided that his own vocation was to stay with a relatively small group of people trying to “be the church” in Washington, D.C.: the Church of the Saviour, which has produced more missions and ministries, especially with the poor, than any church I know of anywhere in the country — even the huge mega-churches who capture all the fame. He never…went on television, talked to presidents, planted more churches, built national movements, or traveled around the world. He just inspired everybody else to do all those things and much more. And the world came to him.

Cosby has been credited as a mentor or inspiration by countless ministries, leaders, activists, pastors, and churches over the decades, including churches we have served. In a sermon in 1989, Cosby said,

Faith is trusting the flow and reveling in the view and being carried beyond all existing boundaries. Faith is being excited about the final destination, even when the destination is mystery. When Jesus says, ‘Believe in God, believe also in me,’ he is saying, Get into the stream with us. It is a stream of pure grace and mercy. Go into its depths and find us there.

More

Church of the Savior online [link]

Four minute piece on NPR’s All Things Considered [link] WETA [link]

Memorial piece in Washington Post [link]

Articles by Cosby on Sojourners [link]

Jim Wallis on Cosby [link] and his interview with Mary [link]

Frontline article on the Church of the Savior [link]

What do we do with this?

Gordon Cosby wrote several books. His Handbook for Mission Groups was influential in how our former church decided to form our compassion teams. You might want to check it out.

What do you think of Cosby’s conviction to stay local? He poured himself into his territory in Washington D.C. and into the people of his church. He resisted the fame game. How do you see yourself? Do you long to be more honored than you are? Do you respect people who are more honored more for being famous than for what they do?

Harriet Tubman — March 10

Harriet Tubman

Bible connection

Read Exodus 3:11-20

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

All about Harriet Tubman (c.1820-1913)

Harriet Tubman, a.k.a. “Moses,” escaped enslavement in Maryland and went to Philadelphia when she was 29 years old. She is justifiably famous for helping others escape and for undermining slavery.

  • She helped her dear friend, John Brown, plan the infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry.
  • She helped plan the Union’s Combahee River raid in 1863, during which 750 slaves escaped.
  • Her 20+ personal expeditions back down south freed at least 70 people, and she never lost a single “passenger” on what became known as the Underground Railroad.

Harriet remained a devout Christian throughout her life. She accomplished much despite never learning to read or write effectively. (She may have had a learning disability stemming from a serious head injury at the hand of her overseer). Her reputation sparked hope among the enslaved peoples of North America and perhaps equal anger among the slaveowners.

She was as irritating to the slaveowners as Moses was to Pharoah. Harriet used “Go Down, Moses” to let slaves know she was there to pick them up. As is true of many of the Negro Spirituals, “Go Down, Moses” had multiple levels of meaning. It was about the liberation story from Exodus; it was about hope for liberation, but it was also about the possibility of Tubman herself coming to liberate, and depending on which verses one sang, it contained advice for escape tactics.

After the end of the Civil War Tubman settled in Washington, D.C. and participated in the emerging national women’s suffrage movement. In 1911, two years before she died, she attended a meeting of the suffrage club in Geneva, New York, where a white woman asked her: “Do you really believe that women should vote?” Tubman reportedly replied, “I suffered enough to believe it.”

Harriet Tubman quotes:

  • Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
  • I think there’s many a slaveholder’ll get to Heaven. They don’t know better. They acts up to the light they have.
  • As I lay so sick on my bed, from Christmas till March, I was always praying for poor ole master. ‘Pears like I didn’t do nothing but pray for ole master. ‘Oh, Lord, convert ole master;’ ‘Oh, dear Lord, change dat man’s heart, and make him a Christian.’
  • Twasn’t me, ’twas the Lord! I always told Him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,’ an’ He always did.

Did you see the movie that came out in 2019?: Harriet.

A short piece from the Smithsonian Channel:

What do we do with this?

Moses was not sure he had the strength to free the people of Israel who had been enslaved in Egypt. Like him, Harriet Tubman relied on the strength of God to accomplish her daring work. Large or small, what are you moved to do that requires God with you to accomplish?

There is a movement to replace Andrew Jackson (slave owner and Native American relocater) with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Joe Biden spoke in favor of this, but he apparently thinks he would cause an anti-woke firestorm he does not need if he makes it happen. It is likely Tubman might get a kick out of being on a $20 bill; but it is more likely she had deeper resources to draw on for her affirmation. How are you doing with the ongoing issues race causes in the U.S.?

Fred Rogers — February 27

Fred Rogers

Bible connection

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

All about Fred Rogers (1928-2003)

Fred Rogers, television pioneer and gentle subversive for Jesus, was born in 1928 in Latrobe, PA. He went to a local high school and studied piano at Dartmuth and Rollins College (Florida), graduating in 1951. While taking a break from college to visit his parents, he saw their newest favorite gadget: the television. He had mixed feelings about the programming, but he was inspired to use the powerful medium for something wonderful.

Rogers married Sara Byrd in 1952; they had two sons. He got one of his first jobs working at a local Pittsburgh community television station, WQED. He became one of the pioneers in the field as part of a team who improvised the Children’s Corneralso serving as puppeteer. While developing meaningful content for kids, Rogers also finished his Masters of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. After he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1963, the church charged him to create quality children’s programming.

He moved to Toronto in 1963 to play Mister Rogers in a show for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Here he further developed several characters and songs that would become famous. That 15-minute program was called Misterogers. In 1966, he acquired the rights to various elements of the show and moved back to Pittsburgh to work with WQED. He began Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for which he wrote most of the scripts, the music, played several of the characters. In 1968, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) began broadcasting Mister Rogers Neighborhood all across the country. Rogers hosted the program until 2000.

During its run of daily episodes, Rogers hardly embellished his offscreen personality (besides the puppets, of course) because he thought authenticity was a gift to kids. He did not endorse any products and only served as a spokesperson for a few non-profits dealing with education. He visited children in the Pittsburgh hospitals regularly and volunteered inside a state prison. When PBS’ funding was under fire by a Senate Committee in 1969, Rogers gave a key testimony that saved the network.

The show was very simple and did not include fast-paced action or over-stimulating animations, which Rogers called “bombardment.” Wearing the famous zip-up cardigans knitted by his mother, Mister Rogers talked directly to his audience imaginatively and engagingly. He “took them” on field trips to see how crayons were made and explored themes of being afraid, going to school, how good it feels to be able to control your temper, teaching kids that they have worth and to love themselves and others. He brought in various guests including several recurring characters. In each episode a trolley would come into his living room and take the audience to the land of make believe. His opening and closing songs, as well as the changing of jackets to sweaters and shoes to sneakers helped us all feel like he actually was our neighbor.

Rogers won 4 Emmysplus a Daytime Emmy lifetime achievement award. The acceptance speech for the lifetime achievement (given mostly to talkshow hosts & soap opera stars) became famous, as he used 10 seconds of silence for the crowd and the viewers to think about the people who loved them into being who they are [link]. Rogers was given numerous other honors over the years including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (@ 21:22) and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame (great speech).

Rogers was known and admired for his calm and quirky personality and a devoted faith. He was known to swim every day, ate a vegetarian diet, and was red-green colorblind. Shortly after the last shows aired in 2001, Fred Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The operations were not successful, and he died at home surrounded by his wife and family on this day in 2003, just before he turned 75.

More

FredRogers.org [link]

Obituary [link]

Tom Hanks talks about playing the icon Rogers has become [Today Show]

What do we do with this?

Fred Rogers gently infiltrated the most powerful means of communication of his time and used it to relentlessly advance his example of love and his background message: the teachings of Jesus. He even took the thoughts of the Senate and the Emmy Awards presentation “captive.” The scripture for today calls us to be so clever and so bold. How do you see your role in your environment? Chances there are arguments and opinions raised against the revelation of God in Jesus. What is your strategy for getting the love and truth of Jesus into the mix? Pray about that.

Fanny J. Crosby — February 12

Fanny J Crosby

Bible connection

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”

And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”  

Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:46-52

All about Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

Francis Jane Crosby wrote more than 9,000 hymns, some of which are among the most popular in every Christian denomination. She wrote so many that she was forced to use pen names lest the hymnals be filled with her name above all others. And, for most people, the most remarkable thing about her was that she had done so in spite of her blindness. What many don’t consider is that she also did it in spite of her lifelong struggle with depression and isolation.

“I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you,” remarked one well-meaning preacher. Fanny Crosby famously responded, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.” Born in Putnam County, New York, Crosby became ill within two months. Unfortunately, the family doctor was away, and another man—pretending to be a certified doctor—prescribed a treatment that left her blind. A few months later, Crosby’s father died. Her mother was forced to find work as a maid to support the family.

Her love of poetry began early—her first verse, written at age 8, echoed her lifelong refusal to feel sorry for herself:

Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!

She zealously memorized the Bible. Memorizing five chapters a week, even as a child she could recite the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many psalms chapter and verse.

Her mother’s hard work allowed her to attend the recently founded New York Institute for the Blind, which was her home for 23 years — 12 as a student, 11 as a teacher. She gave herself to poetry and was called upon to offer poems for various occasions. One principal considered her art vanity. But the prophecy of a traveling phrenologist, of all people, changed the school’s mind and re-ignited her passion: “Here is a poetess. Give her every possible encouragement. Read the best books to her and teach her the finest that is in poetry. You will hear from this young lady some day.”

That day came sooner than later. By age 23 Crosby was addressing Congress and making friendships with presidents. In fact, she knew all the chief executives of her lifetime, especially Grover Cleveland, who served as secretary for the Institute for the Blind before his election. After graduation from the NYIB in 1843, Crosby joined a group of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. arguing for support of education for the blind. She was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate when she read a poem there. She appeared before the joint houses of Congress and recited these lines:

O ye, who here from every state convene,
Illustrious band! may we not hope the scene
You now behold will prove to every mind
Instruction hath a ray to cheer the blind.

In 1844, when she was 24, she published a collection of poetry titled The Blind Girl and Other Poems (a bestseller which is still in print).  She was inspired to write it when she was speaking about the value of placing blind children in an institution like the one in which she grew up.

The tears, warm gushing on her cheek,
Told what no language e’er could speak;
While their young hearts were light and gay,
Her hours passed heavily away –
A mental night was o’er her thrown;
She sat dejected, and alone….
Alas! How bitter is my lot
Without a friend—without a home—
Alone—unpitied and forgot—
A sightless orphan, now I roam….

But He who marks the sparrow’s fall
Will hear the helpless orphan’s call.
My mother bid me trust his care,
He will not leave me to despair.”…
How changed that sightless orphan now:
No longer clouded is her brow..
If o’er the past her memory stray,
Then music’s sweet and charming lay,
Drives each dark vision from her breast
And lulls each heaving sigh to rest.

In the poem, we can hear the battle she will wage the rest of her life with depression. She seems to be dealing with her automatic thoughts with poetry, music and positivity.

Another member of the institute, former pupil Alexander van Alstine, married Crosby in 1858. Considered one of New York’s best organists, he wrote the music for many of Crosby’s hymns. Crosby herself wrote music for only a few of her poems, though she played harp, piano, guitar, and other instruments. More often, musicians came to her for lyrics. For example, one day musician William Doane dropped by her home for a surprise visit, begging her to put some words to a tune he had recently written and which he was to perform at an upcoming Sunday School convention. The only problem was that his train to the convention was leaving in 35 minutes. He sat at the piano and played the tune. “Your music says, ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus,’” Crosby said, scribbling out the hymn’s words immediately. “Read it on the train and hurry. You don’t want to be late!” The hymn became one of Crosby’s most famous.

Though she was under contract to submit three hymns a week to her publisher and often wrote six or seven a day (for a dollar or two each), many became incredibly popular. Crosby became known as the “Queen of Gospel Song Writers” and as the “Mother of modern congregational singing in America.” Ira Sankey attributed the success of the Moody and Sankey evangelical campaigns largely to Crosby’s hymns. They are still sung by all sorts of Christians all over the world as this sampling demonstrates: Blessed Assurance, All the Way My Savior Leads MeTo God Be the GloryPass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, Rescue the Perishing Praise Him! Praise Him!, Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, He Hideth My Soul.

At the end of her life, Fanny’s concept of her vocation was not that of a celebrated gospel songwriter, but that of a city mission worker. In 1880, aged 60, Crosby made a new commitment to Christ to devote the rest of her life to serve the poor. She lived in a dismal flat near one of the worst slums in Manhattan until about 1884. In an interview published in  1908 Crosby said her chief occupation was working in missions. She was aware of the great needs of immigrants and the urban poor, and was passionate to help those around her through urban rescue missions and other compassionate ministry organizations.  This was a flowering of her conviction, not something new. She said, “From the time I received my first check for my poems, I made up my mind to open my hand wide to those who needed assistance.” Throughout her life, she was described as having “a horror of wealth,” never set prices for her speaking engagements, often refused honoraria, and “what little she did accept she gave away almost as soon as she got it.”

She could write very complex hymns and compose music with a more classical structure (she could even improvise it), but she preferred to write simple, sentimental verses that could be used for evangelism. She continued to write her poetry up to her death, a month shy of her ninety-fifth birthday. “You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye and bye,” was her last stanza.

More

45-minute bio

A three-minute version from the Methodists:

What do we do with this?

Some people today look back on Fanny J. Crosby from a perspective of “psychotherapeutic holiness.” Their questions have merit, since many Christians deal with their depression with can-do religion, through spiritual bypass and by following examples like Fanny J. Crosby. But casting blanket aspersions might not be fair. Fanny had a genius about her, or a revelation that allowed her to pull health-giving decisions out of the air. Maybe, in her case, depression was just what she needed to perfect trust in God. At least that’s what she thought.

Your genius might present some problems for you, too.  What is your best route to giving your gifts without denying the suffering that might diminish them or just might refine them? Maybe you should write a poem about that and find a musician to make it a hymn.