Category Archives: This century (1937-2023)

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.

Richard Twiss — February 9

Richard Twiss

Bible connection

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. — John 1:14 (The Message)

All about Richard Twiss (1954-2013)

Richard, Tayoate Ob Najin (He Stands With His People), was born on the Rosebud Reservation (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) in South Dakota in 1954. His father was a member of the Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge Reservation, also in South Dakota. After his parents separated when he was seven years old, Richard moved to Denver, CO with his mother during a period of Indian urbanization (see the Federal Indian Relocation Act). They eventually moved to Oregon where Richard finished high school. They made visits back to the Rez, staying in touch with relatives.

Twiss moved back to Rosebud to attend his first year of college at Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) University where he became involved with the radical politics of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He participated in the famous takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in 1971. He wandered and experimented with many substances. One night in 1974 on the island of Maui, Jesus responded to Richard’s desperate prayer. There began a transformation that was coming into its fullness at the end of his life as a Lakota follower of the Jesus Way.

Two years after meeting Jesus, he married Katherine (Scottish and Norwegian decent) while living in an intentional community in Alaska. Together, they had four sons. Richard served as pastor of a mostly white church (their family being the notable exception) in Washington State for over a decade. While there, Richard felt a nudging of the Holy Spirit. Across the US and Canada and around the world, Indigenous People were sloughing off the colonial residue that lifted up dominant cultural norms above other God-endowed cultures such as their own. This residue is typified by the U.S. policy of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” that resulted in the abuses of the  residential schools.

In 1997, he and Katherine began Wiconi International, a non-profit ministry “to work for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.” Richard taught and spoke in many contexts, local to the Portland area, around the U.S. and the world. Richard not only taught about the wonders of creation but also the negative impact of Christian mission in the U.S. — all with his disarming sense of humor. He received a doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2011 (Intercultural Studies) and authored two books One Church, Many Tribes: following Jesus the Way God Made You and Rescuing Theology from the Cowboys: An Emerging Indigenous Expression of the Jesus Way in North America as well as many articles. His contributions to contextualizing the gospel have been a source of healing and inspiration for Indians and non-natives.

Richard Twiss was one of the founders of the North American Institute for Indigenous Studies, an Indigenous learning community that now includes several seminary programs. He served on the board of directors of the Christian Community Development Association and the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland and others as well as being the U.S. representative for the World Christian Gathering of Indigenous Peoples.

Dr. Twiss did not live without critics of his work from within native communities and from Christians. Toward the end of his life, he often talked about the next generation carrying on the work. He had a knack for expressing love and including people. His capacity to forgive astonished many but did not dissuade him from working for justice or inspiring people to fall deeper in love with Jesus and walk in His Way.

In 2013, while in Washington, DC to participate in the National Prayer Breakfast, Richard suffered a massive heart attack. He died three days later on February 9th, surrounded by his wife and their four sons at 58 years of age.

Richard Twiss often received credit for the work and wisdom of his community because of his notoriety and charisma. He thought that was funny. He did not promote himself nearly as much as he did the movement. His goal was to build the community. He gathered people, encouraged them to love and give of themselves to fulfill a vision of reconciliation, to move toward what his close friend Randy Woodley describes as “the community of creation.” He always tried to speak from a place of community, and did not strive to be a celebrity as much as demonstrate the Lakota value of being Ikce Wicasa, a common human person.

More

A short article for Mission Frontiers “Making Jesus Known in Knowable Ways” [link]

Video of Richard’s keynote speech at CCDA 2011 [link]

Wiconi International’s Youtube page, several short pieces [link]

Red Letter Christians’ tribute page to Richard [link]

What do we do with this?

Richard Twiss did not have an intact family or an easy youth, yet Jesus called him, healed him, and made him an influential proponent of radical Christianity. Consider how Jesus is calling you.

This ancestor in faith may have introduced you to many aspects of American culture that were unfamiliar to you. Spend some time learning and allow your heart to become large enough to include brother and sisters unlike you.

John R. Mott — January 31

Bible connection

But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. — Romans 10:8-17 

All about John R. Mott (1865-1955)

John Mott stood before the fabled 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference and said, “It is a startling and solemnizing fact that even as late as the twentieth century, the Great Command of Jesus Christ to carry the Gospel to all mankind is still so largely unfulfilled. … The church is confronted today, as in no preceding generation, with a literally worldwide opportunity to make Christ known.”

His evangelistic passion made Mott his generation’s most popular evangelist to university students and the promoter of the emerging ecumenical movement.

Mott was born in New York but raised by parents who settled in Iowa. They nurtured his faith and duty. While he was in college at Cornell University, C. T. Studd, the famous cricket-player-turned-evangelist struck him with these words: “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” That same year, at the 1886 Northfield Student Conference led by Dwight L. Moody, Mott stepped up and became one of the 100 men who volunteered for foreign missions.

Mott’s destiny, however, lay not in foreign missions but in evangelizing college students and inspiring others to foreign mission work. He became college secretary of the YMCA in 1888, when the organization was consciously evangelical and aggressively evangelistic. That same year, he helped organize the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM), which he led for thirty years. By the time he spoke at SVM’s 1951 convention, over 20,000 volunteers had gone to mission fields through its efforts.

Mott’s energies could not be bound by one or even two such organizations, no matter their scope. In 1895 he helped found the World Student Christian Association and traveled some 2 million miles to further the federation’s dream: to “unite in spirit as never before the students of the world,” and so hasten the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer, “that all may be one.” On every continent he visited, he established immediate rapport with students and church leaders, who flocked to hear him speak. His reputation for irenic yet impassioned appeal for dedication to the kingdom of God grew; heads of state sympathetic to his mission honored him upon arrival and consulted him in private.

In 1893 he helped found the Foreign Missions Conference of North America, and in 1910, he helped pull together and chair the massive Edinburgh Missionary Conference—its 1,200 delegates represented 160 mission boards or societies.

All these movements, and a few more with which Mott was involved, eventually blossomed at the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948. Mott was not only officially named honorary president at the inaugural session, he has come to be remembered as the “father of the ecumenical movement.”

By the time Mott was 32, he was called “Protestantism’s leading statesman,” at 58, the “father of the young people of the world,” and at age 81, in 1946, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In an era when liberals and fundamentalists debated fiercely, Mott took a middle view: “Evangelism without social work is deficient; social work without evangelism is impotent.” Still, evangelism was his first love. The title of his bestselling 1900 book is The Evangelization of the World in This Generation, and in his last public appearance, he said, “While life lasts, I am an evangelist.”

More

Mott used as an object lesson for the men’s group: you must rest:

A participant’s description of John Mott’s chairmanship at the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference:

When he himself addresses an assembly, [he] knits and kindles the craggy tender face; the voice vibrates with fierce emphases and stresses. … The single words seem literally to fall from his lips (the trite expression is for once justified), finished off with a deliberation that never slurs one final consonant, but on the contrary gives that consonant the duty of driving its word home. And as for the sentences also—the conclusion of each, instead of dropping in tone, increases to a sort of defiant sforzando, which, when his earnestness is at its height, can be terrific.

History from the Nobel Committee:

Friendship among Christians Brings Peace

The Peace Prize for 1946 was awarded to the head of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the American John Raleigh Mott, who according to the Nobel Committee had contributed to the creation of a peace-promoting religious brotherhood across national boundaries.

Mott grew up in a settler family in Iowa, strongly influenced by Puritan ideals, and took a bachelor’s degree in history at Cornell University. As a student Mott received a religious call to spread the Gospel, after which he devoted most of his life to the YMCA, to missionary activities, and ecumenical work.

As general-secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA and president of YMCA’s World Committee, Mott sought to advance understanding and reconciliation. He organized youth exchanges, set up study groups, and arranged international youth camps. Mott was at the same time a leading figure in the field of international Christian student and missionary cooperation, and took part during both World Wars in relief work for prisoners of war. He criticised the oppression of colonial peoples and was a pioneer in the struggle against racial discrimination.

Founding of the YMCA

History of the World Council of Churches from their site.

What do we do with this?

John R. Mott crossed all sort so lines to forge alliances. He carried a gospel of reconciliation all over the world and became famous for his good will and trustworthy character. He is a good example of the best of Evangelicalism and the “muscular” Christianity of the early 20th century. Mott was a tireless proponent of a vision that “all would be one” in Christ. What do you see as a vision worth devoting your future to?

Mahalia Jackson — January 27

Mahalia Jackson

Bible connection

Yes, all who are incensed against you
    shall be ashamed and disgraced;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.
For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear,
    I will help you.’  Isaiah 41:11-13

Mahalia Jackson singing live in Chicago. She was a favorite of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mahalia sang this song at the March on Washinton just before King gave the “I have a dream” speech. (Rod loves her).

All about Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)

Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. She had a powerful contralto voice. Even more, she had a powerful spirit that led people to name her “The Queen of Gospel.” She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was known internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She recorded over 30 albums during her career (mostly for Columbia Records), and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

At the March on Washington in 1963, Jackson sang “How I Got Over” and “I Been ‘Buked and I Been Scorned” in front of 250,000 people. That was the same event in which Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous I Have a Dream speech. She sang to crowds at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and was accompanied by “wonderboy preacher” Al Sharpton. She sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at Dr. King’s funeral after he was assassinated in 1968.

Earlier, in 1956, she met Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the National Baptist Convention. A few months later, both King and Abernathy contacted her about coming to Montgomery, Alabama, to sing at a rally to raise money for the bus boycott. Despite death threats, Jackson agreed to sing in Montgomery. By the time she got there, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Browder v. Gayle that bus segregation was unconstitutional. In Montgomery, the ruling was not yet put into effect, so the bus boycott continued. The concert was a success, but when she returned to the Abernathy’s home, it had been bombed.

Mahalia Jackson once said: “I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free.” Asked about her choice of gospel music, she said, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”

Jackson’s last years were a mix of heartbreak and great success. Through friends, Jackson met Sigmond Galloway, a former musician in the construction business.  To the surprise of her closest friends and associates, she married him in her living room in 1964. A few weeks later, she had had a heart attack. Her recovery took a full year during which she was unable to tour or record, ultimately losing 50 pounds.

Galloway proved to be unreliable, leaving for long periods during Jackson’s convalescence, then upon his return insisting she was imagining her symptoms. He tried taking over managerial duties from agents and promoters despite being inept. They argued over money; Galloway attempted to strike Jackson on two different occasions, the second one was thwarted when Jackson ducked and he broke his hand hitting a piece of furniture behind her. The marriage dissolved and she announced her intention to divorce. He responded by requesting a jury trial, rare for divorces, in an attempt to embarrass her by publicizing the details of their marital problems. When Galloway’s infidelities were proven in testimony, the judge declined to award him any of Jackson’s assets or properties.

Her doctors cleared her to work and Jackson began recording and performing again. When not on tour, she concentrated her efforts on building two philanthropies: the Mahalia Jackson Foundation which eventually paid tuition for 50 college students, and a nondenominational temple for young people in Chicago to learn gospel music. She worked toward the latter for ten years.  As she organized two large benefit concerts for these causes, she was once more heartbroken upon learning of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1968 and 1969 Jackson toured Europe. In the next few years she had successful tours of the Caribbean, Liberia, Japan, and enjoyed a U.S. State Department sponsored a visit to India. While touring Europe months after India, Jackson became ill in Germany and flew home to Chicago where she was hospitalized. In January 1972, she received surgery to remove a bowel obstruction and died in recovery. Her body was returned to New Orleans where she lay in state at Rivergate Auditorium under a military and police guard while over 60,000 people filed through to view her casket.

More

Branching out into business, Jackson partnered with comedian Minnie Pearl in a chain of restaurants called Mahalia Jackson’s Chicken Dinners and lent her name to a line of canned foods.

Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story (2022 film)

“Sweet Little Jesus Boy” on the  Ed Sullivan Show (1960)

 

What do we do with this?

Right now, let yourself be happy. Let the blues be lifted because God is with you.

If you really want to follow Mahalia’s example, sing! Try it right now. If you are in public, or with someone else in your home, do it anyway. That would be even more like her.

Thomas Dorsey — January 23

The Father of Gospel Music Wanted to Be a Secular Star

Bible connection

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

All about Thomas Dorsey (1899-1993)

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

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

Here’s the full story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ebenezer Gospel Chorus

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

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

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

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

More

From The Hisotry of Gospel Music

Dorsey recording

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

Sit back and enjoy inventive, relevant music from Dorsey’s era.

Amy Carmichael — January 18

Amy Carmichael

Bible Connection

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

All about Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) 

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

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

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

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

In India, she saw that the missionary community was very active but there were no changed lives. She detested the meetings with the other missionary ladies—drinking tea and gossiping, showing very little concern for the salvation of those about them. She felt very alone. In reflection, she wrote:

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

One day as she fell to her knees in despair, a verse she had learned long before floated into her memory: “He that trusteth in me shall never be desolate.” From there on she found that to be true throughout her long life of ministry in India.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More

BBC2 video

Fan video bio focusing on prostitution

Hour-long English bio

Goodreads quotes pages

What do we do with this?

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

Clara McBride Hale — December 18

Bible connection

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

All about Clara McBride Hale (1905-1992)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for mother hale house

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

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

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

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

More

The media made her a bit famous. Here is a Mother’s Day report from NBC in 1984:

What do we do with this?

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

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

Systemic issues are just that. If you want to make an individual response to social issues, talk to the powers that be as well as act with compassion in your neighborhood.

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

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

Thomas Merton — December 10

Bible connection

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

All about Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quotes:

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

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

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

More

The Thomas Merton Center [link]

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

The Thomas Merton Society replayed an argument that Merton was murdered, probably by the CIA, instead of killed in an accident. The book The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton, an Investigation by Hugh Turley and David Martin (2018), may be an addition to the era full of conspiracy theories or it may be a window into overlooked or suppressed evidence [link].

What do we do with this?

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

Nelson Mandela — December 5

Mandela in Soweto two days after his release from prison in 1990. He addressed over 100,000 people in a soccer stadium.

Bible connection

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

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

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

Then-President Nelson Mandela revisits his South African prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, in 1994.
Then-President Nelson Mandela revisits his South African prison cell on Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, in 1994.

All about Nelson Mandela  (1918-2013)

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

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

The former president had the last rites administered by a Methodist minister in his Houghton home as he was nearing death. Nearby, in a private room, long-time friend Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said Mandela’s favorite blessing as he died. “I asked not to be in the room when he died,” said Mpumlwana, who had prayed at the family home regularly towards the end of Mandela’s life. He looked at the time midway during what he knew was Mandela’s favorite blessing and saw it was 8:49 p.m. He chanted the words that always made the elderly statesman’s face light up when he heard them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. “May the Lord look upon you with kindness, and give you peace. “I later realized that was when he died,” Mpumlwana said.

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

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

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

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

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

More

More biography.

Mandela and the church

Long Walk to Freedom trailer

What do we do with this?

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

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

Dorothy Day — November 29

Dorothy Day, publisher of “The Catholic Worker,” is shown circa 1960. (AP Photo)

Bible Connection

Read Psalm 42:1-4

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

All about Dorothy Day (1897-1980)

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

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

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

She became famous for saying

“I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.”

By 1941 over 30 independent yet affiliated Catholic Worker communities had formed in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. While the Catholic leaders told her to change the name of the publication because it did not represent the Church, they refused. By the 1960’s, Day became popular with Catholics, organizers, and counterculture leaders. While maintaining radical social ideas and practice, she opposed the sexual revolution of the decade, describing the ill effects she had suffered years before. She continued to be critical of transnational companies like United Fruit and violent governmental policies, and praised aspects of Communist movements in Russia, China, and Cuba.

Dorothy-Day-Lamont-UFW-1973.jpg
Dorothy Day before her last arrest at a farm workers picket line in Lamont, California, in 1973. Credit: http://rosemarieberger.com. All rights reserved.

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

More

The Catholic Worker Movement homepage [link]

The Dorothy Day Collection [link]

Day teaching on TV [link]

Nice, brief biography from Maryland Public TV 

NCEA webinar: Revolution of the Heart.

Lecture on The Long Loneliness and why it matters:

What do we do with this?

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