Why the Music Matters – Robert F. Darden – Baylor University

Darden Photos 585 (1)In the course of the research for my two-volume book on the importance of black sacred music on the civil rights movement, I learned a lot. I mean, a lot. I learned how essential the spirituals were to African-American slaves yearning to be free.

I learned how essential the freedom songs – which were, for the most part, based on the spirituals – were to African Americans yearning for their full rights as American citizens during the civil rights movement.

And I learned how essential the spirituals and freedom songs are to not just African Americans but all of the world’s citizens in the 21st century.

Perhaps you knew that songs like “We Shall Overcome” were sung during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the short-lived rebellion that culminated in Tiananmen Square. But did you also know they were sung in the Arab Spring, in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution and in the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, Charleston, Orlando, Dallas and a dozen more beside?

These songs are still being sung.


Certainly my research and interviews showed that a significant reason for their continued use is that the spirituals and freedom songs were based on words of faith. During the darkest days for African Americans in this country, the one place they could find shelter, solace, inspiration and hope was the black church. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the movement relied on African American churches in every movement city and operation. Without the financial support of the black church, without the volunteers, and without the spiritual foundation of faith, the civil rights movement of the 1960s would have struggled mightily.

These songs – “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Freedom,” “Up Above My Head, I Hear Freedom in the Air,” “We Shall Not be Moved” and a thousand more – were bathed in the blood of martyrs, honed through hard experience, and transformed in the faith of every marcher, every protester, every prisoner of conscience.

But I learned something else about my decade’s long immersion in the spirituals and freedom songs – what I call the protest spirituals. The civil rights movement’s moral power was wedded to the principle of non-violence. Perhaps it is best articulated in this quote from one of King’s sermons in 1967: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.” It was a holy principle grounded in Jesus’ abhorrence of violence as detailed throughout the New Testament.

For that belief to work, then the music that provided the fuel that drove the engine of the movement, as one of my interviewees told, had to be equally potent … and non-violent.

And the protest spirituals were just that. None of the roughly six thousand known spirituals espouses revenge, anger, hatred or recrimination, even during the worst days of slavery. Legendary African American composer John Wesley Work worked extensively with the spirituals. This is a quote from his book Folk Song of the American Negro, published in 1915: “Another characteristic of the Negro song is, as has been stated before, that it has no expression of hatred or revenge. If these songs taught no other truths save this, they would be invaluable. That a race which had suffered and toiled as the Negro had, could find no expression for bitterness and hatred, yes, could positively love, is strong evidence that it possesses a clear comprehension of the great force in life, and that it must have had experience in the fundamentals of Christianity.”

Work then concludes his essay with an extraordinary line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s beautiful Sea Dreams: “One shriek of hate would jar all the hymns of heaven.”

The spirituals and freedom songs, at their best, are songs of love, convicting those who hear them. Angry songs calling for vengeance simply have not worked, nor have they endured. That’s why the protest spirituals, particularly “We Shall Overcome,” are still cherished, still sung today not just by African Americans, but all people striving for freedom and justice the world over.

One final thought: “We Shall Overcome” is the lone freedom song that is always sung with the singers joining hands, arms crossed. You can’t cause much damage with your arms crossed and your hands linked. All you can do is sing and, in your singing, testify to the life-changing power and grace of the risen Christ who disavowed violence. And whose only weapon was love.

Robert F. Darden is a Professor of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media at Baylor University. He is the author of more than two dozen books, most recently Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume I: Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement (Penn State University Press, 2014) and Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume II: Black Sacred Music from Sit-Ins to Resurrection City (Penn State University Press, September 2016).

Civility: Os, David and ME! – Doug Hunter* – CSU – Whitfield Center

Doug HunterSeveral years ago, I was part of an international conference of Christian business leaders for which Dr. Os Guinness was a primary speaker.  His first message focused on his book The Call, which, for many in the room, myself included, had been a personal affirmation of their own c all to business as their platform for ministry.  It was one of the first clear articulations of the value of business – as well as other non-church related callings – as ministry, and essential to the building of the Kingdom of God.  The message received a standing ovation and rave reviews.  It affirmed all of us.

His second message also focused on one of his books.  This time it was The Case for Civility, and the response was somewhat different.  If you have read this excellent work, you know that Os has one primary theme:  Unless we learn to listen and converse with those whose opinions and worldviews are different than our own, it won’t matter what “truth” we want to get to the table for consideration.  It won’t be heard because of the noise of our biases and acrimonious ways of communicating.  Os’ call for “a naked public square” where we leave religious, political and other identities at the door, and come only to examine truth claims based on their own merit and the fruit of living them out was challenging to say the least.  To that group of business leaders who were fighting to be able to express their faith through their businesses – and, most of whom are wired to be strong willed (maybe “opinionated”?) – it was hard not to hear a message seeming to say civility calls for “being nice” and letting other have their say – no matter how wrong they might be.  However, Os was reminding us that “To be human is to have deep and abiding differences with other humans over worldviews and values” (The Case for Civility, Page 180), and that civility “is a tough, robust, substantive concept that is a republican virtue, critical to both democracy and civil society” (The Case for Civility, Page 3).

Dr. David Dockery, former President of Union University and now President of Trinity International University, often used a term that is helpful to this consideration when he spoke of “Convictional Civility.”   Generally defined as “a lifestyle of bearing witness for Christ and of contributing to the common good.  From the pulpit to the public square and from the campus to the courtroom, followers of Christ are to demonstrate Christian virtues through winsome civility and Christian values through wholehearted conviction.” (Convictional Civility, Page vii-viii)  Or, as I hear Dockery saying, the robust hard work of engaging in evaluation of truth claims and contending for those I believe to be real truth is best accomplished when it is accompanied by a life or lives that demonstrate the power and actual results of those particular truth claims … living out what you really believe to be true.

Of course, this is nothing new.  Ever see any lack of civility in the pages of the Bible – even from the “good guys”?   And William Wilberforce’s second great purpose after the abolition of slavery was “the reformation of manners”, which had a distinctly civility-related impact on England.  Nevertheless, our need to restore civility to the public square here in the United States is perhaps the most understated, misunderstood and yet essential challenges we face if the truth of the gospel is to get the kind of culture-impacting hearing we all desire.  (Note:  Please don’t assume I am discounting God’s ability to shine the light of truth anywhere or at any time He chooses, e.g. dreams and visions in the Middle East, etc.  I am simply contending for our role in stewarding His truth.)

Let me conclude this post with several things I have been convicted to do as I ask God to work on my own civility.  Perhaps they will be helpful for you as well.

  • Understand that true civility is a spiritual discipline, and requires work and practice.
  • Understand that true civility is not possible for me apart from the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Learn to listen and work on hearing what is being communicated
  • Understand that just because I speak the loudest or hold the floor the longest, that does not mean I have communicated or “won” my point. Civil discourse is never a monologue.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak what you are thinking even if you are not sure how to say it clearly or you are afraid of the response it might receive. Robust conversation includes working through bumps in clarity and in conflicting ideas/worldviews
  • Don’t just read or study an idea or issue – take time to think and to listen to God. It’s amazing what God can say to a mind open to and focused on hearing Him.
  • Balance the comfort and encouragement of being with and hearing from people who are like minded with the need to be challenged by the company and ideas of people who don’t think like or look like me
  • Ask God to give you the wisdom to discern when and the courage to interrupt a conversation when it is clearly not laced with civility or leading to a God-honoring conclusion.
  • Be sure your spouse knows she/he has permission to speak into your life about your own display of convictional civility.

*Doug Hunter – Executive Director, Whitfield Center for Christian Leadership and International Programs 

Charleston Southern University    

Doug Hunter began his business career in the vertical transportation industry in 1971 with Carter Elevator Company, being named its President and Chief Executive Officer in 1987.  As a Christian CEO, Doug became involved with the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International (FCCI), and was invited to join FCCI’s board of directors in 1992.  When he sold Carter Elevator in 1994, Doug moved to Atlanta to work full-time with FCCI.  In the years that followed, God developed his heart for international ministry by allowing him to work, speak and influence business executives in over 30 countries.  He participated in ground-breaking ministry in both Mongolia and Vietnam, became the Founding CEO of Media Asia – a project utilizing sports television in China as a platform for the gospel – and worked with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  In 2002, Doug joined the staff of Perimeter Church in Atlanta to lead Business Partners International (BPI), a strategy to facilitate the global kingdom impact of men and women through the use of their business skills and passion … building on the belief that Business IS Ministry and Business IS Mission … and that the “call” to business is as essential to building the Kingdom of God as any other calling within the Body of Christ.  In 2007 Doug returned to FCCI / Christ@Work as President and CEO, and saw God expand its ministry of equipping and encouraging Christian business leaders both throughout the US and to 30 countries across the globe.  He stepped out of that role in 2011.  Doug currently serves as a consultant and member of the Global Leadership Team for the Global Cities Project of Campus Crusade for Christ International / Cru.  He is also engaged as a member of the Lausanne Workplace Network, the Global Think Tank on Business As Mission and serves on the Leadership Teams of Call2Business and the National Faith & Work Association.  In February 2013, Doug was named Executive Director of the Whitfield Center for Christian Leadership (WCCL) at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina. The WCCL is seeking to be at the leading edge of the movement to provide a steady flow of next generation leaders – whatever their vocational calling might be – who are equipped and committed to learning, leading and serving from a distinctively biblical worldview.  At the same time, Charleston Southern is uniquely positioned to be a resource for marketplace / professional leaders whether they be in Charleston, the Southeast or anywhere in the world.  In September 2015, Doug assumed responsibility for strategic leadership of CSU’s new International Programs. Doug has been married to his college sweetheart, Janet, for 46 years.  They have 4 grown children and 3 grandchildren.


I Can’t Watch – Sarah Pinson*

jAlmost every morning as soon as I wake up, I pick up my phone and check Facebook. For better or worse, it’s become my window into the world in a lot of ways, whether to see news of a friend’s engagement, the political gaffe of the moment, or reports on the crisis in Syria. When I opened it up on Thursday morning to find a video of a small child, his face caked with blood and dust, being pulled out a pile of rubble in Aleppo, I wasn’t surprised, exactly. This kind of coverage has become, if not commonplace, familiar enough to evoke more weariness than shock. I looked at the comments below the post of this video and saw the expected expressions of outrage, grief, heartbreak. Then the last one: “I can’t watch…”

I can’t watch.

At first this made me angry. Well, yeah, I thought, you don’t have to watch. You can just pretend this awful thing isn’t happening and go on with your normal life. This kid doesn’t have that privilege. Neither do his parents, if they’re even still alive. Then I realized I was watching, but I would go on with my day and likely forget about what I had seen. By the end of the week the image would probably disappear from my head for the rest of my life, unless it comes up in the news again or becomes the kind of iconic picture that never really leaves the public imagination. What good does my watching do?

This is the perpetual ethical dilemma of the 21st century: we see so much suffering, hear so many scary stories from so far away, read about every horrible situation the world over…and we tire of it. We even have a term for it, one that has been repeated so much it almost turns in on itself: compassion fatigue. We’re tired of feeling, tired of caring—which really means we’re tired of connecting. Where do we go from here? “I can’t watch,” or perhaps, “I’ll watch, but I can’t care too much for too long if I’m going to continue to function.”

What’s the alternative? Whenever my mind runs over difficult questions like this, it usually lands on, or at least near, some example from Jesus’ life. This is exactly the kind of ethical dilemma I can imagine someone presenting to Jesus: “There are millions of suffering people in the world—right this moment, look at Syria, Louisiana, Venezuela. You even said, ‘The poor will always be with you.’ How much good can I realistically do in the face of all this tragedy and disaster?”

I can’t imagine that Jesus would respond to this question with a definitive answer. Instead, he might tell a story, or simply do something that points to his thoughts on the subject. Jesus wasn’t much of a straight shooter (except when he was, but that’s for another time and really just adds to his complexity).

I don’t know what Jesus would say, but I do know what he did: he saw people. Let me be clear: he didn’t watch people, he saw people. Many if not all of them were suffering, some from physical illness like leprosy, hemorrhaging, or blindness; others from harder to diagnose conditions like demons or greed or hatred. He was almost constantly surrounded by throngs of people in need, people demanding help or healing or at the very least attention from him. And he gave it to them. Not all of them, but as many as he could. Then he left to pray. Then he came back and did it all over again.

This is not an easy life, to be sure. Seeing people as people takes effort, more effort than watching (or not watching) them from afar. It requires a level of care and attention I usually reserve for myself and sometimes for the people closest to me. But as Jesus knew, the only way we can be fully human ourselves is to recognize the humanity in others.

So what about that little boy in Syria? Or the homeless families in Baton Rouge? Or the hungry people in Venezuela? I don’t know if or how each one of us can help each one of them. That’s a hard thing for me to say, but it’s the truth. What I do know is this: every one of those people we see on Facebook and the news and the paper, just like everyone on our block and in our office and at the grocery store, is as much a human as we are. If we stop looking away, stop watching, and start seeing, then we might get one step closer to the kingdom of God.

*Sarah Pinson works in community health and economic development in Charleston, South Carolina. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, where she focused on the intersection of food, faith, and ethics.

Holy Stirrings – Rev. Stephanie McLeskey* – Mars Hill University

“Stop stirring.”

stephanie02 (1)It’s one of those phrases that takes me right back to childhood.  I hear it clearly in my mind, in my mother’s voice.  As a younger sister who was very interested in my older sister’s doings, and who wanted to be sure that my parents were adequately informed, stirring was one of my favorite pastimes.  I had quite the impressive streak of melodrama, and I took great childish pleasure in turning a relatively peaceful household into a bubbling mess.  Sometimes it worked.  More often I just got that look and a quick phrase: “Stop stirring.”  Stop stirring up trouble.  Stop stirring the pot.

Now, it often feels as though the bubbling mess is everywhere, and I so wish that there were some magical wand to wave that would bring about a more peaceful world.  I wish I could un-stir the pot.

The truth of the matter, though, is that sometimes things need to get stirred up so that we don’t forget they are there.  The desire to return to some mythical “good old days” is a desire to return to a time when issues of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality were locked down – when anyone who was different from the perceived and celebrated norm was supposed to settle quietly to the bottom of the pot.  This needed to be stirred.

So then, if the stirring is necessary, what is the responsibility of a Christian who is holding the spoon?  My belief is that our central responsibility here lies in taking our calling to partner with God in bringing about God’s kingdom very, very seriously.  I suggest four ways of checking ourselves in this, before we make a grab for the spoon:

  • When we get a chance with the spoon, do we handle it with integrity? Integrity is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but at its root it is about wholeness and unity: a person with integrity is who they say they are.  Their actions match their words.  Their character matches their claims.  We say we are followers of Christ, and that we want to become more like Christ.  Do our actions demonstrate this?  When we loosen the cords of our own self-righteousness (an affliction that touches most of us to some degree) and stand vulnerably before our God, can we still claim that we are doing our best to live and love like Jesus?  Can we still claim that the first guidance that we seek is that of the Spirit?
  • When the spotlight is on us, do we reflect the light of truth? When we write, when we speak, when we share Facebook posts and forward emails, do we check our words for truth?  Truth can be such a tricky concept in a world where we all see things and understand things differently, and where our own individual experiences shape our understanding of what is true.  However, we can take responsibility to check the facts of what we say and what we pass along, and we can take responsibility not to misrepresent or, worse, demonize those who see a situation or issue differently than we do.  We also, as Christians, can do our best to reflect the truth of God: the truth of God’s love for all the world, and the truth of God’s image stamped on all people.  When we have the opportunity to speak, write, or share, we can honor God by keeping those truths in mind.
  • Do our words demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit? I feel sometimes as though this should go without saying.  Perhaps it should.  But at least in my own life and my own interactions, I find that it is good and necessary to pause and ask myself these questions.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul suggests that if we are working in the Spirit, then the fruit of that labor will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22, NRSV).  Are our words fruitful in that respect?  Do our words increase the good in the world?
  • When we stir, do we stir up grace? It may be that stirring is inevitable.  It may even be that stirring is part of our calling.  But when we stir the pot, are we stirring up trouble for the sake of trouble, or are we stirring up trouble alongside grace?  God is in the business of troubling the waters, and so, therefore, are we – but God’s troubling the waters is about bringing grace, healing, and wholeness.  When we stir it up, are we making the waters safe for people to wade in and find that grace?  Are we creating spaces for healing and reconciling, looking to a time when we will remember that we all are made in the image of God, that we all carry that stamp of sacredness, of holiness?  And when we (inevitably) make mistakes – when we do use hurtful or untruthful words, when we do lash out in quick, angry reactions, are we restoring grace by returning to the situation with humility, and by asking forgiveness from those we have harmed?

We are already blessed.  We are already grace-filled.  We are already beloved.  May we remember that about ourselves and others, and may our holy stirring glorify God.

*Stephanie McLeskey is the University Chaplain at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina, where she has served for five years.  She is currently working on a DMin in Justice and Peacemaking at McAfee School of Theology.

“Holy Books and Limitations” By Rev. George M. Rossi M.A. M.Div. BCC

August 10, 2016

The first phrase, “All Holy Books are Limitations” is a concept that I have contemplated over some through the years and at different times in my life.  It is not a statement that I have ever wholesale adopted or given much credence even if my primary knowledge of holy books is the Holy Bible, the Old and New Testaments. I recently saw that phrase posted on someone’s Face Book page.  It caught my attention and the phrase had a ring of truth to it but not ultimate truth.  I am using this phrase as an opposite reference point to the Hebraic truth recorded in the book of Psalms where the psalmist declares that God’s Word is a light and a path for his journey.  In one phrase one adopts the position that wisdom and holy books provide limitations. Some declare holy books to be grantors of limitations.  They are not lights and words of life for those who live in the darkness or purposeless living.  Instead they are walls, darkness, and hindrances to growth.  Conversely, the psalmist declares that God’s word is a light for his path and it helps him move down the highway of life to find life, liberty, happiness, and occasional unspeakable joy.
Where do you find your divine revelation?  For me it is in the Holy Bible.  It is the place where my soul is fed, where my heart is encouraged, where my sins are declared forgiven by Jesus, and the place where I meet God.  It is far from a place of limitation for me.  Actually, it is a beginning point in many respects.  It is a starting place to find God, to find wisdom, to find encouragement which calls me to become a better person, a better Christian, a better chaplain and a better father to my kids.  It is not a book of limitations but rather a book that shows me that I do have limits.  I am surely not God nor can I become God.
So, are holy books places where one experiences negative limitations?  For some the answer is yes.  Holy books get in the way by creating ethics of care, love, work, marriage, parenting and the list goes on.  Divine revelations and holy words in holy books are just man made and less than helpful at best.  That’s what some would say.  They produce limitations for some and I have to agree that is true for some but not for me.  Instead, reading the words of the Old and New Testament give me life, correction, light, and wisdom to live a productive and fruitful life.  I need something outside of myself and that something is God and God’s word.  It is my light and path finder.  It helps me to live a joyful, productive life for God.  It doesn’t limit me.  It empowers me and infuses me with the living Spirit and words that touch my soul and total being.

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