Saint of the Week – Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright EdelmanThis week’s saint in honor of Black History month is Marian Wright Edelman.

Mrs. Edelman is definitely not a saint in the traditional/Catholic sense as she is still alive writing and working. Her work is worth highlighting today the last day of Black History Month.

Mrs. Edelman was born in Bennetsville, South Carolina, on June 6, 1939.  Her father was a Baptist preacher and instilled a deep appreciation for education and community service in his children.  Edelman’s father had founded the Wright Home For the Aged and expected that his children helped out with the chores there.  Marian worked there often and when she was not doing chores she read books since, “The only time my father wouldn’t give me a chore was when I was reading, so I read a lot.”

Growing up with this focus on community service and education would drive much of Mrs. Edelman’s life work.  Spurred by her father’s last words, “Don’t let anything get between you and your education,” she would continue her education at Spelman College in Atlanta and would receive scholarships to study abroad in Paris, Switzerland and Moscow.  When she came back to Atlanta she became involved with the civil rights movement in the 1960s and her participation in sit ins and other protests would lead to her being arrested.  This encounter with the law inspired her to study law at Yale Law School and ultimately become the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar.  Marian said that she decided to study law, “to be able to help black people, and the law seemed like a tool needed.” She began her work as a lawyer for the NAACP in Mississippi where she worked on racial justice issues and represented many of the activists during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.

Mrs. Edelman’s legacy that I would highlight today began during her civil rights work when she became a lawyer for the Child Development Group in Mississippi and helped restore funding for Head Start programs.  She would move to Washington DC shortly thereafter in 1968 where she worked for the Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started.  Mrs. Edelman also founded the Washington Research Project as a public interest law firm and her focus quickly turned to issues surrounding children in poverty, childhood development and children’s education.  This new focus on issues surrounding children would inspire her to found the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973.  The Children’s Defense Fund advocated for poor children, children of color, and children with disabilities.  It would also serve as a research center documenting problems and possible solutions to help children in need. Through her work in the CDF, Mrs. Edelman worked to persuade Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected.  In 1997 she even stood up against welfare legislation under the Clinton administration saying that because she believed it would lead to record numbers of uninsured children, increased child abuse, and rising firearms deaths.  Mrs. Edelman criticized the welfare package by writing,  “if America does not stand up now for its children, it will not stand strong in the new millennium.”

Mrs. Edelman continues to advocate for youth and children programs to this day.  She works for youth pregnancy prevention, child-care funding, prenatal care, greater parental responsibility in teaching values and limiting children’s exposure to violent images in the mass media. Edelman serves on a host of boards and councils in her continuing advocacy for children and youth.  She has written many books and many of her articles are available online.

I pray that Mrs. Edelman’s example inspires us to make service to others a primary element of our life.  I pray that our eyes are open to children in need around us.  I pray that, whether in church, in schools or our neighborhoods, that we would be open to helping children in need.  I pray that our hearts and eyes will be open to the often quiet pain and suffering of a child.

“Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.”
Marian Wright Edelman

More Information:
Wikipedia – Marian Wright Edelman
Children’s Defense Fund – Marian Wright Edelman
Huffington Post – Articles by Marian Wright Edelman
Answers.com – Biography: Marian Wright Edelman

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Nurturing Faith & Art in the Church – Ministry of Artist Care

by Greg Flagg

by Greg Flagg

In last week’s post, Nurturing Faith & Art in the Church – What Are We Afraid Of?, I talked about the importance of churches to not be afraid of encouraging and engaging with art.  I asked the question, “Can the Church nurture good art and be open to art and artists that not only support and reinforce our beliefs but also gives space to challenges, doubts and questions?”  I tried to demonstrate that we need to answer that question in the affirmative if we are honestly going to embrace life and the orientation and disorientation we all go through.  Today’s post want to take the discussion about churches nurturing and encourage art one step further.

If we’re going to nurture good art, then we must nurture good artists.

I had never really thought about this idea much until I went to a local panel discussion organized by my good friend, Jeff Richards and his WordHouse ministry.  This panel was centered around discussing faith and art and there were a few artists in attendance.  When the time for Q&A came along, one of the artists asked a question about artist care and how churches and faith communities might tend to the emotional and spiritual needs of artists.  He talked about how when we ask artists to create art we are also asking them to tap into emotional and spiritual areas of life that can be inspiring yet also dark and depressing.  Is a church willing to embark in artist care to help artists navigate the emotional and spiritual territory we may ask them to travel?

I was floored that I had never even considered this and was challenged by the very idea.  Honestly, whenever I had thought about getting art and artists in the church I had mostly thought of helping meet their financial needs which would then in turn help meet their other needs.  I had never really considered the inner struggles we may ask them to go through to create art.  Creating art is never a straightforward process and an artist can start, stop, restart, create and destroy many pieces and parts of a project before arriving at a final product they are proud of. I know that when I create something, I have a hard time accepting when it is done.  Sometimes a photograph needs a little more editing or a blog post a few more words of clarity.  It can be hard to know when something is done and, when we have shared it openly, we often still wish we had added or subtracted something else. The Bible even tells us that God had some struggles as an artist when his grand creation did not turn out as he expected.

The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and he was heartbroken.
Genesis 6:5-6 (CEB)

Creating art can be a stressful and heartbreaking process.  Even after the art is created, the artist may not be completely happy with his creation.  Also, the art then is often critiqued by others and can regularly be negative in nature.  How hard must it be for an artist who has poured out his heart and creativity in paint on a canvas to hear each negative word or nit-picky statement about their creation?  Or, a sculptor who has seen and created a form where there previously was none hear a remark about how a child could do something similar?

Creating art can be an emotionally draining, depressing and spiritually deflating experience.  If the church is going to nurture good art, we must be willing to support artists not only financially but be willing and able to care for their souls. Artists’ souls that we ask to delve into the depths of emotion, faith, doubt and spirituality to create something where there once was nothing.  Artists’ souls that are exposed on canvas, clay or other mediums are laid bare for people to say and do with as they please.  If we’re going to nurture good art, then we must nurture good artists by caring for their hearts and souls.  In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he writes,

Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ…So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.
Galatians 6:2 & 10 (CEB)

We as a church would do well to help the artists we invite to create art by helping carry their burdens.  A sort of spiritual direction for artists would be a good ministry in any church that looks to nurture faith and art together.  Artist care can (and probably should) be a ministry that is not overlooked.  This could include worship directors, band members, graphic designers, visual and even digital artists should not be overlooked.  Wherever creation is done in your church, there is probably an artist of some kind behind it.

Does your church support artists financially?  Do they also uniquely support them emotionally and spiritually?  How could we meet the emotional and spiritual needs of artists better?  What could your church do?

Please share on your chosen social media platform and keep the discussion going.

Prayer for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saint of the Week – Frederick Douglass

by C.M. Battey (1873-1927). Image from University of Texas

by C.M. Battey (1873-1927). Image from University of Texas

This week’s saint in honor of Black History month and inspired by yesterday’s reading in Common Prayer is Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass is not a saint in the official sense, but the work he did is definitely something we in the church should recognize and strive to emulate.  Frederick Douglass was born in slavery in 1818.  It was rumored that his father was the slave-owner of his mother.  While he was a slave, Frederick secretly taught himself to read and write realizing how essential an education was to freedom. Frederick would try multiple times to escape slavery but was unsuccessful until September 3, 1838. He would dress as a sailor and using identification papers borrowed from a free black seaman made his way to an abolitionist safe house in New York.

Once free, Frederick tried to integrate himself into the community and a local church.  However, he found many of the local churches to still be strongly (sometimes bitterly) segregated.  He would eventually join the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and become a licensed preacher in 1839. Frederick grew as a public speaker and was often asked to share his story of life as a slave in abolitionist meetings.  In 1845, his autobiography was published, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.  While some would question whether a black man could write so eloquently the book went on to be  best seller and was reprinted and translated many times.

Frederick Douglass would spend the rest of his life speaking and working for freedom and equality for African Americans.  He would also be a big proponent for education of African Americans as he realized that this was essential to their freedom and integration into society.  Douglass would not only work for the freedom of African Americans but he also fought for woman’s equality and suffrage.  Douglass realized that equality was something that everyone needed and if he was fighting for African American rights he should also stand up for women as well.  Douglass would famously say, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”  Douglass would die on February 20th, 1895 after giving a speech at a meeting for the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C.

Frederick Douglass has strong words we in the church would do well to heed.  Many church leaders at the time would defend slavery and the segregation of African Americans.  Douglass realized that the message he saw in the Bible was not matching with what these leaders were saying.  In response, Douglass would say,

“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”

I pray that we, like Frederick Douglass, would stand up for the enslaved, oppressed, under-represented and misrepresented.  I pray that we would use our freedom not for our benefit but to show greater love for others.  I pray that we would not be afraid to speak prophetically to hypocrisy, deception  and partiality.

More Information:
Wikipedia – Frederick Douglass
Common Prayer – Reading for February 21st
Huffington Post – What Every American Should Know About Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist Prophet

Nurturing Faith & Art in the Church – What Are We Afraid Of?

Diptic

Should art reinforce and support or challenge and question?

I have read some blog posts recently that brought up thoughts that have been milling around in the back of my mind. Gutting Our Creatives by my friend Carol Howard Merritt and Evangelicals and their (Bad) Movies by Tony Jones address the often missing or shallow nature of art and creativity within churches and Christianity (mostly the American/Evangelical version).  Carol’s post talks about being more strategic with our often dwindling finances and making sure that we do not forget to encourage art creation within our congregations.  Carol asks, “what would a religion infused with great art look like? How could we stage an iconoclast reversal?”  Tony Jones’ post address the idea of art and creativity in the church by comparing a couple movies coming out based on stories from the Bible.  One is the movie adaptation of The Bible miniseries that was recently on the History Channel and created by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.  This movie is called Son of God and spends more time (and screen size) on the Jesus story than was allowed in the miniseries.  The other movie coming out is Noah directed by Darren Aronofsky who also directed Black Swan.  Tony sees a bit of a problem when churches spend money and jump through all sorts of hoops to get people to go to a so-so movie about Jesus but then have issue when a movie about Noah is dark and dreary (which it probably was, see Genesis 6:5-6) and happens to include a scene where he gets drunk (actually happened, see Genesis 9:20-21).  I, like Carol and Tony, think we in the Church can do better.  We have to do better when it comes to creating and promoting art.  But, this ultimately brings up the question that lies behind what art we choose to promote and what we choose to criticize.

Can the Church nurture good art and be open to art and artists that not only support and reinforce our beliefs but also gives space to challenges, doubts and questions?

The photo I have at the top of this post features two productions of the Jesus story. The top images comes from the Jesus of Nazareth miniseries which is fairly iconic and often demonstrates a “standard” portrayal of Jesus as the unblinking, unflinching, hovering just inches above the ground, divine man.  The second image is from the much more controversial The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorcese which was a film adaptation of the book of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis.  This film portrays Jesus in a very “non-traditional” way as sort of stumbling through his ministry, figuring things out as he goes and being tempted, tried and doubting like the rest of us.  This portrayal notably met with much controversy at the idea that Jesus being tempted might lead to him considering avoiding crucifixion and instead marrying Mary Magdalene, raising a family and living the rest of his life in relative obscurity.

So…which portrayal of Jesus should a church or Christians promote?

I would argue both.

Jesus of Nazareth is a good film (definitely white, non-Middle Eastern, blue eyed Jesus aside).  It tells the story of Jesus well and still artistically portrays the story in a way that is engaging and inspiring.  Jesus of Nazareth generally tells the story as we would expect it, supporting and reinforcing what we probably already know.  Or, serving as another vehicle to present the Gospel story to an audience. I’m almost certain there are people out there who would rather watch a film about Jesus than listen to a pastor preach about him for 30+ minutes.

Then, there is The Last Temptation of Christ.  It is also a good film and some might even say a great film.  Granted, it’s not for everyone…but neither is the Jesus of Nazareth film.  The Last Temptation of Christ presents the story in a way that can be unsettling and challenging for some. That is not necessarily a bad thing when the film then gets us to really think about the story in light of the new way it is being presented.  Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus, “was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin” and The Last Temptation of Christ essentially works that passage out to it’s logical conclusion.

I think both movies then are useful for understanding a necessary balance with art and the church.  We need art that both reinforces and leaves space for questions.  To borrow language from Walter Brueggemann in his book, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, we need art that is orienting, disorienting and reorienting.  If you read the Psalms, you’ll quickly realize that they are not all happy praise songs.  The Psalms encompass practically the whole of human emotion.  Psalm 8 (v.1 “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth! You made your glory higher than heaven!”) sounds a lot different than Psalm 136 (v. 14-15 “Give thanks to the one who brought Israel through—God’s faithful love lasts forever. And tossed Pharaoh and his army into the Reed Sea—God’s faithful love lasts forever!”) and Psalm 137 (v. 8-9 “Daughter Babylon, you destroyer, a blessing on the one who pays you back the very deed you did to us! A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock!”).  The Psalms being songs are works of art then that, even through worship, are both orienting and disorienting.  Some proclaim the historical faith, some question and challenge the current situation, and some praise God through the challenges.  The Psalms, being good art, allow for the whole range of human commitment, doubt and re-commitment standard in the life of faith.

Some art serves as a orienting point that reinforces who we are and where we’ve come from.  Others art serves as a disorienting and reorienting space open to challenge, doubt and critique.  Jesus of Nazareth is great because it tells the familiar story well.  The Last Temptation of Christ is great because in it can open the door to ask the questions and express the doubt that we all have during moments of disorientation.  The struggle is to not swing the pendulum too far in either direction.  We do not want to always reinforce what we already know so much that we become nearsighted and blind to other ideas.  However, we also do not want to critique and doubt so much that we become cynical and apathetic about everything.

So, the Church then should nurture good art by being open to art and artists that not only support and reinforce our beliefs but also gives space to our challenges, doubts, questions and disorientation.  We need both the familiar stories told in Jesus of Nazareth and Son of God, but we also need the challenging presentations of The Last Temptation of Christ and Noah.  One to show us what we have already oriented around and another to reveal what we may have missed, never thought about or need to reexamine.

What are some ways you can encourage and nurture art and artists in your Church community?  Does your church already do this?  What kinds of art would you like to see more of in Church?

Prayer for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saint of the Week – Mother Mary Lange (Elizabeth Lange)

mother mary langeThis weeks saint is Mother Mary Lange (Elizabeth Lange).

Elizabeth Lange was possibly born on Haiti around 1784 and would later move with her family to Cuba.  She fled Cuba with her family during a revolution and ended up in Baltimore, Maryland.  Around 1818 while in Baltimore, Elizabeth realized that there were many black children, often fellow French-speaking refugees, in need of education (There would not be a public school available for any children of color in Baltimore until 1868).  Mary decided to start teaching the local black children our of her own home and at her own expense along with another refugee friend.

The local Catholic leaders took note of Elizabeth and her friend’s education service to the poor, black refugee children in Baltimore and took steps to further empower and support her cause.  In 1828 they helped start the first Black Catholic School in America.  A year later, in 1829, Elizabeth and three friends took vows to create the first order of women of African descent, the Oblate Sisters of Providence.  Now as an official order and with the support of the Catholic church Elizabeth along with her friends expanded their service to provide homes for orphans, give shelter to the elderly, provide education to freed slaves and to care for the terminally ill.  Elizabeth (she took Mary’s name when founding the order) would serve in the order and in her service to the “least of these” up to her death on February 3, 1882.  Today the Oblate Sisters of Providence now number 125 sisters, 20 associates, and 16 Guild Members. Their motto: Providence will Provide. For her tireless work and dedication, Elizabeth has been put on the path to official sainthood in the Catholic church.  If canonized, she could become the first African American woman saint.

I pray that Elizabeth’s example reminds us to look out for the “least of these” around us that we may be specially empowered and able to reach.  I pray that our eyes would be opened to the tireless work of our sisters in the Church, especially those of another race and ethnicity.  I pray that when we feel like there is no chance for provision or salvation that we would recall the motto of the Oblate Sisters of Providence: Providence will Provide.

More Information:
Oblate Sisters of Providence – Mother Mary Lange
Wikipedia – Mary Elizabeth Lange
The Baltimore Sun – Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange
Archdiocese of Baltimore – Mother Mary Lange OSP
ABC 2 News – Mother Mary Lange one step closer to becoming a saint