Faith Responses to Gun Violence and White Nationalism

Rev. Deanna Morgan Hollas

On Friday, August 2, I had lunch with Florence Quillin, my dear friend and New Wineskins Community co-leader. She told me about Deanna Morgan Hollas, who had recently been ordained as the first minister of gun violence prevention by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Rev. Hollas is the first person in the country to hold a national ecclesiastical role of this kind. Like Florence, I was delighted about this much-needed appointment. Later that day Florence sent me this inspiring New York Times story about Rev. Hollas and her new ministry.

The following day, August 3, we heard the news of the horrific mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killing 31 people and injuring 42.

On Wednesday, August 7, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Rev. Hollas at a meeting to discern faith responses to gun violence and white nationalism, held at Central Christian Church. I was impressed by her hopeful, systemic approach to gun violence prevention and by her response to her new national platform. She told me she was just following her clear call and hadn’t thought she was doing anything unusual. She was, in fact, surprised by the national attention she had attracted and didn’t feel prepared for all the interviews. But she said she appreciated the opportunity to help bring attention to the gun violence crisis, and had now added media training to her schedule.

This story about Rev. Hollas on the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship website includes a link to the Fellowship’s Gun Violence Prevention Congregational Toolkit, a helpful free resource for all faith communities and other organizations. This toolkit also inspired the Baptist Peace Fellowship to publish a gun violence prevention toolkit, based on the one published by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. You can download this resource, also free, from the link on this Resources page on the BPFNA website.

Rev. Hollas is following her call as a minister to go beyond thoughts and prayers in response to the epidemic of gun violence in our country. The NYT story includes her statement of a comprehensive approach to her ministry: “And while legislation is an important part of the work, it is not what gets me up in the morning. I am more interested in creating the cultural change that is needed along with legislation.” This hymn, sung at her ordination, reflects this approach:

If We Just Talk of Thoughts and Prayers
–by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

Tune: O WALY WALY 8.8.8.8

If we just talk of thoughts and prayers
And don’t live out a faith that dares,
And don’t take on the ways of death,
Our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.

If we just dream of what could be
And do not build community,
And do not seek to change our ways,
Our dreams of change are false displays.

If we just sing of doing good
And don’t walk through our neighborhood
To learn its hope, to ease its pain,
Our talk of good is simply vain.

God, may our prayers and dreams and songs
Lead to a faith that takes on wrongs —
That works for peace and justice, too.
Then will our prayers bring joy to you.

Text: Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: carolynshymns@gmail.com     New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com/
(Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote this hymn after the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. She generously gives permission for free use of this hymn in local churches.)

Ken Crawford, pastor of Central Christian Church, facilitated the conversation at the meeting I attended to discern faith responses to gun violence and white nationalism. Rev. Crawford listed our ideas on poster paper. In addition to contacting our elected officials to urge them to pass gun violence prevention legislation, voting for people committed to passing this legislation, and registering people to vote, we discussed things we can do to contribute to cultural change. One participant suggested studying the book White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo, to change attitudes that form foundations of racism, white nationalism, and white privilege. We also talked about violence rooted in the intersection of racism, sexism, misogyny, and heterosexism.

Recent reports point to the strong connection between misogyny and violence against women and mass shootings. At the meeting we mentioned ways faith communities can contribute to changing our culture of toxic masculinity.

Later I remembered a presentation, “Men, Masculinity, and the Struggle for Gender Justice in Church and Society,” by Memphis Theological Seminary professor Matt Matthews at an Equity for Women in the Church’s Calling in the Key of She program. Dr. Matthews questioned our culture’s definitions of “masculinity.” His presentation takes on greater urgency in the aftermath of more mass shootings by white men.

Dr. Matthews challenges men to liberate masculinity from patriarchy: “For men to become allies of women in the struggle for gender justice, they must do the hard work of reimagining masculinity and liberating it from the same patriarchy that oppresses women.”

Dr. Matthews shows how socialization of males has created and maintained violence against women. He recommends the documentary series Tough Guise, by Dr. Jackson Katz. This series demonstrates that the ongoing epidemic of men’s violence in America is rooted in our inability as a society to move beyond outmoded ideals of manhood. Tough Guise examines the violent, sexist, and homophobic messages boys and young men routinely receive from every corner of the culture— U.S. political culture, television, movies, video games, advertising, pornography, and the sports culture. Tough Guise seeks to empower young men — and women — to challenge the myth that being a real man means putting up a false front and engaging in violent and self-destructive behavior.

At the Equity for Women in the Church program, Dr. Matthews also gave us a handout titled “10 Things Men Can Do to End Men’s Violence Against Women” (Copyright © 2004, ACT Men Inc.):

  1. Acknowledge and understand how sexism, male dominance and male privilege lay the foundation for all forms of violence against women.
  2. Examine and challenge our individual sexism and the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.
  3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to end violence against women.
  4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against men’s violence, we are supporting it.
  5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young men about our responsibility in ending men’s violence against women.
  6. “Break out of the man box.” Challenge traditional images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand to end violence against women.
  7. Accept and own our responsibility that violence against women will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence against women.
  8. Stop supporting the notion that men’s violence against women is due to mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc. Violence against women is rooted in the historic oppression of women and the outgrowth of the socialization of men.
  9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and effective ways to develop systems to educate and hold men accountable.
  10. Create systems of accountability to women in your community. Violence against women will end only when we take direction from those who understand it most, women.

Like Equity for Women in the Church, The Gathering: A Womanist Church works to dismantle racism, white nationalism, patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny at the foundation of so much violence in our country. Each week through prophetic sermons and liturgies, The Gathering contributes to changing these oppressive systems.

New Wineskins Community also contributes to dismantling patriarchy and creating the cultural change that is needed to stop all this violence. New Wineskins Community offers rituals especially focused on the Divine Feminine, to change culture from devaluation to empowerment of females. The mission of New Wineskins is to expand experience of Divine Mystery and to contribute to healing, peace, and justice in our world.

There are many ways we can contribute to transforming our violent culture. Each one of us can play a part. We cannot let ourselves become so overwhelmed or numb that we do nothing. Our gifts and callings and social locations can guide us to choose those things we can do as individuals and communities to contribute to bringing change. Together we can bring transformation so that children and adults of all races, genders, cultures, and religions can become all we’re created to be in the divine image.

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Power of Music: The Hymn Society Conference

It was a joy to experience the power of music at The Hymn Society Annual Conference in Dallas. Also delightful was connecting with composers, lyricists, music ministers, organists, and choristers from around the world to share our stories and musical gifts.

Here are some highlights from the feast of hymn festivals, workshops, and presentations. (The video recordings I made on my phone could not capture the grandeur of the music, but they will give you a sense of it.)

The opening hymn festival, led by Michael Conrady and Thomas Pavlechko along with choir members and orchestra from Christ the King Catholic Church, took place in the beautiful sanctuary of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church. Conrady is a pastoral musician, composer, and arranger who serves as organist and choirmaster at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Dallas, and Pavlechko is a composer, editor, conductor, and organist who serves as music director for Christ the King Catholic Church in Dallas. It was a moving experience of congregational singing with hundreds of musicians and the superb choir, organ, and orchestra.

Especially serendipitous was the congregation’s singing “With Water Freely Flowing,” by Larry E. Schultz, a composer I’ve collaborated with on hymn collections and children’s music.

The Conference bookstore included hymn collections and a children’s music book that Larry and I collaborated on.

Here is a portion of Larry’s hymn sung at the festival that I recorded on my phone.

One of the workshops I attended brought hymn text writers together to celebrate and critique our work. The facilitator was David Gambrell, Associate for Worship in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Theology and Worship and award-winning published author of hymn texts. Gambrell led us in a conversation about why we write hymn texts. Responses included: hymn texts stay with us because the music embeds the words in our memories; new texts reclaim familiar tunes with peace and justice themes; hymn texts are gifts to our Creator; hymn texts celebrate the wonder and mystery of life; hymn texts are healing. We sang and critiqued the hymns submitted before the conference. I submitted “Ruah Spirit Calls Within,” one of my unpublished hymns in progress. Gambrell and others in the workshop expressed appreciation for the feminine imagery and pronouns in this hymn, commenting on the need for more female divine names and images in hymnody. Also, they talked about the need for more hymns on the Holy Spirit. My hymn, they said, could be used for Pentecost and ordinations as well as for services on themes of calling and justice. They also gave me valuable critique that has helped me revise several lines.

The second hymn festival was led by Ana Hernández in the lovely sanctuary in the round of Prince of Peace Catholic Church. Hernández is a composer/arranger, workshop facilitator, author, and activist who uses music to dismantle racism and to remind people they are beloved of God. I had the joy of experiencing her music several years ago at the opening of The Center for Congregational Song in Dallas. When I visited with her the day before this festival, she was wearing a shirt with the words: “Talk less, sing more.” The festival she led verified the power of “singing more.”

One of the most moving experiences was singing the simple phrase “open my heart,” over and over with hundreds of voices in harmony, gathered in a circle, lifting hands in prayer. I felt that if people all over the world sang together this prayer, “open my heart,” we would all be changed and the world would change.

Here is a video recording of a portion of “Set It Right Again,” one of the songs by Hernández that we sang at this festival. “There’s a great trouble in the land. We’re gonna set it right again.”

Here are some memorable quotes from presentations and workshops.

“The heart of a hymn is the content, the text. Music is a vehicle for the text.” –Tony McNeill, workshop clinician, lecturer, consultant, mentor, guest choral conductor throughout the country, and visiting artist at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City.

“Intercultural work is hard. We have to do the difficult inner work so we can honor people of various cultures. Through our worship leadership we model equity, love, and compassion for congregations.” –Rosa Cándida Ramírez, worship pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California, and blogger for The Center for Congregational Song.

“The purpose of music is to reintroduce something beautiful into the world. The beauty of music conveys truth. Truth is instilled through the beauty of music.” –Ryan Flanigan, songwriter, founder of Liturgical Folk, and music director of All Saints Dallas, an Anglican Church in Oak Lawn.

Tuesday evening the hymn festival was led by Jan Kraybill, Mark Doerries, and the Notre Dame Children’s Choir in the majestic Meyerson Symphony Center. Kraybill is an internationally acclaimed concert organist, musical leader, organ consultant, and enthusiastic cheerleader for the power of music to change lives for the better; she serves as Organist-in-Residence at the international headquarters of Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri. Doerries is an associate professor of sacred music at the University of Notre Dame and artistic director of the Notre Dame Children’s Choir. From Kraybill’s magnificent organ Prelude, “This Day the World Was Called Into Being,” to her rousing Postlude, “Choral Fantasie on Ein feste Burg,” I was transported by the power of music.

Especially moving was singing in a congregation with more than a thousand voices, led by Doerries and the splendid Notre Dame Children’s Choir and Kraybill’s exquisite organ accompaniment.

We sang some classic hymns of faith, including “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Abide with Me,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” It was my mother’s 101st birthday, and I felt I was in heaven with her celebrating and singing “changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,” “heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee,” and “be Thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.”

Wednesday evening’s hymn festival was led by Tony McNeill and Joslyn Henderson in the elegant sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church. McNeill, affectionately known as “Dr. T.,” is a sought-after workshop clinician, lecturer, consultant, mentor, guest choral conductor throughout the country, program director for the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary Certificate in Worship Leadership, and visiting artist at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City. Henderson is a dynamic vocal artist,  graduate of vocal performance at Spelman College, and leader of music at gatherings, conferences, and churches. I’ve had the joy of experiencing her music leadership at Nevertheless, She Preached, The Center for Congregational Song opening, and The Gathering: A Womanist Church.

McNeill began this festival by commenting that there would be no words between songs, that all the songs would be as one continued song or breath of prayer and praise. This was a stirring experience of singing a diversity of songs, from meditative to rousing, with the creative leadership of McNeill and Henderson.

A special treat was singing in the congregation beside Faith Manning, minister of music at The Gathering. Her beautiful, powerful voice added to the joy and inspiration I felt.

Here are video recordings of two songs we sang at this festival: “Breathe on Me” and “God Be with You.”

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Creative & Healing Power of Music

The news these days can be overwhelming. Everywhere we turn we see people suffering from violence, abuse, poverty, exploitation of the earth, racial and gender injustice. We’re all in deep need of healing.

We can contribute to healing our world and to the creation of a better world. We can envision and sing of healing and new creation. Music has power to change the world because it changes us. Our songs empower our actions to make a difference.

Recording artist Shannon Kincaid sings “Welcome Our Sister-Brother Creator,” with pictures from various artists. This song envisions the creation of a world of peace, justice, kindness, freedom, healing, hope, beauty, and celebration of diverse gifts. Let us sing and act this world into reality.

Come, let us join our Sister Creator,
birthing a new world more than we know.
With Her revealing all of our fullness,
we create healing wherever we go.  

Come, let us join our Brother Creator,
bringing forth freedom for every race.
All of earth’s colors dancing together,
celebrate beauty in every face.  

Welcome our Sister-Brother Creator
into our spirits’ life-giving wombs.
Glad expectation grows from our labor
for new creation’s glorious blooms.  

Wisdom, Sophia, joins in our labor;
She with us freely co-creates life;
on this adventure, loving our neighbors,
kindness we nurture, ending the strife.  

Wisdom, Sophia, shares in our sorrows,
joining us freely, feeling our pain,
caring, caressing, now and tomorrow,
giving us blessing, hope to regain.  

Wisdom, Sophia, gives us new power,
helping to free us, bringing us peace;
She with us healing that we may flower,
beauty revealing, talents released.  

She is transforming, Wisdom, Sophia,
daily reforming, giving new birth;
changing and growing, She with us freeing,
touching and flowing, nourishing earth.  

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006), and Inclusive Hymns for Liberation, Peace, and Justice (Eakin Press, 2011).

Vocal Artist: Shannon Kincaid, http://www.shannonkincaid.com/

Visual Artists:

Lucy A. Synk: “Ruach” © Lucy A. Synk. Used with permission. http://lucysynkfantasyart.com/print_gallery

Hartwig Kopp-Delaney: “His Hand”  http://www.koppdelaney.de/koppdelaney.de/Willkommen.html

David Clanton: “Dancing Children,” “Tree of Life,” and “Blaze of Glory” © David M. Clanton. Used with permission.  http://www.davidclanton.com/; http://david-clanton.artistwebsites.com/

Stacy Boorn: “Purple & Orange,” “Blooms,” “Rwandan Woman & Child,” “My Inner Tulip,” “Goddess in Blue,” “In Praise of Balloon,” and “Dancing after Work at ‘Speak I’m Listening’” © Stacy Boorn. Used with permission http://stacy.awegallery.com/; http://www.awegallery.com/index.php?page=artists&aid=1

Mary Plaster: “Sophia, Divine Wisdom” © 2003 Mary Plaster. Used with permission. http://www.maryplaster.com/mary.html

Sister Marie-Celeste Fadden: “God’s Womb Pain” © Carmel of Reno. Drawing (or sketch) by Marie-Celeste Fadden, O.C.D. Used with permission.

Mirta Toledo: “Sophia” © 2003Mirta Toledo, http://www.afrolatinart.com/#/mirta-         toledo/4532396991; http://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/books.php#book3

Instrumentalists:

Keyboard: Ron DiIulio

Percussion: Warren Dewey

Guitar: Danny Hubbard

Bass & Percussion: Jerry Hancock

Music Producer/Arranger: Ron DiIulio: http://www.silverdollarsounds.com/personality-profiles/ron-diiulioSource

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The Power of Music to Change the World

 

Recent news stories have uncovered the awful, inhumane conditions that hundreds of children are living under at border detention centers. These news reports have spread on social media, along with some articles about ways we can help children and families at the border. I can’t read and watch horrible injustices without finding some ways, even if small, to make a difference. Among the ways I’ve found are these:

  1. Contact our elected officials.
  2. Donate to The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Women’s Refugee Commission, and/or other organizations working to protect the children.
  3. Volunteer translation, legal, and other services.
  4. Join a rally.
  5. Vote.
  6. Pray.

Another way we can help that I haven’t read or heard mentioned is:

  1. Sing

As I’ve been reading Courtney Pace’s inspiring book, Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall, I’ve been convinced anew of the power of music to change the world. Pace writes about the prominent place of freedom songs in all the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s mass meetings to organize voter registration and nonviolent direct action for racial justice in the South in the 1960s. Hall joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1962 and quickly became one of the top leaders in Albany, Georgia.

Pace vividly recounts the dangers, discomforts, and challenges that Hall and other SNCC workers experienced, along with those they persuaded to exercise their right to vote. They risked loss of property, loss of job, arrest, and even loss of life. “Many prospective black voters lost their jobs or suffered destruction of their personal property and homes by merely attempting to register to vote, so asking a black person to register to vote was tantamount to asking them to risk everything,” Pace writes. “SNCC workers, too, took their lives in their hands to live interracially and promote civil rights.” Through it all, singing gave them courage and power. Pace quotes Hall on the power of singing freedom songs to fashion “fear into faith, cringing into courage, suffering into survival, despair into defiance, and pain into protest.”

Pace states that “through days of voter registration, canvassing on foot, waiting in line at the county courthouse, being crammed into filthy jail cells without water or food, helping sharecroppers meet daily quotas so they could attend mass meetings, and the ever-present fear that at any moment death could come,” Hall and others at the meetings drew courage from singing freedom songs. Hall explained: “When fear was so real and so powerful we could taste it, we would sing those songs. We were bound together. There was a connection. That was where the community was.” When jailers demanded they stop singing, civil rights workers knew their message was getting across. “We knew we were being heard, and we would just sing louder and longer.”

“Mass meetings began with an hour or more of congregational freedom singing,” Pace writes. She quotes Hall on the reason:

Music was a lifeline, a source, a well from which we could draw, a source of courage and strength in the face of eminent danger. With these forces of death with their guns loaded and sometimes drawn, surrounding you and taking down your name or license plate number, to be able then to sing and the relationship between the songs of the movement and the songs of the church is of one fabric, that’s a continuous thread. . . . What do you do when you are so surrounded by this powerful force of death? You sing life.

Recently I watched a PBS documentary on Robert Shaw (1916-1999), an American conductor best known for his work with his namesake Chorale. I found these comments he made several decades ago still relevant:

“In these days of political, personal and economic disintegration, music is not a luxury, it’s a necessity; not simply because it is therapeutic, nor because it is the universal language, but because it is the persistent focus of our intelligence, aspiration and goodwill. The arts are not simply skills: their concern is the intellectual, ethical, and spiritual maturity of human life. They bind people together at their own eventual best, their own eventual goodness, so they belong on the vastest possible human platform that we can conceive. And in a time when religious and political institutions are so busy engraving images of marketable gods that they lose their vision of human dignity, the arts have become the custodians of those values which most worthily define humanity, which most sensitively define Divinity.”

Here are other great quotes from famous musicians on the power of music:

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” – Ella Fitzgerald

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” – Leonard Bernstein

“Music makes us want to live. You don’t know how many times people have told me that they’d been down and depressed. But then a special song caught their ear and that helped give them renewed strength. That’s the power music has.” – Mary J. Blige

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.” – Jimi Hendrix

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono

Just as in the civil rights movement, music can empower our social justice work today for refugees and immigrants and for all those oppressed. Music empowers action for social change. Music stirs our spirits and embeds words in our memories. Words shape our values that drive our actions. Singing our beliefs in justice, peace, and equality will move us to transform our world. Because of my strong belief in the power of music, I keep writing songs.

Here are lyrics I recently wrote, focused on justice for immigrants and others, to the tune of “Wade in the Water”:

Join with the Spirit

Refrain:

Join with the Spirit, join with the Spirit, rising,
join with the Spirit;
She will empower our rising.

See those women’s rights denied,
She will empower our rising;
by leaders who have often lied;
She will empower our rising.   Refrain

See the immigrants abused,
She will empower our rising;
their basic human rights refused;
She will empower our rising.   Refrain

Work for racial justice now;
She will empower our rising;
all those oppressed will show us how;
She will empower our rising. Refrain

We will hold each other fast;
She will empower our rising;
some day we will be free at last;
She will empower our rising.   Refrain

Words © 2017 Jann Aldredge-Clanton (from Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action)

In this song the reference to the “Spirit” as “She” comes from the biblical female divine name Ruah (Hebrew word for “Spirit”). We find Her in the first chapter of the Bible, giving birth to the universe: “The Spirit (Ruah) of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2) to bring forth light and life. This female Creative Spirit, prominent at the beginning of biblical revelation, has been buried in patriarchal culture and tradition.

Through including female divine names and images in the songs we sing, we can help dismantle patriarchy at the root of gender, racial, and other intersecting injustices. In her advocacy for inclusion of female divine images in the language of liturgy to support justice and healing, Judith Liro, priest of St. Hildegard’s Community in Austin, Texas, uses this powerful metaphor: “I like the useful metaphor of several factories that are built on a river and pollute the water of a village downstream. A hospital is built to treat the illnesses that result, but there is still a need to track down the source of the pollution and to clean up the water itself. Many organizations, including the church, do the important work of the hospital. Yet I have also come to realize that the church is one of the factories that contribute to the problem. Our liturgical language with its current heavily masculine content supports a patriarchal hierarchical ordering. Most are simply unaware of the power of language. The status quo, that includes the exploitation of the earth, poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and militarism, is held in place by a deep symbolic imbalance, and we are unwitting participants in it.”

Here are 2 videos with inclusive songs to empower our actions for justice, liberation, and peace.

“We Sound a Call to Freedom” includes the biblical female divine name Sophia (Greek word for “Wisdom” in the New Testament). Recording artist Shannon Kincaid sings this song to the tune of “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,” with pictures from various artists.

Let Justice Like Waters Roll Down” includes the biblical link between Sophia (“Wisdom”) and Christ. New Testament writers link Christ to Wisdom, a feminine symbol of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. Wisdom (Hokmah in Hebrew) symbolizes creative, redemptive, and healing power. In their efforts to describe this same power in Christ, the apostle Paul and other New Testament writers draw from the picture of Wisdom. The apostle Paul refers to Christ as the “power of God and the Wisdom (Sophia) of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24), and states that Christ “became for us Wisdom (Sophia) from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). The book of Proverbs describes Wisdom as the “way,” the “life,” and the “path” (4:11,22,26). The Gospel of John refers to Christ as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Larry E. Schultz conducts the Chancel Choir and congregation of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina, in singing this song to a familiar hymn tune, with pictures from various artists.

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Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall, by Courtney Pace

This morning I woke up wanting to write for my blog but couldn’t decide on a topic. I prayed for Sophia Wisdom’s guidance.

Not long after my prayer, a package arrived with Courtney Pace’s new book on Prathia Hall. Now I’ve never been one to open the Bible and believe that the first thing I saw was an answer to prayer. But the book fell open to page 172 in Chapter Seven, and these were the first words I saw: “Hall continued: ‘Yes, you heard correctly. I said she in reference to God.’” Now I knew that Sophia had called me to write today about my excitement upon receiving this book and to invite others to read it.

Those first words I read are from Prathia Hall’s 1998 baccalaureate address at Vassar College. Here is a longer quote from the book about this speech:

Hall spoke on Isaiah 44, emphasizing the students’ parallel with Israel, emerging from “a time of trouble” at the same time as feeling “the possibilities for transformation.” Hall introduced the divine feminine: “She does not grow faint or grow weary, God’s understanding is unsearchable.” With a disorienting reassurance, Hall continued: “Yes, you heard correctly. I said she in reference to God. A part of the strength for your journey should be the knowledge that the living God who does all that these verses promise can and must be mournfully and authentically imagined as our divine Mother and our divine Father.” Explaining the Imago Dei meant that male and female were both created in the image of God, she elucidated the significance of the divine feminine: “How we image God determines how we image people.” Seeing our common humanity across social barriers was the first step to eradicating “dominance and hierarchy as if they are sanctioned by God.” She praised the graduates’ accomplishments and challenged them to see themselves in common with all of humanity: “Now it’s your turn to join the struggles for social transformation, armed with your wonderful skills, information, and youthful energy.” She promised their success “because the Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth, She does not grow faint or weary.”

In the preceding paragraph Courtney Pace wrote that Prathia Hall also challenged the church to include divine feminine language:

As part of her womanist hermeneutic, Hall challenged the church to embrace feminine language for God: “If we continue to ignore the maternal and feminine in Scripture then we have a distorted view of humanity. . . . Do you speak of the divine in male terms only because it’s easier—you feel better and besides, it’s risky to do otherwise.” Regardless of emotional preferences for the familiar, Hall insisted that in order to be a liberating community, black churches must imagine God as feminine, and feminine as holy: “I must tell you—that this is not about our comfort level—I am just as uncomfortable as you are right now. But much is at stake. Our humanity and God’s divinity have been misrepresented.” Hall raised these prophetic challenges in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, putting her at the forefront not only of preaching about these issues within black churches but also within U.S. religion broadly. During her preaching ministry, liberation theology was a small subset of intellectual religion, but she brought it to the pulpit across the country, week after week, year after year, spanning races, denominations, and regions.

For many years I have read and written about the importance of including female names and images of the Divine. But I don’t think I’ve read any more persuasive words than Hall’s about what’s at stake.

Also, the chapter titles in Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of  Hall intrigue me:

“I See Africa Rising”

“Living in the Face of Death”

“In Jail for a Just Cause”

“Equality Now”

“Black, Preacher, Baptist, Woman”

“I’m 5’6”, but I Should Have Been Taller”

“The Living God Is Not a Bigot”

“The Baptist Church Is Going to Have to Deal with Me”

“One of the Founding Mothers of the New America”

“Who Had the Dream? Prathia Hall and the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech”

For months I’ve looked forward to the publication of this book. I’m grateful to my friend Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace for drawing my attention to Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall many years ago. Courtney, a church history professor at Memphis Theological Seminary, also serves on the board of Equity for Women in the Church. For a while Courtney has been researching and writing about Prathia. At the 2017 Nevertheless She Preached Conference, Courtney gave a presentation titled “Subversive Sisters: A Herstory of Our Foremothers,” in which she included Prathia. In 2014, in an article in EthicsDaily.com, Courtney wrote: “Little did I know at the beginning of this journey that Prathia would become a spiritual mother to me, continuing to inspire me about the real meaning of life and faith.” Prathia “worked tirelessly for justice” and “transformed her suffering into prophetic proclamation.” She “turned ashes into beautiful breaths of life.” Prathia “empowered people to realize their giftedness and calling in spite of obstacles; her faith inspired others to find their own.” Courtney inspired me to write a hymn and a blog article about Prathia Hall.

Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall was just released on June 15. Courtney states that the book “explains how racism is perpetuated through unrepresentative government, white-owned capitalism, and heteronormative patriarchal structures.”

Freedom Faith is the first full-length critical study of Rev. Dr. Prathia Laura Ann Hall, a courageous civil rights movement leader and womanist theologian. “Freedom faith” was the central concept of her theology: the belief that God created all people to be free and assists and equips those who work for freedom. Courtney focuses on Prathia’s pioneer work as an activist and minister, examining her intellectual and theological development as well as her influence on Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Wright Edelman, and the early generations of womanist scholars. Rev. Dr. Hall was one of the first women ordained in the American Baptist Churches, USA, was the pastor of Mt. Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia, and later joined the faculty at the Boston University School of Theology as the Martin Luther King Chair in Social Ethics.

I invite you to join my excitement and read Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall.

 

 

Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace

Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace is Associate Professor of Church History and Director of Admissions at Memphis Theological Seminary. Her research interests include race and gender, Baptist history, the Civil Rights Movement, and social justice in American religion. Her book Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall was published by University of Georgia Press. She has authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, encyclopedia articles, and blog articles. She also regularly presents her research at academic conferences. She is ordained through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and also works closely with the Alliance of Baptists and Baptist Women in Ministry. She is a board member of Equity for Women in the Church, a non-profit organization that promotes the acceptance and placement of women in ministry as well as interracial and ecumenical cooperation, and she is the founder and chair of the Clergy Advocacy Board for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. She is frequently invited as guest preacher to churches across the country. She created popular podcast “Stole Sisters,” which features women preachers representing multiple denominations, races, and regions. Before joining the faculty of Memphis Theological Seminary, she taught Religion at Baylor University, where she also served as Assistant Director of Student Success, co-managing the Paul L. Foster Success Center and overseeing New Student Experience, Academic Excellence Opportunities, and First Generation College Student Support. At Baylor, she earned the nickname “Dr. Success.”

 

 

 

 

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