“Random Acts” of Christmas/The Intentional Gift

I’d planned to drop by today with a quick post about goodwill and the holiday season, but then this happened:

How could I resist sharing such a gorgeous Christmas morning sky? It’s a gift–a reward really, for having to wake up so early after being up so late last night (read: early this morning).

I love the Christmas season. I enjoy the lights, the colors, the various interpretations of the Nativity, Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, the movies, cartoons, the glitter, glitz, and traditions of the holiday. I even like the hustle and bustle–to an extent. But what I really love about the season is that it generally brings out the best in us and reveals the goodness in our hearts. We’re kinder and gentler, more giving, and more patient with each other.

A few days ago, our new neighbors did something that we haven’t experienced from neighbors in more than a decade. They dropped by with a Christmas gift–a delicious assortment of cookies and holiday goodies they’d made themselves!

Despite my love for the holiday, my Christmas spirit remained dormant for much of the season, buried beneath exhaustion and a far too long to-do list. This neighborly act began a shift in my state of mind, particularly as I thought about how these same neighbors have performed other random acts of kindness for us over the last several months.

But here’s the thing–I don’t think my neighbors’ acts are so random. I think they’re specifically for us and intentional, with a particular result or reaction in mind.

It is this thought that led me to Christ and “the reason for the season.” The gift of His birth was specific and intentional (John 3:16, 17).

Just before falling asleep [this morning], I read a few devotional thoughts from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young that underscored my thinking. Thus, my Christmas spirit was recharged. Here are the parts that resonated most with me:

As you celebrate the wonder of My birth in Bethlehem, celebrate also your rebirth into eternal life. This everlasting gift was the sole purpose of My entering your sin-stained world. Receive My gift with awe and humility. Take time to explore the vast dimensions of My Love. Allow thankfulness to flow freely from your heart in response to My glorious gift. Let My peace rule in your heart and be thankful.  –December 24.

I set aside My Glory so I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions–a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me, even though angels lit up the sky proclaiming “Glory!” to awestruck shepherds.  When you sit quietly with Me, the process I went through is reversed in your experience. As you identify with Me, heaven’s vistas open up before you–granting you glimpses of My glory.

I am the gift that continuously gives–bounteously with no strings attached. –December 26

May you find the true joy of the season in the Gift of Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Guest Post: “My New Song” by Takiyah Franklin/Takiyah Suhail

Today’s post was written by Takiyah Franklin/Takiyah Suhail, whom I usually refer to as “My Tk.” Takiyah is a former student, mentee, and research assistant with whom I’ve always shared a spiritual kinship.  During her undergraduate years we ministered together–she through song, I through biblical teachings.  Over the 10+ years since she graduated, our relationship has evolved and I consider her a spiritual sister.  In January, I posted about Takiyah’s single, “My New Song,” which was inspired by the words of Howard Thurman, one of my favorite theologians. Today, Takiyah, talks about the song, shares the recently released video, a little about herself, her music, and her faith journey.

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Takiyah Suhail aka Takiyah Franklin

Takiyah Suhail aka Takiyah Franklin.  Photo Credit: Denna Bendall

I am excited to introduce myself and share “My New Song,” my recent single release. I am a singer/songwriter from Oakland, California and I have the pleasure of working with Rev. Andriette Earl, the founding minister of an amazing spiritual community, Heart and Soul Center of Light, a world-class teaching and empowerment ministry located in Oakland, CA.

Theologian Howard Thurman’s essay entitled “I Will Sing a New Song” inspired Rev. Earl and Erika Luckett, a renowned Emmy Award winning singer/songwriter, to write “My New Song.”

Here’s an excerpt from Thurman’s essay:

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit. It is a good song, measured to a rhythm to which I am bound by ties of habit and timidity of mind. The words belong to old experiences which once sprang fresh as water from a mountain crevice fed by melting snows. But my life has passed beyond to other levels where the old songs are meaningless. I demand of the old song that it meet the need of present urgencies. Also, I know that the work of the old song, perfect in its place, is not for the new demand!

I am blessed to have been chosen to deliver such an incredible life-shifting and affirmative song.

You can listen to “My New Song” and/or watch the music video on my website, Takiyah. Feel free to post the YouTube link for the music video everywhere:  (https://youtu.be/m-hK_kvP010).  The song is also available for purchase on all digital distribution music outlets: Search Takiyah “My New Song.”

I am a radical advocate of the transformative power of Love and it is my intention to use my music to encourage the conscious spiritual practice of being a Love Light. When I allowed the healing, transformative power of God’s Love to lead, guide, and direct my life, everything outside of Love steadily faded away. This is not an easy practice: it is radical and requires a lot of internal work.

I invite you to listen to my latest EP, Unfolding I Affirma brief collection of songs born out of breakthroughs of practicing faith through my life’s most difficult times. In my lowest points of being alone and raising three beautiful children, my faith in the Highest Power guided me to perfect Peace.  I’m learning how to live a life filled with joy, love, and peace in the midst of mental and emotional challenges. I want to share my journey with you.

You can find me on Twitter or Instagram @blackstarworld.

Love and Peace…

Divine Rest…

Closed Bridge at Ditto Landing

Closed Bridge at Ditto Landing, Huntsville, Alabama, 2016.

The whole love of the “Law” has been lavished on and has cherished the Sabbath. As the day of rest, it gives life its balance and rhythm; it sustains the week. Rest is something entirely different from a mere recess, from a mere interruption of work, from not working. A recess is something essentially physical, part of the earthly everyday sphere. Rest, on the other hand, is essentially religious, part of the atmosphere of the divine; it leads us to the mystery, to the depth from which all commandments come, too. It is that which re-creates and reconciles, the recreation in which the soul, as it were, creates itself again and catches the breath of life–that in life which is sabbatical.”
― Leo Baeck, Judaism and Christianity

“Firm in the Heavens”

"Dandelion Morning"

“Dandelion Morning”

I received an encouraging card yesterday from Joan, a “Christian Friend” on swap-bot.  She included with her note Psalm 119:89-91 (cited below).  Joan reminded me that though our world is uncertain and out of our control, “God’s promise to keep us” and His power are sure.

I’m still recuperating from a very trying spring semester, so I can’t adequately process the massacre at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, the mere “slap on the wrist” given to a particular rapist, or even the poisonous rhetoric spewing forth almost daily from a certain presidential contender. What I can do is trust the Sovereignty of God who “established the earth” and set forth laws that “endure.”

Despite the maddening, overwhelming realities (in our personal lives and the world around us) that have the potential to cast us into a well of despair, God is “on the throne” and we can celebrate all that is good in life.  There is still much that is good.

Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.

Psalm 119:89-91 NIV

 

 

Love Your Enemies

Martin Luther King, Jr. Artwork (and Essay) by Vaughan, 2015, 3rd Grade

Martin Luther King, Jr. Artwork by VM, 2015, 3rd Grade

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Love Your Enemies,” Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, November 17, 1957

“Peace on Earth! Good Will Toward Men”

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Christmas Bells

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”—(Luke 2:14).

May you and yours experience God’s peace and His good will (towards you) not only for the holiday season but always…

Merry Christmas!

Farewell…For Now

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from family files, pilfered from B. Benn's Facebook page.

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from B. Benn’s (his son’s) Facebook page.

When I was an undergraduate I had the privilege of studying under the tutelage of Dr. Bernard W. Benn, an anointed person who influenced the lives of many, many others in amazing ways. It is through the many classes that I took under his instruction that I learned to love (forever) Shakespeare and the Romantic and Victorian poets.  His faith in me fueled my pursuit of a doctorate in English and many other endeavors. His protégés have gone on to honor his excellence, and through each of us, his work continues.

This wonderful person—my advisor, mentor, and friend of my mind—passed away last week. The news literally knocked the wind out of me because I did not know he was ill and, quite frankly, I expected him to be around much, much longer. I had the bittersweet pleasure of attending his funeral and seeing his family, with whom I’ve been acquainted almost as long as I’ve known him—Mrs. Dr. Benn, his beautiful wife, who took such good care of me when I was a student, and his three children who are themselves doing great things for humanity. Although I entered the funeral weighted with grief, I left much lighter, with hope, and with a drive to ensure that I continue to practice the compassion and wisdom he so ably taught through his example. Something in that funeral reminded me to “lift up my countenance” and celebrate the blessing of living a life touched by Dr. Benn.

Moran Hall on the campus of Oakwood University. The building, constructed by Oakwood students in 1938, was named after the first Black president of the University.

I have a million and one memories of Dr. Benn. In separate conversations this past week, my friend and colleague Cy and I had a few good laughs about our experiences with Dr. Benn. We reminisced about the beautiful spring afternoon he finally and reluctantly gave in to our English Literature class’s pleas to go outside and discuss Chaucer. We convinced him, but he took us not too far from the building. Instead of to the Bell Tower near the building or under one of the stately oaks, he led us out the side door of Moran Hall, which housed the English Department and our classes, into the grassy area between Green and Moran Halls, but closest to Moran, of course. Cy and I talked about his habit of teaching, eyes closed, head leaned back, but alert, intently listening, demanding excellence in writing and in thinking, without making students feel insignificant or small.   We chuckled about his giving her grammar books for her birthdays as a way of chiding her to improve. Ever in his humble and gentle way.

Dr. Benn mentored me pretty much all the way to completion of my doctorate and my early years of teaching, so I have enough to say about him to fill a book or two. But my keenest memories are of the mornings when I’d arrive in the department at 8:00 a.m. sharp and already find him on his knees in prayer.  That is the one image that consistently comes to mind whenever I think of Dr. Benn.  It was for me defining. It spoke of the character of this “giant” of a person–a master teacher, grammarian, and scholar, a department chair, a former university president–who so unapologetically demonstrated his need for the Sovereign God and who made his very life a prayer to God.

I will always remember him fondly. I have drawn from the wisdom he shared with me almost every day since I graduated from college.

He was an amazing teacher who took a motley bunch of us who “liked to read” and transformed us into lovers of great literature.  He took our immature arrogance and finessed us to mature individuals, walking in godly confidence. He called our Christianity to task through every text we studied and by his sincere example. He showed us the way to infusing Christ into our lives—our studies, our interactions with each other, our future students, our professionalism.

"Weeping Willow," iPhone Photo

“Weeping Willow,” iPhone Photo

I took a mental health day earlier this week because I needed to take some time to process yet another loss. In my all-day period of meditation, I read some favored poems, thanks to Dr. Benn.  One such was “Morte d’Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I imagined the last conversation between Sir Bedivere and Arthur as my parting conversation with Dr. Benn (pardon the liberties that I’ve taken in changing some of phrasing of the text):

 

Then loudly cried the bold Lady Chandra:

“Ah! my Lord Dr. Benn, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight.

Such times have been not since the light that led

The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.

But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved

Which was an image of the mighty world;

And I, the last, go forth companionless,

And the days darken round me, and the years,

Among new people, strange faces, other minds.”

 

And slowly answer’d Dr. Benn from the barge:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?

I have lived my life, and that which I have done

May He within Himself make pure! but thou,

Thou shouldst see my face again,

Pray for all souls. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for mankind night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

But for now farewell. I am going to take my rest,

But for a little while.

We shall meet again

At the trumpet call to the great reunion

In the sky…

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From the poem, “The Tide,” iPhone Photo

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Church Bells Ringing…

While clearing and organizing my desk last night, I was pleased to find many things I’d forgotten I’d received.  One was a package of vintage church postcards swap-bot “digitalmaven” sent earlier this year. I’m sure, after thanking her for the wonderful collection, I returned the postcards to the envelope intending to study them later.  Later never came.  Then (after clearing my desk), I began gathering photos to send in a  photo “destash” swap and I ran across one of the photos of a rustic church I shot last year when visiting my in-laws.  I had no choice but share in a blog post the beautiful vintage church postcards.

Here, first, is the photo that’s probably heading out this week:

Chapel of Peace

Chapel of Peace, Ferguson, North Carolina

I posted photos from a trip to the Whippoorwill Academy and Village in a couple of earlier posts here and here.  The quaint “Chapel of Peace” is often used for small wedding ceremonies.  I added the verse from Emily Dickinson’s Poem 236 because it reminds us that while we are strengthened through meeting in fellowship with those who share our spiritual principles, it is also necessary to spend time alone with God, commune with Him in nature, and enjoy our bits of heaven on earth.

Digitalmaven sent seven vintage postcards:

The United Methodist Memorial Home, Chancel of the Applegate Chapel

Chancel of the Applegate Chapel. Le France Color Fotos, Westerville, OH.

The Chancel of the Applegate Chapel is part of the United Methodist Memorial Home in Warren, Indiana. The Chapel offers a place for residents to mediate and worship.

The Wayfarers Chapel

“The Wayfarers Chapel.” Photo by Union Pacific Railroad, Published and Distributed by Columbia.

The Wayfarer’s Chapel, often called “The Glass Church,” is located on the coast of the Palos Verdes Hills near Portuguese Bend, California.

Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Los Angeles, California

“The Bishop’s Throne,” Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Los Angeles, California. Lithochrome Press, Los Angeles.

From this seat, “The Bishop’s Throne,” situated always in the south chancel, the ranking prelate presides over services.  The throne is symbolic of episcopal authority by which the Greek Church is governed.  In the rear panel of the canopy is a representation of Christ the High Priest, and below it the ancient device of the Byzantine Empire, the two-headed eagle, suggestive of watchfulness.  The lions reference Revelation 5:5:

. . . The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.

Naval Air Station Chapel, Alameda, California

Naval Air Station Chapel, Alameda, California. Card by H.S. Crocker Co., Inc., San Francisco.

The Station Chapel, dedicated in 1943, actually consists of three chapels:  the Blessed Sacrament Chapel where daily Mass is celebrated for Roman Catholics; the Shannon Chapel which is used for small groups of non-Catholics; and the Main Chapel, seating approximately 400, which is shared by all faiths in the spirit of “Cooperation Without Compromise.”

C129-Pasadena, California

C129-Pasadena, California.  Kodachrome Reproduction by Mike Roberts Studios, Berkeley, CA.

Part of Southern California’s charm is due to its pleasing architecture. An example of beauty in buildings is the church above in the garden city of Pasadena.

Strawberry Chapel, a Chapel of Ease to Saint John's Biggin Church

Strawberry Chapel.  Photo by Stafford; Published by Berkeley County Bicentennial Commission.

Strawberry Chapel was constructed in 1725 by an Act of Assembly as a Chapel of Ease to Saint John’s Biggin Church.  It is one of the most famous historic sites in Berkeley County.

Sinclair Memorial Chapel on the Campus of Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Sinclair Memorial Chapel on the Campus of Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Es-N-Len Photos, Aurora, IL.

A focal point of activities on the Coe College campus is Sinclair Memorial Chapel, also known as the Coe Auditorium.  Replacing an earlier chapel destroyed by fire, it is named in honor of the T. M. Sinclair meat-pakcing family.  The building also houses Arthur Poe Chapel, a small sanctuary for meditation, and two art galleries.

After visiting these postcards, I’m tempted to go through my postcard collections and pull out other postcards featuring church buildings.  I’ll have to put that on hold, though.  My to-do list is a little too long at the moment.  For now…

Enjoy!

[Note: all descriptions are from the backs of the postcards].

Merry Christmas!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”–Luke 2:13, 14

"Karlette's Angel," 2012--altered in Photoshop

“Karlette’s Angel,” 2012–altered in Photoshop

May your Christmas be filled with joy, peace and love; may it ring with the highest praises for our Saviour and King.

Merry Christmas!

Swapping Faith and Books

I participated in a few postcard swaps last week.   Interestingly, each of the postcard swaps I joined asked that I share a verse, a quote or something about the book I’m reading “now.”  I searched through my stash to find postcards that either complemented the swap theme or coincided with my partners’ interests and favorites.  Here’s what I came up with:

This one was for the “Christian Quote” (on a postcard) swap:

Legend of the Dogwood

The postcard is probably more appropriate for the Easter Season, but I think my swap partner will appreciate it.  I chose a quote by Ben Patterson from the Couples Devotional Bible:  “According to the Bible we have no rights!  Whatever we do we have because God in His grace and generosity has given it to us. When we realize this, there comes into our lives a joyful gratitude for what we have, and we are freed from resentment and anxiety over what we don’t have.”

I had two partners for a swap entitled “There’s a Time For…”  For this swap participants had to share a verse from Ecclesiastes and a prayer for their two partners.   Both of my partners like cats, and I was fortunate enough to find two more cat postcards in my stash.

The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter (1907)

Okay, so this next one is not exactly a “cat” postcard, but it has a cat in it…

“My Father,” 1914, by Marc Chagall (Russian, 1887-1985)

I chose Ecclesiastes 7:8-9 and contextualized and commented on the texts based on what I perceived about each partners’ needs:

The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride.
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Lastly, I sent out two postcards from the Quilts of Gee’s Bend collection for the “Bookworm Postcard Swap.”

Quilts of Gee’s Bend 

Quilts of Gee’s Bend

These brightly colored “textile masterpieces” were created by four generations of African American women in Gee’s Bend, described as a remote “backwater of Alabama.”  The women made the quilts from scraps and worn-out work clothes.  I first heard of the Quilts of Gee’s Bend when I participated in a seminar on the African American Imagination at NYU two summers ago.  The seminar was facilitated by renown art historian Leslie King-Hammond. You can find pics of the quilts here:  Gee’s Bend Catalog.

I was reading Homer’s The Odyssey when it was time to send this swap.  I have read it a zillion times, but I never get bored.  Now, my students might tell another story…