Posts Tagged Black History

To God Be The Glory: 11th Annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship

Please join us for the 11th annual Black Heritage Celebration at New City Fellowship on Saturday, February 28, at 6:30.

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Our theme for the evening is “To God Be The Glory” based on the Andraé Crouch song, “My Tribute.” Crouch passed away last month and we will be performing a couple of his songs in the concert to celebrate God’s work through him as a composer and worship leader.

In our planning, we the musicians talked about the passage from John 9 about the man born blind who Jesus healed. The question was asked about why he was born that way and Jesus’s response was that this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him. So as we remember the heritage of African Americans, we might ask “why did so much evil and suffering have to happen in our nation?” and we can look to this blind man, his healing and his testimony to see that all people and cultures exist to display the works of God, for his glory alone. We remember the past works of God in Black community and culture because HIS glory is woven into their story for all to see, and we can all praise Him for the things He has done.

Please pray for our choir directors, Michelle Higgins and Noelle Becker who both have stomach flu running through their family this week. (Also, pray for my wife and the other spouses who have to care for the kids during extra rehearsals this week.)

Please pray for the unity and bond of peace from the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of everyone involved.

Please pray for Thurman Williams, one of the pastors at Grace and Peace Fellowship who will be bringing a sermon.

Please pray for the long, slow healing process that our region is going through this year.

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Signifyin’ in “I Hope My Mother Will Be There”

“I hope my mother will be there in that wonderful world on high”

This is the opening line to a spiritual that my friend Hal Bush shared with me. It’s one of the songs we’ll be performing at the Black History Celebration this weekend. Spirituals are a tradition of American music that is both beautiful and tragic. The texts of Spirituals  are often misunderstood by modern listeners, and this is not an accident. American slaves used a kind of code language that was designed to say something without saying anything. They could communicate their true feelings in front of their oppressors while maintaining a kind of plausible deniability. Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls this kind of language “signifyin‘” (thank you, wikipedia!).

The face value meaning of the song is a longing to go to heaven after physical death in order to be reunited with our already deceased relatives. This meaning is pretty clear and it’s a good thing to sing about. Perhaps the “Christian” slave owners would even relate to this sentiment. However, in the life of the slave, there were more immediate causes of family separation than death, causes that related to their oppressed status. Slave families were torn apart through the sale and relocation of mothers, sisters, brothers, children, etc. A slave was likely to have been separated from loved ones and likely to never see them again in this life. There was another meaning to “that wonderful world on high” as well. Going “on high” might have meant escape to the Northern States or to Canada. They were not going to sing about either of these topics explicitly, but under the cover of “signifyin'” they could boast with confidence about escaping their unjust captivity and the hope of reunion with their family in the flesh. Understanding the song this way means that it takes on a deeper cry for justice and freedom for today and not just a hope of an afterlife.

Oh, I will be there, will be there
Oh, I will be there, will be there
With the palms of victory
Crowns of glory you shall wear
In that wonderful world on high

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Shake the Foundation: the 9th Annual Black History Celebration

artwork by Juliette Carvalho

artwork by Juliette Carvalho

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Black History Celebration this weekend

This weekend we have our annual Black History Celebration. Last weekend, I was sick as a dog with a cold that is currently laying waste to the entire population of St Louis. Apparently they had a fun and productive final rehearsal without me. It’s nice to know that the world goes on without me so that I can rest and recoup when necessary.

Here’s the details on the event if you would like to come (graphic design by Carrie Jones):

The event is at our church New City Fellowship – 1483 82nd Blvd St Louis MO 63132

Here’s a stag plot that I’ve created to be ready for the enormous band that we’ll be rocking with. Notice that I’m not playing any guitar this year. If you have a problem with that, then talk to the men in our church about joining the choir so that I can leave the tenor section.

I’ve also created some schedules for the busy day. Somehow, every time I try to communicate information to people, it doesn’t seem to be received. Part of the problem is that people process information in different ways. To compensate for that, I’ve created two versions of the same schedule, one for Left-brained people and one for Right-brained people.

Schedule – Left Brains

Schedule -Right Brains



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What does “Kumbaya” mean and why should we care?

Race, culture, humor, politics, stereotypes, class, language – a few topics that come up around the song “Kumbaya”.

Kumbaya is pigeon English of the phrase “Come By Here”.  I came across an excellent arrangement of “Come By Here” in the GIA African American Church Music Series. It was done by Uzee Brown Jr.  As I meditated on the meaning of the song, I was struck by the cry of the oppressed for the Lord to hear and respond. It’s a lament and a statement of faith in a God who does see and hear and is able to intercede and deliver. However, it’s a song that is plagued by an unfair stereotype as a symbol of irrelevant and meaningless expressions of pseudo-unity.

Wikipedia led me to this excellent 2006 article by Jeffrey Weiss published in the Dallas Morning News. Here’s a few select quotes:

Sometime between 1922 and 1931, members of an organization called the Society for the Preservation of Spirituals collected a song from the South Carolina coast. “Come By Yuh,” as they called it, was sung in Gullah, the Creole dialect spoken by the former slaves living on the Sea Islands. […]

Jump forward to the mid-1950s and the Cooperative Recreation Service, an Ohio-based publisher of songbooks for camps and scouts. Joe Hickerson, a folksinger and former director of acquisitions for the American Folklife Center, credits Lynn Rohrbough, the owner of Cooperative Recreation, with getting “Kumbaya” to the masses. If a camp wanted a music book with, say, 40 songs, Ms. Rohrbough would offer 30 from her stock inventory and add 10 new ones, Mr. Hickerson said. “Kum By Yah” – described only as an “African” song – was part of the Rohrbough inventory by 1956. As a result, it showed up in countless books of camp songs used by the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and others. “The camp counselors who played guitar liked it because it only has three chords,” Mr. Hickerson said. […]

For the next 25 years, it was just one folksong among many. But in the early 1980s, something happened. “Kumbaya” became the English-speaking world’s favorite folksong to ridicule, the musical metaphor for corny camaraderie. How? Someone’s wondering, Lord. An extensive (and we do mean extensive) search of databases of newspapers, magazines and other sources turned up what may be the first ironic reference to “Kumbaya” in print, from Aug. 16, 1985. The line is from a Washington Post review by Rita Kempley of the comedy movie Volunteers: “Tom Hanks and John Candy make war on the Peace Corps inVolunteers, a belated lampoon of ’60s altruism and the idealistic young Kumbayahoos who went off to save the Third World.”

Read the article to get the whole story.

Anyhow, the whole topic seems to be a mixed bag of cultural misappropriation, political rhetoric, Baby-boomer nostalgia, commercialization of racial stereotypes, the American-style cross-pollination of  black and white music, to name a few. I’m not sure what to make of it all except to take the song for what it is, cultural baggage and all. In a lot of ways, this song tells a lot more about Black History than if a hypothetical slave-composed spiritual was unearthed by archaeologists in it’s original 19th century form. It tells a more complicated story that goes deeper than face value. Much of African American cultural has been either repackaged in a derogatory form for mass consumption (as in the Minstrel Shows) or (despite good intentions) has been dissected and sterilized by academic study. Kumbaya is an excellent example of a song that was made internationally available but in the process it was robbed of it’s meaning. What would the song have meant if it was left as the local prayer a few saints on the coast of South Carolina?

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2012 NCMC, Holidays, and more upcoming events

The fall season for many of us becomes more and more like a flume ride. We spend September and October in a slow ascent with a feeling that’s somewhere between excitement and dread as we anticipate the events on the horizon. Soon, we come over the crest and find our lives becoming a crazy blur of screaming joy and nausea. Next thing we know, it’s January and we’re left feeling a little cold and wet with the entire holiday season  nothing more than a SD card full of crowded and poorly lit jpegs. Personally, I’m about the round the crest this weekend, so I’m not having fun yet. However, despite my melancholic remarks, here’s some stuff that I’m genuinely looking forward to:

Thanksgiving in Tennessee

We’re doing “Turkey Day” in the land of the Moonpie this year. I’m looking forward to talking shop with my dad, having a snackdown with my sister and kin, and getting together with old friends in order to have interactions that are more meaningful then liking their status. Maybe I’ll take my kids to the new Muppets flick.

Youth Sunday – November 27

The New City Fellowship youth band is going to take the role of worship music leadership for weekend. I love youth Sunday for the way it brings a sense of worship being the shared experience of an individual expression. In other words, people give the youth a lot of room to express their faith in worship without the usual constraints. It’s an experiment in cross-cultural ministry as we allow the young and powerless to lead those of us who usually hold the reigns in the church. (November 27 is also my wife’s birthday!)

The First Ever NCF Christmas Concert! – December 10

The NCF Choir will get to make a little more joyful noise this Advent with this new Saturday night event. We will share some familiar classics as well as some new classics. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to celebrate together the wonderful expressions of music that have become such a meaningful part of Advent for the church. The NCF Choir continues to come into it’s own as a ministry that both nourishes the participants and the church on an almost weekly basis.

Reconciliation and Justice Conference 2012 – January 24-25

We will be once again hosting this special meeting of pastors and ministry leaders from around the US to have a dialogue about the issues of reconciliation and justice within our denomination. I’m going to be there leading some of the worship. You can register here.

7th annual NCF Black History Celebration – February 25

This had been the highlight of the year for our music ministry for a long time, but now, it’s only been diminished by the abundance of exciting things happening all year long for us. We expect this year’s BHC to continue the tradition of celebrating the gospel of Jesus Christ through the unique expressions of Black Culture.

Food For The Hungry – March 15-18

I’ll be in Phoenix in March 2012 leading worship at a special fundraiser weekend for the ministry Food For The Hungry. This is an exciting opportunity to participate in a ministry that I can <pun> really sink my teeth into</pun>.

New City Music 2012 Conference

I just published this post and then realized that I failed to say anything about the 2012 NCMC! This summer’s music conference will be hosted by my church again. With the search on for a new senior pastor, the folks in Chattanooga decided to take another year off. The dates will be August 1-3. I don’t really have much more to say about it than that. I’m currently looking for ideas for speakers, musicians, and clinics to feature, so give me any you have that come to mind.

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Photos from the Black History Celebration

We had a wonderful time of worship last weekend at the Black History Celebration. Here’s some photos that the ever present camera of Neil Das captured. You can find all the photos that Neil took here.

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Let Everything That Has Breath Praise The Lord

graphics by Carrie JonesPsalm 150

Praise the LORD.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD.

In preparing for this year’s Black History Celebration, our choir director, Odetta Fields and I  were looking at songs and one song in particular stuck out. “Anthem of Praise” by Richard Smallwood. Like most of Smallwood’s music, it has it’s roots firmly planted in the traditions of gospel music, jazz and spirituals; however, it has a level of sophistication in it’s tone and texture.  We decided that this song needed to be the focal point of the celebration and so we took it’s scriptural basis as our text for the evening.

Psalm 150 is divided into 2 halves. The first section calls us to praise by giving us some good reasons to worship. We praise him in his sanctuary. The sanctuary is the place of rest and restoration. The sanctuary for the Psalmist was the Temple in Jerusalem where the presence of the Lord resided. So an invitation to praise him in the sanctuary means that we praise him because he dwells with us and he has provided for us a means of atonement. Next, we are called to praise him in his mighty heavens. Our gaze is taken up from the Temple and into the stars. The mighty heavens are monuments of the strength of his Word to speak the universe into existence. It might also bring to mind the image of Abraham gazing up at the stars as he received the covenant promise that his decedents would be more numerous than the stars in order to be the instruments of blessing to all the nations. The mighty heavens represent the power of God’s Word both to create and to fulfill covenant promises. Next, we praise him for his acts of power. It was ingrained into the worship of the Almighty to recount the powerful ways in which he had delivered his people. The story of the Exodus was remembered and recounted over and over in the psalms, stories and poems of their culture as well as in their religious practices of Passover and other feasts. The acts of power with which YHWH redeemed a people for himself were the basis of their whole religion. Finally, we are charged to praise God for his surpassing greatness. He is the only God. There is no other like him. He is greater than any god fabricated by men. He is the Alpha and Omega. He is more powerful than any kingdom, economy, or ideological system.

The second half of Psalm 150 gives us a list of instruments with which we aught to praise God. Chronicles tells us that King David invented instruments for the Levite musicians to use to worship the Lord at the Temple. The list represents instruments from percussion, wind, strings, and as well as dance.  The style of music that this list would produce would be both complex and raucous. There would be a rich diversity of sound and as well as visceral experience of observing this music being performed. This also represents a large group of people playing, dancing, and singing together. This is not a single priest chanting or even a stoic congregation singing in unaccompanied unison. It’s an orchestra, a carnival, and a ceremony all in one. The diversity of this list brings to mind for me the Apostle Paul’s metaphor for the church as  body with many parts. Like the body metaphor, what we see in Psalm 150 is unity of purpose combined with diversity of expression. One Lord and one faith for all the nations.

I thought this psalm would go well for Black History month because it affirms several key narratives of the African American  experience. It shows that we praise the Lord because of his presence in our daily lives (his sanctuary), the power of his Word (his mighty heavens), his deliverance from injustice (his acts of power) and his rightful Lordship over every power (his surpassing greatness). These themes are powerful parts of many cultures, but they find unique expression for American Blacks. Also the diversity of worship expression in Psalm 150 is paralleled by the diversity of unique music and art created by Blacks.

There was a time (not too long ago) in America when Blacks had very little voice in public affairs. They had very few rights as citizens. They were invisible to the powers that be except as a potential threat to the status quo. However, through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these same people were declared Sons and Daughters of the Most High God. They were given rights to sit at the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb. They were given a divine Intercessor who gave them a voice. They were given the power in the eyes of God to be restored to the glorious image bearing roll of humanity that was stripped from them by evil men. In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the voices that were once silenced by oppression would be allowed to fulfill the mandate of the Psalmist: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

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People Get Ready

graphics by Carrie JonesPulling together the set list for the Black History Celebration, we decided to have the Men’s Ensemble sing a classic tune by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, “People Get Ready.”  The message is clear that we need to be ready to “get on board” when the kingdom of God comes and that it’s all a wonderful gift of grace through faith. You don’t need a ticket; you just get on board. For me personally, the song conjures up memories of the early years of the first New City Fellowship when we met in the YMCA building on Michell Avenue in Chattanooga. I can remember watching the big neon sign for the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and smell of dust and sweat that filled the Y. Faded snapshots of those years show a mix of white, long-haired hippies (like my parents) along side young, inner-city, black folk with Afros and dashikis. In a church committed to reconciliation, your children grow up with a new cultural heritage that is a blend of cultures and which presents reconciliation as value that is fundamental to a healthy community of believers. My parents heard the call to get on board the train to Jordon, and they brought me and my sister along for the ride. I’m so thankful that I now share this heritage.

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Black History is my history, too.

graphics by Carrie JonesThrough the blood of Jesus Christ, there is one body of believers. This is an excellent picture of diversity and unity. Followers of Jesus do not lose their ethnic identity. Instead, there unique qualities become grafted into the church, and the church becomes stronger as a result. Paul’s image in 1 Corinthians 12 of a eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you” is a frightening prospect for the ethnically segregated church in America. There are many churches that are blind for lack of eyes and lame for lack of legs.

For these reasons, my church observes Black History Month in February. It makes sense in a practical sort of way just because we have a number of Black members. However, the deeper reason for me personally to take the time and effort to prioritize the music, history, and culture of Blacks in America during February has more to do with the fact that even though I am White, I have become grafted into the body of Christ along with my Black brothers and sisters. Now their history has become my history. Their struggles and successes have become mine as well. Their songs and cultural expressions have become mine because I need them as an eye needs a hand. As the Apostle Paul put it, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

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