Category: Religion

Author Q & A with Carter Dalton Lyon (Sanctuaries of Segregation)

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (November 26)

A strategic program that was begun to awaken Jackson’s segregated white churches to the idea of opening their doors to their African-American Christian counterparts in the 1960s will be commemorated with several public events next weekend that will honor that struggle.

More than 50 years later, that effort has been documented in Carter Dalton Lyon’s Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign, published by University Press of Mississippi.

sanctuaries of segregationWhat began for Lyon as a doctoral dissertation while he was a history student at Ole Miss more than a decade ago eventually resulted in his debut book, which unfolds in meticulous detail why activists and students at Tougaloo College acted on what they believed was a necessary element in advancing their goal of racial integration in the capital city.

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Lyon now teaches and chairs the History Department at St. Mary’s Epsicopal School in Memphis. He and wife Sally Cassaday are the parents of two daughters.

Your new book, Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign closely examines a 10-month effort by Tougaloo College students and activists who set out to integrate what you called “the last sanctuaries for segregationists” in the city–white churches. Why was this an important goal of the civil rights movement in Jackson in the early 60s?

One thing that I found early in my research was that segregationists throughout the South had been worrying about the potential desegregation of their churches for many years and that organized groups of students had been testing the attendance policies of white churches as they were challenging other segregated spaces. They would, in effect, conduct a sit-in at lunch counters on Saturday and try to attend white churches on Sunday. This had been done in other cities in 1960, but not in Jackson until 1963.

The idea for these “kneel-ins” was to tug at the conscience of white Christians, especially those moderates who favored a more voluntary approach to desegregation or who didn’t really appreciate the immorality of segregation. Being barred from church would make visible the reality of racial discrimination in the house of God. Activists in Jackson in 1963 had a more specific reason as well: they had tried mass marches and sit-ins, but the local movement had fractured a bit, and there were those, like Rev. Ed King, who wanted to give the Jackson community another chance to shift course–and appealing to white Christians seemed like a logical approach.

Although the participants in this movement faced a great deal of resistance from congregants and church leaders, the effort slowly began to gain some ground with white ministers and members. What was the trigger that finally broke through the resistance?

For the churches that were “open” to black visitors during the campaign, it took a combination of ministerial and lay leadership to sustain that. Even if the minister had ordered the doors to be open or favored open doors, the extent to which they would in fact be open really had to do with logistics–who was at the door and who was organizing them. The minister really needed the backing of a majority of lay leaders to make this work.

For those who began to change or who opened the doors in the years after the campaign ended, it would be nice if I could say that i was because of a change of heart, but there’s really little evidence to that effect. The Jackson church visit campaign forced their regional or national denominational bodies to clarify the open-door policies of the denomination, and so these churches needed to consent to this, especially if they wanted to call a new pastor. Some church members didn’t and formed break-away churches and, in the case of the Methodists, formed a new denomination.

Ultimately, what did this movement accomplish?

The Jackson church visit campaign made the reality of racial discrimination visible in these sacred spaces and forced white church people to confront the essential question of these activists: was racial exclusion following the will of God? These visits sparked internal debates within congregations throughout the city and certainly led to turmoil and division in many churches. But I see the church visitors as exposing a fatal flaw in these churches. They had retreated into these sanctuaries of segregation, but their practices contradicted their faith and were in defiance of the stated beliefs and policies of their own denominations. As a result of this campaign, you see denominations moving to clarify their attendance policies and become more deliberate in examining segregation within their bodies.

You write that many ministers secretly agreed with the students and activists who attempted to join in worship services in their churches, but believed they could not share their feelings with their congregations for fear of losing their jobs and/or causing a split in the church. From your research, how did these ministers ultimately deal with their mixed feelings?

Each minister dealt with it differently and there really isn’t a general way of answering this, but I can say that all of the ministers who fit this description certainly battled with the feeling that they had been called by God to this particular church and they were determined to remain. Some had been at their churches for at least a decade and even when their lay boards voted to bar African-Americans, the real moment of truth came when black visitors were in fact blocked at the church doors. For those who held onto their positions as activists were being rejected outside, I see a real sense of exasperation on the part of these ministers, that their message, and the Gospel’s message of inclusion and brotherhood over the years, had not gotten through to their congregations.

As a Kentucky native, why did you decide to bring this topic to light about Jackson’s past now, and how is it relevant in today’s social, spiritual, and/or political climate?

Carter Dalton Lyon

Carter Dalton Lyon

This book has been germinating for a while, but when I began researching this, I frankly noticed a dearth of analysis on the white church response to the civil rights movement on a local level. In the last decade and a half, historians and theologians have been doing great work filling in that gap, and I hope my book adds to that body of scholarship. The great Mississippian Ida B. Wells once wrote that “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them,” and my hope is that this book helps in some of the truth-telling that is happening in Jackson.

Your research for this book is extensive–with 65 pages of notes and bibliography. How did you go about your research, and how long did it take to put this book together?

This book grew out of my thesis and dissertation work in graduate school at the University of Mississippi, so the bulk of the research was conducted during those six years, and I’ve spent the last six years of so refining and getting it into book form. I should say that it was very important to me to try to capture all sides of this struggle and to track down as many people who were a part of this effort as I could. I realized early on that there were folks who wanted to sweep this story under the rug or deny it outright, so I aimed to be as careful and extensive as I could in documenting this and getting the story right.

Although you mention several Catholic and Protestant houses of worship, much of the book is devoted to how the “closed door” policy was carried out by Methodists. Why was that?

In the early months of the campaign, the visitors cast a pretty wide net and attempted to attend churches from a variety of denominations: Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Unitarian, Church of Christ, and Catholic. For those that routinely barred their entry, such as First Presbyterian and the Baptist churches, they reasoned that they would have little hope of cracking open those doors, so they began to focus more on the churches with regional or denominational bodies that they could use as a potential wedge against these churches.

Then about midway through the campaign, the police arrested three students outside the Capitol Street Methodist Church, and made a total of 40 arrests on subsequent Sundays, and that suddenly brought national attention on the problem of segregation within the Methodist Church ahead of the 1964 General Conference. Methodist ministers and, later, two bishops from across the country began joining students on their weekly visits for their own reasons, but certainly to expose a problem that they hoped (the conference) would solve.

Carter Dalton Lyon will appear at Lemuria to sign and read from Sanctuaries of Segregation on Thursday, November 30, at 5:00 p.m.

Be More Present with ‘Present Over Perfect’ by Shauna Niequist

Are you constantly on the move? Do you wish you could feel more connected to the people around you? Do you feel like you have settled for “busy”?

present-over-perfectWell, Shauna Niequist knows how you feel. Her new Christian non-fiction book, Present Over Perfect, dives right into the idea that a busy life doesn’t necessarily mean a full life.

After decades of hustling to keep her life together, Shauna realized she was falling apart. What she thought was giving her meaning was actually robbing her of experiencing contentment and love. So, Shauna began to rebuild her life on the idea that purpose doesn’t necessarily come from busyness. Instead, she set out to reclaim a more still and present way of being.

The tagline, “leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living,” accurately sums up this book. Shauna tells her story in a natural, honest way that I couldn’t help but identify with. From the moment that I saw the opening Mary Oliver poem, I knew I was going to like this book, and it definitely has been what I needed to read during this season of my life.

Through beautiful anecdotes and water analogies, Shauna explains the mess and the beauty of this “sea-change”—the transformation from a person of productivity into a person of moments. She explains how she had to relearn what it meant to live a meaningful life and where we find our identity and worth.

She discusses the idea that business and work are usually our way of outrunning pain and heartache in our lives. We don’t want to stop, because we are afraid of what we will see and hear and feel if we do. “I learned a long time ago that if I hustle fast enough, the emptiness will never catch up with me,” Shauna says. “Hustle is the opposite of heart.”

Shauna says she was “trusting [her] ability to hustle more than God’s ability to heal.” She identifies how Christians so often get burnt out and justify their busyness in the church, and admits that she is guilty of “fake resting.” She stresses the importance of self-care and how productivity can become an idol that keeps us from loving ourselves—and the ones around us—well.

Shauna realized that her relationships were suffering because she wasn’t fully present. By breaking down her life to what is most important to her, she found some life-changing truth: “Now I know that the best thing I can offer to this world is not my force or energy, but a well-tended spirit, a wise and brave soul.”

Staying still in a world that praises busyness and mindless work is a courageous act, according to Shauna. “Sometimes being brave is being quiet. Being brave is getting off the drug of performance,” she says. I love that she talked about how hard it is to say “no,” yet how essential it is. She challenges the reader to go against what we’ve come to accept as the correct way to live and get to the heart of what’s important.

Shauna paints a beautiful picture of her life after this change. Shooting hoops with her two boys, family time out on the lake, lazy Saturday mornings with her husband. She is able to capture and experience more. What seem like insignificant moments are what she now holds most dear. But Shauna explains that this journey is a process: “What I’m learning, essentially, is to stand where I am, plain and sometimes tired. Unflashy, profoundly unspectacular. But present and connected and grounded deeply in the love of God, which is changing everything.”

While this book centers around Shauna’s faith and is written for a Christian audience, I think even those who are not religious would enjoy it because it is about simplifying and finding joy in the small scenes of life—something I think we are all in need of. Fans of Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert will eat up Shauna’s words and soon be highlighting paragraphs like I did.

If you enjoy Present Over Perfect, be sure to check out Shauna Niequist’s other books: Cold TangerinesBittersweetBread & Wine, and her Savor devotional.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Today is the sixth day in the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. To celebrate, we’re running Clara’s Clarion-Ledger article about the ever-popular children’s book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. Enjoy!

JacketThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is not a new Christmas story, but it is one that I would like to revisit as it has been recently published in a new 20th anniversary edition.

Illustrations by P.J. Lynch have made this book the miraculous wonder that it is, and Lynch says the challenge of painting this story was “not to do with costumes or tools; it was to try to match, in my pictures, the deep emotional core of Susan’s story, to try to somehow show that might be going on inside a character’s head, or inside his heart.”

In what looks like Appalachia, Jonathan Toomey is the best wood carver in the valley. However, he doesn’t speak to anyone, and the village children call him “Mr. Gloomy.” He spends his days bent over his work, carving “beautiful shapes from blocks of pine and hickory and chestnut wood.” The reason for his gloom, the narrator tells us, is that some years ago, he lost his wife and child to sickness.

“So Jonathan Toomey had packed his belongings into a wagon and traveled till his tears stopped. He settled into a tiny house at the edge of a village to do his woodcarving.”

When the widow McDowell and her son Thomas knock on his door, asking Jonathan Toomey to carve them a nativity scene, he shuts the door, grumbling, “Christmas is pish­posh.”

After a week, the widow McDowell and Thomas return to see what progress has been made on their manger scene, and Thomas sits at Mr. Toomey’s side, since he, too, wishes to be a woodcarver some day. However, he interrupts Mr. Toomey to tell him that he is carving the sheep wrong, that his sheep are happy sheep. “’That’s pish­posh,’” said Mr. Toomey. ‘Sheep are sheep. They cannot look happy.’” To which Thomas replies, “Mine did…they knew they were with the Baby Jesus, so they were happy.”

With each visit to Mr. Toomey’s, and with each subsequent character being carved to fill the manger scene, Thomas continues to tell Mr. Toomey the right way to carve his figures: the cow is proud that the baby Jesus chose to be born in its barn, the angel looks like one of God’s most important angels because it was sent down to baby Jesus, the wise men are wearing their most wonderful robes, and Joseph leans over the baby Jesus protectively.

When Mr. Toomey asks Thomas how Mary and the baby Jesus should be carved, he says, “They were the most special of all…Jesus was smiling and reaching up to his mother, and Mary looked like she loved him very much.”

Jonathan Toomey completes his carvings on Christmas Day, and it is indeed a Christmas miracle. The widow McDowell and Thomas gave him a miracle by asking him to carve the nativity scene. Twenty years later, the deep human experience and the power of the Christmas story lives on in this book.

“And that day in the churchyard the village children saw Jonathan throw back his head, showing his eyes as clear blue as an August sky, and laugh. No one ever called him Mr. Gloomy again.”

Merry Christmas, everyone.

‘The Witches: Salem, 1692’ by Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is one author I didn’t think I had to worry about. Many people remember her for her famous book on Cleopatra, but she’s also written about Vera Nabokov, Benjamin Franklin, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. She seems to sort of sift around vast time periods and pluck whatever she finds interesting, and that’s why I like her. If you read Schiff, you know she found something. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s noticed, this woman has more awards and Pulitzer nods than I have time to list here.

WFES316353700-2So I thought I was guaranteed a perfectly thought provoking book in her new work The Witches: Salem, 1692, and I was right on that front. There are a couple of points I want to make on this one, because this book was really eye-opening at times and at times it had me rolling my eyes.

My first pause came with the writing style. I’ve been reading reviews and a lot of people didn’t take to it. It is a very stylishly written book and uses some flowery language that history buffs who are used to a dryer tone might not be used to. Like here:

“The sky over New England was crow black, pitch-black, Bible black, so black it could be difficult at night to keep to the path, so black that a line of trees might freely migrate to another location or that you might find yourself pursued after nightfall by a rabid black hog, leaving you to crawl home, bloody and disoriented, on all fours.”

The whole book is like that. It paints a good picture, but sometimes it made learning harder because I had to see the facts through all the details. It didn’t bother me too badly, and it was a nice change from how purely analytical military history books are.

Next, there was the feminist angle; Schiff has this point that the Salem witch trials were a time when women were finally in the spotlight as a legitimate threat and they didn’t emerge back into the country’s voice until the essay era of Suffrage and the Prohibition. Nah, I don’t buy it. I don’t really see how hanging women really counts as giving them a “voice”. Plus, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, and a bunch of other American ladies were making history between the 1600 and 1900’s.

Despite all of this, I still learned a lot from this book. Most of what I know about the Puritans/ Quakers/ Reformed Christian settlers came from Hawthorne, and he wrote about how corrupt the Puritans were. Schiff reminded me that their corruption wasn’t just bad, it was insane. These people lived alone in the woods on the other side of the world from people they knew. Salem only had just over 500 people. Just over 500 people who would shackle you in the town square for simply lying. Dogs were killed for participating in witchcraft.

trials

That was the really chilling part. I remembered all those novels warning about what happens when people are too isolated, and they begin to lose their humanity. (Lord of the Flies, Frankenstein, Blindness). But this isn’t fiction. It really happened. That’s why I think Schiff chose to write Witches like a novel, because it scared me more to realize that something that felt like reading a horror story was a real part of American history.

So I feel like this book could have been better in some parts, but all in all, I’m glad I had this creepy read right at the end of fall.

‘The Christmas Mystery’ By Jostein Gaarder, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan, and illustrated by Rosemary Wells

 

Jacket (1)There are officially 24 days left until Christmas. In the Christian tradition, Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the period of anticipation and preparation before the birth of Christ on December 25th. This book is the perfect addition to any home, and will help your family on the journey towards Christmas, much in the same way Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem. The Christmas Mystery is a Norwegian tale about a young boy named Joachim who goes with his father to buy an advent calendar on November 30th. They find a very old one that looks home-made. The book-seller gives it to them for free, saying, “I think you should have it for nothing. You’ll see, old John had you in mind.”

When Joachim opens up the door to December 1st, a piece of paper falls out. On the back of the paper is a story of a little girl named Elisabet who follows a lamb out of the department store, and each day continues her journey following the lamb. The book is divided into 24 chapters, each representing a day of Advent, and would be perfect to read aloud for each day leading up to Christmas. Every chapter is preceded by a jewel-like illustration by Rosemary Wells, and flipping the pages feels like opening up the flap on an Advent calendar.

Discover the story within a story; as Joachim unfolds each day on the Advent calendar, he also reads about Elisabet’s journey through time to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ. Joachim and his parents also become involved in a journey to discover the identity of John, the man who made the Advent calendar, and the mystery of the real-life Elisabet, who disappeared 40 years ago on Christmas Eve. This Advent season, pick up the The Christmas Mystery for the whole family to enjoy the wonder and mystery of Christmas.

Divorced Community

Whew folks, the struggle has been real in writing this blog. I recently finished reading both Kent Haruf’s national bestseller from 1999, Plainsong, as well as C.S. Lewis’ highly acclaimed The Great Divorce. The source of my struggle most likely stemmed from the diverse nature of these two works. Yet, I felt a connection that I was loathe to discard, even as I stared at my computer screen in frustration.

Jacket (5)I began with Plainsong, which had been on my reading list for quite a while. It was one of the first recommendations I was given by a co-worker upon beginning this grand adventure in the world of Lemuria. It took me a bit to get pulled in, about 100 pages, which surprised me a bit; but it was worth it. The prose is leisurely and unassuming, particularly at first, while sneaking in gut-punch worthy content. Haruf unfolds the interconnected lives of a pregnant high school girl cast out by her mother, a teacher shut out by his depressed wife and their two sons, and two irresistibly lovable old crusty bachelor farmers. Each chapter follows a different character, eventually interconnecting their lives.

Once I became invested in the characters lives, I didn’t want to put it down. I wanted, needed, to know what decisions they would make; would they each decide to embrace the loving, yet imperfect relationships in their community (granted some of the relationship decisions made are questionable in their moral health)?

Haruf displays the inherent need and beauty found in community. It is in community that needs can be known and met, and love can be extended to the lonely. While demonstrating the importance of community, Haruf also vividly displays the often excruciatingly painful nature of solitude. Plainsong can be a rough read in its vivid detailing of what the morally unchecked individual is capable of.

I enjoyed the read, but I struggled throughout with an overarching feeling of emptiness. The various troubles of the characters are mostly concluded by the end of the novel, or with as much resolution as can be found in this life. Resolution is arrived at through relationships in community, which resonates as a true thing, but there was an emptiness in the conclusion that left me feeling, well, empty.

Jacket (4)As soon as I closed Plainsong, I began to delve into C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Great Divorce. The novel follows a writer as he travels between heaven and hell, all while in a dream. Upon reaching heaven, the narrator witnesses several interactions between the visiting ghosts [of which he is one], with the glowing spirits who dwell there. Each interaction consists of a spirit imploring a ghost to repent and release the things and ideas that they so desperately cling to, in order to remain in heaven. Almost unanimously, each ghost clings to their unique struggle with sin as well as their justifications in doing so, and returns to hell.

As a reader, it was frustrating to watch each ‘ghost’ hold onto their emptiness, anger, and justification and flee back to hell. It was frustrating, yet also convicting as I know I do the same on a daily basis. It was here that the emptiness of Plainsong resonated with meaning. Community on this earth is not the end. It falls far short of what community will be like in heaven. We are currently divorced from what community and this life were created to be by sin. We are only experiencing a shadow of what is to come. What comfort there is in that knowledge!

Clearly these are my undisguised personal beliefs and introspection from my reading; you may do with them as you wish. I can heartily recommend both novels to those of similar and varying opinions and beliefs as myself. And the beauty of our uniqueness as individuals is that each of you will find your own things to ruminate on as you go about your day.

 

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

Surah CIX

The Disbelievers

As Revealed at Mecca

1: Say: O disbelievers!

2: I worship not that which ye worship;

3: Nor worship ye that I worship.

4: And I shall not worship that which ye worship.

5: Nor will ye worship that which I worship

6: Unto you your religion, and unto me my Religion

Are you a history buff interested in accounts of War—specifically moments like Pearl Harbor, the sinking of the Lusitania, or the Gulf of Tonkin incident? If you are, you must know the potent, practical knowledge of studying instances in which the USA has been forced to abandon ideals of isolation to wage war in foreign lands.
those-who-cannot-remember-the-past-are-condemned-to-repeat-it-george-santayanaI have met professional and amateur historians that rattle off facts and stories about D-Day, Pearl Harbor, or the A-bombing of Japan as if they stood there with omniscience on each of those days—but I have met very few people that are receptive to the same, vivid discussion concerning what happened on 9/11.

This is understandable; the wounds of 9/11 have hardly scabbed over. We still feel an emotional connection to the event and there is a collective seething just beneath the surface of our skins that makes objectivity an arduous pursuit. Alas, in order to channel our emotions toward greater resolution we must ready ourselves to have discussions with our peers without the fear of sounding “Un-American” or resorting to branded key words that numb our tongues and blind our vision.

As for many of the most difficult dilemmas, the Shelves of Lemuria may hold the answer.

 

I had only begun to realize what happened on 9/11, and so six years after the towers fell I decided to buy a first edition copy of The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright from Lemuria. Previously, it had been impressed upon me that the reason we were attacked was the product of an animosity driven by jealousy, silently brooding over seas, seething in envy of American ideals and freedoms.


Jacket (4)The Looming Tower
by Lawrence Wright exposed frailty and incongruence in my own perception of what happened on 9/11, 2001. The pages of this work armed me with a powerful weapon—understanding. Besides my own heartfelt praise, The Looming Tower has been internationally lauded as a must read by a myriad of authorities, and won the Pulitzer Prize. After finishing The Looming Tower I feel it is my civic duty to encourage you to read this book.

Within the book, Wright makes poignant elaborations concerning the atmosphere that propelled the atrocities of 9/11. Much of The Looming Tower is spent analyzing Osama Bin Laden’s complex relationship with the West and with Saudi Arabia. An effort is spent to humanize Bin Laden and understand the importance of his exile from Saudi Arabia and the dual issuance of Fatwas against Saudi Arabia and the United States concerning the presence of an American military base on Islamic ground.

The Looming Tower makes the claim that Bin Laden’s expulsion from Saudi Arabia, where he was gaining traction as a populist mobilizer, led to his formation as an internationally sought financier and organizer of several grass roots extremist organizations. Bin Laden allowed the hunger for retribution corrupt his high levels of education and pervert his ideology towards gruesome ends. His thirst for vengeance upon the religious and political elites of Saudi Arabia catalyzed his momentum towards the violent culmination of 9/11.

Bin Laden’s motive as shown in The Looming Tower for organizing the hijackings of 9/11 was a strategic maneuver of wicked guile. He wished to strike the Saudi government, but found his organizations’ numbers too small to carry out such an audacious move—so he did the one thing that would become the legacy of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: improvisation.

The lesson applied to The Looming Tower explains to me why Bin Laden attacked America in the first place. The thousands in the Towers, on the planes, and working in the pentagon were doves—completely innocent to motives and intentions of Bin Laden. The American Air Force, being the metaphoric red-tailed hawks theoretically would have become hungry for large meals of the religious and political elite of Saudi Arabia (being the metaphoric timber rattlers).

The stratagem was quite simple: attack Saudi Arabia by proxy. Al-Qaeda casted the 9/11 hijackers nearly exclusively from Saudi Arabia in order to illicit a violent response toward Saudi Arabia from the US. The intent of this design was to make it appear that the attack originated from Salafist and Wahhabi communities within Saudi Arabia, which (in thought) would propel America to employ their tools of war upon the political and religious infrastructure of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps, this could’ve happened if it weren’t for the hard work of our intelligence officers, who understood that the Taliban was housing Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

If you haven’t read a well researched, objective account on Al-Qaeda or extremism in general, The Looming Tower is the best place to start. Come to Lemuria, put the book in your hands and feel the historical proximity of yourself to Wright’s work. Open it, let your emotions flow as the pages turn and you will connect to this book immediately. Then the next step should come naturally: tell others how you feel and what you think should be the next step in “The War on Terror.”

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Photo Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

How Jesus Became God

I have only just really begun my research into the development of Christianity. I am taking Old and New Testament classes at my university, and I have read only a few books of early Christological views. Christianity is a very controversial topic, and I am absolutely no Biblical scholar; so I tried to be wary of which books I chose to read on the topic. I did not want to read a History Channel-esque embellished Da Vinci Code that claims to be a tell- all into the juicy secrets of Jesus’s life. I just wanted facts, and what evidence we have to back up those facts. Luckily Bart D. Ehrman is widely respected in his field. Many book reviewers before me have praised Ehrman’s credentials; his attributions to scholarship. How Jesus Became God took about eight years to write, and it is packed with information.

The main focus of this book is about the culture that Jesus grew up in, how the gospels were written, and the textual evidence of several groups within the early church. How Jesus Became God is also written for the layman because it explains how historical research is recorded. For example, Ehrman speaks of the methodological principle called the criterion of dissimilarity, which “states that if a tradition about Jesus is dissimilar to what the early Christians would have wanted to say about him, then it more likely is historically accurate”.

I recommend this book to any that are interested in Jesus, and the historical evidence of what’s written in the Bible. I toast this book, as it has shown me just how much more I have to read about Christianity from different ends of each spectrum. Funny how a book filled with so much information can only make me hungry for much more.

Ed King’s Mississippi

The first time I met Ed King I was immediately captivated by his entire presence. I was a naïve 24 year-old who had just finished his first year of Divinity School at Duke University, and I was tasked to learn about the intersections of religion, race, and civil rights in Mississippi. That summer in 2008, my internship was to be a ministerial fellow at Galloway Memorial UMC; however, for much of the summer I was able to shadow Ed, hearing stories of how he was arrested and beaten up, how he was close personal friends with both Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr., and how he influenced Freedom Summer 1964.

 

Growing up in a small town in Mississippi, I had heard of the Civil Rights Movement, but sadly I had never learned much about it. It wasn’t until after I moved out of Mississippi that my eyes were opened to the Civil Rights movement in my home state. I read books that made me think of the marches and those who came down for Freedom Summer in a romantic way that completely dismissed the actual struggle for liberty and freedom. I also dismissed all those who were from Mississippi in the midst of the struggle from the very beginning: Fannie Lou Hamer, John Perkins, Emmitt Till, and many more.

Jacket (10)

 

When I met Ed King, I realized that the movement was more than a movement of peaceful, non-violent action. It was not a movement to be romanticized. The visible scars on Ed’s face made me really realize that the fight for civil rights in Mississippi was a time where people were beaten, killed, lynched, and scarred for life.

 

As I learned from Ed and followed him around, I was able to go to Mt. Zion Methodist Church, which was the church in Longdale, Mississippi that was burned down four days before three civil rights workers were abducted and killed in Neshoba County.  Ed took me on a civil rights tour across Jackson. He showed me where he was arrested, where Medgar Evers was shot, where the sit-ins happened, where busloads of students were arrested at the Greyhound Station, and finally, the fairgrounds. As he took me to the fairgrounds, I wondered, “This is interesting, maybe we are going to talk about how the fair was segregated.” However, he pulled up to the livestock building and asked me how much I knew about the history of the fairgrounds. In my know-it-all way, I exclaimed that I knew the fair was segregated and there were only a few days where black people could come to the fair. He said, “Yes. That is right. But there is a much deeper and bleaker story.” He proceeded to tell me how the livestock center at the fairgrounds was used as an interment camp for those who struggled for Civil Rights. As he told me stories of being beaten there, and of the scare tactics the police would use to control the people, my stomach churned and I was angry. I was mad that I ever though the Civil Rights Movement was a romantic movement of only non-violent protests and singing. I was mad that there was a history that I knew nothing about. I was angry that human beings, freedom workers and African Americans, were treated like cattle as they were imprisoned in the livestock center at the Mississippi fairgrounds.

But then, we left the fairgrounds and went to Tougaloo College. It was here that Ed told me about the meetings that were held in the Woodworth chapel. He told me how Joan Baez had played the first integrated concert for college students from State, Ole Miss, Millsaps, Jackson State, Tougaloo, and more. He told me how MLK Jr. preached from the pulpit in that sacred space. He shared with me how so many freedom fighters would sing Freedom Songs, all the while fearing for their own lives in the safety of the beautiful, dark, wooden sanctuary. Where as the fairgrounds was a place of fear and abuse, Woodworth Chapel was the center of freedom, and the direct opposite of the fairgrounds. The struggle was real, it was dangerous, and yet, in the midst of all the fear and death, light and hope emerged in Woodworth Chapel. I am glad my time with Ed that day ended at Woodworth Chapel.

ToogalooChapelInterior

 

As my time was coming to an end in Jackson, Ed shared with me some photos and essays he had written. These musings were going to be his book that he had been writing for years, and now, his book has now been published. It is a book that sheds light on much of what Ed and others experienced during the struggle for civil rights here in Mississippi. Now, as I sit and read from Ed King’s Mississippi, I realize how blessed I was for having had that summer with him; for hearing many of these accounts first hand. Ed King is a very special man, and Ed King’s Mississippi is a must read for all people.

 

 

 

Written by Justin

My Bright Abyss

brightChristian Wiman, poet and long-time editor of “Poetry” Magazine, has released a new book, a series of interwoven essays that explore his relationship with God and faith. A modern-day Confessions.

“There is a distinction to be made between the anxiety of daily existence, which we talk about endlessly, and the anxiety of existence, which we rarely mention at all. The former fritters us into dithering, distracted creatures. The latter attests to–and, if attended to, discloses–our souls….To be truly alive is to feel one’s ultimate existence within one’s daily existence.”

In 2006, Christian Wiman was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. In response, he wrote  “Love Bade Me Welcome,” an essay that explores his floundering faith. My Bright Abyss is the result of a continued exploration of faith and the nature of God:

“When my life broke open seven years ago, I knew very well that I believed in something. Exactly what I believed, however, was considerably less clear. So I set out to answer that question, though I have come to realize that the real question–the real difficulty–is how, not what. How do you answer that burn of being? What might it mean for your life–and for your death–to acknowledge that insistent, persistent ghost?”

Wiman’s unique artistic voice in the spiritual essay is candid and deep, and a welcome addition to the canon.

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