April 10 – Howard Thurman

From the Bible Read Isaiah 5:1-7 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.

About Howard Thurman

Born in Florida in 1899, Howard was raised primarily by his grandmother – a former slave.  He showed signs of a vibrant spiritual life early, and would read the Bible to his grandmother.  Thurman tells the story in his most famous work Jesus and the Disinherited that his mother would not permit him to read anything by the apostle Paul (besides 1 Corinthians 13) because the abusive theology that the white preachers would perpetrate on her and others enslaved – biblical mandates to be “good slaves.”

Thurman grew as a pastor and academic, often in ways that convince many people to call him a mystic.  He had a significant bond with Quaker leader and pacifist (and key leader of the forerunner of the American Friends Service Committee) Rufas Jones at Haverford College which led him to leading a delegation to meet with Mohandas Ghandi.

As a theologian, Thurman was a pioneer in articulating Jesus’ mission of liberation of oppressed people and taught that “if you ever developed a cultivated will with spiritual discipline  the flame of freedom would never perish.”  He served as one of the pastors of the first intentionally interracial church in the US – The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Fransico.  As a friend of Martin King, Thurman became a spiritual adviser and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Howard Thurman is usually credited with the development of nonviolence theories and tactics that were central to the Civil Rights Movement. Howard Thurman wrote over twenty books besides speeches and articles.  He died on this day in 1981.

“Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”

-from Meditations of the Heart

April 9 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From the Bible

Read Matthew 5:38-42

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

About Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich and his twin sister were born in a Prussian city (now in Poland) in 1906.   His family moved to Berlin a few years later.  Bonhoeffer earned a doctorate in theology at the age of 21 from perhaps the most prestigious university in the world at the time – the University of Berlin.   He began to pastor but continued to pursue academic work bringing him through Spain to Harlem.  Dissatisfied with the lack of rigor at Union where he was teaching and doing post graduate work, he became a disciple and Sunday school teacher at Abyssinian Baptist Church where his love for spirituals and deep desire for the church to change the world.

Two years after his return to Germany, the Nazi Party rose to power.  Bonhoeffer was overtly critical of the regime and a resister from the beginning.  While Hitler and the Nazis infiltrated and found a stronghold in the German church, Bonhoeffer was building something new in Germany through the Confessing Church.  After only a few months of Nazi control, Bonhoeffer moved to London to work on international ecumenical work, highly frustrated with the state of the German church.

Two years later, rather than going to study non-violent civil disobedience under Ghandi he returned to Germany at the repeated pleading and demanding of Swiss theologian and Karl Barth.  The Confessing Church was under fire by the Nazis.  Barth was sent back to Switzerland, Bonhoeffer soon lost his credentials to teach because he was a “pacifist and enemy of the state.”   He began underground seminaries and further resisted the state.

Bonhoeffer became more involved in direct resistance and was arrested in 1943.  He was part of a group that was responsible both for attempts at liberating Jews and attempting to assassinate Hitler.  His pacifism has been widely written about, especially in light of this glaring contradiction.

Dietrich was executed on this day in 1945, two weeks before US soldiers liberataed his prison camp.  He is largely considered a martyr for the faith, for peace, and also Nazi resisters.  Among two of his most influential works are Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship - this final quote is from the latter.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Want to watch a whole documentary about his life? Here is a [link]

April 4 – Martin Luther King, Jr

From the Bible

Read Matthew 5:43-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

About Martin Luther King, Jr

King was a prophet and an apostle.  Born into a pastor’s family in Atlanta, GA.  He grew into a scholar, preacher, and community organizer.  In 1954, when King was 25, he became a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama.  The next year, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began and King was mixing it up with many people who became prominent leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Martin is best known for his speeches and published works.  His faith drew tens of thousands into passionate civil engagement through marches, rallies, prayer, worship, and non-violent civil disobedience.  He earned global respect of people from all walks of life.  His theory of non-violence were tactics of strength and effective change rooted in the way of Jesus.

A decade after his public work had begun, King was deeply entrenched in the national movement to legally end state-sponsored racial discrimination during the Jim Crow era.  He was key in the formation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

King caused controversy in the movement because he was drawn to what he believed were two key issues that needed addressing: ending the Vietnam War and economic rights for Black people.  Many opposed him because his “branching out” weakened chances of getting more effective laws in place to protect other civil liberties and would alienate sympathetic whites – notably elected officials.

On this day in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in Memphis, TN when he was 39 years old.  His legacy continues to inspire and urge people to work for Justice.

March 24 – Oscar Romero

From the Bible

Read Isaiah 61

The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere.

About Oscar Romero

Until he was 62 years old, Óscar Romero y Galdámez served as priest, bishop, and lastly Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador.   On Monday, March 24, 1980 Romero was shot through the heart while lifting the chalice as part of the communion meal.  The day before, while radio broadcasting his sermon, Romero called on Salvadoran soldiers to disobey orders that would contradict a life in Christ – namely carrying out the government’s repression and denial of basic human rights.

His appointment to Archbishop was seen as a “safe” move by the conservatives and government, while the progressive priests were disappointed.  They were involved in critique of what they understood as systemic sin and were open in teaching and activism about resolving class conflict, sometimes implicating the Catholic Church as part of the oppressor class.  Their worldview, and later Romero’s became known as Liberation Theology.  After a friend of Romero’s was assassinated for his subversive activities in 1977, Romero was astonished at the lack of help in the investigation he received from the authorities.  He felt the call to follow his late friend, Rutilio Grande, in work and into death.  His letter to President Jimmy Carter petitions “His Excellency” as a Christian and someone who cares about human rights to cut off  military aid to the Salvadoran government because it would violently carry out the interests of the military oligarchy not the people.

“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood,the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”
― from The Violence of Love (get it as a free audio book!)

More?

Martyr’s Prayer Project video
http://saltandlighttv.org/radio/video-of-the-week/video-of-the-week-the-martyrs-project-romero

The movie: Romero. Watch 1:01 to 1:09 h
ttp://youtu.be/6hAdhmosepI

Oliver Stone’s Salvador
http://youtu.be/umh_g8jlVcw

The Simple Way have a connection with Cielo Azul. https://www.facebook.com/theSimpleWay/posts/123734394481853#!/friends.cielo.azul?group_id=0

March 20 – Gordon Cosby

From the Bible

Read 2 Corinthians 5:6-11

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.About Gordon Cosby

About Gordon Cosby

On this day in 2013 Gordon Cosby died at the age of 95, just a few years after retiring. In 1944 Gordon was a participant on D-Day on Utah beach, where he witnessed enormous loss and served those injured and dying. He was convinced both of the futility of war and that the church needed to equip people for making the transition into what is after death. He became pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, getting it started in 1946. By 1953 the group had become more official and also purchased land in Maryland to build a retreat lodge and place for silence and rest. Over the years nine faith communities and several non-profits formed with Gordon and his wife Mary serving as catalysts.

As an activist, Cosby participated in numerous non-violent direct actions as well as making space for people to organize for justice. In 1960, his church began the first Christian Coffeehouse as a place to get the church further into needed social spaces in the world rather than being cloistered. Whether beginning successful and lasting ministries for foster kids, the homeless, people with HIV/AIDS, housing creation, and job training, Cosby led people to BE the church for over sixty years. The Church of the Savior has been a pioneer in numerous inward practices and disciplines such as retreating and linkage between urban and rural areas as well as on the forefront of outward practices of racial reconciliation and local justice work.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners recounts (link below) “Gordon Cosby never needed or wanted to be out front or become a famous public figure. He could have spoken across the country, and was often invited to do so. But he instead decided that his own vocation was to stay with a relatively small group of people trying to “be the church” in Washington, D.C.: the Church of the Saviour, which has produced more missions and ministries, especially with the poor, than any church I know of anywhere in the country — even the huge mega-churches who capture all the fame. He never wrote a book, went on television, talked to presidents, planted more churches, built national movements, or traveled around the world. He just inspired everybody else to do all those things and much more. And the world came to him.”

Cosby has been credited as a mentor or inspiration by countless ministries, leaders, activists, pastors, and churches over the decades. In a sermon in 1989, Gordon said “Faith is trusting the flow and reveling in the view and being carried beyond all existing boundaries. Faith is being excited about the final destination, even when the destination is mystery. When Jesus says, ‘Believe in God, believe also in me,’ he is saying, Get into the stream with us. It is a stream of pure grace and mercy. Go into its depths and find us there.”

More:

Church of the Savior online [link]

Obituary from Ched Myers’ blog [link]

Four minute piece on NPR’s All Things Considered [link]

Memorial piece in Washington Post [link]

Articles by Cosby on Sojourners [link]

Jim Wallis on Cosby [link] and his interview with Mary [link]

 

March 17 – Patrick

From the Bible

Read Acts 2:14-24 

What you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.

About St Patrick:

Because Patrick lived so long ago  some of his life remains a mystery to us.  For instance, his death is believed to have been on this day in about 493 AD, but the date is controversial. We do know that he was born into a wealthy family in Britain, to a father who was a Christian deacon. We do not have evidence about Patrick being religious himself in his early years. When he was sixteen, he was captured by a group of Irish raiders and taken back as a slave to Ireland where he remained for the next six years. He worked as a shepherd, an isolated life, and turned to his religion during this  period, becoming very devout. After six years in slavery, he escaped. According to his writings, he ran away after God spoke to him through a dream. When he was home again, he reported that he experienced another revelation from an angel in a dream telling him to go back to Ireland in order to tell those who had been his captors about the gospel.

At this point Patrick began religious studies that lasted fifteen years. When he was ordained a priest he returned to Ireland. Since he was familiar with the language and the culture, Patrick incorporated traditions from Ireland into his lessons about Jesus. He chose not to attack Irish beliefs, but to incorporate traditions and to demonstrate how these were fulfilled in Christ. So he superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol of worship, on the cross and created the Celtic cross. He famously used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the concept of the trinity. Patrick had spectacular success in converting the Irish and a body of stories developed around him and his successful evangelism tactics for centuries following his life.

One famous story was incorporated into our celebration of patrick in 2013 as we lit our own “fires of resistance.” Patrick came to the Hill of Slane in County Meath in an early on attempt to convert pagan Ireland to Christianity. On the eve of the Christian feast of Easter, 433 A.D. which coincided with the Druid feast of Bealtine (Beal’s fire) and the Spring Equinox, St. Patrick lit a bonfire upon the Hill of Slane. There was a decree that no fire should be lit in the vicinity when the great festival fire of Bealtine blazed at the Royal seat of power on the visibly nearby Hill of Tara.

The lighting of a fire may seem trivial but at the time it was equivalent to declaring war on the Druids and their pagan beliefs and war against the High King of Ireland. That small act of starting a fire was a turning point in Patrick’s life and in the history of Ireland. 

We remember Patrick’s courage and love to return to those who had “stolen” his youth, and to make a life of service in bringing the revelation of Jesus to the Irish people. It is a testament to a remarkable life lived listening to God, following dreams, and courageously giving witness to what he received.

Read Patrick’s Confession online!

March 10 – Harriet Tubman

From the Bible

Exodus 10:21-29

But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the LORD our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.”

About Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (b. around 1820 d. Mar 10, 1913), aka  Moses, escaped enslavement in Maryland for Philadelphia when she was 29yrs old. She helped her dear friend, John Brown, plan the infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry, aided in planning of the Union’s Combahee River raid in 1863 (6 months after Lincoln freed slaves in the Confederacy — note: at first, slaves were not freed in the Union states).  Her 20+ expeditions back down south freed at least 70 people, and she never lost a single “passenger” on what became known as the Underground Railroad.  Harriet remained a devout Christian throughout her life.  She accomplished so much despite never learning to read or write.  Her reputation sparked hope among the enslaved peoples of North America and perhaps equal anger among the slave owners.

As many of the Negro Spirituals, “Go Down, Moses” had multiple levels of meaning.  It was learning the sacred story from Exodus, a hope for liberation, the possibility of Tubman herself coming to liberate, and depending on which verses advice for escape tactics.