Good Fathers

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Recently, I posted photos of Malcom X and Muhammad Ali on my Facebook page, along with a comment that these were good fathers. I got some strong reactions, not all of them positive.

To my father’s and my generation, these men were heroes, because they weren’t afraid to stand up against the unjust system that kept us in a second class citizen category. My father came back from WWII, having helped re-wire Nagasaki, and was unable to get employment as an electrician because he wasn’t allowed in the union, solely on the basis of his race. Malcom and Muhammad actively, publicly, said, “No.  We’re not going to take this treatment anymore.” Even if you didn’t agree with everything they stood for, you had to admit that they had courage and integrity.

Yes, they embraced Islam. They were looking for a more genuine faith experience and at that time, there were no Orthodox people reaching out to evangelize them and bring them to the true faith, even in an era in which we had Saints walking the streets of North America. Consider that Islam was an alternative to segregated Christianity. Malcom had to go to Mecca to see the diversity of races in one faith community, and he was blown away when he did. Certainly, he wouldn’t have found this at home. Who knows in what direction his profound belief in God would have taken him had he not been murdered? In spite of what some think, he was not a thuggish, terroristic figure, but rather a man who spoke his mind in a day where most African American men, while they probably agreed with what Malcolm said, stayed tight-lipped and subservient. Malcolm was the classic “uppity Negro.”

We judge others, and we sometimes fear them, because we lack empathy for the situations in which they find themselves. Sometimes, if we are not part of a minority community, we think we can understand their concerns, when we simply can’t.  (A community, according to the dictionary, “is a group of people with a common characteristic or interest, living together within a larger society.”)  It’s just not possible to know what it’s like to walk around in another’s skin. However, when we acknowledge this and confess our ignorance, we then have the opportunity to listen, and learn.

Let us reserve judgement and examine ourselves. To say, “I don’t understand,” or perhaps, even to discern one’s own fearfulness, is more spiritually nourishing and may lead to a richer, more authentic life.

 

 

 

Address to the 2017 Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black Conference

October 2017

Dear brothers and sisters of the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black,

I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Only one year has passed since our last conference and through the grace of God and your prayers, we are able to assemble again.

We find ourselves in the midst of turmoil and confusion in our country. But Jesus Christ has overcome this world, and if we would only follow his instructions concerning how we ought to treat each other and how we should be disposed towards Caesar, we will prevail.

People are responding to the injustice that we see all around us. The BSMB response will not be lock step with that which I’ve come to call “high secularism”.  High secularism, for which I have respect, is the thought of intelligent, sensitive, well-meaning people who yet remain outside the salvific ark of Orthodoxy. These are righteous people, but unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we should in nowise enter the Kingdom of Heaven” Matt. 5:20.

I will not attempt to tell you how you, personally, should rally around today’s movements and protests. I will, however, address how the Brotherhood can participate in these events.  We can act through prayer, fasting and forgiving our brothers their trespasses.

Very few of us, other than I, have directly experienced police brutality, in my case to the point of being handcuffed at gunpoint and pushed into the backseat of a police car and threatened with being taken to the woods and left for the wolves.  If not for the prayers of right-believing Christians, the descendants of slaves, I wouldn’t have escaped. So, I can, with some authority, talk about how we overcome unjust and cruel treatment at the hands of the godless authorities. We endure it with longsuffering, we turn away from hatred, and we pray for those who despitefully use us and say all manner of evil against us falsely for His names’s sake, for great will our reward be in Heaven.  If we don’t act for the sake of Christ, our labors are in vain. This may sound lofty, but the whole enterprise of being an Orthodox Christian is lofty, and not of this world.

Black lives matter. What we are saying is, “I am a human being. Treat me like one.”   When I proposed to the All American Council of my jurisdiction that we resolve to make every effort to reach out to African Americans, I was met with, “but we should reach out to all people, so why specify African Americans?” In other words, the painfully familiar, “all lives matter”.  Of course, all lives matter, but that’s not the point, is it. This kind of response comes from some of those outside of our experience, and we need to be steadfast and patient in educating them about what it means to be Black in America and Black in the American Orthodox Church. That’s part of what this Brotherhood is called to do. Nevertheless, our engagement with this movement must transcend high secularism.

How do we do that? We march, but as Orthodox we march with holy images, banners, incense and prayers. Were we to publicly proclaim our faith this way, we’d soon find out who our real brothers are, Orthodox or not.  I suspect we’d have friends within the movement and enemies within the Church.  Regardless, if we want to make a change, we reach towards heaven, not to the unrighteous wisdom of this world.

I know a Jewish woman who told me once that the central question of her life was “if they threw me into a concentration camp, the intent of which was to turn me into an animal, how could I remain a human being?” Her answer, she said, was most deeply revealed in the Church. We aren’t promised fairness, kindness, dignity, love, or any other right and pleasant thing from this world.  But we know the source of all those things, and that we are loved. Hold on to that, brothers and sisters and to each other, in Christ. Yes, with each passing year the deception is stronger, “normalcy” becomes more confused, and it gets harder and harder to do those things prescribed for us in Holy Scripture, to yield to the Word of God. This is our struggle, and it is very real.

Do what you feel you must to join your efforts to those crying out for change. Hold fast to the words of Our Lord, “these things have I spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace, in the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer!  I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

May God bless you,

Fr. Moses

A right side, and a wrong side

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This is Frank Coker, who was related to me on my  mother’s side and also by marriage  – double kinfolks.  On Good Friday in 1906, on the main square in Springfield, MO, just before midnight, he was hung from a light tower, along with two other young Black men.  5,000 White people watched as the bodies were burned and shot at.  All of this because of a rape allegation later proven to be false.

Terror reigned after the lynchings throughout the African American community in Springfield and Greene County. An angry mob set out to wreak havoc. Wallace White, my great grandfather, lived in Cave Springs, MO, which is along present day Hwy 160 and Rte. 123, 9.5 miles from my home. Wallace had been with the Missouri 5th cavalry, which fought at Vicksburg,  The unit was made up of men and boys (Wallace was 15) from Ash Grove , Walnut Grove and the surrounding areas. When the mob neared Wallace White’s cabin, it was met by a line of his fellow men in arms from the Civil War, rifles fully loaded.  The threat was real enough to turn the mob away.

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Top:  Wallace White’s cabin.   Bottom: Wallace and Daisy White outside their canebrake, Cave Springs

Although both sides were willing to defend their position with force, I would never say that both sides had equal responsibility for the potential violence. Sometimes, we stand up for the right, and there is a difference between right and wrong. These Civil War veterans’ methods were somewhat flawed, but their intention was to be their brother’s keeper.

Ozark Heritage

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This pinwheel quilt belonged to Caroline Boone’s mother, Maria Boone, who was my great great grandmother. Her grave is in our family cemetery.

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Caroline was Daniel Boone’s granddaughter, and Nathan Boone’s daughter.

This quilt top dates from the early 19th century. It’s made of silk and waxed cotton. It’s remained in my family trunk for many decades, preserved for succeeding generations.

In 2003, I created a museum of my family’s artifacts, along with others given to me: the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum. In 2013, my daughter Dorothy, an archivist specializing in African American studies, created an on-line version, which you can visit here: OAAHM

 

Cultural bias

Someone once asked me about this Kente cloth I use in the church. They remarked that it wasn’t usual for Orthodox temples.  I said, “Oh, do you think I should use something more traditionally European, like a paisley print?” “Yes,” they replied,  “that would be more in line with the Tradition.”  Then I went on, “you do know that paisley was likely a  Zoroastrian-inspired design.  So you’d rather go with the Zoroastrians than to accept a pattern that may be somewhat unfamiliar to you.”

Sometimes when we reject something that is not from our familiar culture, the objection isn’t because it isn’t proper, but only that it’s foreign to us.

This cloth is probably over 100 years old, It’s handwoven, from Ghana in West Africa.  Sometimes it’s usedd as an analogion covering in my church.

 

Where two or three are gathered together…

I was raised in the Church with the idea that one planted good seeds and trusted that they’d bear fruit. That fruit, however, might not ripen for a while, or even in my lifetime.

Years ago, when we began restoring the historic cemetery on my family’s long-held property, a group of Mennonites came to one of our events there. They’ve just recently been received as Western-rite Orthodox.  I didn’t know about their journey, but I recognize that a seed was planted and nurtured, way back then, when we stood amongst the graves and talked about life eternal in Christ.

I have built up the cemetery, gone around the country and spoken at seminaries and gatherings of all kinds, established a small history museum, and founded a parish. None of these evangelical efforts  were made alone. In all cases, it took at least two, myself and my wife, Magdalena, to agree on the task at hand, acknowledging that the work was Godly.

The seeds I plant come from the fruit (as seeds do) of our gathering – an ongoing contemplation at the kitchen table.

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my family: Dorothy, Elijah, and Matushka Magdalena, 2014

Juneteenth 2017

My family has always celebrated the “Negro Emancipation Day” – that Saturday in June which falls in the middle of the month, commemorating the day on which slaves in Texas were told they were free.

This year, I celebrated Juneteenth by joining with neighbors, parishioners, and fellow clergy in blessing a beautiful new memorial stone donated to us by Andrew Baird, President, Conco Companies. This large stone, made of local marble, lists all those buried in the Berry Cemetery (now consecrated as Holy Resurrection Cemetery) who don’t have headstones.  Our cemetery was dedicated in 1875 for the burial of “Slaves, Paupers and Indians,” none of whom could be buried in the town cemetery at the time and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I also gave a presentation about local African American history and talked about items from the Afro-American Heritage Museum ,