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Hearing hope in a harmonica

(10/18/21 4:00am)

I grew up in a very musical family and I’m the last of five children. My father is a preacher and whenever he traveled to speak somewhere, we would go with him to sing. We weren’t The Jackson 5 but The Powery 5! My oldest brother played the trombone. My second brother, the saxophone. My third brother, the drums. My sister, when she got older, played the piano. My mother played the harmonica. And I, the youngest, walked around looking cute. 

If it wasn’t for the women

(03/29/21 4:00am)

It is still Women’s History Month, and I can’t help but think about all of the women who have made an imprint on our lives. “If it wasn’t for the women” is the expression sociologist Cheryl Townsend Gilkes uses when she describes the importance of women in the Black Church. She’s so right—and not just about the presence and work of women in the church to keep it going and thriving, but in all of life. If it wasn’t for the women—their voices, their courage, their strength, their wisdom, their ingenuity, their expertise, their love, their care and concern—where would we be?

The cost of healing

(03/15/21 4:00am)

As we walk through the current health pandemic and related social pandemics, there’s a lot of grief and lament, but as people get vaccinated and the virus metrics move in a better direction, there is also talk about healing. There is hope as we anticipate a healing process of sorts, one in which a kind of wholeness of relationships is restored, where we are no longer socially distant and people no longer get sick with the coronavirus at the same rates. As we look forward to these positive developments, it’s worth remembering something less obvious: the newness and change of healing come with costs. 

Dare to dream

(02/15/21 5:00am)

Dreams can be fleeting and ephemeral, but there are also transformative dreams that birth new realities. These enduring dreams are worth holding onto and sacrificing for. The Bible describes dreams that are prophetic, such as Joseph’s dreams in the book of Genesis. His dreams of rising above his older brothers get him into trouble. At the age of 17, just when one is supposed to be dreaming of bright hopes of being accepted into Duke University, life is the pits for Joseph, literally, because his older brothers throw him into an empty pit. Why? His older brothers hate him because he’s a dreamer. His dreams make them want to destroy him—“we shall see what will become of his dreams,” they say. 

Just be

(10/12/20 4:00am)

I was on sabbatical during this past Spring semester. Sabbaticals are a gift, not only in university settings, though probably most prominently so. It is a gift to rest, reflect, renew and rejuvenate. Of course, for professors, there’s the expectation that one will also engage in another “r,” that is, research. And I did that this past Spring.

Loving your body

(09/14/20 4:00am)

As a homiletics professor at Duke Divinity School, a teacher of preaching, one of my favorite preachers is a woman. She’s actually an “unchurched preacher.” No letters behind her name for seminary degrees—no degrees at all, actually. Not even a GED. Though she doesn’t have any school degrees, she seems to possess a Ph.D. in wisdom and love. There’s one particular sermon of hers that is in the words of Nat King Cole, “unforgettable.” Her name is Baby Suggs holy, a woman preacher in Toni Morrison’s 1988, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved. This novel is a fictional narrative account of a former slave’s memories of post-Civil War Ohio. Baby Suggs holy, despite having “busted her legs, back, head, eyes, hands, kidneys, womb and tongue” through the furnace of slavery, preaches about the corporeal body to a corporate body in what was known as the Clearing in the woods. Morrison writes that she preaches from her “heart.” Is there any other way to preach? 

The gift of laughter

(08/31/20 4:00am)

There’s a cultural myth within African American folklore about the character High John de Conqueror. Anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston tells a story about him and how he helped enslaved Blacks survive harsh realities. He took them away on a trip to heaven to see the Old Maker without the white slave master realizing what was happening. When they returned from their trip, they were strengthened and renewed because of the two gifts they had received. The two gifts High John gave them to endure their brutal, inhumane situation were the gifts of laughter and song.