In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches around the world needed to find new ways to connect with their community. During the spring and early summer of 2020, my husband and I put together a Bible study for our church members and community members who wanted to continue discussing God’s Word together. Now that our Bible study is over, we wanted to make these materials available for anyone else who wanted to study the books of 1 and 2 Peter.
This is Bible study resource is a compilation of the materials that we put together for our Bible study participants. In the book, you will find daily reflections on different sections of each chapter of 1 and 2 Peter along with daily reflection questions that will help guide your understanding of each section. These questions will also help you to connect Peter’s words with your life today. We encourage you that as you use this resource that you keep notes of your answers to the reflection questions in a journal or notebook. We also encourage you to create the habit of prayer journaling while you study 1 and 2 Peter. It is always encouraging to see the ways that God has answered our prayers throughout our study of His Word.
We hope that this book will bring you comfort and hope as you await Christ’s return, but more importantly that it will encourage you to stand firm in the faith as you face many obstacles as a follower of Jesus Christ.
You can find copies of Be Encouraged: Stand Firm on Amazon in both a digital format and a print format. Follow the link below to the Amazon bookstore.
Last spring, the class of 2020 had a very difficult ending to their senior year. They missed their senior trip. They missed prom. They missed graduation practice. They missed senior picnic. They missed a traditional graduation ceremony. They did not get to say good-bye to their favorite teachers and staff members. They did not get a final look over their shoulders as they left the school building as students for the last time. It sucked.
As I think about your senior year of high school, I am anxious about what you may miss out on because of a virus that we still don’t quite understand. The Virginia High School League has already voted to postpone all sports until early winter which means that there won’t be a first home football game this fall. This means that homecoming will look different this year than it has in the past. Because we cannot all meet together for an assembly, the first day of school will not include you walking across the stage after all of the underclassmen have taken their seats in the auditorium. Hopefully, only the beginning of your senior year will look different than what you imagined as you prepared to finish high school. But we cannot guarantee that the end of your senior year will look any different than it was for the class of 2020.
This school year will not be normal. No matter how school starts this year for you, it will not be a normal school year. You will either take my class 100% virtually, or you will take my class with a modified schedule of a few days at school and a few days at home. Both ways are abnormal for most high school seniors.
Sadly, there are things that we will not be able to do as a class because of the way that school will resume this year. I am already trying to decide what the essentials are for my course so that you can get the best senior English experience possible. Trust me, I’m going to do all that I can to make this last year of high school meaningful for you when it comes to the class that I teach.
But unfortunately, I cannot be the teacher that I have always been. At least not right away.
I don’t want to list all of the ways that I will need to change my teaching because I really don’t want you to know what you will miss out on. You are already going to miss out on so many other things that I’m sure you have already thought about. I understand. I am mourning those things with you since my son was a graduate of 2020.
All that I can promise you is that I will do what I can to prepare you for the next stage of your life. When I started teaching senior English fifteen years ago, I understood the responsibility that I was taking on. I accept the fact that I have the privilege of helping my seniors prepare for college, a career, or the military. Not everything that I will teach you this year will seem relevant to you right now. However, I promise that what you will learn will include practical skills but also life lessons about how to be a good human being. I try to instill in all of my students that they have a voice, and my job as an English teacher is to help you to know how to use that voice. Sometimes this means reading things that other people have written as a way to understand how other people use their voices. Sometimes this means writing about your life journey and determining how your life experiences affect who you want to be in the future. Sometimes this means looking at the world around us and identifying things that you want to change.
As we look forward to your senior year, I am hopeful. I hope that our new normal is not too stressful for you. I know that some of you have anxiety disorders or clinical depression. Some of you may be very open about those mental health concerns, and some of you may be hiding them. But they are very real, and I understand.
I know that some of you have physical ailments that may cause you to need to learn remotely for a while. I understand, and I will do all that I can to communicate with you so that you can be successful in my class. I am hopeful that we will develop a strong rapport as teacher to student that will help you to use your voice to advocate for yourself not just now but in the future as well.
I know that some of you may have difficulties in my course for a number of reasons. Some of you have not been successful in an English class before so you already have anxiety starting your senior year, knowing that my class is a graduation requirement. Some of you have learning disabilities that make reading and writing difficult for you. Some of you are still learning English as a language, so reading and responding to academic text is a challenge. I hope that I can help you to overcome the obstacles that will try to get in your way of successfully passing my class.
I know that some of you are angry that your senior year will not be a normal school year. Some of you are angry that you will not be able to play a complete season of the sport your participate in. Some of you are angry that you may not be able to perform in this year’s musical or play, if those are able to happen this year. Some of you are angry that you will not be able to take a specific course this year because COVID-19 has limited our course offerings. Some of you are angry that on top of the expectations that we already have that there will be more, including wearing a mask and keeping your distance from others. I hope that my demeanor will help to calm your anger. I hope that my optimism will help you to see that we can manage things that we cannot control. I’m sorry, but sometimes we cannot control our circumstances. All that we can do is learn how to deal with these situations in ways that are positive and helpful rather than destructive.
Class of 2021, I am hopeful. Let’s all acknowledge that this sucks. However, let’s try to find good things in the midst of this new normal. Let’s learn to communicate with one another so that we can get through this in a way that makes us stronger. Let’s listen to one another rather than blame one another. Let’s promise ourselves that we will try to look at this realistically with a little bit of hope.
Throughout my Christian journey, there have been several scriptures that I have meditated upon as a way to remind myself of God’s promises. As I was recovering from a year of severe anxiety and depression, I memorized Philippians 4:6-7 while at a retreat that I can say changed the way that I interact with God and His Word. I still remember sitting in silence by a stream, magnificent rocks in the background, when I really read Philippians 4 for the first time. Paul’s words have encouraged me in some of the darkest times in my life, especially his promise that we will experience God’s peace “which exceeds anything we can understand” (v. 7 NLT). What a beautiful reminder of the goodness of God!
Today I was reminded of the next exhortation in Philippians 4, an urgency to change the way that we think. Paul says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (v. 8 NLT). When I was struggling with anxiety and depression twenty-five years ago, these words helped me to change the way that I was thinking about my circumstances. These words also helped me to refocus my life on things that brought glory to God rather than things that added to my anxiety and depression. Just like Paul’s encouragement in v. 6, “Do not be anxious about anything” (NIV), these words reminded me that I did not have to think about things that discouraged me or depressed me. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I can think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
In the midst of a global pandemic and the uncertainty that comes with it, it can be difficult to think about such things. Personally, I have been very distracted by the news related to plans to “reopen” schools this fall because my own school division is still making the decision of what we will do: a hybrid model of virtual and in-person instruction or 100% virtual instruction. I can honestly say that I do not know what is right for my community. Recently, there have been news stories that suggest that the positive cases of COVID-19 may not be as high as they are being represented. It is unclear whether or not we need to be as worried about the spread of this virus as schools resume this school year. Despite these news stories, I also know that the effects of this virus can be incredibly taxing on people who have contracted it whether or not they wind up in the hospital. I do not want to be infected, and I do not want to infect my co-workers, my family, or my community, especially my church members who are at risk of complications of COVID-19 that could result in their hospitalization or death.
I can feel myself slipping. If I don’t take the time to step back and listen to the voice of God, I could easily fall into the downward spiral of depression. I am tired of people saying that teachers just want a break from students. I am tired of people vilifying my co-workers. I am tired of people saying that the decision to teach in-person or to teach virtually is a political decision. I am tired of people saying that teachers are hysterical and that we are giving into fear. And I am angry that I really don’t get to have a voice. I am angry that people want to blame teachers for the problems we have. I am angry that we are sometimes the scapegoat. And more than anything, I am sad that school will not be the same this year no matter how we return to instruction.
So while I am stuck with all of these emotions swirling around in my heart, God is reminding me to trust in Him. A pastor on my district posted this morning, “Beware: your feelings are often not accurate. If unchecked those inaccurate feelings can greatly damage your faith.” I want my faith to be firm and steadfast. I want to reflect Christ’s sacrifice and love in my community. I want to think about things that are true, lovely, admirable, and pure. I want to be guided by the Holy Spirit so that I can be faithful, so that I can be loving, so that I can forgive, and so that I can continue to represent Christ in my family, in my community, and in all of my relationships with others.
Today choose to seek God’s way for your life. If like me, you are feeling overwhelmed by the news, the false information, the confusion, remember to stop and to seek God’s truth. Remember to follow Paul’s advice to fix your thoughts on things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 MSG). Take your thoughts captive today and make them obedient to Christ, the One who is true, the One who is right, the One who is honorable, the One who is beautiful.
A few days ago I participated in a virtual town hall meeting of a teacher’s organization in my state. During the meeting, a professor from Arizona shared statistics about states across the nation who are seeing spikes in their COVID numbers. He explained that each state saw an increase in infections as the state entered a new phase of reopening. His warning was that my own state will more than likely see a large increase in numbers soon since we have not yet seen the effects of our Phase 2 despite the fact that we are already in Phase 3. At the end of his presentation he encouraged educators to share their stories with the hash tag MyCovidStory as a way to bring awareness to the issues that educators are facing as government officials, school boards, city councils, and boards of supervisors are seeking ways to “reopen” schools this fall. So I thought I would reflect on my own COVID story as a way of describing the issues that so many of us are facing today, not just educators.
On March 13th, everything changed. Our normal became nonexistent, just a memory, just a dream. This was the day that schools across the Commonwealth of Virginia were closed for two weeks as a way to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19 before it ravaged our state. As I’ve shared before, there were so many things that I wish I had said to my students on March 12th, so many lessons that I wish I had taught. But my COVID story is not just about my role as a public high school teacher. My story involves so many more aspects of my life as I know it has affected yours.
On March 15th, my husband led our last “normal” worship service of our small church in Culpeper, Virginia. With the help of our church board, we decided that we would close our doors indefinitely until we had more guidance from the governor’s office as well as our denomination’s leadership. For the first few weeks of the pandemic, my husband and I led the services in isolation online, providing opportunities for our people to continue to worship with us. However, there were complications even with that. A few of our people do not have internet access where they live, or they do not have digital devices that allow for them to watch our services live on social media.
So we got to work, trying to find other ways to reach our people. We made phone calls weekly, trying to stay connected with those who could not access our services online. We visited a few at their homes, socially distanced of course, so we could at least have some conversations. We met with our church board, finding ways to continue our ministry in the midst of COVID.
And then we got to work connecting to our community outside of our church membership so that when we could reopen our doors, we might have new people join us. So, we updated our church website, posting current worship services, hoping that people would be able to access services that way. We got in touch with an organization that provides free apps for churches, and we worked on designing our app with our church members and community in mind, hoping that those who had devices would use this new technology to connect with one another and with us. We started a Youtube channel, posting services and encouragement videos so that our people could have some spiritual guidance in the midst of this pandemic. We reached out to other church leadership to see if there were other ways we could connect, so we started burning DVDs of our services and providing them for our members who do not have internet access or digital devices. We started an online Bible study for our people, hoping that more would connect even if it was through their phones each week.
It’s been a struggle to stay connected to people in our community who do not use technology in the ways that it is available. And now, we are facing another possibility of needing to keep our doors closed as I face returning to school next month. Most of our people are in high risk groups of having severe cases of COVID-19. I’m not sure what we will do. It is depressing to see my husband who has worked so tirelessly to connect with the community just to see that his efforts sometimes go unnoticed and seemingly unfruitful. Before COVID, we had a drive to start new ways of connecting with our community, but with so many closures around the area, we just don’t know how long we can keep going. We are hopeful, and we will keep moving.
However, what a difference COVID makes in some of the most important aspects of our lives like keeping our church from dying.
In early May, my stepfather had a fall at home that caused him to be hospitalized and evaluated. The doctors determined that he needed a quadruple bypass surgery as a way to prevent a massive heart attack from taking his life. In the midst of COVID, this was difficult for my mother to be able to visit him in the hospital or for any of our family members to be there as he healed. Thankfully, a few of my siblings risked traveling to be with him and my mother, sacrificing their time and health to support our loved ones. However, for three of us, we faced the decision of how we would travel out of state with such a mess of COVID cases surrounding us. Do we fly? Do we take a train? Do we drive? If we drive, where do we stay along the way? What about restroom breaks and food breaks? What are all of the rules in the states we will drive through?
For me and my family, we had other issues to consider. Our son is 19; however, he is on the Autism spectrum, so leaving him home for an extended period of time was a concern. We also needed to consider how he would get to work while we were gone since he does not have a car or a license. Along with that, we had a dog who had just developed a mass in his mouth days before we had planned on leaving to help my parents. There were a multitude of questions and concerns to consider. Finally, my husband and I decided to go spend three weeks with my parents, trusting our son to find a way to and from work each day.
However, what a difference COVID makes in some of the most logistic aspects of our lives like planning a trip across the country to help support our families.
Two days before we left to help my parents, we had to put our dog to sleep. The vet’s offices in our area are still practicing strict social distancing which includes handing off pets to veterinary technicians while family members wait to talk to the vet about their pet. The vet counseled us to put Buddy to sleep because the mass in his mouth was more than likely malignant melanoma. There was no way we could take him with us across the country for three weeks with a mass growing in his mouth, and we could not leave him home with our son to take care of him.
We could not come into the vet’s office to put Buddy to sleep. However, our vet arranged for us to sit outside in the grass with Buddy behind the vet’s office while we said our goodbyes. A few workers from the nearby restaurants smoked outside while we tearfully said our goodbyes. It was surreal that we were living in this world where we could not have the decency of being inside a building, in private, with our beloved dog while he breathed his last breath in our arms. It was still wonderful to be able to say goodbye to him and to tell him that he was such a good boy.
However, what a difference COVID-19 makes in some of the most sensitive aspects of our lives like euthanizing a pet.
A day before we left to help my parents, our son had his socially distanced high school graduation ceremony. My husband and I were the only ones present because his grandmother did not feel that it would be safe to travel to Virginia because of her severe health problems. We stopped at each station with him, providing information for future contact, dropping off his school laptop, putting his senior picture in a box for a Class of 2020 time capsule, posing for pictures in prearranged places, and watching him walk across the stage without the applause and shouts of his friends and family members. We enjoyed the moments.
However, what a difference COVID-19 makes in some of the most joyful aspects of our lives like our child’s high school graduation.
Today, I am facing two huge stresses. Yesterday, we took our youngest dog to the vet. He has a mass that has affected his front shoulder to the extent that it is separating bone and causing him to limp at times. Thankfully, he does not seem to be in pain, he continues to eat, and he is still playful. However, we only have a few months with him before the cancer will cause him too much pain and too much weight gain. We are facing another death of a pet in this COVID world where we will probably sit on the grass behind our vet’s office as restaurant workers smoke on their break and we tell Zero what a good dog he is while he breathes his last breath in our arms.
What a difference COVID makes in some of the most heart wrenching aspects of our lives like putting yet another dog to sleep.
In a few weeks, I will be returning to school. I don’t know yet how all of the details will fall into place. I know that I need to be there in person, despite the risks I will take for my own health, the health of my husband and our son, and the health of our church members. I know that I need to be there in-person to provide a smiling face, to instill hope, to try to establish some normalcy for my students. I would much rather be safe at home just like I would rather all of my students to be safe at home, learning virtually. However, I know that there are too many factors that make that improbable. Lack of financial support for child care, lack of internet access for students in remote parts of my county, lack of a safe and stable environment for students to learn, lack of social interaction and emotional support for students who are lonely, depressed, anxious, or neglected at home.
What a difference COVID makes in some of the most necessary aspects of our lives, like educating our children and providing them with a safe and supportive environment in which to learn.
I have not contracted COVID, and thankfully no one in my family has either. I don’t know anyone directly who has been infected by this virus. My COVID story does not involve hospital stays, weeks on a ventilator, blinding headaches, violent vomiting, spiking fevers, or severe muscle aches. However, it has affected so much of my life, my sense of normalcy, the practical aspects of my life, and the emotional aspects of my life.
What a difference a virus makes in such a short amount of time. I encourage you to share your COVID-19 story even if it doesn’t involve illness. You have been affected by this virus just like me.
I am a public school teacher for many different reasons, one of which being my commitment to free, equitable, and quality education for all. Over the last few years, I have felt an unmistakable attack against the public school system in the United States. I can’t explain where that feeling has come from, but it feels like an undefinable evil pressing down around me when I think about the state of public education in America. There are those who would love nothing more than to see public schools dismantled because they pose a threat to those who are in power. Public education can be the great equalizer, providing opportunities for children who otherwise do not have access to enrichment and development of knowledge and skills necessary to progress successfully in our society.
Say what you will about conspiracy theories and what not. There is a clear attack in the United States against public schools and the educators who have committed their lives to the advancement of students around the nation. And now that attack has become even more volatile as schools are looking to “reopen” in August and September after being “closed” due to COVID-19.
First, we need to correct the misinformation that has been presented in the media. Schools never closed.
From March 17th until May 20th, educators in Culpeper County, Virginia continued to provide educational opportunities for their students. Teachers hosted lessons and discussions through Google Meet, sent out packets of activities for students with limited or no internet access, and sent out messages to students and parents, ensuring that everyone was doing ok. Paraprofessionals checked in on their students through email and phone calls, making sure that their students had the support they needed to continue their education. Special education case managers rewrote IEPs, making sure that each student had a specialized plan for their virtual education and made contact with their students regularly. Counselors emailed and called parents and students, making sure that they were accessing the materials they needed to continue the school year and providing counseling services if needed. Administrators continued to monitor student success in classrooms, observing lessons while teachers and students met online through various platforms. Food service workers continued to provide breakfast and lunch to the students every Monday through Friday. Custodians helped to pack up abandoned classrooms and did a deep cleaning of each of the schools, preparing for the return to in-person school. And countless others in the public school system did countless other things, crucial to schools continuing to provide free, equitable, quality education for all students.
This reality was not isolated to Culpeper, VA. Throughout the United States, educators and those who support students continued to work for the advancement of all students. Schools did not fail. Schools did not flounder. Schools continued to thrive, despite the obstacles thrown their way. And most importantly, schools did not “close.”
If schools did not close, then saying that they need to reopen is unnecessary. Along with that, saying that schools need to be fully operational in the fall is also unnecessary. Regardless of the way that the school year resumes this fall, schools will be fully operational. Whether all students are in the school building at a time or all students are learning virtually from home or in the community, schools will be fully operational. Educators and those who support learning will continue to work for the advancement of all students in the United States.
So if the issue is not whether schools need to reopen or whether schools need to be fully operational, what are the issues that public education faces today?
One of the major issues in public education in the United States today is that public schools continue to face defunding. This is a complicated issue that I do not completely understand, so I cannot begin to explain all of the intricacies of each public school’s budget or how money is allocated to each school division in the nation. However, I do know that schools were already facing budget deficiencies before COVID-19 caused in-person learning to cease for the school year. And now, schools are being held as financial hostages as the federal government has threatened to cut federal funding if schools do not “reopen” in the fall.
What does this look like for our most vulnerable students? This means that public schools may not have the resources necessary to resume in-person education safely such as personal protective equipment, cleaned and updated ventilation systems, access to nurses for health screenings, and simple supplies like hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes. The federal government has already worked to funnel money from the CARES Act to private and charter schools even though Congress intended for aid to go to schools most in need financially in resuming in-person education. Congress earmarked $13.2 billion in aid for students from low-income families in the CARES Act. However, the U.S. Department of Education has misinterpreted how that money is to be distributed and is “allow[ing] private schools to get funds based on their total student population, leading tens of millions of dollars to be diverted from public schools in the poorest districts to private institutions with tuition similar to that charged by private colleges” (Rodriguez and Eggert). All schools are not equal. Some schools will need more aid to provide the best resources so that students and staff can safely resume in-person education. However, the Secretary of Education has proven time and time again that she is more concerned with advancing private and charter schools than defending and supporting public education in the United States.
Sadly, the threat against funding for public education goes beyond the CARES Act. The federal government provides funding for the most vulnerable students in the United States through the Every Student Succeeds Act (formerly the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). ESSA provides funding for schools based on social-economic status of students through Title I funding. The federal government also provides funding for public schools through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which supports the education of students with disabilities. The federal government also provides funding for free school lunches through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for students from households with income at or below 130 percent poverty and reduced priced lunches for students from households with incomes between 130 and 185 percent poverty (“National School Lunch Program”).
So I wonder what funding the federal government will cut if schools do not “reopen” in the fall? Will the federal government cut funding for students in poverty, funding for students with disabilities, or funding for school lunches?
Again, the public education system in the United States is being put in jeopardy physically, economically, psychologically, and emotionally. And I wonder why? Why risk the lives and well-being of over 3.5 million public school teachers in the United States? Why risk the lives and well-being of millions of support personnel from public schools in the United States? Why risk the lives and well-being of millions of family members of educators and those who support education in the United States? And why risk the lives and well-being of millions of children and their families throughout the United States?
I’m still waiting for the answers, and I’m afraid the answers will come when it’s too late.
The preservation of the past is one of the most important aspects of remembering and honoring cultural identity. This may include uncovering artifacts, discovering cultural norms, or retelling folk stories. Remembering and honoring the past is one of the important responsibilities of an anthropologist, and more specifically, the responsibility of an ethnographer. Zora Neale Hurston spent her life’s work seeking to preserve and honor the past, specifically through the collection and retelling of folk tales. Even though at times she faced a conflict between her academic and scientific endeavors and her desire to be a storyteller, she was successful in preserving the language of Black Americans and their ancestors through her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston preserves and honors the cultural conflict for black women through her use of Black English vernacular and the symbolism of the porch in her novel.
Through the dialogue of her characters, Hurston tells the cultural history of the female descendants of slaves in the United States. When Janie discovers her sexuality, her grandmother is concerned that she will be just like her mother, a wanderer looking for someone to love. For Nanny, she wants Janie to have a better life and so she reveals to her the place of black women, according to her own understanding. She tells Janie, “‘de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see’” (14). Through this story, Nanny reveals that black women are the backbone of black households because they really do not have a choice, since white men gave the work to black men to do, but black men passed on the burden to black women. Nanny wants to break this cultural norm for Janie by marrying her off to Logan Killicks. Instead of remaining as a beast of burden, Nanny wants Janie to live a life up on the porch, watching the world go by. Nanny furthers this cultural history of black women when she tells Janie, “‘You know, honey, us colored folks is branches without roots and that makes things come round in queer ways’” (16), highlighting the fact that descendants of slaves do not really have a history of their own, separate from whites, which makes it difficult for black women, especially, to find a place for themselves.
Along with highlighting the cultural history of black women in the United States, Hurston uses the porch throughout the novel to highlight the difference between black men and women. For Janie, she did not have any place of her own when she was married to Joe Starks. This is emphasized when she is not able to participate in the porch conversations in front of her husband’s store. The porch is preserved for the men of the community, including her husband. For the men of the town, the porch is a place to complain about the mayor and to express their concerns about the way that Joe treats Janie. One of the men says, “‘Ah often wonder how dat lil wife uh hisn makes out wid him, ‘cause he’s uh man dat changes everything, but nothin’ don’t change him’” (49). This conversation occurs separate from the women in the town, including Janie, but demonstrates the fact that the men could talk openly about the women, but that women were not part of the discussion. When Janie finally does participate in the men’s conversation, she winds up embarrassing her husband in front of the men . When speaking about Mrs. Tony, who the men believe embarasses her husband by seeking food from Joe’s store, the men talk about how Tony could correct his wife through beating her. For once, Janie breaks into the men’s conversation by publicly stating, “‘Sometimes God gits familiar wid us womenfolks too and talks His inside business. He told me how surprised He was ‘bout y’all turning out so smart after Him makin’ yuh different; and how surprised y’all is goin’ tuh be if you ever find out you don’t know half as much ‘bout us as you think you do’” (75). This highlights the conflict that Janie, and other black women, faced because she wanted to be up on the porch when she was married to Logan Killicks, not weighed down with labor, but that she wanted to be part of the porch community while she was married to Joe Starks.
Zora Neale Hurston uses the language of women and men through her novel to highlight the cultural struggles that black women faced in the aftermath of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Nanny’s wisdom, although limiting for Janie, highlights the desire that some women had to be treated not as beasts of burdens but as beautiful things to be cherished and admired from up on the porch. The conversations on the porch demonstrated for Janie a separation between men and women that was not remedied until after Joe Starks was gone. It is not until Janie’s relationship with Tea Cake that she is able to be a part of the narrative of the lives of Black Americans that Hurston is seeking to preserve in her novel. As her patron, Charlotte Osgood Mason advised her, “‘In all that you do, Zora, remember that it is vital to your people that you should not rob your books, which must stand as a lasting monument’” (Frydman 110). Through the use of Black English vernacular and the separation of men and women on the porch in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston does not just preserve the cultural integrity of black Americans, but, more importantly, she shows the struggle for black women seeking to be up on the porch, sharing life with community and loved ones.
Frydman, Jason. “Zora Neale Hurston, Biographical Criticism, and African Diasporic Vernacular Culture.” MELUS, Vol. 34, No. 4, Translation and Alternative Forms of Literacy (Winter 2009), pp. 99-118. Electronically accessed at www.jstor.org/stable/20618102, Mar. 20 2018.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial, 2013.
If you are interested in reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, follow the link below for a digital copy of the novel.
Lately, I have seen a lot of memes and comments on social media that suggest that there are not enough rights to go around. One of the ways that I have seen this is through the reaction of All Lives Matter when people proclaim Black Lives Matter. People post Blue Lives Matter, identifying the fact that police officers and emergency personnel are essential. People post Native Lives Matter, identifying the fact that Native American rights have been violated for centuries in the United States. And some have even posted White Lives Matter, completely missing the point of what is happening around our world today.
Have we run out of rights to give out to people?
Is there a supply and demand of rights that I’m not aware of?
Has the supply been depleted and now people are demanding, at a high cost, that rights only be distributed to certain people groups?
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I agree that Black Lives Matter, that Native Lives Matter, that Blue Lives Matter, and that All Lives Matter. I also agree that at this point in history, the movement Black Lives Matter is calling attention to the systemic racism that has oppressed black people throughout the world for centuries. I love the picture with a little girl in pigtails and sunglasses holding a poster that proclaims, “We said, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We never said, ‘Only Black Lives Matter.’ We know All Lives Matter. We just need your help with #BlackLivesMatter for black lives are in danger.” At a time when it seems that violence against people of color has increased, we all need to agree that all lives matter but that right now, we need to pay attention to the lives that are in danger.
I cannot begin to explain the plight of people of color throughout the centuries in our country as a white woman of privilege. We need brave people of color to tell their own stories. One thing that we can do is listen to the stories of those who have been mistreated and oppressed. The other thing we can do is to say something or do something when we see someone being mistreated or oppressed. Remember that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Likewise, I cannot excuse the way that people in power have mistreated the lower classes, treating them like chattel instead of people. I think we can all agree that there are many social evils that we need to address in our world today: racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ageism. But focusing on the rights of one group does not mean that another group of people loses their rights. Black Lives Matter does not mean that White Lives don’t matter or that Blue Lives don’t matter or that All Lives don’t matter.
We haven’t run out of rights.
In my college logic class, I learned a long list of logical fallacies. Logical fallacies present invalid or faulty arguments. They include constructions such as circular reasoning, red herrings, attacking the man (ad hominem or mudslinging), and either/or. Either/or fallacies suggest that there are only two possible outcomes in an argument. Currently, in the United States, either/or fallacies are the root of many of our problems. When we look at politics, we assume that we can only be Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative. When we look at abortion, we assume that we can only be Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, no rights for the unborn or no rights for women. When we look at racial conflict, some of us assume that we can only support Black Lives or Blue Lives, Black Lives or White Lives.
There are more than two outcomes to any argument. These issues are more complex than this.
And we still haven’t run out of rights. There are plenty of rights for all people. Giving rights to one group doesn’t negate the rights of another.
In Galatians 3, Paul dismantles the early Church’s reliance on the Law. He explains that the Law acted as a guide for the people of God before Christ died for the sins of all people and before He was resurrected, eternally triumphing over sin and death. Paul says that the Law “protected us until we could be made right with God through faith” (v. 24 NLT). However, once Christ was resurrected, a new way was provided for people who seek God. Paul proclaims, “Now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian” (v. 25 NLT). This is good news for all people!
He continues by explaining that through faith in Christ Jesus, we are all children of God. This means that “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female” because we are all one in Christ Jesus (v. 26-28 NLT). We are ONE! We are UNITED!
There are enough rights to go around. We haven’t run out of rights for those who have been mistreated for the color of their skin. We haven’t run out of rights for those who have lost opportunities because of their gender. We haven’t run out of rights for those who haven’t received medical attention because of their social class. We haven’t run out of rights for those who were born outside of the United States. And we haven’t run out of rights for those who have been born into privilege, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual identity, their education, their social class, their religion, their nationality, or their political party.
There is not a rights shortage in the world today.
Let’s reconsider the way that we react to what we see today. Let’s reconsider our rhetoric when we feel the need to defend our position. Let’s reconsider the ways that we show love for all people. Remember that in Christ Jesus, we are all made equal.
And let’s echo the words of Daniel in his prayer in Daniel 9, seeking repentance for the whole world:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the pastorsand priests, who spoke in your name to our leaders, our representatives and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of the United States and the inhabitants of the entire world, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our leaders, our representatives and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 The entire world has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
15 “Now, Lord our God[…], we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from […] your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made our world and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
Daniel 9:5-19 New Living Translation. Changes made by Beccy McGlinchy are in italics.
Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass depicts religion and Christianity as two separate realities in the world in which he was living. Religion is characterized by the slave masters who Douglass encounters throughout his early life as a slave. This religion is hypocritical, cruel, and dehumanizing. In contrast, for Douglass, Christianity must follow a specific set of principles that are governed by an individual’s sense of ethics. True Christian ethics require someone to be not just a listener of the Word but, more importantly, a doer of the Word as James encourages in James 1:25. Douglass’s Christianity is based on the theology that individuals propagate evil but are also capable of overcoming evil with the determination given by God, which most slaves described as Providence. Therefore, Douglass’s view of Christianity challenges the hypocritical and cruel religion that was present in antebellum South in the 19th century and presents a Christianity that is life giving not just for slaves but for the whole of society.
The religion of antebellum South was based on a patriarchy of control and fear. This is present in the various “religious” slave masters that Frederick Douglass encounters in his early life. For example, Douglass explains that “being the slave of a religious master [is] the greatest calamity that could befall [him]” (371). Wohlport asserts that not only were these slave owners evil in their own right, they also believed that they had equal status to God. Of Covey, Wohlport explains that due to Covey’s acts of deception toward Douglass as well as seeming to be omnipresent, Covey believes that he is like God and therefore has the right to treat the slaves that he is attempting to break however he deems necessary to get them under his control (184). Douglass takes it further when he explains that “The religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes” (371). He uses the metaphor of “a dark shelter” (371) to further this description, highlighting the fact that men like Covey and Auld hid under their religion and used it as an excuse for their “barbarity” and “hateful frauds” (371). The religion of men like Covey and Auld is quite different from the Providence that Douglass and other slaves were seeking in the midst of their greatest despair.
Besides controlling and tormenting their slaves, the religious patriarchs of antebellum South kept their wives in fear as well. One of the most pivotal moments of Douglass’s narrative is when Sophia Auld begins to treat him like a slave and no longer like a human being. This change in her angelic disposition toward Douglass occurred when her husband discovered that she was teaching Douglass to read. Of this discovery Auld “forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct [him] further” (351) and Mr. Auld used harsh language such as “nigger” to dehumanize Douglass so that Mrs. Auld no longer saw him as a human being but simply as property to be managed and controlled. No longer was she disturbed by his status as a slave and no longer did she look on him with a “cheerful eye” or “angelic face” (351). Rather, because of the influence of her husband and his religion, Mrs. Auld became a type of demon to Douglass since she denied him his humanity through ending his education.
In contrast to men like Covey and Auld, Douglass describes the difference between slave owners who are religious and those who have no sense of religion. He concludes that those who have no religion are more charitable to their slaves. Mr. Freeland is an example of such a slave master who “seemed to possess some regard for honor, some reverence for justice, and some respect for humanity” (371). It is while Douglass is in the possession of Freeland that he is able to start the Sabbath school with other slaves who are interested in developing their understanding of the Bible and morality. Freeland’s religion seems to be rooted in more Christian values, such as justice, mercy, and compassion, even though as far as Douglass was concerned, Freeland had no religion. Even though, according to Douglass, Freeland has no formal religion, he lived up to the words of the prophet Micah who wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Holy Bible, Micah 6:8). In the culture that supported and defended slavery through references to scripture, it is clear that the religion of antebellum South ignored passages that commanded love for neighbor and mercy toward others. For Douglass, it seemed as if only those men and women without the formal religion of the South maintained these very human qualities.
Instead of reflecting the religion of the South, Douglass’s view of Christianity is much deeper than just paying lip service to God. Ferguson explains that for many slaves, they needed to separate their understanding of Southern religion with their perspective of Providence. She asserts, “Making this theological distinction helps protect them from the emotional damage that could be caused by a religion compromised by two contradictory moral strains” (307). There were clearly two contradictory moral strains – on the one hand, the religion of the South defended the inerrancy of the Gospel, but on the other hand it defended the institution of slavery. The religion of the South used specific scriptures to support slavery and to manipulate slaves into believing that they needed to comply with their owners because God had ordained it to be so. Gibson explains that slave owners and ministers used primarily Luke 12:47 and Ephesians 6:5 to justify slavery as well as the barbarity of slavery, passages that show that slave owners should beat their slaves if they are disobedient and that strict obedience to slavemasters is a Christian duty that God requires of slaves (Gibson 593). This perspective does not take into account the whole of the Gospel message of love for God and love for others, a clear message throughout the Bible. For the slaves, they saw Providence as the very embodiment of love and so that is why they do “not confuse their all-encompassing Providence with the schizophrenic Christian God” (Ferguson 307). As Douglass uncovers in his narrative, true religion is not just about following a certain list of proof texts of the Bible, like slave owners tended to do to justify their cruel acts toward people. True religion is about embodying the nature of God and being a reflection of the nature of God in the world through action.
Instead of focusing on the religious tenets of the Christianity of antebellum South, Frederick Douglass sees something much more powerful in his understanding of Christianity. He applies this understanding to his life and therefore is a doer of the Word and not just a listener of the Word. Wohlport asserts that Douglass learns that he must work outside of the institution of Southern Christianity in order to gain his freedom (184). This means that he needs to find the determination to gain his freedom within himself and within his understanding of Providence. Douglass explains in the appendix to his narrative that “It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify” (391). He will not find a sympathetic ear within the Church of the South. He will not find a good Christian brother or sister in the South to help him pay for his freedom. Not even Master Hugh, who at one point demonstrated true compassion for Douglass after he was beaten by several men in a shipyard (379), was willing to let Douglass save money for his freedom. Douglass understands that he cannot rely on anyone for his freedom except for himself. Once he has this freedom, then he will be able to speak this message of self-determination that is provided by Providence to those who can actual do something to stop the evils of slavery: white Northerners who do not have the same views of Christianity as those present in the South.
Douglass’s view of Christianity represents a combination of a clear understanding of Providence and self-determination through action. Several times in his narrative, Douglass calls out to Providence for rescue and for understanding. When describing the experience of the Sabbath school that he led while in the possession of Mr. Freeland, he reflects on the status of the “precious souls” of his students who he was confident at the writing of his narrative were still “shut up in the prison-house of slavery” (373). This causes him to reflect on several important questions for one who is struggling to comprehend an all-loving God in the midst of Southern Christianity. He asks, “‘Does a righteous God govern the universe? And for what does he hold the thunders in his right hand, if not to smite the oppressor?’” (373). He wants God to strike down the inhuman slave owners, and rightfully so. However, he understands that God works within the actions of believers. He comes to recognize that it is in his power to stand up against his oppressors and to gain his freedom for himself and for others. This occurs when he stands up against Covey and reflects that “He only can understand the deep satisfaction which I experienced, who has himself repelled by force the bloody arm of slavery” (369). For Douglass, true Bible following Christianity is both a system of beliefs but also a system of ethics which require action on the part of the believer.
This system of ethics within the institution of Christianity can be life giving to the entire world. It is this system of ethics which drove Douglass to gain his own freedom and to begin speaking publicly about the evils of slavery so that those with power within the various institutions in the United States could do something to stop the oppression and brutality against slaves. It is this system of ethics that calls people today to live not only with a clear understanding of Providence but also a willingness to act. Even though slavery no longer exists as a systemic evil in the United States today there are other evils present in society which need the actions of people with a clear sense of purpose and a desire to act justly and to love mercy so that those who are oppressed today will feel the same “glorious resurrection” (369) that Douglass describes in his narrative. As Gibson concludes, “True Christianity reveals its actuality through the right actions of Christians, and in the acts of people their reality is rendered” (599). This is the Christianity that Douglass loved and that the world needs today.
Douglass, Frederick. “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” The Norton Anthology African American Literature Volume 1, Third Edition, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Valerie A. Smith. Norton, 2014, pp. 330-393.
Ferguson, Sally Ann H. “Christian Violence and the Slave Narrative.” American Literature, no. 2, 1996, pp. 297-320. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/2928299.
Gibson, Donald B. “Christianity and Individualism: (Re-)Creation and Reality in Frederick Douglass’s Representation of Self.” African American Review, no. 4, 1992, pp. 591-599. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.3041873&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Holy Bible. New International Version, Zondervan, 2011.
Wohlpart, A. James. “Privatized Sentiment and the Institution of Christianity: Douglass’s Ethical Stance in the ‘Narrative.'(Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass).” ATQ: 19th Century American Culture and Literature, no. 3, 1995, pp. 181-195. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsggo&AN=edsgcl.18022566&site=eds-live&scope=site.
If you are interested in reading The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave go to the link from Project Gutenberg below for a free, digital copy.
We are living in a time with a lot of noise and distraction. Since January of this year, the news has been filled with chaotic information from the impeachment hearings of the U.S. president to the increase of positive cases of COVID-19 and now to cities that are filled with signs of revolution and rebellion as people are standing up against police brutality and systemic racism. It’s difficult to know what information is true because all news outlets are biased in their own political leanings. And if you are scrolling through any social media these days, you will more than likely find people you follow spouting out information that may be true or false. Facebook is filled with clickbait and memes, yelling out against the far right and the far left. And much of the information is filled with emotions of distrust, anger, frustration, fear, and self-righteousness.
In my own personal life, my days have been filled with chaos all its own. I attempt each day to do something meaningful, whether that be writing something of worth, reading something inspirational, supporting my husband’s ministry to our church community, or walking alongside of my adult son as he tries to learn to be independent. I try to reach out to my family members who are scattered throughout the United States, struggling with their own feelings about the pandemic and now the riots and looting happening in their hometowns. And in the midst of the world’s chaos, as a family we have a chaos of our own as my step-dad needed triple bypass surgery almost a month ago and has experienced complications in his recovery for the last few weeks. My chaos includes deciding when the best time will be to travel across the country to be with my mom as she navigates these new waters with my step-dad as he heals. Questions surround me about my safety in traveling because of the pandemic, the demonstrations, and my son’s lack of independence. The waters of chaos are surrounding me as I’m sure they are surrounding many of you today.
In the midst of the waters of chaos, we are called to be still.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is living in a world of chaos. He has just been threatened by Ahab and Jezebel who are bent on revenge. He is hiding, afraid that he will be slaughtered by a vicious king and an evil queen. He cries out to God, “‘I have had enough, Lord […] Take my life'” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV). I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have made this same cry to God: Lord, I can’t handle anymore. Lord, come back today. Take my life.
In the middle of Elijah’s cry, God hears and sends an angel to minister to Elijah. Elijah eats and rests. Then, he travels for forty days and forty nights, eventually reaching the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:6-9). He is tired, he is beaten down, he is afraid, he is drowning in the waters of chaos.
Then God asks Elijah what he wants. God asks Elijah why he is there. Elijah proclaims: “‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too'” (1 Kings 19:10 NIV). Have you felt that way lately? Have you felt alone? Have you felt like you are the only one who is righteous? Have you felt afraid for your life?
In the midst of the waters of chaos, we are called to be still. We are called to listen.
Sometimes we imagine that God will yell from the heavens, “Stop it!” In fact, yesterday, I saw several cartoons and memes that suggested that God is trying to get our attention in all of our chaos through shouting at us. However, God does not shout at us. He whispers into the chaos so that we will be still. So that we will listen.
In 1 Kings 19, we are reminded that God does not shout. God does not return disorder with disorder. God speaks in the whisper.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV
God speaks in the whisper so that we will be still. So that we will be silent. So that we will listen.
We are reminded throughout scripture that God creates order out of disorder. At the beginning, “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2 NIV). It is into the chaos that God spoke creation into being, establishing order.
When God saw “how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth,” he reset creation, allowing the waters of chaos to overwhelm the earth so that once again He could create order (Genesis 6:5 NIV).
And when the time was right, he sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to whisper into the waters of chaos. Christ, the Prince of Peace. Christ, who did not fight back. Christ who “committed no sin,” who “did not retaliate,” who “made no threats” (1 Peter 2:22-23 NIV).
In the midst of the waters of chaos, we are called to be still. We are called to listen. We are called to be like Jesus.
I do not believe that Christians should do nothing. I do not believe that Christians should allow chaos to continue through unjust laws, through oppression, through subjugation, through injustice. I believe that God calls us to action.
However, I also believe that before we act, we need to be still, we need to listen, and we need to be like Jesus.
God has called you out of the chaos through a whisper. Listen to His whisper today. Be still as you listen. Then, act out of the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus Christ in your life “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV).
In Ralph Ellison’s novel, Invisible Man, the narrator seeks to reconcile the dying words of his grandfather with navigating his own reality and identity. His grandfather confesses that he had “been a traitor all [his] born days, a spy in the enemy’s country” (16). This is not the reality that he wants for his descendants, and so he exhorts his family to “overcome ‘em with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction” (16). The words of his grandfather haunt the narrator throughout his journey toward identity as well as his discovery of the true intentions of the Brotherhood. To some extent, the words of the narrator’s grandfather ring true in the words and actions of Ras the Exhorter/Destroyer. However, like the cynical, dying words of his grandfather, the narrator is unwilling to accept Ras’s words and deeds as the only way for uplifting the black race.
Even though it seems as if Ras’s methods in Harlem are not in any way rational, he represents the voice of reason for both Clifton and the narrator who have been manipulated to believe that the Brotherhood has their best interests at heart. He is tired of seeing other black men get manipulated by organizations like the Brotherhood and affirms Tod Clifton’s potential to be a great leader. He says to Clifton, “Recognize you’self inside and you wan the kings among men!” (373), identifying the fact that Clifton is more than just a pawn to be used by the Brotherhood but that he could be just as powerful and influential as previous black leaders like Marcus Garvey. He also uses reason against Clifton and the narrator to show the irrationality of the three men fighting in the street against one another. He asks, “‘Is this sanity? Standing here in three shades of blackness! Three black men fighting in the street because of the white enslaver? Is that sanity? Is that consciousness, scientific understahnding?’” (372). This demonstrates the irrationality of the Brotherhood that is pitting black men against one another to further their cause, attempting to show the narrator that his unity with the Brotherhood will not end with the uplift of the race.
Instead of overcoming them with yeses and destroying them with complicity, Ras the Destroyer seeks action that represents what the narrator seems to want throughout the novel. The narrator recognizes that words do not mean much if they are not followed with action. As the Exhorter, Ras is satisfied to move the people to his side and to undermine the Brotherhood. However, after Clifton’s funeral, Ras proclaims that words are futile if they are not followed by action, and so he calls the people to action when he announces, “It is time for Ras the Exhorter become Ras the Destroyer!” (485). Even though the narrator wants change to occur peacefully throughout the novel, through science, reason, and organizing, Ras’s transformation to the Destroyer causes the narrator to recognize that action is what is needed, even if it means complete destruction of Harlem in the process.
Despite the narrator’s agreement with the need for action, Ras the Destroyer’s methods include burning tenement buildings, shooting white police officers, and hanging white mannequins through the streets of Harlem. At the end of the novel, Ras does not represent the voice of reason or the path to identity for the narrator. Instead, he is a voice that needs to be silenced which occurs when the narrator throws the spear at Ras and it rips “through both cheeks” and locks his jaws shut (560). This is not the world that the narrator wants either, one of violence, bloodshed, and destruction. Instead, the narrator seems to be looking for some sense of compromise between scientific methods of the Brotherhood and action, like Ras, that is rooted in the vision of unity and true brotherhood instead of complicity, manipulation, and violence.