God – Poverty And The Resurections Into A New Life – Surviving Hard Times

You Take the World, Give Me Jesus Eugene Gordon 1929, writes: “ You may have the world but give me Jesus,” sang the Uncle Toms of the pre-Lincoln era. And their masters, always generous with intangible gifts, lavished upon the serfs more and ever more Jesus. And their gifts remained, despite efforts of many of this generation to exchange some Jesus for a bit of the world.”

My spiritual formation was influenced by these stories, and by the acceptance of some to the conditions of their lives. I separated God from the physical, social and economical environment I found myself living in. I wanted the kingdom in this life, and on this earthly plane.

My view of God was that He was not a God of poverty and injustice, and with a change in mental attitude it was possible to achieve more and improved conditions in life. The advantage of going to church frequently and attending many different denominations is that you hear the word of God over and over again. Somewhere in those repeated words of the bible, the image of God emerges; not the image of the God of my mother, father or grandparents, but an image of a God who walks in the middle of difficulty, and will see you through to the end. Somewhere the image of God as the symbol of strength and endurance in the time of hardship comes through. The Hebrews were freed from Egypt to find their way through the wilderness of life. Africans were freed from the bondage of the pharos of the Americas, and made a mass exodus into the wilderness of freedom. I see God in the events of the past. I see God in the survival of a people who could have been emotionally handicapped by the events of their lives. God held the emotional health of the people, and there were few if any recorded records of mass insanity as the results of the institution of slavery.

The stories told in the Black Church has always been about endurance, survival and making a better life. The strength of the Black Church has been its ability to help people remember when they were in bondage, and how they got over that period.

One of the problems experienced by some ministers who seek to work with congregations of diverse ethnic histories is that the stories are not the same. It is difficult for a pastor coming from another culture and another history, to relate to how a people see God, and use Him in their worship. Slavery is an important part in the spiritual formation of Black people. The period after slavery, called the wilderness period or the racism period, is where people put on the armor of God, and began to use the teaching of Jesus in the acts of forgiveness and acceptance. God had to become real to a people who were living face to face with the realities of life. Ministers had their hand full with helping people to accept the idea and fact that they, the slaves and the peoples of color, were indeed the chosen peoples of the earth.Modern religion whitenized the African Hebrew peoples through pictoral reprsentation, sculptures and European saints. Even Jesus with his bleached face, blue eyes and blond hair, is far from the image of what a descand of Abraham would look like. But Jesus black white asian or brown, worked for and transformed the world, suggesting the Jesus was not sent to represent the color of God, but to be the living Word of God.

  It was only with a complete knowledge of scripture that ministers were able to cite chapter and verse in the bible, which related to the conditions of the lives of oppressed peoples. The Old Testament demonstrated that, peoples of color, they were not alone in the trials they were going through.

The New Testament gave them a personal savior who would carry burdens and  pain and sorrow. The spiritual formation of any person of color with roots in the Americas centers in and around a personal responsibility and relationship with God and His son Jesus the Christ. The Women, the Church and Jesus. The women would pray out their concerns, and lay before the church the hardships of their hearts. Lot of good music, and plenty of food, and the women would give their few coins to the minister, the only male in the church.

Some how to me this was not God’s house, this was a house of pain and sorrow and the women felt better after releasing their sorrow load. At the age of twelve, I was able to leave these churches church of sorrow, and go in search of my God. I did not see God working in these store-front churches and lives of these women. Each week they came back and repeated the same story, and added another pray event to the list. As a child, I had heard enough biblical stories to know that God had and does work in the lives of people. I could not see him working here. With the permission of my mother, I visited several churches to see if I could find a place where God was working. I did find such a place.

Finding God, Changing Environments.

Harlem has many fine churches, and many store front churches. God has always been in Harlem, it was just necessary to find the body of people demonstrating his presence  working in their lives. I found  a Historical Black Church, a church of wealth and history. There were exciting programs for children. There were men in leadership roles. There were women walking with their heads held high and demonstrating the working of God in their lives. There were positive role models for living life in this exciting community called Harlem. Children in the community hung out in the church after school and evenings. The church was opened seven day a week. All social activities were held in the church. Young people learned to date from the church, and get married and have their children blessed in the church. Whatever the community needed was found in the church, from financial planning, relationship building, management and administration, and a spiritual teaching about the love and will of God. I found my God, and I found my church. The church was so crowded that it was necessary to arrive early if you wanted a seat. The minister was feeding the people with the hope of  God, which they needed. Women would take young girls and mentor them into the roles of Christian women, and men would take young boys and mentor them into leadership roles and Christian manhood. That was the twentieth century, and through the grace of God we made it through. We made it through wars, racial discrimination, and unimaginable challenges of life. We had the church to hold as a firm course and a supportive guide. As children we made it through and became adults demonstrating the blessings of God in our lives. The church was filled with children from the nursery school to the university levels. The Church taught its young people how to work and let God work in their lives. God did work in their lives. Many became success businessmen and women and professionals. Many demonstrating the workings of God, married, had children, and moved out of the community. They brought homes in the suburbs and other communities, they loved their church, but many could and would not send their children to the neighborhood schools. As the school system in New York City began to decline, so did church attendance. People were not leaving the church- they were seeking better learning opportunities for their children. The church, without knowing it, had a vested interest in the quality of education delivered to the children in the community. It was directly affecting the bottom line of church operation. The challenges of the 21st century, is to solve the problem of educational delivery to poor children, and also to make the church more responsive to the needs of children.

Finding God

Finding God was a transforming experience. I had to know that this God of my ancestors was the God for me. I had to take a step in the direction of faith and trust that God would be with me in every step that I took. It was necessary to deny the reality of my present existence and just the knowledge that I was made in the image and likeness of this God. I learned to look in the mirror and see a reflection starring back at me that was a reflection of the face of God. I learn to look into the face of other people and also see the same reflections. My decision was what would I do with this awareness of who I was. If I were made in the image and likeness of God, then I would have abilities to do things that I could not imagine with my natural mind. My natural mind look at the reality of my existence, and told me that there was no way that an individual would be able to over come circumstances with so many obstacles blocking the way.

The still voice, which comes into your mind, during times of quiet and surrender revealed the thought that what man cannot do, God could do. It was around this time that I decided to take a closer look at these storefront church- women – I wanted to know what they had in common. I wanted to see the degree of their dependence on this church system. I noticed that all of them had made poor relational choices in their lives. I noticed that most if not all of them, were not in any positive relationship with men. In fact most of the content of their weekly testimony related to some negative behavior of friends or relatives with whom they associated. Most of them had a considerable amount of time to contribute to church activity. These activities included cleaning the church, arriving early to set up the church for week- day or evening services. There was entirely too much time devoted to church work and too little time invested in handling the challenges of intimate relationships and self- advancement. The women would join together and cook all day Saturday and brought the food to church on Sunday. Cooking and eating were an important part of church activity. There seemed to be a sense of comfort in the shared rhythms of their lives. The women were the same, almost carbon copies of each other. The music provided by the church through survival hymns- gave voice to the voiceless words in the women’s hearts. Music is therapeutic- it has healing powers. These were the war years- most of the eligible men were off in the war- some never to return through death- and some finding the courage to escape – elected to settle in other areas of the country- leaving these store front women. Most of the men- sat as children listening to their mothers give testimony of beaten down lives- not wanting to return and marry the daughters of these women- they sought happier pastures.

The culture of poverty begins when the grandmother of these store- front women exist on welfare- the adult daughters are on welfare – and they are pregnant. It takes a lot of energy and will power to escape the poverty culture trap system- and I remember my escape.

Today it is possible to see the same scene played out in challenged communities addressing the needs of drug addition- legal and non-legal and alcohol addiction. Addicts seek comfort among people who will not judge them- each listens to the other’s story- shared with the music of chemical infusion. The “god” of the drug – listens to – hears and relieves the deep pain within the soul. It is next to impossible to speak to a person caught in the passion of the relief- that chemicals provide- they are caught inside of a cave- and they view the world through shadows.

Religion too can be an addiction – when used by individuals – as a means of control or financial reward. I have helped several young women – change the course of their lives through changing churches. The failure of some churches in some challenging communities is that many are addiction support centers rather than transformational centers.

Jesus never stopped and said to a person- “you poor thing” – those are some horrible things that happened to you. Jesus wiped the scales of confusion from their eyes- strengthened their legs, and said-“take up your bed- and walk.” No pity party- knowledge of right seeing and right thinking- and putting them on the path of living life with all of its challenges and rewards.

Jesus did not start a gathering of the lost and the hopeless. He walked among them as the Way The Truth and The Light. There is a way to handle the challenges of life.

There is a truth about who we are- no better or no worse that our neighbor- no more entitled or different- to live is a struggle- get use to it- and if you are not willing to put in the struggle- you will have no life.

Death is a long process- and the use of any chemical inside of the body – places you on the slow death cycle. The body mind and spirit have the seeds of wholeness- the breath of life- provided by God – and the water from your mother’s womb- provided everything required to – bring forth a healthy being.

Find a healthy- spiritual feeding center and renew the waters of life. If circumstances in life require adjustments in life- during the early growing stages in life- then know that the seeds are there- and when the adult in you comes out- make whatever adjustment necessary- and order the steps of your own life.

There is an advantage to being born disadvantaged- disadvantage provides addition time for growth- without the obstacles of privilege and entitlement. It is important to always have a self- destruct button or an Easter-resurrection button. Blow up the old – remembering that new life comes in the morning.

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