Music of “Freedom Song”

“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing….” — Psalm 68:6a (New International Version)

All music that tells the story of redemption through Jesus Christ is gospel music.  Yet in some circles “gospel music” is confined to a niche — a certain style of music, generally music associated with African-Americans. 

True, while there are variations of “gospel music” depending on region (usually a modifying region of the United States: Southern gospel, Appalachian gospel — is there such a thing as Asian gospel or Indian gospel?) , for the purposes of this conversation, track with the premise that in many views, the phrase “gospel music” is synonymous with “black gospel music.”

In that sense, components of “gospel music” are symbolized by two easily identifiable images: a choir, and robes.  These symbols come from a powerful aesthetic in African-American heritage; yet there are dangers in defining gospel music and African-Americans by these two symbols alone.

One danger is that of co-opting the sound of gospel music for other messages.  Think, for instance, how often you have heard “gospel music” in a film, television program or commercial, none of which is associated with the gospel of Christ? Enjoyable as the sound may be, the listener must discern the context.

The other danger is underestimating the impact of various styles of music upon liberating Africans in America.  That liberation developed as the robed-choirs connected the music of the times and the regions where they lived with the lyrics from which they were rooted:  the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures those that professed good news gospel music of Jesus Christ as He intended — to link man and God.



Hear “Free Indeed” based on John 8:36.

More than Black’s History

Exploring that link, and telling the story of how gospel music has developed in the United States is the purpose of “Freedom Song,” one of the ensemble plays from the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries history cycle.  The script was created in 2011 as reader’s theater presentation in response to a  request for a church’s African-American History Month program.  Since then, “Freedom Song” has been presented annually as part of church and corporate commemorations in February.  Because of those performances, “Freedom Song” has received subsequent off-season productions – not just during African-American history month. 

Its  themes extend beyond February, beyond the topic of physical slavery in the U.S., beyond the confines of the American shores.  The weaving of Scripture, song history and musical genres create a tale of liberation through Christ from an assortment of enslaving circumstances and behaviors.

Indeed, taking into account the headlines of any given day — perhaps, even, the last hour — it’s natural to conclude that if cries and flights to freedom are universal, then perhaps the key to liberation is beyond the state of any particular union. Or nation. This ageless human cry to escape through a designated liberator became more recognizable as the music listened to over time and in different places became more poignant when heard collectively, especially as the tales of how they were created or utilized were discovered.


Films & Noir

Over 30 songs from America’s colonial slavery to millennial technology bondage are sampled, dramatized and  in the program that is staged as an abbreviated one-act or movie-length  outreach complete with a post-performance talk-back.  In the course of the evening, the audience receives new insight into traditional, beloved gospel music, and is introduced to newer selections that don’t have the gospel music sound, but deliver the gospel of Christ message.   Researching the songs that inspired the script provided more insight than performance times allow.  Nevertheless, the insights and sounds are too important to NOT share.  And so, we compiled most of the songs that inspired the script’s creation into a playlist, assembled on our KIT Ministries YouTube Channel, and have written short essays about each song or song sequence.  We will post those essays and the songs on these pages and our social media pages in coming days as our commemoration of  how Scriptures have shaped African-America.

For starters, we present the entire playlist here along with a brief introduction to the show.   By listening to the playlist, you’ll find unlikely musical connections between  Czechoslovakian classical composer Anton Dvorak and American folk icon Paul Robeson; poet James Weldon Johnson and rappers Doughboy the Midwest Maestro and DJ Kool Rod;  Peter, Paul  & Mary, and Mavis Staples.  You’ll also see rare performances by Sister Rosetta TharpeMahalia Jackson and Richie Havens, and provocative movie clips the voice of African-Americans and  gospel music in film.

​Visit these FacebookTwitter and Pinterest pages for daily posts on individual songs.  Most of the songs will be posted during African-American History Month.  However, don’t be surprised if posting continues into the days after Feb. 28.  Just as African-American history occurs beyond the end of February, the gospel of Christ cannot be contained to just 28 days.

Please consider adding the entire “Freedom Song” playlist to your YouTube channel.

Michael Edgar Myers Freedom Song
Videos of Paul Robeson, Burt Lancaster, Eddie James influence the “Freedom Song” script.

A History of Gospel Music

For those who wish to learn about the genre of “gospel music,” we recommend, “Make a Joyful Noise!  A Brief History of Gospel Music Ministry in America,” available in print or audiobook.  The book was written by Kathryn B. Kemp and is narrated by KIT Ministries Founding Director Michael Edgar Myers and award-winning audiobook actor Barbara Ann Martin.

Make a Joyful Noise Cover

Dr. Kemp gives great detail and colorful anecdotes about how many gospel songs in the U.S. developed through painstaking adaptation and recording from their roots among African Tribes and maintained throughout despite the efforts to disassociate the slaves from those roots on these shores.

Kemp also relates the development of those songs on record, mostly through the efforts of Rev. James Cleveland, founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

LEARN MORE

MEMos and Musings

Because we were asked to create a new script based in faith and African-American history, we are not touring “Freedom Song” this February. It’s the first time in five years. “Freedom Song” is available after Easter, and our new show, “Strolling Down MLK Street,” has limited availability through the spring and thereafter.

Since both shows evoke questions and conversation, we want to make available not just the music and song stories that we’ve employed, but also other research and commentaries about faith and ethnicity in America. Not just because this is African-American History Month. Just because they’re fascinating and sometimes fun. Like, we hope, the three below: previous faith-race-and-history blogs from Worship Wonderings and a MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers that seem to still have relevance as well as an occasional off-kilter perspective about race. Feel free to read, ask questions, share a thought, and enjoy.

Related African-American History Stories

A Black Jew, A Female Pastor, A Segregationist and Thou

“Look, Grandfather (Nubians)!”

MaMa & Obama: 10 Years After

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Carol Story: As Others Wonder, The Faithful Pay It Forward

A great difficulty with contemporary celebrations of Christmas is the misconception of the events and timing of the birth of Jesus. This occurs even among Christians Believers, particularly in Western cultures. The problem? The prevailing concept that Christmas climaxes on a singular date: December 25.

Yes, there are further celebrations of Christ’s birth in assorted denominations – the 13 days of Christmas continuing through the Epiphany in Catholic and related congregations; and the remembrance in the Orthodox Church observed January 7, or 12 days after the “traditional” Christmas. 

However, if you look around, come December 26, “the Christmas spirit” begins dissipating. Observe three tendencies:  the urgency to remove decorations; the rush to return gifts; the reduction of Christmas songs in public.  Even the most earnest pastors and worship music leaders may wonder how many weekends after December 25 should the congregation continue singing “Christmas” songs in Services of Worship.

FURTHER READING:  “When the 26th Is Over,” a poem for reflection

The transitional songs of the Kingdom Impact Theater production “Carol Story” belie the idea that Christmas music should go away immediately after December 25.  Indeed, a number of Christmas selections build on the concept of evangelizing – that is, telling others the Good News of salvation through Messiah’s birth. Lyrics of three carols,  “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “I Wonder as I Wander,” can be viewed as tools in the on-going witnessing concept first noted here in “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”  Taken as a whole, these lyrics should remind Christ-followers that the birth of the baby was the beginning of the Christmas story, not its conclusion, and their a responsibility to share this information. 


LEARN MORE:Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.


To grasp this idea, it’s necessary to review the scriptural timeline of the Christmas narrative rather than Hallmark cards.  The Biblical story recorded in Luke Chapter 2 indicates that Jesus was born at night. So, unlike us who often open presents at the crack of dawn, Mary and Joseph’s gift of parenthood didn’t arrive until nightfall … at the END of the day.

(Jesus wasn’t swaddled in cloths on Christmas Eve, either, for it didn’t exist yet.  Though we’ll give some allowances for a right-after-midnight arrival, meaning the shepherds COULD have been stirred by middle-of-the-night celestial viewings).

Lifesize Nativity Chicago
Lifesize nativity in downtown Chicago represents the worship vistiations that may have actually taken place over a couple of years. (Photo: Michael Edgar Myers)

By the time the shepherds saw the stars and singing angels, and walked (or ran) to see this thing, arriving at the manger took time. And it wasn’t the same evening as the three visitors from the East recorded in Matthew Chapter, whose account of the Wise Men’s arrival likely was two years later.

Indeed, for point of conversation, it’s possible that the Wise Men’s encounter with King Herod was less about the birth itself, but as a result of what occurred afterwards:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. —

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 15:18 (New International Version)

Three things did happen that night that continue in today’s Christmas season:  1) people came to worship the child, believing the Old Testament (Hebrew) prophecies were fulfilled after 500 years; 2) witnesses went and told others the significance of the child’s birth; 3) others came to discover for themselves, and began to ask questions.

This worship and investigation led to the wonderfully imagined nativity scenes which decorate our landscapes and homes.  However, these are a composite of what happened over time, not on the night of, Hallmark notwithstanding.

Three songs in the middle passage of “Carol Story” capture this sense of “shepherds’ telephone line” that inspired the crowds to visit Bethlehem and ponder what occurred. Their lyrics inspired a poetic encounter between the shepherds heading to the manger and the people they meet on the way to Bethlehem. Those people, like us, have questions.

“Shepherds, why this jubilee…?”

“Angels we have heard on high…”

“Come, all ye faithful! Join the triumph of the skies!”

(Sotto voice): “I wonder, as I wander…”

— Songs Lyrics, adapted in “Carol Story”

The questioning lyrics come from a latter-day carol from Appalachia, representing a person curious about the possibility the newborn babe could be the prophesied savior, while at the same time questioning one’s own belief in Christ during a time of crisis, period.  Questioning occurs even among those who have heard the scriptures for years.  Ask a teenager, as we discovered at a high school dinner party years ago.

LEARN MORE:  The Virgin Shall Be With Child, Really?

The story of how this folk carol from rural 1930s America came to be a beloved Christmas witness is its own miracle.  The accompanying video, a live performance by Vanessa Williams, maintains the reflective intimacy of the lyrics despite an orchestra accompaniment.

VIDEO MOMENT:  “I Wonder as I Wander,” captured in revival after jail

That solitude is contrasted by the acappella power of Italy’s SoundDiva Classical Choir whose harmonies in the French carol “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a scaled-down version of how the Heavenly Host may have sounded singing, “Gloria! In excelsis Deo,” (“Glory to God in the Highest!” Which is echoed as “Carol Story” some to its climax (in days to come).

DISCIPLE SOMEONE“Angels We Have Heard On High,” A French carol anglicized

The idea of inviting people to Christ, and musically sharing the gospel door-to-door and outside church buildings, is captured in the remarkable violin-driven flash-mob “O Come All Ye Faithful,” by The Five Strings. This relatively new video reached the Kingdom Impact Theater offices via a friend’s private social messenger as a Christmas greet to be shared.  And so, we do. Here. Interspersed with James Chadwick’s translated lyrics of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a wonderful interview dialogue: A question asked, a story told, an invitation made to join. Heading to Bethlehem, we imagine they encounter a new curious fellow: a little drummer boy.


SoundDiva Classical Choir

SoundDiva is actually a production studio in Italy that’s dedicated to improving the quality and production. The assembled choir in this video is directed by Antonello Martina for part of a series demonstrating the work quality by the studio.

LEARN MORE: SoundDiva Recordings.


The Five Strings

The Five Strings are a performing family band from Utah. The band is made up of 5 siblings, ranging in ages from 8-18. The Five Strings’ high energy concerts showcase eight different instruments including violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, percussion, five-part harmonies, clogging, and choreography.

LEARN MORE: The Five Strings YouTube Channel.


Vanessa Williams

Vanessa L. Williams is an American singer, actress, and fashion designer. She initially gained recognition as the first woman of African-American descent to receive the Miss America title in 1983. Since then her critically acclaimed work in film, television, music and Broadway has been recognized by every major industry award affiliate including 4 Emmy nominations, 11 Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, 3 SAG award nominations, 7 NAACP Image Awards and 3 Satellite Awards. She often performs in the Rob Mathes Holiday Concert, from which this clip was recorded.

LEARN MORE: Vanessa Williams’ autobiography.

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over


Carol Story: A Handel on Flash Mobs, Hallelujah!

Imagine going about your daily activities of life — school, shopping, work, dining — and suddenly the sky around you bursts into song:  a voice here, a voice there, until the entire sky is filled with powerful harmonies singing repeatedly  the same set of lyrics, delivering a message.

What would you do?  Sit slack-jawed!  Complain?  Hide?   Join in? Call the authorities? Utter a sentence starting with “What the…”?

The shepherds tending flocks on the silent night on the hills above Bethlehem faced this situation.  In their case, “What the…?” may not have been  an unreasonable response, especially since shepherds were considered lower than blue collars, and even though the “authorities” were the chorus of Heavenly Host and voices of angels who announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah and calmed them with messages to not be afraid. 

George Fridrick Handel
Handel created “Messiah” for an Easter concert, not Christmas.

​The composers of the earliest Christmas carols musically captured the range of human emotions, and the majesty of authoritative voices in their fully orchestrated scores.  Two notable composers were Friderik Handel and ​Felix Mendelssohn, each of whom composed while embroiled in classic creative differences with other artists or financiers.

Handel’s now-beloved “Messiah” was controversial when he debuted it in 1741 as part of a commission to help get him out of debt.  “Messiah” ends with “The Hallelujah Chorus.” which Handel simply called  “Hallelujah.” He based the selection, not one the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but on the Book of Revelation which prophesies the Second Christmas, the return of Jesus, for “Messiah” (which means God’s Anointed One, promised in the Old Testament), was created as an Easter presentation, not for Christmas.


LEARN MOREHow Handel’s Messiah Came About


However, over the years, “Hallelujah” has become a Christmas staple, enhanced by traditions which include the audience standing.  This tradition began, not in reverence to the King of Kings, but in deference to King George II of England, who stood at the concert when the chorus began.  Some say he stood to honor Handel, others say because he needed to stretch for health reasons (much like President William Howard Taft begat baseball’s seventh-inning stretch).  With King George and President Taft, protocol was when the head of state stood, everybody stood.

Why we stand when the chorus is sung today isn’t always clear to listening audiences.  But as you’ll see in the video of a flash mob in a Canadian shopping mall, it’s a tradition that has passed on and has meaning today.

Another missing element is understanding the meaning of the word “Hallelujah.”  It’s a compound Hebrew word meaning “Praise” (“Halle”) Yaweh (“lujah”); Yaweh being one of the Old Testament names of God.  (Another derivation is Hall-El-Ujah; “El” being a Hebrew designation for God.)

Of all the video versions of “Hallelujah,” this food court improvisation captures the beautiful vocal harmonies Handel created, the confusion the shepherds must have felt hearing the Heavenly Host,  the spirit of being moved to participate in the moment, then, ultimately, turn to others to share what they say and tell the good news.  In #CarolStory, the chorus emerges from the “Silent Night” Heavenly Host singing, “Hallelujah!” (“Praise Yaweh!”) to establish a conversation between the shepherds and angels that Charles Wesley expresses next with a little help from Mendelsohn.  Sort of.  As we shall see.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” Live

Viral flash mob post that started as a customer thank you.

Alphabet Flash Mob

 On November 13,  2010, unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch.   Alphabet Photography Inc. of Niagara Falls, Ont. (Canada) created this video as a virtual ‘Christmas Card’ to its on-line customers and Facebook fans. The customers of Alphabet Photography Inc. passed it along to their friends and family. In a flash,  the video had over 20 million views and was featured on many news and media outlets. Today the video has over 34 million views and has broken all world records to date. 

LEARN MORE:  http://www.AlphabetPhotography.com

Carol Story: Elvis & The Prophecy

This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


O Little Town of Bethlehem” is the fulfillment of prophecy that was proclaimed in Micah 5:1-2.  This eloquently recording by Elvis Presley, backed up by his compatriots The Jordanaires, is from  his simple beginnings and reflect his deep, yet embattled faith in Christ. 

Elvis was poster-child for conflicted Believers, especially those in performing arts.  He was among the first of countless recording artists — such as  Sam Cooke and Whitney Houston — who began singing in church and, in many cases, started their musical careers recording gospel, worship and praise songs, but who later passed away because of dubious life choices.

LEARN MORE:  Micah’s Bethlehem Prophecy

Before the glitz and worldly temptations led to “Blue Christmas” and its ilk, Presley’s pure baritone resonated in gospel selections. Even backstage before concert, Elvis and his posse would warm up with songs of the gospel genre. He occasionally included some onstage.

His interpretation here presents the crispness of the night, the peace on earth, the calm before the storm of activity.  

We cannot tell #CarolStory without the lyrics which introduce new characters and setting in which to act the events of travelling to Bethelehem to see this thing that had been fulfilled.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:
“Carol Story” Live

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires

Elvis Aaron Presley was an American singer and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King.”

LEARN MORE:  Elvis’ Biography

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Carol Story: A Silent Night Anniversary

Silent Night” is the quintessential Christmas song. It’s virtually impossible for any artist to record a Christmas album and not have a rendition.  In this 200th anniversary of the song’s creation, we thought  it fun to expand the variety of recordings of the song to show its durability and to underscore the need to not let musicality overshadow the message of the lyrics.

Sis. Vanetta Pinn, who curated our Carol Story YouTube Playlist, included versions by Mariah CareyJustin Bieber and Boyz II Men for our re-posting consideration.  We’ve linked these videos to give a glimpse of vocal variations, musical arranging and technical production growth through the years. 

LEARN MORE:  “Silent Night” 200th anniversary observations

We’ve also included a medley by KIT Ministries co-founder Vikki J. Myers as a sample of how Christmas music can be merged with non-seasonal worship selections to give a sense of how the Christmas message lasts beyond the holidays.

However, for the purposes of our #CarolStory live presentation, the renditions that best  reflect the backstory nuances are by Andrea Bocelli and Mahalia Jackson . 

See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.

In the context of #CarolStory,  the 10-minute worship play, “Silent Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “O Holy Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

Bocelli, singing in Italian, brings to mind the European feel of the original German carol written by Franz Gruber.  We wonder how Gruber may respond to the variety of arrangements of the song, especially considering the urgent and somewhat controversial circumstances  under which he wrote the piece for Christmas Eve 1818.

LEARN MORE:  History of “Silent Night”

There’s a nostalgic prejudice for Mahalia Jackson’s version.  It was among the first “church” Christmas songs I heard (as opposed to the just-released “Frosty,” “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bell Rock,”) and was a family favorite.  Mother was not a singer but held her own singing along whenever the record  (as in vinyl) played , or when the Spirit moved her to burst into song  while baking cookies — thinking she was alone in the kitchen in the middle of the night.

As with other selections in this piece, the lyrics of “Silent Night” are woven throughout the play to move the story along and work effectively as scene exposition transitioning between scenes.

​LEARN MORE:“Carol Story” Live


Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli, “Silent Night” (Italian)

Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer, songwriter, and record producer. Celin Dion, with whom he recorded “The Prayer,”  has said that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” 

Bocelli has recorded 15 solo studio albums of both pop and classical music, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas, selling over 90 million records worldwide. He has had success as a crossover performer, bringing classical music to the top of international pop charts.

He was born with poor eyesight and became completely blind at age 12, following a football accident.


 “The Prayer,” his duet with Celine Dion for the animated film Quest for Camelot ,  won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1999. — Source:  Wikipedia

LEARN MORE:  Andre Bocelli Today

Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson’s “Silent Night,” a personal family favorite.

Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.”  She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free,”  Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.” — Source:  Wikipedia.

LEARN MORE:  Mahalia Jackson Biography

One More Thing

Mahalia Jackson is also one of the individuals whose story is included in  the Kingdom Impact Theater production, “Faith, Hope & Love:  History-Making Women of Faith,” a one-woman performance by Vikki J.  Myers.

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Hurrah for the Mid-Terms

(This essay was original published November 4, 2014 in another medium. It hasn’t been touched since, We came across it by accident today and still found virtually every word  as relevant as four years ago. Though the atmosphere of the last two years may make some points less accurate, like anticipated voter turnout, only two updates have been made: one, to indicate that November 11 is on a different day of the week; two, to reflect that the United States has a different President. Otherwise, the state of the union is pretty much the same. So are these sentiments.)

I am truly excited this is Election Day.

True, it’s a mid-term, so it’s not as sexy and evocative as the Presidential elections.  True, there’s a general malaise about the candidates, and no one ever knows anything about the judges.  There are bond issues at stake, depending on the community, thus there may be some enthusiasm.  In general, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm about this election.  Voter turnout is expected to be low.

So, why am I SO looking forward to this election?

Because tomorrow I get my mailbox back.  And I can answer my phone.  Or, if I don’t answer my phone, I won’t still hear a prerecorded voice talking into my prerecorded voice asking my prerecorded voice to answer a prerecorded poll by pressing a number that I can’t reach because I’m across the room…and if I were closer to the prerecorded voice, it would not be a NUMBER I would punch.

Political postcards.
Political postcards in my mailbox: The Horror! The Horror!

 

I am looking forward to this Election Day because tomorrow, the bloody thing will be over.  And when I say bloody, I don’t necessarily mean it in the British lexicon.  I mean “bloody” as in that’s what our candidates pursue.  I am struck by the timing of this election coming so close to Halloween.

I am looking forward to this Election Day because, difficult as it will be, I will vote.  Not, however, because I am thrilled by the roster of candidates or have hope and enthusiasm about their policies.  I don’t.   As much as I try being informed via the countless postcards cluttering my table, op-ed pieces I read, voter registration guides I peruse, editorial endorsements I check, I have little comfort in any people running for offices.  BECAUSE of what I’ve seen, I don’t WANT to vote for any of these people  because I don’t WANT any of them leading me.  Because they have not proven themselves leaders.  LOUDERS, but not leaders.

Why We Vote

  • I will vote because next week our nation will honor men and women who for centuries have served and died in order that I have the right to enter a polling booth without a gun to my head, or a gun to greet me afterward.
  • I will vote because of the men and women, ancestors, who suffered through the poll tax, literacy tests, voter ID cards; who marched, sat-in, picketed; who were shot, lynched or burned so that I could walk into a polling booth and even vote for a jerk.
  • I will vote because I have friends and acquaintances in other countries who do not have the rights – the freedoms – we have in this nation that we so cavalierly take for granted.

A non-vote is not a protest.  A non-vote is lazy.  A non-vote is…un-American. I will vote because it’s my God-commanded responsibility.  (Be wary of your reaction just now.  “God-commanded” in an essay about voting has the potential of sending thoughts someplace else.  So, just follow what I’m saying, not what you think I’m saying.  It’s a quirk of our electoral process.)

Married couple voting
Done with our duty!

It’s an odd paradox that we talk a lot about the separation of church and state when, in our nation, it’s hard to have one without the other.  Despite fears and pontifications of whatever cable news commentators you absorb, we are not in the midst of a religious coup de grace. If the House or Senate has more of one party than the other, and if that party is in opposition to the man in the White House, it’s not because one or the other party has a better pipeline to God…no matter what the candidates may imply. The proof they don’t have the better pipeline is in the style of campaigns run.  For if the candidates were as God-fearing as many claim, and no doubt are in many cases, we – the public – would not have to endure the unsolicited political pornography that comes into our mailboxes and televisions.  We would learn how each man or woman plans to LEAD us…even if they have opposing policies.  Test every spirit, John tells us.

Test every spirit

Responsibility of Voting Christians

When I say “God-commanded responsibility,” here are a couple of my reference points, both by the apostle Paul.

To the Roman church, Paul wrote,

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. “ (My italics; explaining shortly.) (Romans 13:1)

To his protégé Timothy, Paul later explained,

“…I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. “ (1 Timothy 2:1)

I Timothy Thanks NLTThe point of these verses is clear that an individual who claims to be a Christ-follower (or a ‘cultural’ Christian) has a responsibility to pray for, encourage and give thanks to people in positions of authority – appointed or elected – because for whatever His reasons, God has allowed those individuals to be in positions of authority.  The individuals in the position of authority – elected officials, candidates for office – have an equal, God-commanded responsibility to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

 (If you’re not a Believer in God, or Christ, please just understand the principle here.)

So, when a postcard of distorted images, or commercials with inflammatory, denigrating statements enters my home – whether approved by the candidate or the candidates “supporters” – I must ask, “Is this dignified?” And, do I want an undignified person “representing” me in Congress?  No, I want someone in Congress – on the Hill — and at 1600 whom I believe has a modicum of civility.  I don’t need to totally agree, and I don’t need to have all MY needs met.  I DO want someone who is aware of people before party.

A President by Any Other Name

When I earlier italicized Scripture passages, I was reflecting on the last six years of our nation.  Again, for those who claim the Christian perspective (in and out of government), it’s necessary to accept that God allowed Mr. Obama to be elected.  (Editor’s Update 2018: Substitute “Mr. Trump.”) Perhaps to reveal something to us as a nation, or to each person individually.  What has this Presidency revealed to you about yourself?  If Paul reminds Timothy, and us, to pray, intercede and give thanksgiving for those “in high places,” you must ask, “Do I pray for the President…the Governor…the alderperson?  Do I pray, or do I complain?”

1 Timothy 2:1-2 Verse
How easy is this to do when the people in office are not of the political party which you prefer? What might change by doing this?

I guess that’s the bottom line of the rant here, and the frustration of SO many people waiting for this blood-letting to end.  The people in office JUST DON’T GET IT, and it’s frustrating that there seems to be no way to get it through their thick skulls.  The filth and negativity may get you elected, but it doesn’t make me trust you, like you or WANT ME TO VOTE FOR YOU! Worse, I do not respect you.

I’m no neophyte politically.  I know the impact of negative campaigning.  I DON’T know that the candidates do, as evidenced one afternoon when a 20-something canvasser came to the door and surreptitiously tried swaying me to his position, without saying, “Hi, I’m from the ______ campaign.”

In the course of the conversation, his goal was to convince me to NOT vote for the other candidate.  “Did you know that….?”  So, here is my Reader’s Digest outline that I pray comes through to someone by our next election:

  • When you send me mail with photos and big headlines about the other person, I remember the OTHER PERSON not YOU!  Guess for whom I’m more likely to vote?
  • When you spend thousands of dollars on postage, video editing, buying TV and radio spots – most of which belittle someone else – I see WASTED MONEY.  Does this encourage me to trust your fiscal plans for the state budget? (Imagine how many social needs could be met if the same candidates used the funds to, say, buy some medication for seniors…goodness knows the costs are about the same.)
  • When the debates and interviews lapse into insincere fawning, you are one step above the teen drama, “Pretty Little Liars,” and not as attractive.
  • When the election is over and the votes counted, when you give your concession speech and let say how much you respect the other candidate and anticipate strong representation in government, how am I to trust your assessment?

An Elder Way of Voting

What our nation wants – and NEEDS – more than ever now is a sense of hope and guidance.  This is NOT an opinion about our President.  (The problem with the President’s “popularity,” as it was with his predecessors and will be with his successors, is that as a nation we put too much hope and faith in an individual.  We then are disappointed to discover our hope and faith is in a mere human.) This is about our LEADERSHIP regardless of the office, regardless of the community.

Titus 1: 6-9
What might a nation be like if these were guidelines for political candidates?

Earlier this year, our congregation conducted a study about changing our church organization to an elder form of leadership.  As we reviewed the Scriptural qualifications to be an elder – a church leader – I thought deeply about how our government may be truly effective if our political process took these qualifications into account – and the people held the leaders accountable.  Here are qualifications Paul outlined to another protégé, Titus (substitute your favorite political officer for ‘elder,’ you’ll catch my drift):

 “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1: 6-8)

So, where does this leave us?

Politcal postcards again.
Too many postcards.

Well, I’m going to go vote.  In some cases, I know for whom I will vote.  Others…well, I’m going to sort the postcards that I’ve been collecting, count the negative messages, and whoever sent the fewer nasty notes I’m likely to punch.   That’s part of the fun.  Then tomorrow, when the tallies are counted, I’m going to resume praying for those who have been elected – including our President — whether I like them, or agree with them or not.  God says do so.  I am thankful I live in a nation where I can.  It is one of His blessings on America.

— Featured photo by Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash

God & Family: Who’s Up First?

Balancing church and family responsibilities is a reason Paul cautioned wannabe pastors in Corinth about getting married.

Depending on the source you’re reading, there are varying views about divorce rates among couples who profess to be Christ-followers. The rates are either growing at the same rate as non-believers, greater than that rate, declining from that rate, or were never as high.

Assorted denominations have particular perspectives whether couples should divorce and what roles those who do divorce should have in Christian ministry, particularly leadership positions.  Whatever the numbers, whatever your opinion, these facts remain:

  • children of God divorce;
  • they have done so since the time of Moses;
  • divorce is not God’s desire.

Of the numerous verses in Scripture about divorce, the best perspective is Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ conversation with Pharisees.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

(Yes, we switched from the New International to the King James for the last verse for readers who may have heard the words at weddings yet didn’t realize these are the words of Christ, not just the preacher.)

The salient exchange is this:

 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

The question 20 centuries later, then, is, “What causes hearts of married couples to become hardened today?”  Moreover, “How do Christian couples become hardened?” For our purposes, one more reflection: “What happens if one of those hardened Christian spouses is a pastor?”

Divorce Certificate Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Keep these questions in mind when listening to Family Priorities, today’s audio installment from “Who Prays for the Pastor?” In this segment, author Frederick Ezeji-Okoye recounts the testimony of a pastor whose zeal for evangelizing produced fruit, not all of which was sweet.

Before you start, discuss or journal about the following:

  • What does the phrase “God-First Ministry” mean to you?
  • What does Family-First Ministry mean?

Pray for the health of your pastor’s marriage as you hear the following testimony.  Ask God to improve communication between both spouses and their offspring.

LISTEN TO THE 1-MINUTE AUDIO DEVOTIONAL

“Family Priorities”

Spreaker: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/14803153

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/michaelmyers-4/who-prays-for-the

FOR FURTHER STUDY

Download the Free Devotional Discussion Guide

Look into Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries Leadership Workshops

  • “Practicing What Is Preached:” Steps to apply weekend sermons to daily communication.
  • “The Roscoe P. Love Love Clinic:” Practical relationship communication for men, for women; couples, singles; adults, teens.

For maximum, on-going impact, we recommend purchasing the paperback or the audiobook, or both.  Each is available at amazon.com.


This essay is one in a series of devotionals on coping with stress in ministry, and is based on the book, “Who Prays for the Pastor?” written by Bro. Frederick Ezeji-Okoye.  The accompanying discussion guide was written by Michael Edgar Myers, who also narrated the audiobook and 1-minute devotional excerpts. If you have any difficulties accessing the material, please e-mail mem@kit-ministries.com.  Thank you.

#SDG #Shalom #AndAmen