True Faith…. Do You Have It!

– by Alfreda Branch Jones

 

Faith, one of the most talked about words all over the world!  Most people can quote the famous Hebrew 11: 1.  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, like their address or birth date, yet when ask how do you know that you have “True Faith”, they began to tell you things like, well I love God, or I can’t see Jesus, but I trust Him!  However, neither of the two mentioned statements truly determines if one has “True Faith”!

 

So how do you really know for certain if you have “True Faith”?  Are there any sure-fire signs that can be witness by others or by one’s self?  Well, I am glad these questions have been asked, because the answer is yes!  First, I must say this, that “True Faith” is an ever-growing power and should be continuously prayed for on a regular basis, if not daily!  Try saying this “Lord please increase my Faith”, and sincerely mean it!

 

So here are a few tell-tell signs that you and others can be absolutely certain that one definitely has “True Faith”!  Our world appears to be totally out of control, and yet, you wake up happy, and looking forward to all seeing the beauty of the day unfold!  So, many are being killed, and you are not afraid to move about and enjoy life freely, because you have faith the God will shield and protect you!  Matter-of-fact, you have come to say things like, “I don’t have to worry about anything, because I had a talk with God and He promise to work everything out for the good of those who love Him, I am going to sleep!  2.  You began to quote statements like, I don’t care how things look right now, God can do anything, and nothing will make you change your mind!  3. You have become a witness for God, in the name of Jesus, that there is no failure in God, and everything is already alright!  4.  Even though death has knocked on your love one’s door, you can truly say, I know that God will see me through!  5.  You stop believing and come to know that according to God’s Will all shall manifest.  6.  Every single day you have joy and a smile on your face because you know what God can do!  7.  You have tried your faith and found out that it works, and nothing can make you doubt it!  8. True Faith has taught you how to consult God on all things!  9.  You at Peace regardless of what is going on!

 

Sure, I could go on and on, because “True Faith” is never ending!   I do hope that  what I have written, has also helped you determine if you have “True Faith”, or if the faith that you do have needs to be fine-tuned by seeking the word of God and developing you’re relationship with Him!

Writing and Publishing While Black

 

Dr. Valerie R. Landfair

Founder and President of Firstfruit Ministries, Inc.

 

One cannot escape the ever-increasing articles, videos, and Twitter posts that highlight the racism faced by people of color. These daily experiences of striving to survive and thrive in a world that is openly hostile to groups of people because of the pigmentation of their skins are exhausting. There are entrenched and systemic structures in the United States that exists to specifically maintain white privilege at all costs. Policies and laws are established to maintain the status quo that ‘white’ is ‘right.’

 

Thankfully, due to advancements in technology, the plethora of video clips of European American harassment of African American, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American people are coming to light. The documented harassment videos document the dangers of walking, talking, sleeping, waiting, eating, writing, driving, playing, and merely living while black, educational attainment, socio-economic status, or even place of residence. The stories of European-Americans calling 911 to keep black bodies “in line” and to “teach them a lesson” are all too familiar now. For years similar stories have been passed down by family legacy as the warning to keep our loved ones safe; now they are placed across social media and mainstream, media on an almost daily basis.

 

Racism is woven into the fiber of the core of what it is to be an American. Given this reality, I wonder why I was surprised when I encountered these injustices in writing and publishing while black. My graduate program was funded by my staggering student loan debt. I actively pursued grants and scholarships but received the standard rejection form letters over and over again. In the accumulation of this debt, I was determined to have a finished dissertation that captured my voice and that of my community.  I wanted others to hear the stories of my family, ancestors, churches, and loved ones. I wanted to share the joys and sorrows of a community of people who often feel powerless and invisible. I was committed and determined to write from an African-American female perspective and that I would be intentional to engage African and African American scholars.

 

Let’s be clear, I had plenty of dialogue partners that were of European descents who left their contribution in each of my chapters; however, my bibliography was a roll call for scholars of color. I wanted to pen some of the voiceless laments from the injustices of black, brown, red, and yellow bodies in the United States–the marginalized communities that often are subjected to racial profiling and discrimination.

 

So, what might writing and publishing while black look like in America? Well, it starts with the expectation that authors of color must have a high representation of European authors as their sources. Scholarly publications for the sable race must engage the European gatekeepers of their various disciplines in order to be seen as legitimate. I was instructed to include, and was given the names of, several European authors pending final approval of my dissertation publication. I was open to the fact that pending the approval of each chapter I needed to make revisions and to include a body of work to flush out my argument, to confirm my thesis or a critical piece of research. However, I was instructed that in order for my dissertation to have credence—legitimacy, I needed specific names in my bibliography. I had African, African American, Asian American, and Latina/o scholars from the various disciplines within the academy that the list of European scholars represented, but the approval of my dissertation was predicated on my engagement of the gatekeepers – European males and females.

 

The policing of my intellectual life, the censuring of choice of dialogue partners, and restrictions placed on my construction of a meaningful bibliography highlights the reproduction of whiteness embedded in the processes of the academy.  This is racism disguised as “being scholarly.”  This is what I face within the academy.

 

I own countless books written and published by European and European-American authors and I would hazard that the majority of names listed in their bibliography are not from a diverse and inclusive body of work. I own a nice sampling of books written and published by European authors who are ‘woke’ enough to include scholars from the margin; however, on close readings of these articles and books, the reader will discover that their work “lists” but does not seriously engaged these scholars of color in their research. The engagement of their lived experiences, cultural location, scholarly knowledge, and expertise is absent.

 

I find myself looking for the ‘writers while black’ in the footnote and endnote sections. However, I do acknowledge the European feminists who have African American feminist and womanist scholars included among there sources cited. I celebrate European females and males who are allies with the voices from the margin, however, my spirit is grieved that, in the final analysis their preferred dialogue partners are dead European males.  They leave sisters and brothers of color out of the real constructive conversations.

 

In a recent discussion with one of my favorite European professors, I encouraged him to intentionally engage voices from the margin in his upcoming book. He said, “Valerie, I do not look at race during my research, my focus is on finding good scholarship.” That reply is the foundation of European privilege within writing and publishing in America. The gatekeepers in the academy are not brown, black, red, and yellow bodies. It is so ironic to me that even regarding African scholarship, the gatekeepers are European males!

 

It’s time we fully interrogate these practices that reinforce racist standards and that continue to push scholars of color to the margins. I wonder

 

  • How many dissertations were approved pending the inclusion of voices from the margin?
  • How many European feminists were told by their publishers that they must have a robust engagement of African American feminist and womanist writers?
  • What would happen if the editors of the various academic journals would mandate that at a minimum 25% of their authors must be a person of color?
  • Can I write a “scholarly” piece using ONLY African, African American, Asian

American, Native American, Middle Eastern American, and Latina/o scholars?

 

So as social media rallies to call out the “Barbeque Beckys” and “Permit Pattys” of the world, let us not forget our more highly educated colleagues who police scholars of color with arcane standards and racists assumptions about what is and is not considered to be respectable sources. Writing and publishing while black is a thing and it is just as exhausting!

The Great Love: How tragedy begot a beautiful, new worldview 

By Carla Garrett www.carlagarrett.ca

As I lay there beside my son’s dying body, my hand pressing gently on his warm bare chest, I feel a flutter of the heartbeat he still has left. I hold my breath as I listen for his next faint shallow breath – until there isn’t one.

It was in those last painfully precious moments with my seven-year-old son that I connected with something greater than the physical. It was through his death that I got to know the Great Love.

I am not talking about that butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of love when you kiss your crush or say your vows, or that instantaneous love when you give birth or even how you love chocolate. No, I am talking about the love that binds us, the love that is us.

The Great Love is an elusive love, not given nor earned, sleeping within all of us yet rarely awakened by human consciousness. Originating from our Creator, this love evades physical death and forever binds heaven and earth. These invisible ties of love form our universe. Unlike other vulnerable forms of love dependent upon external factors, this love can never be severed. It comes as a strangely comforting feeling, a fleeting moment of joyous intensity or a peace that surpasses all understanding. Our brain does not have the capacity to describe the unforgettable, ethereal experience that is the Great Love.

Jesus taught me about love. He showed me the greatest example of self-sacrificial love. He loved us so much he sacrificed his own life to save us. I was raised to: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” — Ephesians 5:1-2
I can’t think of any other moment where I have even come close to “being like Christ” than on the day I watched my son die. It was the ultimate self-sacrifice, a dramatic example of the proverb, “if you love someone, you will let them go.” To not have him, would be torture, but I did anyways. I let Xavier go.

When the time came to say goodbye, I had imagined myself screaming don’t go! Instead, I lovingly whispered in his ear, be free my beautiful boy. In my absolute brokenness, I gave my son the permission he was seeking to die. And that profound act of love awakened the Great Love sleeping deep within my soul.

When my son left this earth he took a piece of my broken heart with him, forever tying me to the celestial love he now is. I was not tied to his flesh and blood. Our connection was anchored somewhere beyond this plane.
These ties of love have transformed how I see the world now, evoking a sensation deep within me whenever I think of my son, see the brilliant pink hues of a summer sunrise or watch how the wind swims between each blade of grass. When you experience the Great Love, you are transported to a kinder, gentler world – perhaps what is heaven on earth – which ultimately changes your life perspective.

However, we often abandoned this love — the love Jesus intended — for the easier to feel superficial and materialistic love. It is easier to feel “love” when you are being held in your husband’s arms in a thankful embrace for the new car he just bought you, or kissing your sweet child goodnight after they happily obeyed your bedtime orders.

But what happens when you have nothing physical to love? What happens when your loved one dies? You are forced, like me, to seek this deeper love. I can no longer look into my son’s beautiful blue eyes so full of life and instantly feel that loving bond between mother and son. Now, I must find the source of all love to connect with my little boy in Heaven. The Great Love is the only way now to truly feel his presence. It’s not impossible, it’s just harder than the physical love we are all so familiar with. It’s a different kind of relationship, one I wish I never had to learn, but I am privileged to have. Had it not been for his death, I likely never would have experienced this depth of surreal love.

Although my first kiss with the Great Love paralleled that of my last kiss to my son, the love had been there all along. My faith was shaken, my heart was broken but it was ties of love that held me – our family – together through the nightmare of childhood cancer. Love was the only consistent thing when our lives were in pieces. It was there when we pleaded with God for more time, and it was there when the doctors said there was nothing more they could do, and it was there when we huddled together on the bed around my son’s lifeless body to sing his favourite song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It was always there even if a silent partner to our other, uglier emotions. If we were angry, it was because we were afraid to lose something we love.

Love is what makes us, love is what heals us, love is what motivates us. Love is what binds us together and love is what never dies. Love is with us at birth, it carries us through life, and it endures in death. The well of love knows no depth. A love so deep it floats. I believe in stories of the afterlife where you are pure, unbiased, non-judgemental, unadulterated love. A place where the word love is easily interchangeable with light.

How do you “get” the Great Love?

There are several popular books with great advice related to this topic, and depending on what resonates best with you, this inner essence of the universe can be called consciousness, soul, presence, energy or frequency. All of these descriptions, I believe, are ways to the Great Love. Although pain and brokenness are often associated with a rejuvenated sense of self and purpose, I don’t believe they are necessary to experience the Great Love. It was the crux of my story, but doesn’t have to be yours. Ties of love to a new, more beautiful worldview await you…

Searching for Home

 – by Frederick Buechner

 

I receive maybe three or four hundred letters a year from strangers who tell me that the books I have spent the better part of my life writing have one way or another saved their lives, in some cases literally. I am deeply embarrassed by such letters. I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life. They write to me as if I am a saint, and I wonder how I can make clear to them how wrong they are.

But what I am beginning to discover is that, in spite of all that, there is a sense in which they are also right. In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit, whom the creeds describe as the Lord and Giver of Life. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all-the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be saints, to be Christs, maybe at rare moments even to ourselves. I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it. I believe that George Buttrick was right and that the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.

Finding God in the Cereal Aisle

– by Donna Owusu-Ansah

At the time I am writing this, my daughters—six and four—are playing with wooden blocks. It is one of those beautiful moments where they are playing together, scheming together, dreaming together and building together. They are using their minds and hearts and hands. Imaginations are running wild. They are putting their thoughts into actions, failing and trying again and again and again and again. They are laughing. There are moments of silence. Together. And this is a joy to witness. It is a holy endeavor. Their blocks have become something beyond the wooden squares that they were manufactured to be.

My husband would look at them and say, “Oh. They’re just playing blocks.”

I see something more.

And this is the task of the prophet—whether one who preaches, one who writes, one who dances, one who creates visual masterpieces, one who teaches, or one who organizes and protests. To see beyond the present reality to fashion a world that embodies, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven[1] The prophet is one who sees beyond sight, until that sight becomes seen and experienced by all.

In all likelihood, I have probably been seeing beyond sight all of my life, as I have been a writer and visual artist all of my life. However, I formally learned to see beyond sight as a student at the Theological School at Drew University. During my tenure at Drew, there was a January Intensive course offered titled, “Ministry and Imagination” taught by Rev. Dr. Heather Elkins and Rev. Dr. N. Lynne Westfield. I quickly recognized that our instructors were women who saw beyond sight. (After my first course, I took every course they offered together.) In Ministry and Imagination we were stretched to do heavy theological reflection beyond textbooks. I can recall one January when Heather and Lynne convened class at a snow covered cemetery. An unusual, but appropriate place to gather and meditate on the Apostles Creed: he descended to the dead. Some sat silently at tombstones, breathing deeply, listening. Some read, piecing together stories of lives in poetry and prose. Some painted on the snow with clover, salmon, and plum colored sand—a reminder of how fleeting life is. We honored the dead, but also with sight beyond what our eyes could see, imagined the rest of the creed— the dead rising and resting eternally in the presence of God.

Heather has a unique way of seeing beyond sight. I often joke that she could take you to the supermarket and you would find God in the cereal aisle. What I mean was that Heather has a penchant for seeing the holy in every day life. She has a seeing beyond sight. And through her be-ing, she inspired me, and a host of others, to open our eyes to God, not just on Sunday morning in church, but everywhere. Everywhere. This was new for me, as I came from a traditional and religiously conservative African-American church that mostly relegated God to a Sunday morning, inside the stained glass windows, kind of experience. There was a clear distinction made between sacred and secular. So, when God was seen outside the stained glass windows it was mostly in what would have been categorized as holy, sacred, and sanctified. But these distinctions didn’t sit well with me. I identified with the Psalmist’s questions in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”[2] I riff with the Psalmist, “If I play blocks with my daughters, you are there; if I dance, shimmy, and shake as Beyonce trills in the background, you are there. If I listen to the wisdom of cocoa-skinned gray haired sisters, if I protest the unjust killing of black and brown people at the hands of police, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[3] In other words, if I ascribe to the doctrine that God is omnipresent, and I do, then why wouldn’t God be in the cereal aisle?

We find God in the cereal aisle. We experience the holy mystery amid the whole grained goodness. We see beyond the sight of the fluorescent lights and perfectly lined cardboard boxes. And then we hear it, “Clean up on aisle three!”

We are back to reality and the cereal boxes become just that. Ordinary cereal boxes.

In her book, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey through Silence and Doubt, Renita Weems focuses a chapter on the Christian liturgical season known as ordinary time. She writes, “The mystery is presumably over. The ordinary resumes. And believing hearts are left to grapple for themselves with the silence of God. Or so it seems, that God is silent. Perhaps it’s humans who are speechless for those thirty weeks.”[4]

Ordinary cereal boxes. Ordinary time. Where is God?

As I learned in Ministry and Imagination, God is present everywhere. Even in the seemingly mundane and banal, the Holy mystery endures. However, often in these moments hopelessness and apathy can set in when silence and speechlessness carry on for too long. This is why I write. I write to remind myself and my readers of the beauty that lies beyond what the eye can see. I write because the adage, “no news is good news” does not ring true and we need good news—the prophet Isaiah declared it and Jesus reclaimed that declaration. I write because the rhetoric of our day is far louder than the silence and speechlessness, and our world needs words beyond what it hears and sight beyond what it sees.

 

[1] Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

[2] Psalm 139:7 (NIV)

[3] My interpretation of Psalm 139:8-10

[4] Renita J. Weems, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey Through Silence and Doubt (New York: Touchstone Books, 1999), 64.

Imagination – by Frederick Buechner

EVEN A THOUSAND MILES inland you can smell the sea and hear the mewing of gulls if you give thought to it. You can see in your mind’s eye the living faces of people long dead or hear in the mind’s ear the United States Marine Band playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” If you work at it, you can smell the smell of autumn leaves burning or taste a chocolate malted. You don’t have to be asleep to dream dreams either. There are those who can come up with dramas laid twenty thousand leagues under the sea or take a little girl through a looking glass. Imagining is perhaps as close as humans get to creating something out of nothing the way God is said to. It is a power that to one degree or another everybody has or can develop, like whistling. Like muscles, it can be strengthened through practice and exercise. Keep at it until you can actually hear your grandfather’s voice, for instance, or feel the rush of hot air when you open the 450-degree oven.

 

If imagination plays a major role in the creation of literature, it plays a major one also in the appreciation of it. It is essential to read imaginatively as well as to write imaginatively if you want to know what’s really going on. A good novelist helps us do this by stimulating our imaginations—sensory detail is especially useful in this regard, such as the way characters look and dress, the sounds and smells of the places they live and so on—but then we have to do our part. It is especially important to do it in reading the Bible. Be the man who trips over a suitcase of hundred-dollar bills buried in the field he’s plowing if you want to know what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about (Matthew 13:44). Listen to Jesus saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew11:28) until you can hear him, if you want to know what faith is all about.

 

If you want to know what loving your neighbors is all about, look at them with more than just your eyes. The bag lady settling down for the night on the hot-air grating. The two children chirping like birds in the branches of a tree. The bride as she walks down the aisle on her father’s arm. The old man staring into space in the nursing-home TV room. Try to know them for who they are inside their skins. Hear not just the words they speak, but the words they do not speak. Feel what it’s like to be who they are—chirping like a bird because for the moment you are a bird, trying not to wobble as you move slowly into the future with all eyes upon you.

 

When Jesus said, “All ye that labor and are heavy laden,” he was seeing the rich as well as the poor, the lucky as well as the unlucky, the idle as well as the industrious. He was seeing the bride on her wedding day. He was seeing the old man in front of the TV. He was seeing all of us. The highest work of the imagination is to have eyes like that.

 

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

The Writer’s Journey

– by Charlotte Chinn

 

When words collide onto my paper and I step back in awe as I look at the sentences that quickly form paragraphs it is then that I realize this is divine.  There is only one source where such jumbled thoughts can become coherent words that form devotionals or essays or even novels.  These sentences that eventually form paragraphs that leads to writing capable of healing, uplifting and changing lives.  That’s the kind of writing I aspire to produce.

Words don’t always come easy though. You’d think they would. Moving them from the thoughts to paper is a process that involves vulnerability. You have to be willing to open yourself up to the scrutiny of those who might provide what you might perceive as a critical evaluation of your writing.  You have to be open to the fact that your story, whether good or bad is bound to seep onto the pages at some point and someone is going to know the details of which you may have tried to keep hidden.  Who knows what words will form together to make sentences, to make paragraphs, and eventually become essays, novels, and other works that others will read. This is a scary place to find oneself.  

 

I’m never confident about sharing my writing, even in those spaces that encourage it. I always feel like it could be better; there’s always going to be someone whose writing is better, someone who can say it more plainly; express it more clearly than what I can ever do. I long for the day when I’m confident enough to stand in front of an audience and say the words that I know I’ve been divinely given, with confidence knowing that there is at least one person who needs to hear them.

I have come to the realization that no matter how I feel about my wriitng or what others may think of it, it is not about me.  It is more important to be obedient to God who I believe has clalled me to write for Him. I have found inspiration in Proverbs 31:8 (CEB) that admonishes us to Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.”  I will allow the words God gives me to speak for those without a voice.and to ensure those who are vulnerable receive justice.    


Writing is my passion.  I also believe it is my calling.  I want to follow the path I believe God has for me and share my words.  At some point I have to trust that if He has given me the mandate to share His words He will make room for that to take place.  In order to do that I must step out of the way and trust His process.  

Writing From The Heart

– by Louise Ragin

 

Writing for me is another form of expressing my emotions, my faith, my thoughts, challenges, accomplishments, aspirations, and my being.

 

I am generally a calm, quiet, reserved, low key person who enjoys pleasant surroundings, people and activities around me. I enjoy surroundings at this time of years when I see the beginning of spring.  The leaves in the trees beginning to show their various multi colored and mixture of sizes, small and large.

 

I see how they grow together and complement each other. I enjoy seeing the sturdiness of the trees that have been planted so many years ago and are still standing tall and sturdy.  The birds flying all around them, the squirrels climbing up and down hiding their findings of nourishment from the ground.

 

I enjoy seeing the sun shining down on me and others, peeking through the array of trees.  My emotions are to celebrate and embrace every moment of all the things that I see and appreciate today that I sometimes may have taken for granted.

 

As I prepared to write this article, I had no idea of what to write about. I looked at the pad I was about to write on and all I could see were blank pieces of paper.   Again I questioned, what should I write about?  My response was, write something from your heart.

 

My emotions started me to write about how thankful I am to have this opportunity to express some positive emotions that I am so thankful for seeing, feeling, understanding, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the elements of life.  I can see the landscape of the beautiful display is greenery. I can smell the fragrance of the flowers as they blossom.

 

I can hear the birds chirping their songs of delight as they fly above communicating with each other. I can feel the different textures of the leaves and flowers. I can appreciate all these wonders of God and how unique nature is.

 

Writing is a challenge but when I write from my heart I share my uniqueness with others in the hope that it will inspire and be a blessing to those who read it.

 

Journal writing is something I have been doing for many years.  It is not only relaxing but it helps me to de-stress. It helps to develop and build and examine my writing skills, and my accomplishments, what is positive or negative in my life.

 

I am blessed to minister to senior citizens at my church.  They have such a rich history, legacy that has been overlooked and may be forgotten if it is not recorded or written now while they can still remember.  I encourage them to share and write about their experiences in their life.

 

During Black History, Month, we celebrate at the church. One of the activities are to have each senior citizen tell their story about growing up in their place of origin which may be in the South, North, Africa, Jamaica, Haiti or wherever it may be.  They all have a story to tell from their childhood to this day.  They share where they lived, their siblings, their marriage, their children, their grandchildren, and their occupation.

 

After hearing their many stories, I suggested that they begin to write their stories in a  booklet I provide for them.  There was some initial hesitation and reluctance at first, but with my coxing they began to overcome their anxiety. I encourage them to write from the heart. Telling their story and putting it in writing has now became an outlet for them to express themselves. They shared the schools they attended, how they walked to the schools that were miles away from their homes. They expressed how dedicated they were to their family and their church.

 

They experienced discrimination practices throughout their lives. They honor their Christian journey based on their family teachings.  All these memories are still very vivid in their minds and serve as a coping, healing mechanism that brings them comfort.

 

I have suggested to our senior citizens that they take the time to write as many of their historical journeys as they can remember and share them with their families and friends. Their children would then have first-hand account of who they are.

 

I know how challenging it is to write about oneself because you have to look within and bring to the surface many things that may have been suppressed. I know from my experience, writing has become a healing process.  I have developed my writing skills by writing from my heart.  My hope is to share with others what I have learned by my experiences, the themes that have evolved, the self-development that appears, the formation of my written voice. I use my skills of listening and observation to gather information for writing from the heart.  This leads to getting to know more about myself, the culture and society I live in.

 

I’m still exploring and celebrating each day of life.  I anticipate all the stories that are waiting to be written. I enjoy writing.  It is no longer something that I dread.  I have learned to express myself through my inner voice. I choose to share my inner voice with others and I am rewarded by accomplishing something that is real and matters to me and hopefully to others, because it comes from the heart.

 

 

The Nudge of the Muse

– by Donique McIntosh

 

I tend to write when I feel moved by something I’ve seen or heard. In other words, I write when I’ve found my muse or inspiration. For most of my writing life, this approach has served me well. Articles and poems have emerged from this muse-inspired approach. However, when I was preparing to write my dissertation, scores of people suggested that that approach to writing would not serve me well in writing a dissertation. I was advised to write daily without the prompting of anything but a desire to progress toward a completed dissertation.

I was skeptical at first, I admit, about their advice. I had questions. How could I just get up everyday and write? Would my creative juices flow? Would they take all day to flow? Had I been doing this “all wrong” all these years? What sense do I make of the muse? Is she a myth?

Skepticism buckled firmly in my mind’s backseat, I decided to try their suggestions. I got up everyday and wrote. Some days I wrote pages and pages. Other days I barely put five words together. But I wrote. I wrote in the mornings, I wrote in between meetings, on trains, and I wrote after my workday had ended. To my surprise, I was able to do what I’d previously relegated to needing to be inspired to do. I wrote my dissertation in six months.

I finished writing the dissertation years ago but there’s still a part of me that has questions about the writing process. Not to be ignored, skepticism periodically asks if the advice I’d been given about writing daily without inspiration only applies to academic writing. I can go for long periods of time without wanting or needing to write and then something happens, and I feel like I need to write about it. It’s as if writing is the only way to address it.

I use the gym at my apartment complex almost daily and usually in the mornings. It’s a short quiet walk from my apartment to the clubhouse where the gym is housed. One day early last week as I walked over to the clubhouse, I couldn’t help but notice a car parked in a spot reserved for people with disabilities. While it’s uncommon for that space to be occupied, that wasn’t why I was drawn to the car. The first thing I noticed was that there were two sets of shoes sitting just under the passenger’s side front door. I thought it odd that these two sets of shoes were there. I wondered why somebody or two somebodies had left their shoes outside their car. And then I realized that the car I’d assumed was empty was, in fact, occupied by two people sleeping in the front seats.

I walked past the car and into the clubhouse, disturbed. I was disturbed by all the thoughts and feelings I was having about the car and its inhabitants. I wondered who they were and what circumstances had led them to that parking lot. I felt relieved, to some extent, that they felt like the lot in my complex was a safe place to rest for the night. I speculated that they might be homeless or people traveling who didn’t have money for a hotel. That led me to think about poverty and homelessness and my role as a Christian in addressing classism and housing insecurity. For days afterward, I thought about the pair in the car, but I didn’t sit down and write anything as I typically would.

I arrived in New Orleans for a conference a few days ago. On the shuttle ride from the airport to the hotel I’m staying at, I looked out the window to take in the sights of a city I hadn’t visited in a while. Along a stretch of a main street, there were tents set up and people appeared to be living there. I heard the woman across from me remark about how “unfortunate” it was that the people were living there in the tents. I sensed a bit of anger in her tone, too. It didn’t seem to stem from the oppression that had led or contributed to the housing insecurity, but rather from a sense that the people had chosen to sleep out on the street in a tent when they had a lot of other viable options from which to choose. Her anger grew as she looked to the left side and saw a camp with tents set up across the street that was twice the size of the one we were passing on the right.

I was aware of my feelings as well. I was angry about her response and angry about a lack of affordable housing for people in New Orleans and in other cities across the country. I was angry about poverty. I was uncomfortable, as I typically am, with seeing human need so clearly on display. And I was uncomfortable about riding past the need as if I had just witnessed something mundane or humane or just. And it wasn’t lost on me that this was happening only a few days after seeing the two people asleep in a car just a few feet away from where I sleep. I thought again of the muse.

I thought again about writing about poverty and housing insecurity. While I could choose to see these incidents as unrelated or as part and parcel of what it means to live in cities, I choose to see them as related. They’re linked to my call as a Christian. My call as a Christian is to notice, just as Jesus noticed blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road in the gospel of Mark. Not only did Jesus notice him, but he interrupted his plans to tend to Bartimaeus. Without the nudge of the muse to call my attention to these injustices, I’m not sure I’d be thinking about my role in addressing poverty and housing insecurity today. Maybe my skepticism was warranted. Maybe the muse is a sacred tool.             

Inspired to Un-inspire – by Carol Lynn Patterson

How Writing Helped One Man Set His Sights on Reversing the Devastating Effects of the Streets

 

Ralph Burgess’ story could have ended like so many reported tales of wasted talents of young Black men in metro-urban America. Growing up in Irvington, New Jersey, Burgess found inspiration in writing during an elementary school visit by the late writer/poet Amiri Baraka. Later his creative juices were stimulated by the legacy of Langston Hughes during his college days at Lincoln University.

During a semester break Burgess returned home to witness his former high school classmates making money via drug sales and couldn’t resist the temptation to join them. “I was a gross underachiever,” Burgess told me over the phone. “I dropped out of college, sold crack part time and worked full time as a bank manager for two years.”

During the third year of his new career Burgess broke the fourth crack commandment – never get high on your own supply. “I became curious and tried the product after observing that the majority of my clients were well respected, intelligent individuals.”

The downfall wasn’t immediate, things dissolved in stages for Burgess before enough was enough. “I functioned as an addict for a year and a half. I maintained my job, and started a family. As my addiction worsened, my life fell apart. I had lost my job, my car, my house and was relying heavily on the love of family. Only on the verge of losing them did I decide to fight back.”

The former sinking addict turned successful entrepreneur said his determination not to lose his family initially carried him along the recovery journey. As his struggle intensified, he began to rely on the power of prayer to kick his crack habit.

“During one of the darkest days, God instructed me to write.” It was then that Burgess penned his first novel, Coping through the Eyes of Lance Davis. He called this a major personal accomplishment. “That was the first time I finished anything as an adult. I matured late like many of the other men in my neighborhood. The completion of this poorly written novel was my rite of passage into adulthood.”

For the next five years Burgess wrote in the library four nights a week and ignored those in the background mocking his dream to become a writer. During his time in the main branch of the Newark Public Library, Burgess met historian Charles Cummings and their relationship grew into that of budding writer and seasoned mentor.

“Charles told me whether you had majored in English or Creative Writing, the degree would have only helped to ensure that your writing would be clean. You can’t major in creativity. One either has it or not. You have it, Ralph.”

Those encouraging and empowering words motivated Burgess more than any sermon or passage of scripture had to that point. As Burgess and Cummings continued to work together perfecting the young writer’s content creation process, life didn’t stand still for Burgess.

“I was laid off twice in the span of 18 months, and realized that I had to figure a way to become financially independent to provide for my family. So, I took a leap of faith and started Burgess Publishing & Trading, LLC.”

Armed with the direct approach of getting in front of check writers and securing funds as quickly as possible, Burgess took aim at school systems struggling with high dropout rates, bullying and gang activity. “In our first book, The Learning Adventures of Cool Calvin, the title character is a metro-urban Black boy who shows readers that there is nothing cooler than doing the right things: excelling academically and obeying the rules in school, which extends to obeying the law in society.”

When asked if Calvin’s civil obedience was an attempt to reverse the alarmingly increasing school-to-prison pipeline statistics, Burgess answered in the affirmative and explained, “The second book, No Bandanas for Me: Staying Gang Free, also aims at reversing the ill effects of the streets on youth of color.

Through these two projects, Burgess’ fictional characters – Calvin and his Latina friend Rosa – are influencing youth in such metro-urban school districts as New York City, Rochester and Newark, NJ. Eventually he hopes to see a reduction in the dropout rate, a decrease in gang-related activity and an increase in metro-urban youth setting and attaining their goals of higher education and vocational skills. Most importantly, the aim of Burgess Publishing and Trading, LLC is to get youth of color to realize that “it’s cool to succeed in school.”

 

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