Archive for the ‘Black history’ Category

Black Poetry Day: A dual celebration

October 17, 2018

This photo copy shows the first poem published in 1761 by Jupiter Hammon, the Father of Black Poetry.

Today’s blog post spotlights a special celebration. Although not recognized as a national holiday, October 17 is designated as Black Poetry Day. During this time we celebrate poets of African American heritage and their contribution to the literary landscape of the nation and of the world. Why was this particular day selected for the celebration? For the answer we go back to the America’s literary beginnings and the “Father of Black Poetry.”

Jupiter Hammon, the first person of African descent to publish a poem in colonial America, was born October 17, 1711. Publishing a literary work of any kind during this period was a remarkable accomplishment for anyone, but for a man born into slavery, writing and publishing “An Evening Thought” in 1761 was nothing short of a miracle.

Born on the estate of merchant Henry Lloyd of Oyster Bay, NY, Hammon was believed to have been a lay minister. As a devout Christian, he expressed his religious convictions in all of his poetry and prose. In addition to An Evening Thought, 1761, his works include “An Essay on the Ten Virgins,” 1779; “A Winter Piece,” 1782; “An Evening’s Improvement,” 1783; “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York,” 1787. In 2013 a University of Texas at Arlington English professor, Cedric May, and his doctoral student, Julie McGowan, located an unpublished poem, “An Essay on Slavery,” handwritten by Hammon around 1786.

Some believe that Hammon may have had a powerful conversion experience during the Great Awakening, the religious revival of the mid 1700s, as he hammers out the word “salvation” more than twenty times throughout this first poem, “An Evening Thought.” Written in hymn stanzas or common meter, the same metrical pattern as many of the hymns of John and Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts from the same period, the structure of the poem leads some to speculate that Hammon’s poetry may have been set to music.

Black Poetry Day was first proposed in 1970 by Stanley A. Ransom. As author of America’s First Negro Poet: The Complete Works of Jupiter Hammon, Ransom has sought to bring wider recognition to Hammon and his works. Professor Ransom was among the scholars cited in my dissertation which examined the poetry of Hammon and three other black poets: Phillis Wheatley, George Moses Horton, and Frances E.W. Harper. Indeed, the poetry of Jupiter Hammon has profoundly influenced me as a practicing poet whose literary style also mirrors an attraction to the Bible for inspiration.

Black Poetry Day 2018 also marks a dual celebration as a “doubly lovely day” since I submitted the final approval for the release of my new book Embracing Your Life Sentence: How to Turn Life’s Greatest Tragedies into Your Greatest Triumphs. I share my response to a diagnosis of prostate cancer as I developed a holistic battle plan, weaving original poetry and Scripture to show how to I emerged, not just as a survivor but more than a conqueror. Here is one of the poems from the book revealing Hammon’s influence:

Watching, Waiting, Seeking

“Wait on the LORD; be of good courage,
and He shall strengthen your heart;
wait, I say, on the LORD!”
—Psalm 27:14

Reassured once more we will not be left behind,
But with patience we must still learn to watch and wait.
We look into the mirror of God’s word and find
Our God has ever been faithful and never late.
We trust in the Lord, as the Word of God extols.
Like Job we wait until at last our change shall come,
Assured that in patience we now anchor our souls.
May we not faint and fall by the wayside as some
But follow in Christ’s steps, as we quickly obey
And bear up under and yield fruit of endurance.
We must walk in God’s love, the more excellent way
And through faith and patience claim our inheritance.
In these perilous times we remain yielded and still,
Watching, waiting, seeking to fulfill all of God’s will.

In celebration of Black Poetry Day and the poetry of Jupiter Hammon, we close with a rendering of “I Love the Lord” arranged by Richard Smallwood. The original composition  was written by Isaac Watts in hymn stanzas, the same metrical pattern used by Hammon in all of his poetry. While living on the Lloyd estate, Hammon had access to the family library which contained a collection of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs by Dr. Watts, the “Father of Hymnody,” revealing a possible influence on the poetry of Hammon:

For more details about Embracing Your Life Sentence and its publication, stay tuned to Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe and see https://www.lonnelledwardjohnson.com/

Beyond race relations:honor one another

July 21, 2016

Romans 12--10

From the Amplified Bible comes the Verse of the Day for July 21, 2016

Psalm 119:30:

I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me.

Here is the verse in the Good News Testament:

I have chosen to be obedient; I have paid attention to your judgments.

In addition to looking at the Verse of the Day, today’s post also examines the concept “It’s all about relationships,” the theme from a conference attended three years that related seven principles that can be universally applied to “launch, challenge, and grow relationships.” These principles that can be universally applied in achieving and maintaining successful relationships, but they can also be specifically applied in an area of race relations, a critically important area in America today.

These seven principles are related to verbs that connote action when specifically applied in terms of what should be done to “one another,” a phrase that is used 31 times in the Scriptures. The reciprocal pronoun used in the plural carries the notion of a group of people acting upon themselves, i.e., upon one another. For example, we are to “love another and so forth. . .”

1) Love

2) Honor

3)  Forgive

4)  Encourage

5)  Admonish

6)  Serve

7)  Make peace

Earlier this week a blog post discussed the first of the seven principles, “Love one another,” and today we will talk about the second:

Honor one another

The idea of honor is a very important concept in the Word of God where to honor means to respect, to esteem, to have high regard for, and to reward. It also translated to place value on, respect, to place esteem upon, to esteem; to prefer—to go before, to lead, to be intentional.

Apostle John Testola notes that “Honor produces an exchange,” in that when we give honor, we receive honor in return. This is essentially the principle of giving and receiving. Of course, we always receive in greater measure than we give. Luke 6:38 reveals this universal principle:

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.

Although this verse is often used in terms of the financial resources that we give, it has wider implications which would include the giving and receiving of honor. We are encouraged to give honor to whom honor is due.

Just as honor generates honor in greater measure, so likewise is the converse true. As Apostle Testola also mentioned, “Dishonor produces an exchange,” in that “a lack of honor produces a curse.” He explained that “God releases based on the bridge of honor that has been built.”

Another principle taught by Dr.Tetsola related to the statement: “Honor is about value.” The Apostle went on to explain that to “value is to hold in high esteem in your sight.”  He said, “What you don’t value, you don’t honor. . . You never sow into anyone’s life you don’t value.” Honor, he explained, is a genuine expression of the heart. You cannot offer what is not in your heart to give.

Apostle Tetsola elaborated upon the principles discussed by stating that associated with honor is the “process of welcoming the person you honor in your heart, whereby you celebrate their anointing and receive the individual with gladness.” He calls this the “process of acceptance.”  Certainly these principles could be applied in the area of interracial relationships whereby each party would honor the other, just as we are reminded in Romans 12:10:

The Holman Christian Standard Bible puts it this way:

Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor.

This video clip reiterates the message:

Finally, from the Book of Proverbs comes these words of wisdom regarding honor:

Proverbs 15:33:

The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom and before honor is humility.

The title of the following is taken from the closing phrase of this verse.

Before Honor is Humility       

“Our honor activates the honor

that is in the heart of God.”

Apostle John Tetsola

 

“Before honor is humility,” says the Lord.

We honor each other according to the Word,

Not withholding honor to whom honor is due.

We follow these precepts, for the Word of God is true,

Giving life, sharper than any two-edged sword.

 

 

We honor one another and walk in one accord.

Where honor abounds God’s favor shall be restored.

When you give honor, honor is given to you.

“Before honor is humility.”

 

 

The power of this precept cannot be ignored.

All those who bestow honor have great reward.

We must give honor in all that we say and do,

Pressing toward the mark for the prize, we continue

Striving for the perfection we all are moving toward:

“Before honor is humility.”

We summarize the second principle of building and sustaining relationships in the area of race relations:

To place value on, respect and hold in high esteem:

Giving preference, we take the lead–we are intentional;

With genuine affection we honor one another.

In closing, listen to “For the honor” by Elevation Worship

Further reflections on Black History Month

February 26, 2016

Lonnell's class photo 1951

In reflecting upon events connected to Black History Month 2016, my mind goes back to an event that that occurred 65 years. On February 22, 1951, I smiled while my class picture was taken, as an ever eager, third-grade student. The bulletin board in the back of the classroom was decorated with these words: “Negro History Week.” This original designation was established in February, 1926, as the fruitful vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Since 1976 the celebration has been transformed into the current month-long celebration.

The bulletin board in the picture reminded me that at that time I consciously determined that I would someday “make history” and do something significant as an African American. Back in the day, I expressed this burning desire this way: “I want to be a credit to the Negro Race.”

As I reflect upon my diverse life, I have been blessed to work in various careers. As a former registered pharmacist, licensed in Indiana and North Carolina, I was the first African American graduate from Purdue University’s 5-year pharmacy program. Years later I continued to work in pharmacy while pursuing an academic career in higher education while working on a doctorate in English from Indiana University. After teaching English on the university level for more than 30 years in Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and North Carolina, I retired as a Professor of African American literature. I continue to teach, however, because I love “the teacher’s task.”

Most amazingly, I was introduced to classroom teaching after being drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam era when I chose to teach pharmacy technicians rather than work in a dispensary. Having experienced the joy of teaching while in the military, I eventually discovered immense satisfaction from teaching on the collegiate level.

In 1976, I served as an adjunct instructor at The Way College of Emporia in Kansas where I taught New Testament History. In the opening session I recall quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “The reader of history must replace the words ‘there’ and ‘then’ with the words ‘here’ and ‘now.’”

Forty years following that initial teaching experience on the collegiate level, I am serving as an adjunct professor at another Bible College, Carolina College of Biblical Studies in Fayetteville, NC, where I teach public speaking, writing, American literature and other general education courses. In addition, I also serve as an adjunct professor at Fayetteville State University, the place where I first taught composition and literature as a full-time instructor more than 20 years ago. “Oh, the Providence of God!”

In addition to teaching writing, as a professional writer I have published articles on various  subjects, such as biblical research and African-American literature. Furthermore as a published poet, I continue to write, maintaining this personal blog while also serving as a writer for another Internet publication.

Over the years I have been blessed to work in an array of careers, as hospital pharmacist, editor, administrator, director of public relations, information analyst and others. As I began to savor the joys of teaching on the collegiate level, I also endeavored to hone my poetic skills. As I concluded the opening session of New Testament History class that I taught 40 years ago, I used an illustration to I emphasize the importance of “making history” and that all believers today are also a vital part of the history of the New Testament. I brought a full length mirror to the class along with an empty canvas. I stressed that during the class each of us would be painting a life-sized self-portrait which would eventually hang in the “Living Gallery of the New Testament.” I ended by reciting this original poem related to the ongoing theme of the course:

The Living Gallery of the New Testament

In the living gallery of the New Testament is reserved a special space:
An empty canvas awaits each feature of your face.
Each of us paints a self-portrait in minutest detail.
To develop your life’s masterpiece, you can never fail
When you follow Christ’s example, the Master of the Word,
Beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord.
Each day abounds with potential for matchless artistry.
Now is your golden moment—you are making “His Story.”

We conclude our comments with “The Truth of His Story” a song written by Keith Washo, featuring Vanessa Lombera/Vocals

To serve: part of the celebration

January 18, 2016

martin luther king jr

In celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this tribute is offered:

. . . man behind the name

the name

the good brother
hammered out his
“Here I stand,
I can do none other. . .”
and forged “A mighty fortress”

the name

the same name
thunders through four centuries

anchored with a surname
a paradox,
oxymoronic nature of a servant/King

the name

weight of that name
burden of the same name
obligation to be true
to one’s namesake
as Ellison’s hidden name and complex fate
resounds from age to age the same–
the battle cry to defy the status quo

more than the name
is the memory of the man
behind the name

reflections on the man
behind the name
mirror commonalities
threads intertwine in black and gold
the life of this preacher,
teacher of the Word,
Walker’s prophet for a new day,
husband, father, mentor and more,
fellow-laborer in the Lord,
fellow bondslave and brother
heeding the higher calling

      first of all,
      servants of all,
      we shall transcend all

. . . the man behind the name

the man

praying, preaching,
leading through troubled waters
following in the steps of Christ,
along the higher path of love

the man

buked and scorned,
called everything,
including child of God,
tested, arrested, tried and sentenced
penning his letter from a Birmingham jail

the man

sitting down and standing up,
protesting and marching and singing

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round!
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round!
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round!
Keep on marchin’; keep on movin’; keep on marchin’ toward the freedom land”

from Selma to Montgomery to Memphis
where he waved and smiled the last time

the man. . .the man. . .the man

uprooting burdock and stink weed,
bitter roots of prejudice
that blight the land
planting peace lilies instead

the man

images forever etched in my mind
eloquent, passionate dreamer
working to weave into reality
his multi-colored dream of possibility
the vista of that gathering
with echoes of his oration
before the People of Promise
arm-over-arm, hand-in-hand
swaying in rhythmic waves
across the multitude of faces
singing softly in unison
this choir of celestial voices
“. . . Black and white together. . .”
embracing refrains from the anthem of his age:

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, someday.
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe
We shall overcome, someday.

 

MLK Day of Service:

An essential element of the Martin Luther King celebration is the MLK Day of Service, as Americans across the nation are encouraged to participate in community service with “A Day On, Not a Day Off!”

Throughout his life, Dr. King sought to forge the common ground on which people from all walks of life could join together to address important community issues. Working alongside individuals of all ages, races and backgrounds, Dr. King encouraged Americans to come together to strengthen communities, alleviate poverty, and acknowledge dignity and respect for all human beings. Service, he realized, was the great equalizer when he stated:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Dr. King recognized the importance of serving others with the following statement from the sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct”, delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church February 4, 1968:

“…He who is greatest among you shall be a servant. That’s the new definition of greatness…Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”

The accompanying video “To Serve” is an excerpt from that sermon:

Walking in the light

September 29, 2015

John 3--20-21John 3:20-21, the Verse of the Day for September 29, 2015, speaks of those who prefer to walk in darkness rather than  to walk in the light. To understand more fully those whom the passage refers to, we add verse 19 to the selected verses for today.

John 3:19-21

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Regarding darkness and light, 1 John 1:5 offers this reminder:               

“God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”

1 John 1:5 tells us:

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Wherever you find darkness you do not find God. Believers are, thus, encouraged to walk in the light in 1 John 1:7 where the Amplified Bible renders the verse this way:

But if we [really] walk in the Light [that is, live each and every day in conformity with the precepts of God], as He Himself is in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another [He with us, and we with Him], and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin [by erasing the stain of sin, keeping us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations].

The exhortation to walk in the light is the inspiration, in part, for the following:

Walk in the Light

Walk in the light, the beautiful light.

Come where the dew drops of mercy shine bright,

Shine all around us by day and by night—

Jesus, the Light of the World.

Traditional Gospel Song

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying,

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me

shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (NKJV)

We begin when we come to Him who alone is the Light

And repent, following a new path immediately.

We will forsake the world and leave behind the chains of night

And consecrate ourselves to God, set apart wholly

To worship the Lord freely with clean hands and a pure heart,

Formed for His glory, as we develop a strong prayer life.

The Word of God rooted within us will never depart.

We will study the Word of Truth, the lamp that lights our way:

No longer blind but with enlightened eyes we now can see.

We vow to be a voice for God and stand out from the crowd.

We are true servants of the Light, despite the endless strife.

We will make a joyful noise and sing His praises out loud.

Looking in the mirror of the Word, we see God’s design.

Now is the time to arise and let our light so shine

Bill and Gloria Gaither present the African Children’s Choir singing a medley “Walking in the Light”:

Selma and events occurring 50 years ago

January 18, 2015

Selma_poster Nominated as one of the films for Best Picture, Selma, provides a chronicle of events and a cavalcade of people drawn to the Alabama town, one of the focal points of the Civil Rights Movement. The film culminates with final march from Selma to Montgomery, where Dr. Martin Luther King addresses thousands of non-violent protestors.

The March from Selma to Montgomery, AL occurred March 25, 1965, one of the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement depicted in the recently released film Selma.

The March from Selma to Montgomery, AL,  one of the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement.

My wife, Brenda, went to see the film last Friday on our weekly “date night,” and I was deeply moved by the film. I woke up the following morning, inspired to write the following poem:

 From Selma to Montgomery

There never was a moment in American history more honorable and

more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race

and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes

Martin Luther King

Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March

March 25, 1965

From Selma to Montgomery– five days on this tedious journey

Thousands meet at this pivotal place in American history

To celebrate gaining the God-given “precious right to vote,”

A hard fought goal attained when the prize seemed so remote:

Distant, bittersweet memories galvanized in the last century.

On the capitol steps hearts intertwine as a tapestry;

Clergy, people of every faith and walk of life come to see.

From the eloquent message flow words of wisdom that we quote

From Selma to Montgomery.

Holding high the blood-stained banner of this costly victory:

Blood of martyrs: Ms Viola, Rev. Reeb, and Jimmy Lee,

We pay tribute to Dr. King and others and devote

Our lives to establishing values that we promote,

As God commands: To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly

From Selma to Montgomery.

Graduating from Purdue University–1965 Purdue University College of PharmacyViewing Selma brought to mind other significant events occurring in 1965. In terms of my personal history, I recall that I graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy, as the first African American to graduate from Purdue’s newly established five-year program at that time. I went on to become a registered pharmacist and practiced pharmacy for more than twenty-five years. My personal blog “Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe” reflects my professional involvement as a pharmacist. Though I may no longer practice pharmacy and have not for twenty years, I still endeavor to compound “After the Art of the Apothecary,” the signature poem of my blog:

After the Art of the Apothecary

And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment,

an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary:

it shall be an holy anointing oil.

Exodus 30:25 [KJV]

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary

From the prescribed formulas for the remedies I need,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

I long to work circumspectly and always be wary,

To measure and mix precisely for love and not for greed.

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary.

I recall yearning to learn from childhood days in Gary,

To weigh my decisions and follow as the Lord would lead,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

I seek to formulate my ideal art and to marry

Vocation and avocation as one of love and need.

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary.

I attempt to move with wisdom but never to tarry

To master each prescription, to excel and to succeed,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

The sweet smelling savor I desire my life to carry

Is the pure, holy anointing oil tempered of my need.

I desire to follow recipes and not to vary,

To compound after the art of the apothecary.

Meeting Marian Anderson–1965 Marian_Anderson_1951 Another event of historic significance occurred in 1965, the year I graduated from Purdue. Here is an excerpt from a blog entry entitled “Reflections on Meeting Marian Anderson: An Unforgettable Experience”:

I have fondest recollections of my meeting famed contralto during my final year at Purdue University. She was described as having “a voice heard once in a hundred years.” Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity that I was a part of at the time (Incidentally, Dr. King was also a member of that same fraternity), had just acquired a fraternity house on campus.  That accomplishment was certainly historic for the black frat but was not altogether recognized and celebrated as such at the time.

When I learned that Ms Anderson was offering a recital at Purdue as part of her farewell concert tour before retiring from the concert stage, I wrote to her and asked if she would consent to our having a reception in her honor at our house. She was staying at the Purdue Memorial Union where she had broken the color barrier with her being the first person of color to stay at the hotel facilities when she first sang on campus back in the 1950s. Our fraternity house was less than a block away, and she graciously accepted the invitation.

When I met Ms Anderson, I recall recognizing greatness in this woman of magnanimous spirit. In the presence of “greatness” there is such an aura of reverential respect that one desires to bow or genuflect or demonstrate some gesture of obeisance; it seems as I recollect, an almost automatic response to overwhelming greatness. Without question my meeting Marian Anderson was one of the highlights, not only of my college career but of my life.

Indeed, 1965 was a year of great significance in terms of African American history on a grand scale as well as on a personal level, and the film Selma caused me to reflect with gratitude, recalling events occurring fifty years ago.

Love, honor, forgive one another

May 24, 2014

 

Romans 12 10

10 Love one another with brotherly affection [as members of one family], giving precedence and showing honor to one another. Amplified Bible

Here is a video reminder of this verse

The Verse of the Day for May 24, 2014 incorporates two of the seven principles for achieving successful relationships. Developed by Apostle Carolyn Warren of Equip U Ministries, these valuable, practical principles can be universally applied to “launch, challenge, and grow relationships.”

Each of the seven principles is expressed as a verb that connotes action when specifically applied in terms of what should be done to “one another,” a phrase that is used 31 times in the Scriptures.

1)      Love

2)     Honor

3)     Forgive

Love one another:

Love is an essential element of life. Jesus Christ is the model, the standard of love who offered this reminder:

John 13:34-35

 I give you a new commandment: that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another.

35 By this shall all [men] know that you are My disciples, if you love one another [if you keep on showing love among yourselves].

Honor one another:

To honor means to place value on, respect, to place esteem upon, to esteem. The word also means “to prefer—to go before, to lead, to be intentional.” Clearly, this is the essence of the latter part of Romans 12:10

Apostle John Tetsola comments, “Honor produces an exchange, in that when we give honor, we receive honor in return.” He elaborated upon this principle by stating that associated with honor is the “process of welcoming the person you honor in your heart, whereby you celebrate their anointing and receive the individual with gladness.” He calls this the “process of acceptance” which we apply when we honor one another.

Song writer Jimmy Scott sings a composition “To Honor You,” a tribute to the memory of a loved one.

Forgive one another

In actuality, a third principle—that is—to forgive one another is incorporated in the first part of the Verse of the Day which encourages us to “love one another.”   An aspect of love is giving. Literally to forgive means to “give for.” You give to those who choose not to give. It has been said that you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. John Oxenham reminds us of this truth:

Love ever lives, outlives forgives,

And while it stands with open hands it lives,

For this is love’s prerogative:

To give and give and give.

You actually could keep adding “and give” to last line ad infinitum. For such love expresses endless giving.

And so the Verse of the Day encompasses not only the exhortation to love and honor one another but also by implication to forgive one another.

Spoken word poet, Amena Brown reads selections from Romans 12, from The Voice, a new Bible translation, from which the Verse of the Day was taken.

There is no pit so deep. . .

September 8, 2013

There is no pit so deep

At times in life, we may feel like we are sinking into a horrible pit, as we become bogged down in a quagmire of despair and hopelessness. No matter how hard we try to carry out the will of God, many times we seem to be slipping and sinking further into the pits of life.

Jeremiah 38:1-28 gives the account of the prophet Jeremiah who because of his prophetic word for Judah was thrown into a pit. We must remember, however, that God sent someone to rescue Jeremiah, who was literally thrown into a slimy pit, but he was rescued by Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian, whose name literally means “servant of the king,” who served as  an official in the court of Zedekiah, king of Judah, during the time when Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians.  I make reference to feeling like Jeremiah in one of my poems when I recall an occasion when I called out to God, and He rescued me:

In A Place Called Gilgal

In a place called Gilgal, here I gather twelve stones

From the pit, like Jeremiah snatched from this place

Of disgrace, grief unspeakable, in a moment

Of time, calling from the depths of despair, waiting.

Midnight and sunrise, may I always remember

And cherish these bittersweet memories in my heart:

I stood naked before Him, waiting to be changed.

In His presence I am revived, and I am changed;

From the pit of despair, taken to a new place.

For I make Jesus Lord and believe in my heart.

I walk with Him in power, moment by moment.

Others may forget, but I choose to remember

The promises fulfilled after long years of waiting.

 

I express similar feeling in the lyrics to another original song:

Like Jeremiah, from the depths of the pit,

You brought me out of the miry clay.

My feet had almost slipped, but you set me on solid rock to stay.

You put a new song in mouth,

Even praise to our God.

Many shall see and hear

And shall fear the name of our God.

Many shall turn their hearts to the Lord on that day.

You brought me up.

You pulled me out.

You put a new song in my mouth.

You brought me up.

You pulled me out.

And I will praise You.  And I will bless you.

And I will glorify Your name.

I will raise my voice in praise all of my days.

A couple of days ago, I read a commentary regarding Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, who were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps because they helped Jews to escape in Holland. They found themselves in a horrible situation, in a deep pit, and Betsy’s last words before she died spoke of hope, even in a most difficult situation. Corrie ten Boom, was later rescued and gave her testimony of the amazing power of God’s love that sustained her over the years of her life. Betsy said these words which became the opening line and the title of the following poem:

“There is no pit so deep. . . ”

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

 Betsy ten Boom

 

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock,
and established my steps.

 Psalm 40:2                           

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

In times of turmoil and deep distress we rest until

We see that God’s Word comes to pass, for we have no doubt

That He will again deliver us and bring us out

With renewed strength to climb an even steeper hill.

We are assured that every promise God will fulfill.

When we are exhausted, God will refresh and refill.

No matter how severe the problem we thought about,

“There is no pit so deep. . .”

Despite our best efforts, at times life goes all downhill.

In times of despair we seek courage and strength to instill,

As we persevere to triumph along this treacherous route.

Rooted and grounded, we are no longer tossed about.

We remember these words as we strive to fulfill God’s will:

“There is no pit so deep. . .”

As I was growing up, I recall the song “He Brought Me Out” performed here as a congregational hymn from the Church of God.

I would like to close this blog entry with my personal testimony expressed poetically which touches upon a similar theme of being lifted out of a horrible situation:

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

            Psalm 107

When I was down so low

it looked like up to me,

You broke those heavy chains

and gave me sweet liberty.

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

 

When I was so big and bad,

tryin to be my own man,

You opened my blinded eyes

and then showed me Your master plan.

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

I was headin straight to hell,

And I was goin in grand style

But you picked me up, turnt me round,

And you caused me to think awhile.

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

Stumblin down the road of life,

I was wastin all my youth,

Then took a right turn to Jesus Christ;

Now I’m walkin the path of truth.

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

You couldn’t tell me nothin

bout nothin I hadn’t seen or heard,

Then I ran right smackdab into

the power of God’s matchless Word.

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

 

With lovin arms you reach way down

And snatched me from Satan’s outhouse,

Sought me and flat-out rescued me,

Fixed me up in my Father’s house.

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

For mighty peace like a river

washin away confusion and strife,

What can I give you in return?

Yes, Sir, I’ll give you back my life.

Why Don’t Somebody Help Me Praise the Lord?

In recalling this particular poem, I also think of one of the most beloved hymns of all times “Love Lifted Me” with its most memorable opening stanza and chorus:

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!

This version of the classic hymn performed by Bill and Gloria Gaither, featuring Kim Hooper, is a most appropriate way to close this blog entry.

Celebrating my birthday: Recalling the first and most recent “occasional” poetry

June 17, 2013

June 17

As an “occasional” poet, meaning that I have been known to pen a poem or two from time to time, as well as being someone who writes poetry for specific occasions. One such occasion that generally inspires me to write a poem is my birthday. Today is my birthday, and as I began my day in reflecting with great gratitude over the past 71 years, I happened to recall the first occasional poem that I wrote, even before I ever acknowledged and accepted the poet’s calling.  My twenty-first birthday seemed a noteworthy occasion worth commenting on, and so I wrote a few lines which I entitled “Upon Turning Twenty-one,” a title that suggests a work of much grander proportions than my feeble first efforts might indicate.  Two years ago, I posted a blog entry written in celebration of my birthday, making reference to my first “occasional poem.” Here is a link to that particular entry:

https://drlej.wordpress.com/tag/the-great-adventure/

Today, in celebration of my birthday, I composed a new poem in which I refer to that first poem and several other compositions written over the years. I trust that you will read, reflect, and appreciate the sentiment that I express as a poet rooted in the Bible, writing from a Christian perspective

 

Poet Laureate

Reflections on my 71st birthday

June 17, 2013

 

The breath of the Spirit stirred my passion to create

With words to commemorate “Upon Turning Twenty-one”

My calling as so-called “self-appointed poet laureate:”

Before God even spoke, the work was already done.

He knew I would seek to be all He called me to be.

A son of Issachar, I inquire what does it mean

To stand at this time and place: “This Year of My Jubilee”

“Upon Turning Seventy-one” today in 2013.

“Young man, you’re born for luck,” I heard a wise woman say.

Happy, blessed, and fortunate is the man in the first Psalm.

The blessings of the Lord have abounded all along the way,

As I flourish in the courts of God as a fruitful palm.

The grace of God still abounds these three score years and ten plus one

I assess my life with gratitude “When All is Said and Done.”

 

 

Thoughts about the 4th Day of Creation on January 4

January 4, 2012

On the 4th day of the first month in the New Year, which began on a Sunday, I happened to think of the 4th day of creation.  Biblical scholar and prolific writer, E.W. Bullinger, discusses various aspects of the number 4 in his book Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance:

Now the number four is made up of three and one (3+1=4), and it denotes, therefore, and marks that which follows the revelation of God in the Trinity, namely, His creative works. He is known by the things that are seen. Hence the written revelation commences with the words, “In-the-beginning God CREATED.” Creation is therefore the next thing—the fourth thing, and the number four always has reference to all that is created. It is emphatically the number of Creation; of man in his relation to the world as created. . . .

The fourth day saw the material creation finished (for on the fifth and sixth days it was only the furnishing and peopling of the earth with living creatures). The sun, moon, and stars completed the work, and they were to give light upon the earth which had been created, and to rule over the day and over the night

Genesis 1:14-19.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.

Johnson and Johnson

This painting by Aaron Douglas accompanied “The Creation” in James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones: 7 Negro Sermons in Verse.

Renowned African American poet, James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), offers a vivid description of Genesis in “The Creation” taken from God’’s Trombones, 7 Negro Sermons in Verse, one of his most celebrated works. This opening excerpt describes the fourth day:

 And God stepped out on space,
And He looked around and said,
“I’m lonely —
I’ll make me a world.”

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said, “That’s good!”

Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,
And God rolled the light around in His hands
Until He made the sun;
And He set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said, “That’s good!”

For a powerful rendition of the entire poem recited by Wintley Phipps, click below.

As a practicing poet, I have been notably influenced by James Weldon Johnson, with whom I have a number of things in common. In addition to being poets with the same last name, we have both taught literature at historically Black institutions, and both of us have been involved in careers outside of teaching, but most remarkably we both share the same birthday, June 17. I am not exactly sure what all of this meaning. That is perhaps the topic of another conversation.

This photo taken from the Hubble Telescope displays some of the “galaxies of countless stars.”

A few years ago I recall reading about newly discovered rings around Saturn and other phenomena in outer space that caused me to see and appreciate the magnitude of the creative power of God in a new way. This information is staggering in light of the demonstrated power of God manifested through the Spoken Word of God recorded in Genesis where the account of the fourth day indicates, “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. . .” Then almost as a modest aside, we learn that “He made the stars also”:  All the starry hosts with its millions upon millions of stars God made, each of which He numbered and called by name.  That particular passage from Genesis inspired the following poem:

“. . . He Made the Stars Also”

 Genesis 1:16

Seventy thousand million million million stars

Ten times more than grains of sand that cover the earth;

Galaxies that span far beyond Saturn and Mars:

Each star formed and fashioned and called by name at birth.

Ten times more than grains of sand that cover the earth;

Sparkling the night with lights, God made the stars also.

Each star formed and fashioned and called by name at birth.

The heavens declare God’s glory that men might know.

Sparkling the night with lights, God made the stars also:

Witness to Abraham of what was yet to be.

The heavens declare God’s glory that men might know.

As the stars and grains of sand, so shall your seed be.

All creation unified by a single bond.

Galaxies that span far beyond Saturn and Mars

Express the breadth of God’s love, reaching far beyond

Seventy thousand million million million stars.

On the fourth day of the New Year, I happened to think of the 4th day of Creation and thought I would share my thoughts in this blog.