“While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; But when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.” C. H. Spurgeon
Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus Time Magazine photo essay on the many Rembrandt depictions of Jesus.
Taking every penny from the school treasury to pay for their traveling expenses the Fisk Jubilee Singers set out on a mission to ensure the continuance of the school they dearly loved.
Only a few months after the end of the Civil War John Ogden, the Reverend Erastus Milo Cravath, and the Reverend Edward P. Smith (their stories are inspiring in themselves) founded the Fisk School in Nashville–so named for the Tennessee Freedmen’s Bureau General Clinton B. Fisk who donated Union army barracks to be used as the first facilities to educate the impoverished people of the South aged 7 to seventy.
The school was open to all races, but quickly attracted ex-slaves only a few years after emancipation. Always teetering on bankruptcy the school decided to let the spiritual songs of God determine its fate.
After a rough start the singers rose to stardom bringing US Grant, Mark Twain and Queen Victoria to tears. The school survived, but more importantly their faith and music remains a testament to the power of music to win hearts and minds and to the selfless generosity of the founders of Fisk University.
I was going to write about a charming little bookstore I visited recently, but then I happened upon the horrifying photos of beheaded Christian children still in their adorable kid clothes. I really wanted to just escape back into the past or at least into a charming bookstore. I wanted to flip through books that showed how people bandaged wounded soldiers who are long since dead. I wanted to see books on genocide and pass them by because, thank God, the holocausts were over. I wanted to still be able to imagine that I could use the word evil lightly as if the meaning of the word had lost it’s essence and was just a funny remnant from the past.
I bet most Germans browsed bookstores, wrote novels and gossiped as the powers of evil rolled by carrying people to camps. My neighbor sends his beef cows to market but I never see them shoved into the truck that carries them away.
We see. Everyday we see things on television. How many innocent people are murdered every week in Chicago? Would a big counter in the corner of our screen make us give a damn? If we want we can read Bertrand Russel’s disturbing idea’s about education and see as we sit before our computers that his ideas may have become reality. I’m just as dumb as the next person–the person who thinks that couldn’t happen here; that couldn’t happen now. And why is my coffee cold?
What is that numbness that so paralyzes us all? That sense that it might be a bit rude to question evil? But once questioned the problem still exists for the sort who like quiet bookstores–what’s to be done? Do we have a right to say someone is evil or is that a little too judgmental? Maybe the very same people who manage to write sonnets and invent telescopes and love their children have no control over their actions. Bookstores magically appear and child butchering is explained away–they couldn’t help it.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions.
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Newspaper clippings from The Democratic Banner, Ohio, January 30, 1914
Henry O Tanner, the son of a slave transcended race through his art and through his Christianity. Back then educated people didn’t just assume that Christians were reactionary bigots (of course some did). Christian themed art wasn’t seen as offensive but part of the long and spectacular tradition of Western civilization.
Tanner was the first African American artist to gain international recognition and one of the few favorite students of Thomas Eakins to be honored with a portrait.
After moving to Paris he painted Daniel and the Lions’ Den which gained acceptance into the Salon and brought an exceptional opportunity to travel to the Holy Land.
He didn’t hide his Christianity.
He found his hope and comfort in God where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Racism hurt him. He admitted to being a rather timid, shy soul and the episodes of prejudice in his life pained him deeply. I wonder how Christianity which at one time was such a comfort to the weak, the poor, the outcast and the sinful has become in some circles a sign of stupidity and delusion.
It seems impossible not to accept that miracles are a part of life–intellectually impossible– as I sit here breathing perfectly made air with a moon controlling waves that crash in just such a way and water perfectly pitched to allow for fish and whales. God announces Himself all around.
If everything was made from nothing then that’s a miracle. If miracles exist then annunciations and created things may come from a creator of the miraculous. A painting is created. It’s also a miracle. If our brains are random molecules there is no purpose for creating. The odd ability to create and for others to create makes the notion that there is no original creator seem ridiculous to me.
If you read the Bible end to end there’s a miraculous story–not just the Jesus Christ part, but the way the whole thing ties together, the way things written hint at bigger things . . .
and littler things like the moments of intimacy that fill our lives with satisfaction and a strange yearning to go deeper, to make connections and to love one another.
Here’s hoping your new year is blessed with the miraculous.