Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do Not Abandon the Gospel

I was in Champaign, Illinois last weekend to participate in the Black Sacred Music Symposium held biennially at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While in town, I also had the opportunity to preach at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Champaign, where I worshipped and served as organist and director of music, during my college and grad school years. You can listen to my sermon, “Do not abandon the Gospel” (based on Galatians 1:1-10), below.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Random thoughts on race (a re-post from 2007)

Here’s another article I wrote in celebration of Black History Month that I’m re-posting. This one was originally posted February 28, 2007. WWD


The most forgiving people I’ve ever heard about were Black people.

For example, my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda Duncan, was a slave in Alabama, owned by the Armistead family. Malinda died in 1929, at the age of 86, and I’ve visited her grave in the Armistead Cemetery (on land set aside by the Armistead family for their slaves to bury their dead). Grandma (my great grandmother) told me that Malinda, who was her paternal grandmother, would tell her about the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her “mistress”, Mrs. Armistead. It appears Mr. Armistead was prone to fooling around with his female slaves (which, obviously, was very common—just look at how many shades of color “Black” people come in). Mrs. Armistead, as a result, was very jealous and spiteful toward her female slaves. Well, one day Mrs. Armistead got a hold of my great-great-great grandmother (who was only a girl at the time), and burned her against the side of her neck with a poker taken from the fireplace. Grandma personally saw this scar. Grandma said when she was a little girl she used to cry as her grandmother would tell her about how the mistress burned her neck. After the slaves were free, and Mrs. Armistead was old, widowed and sick, and near death, Malinda went back and took care of her mistress (I assume until the old lady died).

The words of Scripture come to mind (Proverbs 25:21-22):

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

Can’t you also hear the words of Jesus? (Matthew 5:43-45):

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I ask you, would your Christianity enable you to do what my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda, did?


Speaking of the old Black folks and church: The old folks believed that if you were going to “have church” you ought to really “have church”. They weren’t casual about their worship. God had been too good to them to keep it bottled up inside. Church was the place to let it all out! An old gospel song they used to love to sing at my home church went like this:

I said I wasn’t gonna tell nobody…
I said I wasn’t gonna run for Jesus…
I said I wasn’t gonna shout for joy, but I
Couldn’t keep it to myself
What the Lord has done for me.

Then, there was the refrain:

You oughta been there
When He saved my soul.
You oughta been there
When He put my name on the role.
Then I started walking,
I started talking,
I started singing,
I started shouting
About what the Lord has done.

When you think about the hardships, the heartaches, the pain… I believe contemporary folks would go insane under similar life pressures! It was unheard of, back in the day, for a Black person to go to a counselor or psychologist. So, how did they mentally and emotionally survive? They survived because the Lord was their psychologist and counselor and psychiatrist! They shouted and hollered, prayed and cried, walked and ran, and sang and moaned, until they felt better! They could go on for another week, facing racism and poverty and discrimination and deprivation every day of their lives, yet persevering in spite of their circumstances, because they had a friend in Jesus. It’s no secret that Black folks’ favorite verse in “Amazing Grace” has always been verse number three:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Twas grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

This reminds me of the last time my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, attended church. When he was about to turn 100 years of age, the very day before his birthday, our church had a celebration for him during the Sunday worship service. That was Sunday, August 1, 1971. I have only a few memories from that day (I was only 8), but they still stand out vividly in my mind.

Grandpa Duncan was old and feeble by this time and was no longer able to attend church. Since he wasn’t able to sit through an hour-and-a-half to two-hour service, it was decided that the family would bring him to church at noon—half-way through the service. I remember the ushers escorting Grandpa Duncan into the church. On his way down the center aisle to the front pew where the family was seated, Grandpa Duncan saw an old friend, Mr. Charlie Ingram. Mr. Ingram was no longer able to attend church either, as he was about, I think, 96-years-old by this time, and blind and feeble; but he wanted to come and help celebrate his old friend’s birthday. Grandpa Duncan saw Mr. Ingram and the two old friends embraced right there in the center aisle and greeted each other warmly, striking up a conversation!

I also remember Grandpa Duncan partaking of communion that day. In Methodism, we knelt at the altar rail to take communion, and so, Grandpa Duncan was helped to his knees. Well, Grandpa Duncan “got happy” down there on his knees, and he was crying and verbally rejoicing in the Lord. The old man couldn’t hold it any longer. I can only imagine what was on his mind.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word, my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When I think of Black History Month (a re-post from 2007)

The following article was originally posted February 1, 2007. In celebration of Black History Month, I am re-posting it here. WWD


During African-American or Black History Month, Americans recognize the many historic achievements and contributions of Blacks to the United States. The fact that a race of people kidnapped from their native land, separated from their families, tribes and culture, and subjected to forced slavery in this land could, in spite of such evil treatment, rise and achieve so much and contribute so critically to the building of this nation is nothing short of a miracle, and is a grand testimony to the grace and power of God. Ultimately, it was God who set Black slaves free in answer to their many prayers. It was the Lord who brought Blacks through Reconstruction and the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan. Almighty God delivered Black people from lynchings, “Jim Crow” and forced segregation. God, in answer to the prayers of our slave forebears, brought about the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. In a real sense, Black History is a vivid illustration of the grace of God.

But, Black History is not just about famous people and events, but about ordinary Black families. When I think of Black History, I think of my family. I think of my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, who migrated from Florence, Alabama to North Chicago, Illinois (a small city some 35 miles north of the city of Chicago) in April of 1921, during the period American historians call “the Great Migration”. The son of former slaves, he was almost 50 years old at the time. His original intent was to settle in Michigan, but not finding anyplace to his liking, he decided to visit his wife’s uncle, Jack Fowler, in Waukegan. It was during this visit that he found a place that he liked in North Chicago, on the border with Waukegan. He purchased the house and sent a telegram summoning his wife, Frankie, and their two daughters, Minnie and Wylodine, and son, Fancie, to get their things together and come to Illinois.

I remember Richmond Duncan. I was almost 9 years old when he died in 1972. He lived to be almost 101 years old (100 years, 10 months and 7 days, to be exact). I’m thankful for pioneers like my “Grandpa Duncan.” I live in “Chicagoland” today because of Grandpa Duncan's desire for a better life for his family.

When I think of Black History, I also think of my great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Bettie Rice (yes, I used “great” 5 times). “Bettie” was the name given her by her owners, the Rice family. Bettie was a slave. I don’t think anyone ever knew when she was born, and there’s no one alive today who knows when she died. Based on what I was told, I think she died somewhere between 1899 and 1905. I own an old “tin-type” photo of her—the only picture of her—taken when she was an old woman, weary with years, but still carrying herself with dignity despite the horrors she had witnessed in her life. The other year, I made an enlarged copy of it, framed it, and hung it on the wall of our family room for all who visit our home to see. You see, Bettie holds a special place in our family for Bettie was born in Africa. She told her children and grandchildren that she was a Hottentot. The Hottentot were a tribe in southern and southwest Africa. I’m fascinated by an old story, passed down through the generations, that during slavery, Bettie once threatened to kill her own baby girl rather that have that baby sold away from her. Because of her fighting spirit, Bettie was allowed to keep that baby girl. Because an African Hottentot named Bettie refused to give up her child, our family remained intact and we still tell her story today.

Most of what I know about my family, I learned at the feet of my great grandmother—Richmond Duncan’s daughter, Bettie Rice’s great-great granddaughter—Minnie Duncan Gray. Minnie and her husband, William, raised me. Minnie had a phenomenal memory, and could talk at length about the family history. She knew both sets of her grandparents, all of whom had been slaves. I learned about slavery from one that had known and talked to former slaves. I learned from my great grandmother to appreciate family history and what my forebears had to endure so that I could be where I am today. I also learned from my great grandparents about the love of God in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again that I might have eternal life. This is the faith that has sustained many in my family since slavery days. This is the faith I am committed to passing on to my children.

Black people in the United States have come a long, long way. I believe strongly that Blacks should never forget those who came before us. And we should never, ever forget God who brought us through.


Some of you may have noticed that I recently added a photo to my profile (I finally figured out how it’s done). This photo is one of my favorites. It is from the latter half of 1971, as I remember, and it shows 5 generations of the Duncan family. Seated, in the center, is Richmond Duncan (1871-1972), my great-great grandfather. He was 100 years old at the time this photo was taken. The two women are his daughters, Minnie (to the left) and Wylodine (to the right). Minnie (1896-1986) is my great grandmother. Her husband, William (1905-1989), is behind her. Minnie and William took me in when I was 2 months old, and raised me to adulthood. My great-great aunt, Wylodine (1898-1998), who lived next door to us, probably did more than any other person to introduce me to Jesus. I cannot thank God enough for my great grandparents and my great-great aunt; by God’s grace, and because of them, I am what I am today. Standing behind Richmond is Minnie’s only child, my grandfather, Barney Quentin (1919-2000). On the far left and far right are Barney Q’s two sons, my Uncles, Barney David (on the left) and Charles (on the right). In Barney Q’s arms and on Richmond’s lap are Charles’ two oldest sons, my cousins, Adam [1969-2007] and Gabriel. Finally, standing to the right of Richmond, is me (one of the extremely rare photos of me in shorts). I was 8 years old.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Standing Strong

This past weekend, it was my privilege to preach 3 times—Saturday evening and twice on Sunday morning—at my home church, Christ Church Lake Forest. This was my very first time preaching at Christ Church. And God honored His word! He so graciously blessed us at each service. My sermon was from Ephesians 6:10-18a.

You may listen to the audio here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Blizzard of 2011

Starting yesterday afternoon until this morning, we got at least 20 inches of snow in Chicagoland. Combined with wind gusts up to 40 miles-per-hour, it was quite a storm. Here’s the view outside our house this morning.

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!

He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?

(Psalm 147:12, 15-17)