THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Jesus / An Interpretation
WEEK I / DAY IV
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Excerpt from Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman — Originally Published in 1949
“I belong to a generation that finds very little that is meaningful or intelligent in the teachings of the Church concerning Jesus Christ. It is a generation largely in revolt because of the general impression that Christianity is essentially an other-worldly religion, having as its motto: ‘Take all the world, but give me Jesus.’ The desperate opposition to Christianity rests in the fact that it seems, in the last analysis, to be a betrayal of the Negro into the hands of his enemies by focusing his attention upon heaven, forgiveness, love, and the like… During much of my boyhood I was cared for by my grandmother, who was born a slave and lived until the Civil War on a plantation near Madison, Florida. My regular chore was to do all of the reading for my grandmother — she could neither read nor write. Two or three times a week I read the Bible aloud to her. I was deeply impressed by the fact that she was most particular about the choice of Scripture. For instance, I might read many of the more devotional Psalms, some of Isaiah, the Gospels again and again. But the Pauline epistles, never — except, at long intervals, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. My curiosity knew no bounds, but we did not question her about anything.
"When I was older and was half through college, I chanced to be spending a few days at home near the end of summer vacation. With a feeling of great temerity I asked her one day why it was that she would not let me read any of the Pauline letters. What she told me I shall never forget. 'During the days of slavery,' she said, 'the master’s minister would occasionally hold services for slaves. Old man McGhee was so mean that he would not let a Negro minister preach to his slaves. Always the white minister used as his text something from Paul. At least three or four times a year he used as a text: ‘Slaves, be obedient to them that are your masters…, as unto Christ.’ Then he would go on to show how it was God’s will that we were slaves and how, if we were good and happy slaves, God would bless us. I promised my Maker that if I ever learned to read and if freedom ever came, I would not read that part of the Bible'" (Thurman, 1996:19-20).
About the Author
Howard Washington Thurman was born in 1899 in West Palm Beach, FL. His biological father, Saul, died of illness when Howard was only seven years old. Howard and his mother Alice moved to Daytona Beach, FL where he spent the majority of his childhood. His maternal grandmother, Nancy Ambrose, played a major role in his spiritual formation. Thurman graduated from Morehouse college in 1923 as valedictorian. In 1925 he graduated from Rochester Theological Seminary also as valedictorian. He served as a Baptist pastor in Oberlin, OH for two years. Thurman served as a faculty member at Morehouse College, Spelman College, Howard University, and Boston University. What is most impressive is that some of Thurman’s spiritual formation took place under the tutelage of a noted Quaker philosopher and mystic, Rufus Jones. He spent time with Mohandas Gandhi where he converted to nonviolent social activism. His writings and friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a significant and lasting impact on the Civil Rights Movement as we know it. Jesus and the Disinherited was reportedly the work that Dr. King read during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-1956. Howard Thurman died in 1981, while living in San Francisco, CA.
Thurman, Howard. (1996) Jesus and the Disinherited. Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published in 1949)
Compiled by Demetrius Summerville