Rural American Congregational Singing

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Over the last few hundred years since the American Revolution, ecclesiastical music and singing in America have not changed as much as one might think.

Many of the colonies were founded for religious freedom, especially New England, where the Pilgrim Fathers and Puritans settled. During that time, the foundation for American church music and singing were laid in liturgy, psalmody and hymnody brought from Europe, especially England and Scotland.

Many of the denominations in the United Kingdom had their counterparts in America and we sing many of the same hymns. For the most part, modern day American church music is not too different from that found in British churches.

However, new kinds of singing arose in the rural backwaters of America, both in white and African American communities: singing that was largely different from the music found across Great Britain, though some had their origins there.

Line singing

One of those forms of congregational singing is known as ‘line singing’ and is used among white, black and Native American congregations in the southern and western regions of the country.

In its most basic form, a precentor chants the first line of a hymn or psalm. The song is then sung by the congregation in a dirge-like but impassioned manner without musical accompaniment.

One scholar describes it this way: ‘[As] is usual in oral tradition, the tunes were altered according to the individual singer’s interpretation and abilities. This style of singing featured extremely slow tempos, with notes added to the melody by each individual singer.

‘In addition, since the singing was unaccompanied, people who were not sure of the melody would wait until the leaders sang the next note before joining them’ (The regular singing controversy, Linda Ruggles).

While this form of singing was once popular during the 16th-18th centuries in Europe, it is now only practiced in Europe by Gaelic Presbyterian churches in the Outer Hebrides.

Many of the Gaels and other British emigrants first brought line singing to the American colonies. This form was widely adopted across the colonies, from Plymouth to the Carolinas. The Scots migrated in the 17th and 18th centuries to the American colonies and took their Gaelic Psalm singing with them and taught it, not only to their children, but also their slaves.

While the use of hymnals structured the main form of hymnody in America in the 19th century, more remote churches in the south-eastern United States still used line singing in both white and black churches.

Initially, slaves sang in Gaelic along with their masters, but it did not take much time (though no one really knows when) before the use of Gaelic faded out in American churches. However, the form of singing still was passed on and each denomination had its own variation.

Cultural connections

Professor Willie Ruff, a renowned jazz musician in his own right, researched extensively the connection between African American line singing and Gaelic line singing. He also found white congregations in Kentucky that did the same type of singing and brought them together for a conference at Yale University (‘The line between Gaelic psalm singing and American music’, willieruff.com).

The 2005 conference featured the Sipsey River Primitive Baptist church from Alabama, the Indian Bottom Old Regular Baptists from south-eastern Kentucky, and the Free Church Psalm Singers from the Isle of Lewis, along with many other professors and speakers.

Their music blended marvellously, as there were many similarities between the tunes they used. Even some of the hymns sung by the Alabama and Kentucky churches were the same. Later, someone brought to Prof. Ruff’s attention that this same style of singing was done among the Creek Indians.

During the time of the ‘Trail of Tears’ (forced relocations of Indian nations in the United States, following the Indian Removal Act of 1830), many Indians in the South came to Christ, and some, having intermarried with Scots, learned to line sing the Psalms in their own language and took it with them to what is now Oklahoma.

So, in 2007, Ruff initiated another conference, which featured the African American line singers, the Kentucky line singers and the Creek Indian line singers.

Once again, the singing was very similar between the three congregations and great fellowship was had. When asked about his theory that African American line singing came from Scotland, Ruff replied, ‘We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem phone book, it’s more like the book for North Uist.

‘We got our names from our slave masters; we got our religion from slave masters, and we got our blood from slave masters (‘Black music from Scotland’, Scotsman newspaper, 31 August 2003)’.

This remarkable style of music is still practiced in the South, though it does not have a large following.

Sacred harp

‘Sacred harp’ singing is another type of a cappella rural church singing that really did originate in the American colonies.

While line singing is a call-and-response sort of singing, sacred harp or shaped note singing is more choral in nature. While the origin of shaped notes is much older than the American colonies, the use of it as church music started in the colonies with the Bay Psalm Book, written in 1698.

Shaped note singing uses a specific type of notation in the hymn or Psalm book, where the notes are not merely round dots on the staff, but take the shape of squares, triangles and diamonds as well.

While shaped note singing may have been widespread throughout the eastern US at one point, it soon became almost extinct in the northern US, due to Lowell Mason’s better music movement. However, churches in the South were still taken with shaped note singing, particularly in rural areas, and continued to use shaped note singing.

The Sacred Harp was a hymn book first printed in 1844 that uses a four-note system (fa, sol, la, mi). Churches would have singing schools, where the congregants would come and learn to read the music and share life and fellowship together.

Sacred harp singing begins with singers seated or standing in a hollow square, with one member standing in the middle to lead. The square is arranged in alto, treble, tenor and bass sections. A leader will stand in the centre and guide the congregation through the song, with the entire group singing together.

This style of singing is democratic and singers take turns leading in song. He or she will call out the number of the hymn from the book and then sing up the scale to find the right pitch to start the hymn.

Everyone sings their own part through, by actually singing out the notes ‘fa, sol, la, mi’. Then the congregation will sing out the words to the hymn in English, having sung the tune once before. If you listen to sacred harp music, you will recognise well known hymns, tunes, and metres, as well as many unfamiliar ones.

It is also interesting to note that The Sacred Harp book does contain many more hymns about heaven than most hymnals I have sung out of, which is pleasing.

Heavenly worship

Having been to one of these singing schools, it is quite an impressive and fun experience. This type of singing is still fairly widespread among Primitive Baptist churches, some Southern Baptist churches, Churches of Christ, and some Pentecostal churches in the South.

Both line singing and sacred harp singing, while not commonplace, have a rich heritage worth preserving and participating in. Singing praises to God is, and should be, one of most joyous experiences for the Christian. The Scriptures are full of songs to the Lord, and we even have a songbook (the Psalter) printed within its very midst!

From the time of temple worship to the present day, God has ordained singing as a way of offering praise and thanksgiving and giving him all the glory. And since those ancient days, as the church has grown and spread throughout the world, brothers and sisters in Christ lift their voices in their own way to praise God.

It is eye opening to go to a different culture and sing praises to God in that culture, whether Creek, Gaelic or English. It is a beautiful foretaste of what it may be like in heaven, when peoples from all cultures and languages join in song (Revelation 7:9-10).

Farewell, vain world! I’m going home!

My Saviour smiles and bids me come,

And I don’t care to stay here long!

 

Sweet angels beckon me away,

To sing God’s praise in endless day,

And I don’t care to stay here long!

 

Right up yonder, Christians, away up yonder;

Oh, yes, my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.

(Hymn 282, The Sacred Harp)

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in October 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

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44th PCA General Assembly & Racial Reconciliation

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Church assembly melted to repentance

This June, commissioners (elders) from the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) met in the southern city of Mobile, Alabama, to convene the 44th General Assembly, the denomination’s annual meeting for business.

For the last few years, missional theology, and most recently, racial reconciliation, are subjects that have sparked animated debate. But on 23 June 2016, the 44th General Assembly (GA) took the momentous step of voting 861-123 in favour of a statement on racial reconciliation and repentance of sins.

The overture stated: ‘Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers, such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages interracial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10)’.

Debate

While all were in favour of its sentiment, there were some who contested whether this should be done at a denomination level instead of a presbytery or local church level. After all, not all of the current pastors or parishioners had been there during the Civil Rights movement or had committed those sins. Nonetheless, it was passed with an overwhelming majority.

But how did this issue come to the 44th GA, and why is it relevant today? While the PCA was not created until 1973, it was in inception a predominantly southern denomination. During the Civil Rights movement, there were many in the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) who discriminated against African Americans.

Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African Americans had limited, if any, voting rights; could not use the same facilities or schools as whites; and were treated in the most horrible manner. While many white evangelicals may have been kind personally to African Americans during this time, they were by no means in support of changing the status quo in favour of black equality.

Differences

In the PCUS there were three different camps in regard to black equality. Sean Michael Lucas, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson) and a PCA minister in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, describes these three camps as: those in favour of segregation; those who were moderate; and those who wished to integrate the races in society.

Segregationists defended ‘Jim Crow laws’ (laws enforcing racial segregation), fearing that integration would lead to ‘developing a mongrel population, a development I believe God opposes’ (W. A. Gamble, quoted in Gospel Coalition, 2/6/2015).

Moderates believed that ‘continued legal segregation would undercut the preaching of the gospel in America and abroad. On the other hand, they believed, forced integration would open the door to the possibility of unthinkable race-mixing. Better to do away with legal barriers to blacks’ participation in American society, but then let Christian love and prudence take its natural course’ (Ibid.).

Those that sought for integration were few, but strongly preached that segregation was contrary to the advance of the gospel. Many of them actively sought to bring African Americans into their churches (Ibid.). Many of those pastors would become the pioneers of the PCA in 1973.

The vision and heart of this third group of pastors has been exemplified in the ministry of Billy Graham, who sought to preach the gospel to racially inclusive groups and make social changes through the gospel.

But the PCA is still a predominately white, middle class denomination, whose theological beliefs ‘have still been trumped far too often by other, deeper seated commitments to race, class or region’ (Ibid.).

Initiative

This process of reconciliation began during the 43rd GA, in June 2015, when two highly respected elders in the PCA, Drs Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan, brought forward a personal resolution calling for confession of and repentance for historical racial sins of the PCA and resolving to reconcile whites and African Americans in the denomination.

The overture received much debate in the Overtures Committee (OC) (over nine hours) and much more debate on the floor of the GA. There were many different opinions expressed. Some said the issue needed more thought and better wording. Others stated that, since the PCA didn’t exist during the Civil Rights era, it should be confessed on a personal level.

Those who were for the resolution gave biblical reasons for denominational confession and repentance, and said dealing with this issue was long overdue. The committee voted to refer the resolution to the next assembly. But what happened next could hardly have been anticipated and was certainly an incredible event.

The resolution went back to the GA floor for a final vote and passed in favour of waiting until next year. However, there were many who did not share the same opinion as the OC and desired to pass the resolution that year.

Confession

After hours of debate, an elderly man by the name of Rev. Jim Baird, one of the founding pastors of the PCA, got up to speak. In his speech he confessed that he and the other founding members did nothing to help the plight of their African American brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights era.

As he continued to confess his sin before those gathered, the room was moved by the Holy Spirit and many men wept for their sin and the sin of the denomination.

Although the committee’s motion to delay the final resolution until next year (2016) passed, many felt they should pass some some kind of confession and wanted to suspend the rules to do so. The moderator had ruled that they could not suspend the rules, but that they could move for a formal protest.After his confession, the moderator opened the floor for a season of prayer and men pressed forward in droves in fervent confession and prayer for healing that lasted for an hour.

Rev. Jon Price moved against the moderator’s ruling, in which nearly half of the commissioners came forward to sign their names to the protest right there on the GA floor!

It was certainly an historic assembly and one that will be noted as one of the more sweet, holy moments in PCA history.

Thus it was with great anticipation during this year’s GA that the commissioners voted on the numerous overtures advocating racial reconciliation. Over the course of last year, 40 overtures were sent in regarding racial reconciliation and confession of sin.

The OC adopted Overture 43 from the Potomac Presbytery with their final amendments and passed it on to the GA floor. Finally, on 23 June, Overture 43 was passed with an historic vote (85 per cent in favour).

Worship

Overjoyed with such unity and the work of the Spirit in our Church, an African American brother led the assembly in a heartfelt singing of ‘It is well with my soul’.

In the light of ongoing riots and attacks on blacks and other minority groups, it can be said that Overture 43 has been timely for the PCA. It heralds a unified and concentrated effort on the part of the presbyteries to confess past sin and move towards reconciliation.

I would affirm, as others have, that the Bible espouses confession for generational sins, especially in regard to the generations of Israel that forsook the Lord in the wilderness or went after the Baals in the time of the Judges.

Having grown up in the PCA, I know first-hand that the denomination is not very ‘multicultural’, and I hope that these resolutions and their proactive measures will be used for the blessing of all nations and races. 

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in September 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

 

How American Churches Justified Slavery

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‘There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the coloured race’ (General Robert E. Lee, 1856).

No evil has had a more horrible effect on the culture and history of the United States than the institution of slavery. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States built a global commerce on the backs of slaves and waged one of its most bloody wars ever on account of that institution.

While many Southerners, including myself, will say that the American Civil War was fought over states’ rights, it would be false to say that many of those rights were not tied up in the ‘right’ to hold slaves.

Slavery has never been a new practice; it existed in the days of Abraham, Moses, and Paul. Both whites and blacks have long been enslaved all over the globe, though, by God’s good grace, institutionalised slavery has been abolished in a significant number of nations. Yet it is disturbing to know that often the church has justified slavery.

It is this aspect I wish to uncover for you in regard to American history.

Origin

Slaves were brought to the American colonies as early as the 1640s, when Massachusetts officially sanctioned slavery. Many Africans brought to the colonies earlier served only as indentured servants (having been baptised as Christians) and became free after their time of indenture. However, by the early 1700s, slavery had become widespread.

Although my home state of Georgia prohibited slavery from 1733 to 1750, and some Scottish colonists who settled a town five minutes from my house passed a very rare statement against the horrors of slavery, by the close of the American Revolution (c.1790), there were an estimated 697,694 slaves from New Hampshire to Georgia, and west to what is now Mississippi (US Census records).

The majority of slaves were in the southern states, so that, by the time of the Civil War, there were 3.9 million slaves in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, over to Arkansas and Missouri, and south to Texas and Florida.

This southern localisation created a rift between the northern and southern states, as their two economies and cultures were very different. The North, who had freed nearly all of their slaves by 1810, had a largely industrial economy, coupled with a massive urban population.

The South, whose economy was built on agriculture, depended heavily on slaves for labour and produced huge quantities of cotton, tobacco, rice, indigo, and naval stores for export to the North and Britain. Within its agricultural economy, slavery was part of everyday life and ingrained in the psyche of southerners.

Although not every southerner was a slaveholder — only 30 per cent were — the majority of exported agricultural products was produced by large plantations worked by slaves.

The conditions of the slaves were not uniform. Some were beaten or mistreated horribly, but many slaveholders treated their slaves kindly, like children. It can be said though that most whites, both in the North and South, thought of African Americans as lesser beings, fit only for servitude.

Many, even the revered Robert E. Lee, thought slavery was better for them than their previous ‘heathen culture’ in Africa. Sadly, this racist philosophy was also espoused from the pulpit.

Justification

How did Christians in the southern ‘Bible belt’ support slavery? Their philosophy grew out of a racial understanding of Genesis 9:25-27: ‘He [Noah] said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers. He also said, blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant’.

From oral tradition and passages in the Jewish Talmud, the sons of Ham (father of Canaan) were believed to be black Africans. This idea had taken root in European thought by 1600 and subsequently spread to the New World. It gave many people a ‘biblical’ excuse to do what they wanted to do with ‘Negro Africa’.

As Edith R. Sanders states: ‘It allowed exploitation of the Negro for economic gain to remain undisturbed by any Christian doubts as to the moral issues involved. “A servant of servants shall he be” clearly meant that the Negro was preordained for slavery. Neither individual nor collective guilt was to be borne for a state of the world created by the Almighty’ (‘The Hamitic hypothesis, its origin and functions in time perspective’, The journal of African history; 1969, vol. 10, no. 4; p.523).

During the eighteenth century there were two strands of thought about black Africans: a monogenist philosophy, born out of the Enlightenment, that sought to understand race according to science and saw Negroes as brothers; and a polygenist philosophy that saw Africans as subhuman or the result of degeneration. Sadly, this was what was preached from the pulpit.

James Henley Thornwell

As the southern states grew prosperous on the backs of African slaves, they were unwilling to see them as brothers, even after they became Christians. During the nineteenth century a biblical defence of slavery came from Presbyterian minister Rev. James Henley Thornwell. In an 1850 sermon, he preached the inaugural sermon for building a church in Charleston for slaves.

Unusually, he began by stating that blacks and whites were equal under the gospel: ‘It is a publick testimony to our faith, that the Negro is of one blood with ourselves, that he has sinned as we have, and that he has an equal interest with us in the great redemption.

‘Science, falsely so called, may attempt to exclude him from the brotherhood of humanity. Men may be seeking eminence and distinction by arguments which link them from the brute; but the instinctive impulses of our nature, combined with the plainest declarations of the Word of God, lead us to recognise in his form and lineaments in his moral, religious and intellectual nature the same humanity in which we glory as the image of God (‘Duties of masters’, p.11).

But he also argued against the abolition of slavery unless God’s providence dictated it, as Christ and the apostles did not expressly condemn slavery in their teachings. The main thrust of the sermon was an exegetical approach to Paul’s words on how to treat your slaves with justice and mercy.

Citing Colossians 4:1 and other New Testament passages, he showed that the Bible doesn’t suggest, as some accuse the South of thinking, that the personality of slaves is tied up in the property of the master.

Paul ‘treats the [slave’s] services as duties, not like the toil of the ox or ass — a labour extracted by the stringency of discipline — but a moral debt, in the payment of which they were rendering a homage to God’ (p.20).

He countered William Ellery Channing, a Unitarian abolitionist, and British professor William Whewell, who stated that the southern institution of slavery made slaves ‘the blind passivity of a corpse, or the mechanical subservience of a tool’. Slavery does not mean that one’s soul belongs to another in bondage; the master does not own the rights of the slave, but rather his duties (p.21).

Thornwell acknowledged that slavery is ‘a natural evil, which God has visited upon society, because man kept not his first estate but fell, and under the gospel is turned, like all other natural evils, into the means of an effective spiritual discipline’ (p.32). ‘If slavery is not essentially incompatible with the discharge of the essential duties, as a spiritual service, it is not destructive of the rights of humanity’ (p.38).

Legacy

Thornwell went as far as saying that slavery should be abolished if ‘it can be shown that slavery contravenes the spirit of the gospel, that as a social relation it is essentially unfavourable to the cultivation and growth of the graces of the Spirit, that is unfriendly to the development of piety and to communion with God, or that it retards the onward progress of man…’ (p.17).

Thornwell’s sermon suggested slavery could be good for society, but it certainly did not pan out that way. Though not everyone had slaves, racism in the South had cut so deep into its psyche that it still was having serious repercussions during the Civil Rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.

Even if slavery is not condemned outright in the Scriptures, its practice has trampled on the rights of our African brothers, making them subservient to others and exposing them to horrible mistreatment.

But we Americans really can’t pass judgment on previous generations, when we still struggle with similar sins. We must pray that God will end all racism and slavery practised today and love our neighbour, no matter what his skin colour or ethnic origin. To love one another is our gospel responsibility.

 

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in August 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Of Lakes and Sheep: Remembering a Trip to the English Lake District

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This is a throwback to a fun trip I did while I was in England. It was previously published on my missions blog.

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Most of my life I’ve spent on the coast of Georgia surrounded by pinewoods, salt marshes, and sunny beaches—basically it’s flatter than a pancake there. Coming to England has been a wonderful opportunity to see different types of geography and culture, much different than the sultry Southern culture of home or the Central African culture I experienced last year. For several summers, our family spent a week in the mountains of North Georgia at Lake Burton. It was a week of relaxing, water sports, and enjoying the cool shade of the mountains. I’ve always had a thing for the mountains and this past weekend I was able to enjoy the grandeur of English mountains.

One couple in our church live in Lytham St. Anne’s near Blackpool which is a really long way from Sheffield. My housemates and I have become very good friends with them and have been out to visit them at different occasions. This past week, Tammy, Paul’s wife, was visiting family in the states and he was home by himself. He invited my housemates and I to come over for a couple days and tour around Cumbria, the county known as the Lake District. Unfortunately one of my housemates was unable to come since he had work so only Chaou and I got to go.

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We left fairly early on Friday and drove over to Lytham and met Paul. After a short break, we headed north for Cumbria. Paul is very familiar with both Lancashire and Cumbria and is a wealth of knowledge about the area and its history. He knows the area so well he didn’t need a GPS. The weather was really foggy as we came up into the Lake District but by the time we began driving into the mountains, it had mostly cleared up. We stopped for lunch at a local organic mill near Little Salkeld. It was like stepping into the Shire: green fields filled with sheep bordered by hedgerows, little rivers with lush green vegetation on the banks, and then this quaint little mill. I’ve seen old grist mills in Georgia and this was different. It was much smaller in size and the wheel (there were actually two) was more or less hidden from sight. A small canal had been diverted from the larger creek and run alongside the mill to turn the paddlewheel. When we parked, chickens were there to greet us and I couldn’t resist trying to catch one. The Little Salkeld Mill is also a shop and a tearoom and we had a lovely meal of organic bread and soup. I haven’t tasted anything homegrown and home baked like that in a long time! I had elderflower cordial and carrot soup along with a variety of breads; it was sooo good and very filling. We left the mill after our brief lunch and continued north.

20140404_150604We stopped by two different stone circles that day and it was incredible to see something that had been built way before the Romans! We didn’t speculate much on why they were put there but one site was very beautiful. The stone circle at Castlerigg was on a hill in the middle of a valley and the fells of Cumbria surrounded it. The views were amazing! This particular stone circle was over 4500 years old!

 

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From there we continued on through Keswick and went on a road that went right up through several mountain valleys. We stopped by Lake Derwent, Buttermere, and Crummock. The high fells rose bare and craggy above us and the valleys were filled with woods, fields, and lots of sheep. There were plenty of houses in the wooded valley beyond Derwent Water and it looked like an expensive but beautiful place to live. It also looked very much like the Shire. Paul pointed out to us the various fells he had climbed when he was younger and I had a great desire to climb them.

20140404_160409We stopped just before Crummock Water and I got out to take some pictures. The fells rose up beside us and looked very wild with naught but sheep and scraggly trees on the hillsides. This was a completely different sort of geography than I was used to and it drew me like a magnet. I wanted to see how far I could run up the slopes and so off I went, straight up with Herdwick sheep scattering every which way. I didn’t get very far but I still wanted to get higher so I continued climbing until I reached a flat place about a third of the way up. There was still a lot of mountain above me and I was over a hundred feet above my companions! There were some amazing views of the lake in front of me and I sat there for a little bit. I decided to come down and picked my way down at a faster pace than I had come up. I saw some sheep grazing not far from me and I picked up my speed (not hard to do on a slope) and hurtled down towards them. I think they had seen me before but I came down so quick and popped up beside them, they really jumped when they saw me. Oh the looks on their faces! I laughed for a while after seeing them and then proceeded to run the rest of the way down.

We stopped at another spot above the lake and took more photos. I saw more sheep and tried to herd them as well. Most of the sheep just roam free with hardly any fences to keep them. Thankfully there aren’t wolves in this area to hunt them anymore. The road we traveled on was barely wide enough for one car and we often had to pull over to let other cars pass. Suddenly at the end of the long valley, we came to another valley in which lay the tiny village of Lorton.

P1080184Paul had booked a place to stay for the night at a bed and breakfast in Lorton on a working farm. It took us a little while to find it but our stay there was grand! When we pulled up, the farmer’s wife greeted us; she had been feeding lambs in the barn. After depositing my bags in our rooms, which she showed us, I put on my boots and went to the barn to explore. In one room were several small pens. One had three ewes in an adopter unit with yokes to keep the ewes looking in one direction whilst lambs were put in the back sections to nurse. There were other pens with ewes with adopted lambs but one pen had about six lambs in it that were orphaned or pet lambs. They had a bucket in the pen with plastic nipples on it and we were trying to get the lambs used to feeding from the bucket. I helped with this and had a lot of fun petting the lambs and trying to get them to feed. The farmer’s young daughters had named them all and loved picking them up. As the farmer’s wife showed me around the barn, I picked up on what sheep farming and lambing season is like. One paddock in the barn had a lot of ewes in it with twins. They looked up very boldly and back away from our hands. Sheep are not the most aggressive or dangerous animals around the barn. I learned the marking system for different ewes and their lambs and even picked up on some of their breeding techniques and what breeds they had. They had a mixture of Blue Leicesters, Swaledales, and Texels and crosses or “mules” of those breeds. In another paddock they had ewes with singles (one lamb) and another paddock with young Limousin bulls and another with Limousin cows and their calves. They warned me not to get near them—ewes with lambs are nothing compared to a big angry cow. After looking around the farm and talking to the farmer and his wife, I went with Chaou and Paul to a local pub for supper.

The Wheatsheaf Inn was about half a mile from the farm and was a wonderful place for supper. The food was absolutely fantastic! I had a burger feast and it’s called that for good reason: it was two very large burgers with bacon and cheese that probably weighed close to a pound. I couldn’t even finish it! It took us a while to eat our food and we enjoyed it immensely. After the meal, I went outside and saw that it was still fairly light out and thought it would be nice to walk back, especially after eating that large meal. Paul drove back and Chaou and I walked leisurely back to the farm. It took us over an hour and the road wound quite a bit but it was very nice. It wasn’t that cold and we could hear the low bleats of ewes and the higher pitched bleating of the lambs. Owls also called back and forth and I thought I heard a fox up on the fells. It was a wonderful evening and so nice to be away from the city with its lights and noise. I went straight to bed when we got back and had a pretty good night’s rest.

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That morning, just before my alarm went off, I heard the sound of roosters crowing, and smiled at the thought of being in the country. I quickly showered and got dressed and went outside to see if I could help around the place. I helped feed the lambs again and then walked to where the other ewes were. As I opened the door, they all bleated and came towards me with big expectant eyes. They thought I had food to give them. I walked around and greeted the ewes and their lambs, each giving me an intense hungry stare. None of the other ewes had given birth that night and watched and took pictures of the twins running around and playing. Then the farmer’s wife came in to feed them and I helped put fresh silage and water in the cribs. We talked about farming and the different hardships and joys that brings. As I went by the house, I noticed a lamb had gotten through one of the fences and was in the horse paddock separated from its mother. I went into the paddock and tried to corner the lamb. Lambs are a lot quicker than you’d expect and the poor ewe did not like I was trying to catch her lamb. I finally caught it and put it back over the fence. By that time it was breakfast.  At 8:30 we had a lovely cooked breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, and fried bread (I didn’t have tomatoes and mushrooms). We talked about all kinds of things and downed many cups of coffee between us. We were going to start off in a little while so I went outside again. I watched the farmer herd the Blue Leicesters back into their pen with his dogs. The dogs seemed to be really hyper that morning and didn’t work as well. I can relate to that having worked with hunting dogs before; it can be really frustrating to have a disobedient dog. Shortly thereafter we packed up and thanked them for their kind hospitality. If ever I’m in the Lake District again for a night or so, I’d stay at the Terrace Farm again.

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picture taken by Chaou Choak

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Lorton, we went on down to Cockermouth and then along the coast to Whitehaven. At one stage in our journey southward, we drove slowly on a road that went right over the fells. It was so foggy and rainy and it was often hard to distinguish between rocks and grazing sheep. We could hardly see 30 yards ahead. It was very exciting though. We ate lunch down by the seaside at a small local café and also visited a history priory that had been there since the Norman days. At this priory at St. Bees, they had found a fully intact knight wrapped in a lead casket that was so well preserved, he all his skin still on and they could even tell what was his last meal! He wasn’t there in the church of course and they had long since reburied him (they found him in the 1980s). We made our way to Lytham St. Anne’s by 5 or 6 pm, bought some food, and then had a nice quiet evening talking about all kinds of things until about 10 pm. It was a lovely time spent admiring the things God had created and I’m very thankful to be able to see the beauties of the northern counties.

 

 

Soul Food: A Look at Southern Cuisine

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Within the South itself, no other form of cultural expression, not even music, is as distinctly characteristic of the region as the spreading of a feast of native food and drink before a gathering of kin and friends.  For as long as there has been a South, and people who think of themselves as Southerners, food has been central to the region’s image, its personality, and its character.” – John Edgerton, Southern Food

 

Soul_Food_at_Powell's_PlaceWhile it can be said that any regional cuisine plays a part in defining the culture of its region, cooking and Southern food really does define Southern culture in a way that perhaps no other cuisine does. Homestyle Southern cooking is an art and a way of life that ties family together, ties you to the land, and invokes a kinship among the region. I can go anywhere in the US or in the world and become friends with a fellow southerner over sweet iced tea and fried chicken and biscuits. John T. Edge, in his chapter on food in Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Handbook writes that “[a]s the nation urbanizes, as strip malls, cul-de-sacs, and other nowheres spread, the South appears the region where farm-to-table eating is a way of life, not a marketing concept, and food carries the weight of history” (3-4). Having lived in many different countries and experienced very different cuisines–from the cassava and greens dishes of Central Africa, fish and chips in Britain, and bratwurst in Germany– nothing quite compares to how integral homestyle cooking–Soul food–is to the Southern American’s psyche.

 

Southern food enjoys a rich heritage that is a blend and distant relative of many cuisines…just as diverse as the ancestral heritage of the people that cook the food. While there are certainly differences between states (and even sections of those states), I would like to explore the topic in more general terms. In modern parlance, the moniker “soul food” is typically used to describe African American cuisine in the South, but it is true that whites and blacks in South enjoy many of the same dishes and it is certainly comfort food to them (the original definition).

 

Region and Influences

Geographically speaking, the cuisine of the American South is bound to the states south of the “Mason-Dixon line” and west to Arkansas and Louisiana. Usually other border states surrounding that area such as Kentucky, Texas, Florida, Virginia are included in this designation. Keep in mind however that there are many subregions within the South and each of these has its distinguished culture. Folks from the coal hills of Kentucky are unique to their region as the rural folks from the piney-woods of Georgia or those from the Virginia Tidewater. While many of their dishes are different from those other regions, some things remain the same.

Some of those border or outlying states even have ingredients in their cuisine that are very different than other states in the South. For example Texas cuisine mingles southern food with Southwestern or Mexican dishes, some regions of Florida use Cuban influences, and Louisiana utilizes French creole cuisine with regular southern dishes.

 

SA_Southern_Barbecueouthern cuisine has many diverse influences that demonstrate the rich culture and history of the region. Many styles of cooking and even its ingredients, come from a very ancient tradition native to this land. The prominence of corn, tomatoes, and slow cooked pit barbeque pork (or other meat) in this region comes from the Native Americans. The Native Americans taught us how to grow, prepare and eat corn as well as many other native plants such as tomatoes,sweet potatoes, peppers, beans and peas, and squashes. Today, these vegetables are staples in the Southern diet, especially the use of pork and corn.

 

From Europe, especially the British Isles, we have the traditions of big fry-up breakfasts and baked dishes. The Southern tradition of deep frying or pan-frying just about anything comes from Scotland. We fry chicken, fish, and game (many enjoy squirrels and frog-legs) and make simple breads from corn. We also eat a simple porridge made from corn called grits. While traditional European grains such as barley, wheat or oats do not grow as well here, our ancestors from the British Isles took what they knew and used new ingredients. Today, it is not uncommon for Southern families to have roast dinners on Sunday with roast pork or beef alongside very southern dishes like stewed collard greens, black-eyed peas or squash.

 

France has had a huge impact on the culture and cuisine of Louisiana. John Egerton  also writes, “If there is a single dimension of Louisiana food that sets it apart from cooking elsewhere in the South, it is without a doubt the French connection. The first eighty years of French control set the pattern, and all the subsequent influences were additions, not replacements. Other Southern states manifest the historical presence of English, Scotch-Irish, or Spanish cultures; only Louisiana is clearly a child of France—and nowhere is that parentage more evident than in the kitchen.” (Southern Food). Complete with roux and andouille sausage, Creole and Cajun cuisine are unique to this region of the South.

 

While southern cuisine has definite European and Native American influences, its greatest influence has come from Africa. Okra is often used in southern dishes from the bayou to tidewater and it comes straight from the African coast. In fact, the word gumbo ( a stew made from okra, tomatoes, and meat or seafood ) is an African word for okra and is made all over the South. Rice is also a staple ingredient in many coastal areas such as New Orleans cuisine and the Carolinas and Georgia Lowcountry and harkens back to ante-bellum days when slaves worked in the rice fields of the coast. Many of the spices that we use in our cuisine are also African as well as our use of stewed greens, whether collard or turnip greens. Having lived in Africa and dined on African cassava greens, I can attest to that. Melons are also a staple among southerners, especially during the hot summer months when nothing is better than a sweet slice of watermelon or cantaloupe.

 

Examples of dishes

 

Southern cuisine has a wide variety of dishes that could easily fill a nice sized encyclopedia but here are a few to get your mouth watering. While many Americans all over the nation would eat toast or cereal for breakfast, there are some of us here in the South who like to do a “proper” breakfast that would be very similar to an English fry-up. An example of a hearty Southern breakfast would be bacon or sausage (streaky bacon), grits ( something like porridge except made from corn), eggs (most often scrambled and often doctored up with cheese), and biscuits (a quick bread like scones but not sweet). Sometimes we make a white gravy (made from sausage drippings and flour), sometimes called Sawmill gravy, to pour over the biscuits or, if we are in the mood for country ham in the morning, we will make red-eye gravy which is made from ham drippings and coffee.

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While America is overflowing with big shopping plazas and fast food restaurants, there are a few places and many homes in the South where you can get “real country cookin’” for lunch, supper, or dinner. Fried chicken and sweet iced tea is a mainstay throughout much of the South (though sweet tea may not be found in some parts of Louisiana, Florida, or Virginia). The wide variety of vegetables in a given meal is also a feature of Southern cuisine. Bill Neal observes in Southern Cooking, “Whatever the source, the variety of fresh vegetables on the Southern table is staggering. Any one meal may present fried okra, corn, butter beans, sweet potatoes, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, coleslaw, cantaloupe. Such wealth often eclipses any meat served; by midsummer all vegetable meals (with biscuits or cornbread) are common. By the time the pickled beets, green tomato relish, pepper relishes, bread-and-butter pickles are out, the meal is a celebration of endless combinations, textures, and flavors—the hallmark of Southern cooking.”

 

Southerners also have a bit of a sweet tooth. Whether it’s that sugary, slightly tangy elixir we call sweet tea (often simply called “tea” in many areas) or melt-in-your-mouth divinity or buttery rich pound cake, Southerners will gladly put a heaping bit of whatever dessert momma baked in addition to the feast you just ate. Many sweet carbonated drinks also hail from the South, most notably Coca-Cola from Atlanta, Georgia.

 

Barbecued pork is a regional favourite and can often instigate some intense rivalry between regions, especially in regard to sauce. While pork is universally used throughout the South, slow cooked pork over wood coals or in barbecue pits is a favourite in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Differing regions use different styles of sauces–vinegar based sauces in the North Carolina tidewater, mustard based sauces in the South Carolina midlands, and a tomato based sauce in Georgia. And these regions are fiercely zealous about their way of making barbecue sauce. Barbecue has become such a huge thing in the South that there are BBQ restaurants in most towns and many of them boast of being the best in the state. Side dishes are also a main crowd pleaser at such institutions with diners filling their plates with macaroni and cheese, cornbread, fried okra, hash and rice, collard greens, black-eyed peas, lima beans, and denizens of other savoury goods. Many BBQ restaurants also offer other meats such as fried or barbecued chicken, fried catfish, chicken livers, or brisket. You will never see so much food in all your life as in a southern BBQ restaurant.

 

Role in culture and family

 

Southern cuisine which is often known for being greasy or finger-lickin’ good, is truly an heritage that many have passed down through the generations. Mothers pass down to daughters their age-old recipes and techniques. One of those techniques, which is integral to Southern cooking is the use of the cast iron skillet. John T. Edge writes in his book A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South, “Each time a Southern cook hefts a skillet to the stovetop, he or she is not alone. Trapped within the iron confines of these skillets and stewpots are the scents and secrets of a family’s culinary history. Burnished black by countless batches of fried chicken and catfish, embossed in inky ebony by the crusts of cracklin’ cornbread past, cast iron cooking utensils are meal memories in and of themselves. …As porous as they are heavy, cast-iron skillets absorb and impart flavor with each dish prepared. …By way of this strange and thoroughly Southern alchemy of seasoning, the basest of metals is transformed into a treasure rivaled only by the fabled Southern family silver. Like a good country ham or a single-barrel bourbon, cast-iron only improves with age.” On many occasions, I have watched in awe as my father uses his cast-iron skillet to make everything from gravy to sweet creamed corn or grilled cheese sandwiches, each item bursting with flavor that can only be imparted by the cast iron.

Food is certainly something that unites this region and gives it an identity. The South has known famine and starvation twice in our nation’s brief history- once in the years after the Civil War and again during the Great Depression.  John Egerton writes,  “Among all the classes—those who had plenty and those who had nothing and all the others in between—food was a blessing, a pleasure, a cause for celebration. The tradition of hospitality, of serving large quantities of good things to eat to large numbers of hungry people, of sharing food and drink with family and friends and even strangers, proved to be a durable tradition in the South, outliving war and depression and hunger.” (Southern Food). The South is definitely known for hospitality and that is often coupled with good home-cooked meals. One thing I have noticed as I’ve grown up and continue to live in the South, is that when there is some kind of serious event for someone in the community, whether it’s a birth or a death, people come round bringing food for that family.

 

Conclusion

Southern food, with all of its differences and influences, is a unique cuisine that unites the people to the land and to one another. Historically, the South was (and in some places still is) the poorest region in America due to the last impact of the American Civil War and Reconstruction and the doom of crop failure during the Great Depression. Today, better agricultural methods and a newfound desire to go back to the land have joined with gourmet kitchens to create a niche market that caters to the New South, in burgeoning cities like Atlanta, Charlotte or Chattanooga. Those cities and the country lands between flock to the old-style kitchens and restaurants, stirring up a renaissance in Southern cooking that has everyone from hipsters to New York editors making pilgrimages to find the secrets of Southern cuisine. Famous Southern cuisine is thankfully no longer just known as Bojangles and KFC. Thanks to magazines such as Southern Living Magazine and Garden & Gun Magazine, there are hundreds of articles highlighting dozens of fantastic new restaurants that have revolutionized Southern dishes. But still, just about everywhere you go, you’ll find men pulling tomatoes fresh from the vine along with corn, beans, and squash and bringing them in for Mama to cook. Even with all the New Southern cooking, it’s good to see well-worn cast iron skillets in the house and fresh sliced tomatoes on the table. It may be simple but it’s finger-lickin’ good!

 

Letter from America: Gender Confusion

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The mantras of today’s world are little different from Paul’s day. The truths clearly explained in God’s holy Word have been traded for lies and the result is confusion, chaos and destruction of souls (Romans 1:24-27).

While the buzzword ‘gender confusion’ may not have occurred until recently, the sinful desire of man to create his own identity apart from Christ is the same. Issues of gender equality have never been new, but the present confusion, in which people created male and female decide to become other than what God made them, is now a huge topic of conversation among Americans.

Last July, a member of the US House of Representatives introduced a bill to amend the Equality Act of 1964, to include ‘sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation’ (HR 3185; Congress.gov).

Since the introduction of that bill, there has been no shortage of debates, protests and government action in defence of opposition to the bill. Most recently, the debate over gender identity has led to two very practical and scary scenarios, both involving bathroom (toilet) policies.

Target

In April this year, the chain superstore Target made a statement announcing they would change their bathroom policy to allow transgenders use the bathroom which matched their gender identity. The policy not only applied to bathrooms but changing rooms as well.

Immediately following this, millions of Americans voiced their shock and displeasure over social media and promised to boycott Target’s 1,793 stores, which cater to a largely middle class swathe of the population, 43 per cent of whom have children at home (Target Corporate).

While the United States, led by President Obama’s agenda and by Congress, has made a steady move toward the left, in regard to marriage and gender, over the last eight years (especially 2015), this is the first time a large public corporation has taken such a move toward ‘equality’ (as defined by sinful man), that affects the populace at such a personal level.

The obvious concern people have in this case is that a gender neutral policy will allow sexual predators to take advantage of women and children in Target’s bathrooms and changing rooms. But in doing research on news stories of sexual predators being arrested in Target bathrooms since April, I’ve only found one case. A man was arrested in a Target store in Cedar Park, Texas, because he was exposing himself to a young boy in a bathroom (KVUE, 4716).

The whole gender issue has spurred a huge online petition, sponsored by the American Family Association (AFA), calling Target to undo its gender neutral bathroom policy. Over 1.3 million Americans have signed the petition since April (AFA website), and hundreds, if not thousands, have boycotted its stores.

This tactic may be having an effect on Target’s profits. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted that, ‘Shares of the company were off 7.6 per cent at $68, as of 4.00pm trading on Wednesday. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 1.2 per cent in the quarter ended 30 April, short of Target’s 1.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent annual target’ (WSJ, 51816, quoted in Christian Post). The WSJ noted that this was the lowest Target’s sales had been in two years.

In response, Target’s CEO Brian Cornell was emphatic that the boycott was not affecting the sales for that quarter. But if gender identity issues are a big deal at Target, it is nothing compared to the ruckus over gender neutral bathrooms in schools.

School policy

On 13 May, President Obama issued a directive instructing public (state) schools to allow transgender students choose the bathroom of their gender identity. While Target’s bathroom policy affects a certain swathe of the population that shops at Target, this issue hits much closer to home, since there are an estimated 59.7 million children enrolled in public schools across the country (estimated as of 2014, Infoplease).

Not only are more conservative parents outraged by Obama’s forced mandate, but many state legislatures are concerned, because the federal government has insisted states execute this order or face the loss of federal funding.

Many states, especially North Carolina, have felt this is a case of overreach by the executive government that must be stopped by law. The governor of North Carolina stated in an interview, ‘Most Americans, including this governor, believe that government is searching for a solution to a problem that has yet to be defined. Now, both the federal courts and the US Congress must intercede to stop this massive executive branch overreach, which clearly oversteps constitutional authority’ (CNN, 51416).

A senator from Tennessee also said, ‘This is the kind of issue that parents, schools boards, communities, students and teachers should be allowed to work out in a practical way with a maximum amount of respect for the individual rights of all students. In so far as the federal government goes, it’s up to Congress to write the law, not the executive departments’ (ibid.).

North Carolina

While some states took less aggressive action against this move by the President (South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Minnesota), North Carolina (NC) issued a countering House Bill (known as HB2), which requires transgenders to use the bathroom of their biological sex and prohibits cities from passing ‘anti-discriminatory’ statutes.

In response, many corporations such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank, and many popular entertainers have boycotted the ‘tar heel’ state (NC), by withdrawing expansion plans and cancelling tours. Furthermore, the federal government has issued an ultimatum against NC, stating it must repeal the bill or be in violation of federal law.

The US Justice Department, led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, filed a lawsuit against the state, because it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination against workers on the basis of sex, race, colour, national origin and religion.

NC’s rebuttal was, that this was a broad interpretation of the law and something to be decided state by state, and not pushed by the Attorney General’s ‘divisive rhetoric’.

To up the ante, NC also filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, saying that the demand that NC ‘remedy’ the legislation by Monday [16 May] or risk being in violation of federal law is ‘a baseless and blatant overreach’, and is a ‘radical reinterpretation of title VII of the Civil Rights Act’ (CNN).

Since that, federal and state governments are locked at a standstill, though some NC institutions (especially the University of North Carolina) refuse to enforce HB2.

Christ’s prayer

Our lives as Christians are often met with great difficulty and opposition. But when we read the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, and the deep and beautiful love Jesus has for us, we see he specifically asks our heavenly Father that he would not take us out of the world, but ‘keep [us] from the evil one’ (v.15).

This request would seem paradoxical, considering how much God really loves us. One would think that God might take us away from the horrible things that beset us in this world, especially when people hate and persecute us.

It is also interesting that Jesus says, ‘As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world’ (v.18). God has put us on this earth to give glory to his name. We do that by worshipping and proclaiming Christ as the one true Saviour, and by loving one another and our neighbour — yes, even our transgender or homosexual neighbour. As hard as it may be, that’s what God has called us to.

Does the North Carolina governor have a point when he says that President Obama has overstepped his constitutional bounds? I think so. But highly aggressive tweets or protests full of anger do not reflect the tone of Christ’s teaching either. For, in the face of opposition, Jesus did ‘not quarrel nor cry out, nor [did] anyone hear his voice in the streets’ (Matthew 12:18).

Our heaven is not here on earth. Earthly governments will fail, and policies transgressing God’s laws will be enforced, but the Lord will never leave us nor forsake his people. Take courage dear brothers and sisters; our home is not here, but with Christ.

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in July 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Letter from America: America’s Favourite Pastime

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Some regions are famously known for their cuisine or rich history, but these seldom unite their citizens in the same way that college (university) football unites the United States, especially the American South.

Although the football season only lasts from September to late November (with a few championship games played later in the winter), this sport unites people from all races and backgrounds, to cheer for their favourite team in a way not exhibited in professional sports.

Ivan Maisel, a columnist for ESPN (a US cable and satellite television channel), once wrote: ‘The appeal of college football is rooted in the simple notion that your team represents you, your state, your alma mater, your youth. The NFL [National Football League] represents — what, exactly? A bunch of 25-year-old millionaires who will dump your town the minute their agent secures a better offer. There is no loyalty in the NFL. College football is all about loyalty’ (‘Passion, tradition elevate college football over NFL’; ESPN; 8/15/2006).

Impact

Having grown up in the American South, and a proud University of Georgia supporter since I was born, I’d love to share with you the cultural impact of college football in the US, particularly the South, and how Christians relate to it.

While some argue that baseball is still America’s favourite pastime, football is by far the most popular. Whether it’s high-school football on Friday nights, college games on Saturday, or professional games on Sundays or Mondays, this sport draws millions and creates a multi-million dollar industry.

Each weekend during football season, people spend thousands of dollars on food and drinks for ‘tailgating’ or watching the game at their homes. 64 per cent of Americans watch football and some even watch over 16 hours of football a week!

Massive stadiums are built to accommodate fans, and even some college stadiums will seat over 100,000 people each weekend. It may be hard to imagine why this brutally physical game is so popular. It’s awfully complex, even for having roots in rugby, and demands a lot of expensive equipment that soccer, rugby, and other sports don’t require.

Some say it’s the controlled violence of the game that draws audiences to it, like the gladiatorial games. Others say that it’s just exciting to watch. Whatever the reason, American football is immensely popular.

Traditions

As the summer waxes on into late July and early August, most folks in the South begin thinking about football (some even before then) and ‘gear up’ for it. Fans buy their season tickets (often a full year in advance) and start studying their favourite team’s roster and stats.

Football is something that Southerners feel intensely proud of and will staunchly defend their team’s honour. For many years, the major sports conference in the region, the Southeastern Conference or SEC, has sported more national champions than the other conferences in the nation.

Each school has its own traditions, such as ringing the bell at the University of Georgia after a win; rubbing ‘Howard’s Rock’ at Clemson’s Death Valley stadium; singing ‘Rocky Top’ at Tennessee, and countless others.

If you happen to live in a college town or city, as I do, college football creates a unique culture that is something to see. Some people buy cars in their team’s colours and decorate their homes with banners and other paraphernalia that remind them of their team. Even some grocery stores have their college’s mascot/emblem marqueed on their sign.

In college towns, throughout most of the Southeast, people seldom think or pay much attention to the other sports played at that college.

When football season arrives, college towns will often double or triple in population, just on the weekend. Some people buy caravans and camp overnight, while others will book hotels or stay with relatives. As Saturday dawns, the day’s festivities begin early, especially if the game is played at noon.

Tailgating

There are parades, pep rallies, tailgating parties, and so much more. Social events such as tailgating are a unique American experience, where people gather together to eat grilled food, drink and enjoy games, often congregated around the tailgate of a vehicle.

One college, the University of Mississippi (popularly known as Ole Miss), even has a 10-acre (4-hectare) area on its campus just for tailgating.

Just before the game begins, some schools have traditions where the band will play their fight songs for the fans and lead them in cheering for the team before they enter the locker room.

Once the stadium gates open, people flood the stadium dressed in their team’s colours, or even with painted letters on their chests. Particularly in the South, fans will dress in fancier clothes to go to the game. Girls sport pearls and cowgirl boots, while guys wear bowties and boat-shoes.

The stadiums will often boast well over 80,000 people and therefore the noise that emanates from them is unbelievable. As the game is played out, tensions remain high the entire game, as opposed to baseball where excitement peters out every now and then. Anything can happen during an SEC game, and that’s one of the beauties of this sport.

Dangers

As fun as this pastime is to watch and participate in, there can be some dangers to this culture. As my dad once told me, the true religion of the South is college football.

Some people get very caught up in the game and their behaviour and mood will often depend on the outcome of the game — that’s certainly idolatry. Football is often paired with heavy partying and drinking, perhaps all weekend long. While football games are fun to watch, much of the college life that surrounds it is nothing but a grand bacchanalia.

So how does a Christian relate to the intense culture that surrounds college football? Like all things that the Lord has created, sports are a wonderful gift that God has given us for communal physical recreation and there is nothing inherently evil in them.

But when we let any sport or gift displace the love and worship that is only due to God, then we must be quick to confess our sin and repent. I thoroughly enjoy watching football and enjoying good food and fellowship with my family and friends around the sport. I won’t participate though in the heavy drinking that goes on near the stadium or at house parties. And I am thankful that college football is played on Saturdays and not Sundays.

There are many Christians that will preach near the stadium and try to share the gospel. It’s a weekly event where thousands are gathered, so it’s a great opportunity to share the gospel. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching football or enjoying good times with family and friends, but we should guard our hearts against idolatry, whether it’s a gold image or athlete that runs on the football field.

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in December 2015 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Letter from America: The Anglican communion in North America

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During the twenty-first century, Anglican churches in Canada and the USA have experienced turmoil and division over same-sex marriage.As early as 2002, Canadian dioceses began to split away from the Anglican Church of Canada over the issue. Many more American Anglican churches were to follow suit and form a new denomination, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Today the ACNA has 32 dioceses and close to 112,000 congregants. Some of those dioceses have been part of the ‘Province de L’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda USA’ (PEARUSA), a province (jurisdiction) of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, but they will soon complete the legal process of transferring to the ACNA.

African Anglicans

The PEARUSA is only one of many church groups in North America that has been planted, aligned or organised by African Anglicans. Ever since the Canadian dioceses joined it, many other American Anglican churches have been strongly influenced by Anglican leadership from Nigeria, Rwanda, Bolivia, Uganda, Kenya, and other countries associated with the Global South.

Historically, Anglicanism is no stranger to efforts to reform it from within. For example, there were two different movements during the seventeenth century seeking further reformation, namely, Puritanism and Separatism.

While the Separatists completely removed themselves from the Church, the Puritans stayed in and sought to reform it. Various groups of Puritans held different views on church polity (for example, presbyterian and congregational), but all sought the Church’s reformation.

Puritans of different persuasions made it to the American colonies and established settlements, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As early as 1607, Anglican parishes were established throughout the American colonies.

Eventually, the Church of England would become the established church in Virginia, New York, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. By the time of the American Revolution, there were close to 400 Anglican congregations.

The war of independence meant that ties to the Church of England in Great Britain were severed and the hierarchical episcopal church was stranded within a society that had embraced democratic and republican values. This remnant would eventually become what is now the mainline Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA). The ordination of its first bishop within the United States took place in 1785.

During that same year, one Anglican church with its minister, broke away to form a Unitarian church and there were some minor schisms after that, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that large groups of Anglican churches began to split from the ECUSA over doctrinal differences.

Deep doctrinal divisions

The debate during the 1970s was over whether women could legitimately become bishops or deacons. After ECUSA assented to this, many dissenting congregations left to form the Continuing Anglican Movement (1977).

Efforts to reform the ECUSA from within birthed the Episcopal Missionary Church in 1992, then also, as mentioned, the ACNA. All these new ‘denominations’ have sought to remain within the Anglican Communion, while ‘realigning’ themselves under the jurisdiction of other Anglican churches.

The complexity of the situation is increased by such realignments being technically against Anglican polity, as governed by canon law and historical precedent. Anglican churches are assigned to geographical parishes and dioceses (groups of related parishes, usually in geographical proximity) and one diocese cannot govern what goes on in another diocese.

Yet this further complexity has arisen because these churches desire to remain true to the Scriptures, as well as obtaining episcopal oversight from a diocese that agrees with them. By God’s providence that oversight is generally being provided by the Global South. The PEARUSA is one such group being overseen by a Global South episcopacy.

Under the name of the Anglican Mission of America, the Rwandan part of the Anglican church has sought to reach the unchurched of North America, beginning, in 2000, by planting churches and overseeing churches that had left ECUSA and were seeking like-minded oversight.

This Rwandan movement was initiated by Archbishops Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and Moses Tay of Southeast Asia and their efforts have not been in vain. Many American bishops have been consecrated for these church plants, new clergy have been trained, and scores of churches planted.

Anglican missionary vision

Today there are 68 congregations that are the fruit of this missionary effort. These are scattered all over the US and there is one even within my own town. The goal of PEARUSA (as with other missions from the Global South) is not to have longstanding jurisdiction over American churches. Rather, it would love to see these churches grow and become part of larger American denominations such as the ACNA. The relationship with the church in Rwanda would simply be one of fellowship.

As of last September, churches belonging to PEARUSA are now seeking to come under the complete legal jurisdiction of the ACNA. As far as Anglican polity goes, this is a very sensible step and great news for Anglican unity in North America. The legal procedure becomes final in June of this year.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American pastor and thinker of the seventeenth century, once said that ‘all countries and nations, even those which are now most ignorant, shall be full of light and knowledge. Great knowledge shall prevail everywhere.’

‘It may be hoped, that then many of the Negroes and Indians will be divines, and that excellent books will be published in Africa, in Ethiopia, in Tartary, and other now the most barbarous countries; and not only learned men, but others of more ordinary education, shall then be very knowing in religion’.

Nearly 260 years later, his prophetic words are ringing true, as parts of Africa and Asia are full of gospel knowledge and are seeking to spread that knowledge in the places that first brought them the gospel.

Archbishop Bernard A. Malango, an Anglican primate of Central Africa, explained it this way: ‘All these people brought Christianity to us, but now the church is growing here [in Africa] like wildfire, it’s spreading everywhere, while the church in England is withering, the church in the States is going completely, and there has been a cry, “Why don’t you come? You should have come here a long time ago to evangelise.

‘We need to send missionaries, even to Britain; we need to send missionaries to the United States, and we need to send missionaries to Canada, because those who brought the church here have lost what their intention was, and the same Bible they brought to us is being misinterpreted”’ (Boston Globe, 9/2007).

Theologically aware Global South

Not all find the African influence is welcome, and some even state that American ‘right-wingers’ are funding this venture. Jim Naughton, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC, and editor of a blog called Episcopal café, said that, ‘Only the most ardent homophobes are getting ready to bolt … and the separatist agenda is losing ground everywhere.

‘The idea that the average African is looking to cause a split over homosexuality is ridiculous. This is about a small coterie of leaders that over the years have received a great deal of money from American conservatives who are eager to push this agenda’ (ibid.)

Despite such bitter opposition from theological liberals, the number of churches now planted or governed in the USA by Global South dioceses number well over 250.

The South is not blind to the real reason why Anglicanism is dying in the US. ‘Sadly, the sexuality issue isn’t the issue — it’s about Scripture’, said Archbishop Gregory J. Venables, the primate of South America. What’s happened in the States is that they’ve moved away from the view that God has revealed himself in Scripture, and they’re rewriting that with post-modernity relativism’ (Ibid.).

This missional effort from the South has been a boon to conservative churches, who still face huge legal and financial woes as they seek to separate from the liberal episcopal churches.

Please pray for those Anglican Churches in the USA and Canada that are seeking to make a stand for doctrinal orthodoxy. Please ask God to continue to reform and guide them, as, within these groupings too, there is still much doctrinal confusion.

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in April 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (1824–1863)

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General T. Stonewall JacksonThere are many heroes of the faith or soldiers of the cross that we can call to memory, who have made a great impact on us and stood out as examples of faith.

When I lived in England, I read about the Reformers and Puritans, whose godly lives were a great encouragement to me. I was raised in the southern United States and there have been many men there too, both theologians and laymen, who are godly examples.

Thomas Jonathan Jackson was one such man whom I have greatly admired. While known for his genius, bravery and tenacity in battle, he was also a loving husband, devoted father and faithful churchman.

Thomas was born one bitterly cold night, on 21 January 1824, to Jonathan and Julia Jackson in Clarksburg, Virginia. Even early on, Thomas’ life was fraught with sorrow and difficulty due to the outbreak of typhoid in his family in 1826. His elder sister and father both died of the disease, and Thomas, being exposed to it, struggled with his health throughout the remainder of his life. His mother gave birth to her fourth child the day after her husband died. She died when Thomas was seven and that grief was very hard to bear, even into adulthood. She had been a godly example and his solace as a youngster. After her death, Thomas was placed in the care of his father’s uncle at Jackson’s Mill.

Duty

For the remainder of his youth, Jackson grew up at Jackson’s Mill and learned many useful skills as he worked the land with his family. While his uncle was not the best role model, Thomas did learn self-discipline and a devotion to duty, which marked him through the rest of his life.

From 1842 to 1846, Jackson attended West Point, the military academy of the United States, and graduated 17th in his class of 59 graduates. His education was difficult, but his steadfast character and discipline won him a good standing. He was made brevet second lieutenant in the US Artillery and sent, in 1846, to war in Mexico. While there, he was promoted three times and served with distinction in several battles, including the siege of Chapultepec.

During that battle, he was in charge of a battery assaulting the castle and taking heavy fire. The enemy’s withering fire killed all the horses in his battery and disabled one of his guns. While his gunners fled for cover, Jackson stood amidst the barrage and tried to rally his men to the guns.

At one interval, a cannonball rolled between his legs, but he remained unmoved and continued to encourage his men. A couple of the gunners helped him and returned fire. Jackson received reinforcements shortly after and continued to hold the ground, which may have proved a turning point in the battle.

After the close of the Mexican-American War, Jackson didn’t remain long in the army. He resigned in 1851 to become a professor at Virginia military college (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia. While he was a brilliant tactician, his skill at teaching was limited. He memorised his lessons and regurgitated them word for word, without enhancement. He became known for his awkward behaviour and rigidity, earning him the nicknames ‘Old Jack’ and ‘Old Hickory’. However, he did gain his students’ respect for his devotion to duty, compassion and sincerity.

Grief

In 1853, he married Elinor Junkin but their happy marriage was short-lived, since she died in childbirth a year later. Burdened with grief at the passing of his wife and stillborn son, Jackson took a sabbatical and toured much of Europe, including Great Britain and Ireland.

Virginia Military Institute today

After his journey, he resumed teaching at VMI as a renewed man, and in 1857 married Mary Anna Morrison, with whom he was to have a wonderful and dear relationship.

But, just as married life for the Jacksons began, the United States was approaching the outbreak of civil war. Tensions between the North and South were coming to a head over states’ rights and slavery. Things quickly got out of hand with the revolt of John Brown. Financed by wealthy men from the North, Brown ravaged the territory of Kansas in an attempt to free slaves. He and his men also took over the arsenal Harper’s Ferry in 1859, in their attempt to initiate a slave revolt in the South.

Brown and his followers were captured and Jackson was ordered to command a contingent of cadets to keep order at the hanging of John Brown (where he prayed for Brown’s salvation).

Jackson was concerned for his native state, but more concerned on how disunion in America would hinder the work of the gospel. He would rather the South stay in the union, but also he would not let the North take over the South by force.

South Carolina was the first state to secede (20 December 1860) and, by February 1861, six other states had joined her. On 17 April, Virginia voted for secession and Jackson, with solemnity, volunteered his sword for the defence of his native state.  He was given command of a brigade, made up of his cadets and men of the northern valley of Virginia. He was promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General within the first months of the war.

Battle

Jackson’s reputation and fame grew during one momentous battle. It was Sunday 21 July 1861. Jackson and his brigade were sent to engage Union troops at Manassas Junction, about 30 miles south of Washington DC.

The day was going against the Confederates and Jackson was ordered to provide reinforcements to the Confederates’ left. As his men waited under the cover of trees, just below the reverse crest of Henry House Hill, wave upon wave of retreating Confederates met them and told them that all was lost.

Jackson, unwavering, carefully ordered his men to position themselves on the edge of the woods overlooking the battlefield. As they waited in this position for three hours, amidst the thunderous onslaught of cannon fire, his men watched as Jackson calmly rode up and down the lines encouraging them with no sign of panic or fear.

The Union forces soon began to advance up the hill and General Barnard Bee, whom Jackson had been sent to reinforce, rode up and said, ‘General, they are beating us back!’

Jackson replied with sternness and resolve, ‘Sir, we will give them the bayonet’.

Bee then rode back to his men and said, ‘Look, men, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall! Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer! Rally behind the Virginians!’

After holding his ground, Jackson ordered his men to give one volley and then charge with bayonet ‘yelling like Furies’. This charge took the field and routed the Union army. So the Confederates won the battle and Jackson received his famous nickname, ‘Stonewall’.

Thomas Jackson continued to lead his armies in victory from 1861–1863. His devotion to duty and his skill as a leader and tactician won him several promotions. He was loved by his soldiers and feared by his enemies.

Death

Then one fateful night, on 2 May 1863, as Jackson was reconnoitring at the Battle of Chancellorsville with members of his staff, he was fired upon by Confederate troops from North Carolina, mistaking them for Union troops. He was struck with three bullets and had to have his left arm amputated. Though he quickly recovered from the operation, pneumonia set in and he was sent to a field hospital at Guiney Station.

His wife joined him and read to him his favourite portions of Scripture, especially Romans 8:28: ‘And we know that, for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose’.

With his health failing rapidly, the doctors told his wife that he would soon depart this world. Then on Sunday 10 May 1863, with his wife and close staff members around him, Jackson uttered his final words, ‘Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees’, and was gathered to his Saviour.

The entire South mourned his death and he was buried in stately honour in Lexington, next to his first wife and stillborn son.

Legacy

Stonewall Jackson was a man of deep character and great faith in his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He left a great legacy. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Virginia, and served as a deacon. He also taught a catechism class for slaves and was greatly interested in their well-being, even while he was at war.

When he was at West Point, he wrote a book of maxims, which he sought to keep for the rest of his life. His relationship with his wife Anna was profound and he always sought to point her to Christ.

He was admired for his bravery on the battlefield and his leadership skills, pointing to his faith in God’s providence. Jackson also encouraged and stimulated a Christian revival in the Confederate army.

He is definitely a man worth emulating, and his courage and faith have often encouraged me. As one of his former cadets, Thomas M. Boyd, wrote: ‘His fame is as lasting as the solid stones of his native hills … and yet there is for him a purer, nobler record — his quiet Christian walk in life, his right words, his faithful, manly bearing, his victory over self, his known devotion to the word of truth. He was indeed a soldier of the cross’ (J. Steven Wilkins, All things for good, p.1).

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in July 2015 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Letter from America: South Carolina’s Floods

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‘Surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance’ (Psalm 32:6-7).

Bible passages like these became incredibly relevant in the light of October 2015’s flooding that hit South Carolina (SC). Meteorologists called it ‘unprecedented and historical’ (Dr Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia). One article described it as ‘a 1000-year rain event — meaning, in a given year, there is a 1 in 1000 chance of observing rainfall totals of this magnitude’.

Whatever the experts may say, those that lived through it can tell you they’ve never seen anything like it. The rain that issued from the storm system fell to levels of over 20 inches in some places.

Hurricane Joaquin

Columbia, SC’s capital city, was hit the hardest, and 24 hours of steady rainfall caused dams to burst and river surges that meant thousands losing their homes. Nineteen died in SC alone as a result of the flooding.

So how did it all begin? As it usually does, it all began with a hurricane. By the end of September, Hurricane Joaquin was wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, sitting just off the Bahamas, and creating lots of rain for the southern US.

Storms like these are fairly common in the southeastern United States and don’t cause that much concern, unless one is headed straight for you. Having grown up on the Georgia coast, I was quite used to ‘hurricane season’ and had seen my fair share of heavy rains. I never thought though that I would live in a natural disaster area.

As the rains continued to pour across the southeast as a result of a cold front, Hurricane Joaquin sat in the Bahamas soaking up more moisture. As it slowly moved parallel to the US coast, the storm system interacted with the cold front and sent rain straight into SC.

On the radar it almost looked like Hurricane Joaquin shot an arm out and socked SC with a one-two punch. These ‘training bands’ or slow moving areas of rain dumped massive amounts of rain on SC and much of the southeast in a matter of three days.

The steady rain began in earnest on Friday 2 October, causing much flooding in the low country areas of SC. Three flood-related deaths were confirmed by the evening of 3 October. The flooding had overtaken Charleston’s historic district, causing everything to come to a standstill.

Floods

By Saturday evening, the SC highway patrol had reported 500 traffic accidents and closed 104 roads. But the rain was far from over. It continued soaking SC through the night and, by early Sunday morning, the floodwaters had overtaken Columbia.

Combined with the rain and the rising levels of rivers and creeks, many low lying areas were flooded. In one particular area, a creek (Gills Creek) burst its bounds and flooded a huge residential and shopping area along Garner’s Ferry road. Many restaurants, including one I had dined at the day before, were flooded over 3-feet deep.

Cars were getting washed away as their drivers scrambled to get out of them. Rescue workers from around the south came to help and were busy round the clock, rescuing flood victims in boats as the waters continued to rise.

Early that morning, as I rose to prepare for church, I received texts from my dad, the pastor of my church, that its services were cancelled due to the flooding. I had no idea what was going on in the area, due to a poor TV signal, so I decided to explore. Although I never saw the actual flood waters, I did watch the news in a local restaurant and was dumbfounded at the damage the flooding caused.

As the waters rose by Garner’s Ferry, other areas were hit horribly. The water levels in a nearby reservoir continued to rise, which meant that more water had to be let out of the dam. With horns and sirens blazing, they released water from the floodgates into the lower Saluda River, the first time they had done so in 46 years.

Extensive damage

As the rising waters rushed downriver, citizens living near that area were evacuated and many homes close to the river were flooded. Those waters also caused a breach in the Columbia Canal and Water Works, the source of Columbia’s drinking water. As a result, a boil water advisory was put on the area (it lasted for a week in some areas).

Areas like Forest Acres, a huge, beautiful residential area near downtown Columbia, were hit by rising waters in local lakes. Dams burst, causing hundreds of families to lose their homes. Even at the time of writing (a month after the flood), residents are still assessing the damage and cleaning up their homes.

While some areas of SC were hardly hit by the floods (such as the upstate), other areas like Columbia and Mount Pleasant were hit with 18-24 inches of rain, which caused major destruction over the next couple of days.

Clarendon County, a remote county only accessed by a few major roads, was impacted so badly that its sheriff called it ‘an island’. This flood remains one of the most catastrophic events in South Carolina’s history.

As the weather cleared up on 5 October, the waters continued to wreak havoc on Columbia. This resulted in the displacement of hundreds of families and billions of dollars in damage. President Obama issued a disaster declaration and the National Guard stepped in to help rebuild broken dams and rescue those affected.

Prayer

While the damage caused by the flood was catastrophic, the light of the gospel shined through the disaster as the displaced were helped by many. Churches from all over came to help clean out damaged homes, cook meals or provide supplies for the flood victims.

One of the government organisations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), stepped in to provide assistance for those without the means to insure or rebuild their home. But due to the extensive damage, their efforts are still ongoing and many are still without disaster assistance.

Please continue to pray for South Carolina and those affected. It’s been at least one month now and many are still without homes. It will take many months, if not a year, to rebuild what the floods destroyed.

Please pray that the Lord will be glorified in the midst of it all and the gospel would be shared to those without hope. Please also pray for the families of those that died during the flood. We can praise the Lord that even in the midst of such darkness, the gospel was sown both in word and deed.

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in January 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.