Support for on being with Krista Tippett comes from the Fetzer Institute, helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Fatso's new study. What does spirituality mean to us? Reveals how spirituality informs our understanding of ourselves and each other and inspires us to take action for the common good. Explore these findings and more at spirituality study, Doug. I'm Krista Tippett. Up next, my unedited conversation with Pastor Otis Moss, the third and the wisdom of the mystic and theologian of the civil rights movement, Howard Thurman.
There is, as always, a shorter produced version of this, wherever you found this podcast. So quick time is now rolling. Thank you so much for calling and I'll do some thinking on my end afterward and with this Yeti Mike. Yeah, you sounded great. It does sound good. OK, I have it turned not toward me, but away from me, like you said.
Right. Which is strange. A prankster.
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Pastor Moss. Hey.
Hey. I get it. I work with audio engineers, so they're always telling me what we what we need to do. If we had this, Mike would sound much better.
We don't have that mike budget, but I like the idea. Yeah. Yeah.
Well, when Krista sits back down, I think the two of you can jump right into it.
OK, I'm going to mute myself, OK. And it's OK. Sounds like Chris is back. I'm using myself to her. I'm back for you to get started.
So let me out. Do people call you Pastor Moss? What do people in your congregation call you? I'm just curious.
Some say you, Pastor Moss, pastor. Oh, I probably won't call you pastor.
Oh, I mean, but I like. No, I am three. I mean, they all got a name. OK, OK.
But Pastor Moss would be. Yeah that's fine. OK, or just Rev you know we were at Augusta, Georgia.
It was actually it was never rev, it was always like our rebe. Oh it was very we had a wonderfully beautiful Southern congregation like RIP. You know, they said they would comply.
Um, so so I you have said that that Howard Thurman is one of the most influential theologians and I'd have you one of the most underappreciated and I agree with you.
I feel like he's a voice and not just a voice, but but an element of the civil rights movement that's kind of hidden from history.
So so so the so we're not partaking of the whole lineage in some ways. And so what what we want to do with this show is introduce him to a wider audience.
But and so, so we'll talk about him, but also through how his teaching is alive and embodied in you. Right. A pastor and a and and an actor for social justice in this 21st century world of rupture.
Um, so I think it so I'll I'll, I'll, I'll guide us. But, you know, we're going to kind of go back and forth. We're going to kind of do you know him and you together. Does that make sense.
OK, OK. Wow.
Um and I, I have my copy of the sacred text Jesus and the Disinherited with me. Yes. Yes, yes. And so I read, I read some passages um I will say just starting out. I like you know, I like amidst all of your all of the um the official facts of your bio, you know, the pastor being the pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, studying at Morehouse College and Yale and Chicago Theological Seminary.
You also note that you've been highly influenced by the works of Zora Neale Hurston, August Wilson, Howard Thurman, jazz and hip hop music.
Absolutely. I thought of that. Yeah, I have a senior official bio, um, and I also will say I enjoy the Twitter handle sheltering and whatnot.
When did you put that in? Soon as the pandemic happened, I was like, I want to go to work right now.
If I understand what kind of shelter there, I would be happy. And as soon as Chadwick Boseman passed, I was like, oh yeah, I am sheltering in court.
But we're going to and grieving at this moment.
Your whole family was just hit hard. I had not. Yeah, I, I, I had not put that together.
Um, so. So your father, Otis Moss Jr. was deeply involved in a civil rights movement, an important figure in that movement of the mid mid 20th century.
Just tell me if I've got. All right. He became a pastor in 1954, which, you know, in my mind, we often had to tell the civil rights story of the 1960s. But really, you have to go back to 1954, 1955, right. When the murder of Emmett Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, all those things set in motion. That chapter of things that kind of that came to fruition in the 60s, that that gets remembered, I think, more and more vividly.
He was a regional director of the of SNEEK of the Southern Leadership Conference. Did did Martin Luther King, senior or junior, marry your parents? It was junior. Junior? Yes, yes.
He was really in the household. He must've been really young when he married them. He was?
Yeah. He was a little older than my father. My father was in school at the time. Yeah. When he started pastoring.
And he was a part of the Atlanta Sit-In movement for the desegregation of Atlanta. Another gentleman by the name of James Orange was was a part of that movement. Marian Wright Edelman was. Yes. Connected with with that movement.
And, you know, quite a quite a few other people.
Lonnie King was was a part and I don't know, they became family.
And that's how my father became engaged with Southern Christian Leadership Conference. My mother was the office manager for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. So they literally met in the movement.
And and it looks like if you your father, also capacitated Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta with with Martin Luther King senior in 1971, the year you were born and you were born in 1971, 70. So 70. So, OK, I think maybe Wikipedia has it wrong with everyone.
I mean, when you're younger, that's why you're so born. It born in 1970. And I'm imagining that the decade that had preceded your birth was still very much alive in your household and in that world around you.
Every every special occasion at our Church I of an institutional Baptist church, we had an individual or community that was connected to the movement. I remember Andrew Young doing the church anniversary.
White Walker was a part of revival, I was told.
I don't remember, but I was told Fannie Lou Hamer would make her way around the house, that it really points in.
And I remember my father flying to to Atlanta for the funeral for Benjamin Elijah Mays, who was the former president Morehouse, but also was a mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.. Did you meet Howard Thurman? I never met Howard Thurman, but I heard his voice often in my household. My father has this incredible collection of Thurmon tapes. Mm hmm. And he gave that collection to to Morehouse to create the Howard Thurman. Listen.
And probably you're talking really cassette tapes. Yeah, they they are tapes. And when we would go on trips, when I was very small, we would drive, you know, for for vacation. We would hop in the car and go on vacation.
And my father would play Thurmon tapes, part of the journey, you know, had some music that we wanted to hear. But we would all we would listen to Thurmon also. And so I became familiar with his voice before I really knew who he truly was. Mm hmm.
If I ask you now and you may have been conscious of this or not as conscious at how his his his theology, his religious sensibility, how did that imprint kind of the the religious sensibility that you started to inherit and imbibe in your childhood?
I have to tell the story. So I was about 11, 11 or 12. And Andrew Young came to preach and and Andrew Young loved engaging with young people. And he would after service, he would talk with all the young people at church. And when we went back to my father's office, I was minding my own business, being a piqué, just wanting to go home. Speakers do and preachers said, we need to say that for people.
I'm a preacher's granddaughter, so I know preachers hated. For those who don't know preachers kid you, it's a life. It's a unique culture. It is a fraternal sorority that you are pledged in to.
And I was minding my own business because I want to go home, be with my friends. All of that have been in church too long. So engages me. And he says, Oh, have you read our Thurmon?
I was like, No, I'm 11, no Thurmon. And so he looks at me. He says, I want you to go and get your father's copy of Jesus and the Disinherited. I want you to read it, and I want you to call me when you're finished.
And this is Andrew Young talking to me. I'm like, right, OK, OK, sir.
So I went home.
I never finished the book, but I read the first few pages and it stuck with me.
This idea of looking at Jesus through the lens of those who are disinherited and the imprint of his grandmother.
Yeah, on on Thurmon never left me.
So that framework of of Jesus as being this radical, revolutionary, nonviolent person who was on the margins always was was a part of of my theology and not an exclusive Jesus, but one who was just I mean, just for for lack of a better phrase, I was just down for the people now.
And and and that was the Jesus that I always saw. I never saw the one that was, you know, on TV.
This, you know, this this guy with the kind of hippie Jesus, you know, the Jesus that I was introduced to was the one who not only was a Calvary, but was also in Montgomery, that that was the Jesus that I was a part of that I was introduced to.
And my church embraced that Jesus and my parents lifted up that Jesus. So I I didn't encounter an evangelical Jesus till I went to college. Well, there's a lot to start with there. I mean, it's. Yeah, I mean, I'm just going to read the first sentence of Jesus and the disinherited, now it is said that Martin Luther King Jr. carried three texts with him at all times.
That's right. The Bible, the Constitution and Jesus inherited. Um, so interesting because this book was written in 1949, and I think the paperback was first published in 1969. But in the first century, the first sentences, many and varied are the interpretations dealing with the teachings and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But few of these interpretations deal with what the teachings and the life of Jesus have to state have to say to those who stand at a moment in history, in human history with their backs against the wall, that phrase.
That phrase is just what tell me. Let me just ask ask you the question. Who who who do you understand Jesus was for Howard Thurman? And also how does that relate to who Jesus is for you, for Thurmon.
Jesus was this human being who was so deeply divinely connected at a level that no other human being in history has ever been.
So his Christology does not fit into the highly traditional Christology of just divine and human.
He saw them as divine and human, but as a mystic, he leaned on the human side and allowed the echo of the divine side to encircle his interpretation of Jesus.
So he would say, We use the phrase that I learned at Morehouse that we were told about.
You know, that is a Thurmon quote, that every Morehouse student was told that Thurmond used to say all the time.
But it really fits the way in which Thurmond saw Jesus.
We were told when we came into the King Chapel that Morehouse places a crown above our heads, that we will spend the rest of our lives growing tall enough to wear.
And it's a reworking of what Thurmond had said, that God places a crown above our heads, that we grow, that we spend the rest of our lives going tall enough to where Christ places a crown above our heads.
Depending on when you would hear him speak, he would use this phrase and change it just a little bit. But he saw our encounter and that was the word that we encounter with Jesus as forseen human beings to stretch but never reach him.
You mentioned you you called him a mystic and and I just, you know, it feels to me like in some ways he was so ahead of his time. I mean, it's interesting to me, you were part of this documentary and now I can't remember. I wrote down the name of that about Howard Thurman. And I noted down all the different ways people described what he was like, what was his role, and here all these different ways. Pastor to the leaders, moral anchor for the movement, had an established philosophical framework teacher, spiritual activist, mystic, contemplative spirituality, nature, mystic, talking to trees.
This is where he was very much ahead of his time.
Um, saint for the movement. Um, and I think, yeah, I, I to me just even even just what you said it feels.
Feels I think it would be surprising to people who have a kind of basic what you learned in history about the civil rights movement, to know that it had a mystic who was the pastor to the to the to the to the leaders and the teachers and the activists.
Yeah. It's fascinating that so many people who are part of the movement have these unique Howard Thurman stories.
You know, of course, Dr. King made these connections with with Thurmond.
You're the Snick community had this connection with Thurmond and Thurmond was always pushing them on the inward journey, right on who they are and their encounter and to find and his words.
Find the sound of the genuine in you, discover that, discover what makes you come alive and the encounter with with the spirit, the encounter with silence, the encounter with God and that God is a god of justice. And and those two things together.
Right. That can be contemplative and justice. That is you know, that's an interesting juxtaposition. It's not kind of where 21st century minds go, no, no, no. That's so true.
Yeah, um, I, I want to I just want to let me see. I want to find. Yeah, so I just had something, um. Well, let's yeah, let's let's just I there's just something that came into my mind, I went out and got all these notes in front of me. Oh yeah. This is something you said in that documentary. You said you said he was the teacher. He was the mentor. He was the spiritual sage.
He was not the one who was on the front line, but he was the one where people would retreat to to be filled. And that that emphasis that he had. On the connection between interior life in her life. And our action. What was part of what was revolutionary and part of what was so powerful and to me it feels like just through the conversations I've had with the elders, civil rights elders, I just feel like that's a part of what was happening that was so critical that we don't have such a memory of.
I just want I don't know. Do you? Is that something it seems to me that you just kind of grew up connecting those things organically because you were growing up with your father and around all those people.
I think you're I think you're spot on.
That's so much of what we do, especially in America, is so external. Yeah. And doesn't nurture the spirit. Everything is transactional. Yeah.
And when you begin to nurture spirit, the spirit of speaks of social constructions fall to the wayside, though they inform.
But all of the things that we use as markers.
Begin to fall away and to find the inward sea. He says that there's an island. Did he say about the inward sea? Yeah, the inward sea. Wow. That and in the North Sea, there is there is an island that that everyone has in their spirit.
And on that island is an altar.
And next to that altar is an angel with a flaming sword.
And in order to put what is most important on the altar, you first have to find the sea. You've got to get to the island.
And you got to get past the angel so that you can find what is truly genuine in you and what is most important, he said once you find that.
Then you come alive, then you discover what you have been purposed for.
And then you begin to work out, so you work inward to work outward. Yeah. You have also said that he. Gave and if you use this word, an African unity to the interpretation of Jesus, say some more about what that means when he returns Jesus to the the African Asiatic roots.
You know, prior to the Constantinian framework of Christianity, this mysticism, disengagement, this idea that there are things that we cannot touch nor control, but yet we lean in nonetheless was was very common.
We moved into a very strong doctrinal before as a kind of Western Christian Christendom.
I mean, it was necessary because of, you know, because it was connected to do an empire. And empires demand that you follow particular orders.
And and prior to that, there was this deep encounter idea which you would call the, you know, the desert fathers and mothers and all of that.
And Thurmon returns the faith tradition to the encounter once again.
Which Pentecostalism has a strong element of that, but to Thurmon deepens this African city because his primary theological teacher was his grandmother who was framing, interpreting scripture and the world through an African lens.
That she could say, you know, I appreciate Paul, but there's some stuff I don't like him because he doesn't like me.
Right, right, right.
And so he sometimes, although he tells us stories and Jesus and the disinherited. Yes, yes, yes. It's so beautiful.
And there's this story that he I absolutely love about about Thurman that he tells about his grandmother, that his grandmother owned some land and there was a white woman who was adjacent to the land and did not like the fact that this black woman owned land. And so she decided she was going to get back at Thurmond's grandmother and went to her chicken coop and got all the manure and dumped it into Thurmond's grandmother's on her land and upon her tomatoes and her greens and everything.
She was going to destroy it.
But her grandmother, his grandmother, when she would she realized there's all this manure just had destroyed everything in the evening time.
Time in the morning time, she would get up in the morning and take the manure and just mix it in with the soil as fertilizer. And so the woman would dump at night and Thurmond's grandmother would get up in the morning and and turn it over and mix it. And so the woman next door eventually fell ill.
And she wasn't just mean to black people, she was mean to everybody. So so nobody came to see her.
When she went, she became ill.
But Thurmond's grandmother went next door and brought her some flowers and knocked on the door, heard this frail voice and she came in. The woman was completely shocked that this black woman, who she had been so cruel to, would come and see her. And she was so deeply moved by the kindness. And Thurmond's grandmother places the flowers next to the woman. And the woman said, these are the most beautiful flowers I've ever seen. Where did you get them?
Thurman's grandmother said, you helped me make them because when you were dumping your dog, I decided to plant some roses. And Thurman talks about from the manure. What can blossom?
There are some who are who allow the manure to fall on them and others who just turn over the soil to make something new, that that that is so African.
It comes out of the black tradition because we know manure, but we also know fertilizer that can plant new things.
No, you said somewhere also here's someone who's influenced by nature, and that's also in that story, honestly, that right and the vitality of the natural world and what it teaches us, he's talking. You said he's talking about the fact that you can encounter God in these different ways and that you must look not only into someone's eyes, but into the experience of other people to witness God working. And this fits with this kind of southern black tradition, these stories about if you want to connect with God, go sit down by the riverside.
Yes, yes. Down by the riverside.
Yeah, underneath the shade of the tree, while you're cooking your food, while you're walking the path, that that's a part of the southern tradition of being connected to creation and being stewards of creation. And Thurman was very clear with that. And black people connected with what Thurmond said and with what Jesus, who was a country preacher, everything he does is very rural and very country. So people from Southern settings understand when you start talking about seeds falling on ground, that's you don't do that in urban settings.
You know, let's talk about seeds on the ground.
Yeah, but the Southern Connection. Oh, yes. Seeds and ground and trees and rivers and. Oh, yeah. You know, like a tree planted by the rivers of water. Oh, I got that. I understand that.
You know, it's interesting because this book, Jesus and the Disinherited is you could say, you know, you could read it and say he's very critical of Christianity, the way it's practiced, the way while, well, it was practiced.
And it's time to practice in our time, you know, and to be clear in his lifetime.
There were there were lynchings that people conducted right after church services, right?
My people went to church on Sunday morning and and and yet at the same time that it's it's actually, though I don't think saying it's critical of Christianity would be right, because it's it's a deeply, profoundly Christian book and it's actually calling Christianity to a deeper understanding of who Jesus was.
To like its to its own heart. Oh, absolutely. The Thurmon does something so powerful, he's he's reclaiming. The tradition, he's interpreting the tradition and he's indicting the tradition all at the same time. Mm hmm. So he's reclaiming said this is what you have lost. Let me also reinterpret and give you this new hermeneutic. And then I also want to indict and raise a question so smooth and how he does it, too. I mean, he he doesn't yell from the rooftops.
He whispers No.
One, he's doing it. He's being so faithful to the tradition at the same time, these to be calling it out. Right. He's being so reverent at the same time that, as you say, he's indicting. Yeah.
And that's so beautiful to it. You can tell his deep love for it. Mm hmm.
But not. Not a love for.
The manner in which the white citizens councils practiced, yeah, but reverence for how his grandmother practiced, reverence for how Jesus practiced, who he very clear was a Jew, which people like to completely forgotten.
Not on his resume. No, he's Jewish. He's Jewish. Right. So so there is this tradition that he is he is pulling on that.
He is reminding people who said, you know, don't place Jesus on your self-righteous shelf, but engage him. And as has been said many times, Jesus will afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted if you do it that way.
Mm hmm. So you and I are speaking and the momentous year of 2020 and. I was watching the sermon that you videotaped, which is how sermons are done right now, isn't it? Isn't it kind of good to imagine that somebody will listen to this in a future year and they want to know what we're talking about? It is locked down.
Well, if anything, it's scary to think about who's doing what. Yeah.
So I'm going to explain it for the future listener that that the sermon you delivered on that you videotaped for on May 31st. I think you videotaped it for that. That would have been the Sunday, right. George Floyd was murdered. Yes. This is my city of Minneapolis on May 25th of that week.
And your sermon.
I want to talk about that. I want to talk about what you preached and and and that's and that as a way in to how you are, how you're how you're interpreting and applying this theology that we're talking about in our time.
Yeah, so you had to do it as a video and you put it out as a video before the Sun, and you quoted that great song that we so that was so vividly associate with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
You know, we shall overcome someday. And you said this is a question and not a statement. When is someday?
Hmm. You just talk a little bit about what came to you that week. And yeah. I mean, I want to draw ties between what we're talking about here. But, you know, I don't want a force that just talked to me about that message, the fast moving.
Nature of what was going on that week. We had already witnessed. The videotape, a murder of Imette Mud Perry. And then. We are hit with the and the story of Brianna Taylor, which both happened around the same time, but the.
The death of Jorge Floyd. And I said I didn't say in the sermon, but I said that, you know, he preached a sermon for four, eight minutes and 46 seconds and it was just one phrase, I can't breathe. Mm hmm.
And wanted the world to to hear this message.
And there were yeah, there were a lot of people that were communicating what I would call kind of very trite.
Easy theological framing and wanted to co-opt certain words and phrases from the civil rights movement and from the Bible, and this was a moment for lament. Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Right. That that language. Right. That biblical language has never felt more needed. Yes.
Lamentation and America has difficulty with lament because we romanticize history and we're so drunk on Confederate wine and don't even realize it.
Uh, that when you use lament in some communities and for some ears, they hear that is as hate me and I respond is that I hate the death of George Floyd and the system that created it and that we have to learn how to limit our hearts, have to break in the way that God's heart breaks, in the way that Jesus was lamenting throughout a good portion of his ministry at what he was witnessing, sometimes turning over tables in anger and in deep pain.
Mm hmm. Or on a tree across. Saying, forgive them, they just don't know what they are doing. There's this limit and then, of course, in the in the break tradition, the Jewish tradition, the prophetic tradition. The prophets lament, I mean, you can't get to a prophet without a prophet, you know, lamenting, crying and just raging at the a nation that just refuses to love and to act with justice.
Mm hmm. And Thurman clearly communicates that in Jesus and the disinherited. He talks about the deception and the fear and moves on talking about finally the love ethic. But. We've yet to deal with the internal deception that, you know, being a part of of America causes us. What I thought when I was working on that on that message is, strangely enough, Star Wars. You and I have more in common than I do.
OK, I like it. Keep going.
Oh, yeah. It was really a very star Star Wars. And if I can just make up that word moment, because within the church and within American general, there is you know, there's the empire and the digitise and America wants to believe that it's the Jedi, but in reality, it's the empire that thinks it's a Jedi.
And so what do you do when you're trying to exercise your empire demons and you want to follow the path of of of a Jedi?
You got to find a Yoda. And the right is our Yoda. You've got a train. Yeah. I mean, that's a word people like Vincent Harding. And I bet your father, John Lewis and you know, Ruby sales, you know, it's the practice. It's the training.
It's the honing of your and it's the failing to you fail for failing for you. You said. Something something so powerful, you said in that sermon, which I kind of heard echoes of, of Thurmon, you know, you talked about your understanding of Christianity as a tradition of hope, unafraid to face horror, a tradition of possibility, unafraid to stare down pain. It's not about. It's not about being at all. Unrealistic, right, idealistic.
You don't want to make. I have a real issue with. The kind of triumphant easy.
Quick framings in spiritual traditions and America in particular, because it feeds into something that is not authentic and not real and not human. And Thurman, who comes out of this black Southern tradition, if you're if you're black southerner of that era. You are familiar with horror, you know, pain intimately.
You either have scars or you have just a little bit of the blood of of others on, you know, on your sleeve because you witnessed it.
And you can't have the kind of face that says it's just going to be all right.
It's going to be all right. But we have to face the pain.
And facing the pain doesn't mean that you become a complete, hopeless cynic.
It means that you operate with a level of of realism. And the only way I think Baldwin is best when he says not everything you face can be changed, but not until you face it. Can it be changed.
We just have this proclivity to not want to face tragedy and, you know, I'm sorry to say it, but much of mainline and Western Christianity really is not, unfortunately, because it's been so influenced by kind of the market.
And I've said before, it's, you know, it's capitalism and ecclesiastical garments, right where it has the robe, but it has no redemption. It has no deep love. It has no deep contemplation. And that's the challenge. And I think that that's what Thurmon offers out of that black Southern tradition.
He brings a weight and a reflective weight to a spirituality that is also unafraid to deal with, engage in dialogue with people who who have differing traditions.
Yeah, it's not exclusive. Yeah, there's so much so much there. I mean, you know, that sermon you preached, it was pretty challenging also, right? Like for it challenging for people in pain to, um, you know, you said do not hide behind simple prayers. Do not ask the question, where is God? The question God is asking of us today, where are you?
And you were talking to everybody I felt you were talking to. Everybody was listening. And there were people listening, watching it from all over the world. And they were black and they were white and.
You know, there's a there's a sermon tape recording that you shared, which I feel also has this this notion of like challenge, redemptive challenge, I don't know what to call it.
Do you want to talk about that? The. What was it called, write downs and what do you really want? Yes, what do you really want? And he starts out by saying, if we believe that life is finished, ready, then we know there isn't anything that can be done about anything or we may be of them.
But he says it so eloquently with his incredible voice, or we may be of the mind that life, in its essence, is not fixed, is not frozen, but life in its essence is fluid, creative. And he talks about our purposes. Therefore, goals, deeds, ideals can fulfill themselves because of the fluid flowing character from a fallen of life.
So he he he challenges in the context of the larger context of of reality. And I you know, again, I feel the echo of that and what you said to our moment.
Tell me what that tell me why that that message that you sent along is especially important to you if you really hit the nail on the head and the fluidity, the complexity of of life and creation and nature and the music that is within it, that we have to learn how to to listen to what we hear.
We think is this just cacophony of just noises. But within it, there's this beat and there's this rhythm. And that's what Thurmon is demanding that people reach toward that you stretch, you don't reach, you encounter, but you don't understand. The vocabulary that we even use for the sacred is so inadequate because the moment we speak it or think that we have design contained it, defined it. That God is so beyond the human vocabulary, but yet God can be.
Not known, but maybe the unknown, knowable, unknowable, unknown beneath how you want to say it is the way in which we encounter that which is sacred. And so we know something, but not enough. It's just like scooping a teaspoon of water out of a out of an ocean and saying, oh, I've got it all.
No, you've got a few molecules. You can do some study. You can understand a little bit. But the mysteries are too vast.
But in that spoon of the little water, you can come to know something on your journey home that will assist you.
And that as one more person, more on the secular and would say the wildness of God fits so beautifully and interestingly enough, Thurman's speaking and that that particular piece that I said also connects to Thurman's view liturgically. That's why you have to have the arts in worship.
Oh, you have to have the the dancer, the violinist and the drummer and the saxophone and the piano, you have to have people who are taking music, which does not have a human vocabulary in the traditional sense that will be heard radically different from everyone else, but yet can be put to an order.
But at the same time, every person who hears it will hear something different. No one hears the note the same way. Hmm. But yet it's the same note. It will not touch the person in the same way, but it's the same note.
And and so when he did created the Fellowship of All Peoples Church in San Francisco, that was the first intentionally multiracial church in the country, United States.
And when was that? That was then, right? In the 60s.
The 60s. Yeah. Yeah. Go on.
Using all of these different elements liturgically so they might have a play in the middle of an worship service as gett. They would have a modern dancer, not your traditional liturgical dance. They may have someone paint something.
I mean, it was just it was pretty incredible and radical the way that he said that in order for us to encounter there is the complexity of of the sacred. Is is something that we always have to stretch and move toward. And we don't have that today, there is this need to contain and to to sell and say it's this or that, and it's so disrespectful to what is sacred.
You know, something that feels so important to me, too, is that this, you know, as you as you kind of alluded a minute ago, to the extent that people think about the wildness of God or kind of even contemplative meditative practices that, you know, culturally, people don't tend to think about Christianity in that there's there's you know, there's a lot of there's been so much learning from from Buddhist tradition, which, you know, and actually well, maybe we can talk about this because Thurman also went to India in the 1930s and was way ahead of that as well, and actually was meditating in the early 1980s.
But he but he started he trained in the Quaker tradition in which I just you know, I'm saying I feel like I think it's worth reviving a memory that this is is that there's this tradition deep within Christianity, too, and a voice like like Howard Thurman. And also that theology, you know, to me is what we're getting into is is what is is that the wonderful inheritance of theology that's not very well known culturally, which is one at the same time addressing the cosmic and ineffable, you know, the contemplative and justice, as we said at the beginning, the cosmic and the ineffable.
And then and then also this deep intelligence, this deep psychological acuity, this deep intelligence about how we actually work and how reality actually works. I mean, to me, I wanted to ask you about, you know, in in Jesus and the disinherited and you mentioned this a minute ago.
Just briefly, there's such the way he describes the human experience and behavior that we call hate, the way he describes the disease of fear.
These things are as a disease and that these things are so alive.
They are human reactions that are as old as time and they are so alive and active and really messing with our life together right now.
Anyway, I just to me, that that that theologist I love having this conversation and putting that kind of that kind of intelligence in the context of theology. You know what, I love that you stated you talk about the the disease of fear that Zimmerman speaks about and and about hate and how that that is is is a disease.
And we we often have not engaged. The fullness of of of experience and and how it affects us on that level, and that's what Thurmon challenges the reader and people who listen to him to do to find out what is it that you have come to connect with that affects you.
And I'm reminded of an analogy I always use of these beautiful pictures, usually from so out of lecture.
Yes, there's this wonderful meditation that he does where he talks about what type of spirit are you? He says, are you a reservoir? Do you collect the water? And you hold it to be dispensed at a later time. Are you a swamp because swamps just hold water, but they have no outlet, only inlet, and that is why so much dies in a swamp, because it's all for them.
But then there are canals and rivers that always are feeding into something else. Decide are you a reservoir, a swamp? Or a canal. Mm hmm. He doesn't tell you who you are, right? He just says, I want you to examine after I've examined nature and I've seen what nature says and speaks back to us. Are you a reservoir or are you just holding it to dispense later? Are you a swamp that you hold it for yourself and you end up killing everything around you in the process?
Right? Are you a canal in a river where what is given to you will be released, but ultimately you will flow into something larger? That is the kind of communication we don't do anymore. We don't give people that those images, we don't give people that way of communicating, we we want to tell people what to think.
Instead of instead of asking people to journey into becoming what they are called to become, there's also ways that he he describes, he describes like what happens in a human psyche and even in a human body with something like hatred or fear in ways that I feel like neuroscience is just catching up with.
You know, he talks about he says fear actually causes chemical changes in the body. I mean, I guess they knew that back then, but I don't think I learned it until about ten minutes ago.
You know, he says it is clear that fear, which served originally as a safety device, a kind of protective mechanism, finally becomes a death for the self. Mm hmm.
He says the whole experience of fear attacks the fundamental sense of self respect and personal dignity without which a man is no man. And, you know, there's kind of like that's that's one whole way to talk about huge dynamics in our culture on every side of things. Um. It's a kind of intelligence that we don't employ to really get down to what are we working with here? So what are we working with?
And then how do we how do we encounter that to you and counter that?
And when you bring up the piece on fear, he's looking at fear again from the context.
He's drawing from the fact that he is a child of Jim Crow. Yeah, he's a grandson of enslaved people, I think. Yes. Yes. Yeah.
So he knew he knew what fear looked like and what it would do to the human personality.
And then there is a phrase that would be used in the south, you know, in people not just the south but, you know, old before their time, and they would talk about how that person became old before their time or broken down as a result of life. You know, life broken down, life broken down, fear broke them down. But that was a way. And that Southern framing to talk about the forces you encounter and the way your body would react.
We call it post-traumatic stress syndrome now.
Yeah, but there were all of these ways in which the preacher and the elders sage was trying to give language to fear. And the fear that he speaks of in Jesus and disinheriting is also giving us a glimpse into his encounter in India and helping us understand the wisdom he gained from connecting with his Hindu brothers and sisters.
Yeah, let's talk about that. So he went there in 1936 and it sounds like, you know, he was the other Americans had come to India, were white. Right.
And his so talked about what you know about that experience and why that's important for you, too.
Well, the first piece was that he came there. He was part of was the YMCA program like something like that. And they, you know, hey, we're going to give you an opportunity to go and travel outside the US. And here you are. You know, this young, very intelligent, you know, star student. We're going to give you a chance. And he encounters someone.
Same color as he of a completely different culture. Mm, huh. Who raises the question?
Are you a traitor to your own people? And the reason he says, are you a traitor to your own people is because you practice Christianity.
Yeah, and all of our encounters, the British practice Christianity, but.
Colonialism and Christianity go hand in hand. Yeah, so they would say, you know, Jesus saves and then say, give me your land at the same time.
So there was a deep resentment that either the British don't know Jesus or maybe this is just what Christianity is.
And so he never had someone put that question before him because he was in and around, you know, in the United States, around, you know, like people who who practice a particular form of the faith tradition that was radically different. But it caused him to take what was intuitive. And then. Contemplate and then, of course, write this book, but he is, again, what's powerful, he's drawn on the elements of of of the black faith tradition.
He is Americanising the the Christian tradition and not framing it out of an empire framework and is returning to the source. And that moment, I really believe, is is a major turn for thermate. There he is able to walk. A new path where he deepens his commitment to his tradition and then broadens it at the same time.
And this book and that moment is also you, you connect the dots, Jesus, and disinherited.
Encountered by Martin King, who then uses this as the framework where you hear the echo when he speaks at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where they're going to declare this boycott, Thurmond comes about because he writes this message.
It takes some 20 minutes to write the message. He was in a car, write it on a notepad. OK, this is a brilliant message that people are like, oh, my God, this is a brilliant message. And he was really just trying to get this thing together when he stands and he brings civic religion along with the.
Christian tradition and then the black faith tradition merged all together in that pulpit, and you can hear the echo when he begins to talk about what our faith is. It's not the the faith of the Bull Connors of the world, it's the faith. He didn't say Bull Connor at that time, but he is not the faith of of of those individuals.
It is also well, the Ku Klux Klan was very Christian organization. I mean, they investigate terrorists.
Yeah. The Klu Klux, which is a very fascinating thing that we've never that that historians refuse to use the term domestic terrorist terrorist organization until very recently. Hmm.
Which is just fast. But that that would be a whole nother conversation.
Yeah, but James Cone is also. Drawn to this book, which then frames black liberation theology.
Mm hmm. Alice Walker is then influenced by the work of Thurmon and this book, which helps frame a portion of what we call The Color Purple, where she.
Is taking hold of the Zora Neale Hurston tradition and there are echoes of the Thurmond esque tradition. Mmm. In both of those.
So you have this book that and that moment in India. Where he localizes and global and becomes global at the same time. Yeah, and in fact, he does that right in the first pages of Jesus and the disinherited is like page four or five. He talks about being in India in that conversation. Have you read Isabel Wilkerson, this new book cast? I just got it. I cannot wait to read it because you know what? It's this, right?
He made the correlation between the untouchables in India and the experience of being black in America and this matter of caste as it is as another way to think about race, perhaps, you know, and and being an American experience, too. But also I look at I just think about him standing with Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims in the 1930s as this deep, deep, deep love of Jesus Christian theologian.
And then he took that sensibility into the civil rights movement, which to me also feels like a piece of that story that doesn't get told that they were reading Jesus and they were reading Gandhi.
And they were. And they were. Yes. And Martin Luther King Jr. was nominating not Hohn for the Nobel Peace Prize. That's right. And I feel like I don't know if this is true. Like, to me, when I when I when I read, I've known that. But I want to read Tharman. I'm like, is he the one? Did he bring that element to the movement?
Yeah, I think Therman was the linchpin or the compass that helped recalibrate know people so that they could connect with Gandhi and then become build relationships with Heschel.
Making all of these these connections and then seeing Kwame Nkrumah and Pan Africanism as connected with it.
And it was just the building of these relationships becomes quite extraordinary that Thurmon is the nexus point for for so many.
That allow them to to to negotiate and move into different traditions, but yet stay rooted and grounded with the landmark that they grew up with but not chained to it.
You also sent along the. Him speaking about landmarks, yes. Talk to me about what what's important to you and that that meditation from him.
It's so beautiful to talk about.
He talks about how be careful about moving your neighbors landmarks, that the reference points that the traditions, the feasts and the famines, the the pains and the history, you don't know and you will never fully know.
They're landmarks and who they are. And Thurman is saying, one, do not dismiss humanity because of difference doesn't mean deficiency. Thurman is also demanding that we recognize the complexity and the challenge of building relationship.
Yeah, you don't know their landmarks, don't move their landmarks just because they are different, just because they come out of a different context, just because they listen to different music does just because they don't understand your your perspective. Do not demand that they use your landmarks.
Is that in itself is is an act of cruelty. He's demanding the sensitivity of the heart, and that's what I love about Germany, any encounter with the sacred and with other human beings demands deep humility.
Mm hmm. You cannot be a person of faith and of walking the spiritual path. And be arrogant, you have to say you have to say, you know what, I don't know. You just can't believe this test.
You can't make the claims I know at all. No, you have to make the claim of I have a spoonful of it. Right.
But there is an ocean out there. Right. And I love this spoon. You know, this good water I've got right here. But I don't know at all. Be careful of moving other people's landmarks. And in the process of building these relationships, we learn so much more about us. We learn so much more about God, we learn so much more about how we are to live, what it requires. Very quiet, easy steps and recognizing the importance of other people's landmarks.
I'm so glad you introduced that to me.
I want to talk about something that feels really hard. You were part of. This get home safely video games, how what was your it again, you know, thinking about backs against the wall and how that phrase resonates again in our time and it resonates in so many different directions. That was 2015. That was not 2020. That was 2015. Was that a project of the church or.
It was it was a collective project along with Christian Theological Seminary Dr. Frank Thomas, who's professor of preaching there at the Christian Theological in Indianapolis and along with a film group that was based in Indianapolis and Dr. Thomas preached for us, usually preaches every year in December, and he saw our curriculum get home safely. And he said, oh, my goodness. Tell me a little bit more about this. I said, well, it's a curriculum. Basically, we're teaching our children literally how to survive when they leave to leave home.
And we are teaching parents what what to do if your child and you're talking about black black children and black children and rules of survival if stopped by police.
That's right. You know, we want you to come home safely.
So one of the challenges is not only for for young people when they have have a have an encounter with with the police, but also adults, because if someone is picked up many times, adults don't even know what their rights are, especially with a minor. So we were doing sessions. We had judges, police officers and lawyers, some who are prosecutors, some who were defense attorneys, along with parents and with young people.
And we were doing classes to let them know this is what you need to know this these are your rights and you need to know what your rights are. This is what you need to do if you want to be able to get home safe.
This is not going to be a guarantee that you will get home safely because unfortunately, because you are black there, there are those who will weaponize your very skin just by the mere fact that you're you're black. And so, Dr. Thomas, when you saw it, took it to Indianapolis, there was a film group there they got excited about. And so we became producers with this film. We had the curriculum that kind of laid it out. They filmed it and it was a part of a teaching campaign.
And then we resurrected, unfortunately, the curriculum and just recently produced another film called Letter to My Son. That was an open letter that I wrote to and to my own son, Elijah. You know, in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, of what it means to be a young man in this world, that how much I love you, I pray for you.
You are gifted.
But there are some there's some hard truths that you have to know about being a black child in America.
Yeah, it's I mean, I just for people who haven't seen it and it really these things have gone around the world that, you know, the the tendrils of survival that get home safely is. Do not run, even if you are afraid, you know, stay calm and remain in control. Watch your words, watch your body language, watch your emotions. Remember your goal is to get home safe. There's a moment in the video. It's very short, but it's full of it's like very pragmatic.
It's there's that moment where the mother is just saying to her son, who we see, your goal is to get home safely and her voice cracks. And I think as a mother, you can't you know, I guess in the context of this conversation we're having, you know, Howard Thurman wrote also wrote incredibly about children. And there's a part where he says, the doom of the children is the greatest tragedy of the disinherited.
They are robbed of much of the careless rapture and spontaneous joy of merely being alive. I, I hear we are having this conversation in 2020.
And I it grieves me so deeply that if Howard Thurman came back, you know, now, he would see that this is still this is a reality. I don't imagine my words are very inadequate, but I think you know what I mean.
It's America's evil gift to the world. It is I said to to my son Elijah in the letter and in the film that we created, I said, you do not have the right to be a frolicking teenager, as other children do. Because they will see your your boyish movements and your laughter and your joking with your friends as a possible threat. You're going to have to be aware. When you are in certain spaces around certain individuals, especially if they have a gun, you have to be aware.
Because I want you home, I want you safe. I want to see you thrive, but the specter. Of death. Because of the weaponization of your body. And the militarization of our society. Yeah, yeah, it. It haunts us, you know, it continues to haunt us, and that's the one ghost that I'd like to permanently exercise from American society. Do you have this conversation with your father about how far we've come and how far we've not come?
Yeah, we do.
Like it's like it's it's a wonderful conversation begins because my father, who has one of the greatest voices ever, you know, it's just I guess it's here voice and he you can hear Howard Thurman's influence in the way that he preaches because he has these pauses.
You know, this is like, you know, that I, I speak much faster and then my dad is the the running joke is that, you know, he's you know, he's he's going to slowly, slowly take you out.
Got it. OK.
Yeah, but what what he's been able to do and communicate it to to myself and to his granddaughter Magalia and to Alija and to all his grandchildren, is this idea of let me share with you before you dare, you know, open your mouth to say that I am hopeless or pessimistic or cynical or we haven't gone anywhere. He will say there was a woman. Her name was Harriet Tubman. Imagine what she did not have. But imagine what she dreamed.
Could you imagine her falling into despair in this moment, as we are in the wake of all of these challenges and a pandemic of covid-19 and covid 16, 19?
Yeah, she can't because she took what she had. And she passed it on to the next generation, and that's your job, and we don't have all that we need but our ancestors.
Gave us so much. And he told me a Thurmon story I will never forget. He said Howard Thurman was a small boy. You see, he spent a seminar. He was in a seminar with Thurmond, along with Henry Mitchell and Luther Smith.
And when his his first his first wife died, you know, Thurmond was his pastoral counsel, you know, as he was, you know, preparing to do a funeral. You know, he was very, very young in his in his 20s, I believe.
He said when Thurmond was a small boy, he saw an elder. A man who must have been in his 80s, who was planting pecan or pecan trees, depending upon what part of the country you're from.
And young Thurmond raised the question.
He said, sir, you're not going to be around.
You will not live long enough to taste the fruit from these trees. And the old man paused. And said, son. All my life, I've been eating from trees I did not plant. It's my job to plant for somebody else.
And my father said, just plant. There will be trees. And that you will never see grow. That someone else. We'll eat from. And it's their responsibility to plan for somebody else, hmm? And so we don't have all that we should have, we've not reached the goals that we're supposed to reach. But we have started the race. And you've got the baton. Mm hmm. Pass it on. Mm. As you said earlier, Jesus and the Disinherited ends with the chapter on love, having done hate and fear and deception.
Yes, and you're right, it ends on love and I thought maybe that would be a good place for Usdin because that's also well. So let me read a little bit of just the first page of this chapter. He says he's talking about Jesus with sheer artistry and great power. He depicted what happens when a man responds directly to human need across the barriers of class, race and condition. Every man has potentially every other man's neighbor. Neighborliness is non-special.
It is qualitative. A man must love his neighbor directly, clearly permitting no barriers between him. And he goes on to say that this was not an easy position for Jesus to take with his within his own community.
You speak of the beloved community. Feels like such a resonant. Language now, and I just I want to know, how do you think about the possibility of love and the work of love in our time in your generation? Mm hmm.
This. Moment of racial reckoning. I believe I've been given the. The best glimpse of the beloved community. We have been a part of a variety of protests over the over this these pandemic months, it's ramping up now.
And I remember going to one particular demonstration early on in the pandemic immediately after the George Floyd incident and murder. And our church gathered, we put out the call and we were in the middle of Bronzeville, which is the migration neighborhood in Chicago that Isabella Wilkerson talks about in the war zones.
Yeah, and here we are.
This is the heart of of this black migration.
The heart of. Part of the south side of Chicago. And so our church gathered, we were on the other side of the street with some other people in the churches and our BLM organizers and black youth, one hundred and a side, his daughters and all of these local activists, primarily South Side and black.
And we looked on the other side of the street. And we saw all these young people with skateboards who were not from the south side and their bikes, and we saw some parents with their children and. Young boy holding a sign. That said, white silence is complicit complicity and and another one saying holding a sign that says black lives matter.
And it was the strangest thing because everybody who was black on the other side of the street, we all looked at each other and we said, what is going on?
I said, we. And then so we started you know, we started the protest and the demonstration. We all got together.
And here we were, the most multi racial gathering.
And also in terms of class and also in terms of orientation, there were people who were gay and lesbian and people who were straight. There were Muslims standing next to Jews and Jews standing next to Pentecostals and Pentecostals standing next to Buddhists. And I mean, we're just we're all going everybody is shouting the same thing. Black Lives Matter and that moment, that clarion call that just that moment and I use this term often reminded me of the ethic that black.
Religiosity, black spirituality has been trying to bring to America for quite some time and usually embodied in the music. Mm hmm.
Especially the music of jazz, because jazz is about the beloved community and democracy, taking elements that are not supposed to play together, music that comes out of of of African city, but then connects with the indigenous community and those who are French and German in a place called New Orleans that literally is a gumbo pot of culture.
And the instruments in jazz are not supposed to play together saxophones or for marching bands. Trap drum sets are not to play with pianos and bass bases are supposed to use bows, not your finger.
And yet they all play together and everyone in the jazz band is given the right to solo, meaning that I can bring my own cultural narrative to the table and not be cast aside.
In other words, my landmark is never moved. I can bring who I am to the table.
And in that march. I could hear America's jam session going on and I got a glimpse of the beloved community and maybe, maybe, just maybe. If we listen to Thurmon. And maybe also listen to Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. Maybe America can be saved. Well, Otis, Pastor Moss, this was just it was just such a delight and such a I learned so much such a such an honor to be with you. And this was just such an incredible conversation.
Glad you're in the world. I, I hope that I'll meet you in a when the world shifts again, too, and we can a dream of mine to be able to be in session with you.
I have been listening to you for four years and I am a great admirer of your work.
And you touched so many lives, Krista, and you are illuminating so many subjects that that need a light of beauty upon them.
And just thank you for doing what you do. I'm just I'm very moved. Yeah, well, it's it's really a joy. And I feel like we're we're we're kindred, you know, we're working and kindred. Kindred, we're doing kindred work. And I'm just glad to now make a direct connection and thank you.
And did I already say this? Would you please give it back to your father for me?
I will definitely do that. He's going to be so excited. Yeah. No, absolutely. Yeah. And blessings to you for the rest of this day. And I'm going to keep listening to your sermons, too, because they're online.
Thank you. OK. All right.
Until we meet again. Until we meet again. In closing my eyes to meet you. Yes. And also you have done Howard Thurman. I just think such justice. And I'm just so excited to to get this out in the world so. Well, we'll keep you posted on. Exactly. You know, I think that's going to happen soon.
We don't move as quickly right now as we used to, but we move as fast as we can. So, yeah. Blessings, blessings to you. Thank you so much.