Angles and Essence | October 3, 2021 by Dr. Dorsey Blake
In my last message, I stated that Jane Addams was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. That was incorrect. She was the first American woman to receive it. I knew that but somehow, failed to include it in the written narrative.
A few years ago, Dr. Benton preached about angels in our lives helping us to grow. I had just finished reading again Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be. In it he stated that he wondered why in the Book of Revelation the seven letters in chapters two and three are addressed not to the congregations, but to the congregation’s angel. The angel seemed to be the corporate personality of the church, its ethos or spirit or essence. He further notes that the angel of a church was apparently the spirituality of a particular church. You could sense the angel when you worshiped at a particular church. Wink goes on to say that the angel was experienced not only in worship but also in its committees and activities, the way it functioned and interacted within and without its congregation. I found this understanding to be enlightening. Yes, the personality of Glide Church is different from that of City of Refugee, from Fellowship Church, from Allen Temple Baptist Church. I’m not judging whether one is better than the other, just different. And it is this unique personality that attracts people to the particular churches.
Corporations, institutions, social structures and even nations have this spirituality, according to Wink. “Corporations and governments are “creatures” whose sole purpose is to serve the general welfare. And, when . . . they refuse to do so, their spirituality becomes diseased. They become demonic. And, if the demonic arises when an angel deviates from its calling, then social change does not depend on casting out the demon but, recalling its angel to its divine tasks. Now, I like some of the ideas that Wink espouses; but I had some serious issues with this. Is Amazon’s purpose to serve the general welfare? And is it true of Facebook and other social platforms that extract from working class, poor people, and communities of color without reciprocating to those people and communities? It sounds too much like Paul in the book of Romans when he states: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” I don’t think so, Paul. This government instituted by God? What an affront to God this is! Remember Jesus said: Render unto the government what belongs to the government and unto God what belongs to God. Clearly, his quest was not to return the Roman government to its angel of serving the general welfare. I appreciate so much of what Walter Wink writes; nevertheless, I don’t think that corporations and governments are “creatures” whose sole purpose is to service the general welfare. Theoretically, this should be their purpose. However, it is not their genesis. More accurately it is to make general welfare subservient to the will of corporations and government to protect landed white males, not the general population, not the indigenous people, the enslaved people, the women, not the marginalized people of color, the differently abled, those whose gender identity varies from what is considered the norm. So many responses were travelling up and down the streets of my mind that I had to pause, quarantine them for a later time when some of the fog might be lifted.
Then came the sunshine, the illumination, the way forward. Dr. Benton shared in a profound way the concept to the angel, my angel, your angel, using varying methodologies to help us grow. What a different concept and way to approach our living. Her sermon aided in helping me to embrace the vastness of the concept of angels, of personality, – my personality, your personality – as well as the personality of Fellowship Church and other organisms like the civil rights movement alive, changing, and growing. Dr. King did say the goal of the movement was reconciliation. For the oppressor to reconcile within themselves, others, and their place within the social order. The oppressed need to reconcile with their angel where fear is no longer an option, nor is acceptance of oppression. These are enormous undertakings, worthy of our imagination, resources, skill, preparation, and dedication.
Samuel Miller states: This is what it means to be serious. It is to know that waking or sleeping, meditating, or acting, sorrowing, or rejoicing, we stand at the center of a great drama of existence….
We are at the center. I don’t think Miller means that we are the primary or superior concern of the creator of existence. I think he means that we are not on the periphery of existence without a part to play in fashioning the world. We must grasp our awesome role in the heart of existence, the soul of the cosmos, the mind of the universe. And, such placement demands something from us. We are star dust. We are more than we accept ourselves to be. Life is a great drama of which we are a part, greater than any drama produced by inspired mind and willing hand of voice translated through pen.
“To be dull, to be the kind of person on whom this is wasted, to have no inner reverberation for the thunder and song of creation is tragic.” . . . To miss one’s place in it or sell out the responsive center to the hucksters and barkers of the current circus is to step down from a high destiny to be the dupe of any passing fad.” It is to reject the dance of life, the music of creation, the theatre of communal being. I remember some years ago Dr. Matthew Fox stood before his class to answer questions about the paper that the students were to complete. Finally, after answering some of the inquiries, Fox said: “Just don’t bore me!” What an answer! You have a range of creativity, open your imaginations. Write something that enlivens me. Let your angel dance and play with various scenarios. It is difficult to teach when you have boring students. It is difficult to learn, to pay attention, to hear something fresh when you have a dull teacher. Indeed, the grandeur of life is wasted on such persons. Nicodemus was dull, in a sense, but at least he knew it. Yes, he had an important position; but was aware that vitality was missing. So, he came to Jesus to find out how he could live with a spirit consistent with that which would deliver him from dullness and lead him to a life that was full of interplay with the eternal. Jesus answered him (in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., interpretation) “You must change your whole structure of being.” Dr. Thurman spoke to this when he said: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. And go do it. For what the world needs is people who have come alive.” That aliveness is our angel and can surely change the world….
THE SINGING OF ANGELS
There must be always remaining in every man's life some
place for the singing of angels – some place for that
which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an
inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into
a new and creative relatedness – something that gathers
up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and
commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright
light of penetrating beauty and meaning – then passes.
The commonplace is shot through with new glory – old
burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much
of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our
heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to
grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of
life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the
harsh discords of life, life is saved
by the singing of angels.
- Howard Thurman
The film, Hidden Figures, depicts the uncovering of Hidden figures – hidden people, hidden mathematics. It chronicles the struggle of three Black women whose mathematical brilliance left an indelible impact of the nation’s space program. I was struck by the stories of these women who angels had to struggle mightily against the principalities and powers that sought to strip them of song and their wings. (O the fabulous wings unused, folded in the heart, Christopher Fry). Their brilliant minds were housed in Black women bodies and therefore were hidden for so long, through many trials and tribulations, insults, overt and covert racism. Upon leaving the theatre, I reflected upon the idea that so many have been hidden. How many other angels have challenged the powers that be, challenging them to accept alternative realities and relationships? I am grateful for the dreams within them and the angels supporting their personal journeys.
Perhaps, Wink wants us to envision corporations, and government as existing for the general welfare of the people and therefore candidates for redemption. Angels, we’ve got work to do! Hard, tedious work requiring creativity, courage, commitment, persistence, effective strategizing, and clarity of vision.
What are we to do? I think that it is important to look at Fellowship Church’s angel, its personality, ethos, essence, spirit. What is it for you? I sense and honestly hope that it is still consistent with Dr. Thurman’s description of its birth: The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men [and women, or people] often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.
Under it all there is a dream, perhaps a bit hard to remember, but a dream that will not die completely, however, much it is neglected or compromised. It rests under much trampled soil. It remains through the roughest weather. It is silent amid the tumult of public catastrophe. We may turn our back on it, give ourselves to seemingly more exciting things, and even laugh at it at times as if we had outgrown it. But it will not die. God gave it to us. And some day God will want to see it, and what we have done with it.