Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

And Still We Rise

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 “And Still We  Rise ” Delivered on the Lord’s Day for Black History Month  January 28, 2007 Acts 26:12a-18; Nehemiah 2:11-20
Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III

 So they said, Let  us rise up and  build. Then they set  their hands to this good work.” Nehemiah 2:18b “So I said, “Who are  you Lord?” And  he  said, “Iam  Jesus, whom you are  persecuting. But rise and stand on  your  feet…26:15-16a

 As we prepare  to move  into  another  month long celebration of African  American  history month, we should  pause to give for our many achievements and give thanks  to our creator  God for bringing us a mighty, mighty long way. We have  come, in the majestic words of James Weldon Johnson in our Negro National Anthem, over  the  way  that with tears that has been watered. We have  come  treading our path through the blood  of the  slaughtered.”

Yes, we  have  come  beloved with broken heads  and broken hearts, sometimes crawling, sometimes limping, but always seeking in the  words of Jesus in his command to Paul, to rise  and stand,and do a good  work.  So many things we  have  endured as a people; so many problems, so many set backs, so many detours and  so many derailments but  still through it all we have managed to  rise.

 It is true, and we know  our history, we have come through many dangers, toils  and snares.  We have come over highways, byways and rough  ways, rails  ways, trail  ways and no ways. We have come believing that  God could make  a way out of no way and we have come trusting and believing that  God’s mighty hand would guide  us and deliver  us like the Hebrew  Children  from  the perils of slavery  and the indignities of enduring hardships.

 As we pause this day to recount our blessings  and to celebrate our past, let us remember that  it has only been by the strength and mercy  of God that  we have come this far. The words of that great  hymn  of the church  ring  ever so true, We have come  this far  by faith, leaning on the  Lord, trusting in his only  word and  he’s  never failed us yet.  Oh, Oh, I can’t turn around. We’ve come  this  far  by faith. “We  have come a long, long way, but  we still  have a long way to go to reach that  promised land of our greatest hopes and dreams; the new heaven  and earth  where freedom, justice and equality for all people is living  and enduring reality.

Some people  have said that  we have only come by sheer determination of will;  that  we have come only by the force of nerve and the nerve  of force.  Yes, we have come of our own will, but  we have come to this place not only of our own accord for we could  not have come without almighty God guiding  our steps, without other helping hands  of white folks, black folks, indian folks and other folks picking  us up when we were down and out and without a greater higher  spirit directing upward  our paths.

We could not have come  without the grace of God drying  our eyes and healing  our wounds and giving  us hope. We could not have come without looking  out for one another and taking  care of one another and respecting one another and trying to do right  by one another. We had a common mission to rise out of slavery; to rise out of those systems of denigration and devaluation that subtracted our worth when we kept adding value to society. We have had a mission to rise; to rise above inhumanity, indignity, disparity and other forms of oppression that would limit our value and demean our self worth.

 We have come a long, long way and still  have a ways to go. And as we travel this  journey, we must never forget that it was  God who  brought us this  far  along the  way. All we had was God. We had nothing else but  angels wings and  a prayer. That’s all  we had. We had a choice of looking down or looking up; of throwing away our hope and living with a suspended hope that one day God would set us free.

We must understand that  is our belief  in God, and the creative practice  of an adaptive spirituality that  has enabled  us to adjust to a variety of conditions and circumstances and to develop  the resources  to overcome those conditions with  our dignity and sanity in tact. It is a spirituality rooted  in a firm  unwavering belief in God; a spirituality that  has taken  the virtues  of the larger culture and melded  it with  our own culture; a spirituality that  has compelled us to create  our own unique culture and empowered us to take  what  little we had and make  much of it. It is a spirituality of innovation and adaptation that  allowed  us to take the leftovers from  the master’s table  and make a tasty  meal of them.  It is a spirituality that  has enabled  us to endure  some of the worse forms  of individual and collective suffering and still come away with  a sense of what Garth Baker Fletcher has called hopefulness and “somebodiness.”

Some have talked  about  a tradition of dressing  up in their  Sunday best and going  to church.  Well a long time  ago, when black people worked as domestics and were only allowed  on the lower rungs  of society,  when they  went to church  they  dressed up in their  Sunday Best. Whatever they  were from  Monday  to Saturday and however shabbily  they  dressed,  when it came to Sunday, they were somebodies;  children  of God, dressed  to nines shining  the light  of Jesus.

 This peculiar  spirituality has enabled  us to create  blues and jazz and other  art  forms.  Jazz along  with  Western  Cowboy movies  are the only  art  forms  originating in America. This unique  spirituality is not esoteric  and contemplative spirituality but one that  has had social function which has allowed  us as a people  to adapt, overcome and survive  in a culture that  did not take  readily  take to us. This spirituality and belief  in God has been our greatest asset; our strongest force for it has given  us soul force and soul power  to face and overcome our worst  nightmares. Our spirituality has given  us creative soul force;  which is the power to a reality and culture of survival; and resistant soul force  which has enabled  us to resist  the complete devastation, annihilation and domestication by adversarial forces in society.

 However  many  people believe  that  they  have come on their  own, let me say, we would  not have come  without God looking  out for us and watching over us. We could  not have come this far without belief  in a higher  power, a higher  authority who would  right wrong, correct injustice, give hope to the hopeless, power  to the powerless and bring  about  a newer  and brighter day for all people.  We could  not have come this far without prayer, without pooling  our resources, without a faith  community of caring  and sharing. We could not have come this far without the fellowship of the saints  who were bound  together in a single  garment of purpose.

 We have only come this far by the grace of God, the love of God, the power  of God, the mercy  of God, the ingenuity of God, the sanctity of God, the creativity of God and even at times  the mischief of God. Only god could work  us in when others  were working us out.  Only God could raise us up when others  were pushing us down.  Only God could make  the cornerstone rejected the chief cornerstone. Only God could  take  the darkness  of the night of slavery  and discrimination and turn  it into  the noonday  of freedom and justice. Only God, very  God, through his infinite grace and omnipotent power  could have done this because  we could  not have done this  on our own. We cannot  forget  God. We must  not forget  all that  God has done for us, all that  God has done through us and all that  God has done through others  to help us.

Who but God could do this? Who but God could  steady our steps and direct  our paths  and give us the physical  and moral  courage to keep fighting the good fight?  Who but God could heal our wounded  hearts, mend  our shattered brokenness, soothe our pain, comfort us, love us, keep us, save us and give us hope and a desire  to never  give  up?

 Who but God could bring  us through some of the most  difficult experiences human  beings  have ever faced and give us the desire to keep on keeping  on? Who but God loves us and lifts  us, guides us and chides us? He who knows  every  hair on our heads; he who knows  us by name and calls us by name; he who has loved us and kept  us when nobody  loved  us or cared to keep us, and still we rise. We must  never  forget  that  it has been God, very God . who has brought us this  far along  the way.

 Our greatest asset is God. Our greatest hope is God. Our greatest resource is God. Our greatest power  is God. Our greatest opportunities still come  from  God. Without God we could not have come.  Without God we cannot  create.  Without God we cannot cultivate the resources  and develop  ourselves accordingly and still we rise.

 It has  been God all along whether we acknowledge that is has  been God  or not. It has been God. We could not rise without God.

 Ask  people who know. Ask  Phyliss Wheatley, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth; ask Reverend Richard Allen, Frederick Douglass, and Reverend Henry Highland Garnet; ask Booker T and W.E.B.and Ida B; ask Mary McCloud Bethune; Marian Anderson, and Mary Church Terrell; ask Victoria .Jackson Gray, Annie Devine and Fannie Lou Hamer; ask AL Sharpton and Jessie Jackson; ask Langston Hughes,Maya Angelou and James Baldwin; ask Paul Robeson,Thurgood Marshall,A. Philip Randolph and M.L.King .Jr; ask Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Milton Henry and Marcus Garvey; ask Rufus Youngblood, Fred Shuttlesworth, Abraham Lincoln Woods and  C.L.Franklin; ask Jackie Robinson and Jackie Vaughn; Larry Doby, Mamie Peanut Johnson, Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell; ask  Curt Flood and Henry Aaron; ask .Joe Louis and Joe Frazier, Elijah Muhammad and Muhammad Ali; ask Charlie Parker and Maceo Parker; Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus, ask the Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen and the761st Tank Battalion because still we rise.Ask  Isaiah and Jeremiah,Obadiah and Nehemiah; ask Paul and Silas,and ask .Jesus himself.

 As we travel this journey, we must never forget that it is God  who will take us farther into the future.

 We cannot  do it without God. We cannot  make it without God. We cannot  progress without God.   Look at the  ways in which  we have a paid a price  by leaving  God out of our equations of life. Where does it take  us? What does it get us?    Look around  you and see that  the greatest devastations to our community have to do with hopelessness and despair  hopelessness  can never  prevail  as long as a people  have a firm  faith and belief  in God. Look at the generations of young  people  and older  people  who do not have God as a spiritual, physical, material or psychological resource. Some people live their  entire  lives  without ever referencing God, knowing God, living  God, hoping  in God. They are lost, for in this world  they cannot  make  it without belief  in a higher  power, without trust  that  God will make  a way out of no way; without hope that  God will still  make  things  right  in the sweet  bye and bye.

God is the greatest resource  that  we have ever had and ever will have.  He is the ultimate provider. He who has made the heavens and the earth; the water,  trees, and sky; he who makes  possible the impossible and the possible  impossible is he whom  we cannot live without.

The greatest mistake that  we can make  as a people is to live as though God does not exist; to act as though  God were not alive; to pretend that  God is not watching and holding  accountable our every  step and every  thought. The greatest mistake that  we can make  is to turn  our children loose in a world  without God; a world that  will eat them  alive, and throw  them  away;  world  that  can take  away their  self confidence  and leave them  devoid  of the spiritual power  and material power  that  can compel  them  beyond their  circumstances and conditions.

And when Italk about  God, Iam riot talking about  a religion that stifles  people  rather than grows  them; that  impedes  their development rather than empowers them; that  enslaves  them rather than  frees them; that  hampers their  spiritual transformation rather than  enhancing and nurturing it. Iam not talking about  a religion that  seeks to bind and control  and snuff out  the Christ  light  of human beings.

I am talking about  a living, loving, life transforming religion and spirituality; that  teaches  people  that  they  are somebody, they can be somebody and they  have the power  through God to be  shaped  into  people  of promise  and power  and make  a difference in this  world.

 I’m not talking about  a religion that  pretends to connect  people with  God, when in reality it only cuts people  off from God. I’m not talking about  a religion that  teaches people  to discriminate against other  human beings  because they  are different. I ‘m  no talking about  the organized practice  of religion that  suffocates  the life out of people through some mind  conforming ritual  and protocol that  causes them  to dumb  down  and dumb  out. I’m not talking about  a religion that  glorifies the messenger over the message; that  places man above God; that  seeks the cheap thrills of cheap grace and cheapens  the life of the earnest  believer. Iam not talking about  a religion that  is long on law and short  on grace; big on condemnation and small on forgiveness; good at separation but  bad at elevation of the spirit of man. I am not talking about  a religion that  simply makes  people  feel good but does not challenge them  to do good.   I’m not talking about  a feel right  without doing  right  religion. Iam not talking about  a  religion that  does not welcome  challenges or questions from people seeking knowledger  and advocates  a “Do as Isay do and not as I do,” philosophy and theology.

Iam talking about  a living  religion and spirituality; a higher  faith and belief  system  that  will encourage and enable  people to find hope; that will challenge them  to believe  in themselves no matter what  society  or individuals try  to do to take  that  belief  away; a spirituality that  will make  them  more  compassionate and caring, more  daring  and innovative; more  prosperous and generous; a spirituality that will lift their  spirits, heal their  hearts, unify  their familes, strengthen their  communities guide their  steps and direct their  paths  to the places of God. It is a religion and spirituality that teaches  them  that  they  can rise above the doldrums of poverty; rise above  the dregs of defeat; rise above the catacombs of indifference; rise above addiction and affliction and become  somebody with  direction and purpose  that  will lead the world  back to its true  spiritual self.

I am talking about  a spirituality that  creates  unity  in the human community; transforms the internal conditions of men and the external conditions of society.  The internal conditions of man are reflected in the external conditions of society. I am talking about a spirituality that  will truly  empower and transform every  true believer and make  him or her happy, healthy, positive, productive citizen  in society  and the world.

It is this  kind  of spirituality that  has brought us thus  far and will take  us farther into  the future. It is a spirituality that  believes  in challenging and changing each individual for the better and making society  as a whole better. It is a progressive spirituality that  values  hope and healing, joy and justice and says after  being down  and out  We still can rise!

It is a spirituality that  says no matter how bad it gets, how dark it seems, how long the journey, how big and great  and formidable and intractable the opposition, how lacking  the material or physical  resources, how high  the mountain, how hot the desert, how steep the valley, how deep the rivers, how short  the time, how impossible the odds, how old we are, how forlorn we are, how isolated  we are, how beat down  we are, it is a religion that will say in the words of Nehemiah,

Let  us rise up and build  however  great  the opposition. Let us rise up and grow.  Let us rise up and learn!  Let us rise up and pray.

Let us rise up and consolidate our resources. Let us rise up in confidence and hope, in faith  and determination. Let rise up because God still make  will make a way because still  we rise! Like cream  in coffee we rise. Like the sun we rise! Like wings of the morning we rise. Like smoke  into  air we rise. Like wind  we rise. Like eagles we rise.  We rise like Jesus from  the grave  we rise, and still  we rise.

Keep rising! Keep moving up! Keep growing up! Keep standing up! Keep speaking up! Keep looking up, for still we rise and as we rise so too will America!



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