THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A CHRISTIAN NATION?

Many is the number of times I’ve cast a befuddled eye at people, especially white preachers, who continually and adamantly refer to the United States (another fallacy) as “a Christian nation”.

As the son of a preacher, I grew up in a devoutly Christian home – not a perfect home, but most assuredly a Christian one: we went to church on Sundays, we went to bible study, we went to choir rehearsals, we went to vacation bible school, and we served in various ministries in the church. More importantly, we behaved like people who believed in God through our speech and in our habits as much as we possibly could. My father never hesitated to talk about the bible with anyone; we believed the words of Jesus and attempted to live by them. There was zero tolerance for freedom of religion as a resident of Rev. Reed’s house: you obeyed God, or you could begin looking for lodging elsewhere – posthaste. [“But, if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship; the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ~Joshua 24:15]

I know what a Christian home looks like and how it is supposed to function; so, what does a Christian nation look like and how do individuals declare the United States of America to be one? When was this ever the case? Is a Christian nation exemplified by the pillaging and massacring of indigenous peoples? Is it exemplified by the legalization and institutionalization of slavery, where people were stripped of their native tongue and culture, families were torn apart and sold off like property, body parts were chopped off as punishment for perceived offenses? Is it exemplified by legalized segregation – to keep colored people apart from and inferior to white people? Is it exemplified by the neglect of the poor and needy? Is it exemplified by the massacres of foreign nations, setting up its own puppets to protect their interests? Is it exemplified by corruption and tyranny? It seems to me that declaring, “the United States is a Christian nation” is nothing more than rank, shameful blasphemy.

It also seems only logical that this is either a Christian nation or a nation of religious freedoms – it can’t be both. When was this ever a Christian nation? The founders of a Christian nation would not have adopted its own code of laws based on independent views and human morality, but instead would have used The Bible (moreover, the New Testament) as its sole source of law and order. The founders of a Christian nation would not offer its citizens the freedom to serve other deities or none at all. God didn’t give the children of Israel options; He commanded them to obey Him or suffer the consequences – which they always reaped because of their recalcitrance.

Either the fumbling fathers of this grate nation were sending mixed messages, or most white evangelicals are faulty in their theology. How does a person rationally express “the United States is a Christian nation”, while the Constitution of the United States expressly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” in the first amendment?

John Adams, one of the so-called “Founding Fathers”, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and as 2nd U.S. president himself ratified, in Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” (There are conflicting notions as to the origin of this statement and whether it appeared in the treaty, even though “it appeared intact in newspapers of the day as well as in volumes of treaties and proceedings of Congress…”. (from Fact Checking Barton Part V: Treaty of Tripoli by Brian Tashman, 2011)

Here is a short list of some of the former leaders of your Christian nation and things they’ve done and have had to say – primarily regarding egregious ideas about race:

THOMAS JEFFERSON – American Founding Father, signer and chief author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd U.S. President
I’ll just suggest the crux of Query XIV from his Notes on Virginia (1785), much of which was the foundation for the curriculum for American racism. Jefferson even constructed his own bible, excluding Jesus’ miracles or any mention of His divinity.
A leader of your Christian nation.

ANDREW JACKSON – 7th U.S. President
Second only to George Washington in number of slaves owned. Signed the Indian Removal Act (1830), forcefully removing indigenous peoples (tens of thousands) from their ancestral homelands, followed by the infamous Trail of Tears (1838).
A leader of your Christian nation.

ANDREW JOHNSON – 17th U.S. President
From an 1857 speech: “Giving black people the right to vote would place every splay-footed, bandy-shanked, hump-backed, thick-lipped, flat-nosed, woolly-headed, ebon-colored negro in the country upon an equality with the poor white man.” (Aww…the poor, poor white man; I got news for ya, Slim: the government don’t care about you either.)
A leader of your Christian nation.

WOODROW WILSON – 28th U.S. President, The Father of Segregation. Defended the Ku Klux Klan – let them roam freely to terrorize and lynch ad libitum. Today, we are afraid of foreign terrorists while national terrorists are still protected under law.
A leader of your Christian nation.

HARRY TRUMAN – 33rd U.S. President, dropper of the Atomic Bomb
Letter to fiancée Bess Wallace (1911): “I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.” Decimated two Japanese cities, murdering over 100,000 people.
A leader of your Christian nation.

LYNDON JOHNSON – 36th U.S. President, master of racial division
Statement made to then White House press secretary Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Maybe that should be printed on the money instead of “In God We Trust”.
A leader of your Christian nation.

RICHARD NIXON – 37th U.S. President, liar, liar pants on fire
Escalated the Vietnam War, sacrificing your sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers. O, yeah – lied to the entire nation.
A leader of your Christian nation.

Tell me – exactly what would prompt any citizen in the U.S. to become a Christian in the face of this kind of behavior? When you preach, “the United States is a Christian nation”, you excrete delusion.

My purpose here is not to debunk Christianity or diminish faith. Quite the contrary, my impetus is to force the hand of the real Christian and compel him to make a righteous and holy stand for God and for the loving treatment of all people, with the same grace, mercy, and love He bestowed upon people who claim they believe in Him. I’m decrying the hypocrisy and evil that is too often associated with the Christian church, and demanding that we do as God pleads in II Chronicles 7:14: “If My people, which are called by My name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then, will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.” You want God to bless America? There are conditions.

Do I want this to be a Christian nation? Of course! In a perfect world, I would live in a country where God is worshiped and obeyed everywhere, that’s why I speak of Him so much. However, I’m not going to force my God on you – I merely live out His will through my life in the most genuine way I know how. God didn’t force His will on me – He allowed me to come to Him willingly.

You want this to be a Christian nation? Start with your heart and your house.

#ALightInDarkness

ANDRAÉ CROUCH [July 1, 1942 – January 8, 2015]

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As a kid growing up in Philly in the late 70s, my childhood buddy, actor Tim Cain introduced me to the music of Andraé Crouch. In that vein, I’d been soundly hypnotized by the works of Walter and Edwin Hawkins and that was the only contemporary sound with which I identified. Upon further research, I learned that Andraé spent time up in the Bay Area with the likes of the Hawkins family as well as The Family Stone in their early years. (To this fact, I should lament, the history and greatness of West Coast artists is criminally neglected.)

The children of the 40s (hippies, flower children and Jesus movement followers during the 60s,) had a great advantage of being socially conscious and artistically productive at a time of major change in the world. It was a generation that had witnessed the loss of America’s innocence. The paradigm was shifting, the tide was turning and the guard was changing. Tired, worn and weary of the oppressiveness and hypocrisy poisoning traditional institutions, young people of faith were seeking non-traditional ways of evangelizing. This attitude first permeated the secular world and resulted in a jolt to the music world.

As a result (and manifesting itself a short time before the freakish success of O, Happy Day,) Andraé Crouch’s music possessed that rare and effective diversity present in artists like Ahmad Jamal, Stevie Wonder or Earth, Wind & Fire. As a lyricist, he synthesized the hymnody style of Fanny J. Crosby, the testimonial style of former blues pianist Thomas Dorsey, the folk style of Dorothy Love Coates and the colloquial style of James Cleveland into an undiluted, passionate, empathetic and graphic message of faith, love and Jesus Christ. On this, he was wholly unwavering.

Crouch was a unique and unorthodox stylist both as pianist and vocalist. He did exactly what he needed to do to convey messages in a personal, engaging and direct manner. His sound was identifiable and incomparable.

Did I mention he was completely self-taught?

If you’re uncertain what genius is, I encourage you to go back and read my tribute again.

Good night, Brother Crouch – you loom inimitably

Open Letter to Scott Yanow, Jazz Critic, July 2013

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(This letter is over a year old, but I’d like to give Scott an opportunity to respond openly.)

“But in reality, everything that Philly Joe Jones did after Miles Davis was anticlimactic.”

~Scott Yanow, All Music http://www.allmusic.com/artist/philly-joe-jones-mn0000845443

In realityEverything?

Scott, we’ve known each other a long time, so I’m not going to make this antagonistic, if I can help it.

No one can reasonably refute the fact that during the five years that Miles Davis and Philly Joe Jones spent in and out of the recording studio from January 30, 1953 to July 22, 1958 and Philly’s 3-year tenure in Miles’ band (1955-58), that Philly Joe Jones developed into one of the greatest drummers the world has ever known – and certainly in the top 10 of the greatest Jazz drummers of all time.

To claim “in reality, everything that Philly Joe Jones did after Miles Davis was anticlimactic” is unequivocally unrealistic. First of all, his playing didn’t all of a sudden get worse. Also, he didn’t go from playing with Miles Davis to slumming in cocktail bars, strip joints and playing with subpar local yokels. Philly Joe went on to work with Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell – and those are just the trumpet players – on gigs and in the studio. Keep in mind, these were mostly “blowing dates”, so you got an entirely different set of artistic results from those types of situations than you would from a band that had been working night after night for some years.

Granted, Philly Joe Jones made up 1/5 of one of two of the greatest bands Miles Davis ever had and unimpeachably one of the greatest bands ever to grace a stage. It’s almost impossible for there to have been a better band than the band with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and John Coltrane; as great as, yes, but not better. It is no secret that Miles knew how to work a group, which would make it pointless to even try and compare the works of these sidemen post-Miles; his concept was so clear, specific, directed and prolific. But, again – their offerings were far from not being high points.

Here’s a short list of some amazing work by Philly Joe after his departure from Miles’ band:

Bill Evans “Everybody Digs Bill Evans” – December 15, 1958
Jackie McLean “Jackie’s Bag” – January 18, 1959
Chet Baker “Chet” January 19, 1959 (and the trio sessions from that same day featuring Bill Evans)   “Gretsch Drum Night at Birdland” April 25, 1960                                                                         Wynton Kelly “Kelly at Midnight” April 27, 1960 (really, Scott?!?)                                                Freddie Hubbard “Goin’ Up” November 6, 1960                                                                            Kenny Dorham “Whistle Stop” January 15, 1961                                                                              Tina Brooks “The Waiting Game” March 2, 1961

Even if you wanted to wax technical on the “after Miles Davis” time frame and include the happen-stance (and last) studio encounter with the two giants on March 21, 1961, you’d still have to include things like:

Hank Mobley “Workout” March 26, 1961 (3 weeks after last studio encounter with Miles)
Freddie Hubbard “Hub Cap” April 9, 1961
Donald Byrd “The Cat Walk” May 2, 1961                                                                                   Phineas Newborn Jr. “A World of Piano!” October 16, 1961

The issue most grand that plagues the average critic is that you’ve written not from an objective point of view, but from an authoritative, finite and rather dismissive one; this isn’t the first time either. In fact, when I read a cat’s overview, I can always tell when it’s your writing because of unflattering quips like: “not essential” or “no surprises here.” I’m aghast at how you can sum up so much great work in a few short dismissive sentence fragments.

Unlike the majority, I don’t consider critics to be “complete know-nothings”; rather, I allege that the use of apparent knowledge is being used in precarious ways that do not bode well for anybody. We all lose, Scott.

Most concerned, Eric Reed

The Art of Swinging: Everybody Has to Be Doing It

The club opens. The people enter. The band hits the stage and everybody is ready to swing.

 

The servers pour water, the band starts the first tune, the people are getting into the groove. Everybody is swinging.

 

What I love about the Jazz fan is that they know what’s happening and they know when it’s nothappening, but they’re still gonna groove with you. What I love about the person who may not be an aficionado, they might not know exactly what’s going on, but they’ll bob their heads, pat their feet or sway to the feeling of whatever their hearts and minds are sensing. They’re just as hip, you see – in order for swing to be effective, everybody has to be doing it. When my sister yells out, “Woo!” and someone else goes, “Ah!” and the drummer goes “Blam” and the server stops what he’s doing to look up at the band – everybody is swinging, y’feel me?

 

The band is now on fire. They’ve been at it for about 4 songs and somehow 40 minutes have passed and the leader looks at the setlist and realizes he still has 8 more songs to go in a 75-minute set and what the hell am I supposed to do now?!? I got all this good music and I can’t play it all. Danny Jankow tells me we could have played another hour and it would have been cool. It was getting late and the leader wasn’t too sure about that…

 

I skip a few things to interrupt the “lull” and wind things down, but finish big, wishing there could have been another set. Not this night. Not this town. Not these days. Not this economy.

 

Next era for sure – everybody will be doing it

(Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 3:08am)