If you’re looking for an uplifting and motivational read (and author), I’m recommending the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III’s “Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times.” I first heard Moss speak in August 2017 at an event at the Old Whaling Church. I’ll share a quick bit from the column I wrote then: “One of the questions that Moss] brought up stayed with me: ‘Can you be white and be a Christian?’ If there are Black brothers and sisters and neighbors who are still treated as if they are not fully human, can I call myself a Christian today if I’m not doing anything to fix that situation? What exactly would Jesus do?” Reading it now, the question is still unanswered. I hate to think that every summer when we get to listen to some of the best preaching out there, I’ll be reminded of racism and inequality, and then the rest of the year, do nothing about it. But that is my reality right now, and I have to deal with that.
Moss is currently senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He’s an ordained minister in the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the United Church of Christ, carrying standing in both denominations. His biography says that his influences include the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the pastoral ministry of his father, Dr. Otis Moss Jr. of Cleveland, Ohio. He’s a popular speaker on college campuses, churches, and conferences. We’re lucky to have him visit Martha’s Vineyard this weekend.
Back to the book. The part that really struck me as I was reading is the true definition of love. We all know romantic love, the kind that leaves us breathless and daydreamy. Then there’s the unconditional love we have for our children. As we get older, our definition of love can change. Maybe that doe-eyed romance ebbs a little, and is replaced by a deeper feeling of respect with a little less longing. We’re all different. What Moss wrote about is love with justice. Agape. He writes, “Agape love is the love that seeks to care for what it loves, whether that is a child, a partner, the land we were given, the community in which we live, or the truths we hold to be self-evident. Agape love recognizes that we must become stewards, focused not only on the wrong of the moment but on building a better future.”
Moss writes that we have the opportunity to link love and justice in any situation in which a wrong has been done. And that Jesus taught that we learn love not by the words we hear but the actions we experience.
I was lucky enough to reach Moss by email to ask him a few questions. One was to explain love that is just.
“Americanized love fails to comprehend the difficult demand of ‘Agape’ or ‘Ubuntu’ to love. ‘Agape’ (the love Jesus described in the Gospel) and ‘Ubuntu’ (the love described in African philosophy) calls humanity to see the sacred in every person. This type of love requires us to wrestle with grace, justice, reciprocity, respect, forgiveness, and redemption; this ancient definition of love states, ‘I am because we are, and we are because I am, and therefore we are ALL God’s creation.’”
“Dancing in the Darkness” is one of those books that not only contains wise words, but also gives us tangible examples of the concepts the author is writing about. He tells stories about others’ lives and his own. In fact, he opens the book with a letter he wrote to his son Elijah in 2016, and he ends it with the ending of that same letter. He writes that if he tells his son that his rights are protected, that he can live like any other teenage boy, that his body is safe, he is valued and free, that it would be “perjury before God and an assault upon the memory of our ancestors.” As he wraps up the 120-something pages, Moss writes to his son, “You and your generation are gifts God has sent to victims of an old story. You are the prey of this nation’s dying wolves, who want yesterday always to be tomorrow, yet you are the solution to this nation’s deepest problems. You are their fear, yet you are our joy.”
You can see why I would recommend that you go to Union Chapel this coming Sunday, August 6, to hear him preach. Get there at 9:30 am, when the doors open.
I’ll leave you with what the Rev. Moss wrote to me about hope: “Hope is found in the artist, poet, loving parent, compassionate elder, the imaginative tenacity of children, and the beauty of faith communities unafraid to wrestle with brokenness, imperfections, and grace. For example, the unheralded mothers of the South Side of Chicago, who have drastically altered violence through community gardens, prayer, and neighborhood organizing. The power of indigenous youth reclaiming ancient land, and offering new political policy to shift climate change. The beauty of a father and martial arts instructor in Detroit teaching young boys Akido, Karate Capoeira, and the power of tears and vulnerability. Hope is all around us if we have the courage to open our eyes.”