🏁 Where We Begin





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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels
Happy Friday to you all and I hope it is as gorgeous wherever you are as it is here in Greensboro, North Carolina. Last week, I ended up taking the week off as I was in need of rest, which is why you didn’t hear from me. I’m recognizing that my normal sense of focus and drive are not what they once were, and that I need more rest than usual. I’ll figure out a timing that works for my newsletter so that it remains on a consistent schedule, but things may adjust some.
I have some fun news to share, our friend and guest writer to the newsletter (see the issue on “Hearing Women’s Voices”), Ashley Wilcox just just announced her first online course for people wanting to learn Preaching with confidence. Ashley is a fantastic preacher, homiletics instructor, and a creative thinker, so I cannot endorse her work enough.
Today’s newsletter is keeping with the theme of the Freedom Church of the Poor, which I’ll be doing for a couple more issues.
Where does the Freedom Church begin? Who can be a part of the Freedom Church of the Poor?
Thanks for reading and sharing with others - I’m amazed at how much the newsletter has grown over the recent weeks. Be sure to check out some of the upcoming events below, I think you will find them very interesting.
C. Wess Daniels
Haw River Watershed (Greensboro, NC)

Reflection: 🏁 Where We Begin
The Freedom Church of the Poor draws its lineage from the spiritual traditions of resistance that can be traced historically from today’s Freedom Church of the Poor (and associated movements and groups), back through the churches in the churches struggling for Freedom in the south like the Montgomery Churches, the Student Nonviolent Movement, the Hush Harbors before that, the secret gatherings for worship and the spirituals of the enslaved and emancipated Africans, those like the early Quakers and Anabaptists who mostly poor themselves and worshipped illegally and at the risk of their own lives as they resisted the religion of empire, and on and on back through time (there are many more that we will take up in detail at a later time).
What all of these churches had in common was that they understood that Jesus was not just an advocate for the poor but was poor himself (and an organizer of the poor). Following this, Jesus’ own poverty was not coincidental, but part of the plan, part of God’s ongoing work, as we see throughout the Hebrew Bible beginning in Exodus - where God clearly stands with and on the side of the poor and oppressed. The Freedom Church sees Jesus, first and foremost, as one of the poor in our midst and thus, the leadership of the poor becomes the way forward through the challenges we face.
I believe that this is what is meant behind what early Friends called, “Primitive Christianity Revived.” Getting back to the radical liberatory roots of Jesus and his teachings before they were co-opted by empire, starting again from there with new liberatory framings and remixes. For instance, I see early Quakerism as a movement of and by the poor, supported by allies of other classes who centered a theology and practice reflective of the poor standing in resistance to empire.
I have, for some time, wondered how to describe this and how to talk about what it means to not only see and understand Jesus from this perspective, but what does it have to do with those of us, who in every instance are unlike this poor Jew from first century Palestine.
Howard Thurman offers us a path forward in terms of addressing this question of where do we begin.
A number of years ago, I read Jesus and the Disinherited, with the leaders of the church I pastored at the time, and have recently been revisiting it in preparation for a talk I’m giving at the Southern California Quarterly Meeting of Quakers on Jesus Against Empire. For the uninitiated, Jesus and the Disinherited is Thurman’s classic work that links the life of Jesus to the struggle of the poor throughout time, but especially in the lives of African Americans struggling for survival in our time. The book was critical in the freedom struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and was known to be one of three books that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. carried on his person all the time.
I am re-learning - much later than I should - the power of Thurman’s writing in this book. It is helping me address some of the bigger questions I’ve been wrestling with recently. Not least of which because as a person in my social location, I want to know how and what it means to align myself as best as possible with those whose “backs are against the wall.”
Then I came across this beautiful gem in Vincent Harding’s forward for Jesus and the Disinherited:
“So Jesus’ guidance for the disinherited may be available only through some direct, creative, perhaps disguised encounters between those whose wounded backs and spirits testify to the continuing reality of the walls and those who may no longer be forcibly pressed against them but who know the walls and the continuing struggle against the house of fear, hypocrisy, and the hatred, and have determined to overcome. In the unofficial, unprivileged, and dangerous encounters as the wall [of injustice]: perhaps that is the way Thurman would prefer us to meet his Jesus at the close of the twentieth century.”
I see two main things in this passage I want to pull out for today’s discussion:
  1. We cannot understand the gospel without first accepting that Jesus was Poor. As Thurman writes, God purposefully chose Jesus who was in a disinherited position in the world, embodied in the person of a poor Jew, and one who was living under the oppression of the imperial regime of Roman (pp 5-8). No understanding of Jesus’ life and teachings is faithful or complete unless it begins and ends here: that Jesus was disinherited and because of this is linked to all those throughout human history who are themselves the poor and disinherited, revealing again that God not only stands with but is disinherited.
  2. For those of us who are not or are no longer disinherited ourselves, we must align ourselves with the poor and disinherited in order to be aligned with God. For Thurman, this second group must, “know the walls and the continuing struggle against the house of fear, hypocrisy, and the hatred, and have determined to overcome.” How can we know the walls and the continuing struggle if we are not in regular and ongoing relationship and in communion with those whose backs are against the wall? Liberal politics, “woke” language, progressive faith on their own are not enough. It is the ongoing commitment to and communion with the disinherited in our time makes it possible for us to be a part of the struggle for liberation. I would add that because of the struggles due to classism and racism in our country an ongoing re-alignment will always be needed.
Of course this also means that there are those who may say they care but who, on further analysis, are found wanting. It reveals what is needed - true communion and solidarity - if one wants to begin to “know the walls.” It also gives a rubric for understanding what puts someone or some movement in line with the Freedom Church of the Poor, whether it is an explicit or implicit connection, and where religion is co-opted by empire which finds its main commitments in power and money.
What I love Thurman’s work here is that it reveals a thread that holds these various movements together throughout time and it offers an entry point to all of us. It gives me, someone whose back is not against the way, a way in to the multitude - something I long to be a part of and connected to. I appreciate how Thurman’s analysis reminds us that this struggle for liberation involves building a broad coalition, while being clear about what its center is.
❓Query for Personal Reflection
  • Where do you find yourself in the midst of this thread of spiritual traditions of resistance? Whether you see yourself in the Christian or Jewish tradition, or in some other - equally important - part of the struggle - what is your experience, what is your insight or commitment to those whose backs are against the wall?
  • Where do you see these threads of God showing up in those whose backs are against the walls?
  • Where do you see these threads of God showing up in those who “know the walls and the continuing struggle?”
  • What do you need to commit or re-commit to this struggle?
More on Howard Thurman
If you want to dig more into some of Thurman’s work, besides reading Jesus and the Disinherited, let me point out the most recent episode of OnBeing with Krista Tippet interviews Rev. Otis Moss, III about his family’s relationship with Howard Thurman. It is a beautiful and insightful starting point on some of Thurman’s experiences and thinking.
And if you have more time for the rabbit hole, be sure to watch this video sermon from Rev. Moss on “The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery.”
🐦 Tweet Thread of the Week
c wess daniels is "like a quaker curator" -@p2son
Revisiting some of Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” for a project I’m working on.

Vincent Harding’s forward is amazing and does such a good job of not only highlighting the key aspects of Thurman’s work but situating it perfectly within the struggle to salvage Jesus.
🔗 Dress Down Friday Links
Each week I share interesting articles, some related to this week’s topic, sometimes they’re random but worthwhile. Enjoy these picks from around the web.
The Middle-class Capture of Quakerism and Quaker Process - Friends Journal
Our Tax Laws Favor Wealthy People. Jesus Prioritized Those in Poverty
The Tenants Who Evicted Their Landlord - The New York Times
Make Love, Not War: Five Years Of 'Undertale'
📆 Upcoming Events
Join The Kairos Center Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23-24 as The Kairos Center Presents: Moral Policy in a Time of Crisis, an online conference on the urgent struggles and policy solutions of the poor and dispossessed in this time of profound crisis. Featuring keynote by Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chairs of the #PoorPeoplesCampaign.
Freedom Church of the Poor (Every Sunday 6pm EST)
Join us live every Sunday evening 6pm EST - Facebook Live - where we address the 5 interlocking evils of issues of racism, poverty, militarism, climate devastation, the distorted moral narrative of Christian nationalism, and what the Bible has to say about it.
Southern California Quarterly Meeting (Nov 6-8)
I’ll be speaking at the Fall Fellowship of Souther California Quarterly Meeting on the subject of Jesus Against Empire. It is open for others to join if that is of interest to you. My talk will be 9:30am PST November 7.
More information here: http://scqm.org/
💚🧠 Final Thought
From Howard Thurman
Island of Peace Within
The only hope for surcease,
the only possibility of stability for the person,
is to establish an Island of Peace
within one’s own soul.
Here one brings for review
the purposes and dreams
to which one’s life is tied…
Well within the island
is the Temple where God dwells
—not the God of the creed,
the church, the family,
but the God of one’s heart….
How foolish it is, how terrible,
if you have not found your Island of Peace
within your own soul!
It means that you are living
without the discovery of your true home.
—Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart, 1965
☕️ Thank you for Supporting This Newsletter
You support this newsletter by reading it, sharing it with your friends, and/or by contributing financially to the making of this newsletter, and my other ministries.
Thank you! -Wess 💚☕️
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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels @cwdaniels

Old and New (Spiritual) Technologies For Life Today in the Face of Empire. Renewal and change in the hopes of mobilizing communities for love & liberation.

Wess Daniels
Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College

🔆 More info: https://gatheringinlight.com

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