A Joy To Be Recognized….

I made a whirlwind trip in March to Vermont, a place I had never been. I wished I had had the time to actually explore the place but that was not to be. Though I did not get to see much, I did get to meet some truly outstanding people. We spent the better part of a day singing and breaking bread. There was such friendship and love in the space; I was honored to be a part. Though I did not have full use of my voice (this has been an ongoing journey and a story I will tell before long; I know God is doing a mighty work), things went beautifully. It is amazing to teach people who truly want to learn. I left there thinking I may just start my own ensemble, I so miss singing with others at a higher level of excellence. Brendan, the director of the ensemble, wrote the following words in his newsletter. It filled my heart with joy on many levels. I am learning to truly love and accept me, the person God made without the burden of ‘work’ to qualify me. So I share these words just as I share the love I felt when my sisters and brother drove from Maryland to be with me when I was awarded the 2014 University of Dayton College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award.  It is a joy to be recognized……

Thanks for reading!!

Donna

Brendan wrote: ” The day after I got home from the studio, the whole Bright Wings gang assembled at my place for three days of rehearsal and a weekend of performances. This has been our model from the start, but this time we had the opportunity to spend the second day of rehearsal with Rev. Donna Cox, a gospel choir leader and university professor who traveled out from Ohio to work with us for a day on our performance of African-American gospel and spirituals. As Bright Wings has branched out from our initial roots in shape note music, we’ve really enjoyed exploring some early gospel. But as a group of white singers in a predominantly white state, I felt it was important to do everything we could to insure we were honoring the tradition in our performances, especially in light of some of the events of the past year.

Donna is a gem, and it was a joy to work with her. She was able to coax a better performance out of us almost instantly and gave us some really excellent new repertoire to work with. She also framed spirituals and gospel in some ways that were really helpful to me, and that I’d like to share a bit of here. The first thought has to do with how that music, all of it, is coded and can be understood on multiple levels. Most of you will be aware that songs like ‘Wade in the Water’ or ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’ were understood spiritually and as advice/ directions for slaves wanting to escape north (the drinking gourd in question being the Big Dipper, pointing north). But what Donna pointed out is that every song, not just the obvious ones, operates on multiple levels of understanding. She taught us the spiritual ‘Great Day’. It says:

            Great day/ great day the righteous marching
Great day/ God’s gonna build up Zion’s walls/ God’s gonna build up Zion’s walls.

While this is obviously a promise of spiritual deliverance, it could also be sung with the intent that it will be a great day when Harriet Tubman comes, a great day when we cross that river into Canada. And the advantage of the code then was that it could be sung in that way without the slave-owner knowing. The advantage of the code now is that it means, as a singer, you can choose how to approach the song. You can choose what intention you bring to it. For those of us, like me, who didn’t grow up in a church, I can invest those words with more personal, more visceral meaning: it will be a great day for me when marriage is available to all, when black teens don’t fear the police, when we stop tearing down the mountains in West Virginia for more coal.

Understanding this coded nature of the music also means—and this is what’s new and so important to me—that you can approach the songs on multiple levels as a listener, not just as a singer. That you can find in this old and powerful music meaning that apply to you and your world, and that you can do that in a way that is part of the music’s heritage.

Because that’s the other thing in approaching a musical tradition: it is a tradition, it has a history that needs to be respected. In everything I do musically I’m aware of trying to balance a respect for tradition with the need for personal expression. Donna captured it beautifully when she said, “You bring to the music your experience. You honor where it comes from. You make it your own.”

That feels so important to me, all three parts of that equation. We all have to deal with this history, with the fact that our European ancestors brought slaves from Africa to this country. The ramifications of that are obviously deep and complex, and a bit too much to take on in an already long e-mail. Musically, the response to that experience created an incredibly rich vein of song, music that is now the most popular music in the world: spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, rock, r&b, soul, hip-hop. Music that is with us every day and that allows us to make these intentional choices, as listeners and as singers, on how we approach the different levels of meaning.

And all that from just an afternoon of rehearsal. Just think if we had had a week… We were supported in doing this work by a crowdfunding campaign, something that many of you contributed to. Thank you for that. Thank you for supporting us, for helping us develop as musicians and to think more deeply about the intersection of race and music.

This ramble has been even longer than usual, so congratulations if you’ve made it to the end. It is Easter Sunday as I write. In the spirit of understanding something on multiple levels of code—wherever you are and whatever you believe, may your spirits rise today.”

~Brendan

Offer Yourself Grace

I’m on a 21 Day Journey to Inner Healing. I’m determined in this study, to stay out of my head, to get into my heart, and stay there.  The head is a much easier place from which to live. But the head is not always kind to the heart or spirit. As I was journaling this morning, something bubbled up and I believed I needed to share it. We’ve been talking about the grace of God, that unmerited, unearned favor that is so freely given to us. God is gracious. God is merciful. But Donna is not always gracious, and certainly not always merciful (just ask my students who don’t do their homework on time).  I’m learning that God’s grace doesn’t always reach my inmost being because of my own stinginess with offering grace and mercy to myself! In short, instead of being loving and kind to God’s daughter, that would be me, I have, way too often, done the opposite.  It’s definitely something to make you go ‘hmmm.’

Anyway, I hope these musings will help someone and deliver them from the same inclination.

There IS something worse than being victimized by others. It is becoming a double victim by penalizing yourself for your response to the victimization. When a woman who is raped choses not to fight back,  she is STILL an unwilling participant in the violent act. To beat herself up because she did what she needed to do – in that moment – to survive is to inflict an even greater violence. The woman who sets aside her own emotional needs when her husband’s infidelity is discovered, who, if even from a place of inner woundedness, chooses to make herself emotionally present for him, the children or the ministry; the woman who chooses to pray for her husband and for the heifer – ok woman – with whom he had an affair,  actually PROTECTED herself in those moments. Yes, she was victimized… cruelly. Yet, if she spends the next ten years angry at herself for not choosing a different path, she is guilty of inflicting more violence on herself and at a much deeper level than anyone else can reach. The daughter whose alcoholic mother forces her to grow up much too soon is a victim. Spending her days caring for her siblings, cooking meals and hiding her mother’s drinking from her father may be the only choice the daughter believes is available to her – in that moment. To give herself over to self-hatred because of this makes it very difficult for the girl to grow into a healthy woman.

Before you allow your anger to be kindled against me for telling women it is okay to stay in dangerous situations, please hear what I’m really saying, underneath. Choices are not always black or white. Sometimes a person does what she believes she needs to do to survive emotionally or physically. Sometimes, her choice may not be the one people outside her situation will believe is right, and perhaps from an external perspective, they are right. But if her choices protect her from leaping off the nearest bridge, crawling into bed and not getting out, or inflicting damage on someone else, she shouldn’t compound the violence by punishing herself once the danger is mitigated.

God wants to and can heal us from the trauma of what others do to us. But before God can intervene in the inner healing, God needs for us to stop being judge and jury and sentencing ourselves to a life sentence of hidden pain. We must stop listening to the the inner voices that make us demean ourselves. It is so subtle at times that we might not even recognize what we are doing. You know what I mean. You have the internal conversation over and over – and you are never on the winning side. You call yourself names. You tell yourself you deserved every wrong thing that ever happened to you.  You slap yourself around because you ‘let’ someone rape you, you convince yourself that your actions forced your husband to have an affair, you goad yourself because you didn’t confront your mother about the ways she damaged your self esteem.  Instead of this cycle, hold the woman that you were in your arms and thank her for doing the best she could with the emotional resources available to her at that time. Tell her that her choices, even if they could have or even should have been different,  didn’t make her weak or stupid. It didn’t make her less than who God made her, a precious daughter. Stop blaming her for not donning her Wonder Woman cape and headband and kicking some butt or rolling some heads. Love her, respect her, allow God to reach her and heal her. Then together, you and God can decide where you need to go, what you need to do now. You will make your next decision with a comforted heart, an undivided mind and a spirit that is soothed by the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

Offer yourself some grace.

It’s All About The Why Worksheet

Do you sometimes feel stuck in neutral, filled with dreams and longings but not quite sure how to get to them? Do you sometimes think your relationship with God is more perfunctory than from a deep place? Do you sense something in the atmosphere but aren’t quite sure how to interpret it or tap into what you see God doing in and through others?  If the answer to any of these questions is something like… maybe, um yes, Lawd YES then maybe it’s time for you to start thinking like Mama Odie, “you gotta dig a little deeper.”

We started a new series last week, Wide Awake that is so exciting. God doesn’t want us simply conscious. God wants us to have more LIFE in our lives. God desires that we would live life to the FULL – today, in the land of the living not just in some future, sweet by-and-by. Digging a little deeper may mean doing something you’ve never done before. It may mean doing familiar things in an unfamiliar way. It may mean returning to the the scene of your first love. No matter which, it will definitely mean identifying your hopes, dreams & vision and considering what you want to experience/do when you attain them. But between the hoping and experiencing, you have to visit the Chief cardiologist for a heart scan and possibly a heart transplant. It’s all about the Why.

The following worksheet was created to help you visualize that process.  Feel free to download the pdf by clicking the link below.

May God bless your journey!! Send me an email or a message on Facebook as you go through the process. I would love to hear from you and pray with you.
Rev. Donna

It's All About The Why WorksheetIt's All About The Why Worksheet2

Click this link: It’s All About The Why Worksheet updated

OMEA Presentations

Thank you for all of the folk who attended my two sessions at the Ohio Music Education Association Conference this past weekend. As promised, here are materials from the workshops.

 

OMEA music diversity1

Endangered species lyrics No Mirrors In Nana

OMEA presentationJubaDis che che koolay music

No Mirrors in My Nana’s House

 

Emmanuel Road

Choral version of Kamalondo – I am not endorsing this video; in fact, I have some issues with it that I won’t articulate here. However, the arrangement is free online and you could make it more authentic easily.

Sheet music download: Kamalondo

Endangered Species – Diane Reeves

Research for a new book, A Leader’s Song: Lyrics to Inspire, Nourish and Encourage The Soul

I am working on a new book, a collection of song lyrics that those in leadership, from mother to CEO, would find inspiring, nourishing or encouraging. To make this a really spectacular resource, I need YOUR assistance.

Please take a few minutes to complete a short survey.  There are only a few questions and your thoughtful, detailed responses will be greatly appreciated.

Click here to be taken to the survey.

Thank you so much for your time.

Donna

Who Will Take A Stand?

Friends, it is time to do what we all should have done before now: pray. Ferguson, Sanford, Beavercreek – all of the places where ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ has been the rule of the day – is not a white or black issue, this is an issue of the soul. The cancer in our nation that continually raises it’s head through racism has to be healed! The judicial system can’t fix it because it is broken. And the church is SILENT! And while the church avoids the issue or contributes to it, satan smiles. I’m reminded of Abraham negotiating with God about the people of Sodom. When the church is silent over the brokenness of our nation, when believers spend more time talking about the issues than they do pleading with God for healing, there is a serious problem. The answer is available.

IF My people, who are called by MY name, would humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from THEIR wicked ways, THEN will I hear from Heaven. I will forgive THEIR sins and HEAL THEIR LAND.

Healing starts with each if us!

I just want to throw up when I realize how polarized we have become. Well, I believe we have always been polarized and because we remain silent the enemy is no longer shy about revealing his hand. he is justified (lower case h is intentional). Now, more than ever it is time for the Church to BE the church- not the black church, not the white church, but God’s body, Jesus’ bride. We can talk history; we can talk sociology. Neither root has been nationally explored. The legacy of slavery is very REAL: both for the black folk who were taught they were nothing, who were treated like less than chattel and for white folk who were taught to fear what they didn’t understand. This is a national conversation that needs to be had. Having it may lead to understanding but it won’t necessarily lead to healing.

No, it’s time for POWER work, the prayers of the righteous that avail much. It’s time for the church to be concerned about every mother whose child is in the cold ground. It’s time to be concerned about the lack of HOPE that engenders a disdain for life. It’s time to stop seeing red and blue and start seeking the only one who can bring order to chaotic minds, hearts and spirits.

Who will join me? Who will BE the church?

In A Word… I’m Depressed

Robin Williams’ apparent suicide has many people thinking and talking about depression. But I wonder how many will own up to their own struggles. I’ve battled depression most of my adult life and very likely during my adolescence as well. I’ve never considered suicide but I have certainly believed that, if I were to die, no one would be too sad.  I clearly remember standing on a corner in Dublin, Ireland, crying as I waited to cross the street, when I had the thought that, if I were run over by a bus, not one person would care…. not my children, husband or friends. Everyone, I believed, would go on with their lives as if I had never existed. It wouldn’t be a big deal to my family since I was absent in most of the vacation photos (I was the camera woman). I believed it would be easy to replace me with someone else.  If I were a person prone to suicidal thoughts I may well have stepped off that curb that day. Instead, walking beside my family, I buried the thoughts and walked on. No one asked why I had tears in my eyes and I didn’t offer an explanation. Tears make people very uncomfortable because they REQUIRE a response of some sort. Tears unacknowledged make a depressed person feel even lower.

The church has been especially guilty of making conversations about depression taboo. People are shocked when a believer takes his or her life. The words ‘I never would have thought this person capable of doing this’ flow like oil.  Read comments about Robin Williams and you will see the same theme. If a person doesn’t jump back from disappointments, hurts, losses, they are often dismissed. What I do know is depression is not a sin; it is an illness, one very often misdiagnosed and rarely talked about. People are okay with telling others about their physical ailments but rarely do we tell people about struggles with our emotions and thoughts. So people with depression suffer in silence, often wearing bright smiles or being seemingly okay with people talking about them being ‘angry.’ We walk past each other and don’t SEE anyone else’s pains. Our children spend every waking hour connected to some kind of technology with 500 ‘friends’ and no one to talk to. People don’t know how to talk anymore. It’s a paradox; the more connected we are, the more disconnected we become.

Something must change if any of us is to survive and thrive. Entire generations are at risk.

In a word, I’m depressed. I KNOW God is a healer. I KNOW God loves me. Still, I’m sometimes depressed. Tell the truth, y’all.

I’m blessed by comedienne, Chonda Pierce’s story. Listen to her, enjoy a laugh, then think of someone who may need a call.

Chonda Pierce

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