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My passion for dance, art, and symbols were heightened while there.  My natural body

rhythm was very similar to my Ghanaian sisters. I believe we all were a bit surprised.

   

A Seminarian’s Religious Journey to Ghana

Identity & Difference in Christian Perspectives

By Jennifer McGill

 

Personal Reflection

It was a delight to be selected for the Union-PSCE Ghana Travel Seminar. Finally, my dream of going to Mother Africa would be realized.  I wanted to see the continent of my heritage, my roots, if you will.  My desire was to experience the place of my ancestors and learn the story prior to slavery because the history of African-Americans began before bondage; some were kings, queens, philosophers, chiefs, priests, and artisans. 

This trip helped clarify the term “African-American.”  People of African descent living in America have undergone several name changes over the years—Negro, black, and presently we are identified as African-Americans.  I must do some research on where this title originated but that is not my objective in this paper.  The term African-American raises questions because most African-Americans have not been to Africa nor is the cultural ancestry known.  In addition to this an African person that obtains American citizenship can then be called an African-American. 

Africans of the continent do not identify with the African-Americans that have been here for hundreds of years nor do we identify with their culture and history.  So for a number of people to be identified with a place they have no immediate connection is not logical. An African person who has become an American citizen or has been born in America and know their country of origin can be identified by their (country of origin) such as an Egyptian-American, Ghanaian-American, or Ethiopian American.  The country of my ancestry is unknown but I am of African descent. 

After visiting Ghana, I realize that I am as much an African as I am American.  This was most evident during the Ghanaian church services.  The length of the services and the spirit of worship reminded me of my home church in Maryland.  Worship and fellowship are of primary importance to the Ghanaian Christian as well as the African-American Christian.  The church is the center of the community and Sunday is considered “meeting day.”  This is the time to sing, pray, celebrate, and fellowship.

My passion for dance, art, and symbols were heightened while there.  My natural body rhythm was very similar to my Ghanaian sisters. I believe we all were a bit surprised.  Several of them told me that I dance like a Ghanaian.  Wow, that was a real compliment coming from a person where dance is embedded in the tradition.  But when I thought about dance and rhythm I quickly realized that we also dance at Wayland Baptist Church in Baltimore.  The dance is often informal and is a reaction to a song, prayer, or sermon.  It is done sometimes by an individual or in groups.  The physical embodiment of worship is another (element shared by Ghanaians and African-Americans.)  

(Food – hospitality – serving)

Being part of a minority group in America has its blessings and challenges.  Throughout my life I have often been the only African-American in classes, work environments, and even social events; and sometimes it gets very lonely.  Opposing stereotypes, racism, and forces to keep me silent is sometime tiring. Different perspectives, experiences, and vision are inevitable, but would I be accepted?  Would my views be heard? 

These were my concerns when selected for the trip.  In addition to this, everyone seemed to have a close friend that was going and I did not.  Everyday I made sure to dialogue and be involved in various conversations, but sometimes it was difficult for me to share.  As a borderline introvert/extrovert, I often lean to the introverted character.  I shared my views on an individual basis, to roommates – Kathy, Dr. Rhee, and others. 

There were several issues that were raised within the group that were not of major concern to me. When several of my comrades identified the operation of Ghanaian households as sexist because the woman served her husband, I was a little shocked and very concerned.  This practice I saw everyday growing up, and when I go home to visit my mother makes dinner and fixes my dad’s plate for him. 

Their roles are defined and it works for them.  We were in a cultural where roles were defined and it is embedded in their culture and tradition.  When the comments of sexism and oppression were made, I thought to myself, most Ghanaians are not thinking about who is serving the meal, they are concerned with getting food on the table.  There is an oppressive economic structure in place that first needs to be dismantled. 

In my opinion there was harsh judgment placed on the Ghanaian traditions. I was both surprised and disappointed by the “superior attitudes” of some of my classmates.  “We could have shown them (Ghanaians) a better way,” was a statement that bothered me tremendously.  This was the attitude the early missionaries had as they observed African culture and stopped them from dancing and drumming. 

One of the lecturers at Trinity encouraged us to “see how things are done here.”  He challenged us to witness, observe, and learn.  If there is going to be a change in the social structure of Ghana it will be birthed out of Ghana.  Sexism and economic oppression are familiar problems seen in our hometown, Richmond, Virginia. 

Theological

Joy Mante’s Wednesday morning meditation, “Ministry as Empowerment” foretold what I would see in the days ahead.  His text was 2 Kings 4:1-7, The Widows Oil.  His theme was God has given everyone something to live life to the full.  Elisha helped the woman to recognize a way out of her debt – she had oil.   As Elisha got involved, so too must ministers get involved.  We are “instruments of empowerment,” Mante explained. 

His theme brings to mind Ghana’s economic status.  “It is a country full of poor people.”  as Bediako said.  The Ghanaian Christians that I spoke with believe that God is concerned about their economic condition and will assist them in overcoming it.. 

As the woman in the text got involved in changing her circumstances, the Ghanaians also use what they have to do to survive.  “Hawking” was a means of survival.  It is a sign of the decay of their economic situation and their tenacity to survive.  Hawking is a survival mechanism.  Creating batik fabric is an art but is also a means of survival.  People, mostly women, with the ability to cook, set up kitchens on the roadside to sell fried plantains, fufu, or chicken and rice. 

Like the widow in 2 Kings, Ghanaians possess the ability and skill to change their situation but their problem is systemic.  An economic system is in place that keeps the country financially deficient. Ghanaians do not set their prices on export items.  They have little control of their exports revenue.  In the midst of these global problems, many Ghanaians hold on to their faith in God.  It is their belief and understanding that God provides.  

God is central in this community.  This was reflected in the names of stores such as The Lion of Judah Barber Shop and The Divine Cleaners.  God is present in the daily lives of people is how I interpreted such (titles.)  “Ghanaians wear their faith on their sleeves and most of the time the sleeve is down.”

After conversations with pastors and members, I gather that God is respected and feared.  God’s wrath and punishment were common themes in worship as well as general conversation.  One Sunday, Beth and I rode with Rev. George to visit a church. People were on the roadside selling their goods. He said, “It is sin to work on Sunday; Sunday is for rest and they will be judged for that.”  We did not respond.  In the (economic) of Ghana, I was shocked to hear those words.  Their Sunday work was a necessity.

God as judge was the theological stance at the Presbyterian Church of Ghana Church Revival in Bantama.  The refrain of the first song that Beth and I heard was, “Your sins will find you out.”  And the entire service seemed to generate guilt and fear  as a means to encourage people to believe in Christ.  Christ never shamed people into following him and I find it problematic that Christians do such a thing. 

I think people should be attracted to the love of God and will realize for themselves their personal shortcomings to which only God can attend.  The Revival preacher stated that some people are in spiritual bondage because of the sins of their ancestors.  I guess the preacher had not read Jeremiah 31:29-30, “In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.   But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.”

 Pastors and lay people had many responsibilities. Some pastors are responsible for over 20 congregations.  Being busy doing “God’s business” was the norm – visiting the sick, etc.  All of those things have their place but I wonder about the quality of family life and how it survives in such a structure.  I cannot help but question if they feel like they have to be “busy” so that God will be pleased.

Christology

As I visited the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, I listened carefully to understand the identity of Jesus the Christ in this community.  In the African-American community, Christ is recognized as “Savior.”  He is identified as the liberator of the oppressed and one that challenges social ills.  Jesus is the divine co-sufferer, who empowers in circumstances of oppression.  (Grant, 212). 

During my stay in Ghana, I did not get a clear concept of their concept of the Christ.  During the revival in Bantama the text was John 2:1, Jesus turned the water into wine.  I thought he would share some Christological statements instead the revivalist warned against using this text to justify drinking. 

Some Christological statements were given during prayers, and Jesus was referred to as Mediator and our Brother.  But evidence of his relationship to the Ghanaian Christian I did not see.  Where is the grace of God in this community?  There was little evidence of God’s grace in the preaching and conversations.  When a Ghanaian is asked how he is doing,  the response is often “By God’s grace, I’m fine.” 

This response I interpret to mean God controls all things and God has looked on me and I have found favor.  Rev. Frimpong was questioned about God’s grace and judgment, and he assured Beth and I that his congregation views God in both perspectives.  But during my visit, I did not hear many references to God’s grace, what I heard mostly was God described as judge.  While visiting the Presbyterian Church in Suame-Kumasi, the pastor, Rev. M.O. Nkamsai shared that 176 people (mostly women) were denied communion because they had not performed a cultural ceremony, to make the husband’s family a meal. 

These members had not completed this task and therefore their marriages are seen as unfit resulting in their denial of communion.  This was tragic and one of the most disappointing statements I heard the entire trip.  It was as if the preacher denied people the free gift of God.  Is it right to deny the grace of God?  “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  Because this is a cultural matter, how does this circumstance relate to the church?  When asked, the pastor explained that the people were not legally married.  This still does not justify a preacher denying a parishioner of communion. 

Beth and I were in an awkward position as it was obvious that we did not agree with this practice and further questioning would prove futile so we moved on to another subject.

Pneumatology

The identity and work of The Holy Spirit were also unclear.  References to the Holy Spirit were made sometimes during prayers and referred to as the “Spirit that helps us do right.”  During the Bantama Revival, there was an exorcism.  Women and men were invited to come forward if they wanted to be made “free” from bondage.  Men that were “trained” in this area laid hands on them and prayed.  There was an interesting dynamic that went on.  They prayed quietly for the men but when praying for the women they aggressively commanded the demon to come out of them.   Most of the women fell out and rolled around on the ground.  Was this a sign of release? Or were they praying?  

I asked about this and was told that women are more expressive than men.  But that did not explain the aggression of the men toward the women and the passivity toward other men.  That was disturbing.  Are women the only ones affected by evil spirits?  It appeared so during that service.   The evil spirits were commanded to “Come out.”  And the Holy Spirit was asked to come in to replace the evil spirit. 

Ecclesiology

The Presbyterian Church in Ghana is a social entity.  It is the center of community.   The church is the place where relationships are built and fostered.  Visits during the week, dancing during service, three-hour services, and long conversations after church maintain relationships.   This concept is similar to the African-American church; it is as much a social institution as it is a spiritual center. 

The church is the place where black people historically organized for social change like the civil rights movement.  Many historically black colleges like Virginia Union University, Spelman, Howard, and Barber-Scotia were initiated by churches and religious organizations.   Because the church is seen as a social institution, it is the desire of many Ghanaian church leaders to involve the church in addressing economic and social conditions.  Rev. George Abutiate of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Sovie) asked me to pray for the EP Church and specifically for the spiritual and economic growth of their church, the poor of the community, and the upcoming election. 

The EP Church at Sovie addresses these concerns through prayer and helping those in the community that are in need.  They are currently building a new Primary School.  The community, church, and government have joined to assist in this project.  The government contributes some funds and the church and community are responsible for the financial balance as well as the school’s construction. 

Women in ministry were an issue that I discussed with several female seminarians.  In the PCG Church the vice moderator said that out of 300 churches 17 of them have female pastors.  That’s a small number that they hope grows in the coming years.  They made mention of the 4 female students at Trinity Seminary in Legon.  My new friends shared the difficulties of being female clergy in Ghana were due to the patriarchal mentality that is embedded in the culture.  It is difficult for many to conceive of a female pastor. 

According to Clara, female preachers often intimidate men because they think they can’t “measure up” to a particular spiritual standard.  This results in difficulties for single female preachers to establish a meaningful relationship with a man.  I have experienced the same problem for what I believe are similar reasons.  I also learned that the EP Church frowns upon two preachers marrying.  They believe such a union puts a strain on the marriage because the husband and wife are in two different locations.  One seminarian was strongly discouraged from marrying her husband because he was a pastor.  Despite the advisories, she and her husband married seven months ago.

Historical

Going to Elmina and Cape Coast Castles was a major highlight of the trip.  What were their names?  What country did they come from?  What were the circumstances that led them to be enslaved?  These were my thoughts as I snapped pictures and stood in the dungeons.  I was numb as we walked the paths of my ancestors.  How could people treat another group of people so horrifically?  I am still processing this part of the trip. 

It was a blessing to have Clara, a Ghanaian seminarian student, with us.  We walked together silently as the guide led us through the castle.  I am a daughter of the Diaspora and my “sister” is of the company that stayed on the continent.  We both have history there.  I asked her what she was thinking and she said, “It’s so much in me, I can’t share it.”  I understood perfectly. 

My immediate reactions came in the museums of these castles.  As an artist and museum educator, I was concerned about the preservation of the objects and the castles.  There were no climate controls, objects were not protected, fluorescent lights beamed on photos. I can go on.  I cried at the state of the museum and I asked the tour guide about funding, future plans, and preservation practices. 

This is the place where I felt I belonged; this is the place I could offer my expertise.  When I saw the museum, I knew within my soul I will be back.  This is the place I feel called.  It would be a wonderful fellowship opportunity.  I want to help preserve the history of my people.  I want my children and the ones after me to come here and see part of our history.  The tour guide looked me in the eyes and said, “You are a survivor.”  A new since of pride . . . not to be ashamed . . . we survived. Many did not make it.  Some by choice others died because of health reasons.  Church at the center of Elmina Castle . . .

Social

Ghanaian hospitality is unmatched.  I knew that our hosts offered their best and I appreciated that greatly.  They wanted to make sure that we ate well and were comfortable.  Tremendous portions of food were set before us daily and at 120 pounds, it is quite obvious that I don’t eat much.   I think the focus of food and eating a lot just turned me off and I lost my appetite.  Mrs. Frimpong was concerned as was Sister Sleina, our first hostess.  I tried to explain…

I watched Rev. Dorothy and Rev. Opong care for Grace.  Rev. Dorothy stayed with Grace and Kathy and Rev. Opong made sure they got to the hospital safely.  This was not only an example of Ghanaian hospitality but exhibited Christian love. 

As an introvert I was challenged by this trip.  To be part of a group for an extended period of time is a challenge.  I was glad to get to know Grace, Beth, and Stephanie a little better as they were my roommates.  I challenged myself to build my own relationships.

The other highlight was meeting Michael, an aspiring art student.  He desires to attend school in the United States.  He brought his artwork to the house and we chatted about his work.  I helped him get his portfolio together – made a few suggestions. We then organized a plan of action.  Jaonna Agbeti, Emmanuel’s daughter, had stopped by, and she helped us because she is an immigration officer.  It is not easy for a Ghanaian to obtain a visa to the states even a student.

As I helped him prepare for a possible stay in the states, I felt again like I was being active in my call.   As I shared this highlight with the group, someone offered this insight.  Ghana is not a place where the individual is recognized and for me to show an interest in his art was very special.  As I helped Michael organize his plans, I realized that my resources are very limited and I could in no way sponsor him at the moment.  That was not a good feeling because I want to get him here so he can pursue his dream.

February 9, 2004

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Minister Jennifer Nicole McGill  now serves as an Associate Minister at Wayland Baptist Church, preaching the Gospel, teaching the Word, and serving as Spiritual Advisor to Wayland's Women's Ministry are some of Minister McGill's current responsibilities. Her assistance in Church Ministry is also exercised in Richmond, VA, where she teaches Sunday School and assists in Sunday worship at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

For Minister Jennifer McGill, home is where the heart is. Home is Baltimore, Maryland, where she was educated in Catholic and Public School systems. Minister McGill attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, in Baltimore, Maryland, and continued higher education at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees. This vessel of God has traveled south on Interstate 95 to pursue her Master of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education. She hopes to one day research the relationship between art and religion in doctoral studies.

Minister McGill believes that study is useless until it is applied. Her plan is to use art, scripture, service, and love to help broken people piece their lives together and be liberated in and through Christ Jesus.

"If I can help somebody establish a relationship with God then my living is not in vain."

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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Forged: Writing in the Name of God

Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

By Bart D. Ehrman

The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else's name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman's introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book's main point, is especially valuable.—Publishers Weekly  / Forged Bart Ehrman’s New Salvo (Witherington)

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Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals 

of a Growing Religion in America

By Miguel A. De La Torre

This book by Miguel De la Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santeria -- a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro's revolution in 1959, Santeria came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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posted 9 February 2004

 

 

 

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