Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ben, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Black History Month...

On January 1, 1863, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. A five-page document, cherished by some, ignored by others, it was a surprise to a young slave, apprenticed to a tailor in Charleston, South Carolina. His father had taught him a few letters of the alphabet but he warned Ben not to let anyone know, as slaves were not allowed to read.
As Ben moved around the city on errands for his master, he looked at street signs and learned their names. In the market place, as he purchased items for his master’s wife, he knew the names that went with boxes of fruit and produce that she asked him to get for her. He thought that he could teach himself to read, so he did.
When Ben visited his mother on the plantation where she was a slave, she showed Ben a precious gold coin for which she had saved by doing extra jobs. She promised Ben he would have it when he learned to write. So he found scraps of paper, made a kind of watery ink, and practiced as he washed floors and windows, making letters and words and then washing them off before anyone noticed. And at Christmas, his mother gave him the gold coin.
But suddenly the Civil War came to Charleston. There were gray uniforms everywhere and many residents were fleeing, including the tailor to whom Ben was apprenticed. Ben was sent to live in a slave prison. Other slaves who knew he could read often begged him to read to them, and to teach them how to read. One night they woke Ben up, brought him a torch, and several pages of a newspaper. "Read it, read it," they begged. "President Lincoln wrote it," they said. Ben was surprised but he began to read. "Stand up." "Speak louder." And so he did. "All persons held as slaves...shall be thenceforward and forever free...." There was loud cheering all around him, but quiet comfort in Ben’s heart. He knew his mother would be proud of the way he read that night.
Ben and the Emancipation Proclamation is a true story, well-written by Pat Sherman and beautifully illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers,, this remains one of my favorite books.
Sherman adds that Ben’s name was Benjamin C. Holmes. He later worked in Tennessee, where he was drafted into the Confederate Army. After the war, he held several jobs, then attended the new Fisk University in Nashville. He sang with Fisk’s Jubilee Singers and traveled with them in America and Europe. He died in the 1870s, possibly from tuberculosis. Ben is one of many men and women, boys and girls we remember during Black History Month.

---Lois Sibley

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Here's a challenge...

You might like to try this: "Read the Bible in a Year." That’s the subtitle of a new book called The Bible Challenge, edited by Marek Zabriskie, and published by Forward Movement ( with promises to help you do that. Zabriskie is founder of The Bible Challenge and the Center for Biblical Studies, as well as rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh, Fort Washington, Pa.
Zabriskie says you can start anytime, but he suggests starting on a Monday with Day 1, assuming readers will be in church on Sunday hearing the Scriptures for that day. He also says, "read slowly and meditatively, as if it were a love letter written by God especially to you."
More than 100 clergy and other Christian leaders were asked to join in the experience, each one providing three brief commentaries and meditations in a row, a question or two to think about, and a prayer. They do cover the whole Bible (every day except Sunday when we are in church), naming the sources each day from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament. Keep your own Bible nearby so you can read the biblical stories along with the meditations.
Each of the contributors is named with his or her position and whereabouts around the world. They were encouraged to use their favorite translation of the Bible. The Foreword was written by the twenty-fifth Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, The Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, who says that we learn in Hebrews 4:12 that "the word of God took the form not only of speech, it also ‘happened.’ It took the form of events and encounters, visions, and words heard with the ear of the heart." What can we do, but listen, and follow!
You may contact for tips, schedules, resources, and ways to connect with other readers.
Zabriskie advises that readers "put yourself in the presence of God before you read any portion of the Bible." It sounds like a good plan. Let’s try it!
—Lois Sibley