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A Slave in Soul

“I have been a slave once in my life-a slave in body. But I long since resolved that no inducement and no influence would ever make me a slave in soul, in my love for humanity, and in my search for truth.” – Booker T. Washington, (1907) The Negro in the South

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson 

In a little-known, yet most noteworthy moment in the history of both American and African American literary history, Booker T. Washington jointly published the book _The Negro In the South (1907)_ . It contains 2 essays from himself and 2 other essays from none other than W.E.B. Du Bois. (And this was not their first co-publication. This would be the second book containing these two stalwarts in American and African American educational and intellectual history.) All the same, in the first of Mr. Washington’s two essays, he makes the distinction between being a “slave in body” versus being a “slave in soul.” Note the following concerning the remarks of the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University: He made a strategic, calculated set of decisions to ensure that his outward circumstance would not determine his future circumstances. (And these decisions revolved around a “love for humanity” and a “search for truth”, which will always place the “lover” and “seeker” of such beyond the pale of those whose pursuits are self-interested, selfish and slavishly fearful.) First, a lover of humanity is unafraid to come to learn to love others because he or she has first come to love himself. One can hardly come to love others if one does not possess a deep love for one’s self, and this includes learning to love both the learned and the ignorant. For a man or woman who ascended to leadership, as Mr. Washington had done, not only encountered both but had been both during his long ascent ‘Up From Slavery’. Second, the seeker of truth seeks after that which is right without regard to where this truth leads. Leo Tolstoy eloquently suggests the following about such a principle: “If you wish to know the truth, first of all free yourself from all considerations of self-interest.” Whether the truth Mr. Washington discovered was for the benefit or detriment to himself or not-“integrity” is the single greatest 9-letter word-this pursuit is without question what leads to 34 years of ongoing, consistent and enduring success for Tuskegee (Institute) University. For unbroken, undivided and unwavering consistency and wholeness is perhaps the closest description of both “truth” and Mr. Washington’s presidency that has served and will continue to serve generations of “humanity.” And this is why we celebrate his accomplishments in this the centennial year of his passing (1915-2015).

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Judgments of Old

Ps 119:52

52 I remembered thy judgments of old, O LORD; and have comforted myself.

KJV

One way to have a glimpse into what God is doing now in our individual, national and global affairs is to carefully consider what He has already done in the affairs of individuals, nations and generations who have gone before us. And there is no better record of God’s activities among men than to consider the judgments of old found in scripture. To be sure, having a glimpse does not amount to absolute certainly about God’s present plans and purposes (for such omniscience belongs solely to God), however it does confirm what God declares about himself, “I am the LORD, I change not.” This is what the psalmist is comforted by when He remembers these judgments. By considering the many fulfilments of God’s holy promises–regarding obedience and even disobedience–it has the effect of both assuring and comforting us about the integrity and endurance of God’s Word, particularly when we align ourselves with those things that pleased Him in times past; For what pleased Him or displeased Him in times past is what pleases Him and displeases Him now:

[Therefore remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth. There has not failed one word of all his good promise.] KJV 1 Chronicles 16:12

Brian Johnson, Ph.D.

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Asa’s Heart

1 Kings 15:14

14 But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa’s heart was perfect with the LORD all his days.

KJV

It would be a mistake to assume that a perfect heart amounts to a sinless life resulting in wholly perfect actions even as our Lord. Consider King David. Although he committed adultery with Bathsheba, plotted the killing of her husband, disobeyed God by numbering his forces and had countless difficulties when rearing his children, scripture describes him as a man “after God’s own heart.” And no less was the case with his great-great grandson Asa. Asa, who began his reign with a series of reforms and great victories, concluded his life with a refusal to seek God’s assistance for his own health or in battle. Yet, in spite of this, scripture records that his “heart was perfect with the LORD all his days.” The notion of a perfect heart speaks to those motives that fuel actions. While one may indeed accomplish wonderful things for God, God will only be concerned with the motives by which these things were accomplished. On the other hand, one may fail to accomplish something that brings glory to God, but God will be principally concerned with what were the motives of the heart:

[For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.] KJV 2 Chronicles 16:9

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Substance

“The title is the shadow; what you say [and do] is the substance.” – “Substance vs. Shadow: A Sunday Evening Talk” – Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson 

Shortly after beginning his presidency, Booker T. Washington began a series of “Sunday Evening Talks” to students and teachers. When compiling these in a book for compilation in 1901, he wrote in his preface: “These addresses were always delivered in a conversational tone and much in the same manner that I would speak to my own children around my fireside.” Unlike a well-prepared lecture or speech that any might be able to prepare, Mr. Washington allowed his hearers to engage him directly in a “conversational” manner to learn who he was as opposed to who he appeared to be. And few other quotations excerpted from one of these talks demonstrate that he was a man of purpose, not pretension, than the one found here: “The title is the shadow; what you say [and do] is the substance.” It would have been all too easy for Mr. Washington to rely upon his fame and renown to fully justify his not appearing before students in such an informal manner. (For he gave speeches across the nation, wrote books read 100 years since his passing and was the force behind what came to be regarded as the “Tuskegee Machine.”) Rather-as a man of both words and works indeed-Mr. Washington wanted to fully demonstrate that he was a tangible person whose life embodied what he proverbially preached. He did not simply possess a title, which permitted him to perpetually parade in pomp and circumstance because of it. His work and achievements could be readily deduced and substantively emulated and followed by those he led. In sum, he was the real thing-not the “shadow” but the “substance.” And in hindsight these Sunday evening talks is what likely leant even more power to his reputation. For Mr. Washington would have them to understand that he was no pretender but a man of purpose. And in the end, it was the person of Washington that men and women of Tuskegee could follow, not the position of Washington-the principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University).

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Yet Not I

1 Cor 15:10

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

KJV

If a believer in God through our Jesus Christ has no other reason not to glory in individual triumphs, the apostle Paul provides an important one: “Yet not I but the grace of God which was with me.” To an uninformed observer, such as the noble Festus, many of Paul’s assertions bespeaks of a man who was irrational (or even mad) because he gives glory to another divine force which governs his thoughts, ideals and actions. Paul does so repeatedly throughout the New Testament, for instance, when he remarks, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives within me.” Nevertheless, in spite of what appears to be some mad communicator of some strange new doctrine, we find in Paul’s communications a complete dependence and utter reliance upon the grace of God found in Christ Jesus our Lord. For grace is something much more than unmerited favor that every believer receives upon coming to know our Lord. Grace is a tangible, profitable endowment and gifting that enables us to live holily, walk worthy of the unique vocation we are called to fulfill and to accomplish whatever task that God has assigned to us:

[And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.] 2 Corinthians 9:8

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Resolved

“I resolved at once to go to that school, although I had no idea where it was, or how many miles away, or how I was going to reach it; I remembered only that I was on fire constantly with one ambition, and that was to go to Hampton. This thought was with me day and night.”  – Booker T. Washington. Up from Slavery (1901)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson 

“Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal,” is a maxim that has survived several revisions, and though it has been attributed to several historic personages, Booker T. Washington’s autobiography is a fine representation of this idea. One need not be reminded that the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University was a man who was formerly enslaved. While his autobiography chronicles his family’s poverty and difficult circumstances, it also chronicles his undaunted courage, persistence and determination “to go to school” in spite of these challenges. Consider the following: Booker T. Washington possessed a “vision”-the greatest 6-letter word-to get an education that would be bound by neither obstacles nor the opinions of others. More than this, “this thought was with [him] day and night.” (At night, while others were perhaps sleeping, this man was likely reading, writing and thinking, particularly as he gradually developed this life-long habit.) One can easily imagine the very apparent “obstacles” that might have caused him-as they did so many others-to retreat to a position of resignation that acquiring an education would not be within the grasp of a formerly enslaved young man. Or that somehow his “one ambition” was fool-hearted because others had not done so. Rather, he held fast to his idea to acquire an education when perhaps there was no reason to do so-except for “vision”. (And he did infinitely more than receive the education he long “thought” of and “that [he] was on fire constantly for”.) He was first educated. He next became a teacher and finally, at age 25, he became founding principal and president of one of the preeminent institutions in the world where he served for 34 years.

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Why Sit We Here?

2 Kings 7:3

3 And there were four leprous men at the entering in of the gate: and they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die?

KJV

There must necessarily come a time when we must take decided action in the midst of desperate circumstances, or else we’ll die. (To be clear, such death is not often literal, but figurative.) For whether such death occurs in our spiritual, vocational, educational, familial, and financial circumstances, they all amount to needless suffering since everyone has it well within one’s self to at least act. Consider the four lepers who when the Syrian army invaded Israel caused a most incredible turn of events due to their plain willingness to act. It would not be the large host of Israel that would cause the Syrians to run in fear, (slaying one another) and leaving riches and food for the people of Israel who were in the midst of famine. Instead, four weak, oppressed, ostracized and sickly men decided not to sit and fear, but take certain steps to gain provision for themselves (and ultimately the whole nation). For these men (based upon their single decision to act) encountered exceeding blessings that they might have never realized if they continued sitting until they died:

[And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.] KJV Exodus 14:15-16

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I, Even I Only

1 Kings 19:10

10 And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. KJV

The prophet Elijah was gravely mistaken in assuming that he alone remained faithful in the midst of corrupt and hostile ungodliness. And the Lord would move quickly to correct the prophet’s presumption: “I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” The Lord’s reminder certainly wrought a deep humility in the prophet, and should do so for ourselves as well. One need not ever think that his or her solitary efforts are needed to preserve God’s kingdom:

[for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.] KJV Matthew 3:9

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Answer of Peace

Gen 41:16

And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace. KJV

Whether received through God’s written word, in the inward parts of one’s inner man through God’s Spirit, or through one of God’s messengers, believers (and occasionally even unbelievers), one can expect to receive answers from God for perplexing and difficult circumstances in life. When one find such answers from God, they will be answers of peace, and Joseph’s communication to Pharaoh demonstrates much for discerning God’s answers of peace. First, Pharoah was troubled and confused about a circumstance that was presented to him. (To be sure, not every dream conforms to this, for Pharoah was leader of a great people and his decisions had impact among his people and throughout many surrounding nations, including God’s people. This dream was no vain or carnal imagination for personal aggrandizement, it affected people.) Secondly, Pharoah searched for answers (and could not find it) among the wise men and magicians of Egypt, those widely acknowledged to have preeminent, world-reknown expertise in such matters. Thirdly, Joseph’s communication was one that was “in season,” for a problem presently confronting Pharaoh in the very near future. (It will be no hindsight commentary that anyone can provide, for answers are always seemingly perfect concerning past events where all circumstances are known.) Fourthly, God’s answer of peace provided a solution. (To be sure, it would not be Pharaoh who would be “so discreet and wise” to manage the store houses of Egypt–but someone who could–in this case, Joseph.) In the end, God’s answer of peace not only resolved the difficulty and provided a solution, but resulted in blessing; the blessing was not only intended for a single individual, but Egypt, surrounding nations and particularly God’s own people: [

[For] the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.] KJV Proverbs 10:22

Brian Johnson, Ph.D.

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