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As pastors of one of New York City's largest churches, Reverend Floyd Flake and his wife, Reverend M. Elaine McCollins Flake, are frequently sought after by those in need of guidance. Throughout their ministry, the Flakes have drawn from a distinguished array of stories, letters, hymns, narratives, and poems — from James Baldwin and Maya Angelou to Arthur Ashe and Colin Powell — to inspire families to live ethically in an often unethical world. Now, with Practical Virtues, they've gathered their favorites into a ...
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As pastors of one of New York City's largest churches, Reverend Floyd Flake and his wife, Reverend M. Elaine McCollins Flake, are frequently sought after by those in need of guidance. Throughout their ministry, the Flakes have drawn from a distinguished array of stories, letters, hymns, narratives, and poems — from James Baldwin and Maya Angelou to Arthur Ashe and Colin Powell — to inspire families to live ethically in an often unethical world. Now, with Practical Virtues, they've gathered their favorites into a single, indispensable collection, paired with spiritual exercises for the soul.
A firmness of spirit and strength of the soul, Courage is the state of mind that enables you to face difficulty or danger with confidence in spite of fear.
Every day we live, we exercise courage. From the moment we wake in the morning to the minute we lie down to sleep at night, we must be courageous. Courage is a spirit within that compels us to face dangerous and difficult situations rather than withdrawing into ourselves. It is knowing that we are capable of achieving successes in spite of the odds against us. Courage is not the absence of fear; rather, it is acting or speaking despite our fear.
On Sunday mornings, when I stand before my congregation, it can be daunting to think that thousands of men, women, and children are listening to what I have to say. I know the power of words and I know that it is my responsibility to speak with integrity and conviction, so I must maintain confidence and composure when I deliver my sermons. It is not always easy to take controversial or nontraditional positions with sermon content, but I cannot allow fear to rule me. To the contrary, I must rule fear.
Our history as African Americans is marked by the necessity and determination to maintain courage in the midst of abuse and mistreatment, oppression and persecution. The words of Claude McKay echo in our souls: "If we must die, let it not be like hogs / Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot." Countless black men and women have demonstrated remarkable courage in the face of considerable obstacles.
From Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King, Jr., our ancestors have stood in the face of injustice and boldly challenged the world to acknowledge its inadequacies and remedy its wrongs. We will never forget the courage of our past, for it is what shapes the prosperity of our present and offers hope for the future.
Of course, there is much more yet to be done, and there are many more obstacles to overcome. As a people, we have come far, but we have much farther to go. Courage is the legacy of our history. It is not a remnant of our past but a heritage that has been handed down to us. The bravery of our ancestors must inspire us to live courageously.
Although we cannot all be Harriet Tubmans or Martin Luther Kings in terms of notoriety or public acclaim, we can appropriate their dauntless spirits. The desire to make a difference in this world and to have a positive impact on the lives of others should motivate us to dream big dreams. And our faith in God should give us the courage to turn our dreams into realities, for often our own fear is the only thing preventing us from attaining greatness and success.
In times of fear or vacillation, I often recall the words God spoke to Joshua, commanding him to deliver the Israelites from the wilderness: "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:9).
Like the Israelites, we live beneath God's watchful protection. We need never fear when we know that God is with us. Our faith gives us courage. As we are guided by God, we are further bolstered by the love of our friends and family members. We must not be ashamed to embrace the support of others.
Finally, we must release the power within us -- the power that fuels courage. Courage is a strength of the heart. As African Americans, we know too well that things are not always fair or just, but we cannot forever blame the world for our misfortunes. Success is not granted but earned; it is gained through taking positive action and not waiting for someone else to do for us what we can do for ourselves. We all have the ability to find happiness, but we must start the search with courage.
The Book of Esther relates incidents in the lives of two queens, Esther and Vashti, both of whom are courageous in the face of oppression, but in strikingly different ways. While Esther's story is reported in more detail in the scriptures, I am especially drawn to the story of the Persian queen, Vashti, the lesser-sung heroine in the Book of Esther. As interpreted by Frances E. W. Harper in "Vashti," a poem published in 1857 in Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, the queen is a model of both moral integrity and courage.
She leaned her head upon her hand
And heard the King's decree—
"My lords are feasting in my halls;
Bid Vashti come to me.
"I've shown the treasures of my house,
My costly jewels rare,
But with the glory of her eyes
No rubies can compare.
"Adorn'd and crown'd I'd have her come,
With all her queenly grace,
And, 'mid my lords and mighty men,
Unveil her lovely face.
"Each gem that sparkles in my crown,
Or glitters on my throne,
Grows poor and pale when she appears,
My beautiful, my own!"
All waiting stood the chamberlains
To hear the Queen's reply.
They saw her cheek grow deathly pale,
But light flash'd to her eye:
"Go, tell the King," she proudly said,
"That I am Persia's Queen,
And by his crowds of merry men
I never will be seen.
"I'll take the crown from off my head
And tread it 'neath my feet,
Before their rude and careless gaze
My shrinking eyes shall meet.
"A queen unveil'd before the crowd!—
Upon each lip my name!—
Why, Persia's women all would blush
And weep for Vashti's shame!
"Go back!" she cried, and waved her hand,
And grief was in her eye:
"Go, tell the King," she sadly said,
"That I would rather die."