Ordinary Time – An Evening of Prayer and Worship for Unity

Last night pastors, congregations, professors and students gathered from all around Nashville, Tennessee, to remember the nine men and women who were brutally murdered in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17 at Mother Emmanuel AME Church.

Unity Service | July 1 2015

We met at Woodmont Baptist Church and the sanctuary filled with worshipers from over 40 congregations for the two-hour service of prayer, song, and visions for racial unity. I was honored to be part of the service and to offer one of several prayers for healing and unity.  The following was my contribution. 

I bring you greetings from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. And from Glendale Baptist Church. We are honored to share in this time and place with all of you gathered here.

Let us join our hearts in prayer…

God of all generations and God of the ages –
We call on your powers of comfort this evening…

We gather so we might stop and attend to the harm done to our sisters and brothers last week in Charleston, and in the days since at in fires burning down church homes across the South. We desire deep in our hearts to work for lasting change. But first and foremost, we simply want to be with the memories of those who have died, to be in spirit with the families and friends left standing in their grief.

Today we weep with those who weep; we cry out with those who cry out, we love those who have loved and lost.

God of all generations and God of the ages –
We call on your power of lives lived in faith

For you are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Esau–
You are the God of Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah –

When we hold up our lives in the light of these saints, we see we are not so different. We too, have our disputes, our deceit, our treachery, our roles – known and unknown – in harms that last from generation to generation. We acknowledge that the sins of the mothers and fathers that have been visited on each new generation. And we are no exceptions.

God of all generations and God of the ages –
We call on your power to forgive and renew

For you are the God of Mary and Elizabeth –
The God of Joseph and Zachariah –

When we hold up our lives in the light of these saints, we see we are not so different. We see people connected by friendship, family ties and a common call to give birth to a new day, a new moment in your salvation history. We see in them a cooperation with the Spirit and the power of a new creation.

And yet across these ages and generations, we come to this day having lived with racial divides, and we have been estranged from each other. We have inherited roles and ways of being in the world that need forgiveness and renewal. Our ancestors lived as slaves and masters, and some of us struggle to believe this is our legacy. Yet until we believe it, we cannot be forgiven or healed. We once shared homes, yet they were homes built on the false ideologies of white superiority and black inferiority, false notions of humanity and race, supported by false laws, and false doctrines of separate but equal. And we are still estranged. In need of forgiveness and renewal.

So God of all generations and God of the ages –
We call on your power to call us home

Home is not always a symbol or a place of security, peace or belonging. Even Jesus had no place to lay his head, no place to call home. Instead he made a new home – not just in far away future, but a new home here and now, and new home on the road. Jesus traveled town to town and place to place healing those broken in body and in spirit, sharing good news of your mercy, O God.

This is the new home Jesus calls us to when he says, “come, follow me.” And this is the new home we want: the one where Jesus no longer recognizes masters and slaves, but calls us all friends. Jesus heals us of the sins of the masters, the white fathers and mothers who made homes of harm and de-humanization. We repent and seek mercy O God. And Jesus heals those who bear the pain, evil and harm of slavery in their bodies from generation to generation; manifesting itself in depression, stress, financial instability, chronic fear for sons and daughters ever in harm’s way.

God of all generations and God of the ages –
Call us all to your new home, a home on the road with Jesus

We want to be your people connected by friendship, family ties and a common call to give birth to a new day, a new moment in your salvation history. We want to be the people cooperate with the Spirit and know the power of a new creation.

O God, Give us courage to confess our pain, our sin, our need for healing. Give us the courage O Lord to get up with Mary and Martha, James and John, with Joanna and Peter and step out onto the road, the road that leads to home. The journey of following Jesus who is our home.

God of all generations and God of the ages –
We thank you. For you have never given up on calling us home.

Amen.

Woodmont

Ordinary Time – Oatmeal Chewies

Oatmeal Chewies Recipe

I’ve posted this recipe before, but when I need a good and delicious treat – which is also chocked full of healthy ingredients, I pull this one out. Love the oatmeal chewies and I’m taking them with me to a family gathering this weekend.

OATMEAL CHEWIES
(Chocolate-Peanut-Butter-Oatmeal Drop Cookies)
Margaret Reed

Combine in saucepan:
2 cups sugar            ½ cup milk
1 stick butter          ½ cup cocoa

Place over low heat and let butter melt. Boil hard for two minutes (no more). Remove from heat and add:

3 cups oatmeal
½ cup peanut butter, preferably crunchy
1 tsp vanilla

Mix thoroughly. Drop on waxed paper or parchment paper by spoonsful. Can use two cups oatmeal and one cup coconut. Refrigerate to firm up cookies.

 

OATMEAL CHEWIES
(Vegan Recipe, adapted by Eileen Campbell-Reed)

Combine in saucepan:
2 cups sugar                       ½ cup almond milk
½ cup Earth Balance        ½ cup cocoa
coconut spread

Place over low heat and let butter melt. Boil hard for two minutes (no more). Remove from heat and add:

3 cups oatmeal
½ cup almond butter, preferably crunchy
1 tsp vanilla

Mix thoroughly. Drop on waxed paper or parchment paper by spoonsful. Refrigerate to firm up cookies.

 

Eastertide – Reflecting on the Alliance of Baptists

Reflecting on the Alliance of Baptists 

Conversation: "Leading Women: How Women Are Changing the Church"  PHOTO by Alyssa Aldape
Conversation: “Leading Women: How Women Are Changing the Church”
PHOTO by Alyssa Aldape

The Alliance of Baptists met in mid April in Atlanta, Georgia. We were hosted kindly by the good folks of Northside Drive Baptist Church. Here are some reflections on my time at the annual gathering of the Alliance.

The Numbers. For such a small denominational group, we are a powerhouse of participation. Over 400 people came to the meeting, representing over two thirds of the churches that are members of the Alliance? Unprecedented.

Words and Action. I love the way leaders in the Alliance take seriously their call to mission, social justice, and meaningful change for the sake of the gospel. I like making decisions by consensus, hearing reports about multi-year partnerships with Baptists in Cuba, Zimbabwe, and the Republic of Georgia, learning how new organizations spin out from the Alliance, yet remain connected, and seeing the ecumenical an interfaith initiatives and partnerships.

Digging Deeper. I love the substance of conversations that take place at the Alliance. In a workshop “Leading Women” I hosted over 40 women as we talked with Karen Thomas Smith, Chanequa Walker-Barnes, and Melissa Browning in depth about leadership. We questioned the concept of “empowerment,” described double binds faced by women, and grappled with complexities of race and class that cannot be ignored while talking about gender. We heard stories of institutionalized sexism and racism in Africa and North America. We talked about the problems of white privilege and the struggle to sustain change over time, while trying to nurture hope. We talked about how to start a coup or at least continue a revolution for equality, access, and meaningful change in the church.

Connections. In my longitudinal study of pastors, we explore the embodied, relational and spiritual character of learning and leading in ministry. As Baptists departed the SBC in search of new connections that were more faithful and shaped by freedom, Alliance founder Jim Strickland liked to say, “The Alliance attracts the real brains of the operation.” I tend to agree, yet I’m relieved that we’re not just concerned about our powers to think or argue about Baptist ideas and principles. No, we are interested in acting, and we understand the essential quality of embodied, relational knowing. This commitment to do more than think and talk, means we love to be together, do our work together, embodying the presence of Christ and the spirit of the Holy. By coming face-to-face, talking, eating, worshiping, singing, we are knitting together our many calls and churches into something bigger than who we are alone. More importantly, we are bearing witness to the power of God’s love and work in the world.

 

Eileen Campbell-Reed is Co-Director, Learning Pastoral Imagination Project and Coordinator for Coaching, Mentoring & Internship, create Central Seminary. She blogs at Keeper of the Fire and tweets at @ecampbellreed

Lent IV – March Forth 1965-2015

March4th1965-2015

 

Today’s date inspired a nested poem this morning.* As the Department of Justice Report on the Ferguson police department comes out this week, two executions are postponed in Georgia for Kelly Gissendaner and Brian Terrell, and the fiftieth anniversary of the marches in Selma approach, the need to protest non-violently is stronger than ever. To work for humane changes in society, government, eduction, and religion remains our greatest moral task.

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* The photo comes from Jack Rabin collection on Alabama civil rights and southern activists, 1941-2004 (bulk 1956-1974) , Historical Collections and Labor Archives, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University.

This form of poetry/prayer is called a “nested meditation.” Each line stands on its own for reflection. At the same time, each line adds words to the previous line. See Kevin Anderson, Divinity in Disguise: Nested Meditations to Delight the Mind and Awaken the Soul (Center for Life Balance, 2003).

Lent III – Wake Up #KellyOnMyMind

Photo credit: Ann Borden, Emory Photo Video
BPhoto credit: Ann Borden, Emory Photo Video

BREAKING NEWS: 
2:40pm March 3, 2015

Executions POSTPONED
with an “abundance of caution.”

& Brian Terrell! Awesome! JUST DON’T STOP, Team! 

Let’s add a new hashtag:  

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Wake up!

When I woke up my daughter this morning and kissed her small cheek, I wanted with all my heart to wake her up to a world that no longer returns punishment for punishment and death for death. I wanted to wake her up to a world that has the strength and courage to respond to punishment and death with compassion for everyone involved. I longed to wake her up in a country governed by laws and leaders who use restraint when facing evil and harm, and who do not participate blindly in the taking of lives and call it “justice.”

Kelly Gissendaner was wrong, and she is the first to admit it. She found someone to kill her husband, and when she was found guilty in a court of law, she entered into a sentence that would most likely take the rest of her life in prison. When she woke on up Tuesday, February 24, she learned that day her appeal to the Board of Pardons and Paroles had been denied, after years of believing with her lawyers that she would receive clemency.

In the course of 18 years of waking up each day in prison, Kelly has experienced a profound transformation. Her heart and her mind have changed. Here is a piece of that story from her friend and former prisoner, Nikki Roberts.

Nikki met Kelly when she tried to take her own life. She was carried into a cell and put on suicide watch. Kelly spoke to Nikki through an air vent: “Stop giving up your power!” Later Nikki realized with Kelly’s help that in the prison system, death is a reality and “merely a matter of numbers.” Kelly urged Nikki not to give herself over to death. “Make something of yourself.” she said. And Nikki got the message, saying Kelly gave her hope. And from that hope, Nikki turned her own time in prison from being considered a “disciplinary problem” to being a peer mentor.

Nikki says about Kelly’s impending execution: “You’re killing someone that’s a help. You’re killing someone that gives hope. You’re killing someone that after 18 years has a rehabilitated mind. You’re killing someone that made peace with her three children.”

Kelly’s children, the people most impacted by the crime she committed didn’t forgive their mom initially. But today they are fully reconciled, and “they are begging the board of pardons and paroles to allow their mother to live.” says Nikki.

Nikki says of Kelly: “She is being judged for taking one life. But she’s not being granted mercy for giving so much life to others.”

Today, I want to appeal to your sense of the power of redemption, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Even if you still believe in the death penalty has a legitimate form of punishment (and I will respectfully and openly disagree), Kelly’s story is one that shows a different pathway, a Christ-inspired way, a morally responsible state-sponsored way to respond to the loss of life taken in murder. Call on Gov. Nathan Deal to stay the execution.
If 18 years in prison has resulted in a woman’s life transformed into one that helps save the lives of others, then why should we participate in snuffing out this one life? If prison’s highest goal is rehabilitation, then why should we reward meaningful human change with death?

When the state takes a life we are each implicated. And I want to raise my Baptist voice of dissent in that process. I don’t want to be party to taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Retributive justice does not deter crime, nor does it contribute to improving the human condition. In fact it only exacerbates the problem, sanctioning, authorizing and normalizing the taking of lives.

Of course I believe there are people who are so torn and broken that they are beyond the capacity to live freely and peaceably with others. And persons in that condition should indeed be set aside from society, and treated with compassion and protection for their sake as well as the sake of those not restrained. Only love and compassion change hearts and lives. Sometimes even they fail, but murder and state-sponsored executions do nothing for the cause of redemption.

Jesus put it best:

38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of God. (Matthew 5:38-45)

Will you join me today and telling Gov. Deal that we want him to act with compassion not retaliation? We beg him to choose out of mercy not judgment alone, out of love, not hate, out of his best understanding of humanity as informed by his Baptist faith, and not canceling out the good work of redemption that is unfolding in Kelly Gissendaner. May that same help, hope and peace that she embodies be more possible in Georgia, and in these United States, and in all of God’s creation.

At this posting, I don’t know what we will wake up to in the morning. I don’t know if Kelly will be alive or dead. I don’t know if Governor Deal will have more or less weighing on his conscience. I do think following this story has changed me, and I will carry some of the help and hope and peace that Kelly shares with me. I thank God for her life, and I hold out hope there will be many more years for her to live.

 

Lent II – Black History Month

NewJimCrow61dV3M-HnLL._SL1024_The New Jim Crow
by Michelle Alexander

This afternoon I had a long drive from Atlanta to Nashville, and I decided to start a book I’ve been wanting to read . . . by letting my iPad read to me. Just the fact that I can drive state to state, and choose a book to “read” while driving, and let my electronic device read to me as I go, says a lot.

What is says is that I benefit from a lot of privilege and prosperity and class liberty. I have a blog and a computer to write it on, and a lot of other things that prop up my “freedoms” and “choices.”

I’m part of a system that benefits me and others. That system also harms me and others. Mostly the others who are the inheritors of slavery, racism, Jim Crow laws, and the new Jim Crow, mass incarceration.

Author, lawyer and professor, Michelle Alexander argues, “mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow and that all those who care about social justice should fully commit themselves to dismantling this new racial caste system” (p. 11).  She continues by addressing the objection raised by some that we live in a “color-blind” society having elected President Barak Obama to office twice: “the widespread belief that race no longer matters— has blinded us to the realities of race in our society and facilitated the emergence of a new caste system” (pp. 11-12). Black History Month, says Alexander, is often presented as a celebration of the end of Jim Crow, yet it did not end. Not exactly. It morphed into a racist system of mass incarceration.

I’m riveted by this book and Alexander’s arguments. I’m a bit late joining this conversation, and frankly my teaching a college credit course in a medium security prison last fall is what brought me fully awake to the severity of mass incarceration. I joined the Middle Tennessee group “Revisioning Justice” last fall, and members of that group are introducing me to more arguments, activists, teachers, and ideas.

As I arrived home this evening, I became aware of a campaign to try and stay an execution for Kelly Gissendaner. (If you are just learning about her situation, you can read more HERE.) The death penalty and state sponsored executions are deeply troublesome. They are interlocked with an entire system that does not reform or rehabilitate, but rather hardens people, misappropriates justice, and goes on building an economy on the backs of criminalized bodies – mostly brown and black bodies. I want to continue to move my own racialized white body into the social, economic, and class gap that the mass incarceration system creates. Once in that gap, I want to continue partnering with others to imagine new creative solutions.

For now I’m going to keep reading Alexander and see what else goes on my reading list, my to do list, my participate-in-change list. Alexander says: “if we say to ourselves that the problem of mass incarceration is just too big, too daunting for us to do anything about and that we should instead direct our energies to battles that might be more easily won, history will judge us harshly. A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch” (p. 15).

Lent I – Black History Month

Harlem - Feb 2015Selma

I began this first Sunday in Lent by traveling to Harlem in the heart of New York City. After a week of sleet, snow and ice in Nashville, I was grateful for the sunshine, and even the slushy sidewalks. People here looked delighted to be out greeting the day and each other. When I was here last month, I wanted to see Selma showing in a nearby theater, but the trip was too full. Following a morning of writing on the plane, I thought it a good Sabbath practice to drink deeply of this story of American history, a tragic and courageous piece of history.

The movie definitely pulled me up short. I heard Terry Gross’s interview with the film’s director, Ava DuVernay a few weeks ago. I was moved as she described her approach to the story. During the movie itself I was jolted to tears and to furor several times. DuVernay says she hoped “to place the audience right front and center emotionally to what it felt like to be black in the deep South in 1965.” She does so exquisitely. I’ve never felt the impact of the violence, the politics, the personal cost, the complexity of the Civil Rights movement so profoundly.

My lenten discipline this year is to be open-hearted to life, to risk, to the reach for the courage enough to love, even when I don’t feel like it. Being open-hearted to the history and the present reality of what it means to be black in America means being moved emotionally and feeling the demand for outrage and for action. It means seeing the stakes of what racism is and what it does, and what it costs.

Fifty years ago the events of Selma brought thousands of protesters into the streets of Harlem. Last year Ferguson brought more protesters into these streets. Much has happened in between. Thanks be to God. But so much more still needs to happen. Lives and dignity, and futures are on the line. When will the day come when no more protests are needed? When, O God, will we be just as delighted by each other as we are with a sunshiny winter afternoon?

How shall we find the courage to turn our open hearts to God and to each other?

Ash Wednesday – 2015


Gimme All Your Love 

So tell me what do you want me to do…
You want me to lay down and play dead and do backflips for you?

Walk in your shoes for a while? 
Tell me, what’s right?

Gimme all your love
Gimme all you got, baby

— Alabama Shakes

Joel 2:12-13 – Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

That’s my Lenten discipline this year. To love God by loving God’s world more whole-heartedly. Brene Brown speaks and writes beautifully about loving and living wholeheartedly. It takes vulnerability, risk, and courage. It means letting go of shame, defenses and white-knuckled control. What does this look like in concrete practice?

Hearts of IceJesus offers some help at this point. He says where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (Matthew 6:20-21). And he says not to invest it in material places where our investments are easily destroyed – by moth or rust. One very concrete way to understand this teaching is to invest in relationships which are concrete yet so much more than mere material objects. To be sure, investing energy, money and love in the people we care about can also come to destructive ends. Yet the investment of ourselves in work and love that follows our hearts . . . puts us in a realm beyond easy destruction. Relationships stay with us long after people are gone.

So this Lent, I’m going to explore more publicly how love and wholeheartedness can be our guide to investing our lives – which is to say, all of our time and money – because in most cases it is our lives we trade away for time and for money. So with the vulnerability of weeping and mourning, not weakness, but courage, I’m aiming to explore the places where God is saying, “Gimme all your love.”

Where is God asking you to open your heart and share your love this lenten season?

 

Scholastica: A Saint for Women Called to Ministry

Women breaking new ground in ministry need a network of peer support.

Saint Scholastica and Sainted Abbesses - photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Saint Scholastica and Sainted Abbesses | photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

February 10 is the Feast Day of Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict and founder of the first Benedictine convent for women. These “holy twins” were born late in the fifth century (480 C.E.) in Italy, to a wealthy family. Benedict is best known for establishing a number of monastic communities and for writing the Rule of Saint Benedict, which remains a source of inspiration for thousands of Christians, providing guidance for their daily spiritual lives.

Although lesser known than her twin brother, Scholastica provides inspiration of her own as a patron saint for nuns. Through the fifteen centuries since Scholastica lived in a spiritual community of women, the number and types of possible vocations for women in religious leadership has expanded enormously across the landscape of both Catholic and Protestant churches. In the last half century in North America and Europe, the entry of women into ordained and authorized leadership in Christian congregations has created one of the single largest changes to the face of the church in two millennia.

With these notable changes and growth of women’s pastoral leadership in the church comes an undeniable need for connection and support. Again Saint Scholastica offers inspiration. Adopting the name “Scholastica” Middle Tennessee women in ministry have a new opportunity to gather monthly for connection, support and inspiration, in a peer mentoring lunch series sponsored by Central Seminary, Scarritt Bennett Center, and Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“Scholastica” began in the Fall of 2014, and is set to meet monthly from September through April of each year, drawing on resources that resonate with the Benedictine tradition, to build spiritual friendship, conversation, hospitality, and collegial relationships. Peer groups for ministers are an important source of spiritual guidance, learning, and support; they leads to healthier pastors and stronger congregations or ministries; and they assist in overcoming isolation that can undermine ministry.

Spiritual Guidance and Support

Ministers, like all people of faith, need guidance and support for their spiritual lives. Scholastica and Benedict, as spiritual ancestors in ministry leadership, knew the benefits of a shared life of prayer, work, study, worship, and hospitality in community formed in Christ. In a recent book on peer learning in ministry, So Much Better, author and sociologist of religion, Penny Long Marler distinguishes adult study and learning from childhood training. As Christian disciples and ministers, adult learners “need to be convinced that a learning experience is really worth their time and effort.” Marler observes that for pastors “commitment hinges on the promise of something more that really matters.” Ministers benefit from a circle of peers who help them articulate what they need and want to learn so they may grow in their vocations of leadership.

Better Pastors and Better Congregations

Two national surveys of pastors (2010) reported strong evidence that involvement in peer learning and peer networks of support contributes not only to healthier and more balanced pastors, but also to stronger, vibrant congregations. In fact when pastors are part of intentional peer groups with facilitators and a clear plan for learning, they are more likely to be part of churches that are renewing their purpose and growing.

All ministers benefit from a supportive community of peers to thrive in ministry. When women are breaking new ground, especially in denominations that still harbor suspicions of women’s leadership, they need a network of peer support to meet the challenges they face daily and to overcome the isolation of ministry.

Overcoming Isolation

Ministry in congregations, hospitals, schools and non-profits is demanding work. To teach, lead, care for people, and bring lasting and meaningful change to situations, requires deep spiritual resources. It is easy for ministers to find themselves alone in their work, and expending more spiritual energy than they are receiving. That situation can foster isolation, resentment, and self-doubt. And isolation is especially detrimental for women in professional ministry, who remain a minority in nearly every Christian denomination.

Meeting with others who are doing similar work of ministry breaks down the isolation, normalizes the profound challenges of ministry, and allows space for honest self assessment – thinking neither too lowly nor to highly of oneself.

To be sure peer support alone will not solve all the challenges or riddles of ministry. However, making and sustaining connections with other ministers does enhance one’s spiritual, imaginative, and relational capacity for the practice of ministry. The middle Tennessee initiative “Scholastica” aims to foster:

  • Peer conversation to support learning relationally over time about the practice of ministry;
  • Fellowship at tables grounded in the practice of the shared supper and the communion of saints;
  • Networking with other ministers to support and build relationships leading to more opportunities for collaboration in ministry;
  • Mutual support for women who are often isolated in their work of ministry.

Scholastica is a saint for women called to ministry. She was said to be “one who loved more.” The work of ministry is grounded in the work of God’s love for humanity, and today we can gaze briefly into this one life of Saint Scholastica to say thanks for the work of God’s love.

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This post first appeared at Baptist Global News: Perspectives.

 

Black History Month – Rose Marie McCoy

rosie-marie-mccoyHidden Talents
Black History Month – Day 3

This afternoon I heard on NPR a remembrance of Rose Marie McCoy, who died at age 92 in on January 20. She was “one of the most prolific songwriters you’ve never heard of,” and she produced more than 800 songs in her lifetime. McCoy wrote for singers from Elvis and Sarah Vaughn and Nat King Cole to Etta James, Faith Hill, Linda Ronstadt, Aretha Franklin, and James Taylor. And she wrote in many genres of popular music from Blues and Rock to Country and Jazz.

One of my favorite things about her is her independence, having never signed with a particular label or publisher, but in her life time wrote with various partners and collaborators.  The first really big hit by McCoy and her writing partner Charles Singleton was recorded by Elvis in 1955. Here is a 1968 rendition. Enjoy!

And here is a recording by Rose Marie McCoy herself, “Stop Dippin’ in My Business.” Among the joys of celebrating Black History Month is the discovery of good art, music, writing, inventing, and the amazing human beings who created it.