A Method in the Midst of Madness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Bridgett Green

What happens when chaos steps in and disrupts our present circumstances? We become dizzy and disoriented us as our world changes beyond comprehension. We lose a sense of who we are and what we’re doing. And we wonder what is God doing and trying to show us.

When the method to the madness is lost and we are simply left with just madness, how are we to respond? Examining the courageous leadership of Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow nation, Jonathan Lear offers Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. His anthropological analysis with theological insight into Chief Plenty Coups and the Crow nation’s experiences of radical hope provides insights about how to face an uncertain reality with courage and conviction.

Chief Plenty Coups led the Crow nation at the turn of the 20th century when seismic cultural and political shifts devastated their way of life. Preserving their land, living off wild buffalo, and having a rich spiritual life were central to their culture. Invasions by white settlers, wars with other Indigenous nations, broken treaties with the U.S. government, and the utter annihilation of the buffalo created a massive shock wave to the Crow’s way of life and concepts of living.

Devastated by their reality, the Crow nation engaged in a radical hope to confront their present circumstances by synthesizing their traditions with a new conceptual framework for flourishing. Radical hope is the exercise of imaginative excellence for generating creative responses to world challenges. Rooted in vibrant ideals, it allows for a rewarding life in the face of hard realities. To have a radical hope, one must have a faith, or what Lear calls a psychological flexibility, to believe in possibilities without knowledge of how they would manifest.

As a young man, Chief Plenty Coups received a divine message warning him of future destruction and encouraging him to listen carefully and to learn from others. The elders and the community adopted his dream. Not knowing how it would manifest, the people allowed the dream to generate a radical hope for survival that would surpass their understanding.

With radical hope, the Crow nation kept their lands and mountains despite the pressures and broken treaties by the U.S. government enacted in the reservation system. Chief Plenty Coups encouraged generations to go to white schools, explaining that knowing what the white man knows would keep him from being able to oppress them. Eventually, the Crow nation built on their reservation Little Big Horn College that incorporated their history and traditions with western education. The Crow nation developed a new conceptual framework for flourishing.

When we experience a loss of identity, culture, or vocation, it’s an opportunity to follow the wisdom of Chief Plenty Coups: 1) access the real challenges; 2) seeks God’s will; 3) discern with community the vision; 4) have faith God’s vision (versus the prescription); 5) listen and learn from various sources; and 6) respond creatively and courageously to the present reality (and not a reconstructed version of the past).


Bridgett A. Green is a teaching elder and is completing her dissertation as a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at Vanderbilt University. Living outside of Nashville, she serves the church as an acquisitions editor at Presbyterian Publishing Corporation; as a trustee on the board of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and as a trustee on the board of the Mountain Retreat Association (aka Montreat). She resources people as they practice Christianity with the tools of sound biblical interpretation, rigorous theological inquiry, and good questions.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Presbyterian College

Rebecca Davis, professor at Presbyterian College, and students Joaquin Ross and Jacob Kennedy, give an Ignite presentation on racial unrest and reconciliation on campus.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: John Wilkinson

John Wilkinson, pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY, gives an Ignite presentation on the Confession of 1967.

Lunch Conversation: Keys to Unlock Your Dynamic Youth Ministry

Lunch Conversation: The Keys to Unlock Your Dynamic Youth Ministry
Presenter: Matt Vaughan

Description: What is innovative in youth ministry that works? Engage in a conversation about context, ministry tools, examples, and structure to make your youth ministry exemplary!

Here are the slides Matt used in his conversation – we hope they spark some new thoughts in your own youth ministry context.

Have questions? Want to learn more? Get in touch with Matt via email.

Workshop Materials: Creating a Culture of Generosity

Workshop: Creating a Culture of Generosity
Presenter: Robert Hay Jr.

Description: Is your congregation’s approach to stewardship stuck in a rut? Are you living in a state of scarcity and longing for abundance? This workshop will outline a program that has moved churches from a four-week stewardship campaign to a year-round culture of generosity. Learn how to form your Generosity Team, how to create an activities calendar for your church’s funds ministry, how to prepare a narrative budget, and how to integrate all aspects of your church into the life of generosity.

Here are the resources Robert provided during the workshop:

If you’d like more information on these materials, contact Robert at the Presbyterian Foundation via email.

Fighting About Politics and Religion: Why Do We Do It?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Nanette Sawyer

“Even before I knew why she was criticizing me, I knew I disagreed with her…” This line got a laugh when I recently quoted it in a sermon. Perhaps people could identify with it; if I’m honest, I certainly can. No one likes to be criticized.

Author and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote these words in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. He was describing the day his wife asked him to not put the dirty dishes on the counter where she prepares the baby food. His disagreement with her came before he even knew what she was going to say, because he wasn’t reacting with his rational mind, he was reacting with his instinctive need to self-protect. In a light tone he admits that he realized on that day that he was a chronic liar.

He’s not alone, of course; Haidt was using himself to explain the human tendency to want to defend our reputation or the reputation of our “group,” whatever that group may be in any given situation. It could be a sports team, a political party, a family, a religion — any group of which we are a part and which defines some aspect of our identity.

One of Haidt’s major points is that our sense of being right, our sense of moral righteousness, comes not from our rational mind, but from an instantaneous “intuition” or intuitive cognition. Our intuition is like an elephant that we ride — it’s large, powerful, and in control. Our strategic reasoning is like a small rider being carried around on the elephant trying to explain why the elephant is right (even when it’s not).

It’s easy to say that other people’s deeply held beliefs are irrational, but more difficult to admit that mine are irrational, too. Irrational doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, it just means that our moral judgment, our sense of what is right and wrong, happens instantaneously and unconsciously in a flash of intuitive cognition, influenced by prior experience and beliefs.

This changes how we might think about discussing religion and politics with people who differ from us. Giving people more and better “reasons” as to why our opinions are better than theirs will generally not lead to either party changing their perspective. To effectively engage with people who disagree with us means befriending the elephants, theirs and our own, and accruing new experiences so that our intuitions change.

In addition to recognizing that there are both elephants and riders in the room, Haidt outlines moral foundations theory and shows that self-identified liberal and conservative people make moral judgements based on different types of criteria. Six classic moral foundations are:

  1. Care / harm
  2. Fairness/ cheating
  3. Loyalty / betrayal
  4. Authority / subversion
  5. Sanctity / degradation
  6. Liberty /oppression

You can take a free test (start with the Moral Foundations Questionnaire) and see how you measure up at www.yourmorals.org.

Haidt’s book is smart and well-documented, but grounded in story telling that makes it easy to read and understand. I have found it incredibly helpful as I try to wend my way through complex relationships with people who disagree with me and with each other in profound ways. Jesus said, “how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4). Haidt’s book helps me take a look at the log in my eye.


Nanette Sawyer is a Presbyterian pastor who leads faith formation and small group ministries at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago. Nanette was the founding pastor of Grace Commons, a small emergent church formed in an art gallery on the west side of Chicago. The author of Hospitality the Sacred Art (Skylight Paths, 2008), she feels called to guide people in spiritual practices that prepare us to be deeply rooted in God’s love and brave in extending that love to others.

2017 National Gathering Testimony: Glenn McCray & Charlie Scoma

Glenn McCray and Charlie Scoma provided the first testimony of the 2017 National Gathering on Monday afternoon.

 

Glenn McCray is a multi-ethnic, first generation American and “Seattle-ite” whose mother is from the Philippines and father from Louisiana. Glenn is happily married to Rev. Natasha Iwalani Hicks McCray, who serves as the pastor of Mt. View Presbyterian Church (Seattle), where he also attends and serves. Glenn and Tasha coach girls varsity basketball for their local high school and share a heart for reconciliation to God, self, and others. Vocationally, Glenn serves as the Director of Church-based Community Development with a Christian community development organization called Urban Impact. Glenn has spent more than a decade developing youth and education programs, serving as a chaplain for youth in juvenile detention, and working closely with other local organizations, schools, and local churches.

Charlie Scoma brings many years of experience in chaplaincy, ministry and education to the Seattle Police Department. He is an experienced counselor and trained in Critical Incident Stress Management. He has served in the fire service for over 13 years, he’s passionate about caring for others, and he is an instructor for an accredited chaplain academy, training other chaplains in the Northwest. He is an ordained pastor in the PCUSA and has an MSW from Rutgers University. Charlie coaches baseball and enjoys fly-fishing.

2017 National Gathering Transformative Learning I

Jen Kottler and Leslie Mott served as our Transformation Leaders at the 2017 National Gathering, joining us throughout the week during plenary sessions to help us find ways to process what we experienced and equip us to take those learnings home with us. Here is their first session from Monday afternoon.

Leslie Mott is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philipstown, NY, a certified Spiritual Director, and a yoga teacher. She directs the pastoral sabbath program for Hudson River Presbytery and is the coordinator of spirituality and practice at Bedford Presbyterian Church.

Jen Kottler is a certified life and leadership coach and spiritual director in private practice. Ordained in the Disciples of Christ, she studies spiritual formation at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and incorporates yoga into her prayer life.

2017 National Gathering Opening Worship

Alonzo Johnson preaches the opening worship service of the 2017 National Gathering.

Scripture: John 4:1-42

Alonzo Johnson is coordinator for the Self-Development of People Program (SDOP). SDOP is a branch of the PCUSA’s Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry. He is also the convener of the Educate A Child, Transform the World initiative. Alonzo has 25 years of experience specializing in urban, youth, education, creative arts and social justice ministries. He served an urban congregation in Philadelphia, PA, and worked as a volunteer chaplain for 9 years at Luther Luckett Correctional Facility in LaGrange, KY. He has an MDiv from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is currently a DMin student at the same institution.

 

The Civil Rights Movement: Important History, but Not in the Past

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

I have a lot of friends these days who are reading books about the rise of fascism in Germany. I will leave it to the reader to consider the reason for consuming such reading material, and any resonances between that time period and our modern day. (For now, I am content with occasional binges of The Man in the High Castle on Netflix, which imagines a world in which the Allies lost World War II, and a small band of dissidents imagines a better, more peaceful and compassionate world. They call themselves the Resistance.)

Rather than fill my Kindle and nightstand with the history of Nazism, I’ve decided to focus my heavy reading on the civil rights era in America. At the beginning of the year I resolved to read Taylor Branch’s three-volume series, beginning with the 1,000-page Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963.

Some time after undertaking this project, a friend informed me that there’s a summary book that condenses this history into one volume. But I’ve committed at this point. As for how long it will take me to read almost three thousand pages? I can only promise that it will be less time than the 14 years that comprise the movement Branch chronicles.

At last year’s NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta, I heard loud and clear our call as an 89% white denomination to undertake conversations about race and racism, however uncomfortable these conversations may be, and however much some may push back at us for “dwelling on the past rather than moving on.” As I read Branch’s careful accounting of the ills of white supremacy, I consider today’s travel bans and border walls, and Iowa Congressman Steve King’s odious comment that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Meanwhile many of us carry signs and risk arrest, and we rejoice when the judicial branch puts a check on bigotry through legislative executive order. And I marvel at the truth of the words, attributed to William Faulkner, that the past isn’t dead — indeed it isn’t even past.

Like many of us, I knew much of this history only in the most cursory way. We studied civil rights in school, and I remember my AP Government teacher arranged for after-school showings of the magnificent documentary Eyes on the Prize. (He felt it so important for a bunch of white suburban smartypants to see it that he offered two additional points on our entire semester grade if we watched the whole thing. In retrospect, it was so wrenching and transforming I would have done it for free.)

I did not know, or perhaps didn’t remember, that Martin Luther King Jr.’s first major troubles with the law came when the state of Alabama tried to get him on charges of felony tax evasion related to his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. What ultimately saved him was his incredibly meticulous record-keeping; attorneys and accountants working on his behalf were stunned at the painstaking way he kept track of his expenses. I think about my haphazard financial records and how they would not hold up to such scrutiny. And I recall how African-American friends talk about learning from a young age that they must always, always “be better.”

I also offer my own confession, prompted by a section about the 1957 Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Eisenhower. The bill was watered down as to be almost useless (though that didn’t stop Strom Thurmond from filibustering it for some 24 hours). Many civil rights leaders refused to support it because it was so weak. Yet King and other civil rights leaders ultimately signed on. As Roy Wilkins put it, “If you are digging a ditch with a teaspoon and a man comes along and offers you a spade,” he said, “there is something wrong with your head if you don’t take it because he didn’t offer you a bulldozer.”

As I read this section, I remembered King’s injunction that justice delayed is justice denied — and yet here he was, putting his stamp of approval on an almost useless bill. Here is the confession: I felt welling up in me a sense of self-righteous “gotcha-ism”: See! Even a civil rights icon acknowledges that progress is slow, and sometimes you take what you can get rather than hold out for real justice. Take that, Letter from a Birmingham Jail!

Except there’s a big difference at work here: I am white, and King was black. Yes, in the struggle for civil rights, sometimes the progress is slow. But there’s no way for me as a white person to push for baby steps and partial measures without getting tangled up in my own motivations: Am I really on the side of the angels, or am I trying to preserve my own sense of comfort? As an ally, it is my call to listen to the voices of people of color and follow their lead in terms of strategy. When they say it’s time to turn up the heat, we do. When incremental change is called for, they alone drive that, not my desire to placate white America.

When my kids come home from school every January with photocopied handouts about Martin Luther King Jr., I like to ask them if they knew what his profession was. The older ones are used to it by now, and sigh as they say, “He was a preacher, Mom, like you.” In my defense, I want them to know that the struggle for civil rights — whether it’s justice for the descendants of enslaved Africans, or the right of transgender people to use the bathroom with which they identity — is work we do in light of our Christian faith, not independent of it. But it’s also a sinful pride, I admit: a desire to hitch my wagon to one of the great heroes of the 20th century simply because we share a common vocation.

Reading Branch’s book, I catch a glimpse of King’s frail humanity as well as his gifts for ministry (prodigious beyond my own though they were). He soared and he struggled. He felt a strong sense of God’s call, and he wasn’t always sure which strategy was best. In that way, he resembled all of us who have had heavy hands laid on our head and shoulders, who try to do God’s will yet often muddle our way through.

The struggles of 2017 are different, yet frustratingly similar. King was a pastor, like me. But that also means I am a pastor, like King. And it’s time for me — for all of us who lead Christ’s church — to make that real.


MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a frequent retreat and workshop leader and has written for a variety of books and publications, including her website, The Blue Room. She served as a congregational pastor for 12 years. She and her husband Robert Dana have three children. MaryAnn is the recipient of the 2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award from the Presbyterian Writers Guild.