If You are a Primary Text, What’s Your Mission?

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 Lee Hinson-Hasty

“You are the primary text.”

Early in my ministry, my father-in-law, the Rev. Dr. E. Glenn Hinson[1] reminded me how closely both friends and enemies pay attention to one another. Counselor orientation week at YMCA Camp Sea Gull pounded this point daily in another way: “They watch and remember what you do, how you do it, when it is done, and where you do it, even more than what you say.”

Curating blogs this March by leaders who think theologically from across cultures and ethnicities, sexual and philosophical orientations, generations, genders, and a variety of geographic locations reminds me how much I learn and respect those I choose to be in relationship with. One of my favorite questions to get to know or catch up with someone (thank you, George Anderson) is “What are you reading?” Thank you, NEXT Church, for providing a wonderful opportunity for me and all who read, wrote, and participated to be a part of that question and to strengthen relationships and insight in these days entrusted to our care.

The recommendations, reviews, and responses to my question have hopefully added a few – if not many – new books to your wish list to read. But I have a confession to make. I asked another question to the writers: What is your vocation or call? I put it this way: “Please include in the blog a brief description of your social location and ministry context so people have a sense of who you are, what has been formative, the kind of questions and ideas you often address, and the way(s) God is calling you to serve.” Many dove into this question in amazing ways, giving all of us a deeper look into who they each are. In that moment, they revealed themselves in a more focused and clarifying way. They became, I think, a primary text for us all. For this, I am grateful.

So I was pleased to read Teri McDowell Ott’s description from the autobiographical notes of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son: In them “Baldwin shares what could be read as his personal mission statement: ‘I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done. I want to be an honest man and a good writer.’”

Ken Kovacs points out that Charles Marsh “maintains that, [D]ogmatic proclamation would never be enough for Bonhoeffer, because every confession of Christ as Lord must bear concretely on the immediate work of peace. Obedience could not be separated from confession.’

I wonder if it is time for each of us to clarify our own vocation and write or re-write our own personal mission statements? What are we responsible for together and individually? And how are we living out those commitments?

Join me in giving thanks for those who contributed over the last month and the ways they are writing and living what they believe.  In so many ways, they are a primary text worth returning to again and again:

  • Derrick McQueen: “Spirit in the Dark” Examines the Boundaries of Religious Life: “One focus of my work is in bringing community and congregational experience into conversation with the bible through theological reflection. I am interested in reclaiming church as community on the inside to do the work of justice, love and righteousness outside the doors of the church.” He posits that “African-American literary tradition is ripe for bringing in texts to be in conversation with the bible and the community. It also provides a way for preachers and pastors to parse culture without giving in to the demand to ‘do something new to fill the pews.’”
  • Teri McDowell Ott: Prophetic Theology From a Non-Theologian: “After serving in parish ministry for 13 years, Teri now feels called to the liminal space between the sacred and the secular, the church and the ‘nones,’ the traditional and the contemporary. Teri feels called to build bridges between these spaces, especially through her writing and blogging.” She reminded us that James Baldwin’s “Essays… in Notes of a Native Son “reside in the realm of prophetic theology because of the extraordinary way they describe and illuminate the African-American experience and call to account those of us who live in privileged ignorance.”
  • Ken Kovacs: Bonhoeffer Biography Espouses Transforming “The Proud and Hateful” into Love: Ken says he has “come to believe that the social justice and advocacy engagement of the Church needs to be rooted and grounded psycho-spiritually in our individual core identities as children of God. Cultivating and nurturing the inner-lives of Christ’s people, helping individuals become more conscious of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, enhances the vitality of the church and strengthens the effectiveness of its witness in the world.”
  • Linda Kay Klein: Speaking Our Truth without Shaming Those Who Don’t See It: Linda blends research and stories to expose unseen social problems and devise potential solutions “for communities that are, like me, trying to find ways to unapologetically speak and fight for our truths while honoring the humanity of those who disagree with us.”
  • Erin Hayes Cook: Living in a Constant State of Motion: Erin believes her call is to be bridge between cultures and generations where she currently serves. She encourages us to “Be ready to be moved by the Spirit wherever she blows.”
  • Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri: Becoming Who You’ve Always Been: Vilmarie feels called to serve as a teacher/mentor, looking for ways to share the grace God has bestowed upon me without reservations. She recommends reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak to “those who, like me, find themselves at a crossroads or for those who feel “true self” is still to be discovered.”
  • Kathy Wolf Reed: Resist Right Now: Kathy reminds us that “God gives us not just an option but a direct order to place boundaries on our inclinations to perpetuate anxiety.”
  • Doris Garcia Rivera: Reaching Out with the Gospel in Intercultural Mode: Doris describes her “vocation as a teacher and my call and work as missionary in theological education and development for 23 years shaped me to develop ministries to reach out to others, to make connections, to create spaces for personal, community and spiritual growth.” She finds “Interculturality … defined as a posture, a disposition to share our lives with the other – a space where all cultures are required to truly read and interpret the world in a more comprehensive way, …(as) challenging” but an imperative.
  • MaryAnn McKibben Dana: The Civil Rights Movement: Important History, but Not in the Past: MaryAnn’s reading of King’s life and legacy has led her to understand her greater role in the world. “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.”
  • Nanette Sawyer “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.” Drawing from Jonathan Haidt, she encourages us to consider that “Our intuition is like an elephant that we ride – It’s large, powerful, and in control.”
  • Bridgett A. Green “resources people as they practice Christianity with the tools of sound biblical interpretation, rigorous theological inquiry, and good questions.”
  • Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is “committed to teaching as well as ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and writing on the intersections of theology, ethics, and economics.” The books she recommends, she says, “will disturb your conscience and force you to confront the realities faced by economic migrants and refugees. Their stories will remain with you as you develop your own theology of migration and sense of God’s mission for the church today. You will not be surprised to hear, Elizabeth’s stories and wisdom deeply influences my own vocation and theological thinking and action.
  • Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly, lives out part of her vocation and reminds us to do the same saying, “We are called to be like Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, and not allow victims of racially motivated deaths to be forgotten.”

For each of these contributors, and for the authors they introduced us to or reminded us; for these cloud of witnesses, I am grateful. Lee

[1] Dr. Hinson would tell you he’s made plenty of mistakes, and you can read about many in his 2012 autobiography, A Miracle of Grace.


Lee Hinson-Hasty is senior director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation and curator of our March blog series.

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