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Becoming Who You’ve Always Been

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 Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri

“What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been!” These words by author Parker J. Palmer – a teacher, writer and member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) – exemplify part of the insights I gained reading his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Let Your Life Speak was recommended to me at a time marked by endings: service in a committee nearing its end, my father’s terminal cancer diagnosis, deciding whether or not to quit a job… I was feeling somewhat lost and wondering what was next, spiritually and professionally; where and how to best serve God, contribute to the church at large and the community.

Teaching about the gift of vocation and writing about his life experiences, including times of depression, Palmer conveys the message of claiming one’s truth and explains the concept of “true self.” His candid approach is refreshing and challenging. It encourages the reader to dig deep, recognizing limits, potentials, even failures and mistakes, as starting points in discerning “what’s next?” I recommend this book to all those who, like me, find themselves at a crossroads or for those who feel “true self” is still to be discovered. It is not a book to read over a weekend as it calls for honest reflection.


Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri serves as the moderator of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida and works part-time as an ESL teacher and trainer. She is also part of a CREDO faculty team. She has spent spent most of her adult life teaching teenagers and adults and serving in the church context. 

“Spirit in the Dark” Examines the Boundaries of Religious Life

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 Derrick McQueen

The book that is providing theological perspective and inspiration for me these days is Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics by Josef Sorett. It is a work that examines the African-American cultural movements and their artistic offspring. From the New Negro Renaissance of the 1920’s through the Black Arts movement, Dr. Sorett examines the pervasive effect religion plays on these commonly seen as secular literary visions. This work is exciting because it puts religion in conversation with the secular and in doing so allows the church/religion to erase the divide between what is inside and what is outside of the church walls, or the boundaries of religious life.

Spirit in the Dark does not attempt to answer the question, “How does the church make itself relevant in the secular world?” It lays claim to the ways in which the division between the sacred and the secular is an artificial one. In fact, it sees the religious as an integral ingredient in the African-American literary tradition.

Church book study group leaders will find this book extremely helpful in training the eyes and ears to the religious undercurrents in the secular literary tradition. As Dr. Sorett’s work deals with the African-American experience, the culminating lessons are also applicable or at least adaptable for many different communities. It is just that in Spirit in the Dark, Sorett’s impressive research makes clear that the African-American experience is one that able to be clearly defined and claimed as such in this rich tapestry of literary tradition and can serve as a model to other communities.

Specifically, it frees the preacher up to understand that the literary resource of the 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” by watering down the theological foundations upon which their churches and communities are built. This is an important book and readers will definitely find their own jewels within.


Rev. Derrick McQueen, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Director for The Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS) at Columbia University. He is also serving as pastor to St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem, N.Y., and is an adjunct professor of Worship and Preaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Derrick has been actively involved in work for LGBTQ inclusion in churches and society, facilitating dialogues and serving on the boards of such organizations as Presbyterian Welcome, That All May Freely Serve, More Light Presbyterians and Auburn Seminary. Recently he served as the Moderator of the Presbytery of New York City.

Living So God Can Use Me

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Suzanne Newsom

I am a veteran teacher in a public school. I do not recall lining up my teddy bears and baby dolls as a child and teaching them in my pink bedroom. The catalyst of my teaching career was a mission trip to Haiti sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Presbytery. As an 18 year-old recent high school graduate, I traveled there in service to a remote village with a group of 14 others. At the end of that summer, I would attend UNC-Chapel Hill with plans to obtain a degree that would more than bring me financial security. The person who applied to go on that month long trip was a feminist who saw that only young men had traveled there on missions before. I traveled to Haiti to prove that women are strong. I returned with a stronger spirit for social justice and a humbled heart. That spirit moved me to become a teacher.

img_0338“I want to live so God can use me.” These are the words to one of my favorite hymns. God uses me everyday at Olympic High School where I teach English.

My faith supports me every day, all day, helping me to make decisions that, I hope, are ordered by God’s will. Each morning as I drive to work, I turn off the radio on the final leg of my journey. When I am at a loss for words and am afraid that I will lose my usually calm composure, I set my mind right with “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, oh, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” That little silent prayer is long enough that I can take a few deep breaths and then say what needs to be said in a tough situation.

While we public school teachers are not to talk about our faith or our politics, it is my hope that my students know that I am a Christian because what of what I show them. Curriculum is everything that happens in a school. Students see teachers when they are before the class and when they are not. Their eyes are watching us as we help each other and help them. I can make my faith a part of their curriculum without having a lesson plan about it.   

My life is rich as a result of teaching thousands of students in Charlotte. Their resilience is inspiring. My hope with each class is that we can build a community of people who feel welcome to share their questions and challenges as we learn together. Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church is a place where I can share myself and learn with others. I am challenged each week to apply what I glean from each sermon preached and hymn sung. I have learned that the more involved I am in church, the more the church is involved in me. So, I take my faith with me into my classroom and try to make each day an act of worship.


suzanne-newsomeSuzanne Newsom teaches English at The Renaissance School of Arts and Technology at Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC.  She was raised in the loving arms of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church, where her family still worships.