Confronting the Dominant Gaze of White Culture

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Jen James are curating a series featuring videos from National Gatherings and suggestions for how they might serve as resources for ministry. We’re revisiting speakers from this most recent National Gathering in Seattle as well as speakers from previous years. Our hope is that inviting you to engage (or reengage) their work might invite deeper reflection and possibly yield more fruit. What is taking root and bearing fruit in your own life and ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

In his keynote at the 2017 National Gathering in Kansas City, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah discusses the changing landscape of our culture, how that affects our churches, and how the dominant gaze of white culture continues to divide and disconnect us from our neighbors. Dr. Rah’s keynote would be a great resource for a committee, session, or team to watch and discuss, or even for a youth group as a way to dig into the surrounding culture.

What changes in the culture do you see in our world? In our country? In your neighborhood?

Dr. Rah describes two commonly used images of diversity:

  • Great American melting pot
  • Salad bowl

What are the images you have heard? As you reflect, how are they helpful or harmful?

Dr. Rah discusses how the dominant gaze defines everybody else – that culture is defined by the dominant group. Those not in the dominant group are either viewed as a pet or a threat.

Where have you seen people of color viewed as a pet? Where have you seen people of color viewed as a threat?

Can you think of examples where dominant culture saw a pet become a threat? How did the dominant culture react? How did you react?

Dr. Rah says that white dominant culture isolating itself has created a loss of connection and that the church needs to step in. He leaves the audience with two challenges to consider:

1. What is the world you have surrounded yourself with?

The last 10 books that you’ve read – who are the authors?
The last 5 people you’ve had in your home – what race and culture were they?
The furniture in your home, how would you describe it in terms of culture and ethnicity?
What are the books on your coffee table?
Who are the main stars in the top 5 tv shows that you watch?
What other questions might you ask to examine yourself?

2. Who are those who have shaped you? What race and ethnicity are the mentors in your life?

What step might you take to intersect with cultures different from your own? How will you hold each other accountable to take this step?

What it Takes to Transform

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Jen James are curating a series featuring videos from National Gatherings and suggestions for how they might serve as resources for ministry. We’re revisiting speakers from this most recent National Gathering in Seattle as well as speakers from previous years. Our hope is that inviting you to engage (or reengage) their work might invite deeper reflection and possibly yield more fruit. What is taking root and bearing fruit in your own life and ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

In their testimony at the 2019 National Gathering in Seattle, Heidi Husted Armstrong and Scott Lumsden talk about the story of First Seattle Presbyterian Church – a church that went from being one of the biggest churches in the country to total membership collapse. This 30-minute video is a resource for any church group – the session, committees, or teams – to dig into what it takes to transform into the new thing in which God is calling them.

Heidi talks about three things that keep her “hanging in there.” Consider those three things below.

1. I have never been more free to say “I do not know what I’m doing.” How many 5 year plans have been run through this place? Like I’m going to come up with the one that works?! The phrase solvitur ambulando has been attributed to Saint Augustine, which translates as “it is solved by walking.” It means to just take the next step, and the next step, and God will show the way.

What is the hard thing before you in ministry that you need to take the next step toward? What might be an initial first step?

2. Letting go of “churchiness” so that I can embrace the quirkiness, the uniqueness, and the messiness that is in this place. Let me be present for what you have for us today. Let me show up. Help me show up for what is.

What is quirky, unique, and messy about what is in your place? How might you be more present to show up for what is?

3. Remember God is a God of resurrection. Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing (Frederick Buechner). Being in a struggling church mean there’s lots of room for God to show up! There is one Lord of the Church who is still in the business of raising from the dead what is dead in us. Raising what is dead through us. Raising what is dead around us. Raising what is dead in spite of us.

What is dying around you? What might God be resurrecting and raising up in your midst? What are the spaces in your context where there is room for God to show up?

Scott closes their testimony by saying that the church has to admit we no longer have all the answers and instead need to start asking questions of ourselves, of our neighborhoods, and of God.

What questions do you need to start asking of yourself, of your neighborhood, and of God? What questions keep you up at night?

2019 National Gathering Bible Study Worksheet

This is the worksheet bible study leader Becky Purcell put together for the 2019 National Gathering. The sheet is intended to be folded in thirds. The back is largely empty for use in taking notes.

Speaking Our Truth Without Shaming Those Who Don’t See It: The Soul of Shame

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 Linda Kay Klein

One of the most meaningful influences on my ministry and work today is Dr. Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame — a Bible-based exegesis of shame authored by a psychologist most comfortable in the intersection between interpersonal neurobiology and Christian spirituality.

At a time of tremendous national division, I wonder if some of us have become too comfortable with the notion that we and our kind are “right” and “good,” while others are “wrong” and “bad.” For example, I recently heard a pastor say that she would not speak with anyone from “the other side” unless they first admitted to her that they were a bad person. The room full of similarly-politically-minded pastors and other religious leaders mmhmm’d in agreement.

I am uneasy with how easy shaming has become among us. And I fear that, if left unchecked, it will continue to lead us down a very destructive path.

After all, that’s just what shame does.

Let’s pause for a moment and talk about what shame — or what Thompson calls “the primarily tool that evil leverages, out of which emerges everything that we would call sin” (page 22) — actually is, and how it affects us. From a research perspective, shame is different from guilt, humiliation, embarrassment or any of the other words we tend to lump together.

For example, researchers consider guilt the feeling “I have done something bad,” and shame the feeling “I am something bad.” The effects of these two neuropsychological states on people’s lives could not be more different. Whereas guilt makes us reach out to people and connect in an effort to repair relationships, shame inspires us to disconnect — perhaps we withdraw, lash out (either at ourselves or others) or hide.

It is important to name and fight for what we see as right, and against what we see as wrong. But when we engage in shaming — dehumanizing others by declaring them, rather than their positions or actions, to be wrong or bad — we create what Thompson refers to as “states of aloneness within us and between us, and most substantially between us and God” (page 54).

It is the disconnection that shame and shaming engenders within and among us that causes Thompson to refer to shame as “the emotional weapon that evil uses to (1) corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity” (page 13).

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, Thompson’s book is a resource. He presents meaningfully about the nature of shame, which can help us understand the dangers of shaming, and offers Biblical tools for growth and healing. Thompson’s review of Biblical stories through the lens of shame also makes it a particularly strong tool for those interested in offering sermons and Bible studies on the subject.

Linda Kay Klein blends research and stories to expose unseen social problems and devise potential solutions. Her current project centers around the developmental effects of purity-based religious sexuality education programs on the lives of girls as they grow into adulthood. Formerly, Linda was the founding director of the Work on Purpose program at Echoing Green, a social entrepreneurship accelerator best known for helping launch Teach For America, the Freelancers Union, City Year, and over 600 other ground-breaking social change organizations.

Courtrooms, Friday Mornings, and Just Being 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 Josh Durham

The most important lesson I learned in my law school trial advocacy class was to be myself. It was a good lesson, particularly since the TV lawyers of the day from shows such as The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Law and Order did such a good job that it was natural to want to be them instead. But I have generally heeded the advice of my trial professors, and their lesson has served me well through my eighteen years of practice and through many, many cases that arise from one business dispute or another.  

josh-durham-buildingThere are still times, though, when it’s easy for this introvert to want to be one of those dramatic, bang-my-fists-on-the-table lawyers. A client gets burned by a business partner whom they’d considered a close friend, and their deep hurt and thirst for punishment become mine. Or when opposing counsel plays fast and loose with the rules of procedure, and I not just want to call them out on it, I want to bury them for it.

I know, though, that in such times my clients and I are much better served when I remain myself.  

And that’s exactly where my church comes in. Especially on Friday mornings, when I gather with a small number of men with diverse careers in one of our church classrooms for a weekly Bible study. We’ve studied Mark, Luke, Acts, Genesis, Exodus, and we are now working our way through Joshua. All one chapter at a time.

Through all my church involvement in my life, and through the many Sunday sermons and Sunday School classes, I have learned a lot about Christ and Scripture. But it is on these Friday mornings, in this safe haven for doubt, questions, honest conversation, and confession, when I have learned so much about myself.

  • I am a child of God, and I am neither perfect nor alone.
  • I am part of a community whose members are each uniquely imperfect, and it is from this community that God often chooses people to do amazing things.
  • I am loved.

Of course, I likely knew all of this already, but somehow it’s different hearing it on Friday mornings, and these lessons have therefore become ones that I look forward to, and carry with me, each and every week. All of us in this group feel this way.

I am so unbelievably grateful for so many things in my life, and included on the list are our Friday mornings together, that sincere invitation to attend from a fellow church member several years ago, and God’s gentle nudge toward that very first meeting. And I am thankful that through all of my figurative and literal trials, I know this:

I am someone to whom God promises this: I will be with you wherever you go.

joshua-durham-headshot-v2_0Josh Durham is an attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he helps businesses and business owners through all sorts of disputes. He’s also an aspiring screenwriter, but his real dream is to play second base for the Houston Astros. Josh is married to his law school sweetheart, Lynette Neel, and together they have three marvelously beautiful (and funny) children. They are members of Trinity Presbyterian Church. You can follow Josh on twitter: @joshdurhamlaw.

Virtual Bible Study

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. For January and February, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a month of reflections on technology, faith, and church. Join the conversation here or on Facebook.

By Roy Howard

Saint Mark Presbyterian Church was founded in 1962 to be a neighborhood congregation in a close-in suburb of Washington DC. That promise was fulfilled in the early years but now it is no longer a neighborhood congregation. Members come from many Maryland neighborhoods near DC, some traveling 45 minutes for worship and congregational gatherings. In the past 10 years the congregational membership has steadily diversified across ages, races and cultures as well as denominational and theological backgrounds. This change has mirrored the DC area though it is not as widespread among congregations.

The majority of the members work far away from the church location and find it difficult to come for evening Bible studies because of family responsibilities or reluctance to battle traffic. This has created a significant pastoral challenge to sustain a faithful community of deeper friendship, committed discipleship and mutual learning.

photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc

photo credit: Stewf via photopin cc

We are experimenting with various ways to adapt to the congregational demographic and the culture, in order to make connections, create community and encourage discipleship. One of the ways we are trying now is a lunch-time Bible study that includes a conference call-in option.

A member eager for the opportunity suggested this option because she works in DC and is a young mother of two children. It was a ‘light bulb’ moment!

We made our free conference call account available to members and friends and began with a six-week study of Ephesians. Seven people gathered in the library and six called in from their work sites. (One friend of the church called in from Atlanta for the whole series.) This January we launched the second round by joining with our Jewish partner congregation for a joint study of Jonah. Members of both congregations will have the option of calling the conference line, and those who able will alternate meetings at the synagogue or church.

This is clearly a work in progress and we have only the experience of the “early adopters” to measure success, but it has become an exciting possibility for connecting our members in new ways.

That young mother who suggested the idea said, “I appreciate the timing of the study—during lunchtime—and the convenience of calling in—both of those factors make it possible for me to participate. I can put the phone on mute if I have a work interruption (which allows me to hear, but not to be heard), all while sitting at my desk with my door shut! I have been enriched by the experience of Bible study during my work-day and look forward to continuing to be.”

Another said, “The call-in option for participation is putting technology to use to enable widespread participation — irrespective of where one might happen to be.

One participant said, “There’s a quality of experience that comes from sitting in the room with others that can’t be replicated over the phone.  I found it especially challenging to speak because I’m cautious about speaking over other people and that’s harder to regulate in a telecom situation.”

The man from Atlanta said, “It meant a lot to me to be able to listen and discuss the Word of God with old friends even though I was miles away.”

We have discussed future plans with Face Time or Skype interface availability. It’s a new day.

Roy HowardRoy Howard is the pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland and the Book Editor of The Presbyterian Outlook. He has a fondness for long distance running, hiking mountains and photography.