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New Questions for a New Paradigm

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Fernando Rodriguez

There are questions that open up possibilities and inch us closer to a better understanding of the community around us, and, ourselves. Then, there are questions that simply mess you all up. Mike Mather’s Having Nothing, Possessing Everything, finding abundant communities in unexpected places has not only pushed me to ask questions, but has changed my paradigm for community and ministry.

I met Mike during the early years of my ministry serving as a church planter in a Latinx community in Indianapolis. His ministry at Broadway United Methodist Church influenced me tremendously early on. Now, as an associate pastor leading mission and outreach efforts of a suburban high steeple church, his book has pushed me to continue wrestling with what it means to see and be a part of an abundant community.

Two of the most foundational questions one can ask as a church planter are “What are the needs of the community?” and “how can the church provide for those needs?” The ultimate purpose is to engage the community and hopefully grow the new church. Based on these questions, we developed programs like tutoring, dental clinics, etc. Many of these programs were successful as they provided for a perceived need the community had while creating opportunities for us to develop relationships with neighbors. However, this engagement was transactional and did not always lead to more people in worship.

The stories shared through the pages of Mather’s book offer different questions. Instead of asking what the needs are in the community (as real and pressing as they may be), the questions should be, “What are the gifts and talents of those in the neighborhood and what does it look like to build community around them?” They focus on what the community has, not on what it lacks.

The first time I considered these questions I was both excited and worried. Excited, because I knew that everyone in the neighborhood I was serving was a child of God, and consequently, was given gifts that build community. I was worried because it changed the paradigm from one that built a church to one that built community. These questions messed me up. They were convicting. They challenged all my pre-conceived notions of church, engagement, and community building.

Even today, as I serve a very different context, the questions persist. My current church is one that seeks to fund efforts such as those in my first ministry. We are constantly discerning what the best way is to invest in ministry outside the walls of the church. We serve as volunteers in local community organizations and have even developed a non-profit that brings music programming to public schools in the neighbor city of Pontiac.

Though the context may be different, Mather’s book reminds me not to stop asking questions that focus on seeing abundance in communities that are often thought to have nothing. The challenge now is to think if/how the programs we are funding are building off of the existing gifts and talents in the neighborhood being served. Although we have had good results with getting people to serve in local community organizations, a next step would be to ask: what has this engagement looked like? How are relationships being formed beyond the “service?”

Questions abound when exploring how to live into community in a way that celebrates true God-given abundance. The questions that Mather’s book raise for us are one’s that not only affect the church, but also socio-economics, health, education, etc. These questions are bigger than us. However, our calling is to ask them and “follow the story” that comes from them.


Fernando Rodríguez currently serves as Pastor for Missional Renewal and Stewardship at Kirk in the Hills in Michigan and has also pastored churches in Indiana and Delaware. He enjoys laughing with his wife and two children and screaming at the television without regard during FC Barcelona futbol matches.

The Surprise of Holy Chaos

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Ken Evers-Hood

It’s Christmas Eve and what looked to be a mild winter front turned into a snow storm shutting down most of the neighborhood around the church you serve. What are you supposed to do now? Or, some other Sunday you’re leading worship and after reading the text, you scan the pulpit for the fantabulous sermon you wrote that now appears to be gonzo. Later, you would find out some “helpful” person removed it trying to tidy up the place, but what are you going to do in this moment? Or, you’re on vacation when death strikes. The family calls, wanting you to come back for the memorial. It’s possible, but you aren’t sure you should go. There are good reasons on both sides, and the way forward isn’t obvious.

These are all situations that I found myself in with little to no warning. Nobody told me how to cope with these situations in seminary… because no one could. Because you can’t plan for every possibility. No, in ministry as in life, the moment we’re done crafting our perfect plan is the moment the Holy Spirit seems to hit the holy chaos button and we find ourselves in the land of improvisation. Thankfully, there’s help! MaryAnn McKibben Dana won’t tell you exactly what to do when you’re surprised. She does something better. She steeps us in the wisdom of improv, teaching us how to carry ourselves more nimbly and how relate to others more gracefully when the bottom has fallen out.

There are SO many things I love about God, Improv, and the Art of Living. For starters, MaryAnn dispels the notion that improv is some kind of rare preserve for the wild and wacky. Rather than being a gift for the few, improv is a skill able to learned and practiced by all. It’s easy to think about shows like “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and think improvisation is only for clever wits who can think on their feet. But improv, MaryAnn points out again and again, isn’t about thinking fast but learning how to be more present in whatever situation we’re given. And good improv isn’t finally blurting out that hilarious line you’ve been holding onto for just the right moment – it’s being in deep relationship with your partners, listening to what they are saying, and responding vulnerably and authentically to what it is they are offering. Improv is much harder than just going wild; improvising means learning to trust that we and our partners are enough if only we allow ourselves to really show up and enter fully into the moment.

Another thing I love is how MaryAnn thinks theologically in relation to improvisation. Improv isn’t just a way of thinking about ourselves and our own way of being in the world but a lens through which we learn more about Jesus in his full humanity and God. Take Jesus’ first miracle in John: turning water into wine. Unplanned. Jesus apparently had a schedule and didn’t think his time had come. But God and Mary thought otherwise. (Isn’t it nice to know that this happens even to Jesus?)

The Syrophoenician woman? A master class in improvisation on the part of both the woman and Jesus. Instead of a practically perfect Mary Poppins savior, give me a fully human Jesus who messes up, acknowledges his mistake, and course corrects every time. And while I can understand the desire for a God who has everything figured out, I’m much more at home with MaryAnn’s depiction of an improvising, co-creator who is working with us as much as through us.

And selfishly, MaryAnn is SUCH a good collector of stories and quotes. The book is filled with fascinating stories that, ahem, might have already wound up in a couple sermons inspired by her book. And it feels like that’s just the beginning, but I don’t really know. I’ll just have to see what the future sends my way. And, thanks to MaryAnn, this unknowing feels more exciting than frightening.


Ken Evers-Hood pastors Tualatin Presbyterian Church and is the author of The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church and The Irrational David: The Power of Poetic Leadership. Ken also serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching leadership at Duke Divinity School. When he’s not pastoring, writing, or teaching, he’s probably hanging out with his kids on a soccer field or the beautiful Pacific coast.

The Best a Pastor Can Be

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Christopher De La Cruz

After Gillette debuted their now viral ad, “The Best Men Can Be,” addressing toxic masculinity, bullying and sexual harassment, Graham Allen, a host on Blaze TV, felt compelled to respond with this photo on social media:

(Photo: Graham Allen via Facebook)

“Practicing our ‘toxic masculinity,’” wrote Allen. “Hey Gillette, does this offend you? I’ll raise my kids the way I believe they should be…thanks for your advice.”

As of this writing, the Gillette ad has over 700,000 likes… and 1.2 million “dislikes.” Many commentators erupted in outrage, some suddenly finding their inner Marxist in critiquing virtue-signalling corporatism and consumerism – critiques that are themselves are fine but strangely only erupt so passionately when the corporate signalling challenges toxic masculinity.

What about this ad causes so many men to feel threatened? What is it about the ad that, if I’m honest with myself, even I feel something deep in my core is being attacked?

In The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks writes about the false self men have to put up to be a “real man.” Relationships are based off of power, fear, and dominance. Men are not allowed to express their emotions, to be vulnerable – to be fully human. The self-worth of men is determined by how much control – violence and force – they can exercise on their surroundings.

And why the lashing out if any of this is questioned? “The patriarchal manhood that was supposed to satisfy does not…to go forward they would need to repudiate the patriarchal thinking that their identity has been based on. Rage is the easy way back to a realm of feeling. It can serve as the perfect cover, masking feelings of fear and failure.”

Men, hooks argues, are taught they have to be right or they have lost their manhood. Instead, we need to show men that true strength doesn’t come from performing perfection, but the capacity to grow – the will to change.

As a pastor, I am increasingly conscious of how patriarchal norms affect my own leadership norms. I have experienced pastors who charmed with charisma that bled into emotional manipulation, that feigned a lack of hierarchy until any call for accountability would cause him – it’s always a him – to suddenly pull rank as the ordained holy man. Rachel Held Evans said on social media that she felt church growing up for her boiled down to men talking at her. Is this the best a pastor can be?

Reading The Will to Change challenged my pastoral leadership to the core. Yes, it’s ok to admit that I messed up, and that I need to be held accountable. Yes, I do need to do the emotional work of seeking consent and hearing people’s criticisms and objections rather than going at it alone like a cowboy. Yes, I can still be decisive and impactful and mold consensus rather than simply follow it, while also being gracious and gentle. And yes, I need to listen to and empower women.

The book also made me grateful for the church I pastor at now, and for the leadership of head pastor Rev. Patrick O’Connor, a Metro IAF community organizer who is very much a respected leader while valuing relational over dominance power, pastoral care, constructive criticism, and who always challenges me every time I want to start something – “but did you form a team?”

I feel bell hooks calling me to be a better pastor, especially for the men and boys who need to see another way of being a man. After all, isn’t acknowledging the need for growth and the will to change at the heart of Christian discipleship?


Christopher De La Cruz is the Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, NY. De La Cruz has written for NEXT Church, the Presbyterian Outlook, and Princeton Theological Seminary’s “The Thread.”

Editor’s note: Christopher is facilitating an online book discussion on “The Will to Change” on Tuesday, July 16. We invite you to join the conversation! Learn more here.

Scripture, Poetry, and the “Irrational David”

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jenny Warner

When I get stuck, I call Ken Evers-Hood.

And when you read his new book, you’ll know why he’s on my speed dial of advisers.

Ken and I met as pastors in the same presbytery in Oregon. As a new pastor, serving three hours from the hub of most other churches, I had few true colleagues. Ken invited me to sit in the back row with him, included me in the irreverent commentary of the younger pastors (by which I mean those under 55), all the while sharing with me a great love of the presbytery and its process.

I learned to trust Ken’s perspective, and so when he invited me to join him in a yearlong leadership cohort with the poet David Whyte in 2015, I said yes. The experience changed both of us. We found a community and a construct that took us further in ministry, our lives and our future. Our collective engagement with David’s work taught us to bring our whole selves to bear in our vocation. We learned to trust where vulnerability leads us, which is perhaps the most radical move a leader in contemporary America can make, religious or not.

Ken found another companion in this wholehearted journey in David of the Bible – a shepherd, king, musician, poet, friend, lover, and full-throated human. In this book, you will see David with a lens that opens fresh possibilities of being faithful, not perfect.

In his first book, The Irrational Jesus, Ken offered his doctoral research on decision-making and leadership in the church. In this book, The Irrational David, Ken dives deep and has “a real conversation,” as David Whyte would say. He brings Scripture, philosophy, theology, poetry, literature, and psychology into a conversation that puts us all at ease because of Ken’s profound vulnerability.

For those who are struggling to articulate a faith that is not either/or in the aftermath of the liberal/fundamentalist battles, Ken masterfully articulates a faith that honors the complexity of postmodern understandings in a way that is grounded and undefended. He doesn’t let either side get away with defended polarities and invites us into faithfulness and wholeness instead.

My copy of this book will be full of underlining and coffee stains as I return over and over to see what Ken has to say about the text I’m preaching on. His words often say what I intuit, but am not yet able to articulate. As a gift to preachers, he brings along references from literature, history, and life that will make Scripture come alive week after week. This book is a trusted dance partner in the rhythm of life with God.

Editor’s note: The Irrational David is not available yet, but you can sign up to receive an email from Amazon when it is available there. This post will be updated when the book is available (any day now!).


Jenny Warner is pastor at Valley Presbyterian Church on the western edge of the Silicon Valley. She loves the challenge of pastoring on the West Coast. She and Chris have two teenage daughters and a Bernese Mountain Dog named Holly.

Radical Reconciliation Reimagined

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Glenn McCray

I love to read, but if I’m honest, I rarely read books cover-to-cover. Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism is not one of those books. I’ve read this book 3 times! What I appreciate about this book, among many things, is the amazing job co-authors Allan Aubrey Boesak (2016 NEXT Church National Gathering keynoter) and Curtiss Paul DeYoung do of engaging the topic of reconciliation from a theological, historical, political, social, and racial perspective. While they use South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and the important work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as a practical example, they esteem Jesus as being central not only to the work of the TRC but the real, radical, and revolutionary work of reconciliation as well.

Boesak and DeYoung deconstruct the Jesus painted by dominant culture, referencing liberation theologian Miguel de la Torre: “Those wishing to ground their understanding of reconciliation within the Cristian tradition are forced to deal with the figure of Jesus Christ.” The question they pose is, “Which Jesus?” Boesak suggests, “It cannot be the Jesus as we have seen, the one captured Africans first met when we saw his name carved in the sides of the slave ships that carried Africans from their homelands into slavery. Neither can it be the Christ of the church doctrines who evolved into the blond, blue-eyed Christ of Western culture so alien to the enslaved, oppressed, exploited peoples who were baptized in his name. Nor can it be the Jesus only known as the one who offered unconditional forgiveness to all. For us, as for the Gospel, this Jesus first and foremost has to be the Jesus who stood in the synagogue in Nazareth, according to the Gospel of Luke, and proclaimed himself the Spirit-anointed One of God.” I resonate with this wrestle.

As a person of color, born to an immigrant mother from the Philippines and an African American father from Louisiana, raised in a marginalized community, I was raised to be suspicious of dominant culture. Understandably so. I eventually gave my life to Jesus and, naturally, I had my suspicions about him too. It wasn’t until later in my faith when I realized that my issue wasn’t with Jesus but rather the Jesus that was presented to me and communities of color for centuries. The Jesus that I’ve come to know is not a Jesus of comfort and convenience but rather a Jesus who inconveniently and nonsensically disrupts the status quo theologically, historically, politically, socially, racially, and personally. This Jesus is the Jesus we were always meant to follow.

The work of Boesak and DeYoung, along with so many others, greatly influence the way I understand and live into ministry. As someone who is passionate about reconciliation it is important to me to have an ongoing hunger to learn from those who have and continue to wrestle with what it means to be reconciled people (to God, self, and others); however, reconciled does not mean that we’re simply diverse. As my mentor Tali Hairston (a 2019 NEXT Church National Gathering keynote speaker) reminds me, “If diversity is our objective, we still fall short. Unity is the objective.”

As we continue engage this challenging work, and even as we gather at the National Gathering, it will be an aesthetically beautiful, yet challenging space considering we represent various theological, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, gender, and political backgrounds and beliefs. It will be an exhilarating (or not) first-time experience for some and an exhausting (or not) “here we go again” experience for others. And while we might pause every now and again to appreciate the diversity of the gathering, be reminded that diversity is not the objective. Unity is. And I would suggest that reconciliation (to God, self, and others) is how we get there. Allan Boesak suggests, “The issue is not reconciliation. The problem is our understanding and interpretation of it…Are we ready to imagine reconciliation?


Glenn McCray is married to Rev. Tasha Hicks McCray, lead Pastor at Mt. View Presbyterian Church in Seattle, where he also worships and serves. Vocationally, Glenn serves as the Director of Church-Based Community Development with Urban Impact, a para-church ministry in Seattle. Together, Tasha and Glenn also serve as high school girls basketball coaches at their neighborhood high school, Evergreen.

Reading as Good Leadership

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Linda Kurtz is curating a series we’re affectionately referring to as our NEXT Church book club, which aims to share insights on a variety of texts – and how they have impacted our bloggers’ ministries. Understanding that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership, we offer this series to get your juices flowing on what books you might read next. What are you reading that’s impacting how you think about and/or do ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

“What have you read recently that has been worth passing on?” the leadership coach asked.

I sighed and thought to myself (only half jokingly), “Oh, wow. I remember reading… Back before I was a parent and moved and worked a (more than) full time job and tried to have some sort of social life and tended to extended family.” These are constraints, of course, and they are very, very real.

It’s also real that reading in and beyond one’s field is important to offering good leadership. And secondly, that passing on what has been worthwhile is also a mark of good leadership. NEXT Church is committed to developing leaders and to continual growth and learning in the context of community. We hope this month of blog posts will offer some good food for thought as we put reading/learning back on the front burner. To kick us off, here are five titles that I read (or re-read or read most of!) this past year that are worth your time.

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown
Brown’s work is like no other leadership book I’ve read. She pulls together lessons from community organizing, science fiction, the natural world, poetry, and her own experience. At times it reads like a stream of conscience, and it is rich. She argues for an adaptive and relational way of being that becomes a strategy “for building complex patterns and systems of change through relatively small interactions.” That seems to me to be the sweet spot for the church – transformation on the small scale in individual encounters, sermon by sermon, prayer by prayer, project by project that is connected to a more complex and strategic system to change the world. Perhaps my favorite line of the book is quoted from a sign in the home of the late Grace Lee Boggs: “Building community is to the collective as spiritual practice is to the individual.” How do we lead in ways that shape community so that our communities and the world around us find abundant life?

Dare to Lead: Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work by Brené Brown
I’ve been a big fan of Brené Brown’s since I read The Gifts of Imperfection about five years ago and listened to hear TED Talk on shame and vulnerability. This new book pulls on all the previous work and research of Brown and her team and puts it directly in the context of work and leadership at work. She illustrates how vulnerability works (and doesn’t work) at work. She talks about what it takes to lead with a whole-heart. She unpacks what shame does to colleagues in the work place. I’m finding that her research and its applications are pulling together the best of what I have learned through the disciplines of community organizing, the work of Cultivated Ministry, and what I’m learning about dismantling racism. It’s not a theological book per se, but helps me embody (I pray) a servant leadership and the best of what is meant by our call to lose our lives to save them.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo
“Well, that explains a lot.” That has been my consistent reaction to DiAngelo’s book on why white people have a hard time engaging and dismantling racism in a serious and lasting way. She has helped me understand systems I work and live within, the reactions of people around me, and (most importantly) helped hold up a mirror for me to see myself and my own reactions more clearly. It’s not been a particularly comfortable read, but I believe it is a sanctifying discomfort in service of a more honest view of myself and a commitment to repentance in the fullest theological sense of going a new way.

DiAngelo mixes it up with helpful frameworks for understanding systemic racism and the “pillars of whiteness” alongside tangible examples of what it looks like in practice to build up my racial stamina, to be willing to enter discomfort for the sake of honoring the experience of people in marginalized groups, and to take every opportunity to learn. The NEXT Church Strategy Team read and discussed this book this fall. We are working toward building racial stamina in the white folk in our leadership and to work together to ensure that people in marginalized groups are not undercut by practices that diminish all of us.

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
We ask the participants in our certificate for Community Organizing and Congregational Leadership to read this book and I’ve been re-reading it along with them. Thurman argues that the Christianity most of us have been taught does not deal much with those who stand “with their backs against the wall” at a particular moment in history, other than to have them be the beneficiaries of our “mission.” Further, he reminds us that Jesus – in his personhood – is one who speaks Good News directly to and for those with their backs against the wall. It’s a good reminder to de-center my own experience as I think about what is next for the church. I am also seeing more clearly in the text this time around the importance of the liberating work of Jesus to a “weary, nerve-snapped civilization.” Thurman wrote these words in 1976, but goodness they seem an accurate description of our culture today.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1953-63 by Taylor Branch
In all fairness, I’ve been reading this book for the last TWO years. At 1088 pages, it is a tome, but it is also an illuminating look at the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The level of detail paints a much fuller picture than the broad brushstrokes that colored much of my knowledge of the movement from history class. I am finding it a helpful read because it giving me broader perspective on the current political and cultural moment in the United States. This is significant for several reasons. First, there are different philosophies and strategies and tactics for social and cultural change. What can feel like dysfunction in the current social movements is human nature and has been part of this work all along. It’s part of the struggle. Second, organizing for effective social and cultural change is messy and hard. This perhaps is obvious, but it has ben a good reminder that the Montgomery Bus Boycott wasn’t simple to pull off. It required a lot of coordination, grit, and huge sacrifice by the folks who participated. I shouldn’t expect that social change today would require any less sacrifice of me. Third, the role of the church! The church (and mostly the Black Church) played a huge and important role in supporting, equipping, training, and praying for this movement. The church was essential to the movement. I pray the church today is seeking to have such impact.


Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC.

If You Want to Know More About Appalachia

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Anna Pinckney Straight is curating a series on ministry in West Virginia and Appalachia. We’ll hear perspectives of folks from there and folks who’ve moved there, as well as depictions of the area in book, song, film, and photo. What makes it a place where people choose to live? What are the particular challenges and opportunities of ministry there? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Anna Pinckney Straight

What I found in curating this series of blog posts is more questions than answers. I still don’t know how to solve food distribution issues.

And I’m convicted by knowing that West Virginia not only has the highest rate of transgender teenagers of any state in the nation, but also higher than average suicide rates. There is work to be done.

So, if you’d like to know more, here are some places to start:

Elizabeth Catte’s What You’re Getting Wrong about Appalachia is my #1 recommendation. Written, in part, to respond and rebut J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, this is a good read for people who are new to Appalachia and those who have grown up here.

(Pro tip: if you like Hillbilly Elegy you’re probably not from Appalachia. If you’d like to know more about why it is NOT a book about Appalachia and why so many people dislike it, please get in touch and I would be happy to be in conversation with you).

In her text, Catte challenges stereotypes:

There are currently around 36,000 miners in the entire region. The real forgotten working-class citizens of Appalachia, much like the rest of the nation, are home health workers and Dollar General employees. They’re more likely to be women, and their exemption from the stability offered by middle-class employment is not a recent phenomenon.

She points out the folly of the word “Appalachia”:

…people woefully overuse the term “Appalachian culture.” This is particularly true in our current moment that fetishizes the presumed homogeneity and cohesiveness of the region and uses these characteristics to explain complex political and social realities. Appalachian scholars and activists often prefer to stress our interconnectedness to other regions and peoples rather than set ourselves apart as exceptions. Individuals in Appalachia, for example, offered support and solidarity to communities in Flint and Standing Rock, understanding that the struggle for clean water is local, but also national and global.

And, maybe best of all, she writes with hope:

How does life go on in “Trump Country” for those of us who never lived in “Trump Country” to begin with? It goes on much the same as it always did. For me, I will try to build power with likeminded individuals and challenge the institutions that harm us. I won’t do that by reaching across political divides that are far more complicated here than you can image. I’ll do it by exercising the basic principles of mutual aid and community defense. The people of Appalachia have never needed empathy; what we need is solidarity, real and true, which comes from understanding that the harm done to me is connected to the harm done to you.

If you’d like a broader look at the region through the eyes of economic history and critique, Steven Stoll’s Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia may well be your cup of tea. In this text Stoll painstakingly goes through the history of this region through the lens of the land and the economy – who has the land, when they have it, who is kicked out of the land, and who makes money from its resources. His approach is both local and global with consideration for how the earliest American settlers found a land that was not empty but very much inhabited.

 

 

 

I’m still waiting on my copy through inter-library loan, but everything I’ve found that’s written by Edward J. Cabbell is well worth the read. There is a perception that Appalachia is very white. That’s not false, but it’s also not true. This is the classic text, I’m hoping it leads me to more modern insights.

If you’d like to hear Cabbell you can hear him talk and sing here.

Another such text is Affrilachia: Poems by Frank X Walker.

There are also powerful testimonies found in fiction rooted in Appalachia:

Blackberries, Blackberries, by Crystal Wilkinson

Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake

And for a great website with powerful stories: http://herappalachia.com/

Thanks for reading this month-  I hope that you will ask your questions as well as share your suggestions and observations in the comments!


Anna Pinckney Straight is the pastor of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, West Virginia. She moved to Lewisburg with her family in 2016 from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her first call, back in the 1990s, was to the Community Presbyterian Church in Arthurdale, West Virginia.

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.

Emmett Till: Then and Now

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 Jan Edmiston

Emmett Till was murdered more than 60 years ago and since that terrible day, more than 10 books have been written to tell the story. But Timothy B. Tyson’s book, The Blood of Emmett Till, is especially timely for a 21st century audience, telling the story once again within the context of the increasingly reported deaths of so many unarmed black men as well as the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

There was a time when the murders of unarmed black men and boys went largely unreported. And while hundreds more have been killed since Emmett Till, some of their names are part of our national liturgy of lament: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Clementa Pinckney, Freddy Gray. “America is still killing Emmett Till,” writes Tyson, but we are increasingly speaking the names of men and women of color who have died in the throes of racial bias and white supremacy. We are called to be like Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, and not allow victims of racially motivated deaths to be forgotten.

There was a time when the NAACP was considered a radical organization – much like the Black Lives Matter movement has been decried by some today. Timothy Tyson points out the NAACP was once considered to be “a left-wing power-mad organ of destruction” which had been “infiltrated by communist sympathizers.” Similarly incendiary descriptions of Black Lives Matter can be heard today even though that organization’s stated mission is to affirm “black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” We are reminded in The Blood of Emmett Till that what was once considered radical can become mainstream – and treasured – when we consider the true life experiences of people we have ignored.

Tyson’s book reminds us about the essential nature of testimony. It was his interview of Carolyn Bryant for this book which led to her to admit that Emmett Till never assaulted her in that tiny Mississippi grocery store in 1955. We are reminded what happens when we live by fear even in the face of cultural pressures. False narrative kills.

And we are also reminded that brave truths spoken even at the risk of death is what God has called us to speak today. Tyson powerfully describes what it meant for witnesses like Frank Young and Moses Wright to be brave in the face of darkness. Even though – as expected – the murderers of Emmett Till were found not guilty, the testimony spoken by brave witnesses in the 1950s bolsters our own courage for these days.

If you are just now “waking up white” after reading Debby Irving’s book, reading Tyson’s book about distant days – which are not so distant after all – will further stir a desire to dismantle racism. You may be completely familiar with the story of Emmett Till, but is an important read for our time.


Jan Edmiston serves as Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Jan was born, raised, and educated in Chapel Hill, NC, where she grew up in the University Presbyterian Church. She attended Andover-Newton Theological School and was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. She later earned a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Spirituality from Columbia Theological Seminary.She currently serves as Associate Executive Presbyter for Ministry at the Presbytery of Chicago.Edmiston blogs at A Church for Starving Artists. Throughout her parish ministry years, Edmiston served as moderator of the social justice committee and personnel committee, and took leadership roles in the areas of church revitalization, new church development, and presbytery council.

Thinking About Your Own Theology of Migration

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 Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty

Theological perspectives are noticeably lacking in news reports and political debates about the Trump administration’s immigration policies even though many religious leaders and faith communities are inspiring non-violent demonstrations and advocating for a new, more robust sanctuary movement. Indeed, there is a deep well of resources to inspire faith-filled activism.

Two “must reads” remain easily accessible on my desk: Daniel G. Groody’s and Gioacchino Campese’s co-edited volume entitled A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration (Notre Dame, 2008) and Miguel de la Torre’s Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration (Orbis, 2009).

Groody and Campese have assembled a vivifying collection of essays written by the world’s leading theological voices on economic migrants and refugees. Essays explore the basis for a theology migration in biblical stories and the traditions of the early church, attend to the politics of human rights, and imagine a constructive theology of migration. Groody is well-known for his work with migrants seeking to cross the U.S. Southern border. He has also collaborated with John Carlos Frye to produce films such as Dying to Live and One Body, One Border which partner well with A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey.

Another important book, Trails of Hope and Terror by de la Torre dispels the myths about migrants informing our contemporary politics of fear. Most important, de la Torre includes powerful testimonies given by people crossing the U.S. Southern border, border patrol officers, and ministers and activists carrying water out into the desert so people don’t die of thirst.

De la Torre also includes creative voices through poetry and songs. Corridos are Mexican ballads that convey news and can express the feelings of people who are oppressed by the most powerful. The excerpt below was translated from Spanish into English and originally written by a Salvadorian factory work about a Sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona.

“… he says that they are criminals.

But they only look for a decent job,

That in their country they have not found,

And without any apparent sense or reason,

Down the streets while in chains he paraded them”

(de la Torre, Trails of Hope and Terror, 130).

 These books 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.


Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty is chair of the department of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky and member of the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky. The church’s role in addressing issues of social and economic justice has long been one of her principal concerns. She is author of Dorothy Day for Armchair Theologians (2014), Beyond the Social Maze: Exploring the Theological Ethics of Vida Dutton Scudder (2006), Reconciling Paul: A Contemporary Study of 2 Corinthians (2014-2015 Horizons Bible Study) and The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to the Culture of Affluence (forthcoming from Orbis in 2017).  She co-edited Prayers for the New Social Awakening (2008) with Christian Iosso and To Do Justice: A Guide for Progressive Christians (2008) with Rebecca Todd Peters. She is an alum of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv 1995) and Union Presbyterian Seminary (PhD, 2002). Elizabeth and her partner, Lee, make their home in the Highlands of Louisville with their two children, Garrison and Emme, and their dog, Bacsi.