Posts

Finding Home

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Michael McNamara is curating a series that will explore the theme of Christian contemplative practice, which has been central to the formation and development of Christianity. We will learn from writers exploring spirituality from both the secular and the religious, embracing the paradox within that — a paradox essential to contemplative practice itself. How can this Christian or secular tradition impact today’s church? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

by Paula Estornell, PhD

Everyone has a story to tell. This is my story of finding home.

I got the travel bug when I was 10. It was my turn to fly with to Spain to visit our relatives. (My older siblings had already gone.) The sights, sounds and smells of Spain were strange and captivating. So were the people and the slow-paced, fun-loving way of life. It was a wonderful experience and for the last 40 years I have been thrilled to discover new people and places across much of the United States and many countries. I’ve lived in the north east, north west, mid-west and southern parts of the United States as well as Europe.

I love newness and adventure and never stayed in one place for more than a few years. Too much stagnation makes me restless. In my early years, I was searching for excitement. In my later years, I began looking for home. A place to connect with the landscape and people and rhythm of an area. A place to belong. But a sense of home has eluded me. Even after I moved back to the town where I grew up, where I had family and old friends, married, and had a child. It wasn’t until I discovered, rather unexpectedly, a deeper connection with God and then with others that I felt a true sense of home.

I had grown up without religion in my life and no real concept of God. My tough single mother had left the church disillusioned by the patriarchy and lack of women’s voices. I came upon religion rather accidentally when, soon after returning from two years abroad in the US Peace Corps, I looked in the yellow pages of the phone book to see what community organizations I could join. I wanted to reconnect with Americans and make friends. Unitarian Universalist sounded intriguing and worldly so I went to a service. The exposure to the teachings of major world religions, open-mindedness, freedom of expression, and social justice appealed to me and I stayed an active member for almost 20 years. The faith fed my mind and provided a wonderful community of people to connect with.

When our daughter arrived, we needed to leave our small lovely UU Church in search of a church with a vibrant children’s program. We started attending a local Christian church and there I discovered more than a nice community of kids for our daughter. I found a church library and a deeper understanding of God.

Since I knew very little about mainstream Christianity, I wanted to read a little about the faith and about Jesus to better understand what was being said during Sunday services. Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault changed my understanding of God and Jesus and changed my life as I continued to read books she referenced and others from that church library. Until then, what little sense I had of God and Christianity was that they provided moral guidance for people and those morals were subject to cultural influences. Cynthia and other authors wrote about the indwelling of the light of God in everyone and of a mystical Jesus who launched a radical peace movement and love movement across the Middle East and beyond. Thomas Keating provided centering prayer practices from his Contemplative Outreach organization that guided people to sit quietly each day to hear the voice of God. These Christian spiritual teachings and practices fed my heart.

I’ve now read over 200 books and articles on spirituality and Christianity and am active in local Centering Prayer and Wisdom gatherings and also a student at Shalem Institute in Washington DC. The impact of this reading, community building, and prayer practice has been profound. My restlessness has disappeared, and been replaced with a great sense of peace and gratitude and awe. I no longer search for home because I found it deep inside and in all the people I encounter who carry the light of God within. I still cherish teachings of other faiths and remain active in interfaith dialogue and activities through local organizations. My sense of home is in a loving God, the Divine Spirit that I feel and know is alive in me and in all creation.


Paula Estornell is a wife, mother and travel enthusiast. Paula has worked for many years promoting sustainable community development in academia, government and private sector. She is training to be a spiritual retreat leader and travel guide.

An Outhouse that Became Bookshelves: Doing Ministry in the “Funk“ of Life

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 Lisa Janes

What happens when ministry requires you to not only get dirty, but funky? Dirt can be brushed away but funk in its true vernacular saturates everything and lingers in the atmosphere. The word “funk” as a noun can be defined as “a state of paralyzing fear; a depressed state of mind.” As a verb, the word “funk” is defined as “a strong offensive smell.” Doing ministry in the funk of life embraces not only the noun and verb described here but even evokes the other noun that defines “funk” as a music that combines rhythm and blues as well as soul music that is percussive, harmonic, and filled with bass and heavy downbeats.

In Bruce Watson’s book entitled Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America A Democracy, I found a tantalizing tale of sanctuary and sanctity in the midst of savagery. In the midst of the sunflowers and the Delta topsoil was the brutal and arid landscape of segregation which was fertilized by terror perpetrated upon African-Americans in the American South. This terror consisted in the form of lynching, rape, and death threats as black people in the American South attempted to register to vote. Joining in this struggle were thousands of college students of all races who found themselves spending an entire summer as a part of The Freedom Summer Project which consisted of voter registration, the Freedom Schools, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

In chapter five of the book, entitled “It Is Sure Enough Changing,” the narrative begins: “On his first full day in Mississippi, Fred Wynn tore down an outhouse and turned it into bookshelves.” According to Watson, this outhouse stood behind a two-room shack on a road that divided sections of the black community and these places had names like Jerusalem and Sanctified Quarters. The shack was to become Ruleville’s Freedom School. What makes this image so powerful was twenty volunteers, black and white, male and female, native and foreign-born came together and created a sanctuary of empowerment for black citizens of Mississippi.

When I reflect on my ministry contexts, they – like the book Freedom Summer – center around a cultural, radical, educational, and empowering love-centered ethic. First, I serve as an associate pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church, a church located in the east end of the city of Richmond, Virginia. The senior pastor and founding visionary, the Rev. Dr. Patricia Gould-Champ, was given by God a vision and mission which focuses on three public housing communities: Fairfield, Whitcomb and Creighton Courts. In my second ministry context, I serve as a circulation supervisor at the William Smith Morton Library on the campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary.

In my former ministry context, I am learning how to do intentional authentic ministry in the midst of a radicalized sanctuary space whose external wall is adorned with a “Black Lives Matter” banner. At Faith Community Baptist Church, there is always a call to action to not only transform the Jericho Road as evidenced in Luke 10:25-37, but to remind those who abandon and/or walk away from our oppressed brothers and sisters left on the side of the road their need to be responsible and accountable to our community. Often individuals can center themselves around the sound bites of ministry which involve teaching and preaching. The grunt work like the tearing down of the outhouse to create bookshelves in the intense, oppressive heat of the day causes a disorientation that places us in the center of social justice for the least of these, those whose names and places of habitation are scandalized and stereotyped.

In my latter ministry context I take everything I have learned in the former and introduce it to the latter, creating and developing a sanctuary of holy dialogue and a pedagogy of the funk. This pedagogy will allow us to embrace what my pastor always calls “on the job revelation” that is not often in the books as it relates to our unique ministry context. In the midst of our feelings of inadequacy, we must trust God in the heat and offensive smells of the “isms” that oppress us and learn a new language and a new song.

Now we endure a political system in America along with a societal malaise that reeks of reality TV and narcissistic patriotism that diminishes, demeans, demotes, and demolishes. I think that every American citizen should read Freedom Summer and that it should be a required text in our school systems. I would only advise that when they get to chapter five, they allow the definition of a outhouse to be examined in order to understand that democracies are not made by avoiding that which stinks; they are only created by facing the collective funk of life together as a beloved community and creating something sacred and noble that will benefit all who encounter it.


Lisa R. Janes is an artist, teacher, curriculum developer and minister who serves as an Associate Pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church and Circulation Supervisor at the William Smith Morton Library on the Richmond campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary. She is also currently working on a social media project on Instagram which is a return to her artist and teaching roots. This project entitled “godintheskin” is a blend of music, politics, social history, spirituality, and art. Her goal is also to complete a book based on her experiences on Instagram and how it is shaping her faith journey.

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.

Resources for Postliberal Preaching

These resources were provided by Dan Lewis and Pen Peery at the conclusion of their August 2017 online roundtable: “Toward the Purple Church.”

Books

Campbell, Charles L. Preaching Jesus: The New Directions for Homiletics in Hans Frei’s Postliberal Theology

Pape, Lance B. The Scandal of Having Something to Say: Ricoeur and the Possibility of Postliberal Preaching

Eslinger, Richard L. Narrative and Imagination: Preaching the Worlds that Shape Us

 

Quick Thought Pieces

I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.” – Frank Bruni in The New York Times (8/12/17)

The End of Identity Liberalism” – Mark Lilla in The New York Times (11/18/16)

The Tribal Truths that Set the Stage for Trump’s Lies” – Michael Gerson in the Washington Post (3/23/17)

Who Are We?” – Ross Douthat in The New York Times (2/4/17)

What ‘Hamilton’ forgets about Hamilton” – Jason Frank and Isaac Kramnick in The New York Times (6/10/16)

Save the Mainline” – Ross Douthat in The New York Times (4/15/17)

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.

“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.

Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman “Sheds a Little Light”

by Lee Hinson-Hasty

Eighty years ago (1937) this month, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. published a poem by the Rev. Howard Thurman, an African American Baptist minister, professor of theology, and dean of the chapel at Howard University. The title of the poem was “O God, I Need Thee.” Thurman poetically describes our need of God’s sense for time, order, and future.

This month, the NEXT Church blog will help us all investigate God’s timing, order, and future by recommending and reviewing books that shed a little light on what is happening all around and within us in these seemingly chaotic days of 2017. The inspiration for this phrase, “shed a little light,” comes from James Taylor’s song, “Shed a Little Light.” You can watch a video of it being performed by the Lowcountry SC Voices in Columbia here.

Lent, if nothing else, is a time for reflection on what has been and living toward what is possible with God’s help. We die to our old selves as we pray to rise to newness of life in fullest form.

Thurman published Meditations of the Heart in 1953, the second in a volume of meditations that were originally written for personal and congregational use at Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco where he served as co-pastor with Alfred G. Fisk, a Presbyterian minister, and professor of philosophy from 1944-1953. Both were deeply concerned about building bridges of understanding among varied races, cultures, and faiths.

The purpose of these meditations is, as Thurman puts it, “to focus the mind and the heart upon God as the Eternal Source and Goal of life.” The meditations in this 210-page book are chock full of insight, centering prayer, and nourishment for the journey. For me, all three are needed in these days as they were for his congregation in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Meditations are the type of sustenance that fed civil rights leaders including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. who was, in many ways, mentored by Thurman.

Mentoring voices from around the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond will follow this post throughout the coming weeks, each from various walks of life and ministry contexts including those leading theological schools, congregations, presbyteries, the General Assembly, and non-profit organizations. Each will identify their context for ministry and call, a book they recommend, what the book is about, and why they believe it is critical reading today. My prayer is that these will become timely and descriptive “meditations of the heart,” so to speak, for a holy pilgrimage into God’s imagined future: the NEXT Church.

My sincere hope is that these posts will also provide a foundational backdrop for the conversations many of us will be having at the 2017 National Gathering on Well-Being in a Thirsty World.


I am Lee Hinson-Hasty and my call to ministry centers on vocation of leaders in the church and the world. I am always curious about how we find what Thomas Merton described as “our true selves.” Discerning vocation is, I believe, a personal, spiritual, religious, and theological journey, and, for Reformed Christians, it is a communal process. Vocation discerned becomes educational and, ultimately, economic in a particular social context. As a resource and advocate for theological education in the PC(USA) for more than a decade, I find my current call as Senior Director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation provides me the best opportunity I know to invite and embolden others to used their gifts to glorify God in ways that will empower leaders of Christ’s Church by supporting future ministers. I pray regularly with James Taylor and others that we will all “Recognize there are ties between us… ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood. …. We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead. We are bound and we are bound.”

A Lenten Book List

This book list was compiled during our Lent/Easter planning Church Leader’s Roundtable on January 10, 2017. We hope you will find these resources to be fruitful for prayers, liturgy, sermon inspiration and more.

A Pilgrim People: Learning Through the Church Year — John H. Westerhoff

Stages on the Way — Wild Goose Worship Group

The Awkward Season: Prayers for Lent — Pamela Hawkins

God is on the Cross — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Forgiveness: A Lenten Study — Majorie J. Thompson

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World — Brian D. McLaren

Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles our Judgment — Rowan Williams

Lectionary Liturgy — Thom Shuman (there are several options based on the Revised Common Lectionary Year)

Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self — Richard Rohr

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life — Richard Rohr

Building Community Across Divides: A Book List

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. In November, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel curated “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

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We asked our contributing authors this month to tell us what they are reading or have read that has helped them in the work of building community across divides. Here’s what they said:

Jodi Craiglow

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch
“I recommend this book probably five times as often as I recommend all other books — combined. Crouch’s main argument is simple but profound: We can’t change culture by critiquing it. We can only change culture by creating
more of it.”

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf
“Easily (and simultaneously) the most beautiful and the most challenging book I’ve ever read. Volf argues that we can only truly experience reconciliation when we embrace “the other,” bringing them into our lives in the same way that we’ve been embraced by God.”

Roy Howard

Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry Hurtado
“This is a clearly written book of Christian history that has implications for the church of our time under a different empire and seeking a distinctive identity as Christians that will resist the idolatries of the culture and more than resistance, offer a compelling alternative. Our ancestors in the faith have frequently had to face similar challenges as we do.”

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
“This book explores theology through the experiences of the body: the dying body, the aging body, the sexual body, the body in play and the body at work. It’s a compelling argument by a New Testament scholar that scripture itself is a response to the experience of God in the body, and hence we should pay attention to the body for signs of God’s presence among us.”

Joe Duffus

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson with Peter Wehner
“This looks like a fitting start for traditional or evangelical Christians to consider in light of changes in our culture and the sharp decline of civility in discussion.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
“This book tells the stories of various people whose lives were ruined by Internet ‘mobs’ that reacted to things those people said on social media. He wrote a long article based on the book for the New York Times a while back that I keep coming back to, because of what it says about how people’s online behavior has become so much more impulsive, vicious and bombastic than anything they might do face-to-face.”

Don Meeks

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls
From Amazon: “Whether the issue of the day on Twitter, Facebook, or cable news is our sexuality, political divides, or the perceived conflict between faith and science, today’s media pushes each one of us into a frustrating clash between two opposing sides. Polarizing, us-against-them discussions divide us and distract us from thinking clearly and communicating lovingly with others. Scott Sauls, like many of us, is weary of the bickering and is seeking a way of truth and beauty through the conflicts. Jesus Outside the Lines presents Jesus as this way. Scott shows us how the words and actions of Jesus reveal a response that does not perpetuate the destructive fray. Jesus offers us a way forward – away from harshness, caricatures and stereotypes. In Jesus Outside the Lines, you will experience a fresh perspective of Jesus, who will not (and should not) fit into the sides.”

Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew by Charles D. Drew
From Amazon: “Can Christians be political activists without hating those who disagree? As the next presidential election comes into view, Americans are deciding where to stand on the key issues. The church has often been as politically divided as the culture, leading many Christians to withdraw from politics or to declare alliances prematurely. But Charles Drew offers an alternative for people who care deeply about their faith and about the church’s corporate calling in the world. In this updated and revised version of A Public Faith (NavPress 2000), Drew helps Christians to develop practical biblical convictions about critical social and political issues. Carefully distinguishing between moral principle and political strategy, Body Broken equips believers to build their political activism upon a thoughtful and biblical foundation. This balanced approach will provide readers Democrats, Republicans, or Independents with a solid biblical foundation for decision making. Drew even helps Christians of all political persuasions to understand how they can practice servanthood, cooperation and integrity in today’s public square. With questions at the end of each chapter to help readers explore and apply principles, Body Broken will train believers to actively engage with political issues while standing united as a church.”

The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones
From Amazon: “Drawing on more than four decades of polling data, The End of White Christian America explains and analyzes the waning vitality of white Christian America. Jones argues that the visceral nature of today’s most heated issues—the vociferous arguments around same-sex marriage and religious liberty, the rise of the Tea Party following the election of our first black president, and stark disagreements between black and white Americans over the fairness of the criminal justice system—can only be understood against the backdrop of white Christians’ anxieties as America’s racial and religious topography shifts around them.”

Jessica Tate

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland
“This is a book that takes our all-too-common labels of one another as ‘right Christians’ and ‘wrong Christians,’ explores the sociology behind our division, and reminds us that Jesus commands us to love our neighbors (all of them), just as he did — relentlessly.”

The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words by Deborah Tannen
“Written in 1998, this one is starting to show some age, but continues to be a helpful book as it traces today’s public discourse (or lack thereof). While it is a linguistic perspective, not a theological one, Tannen opens by saying, ‘This is not another book about civility…. Our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention — an argument culture.'”

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin
“This book paints the picture of Nelson Mandela’s consistent and persistent work to humanize white Afrikaners and black South Africans to one another through the winning of their hearts in a united force behind the rugby team – the Springboks. It’s a compelling story of playing the long game, refusing to demonize, and seeking to find the image of God in every person. I read it as a parable.”

Quinn Fox

The Road to Character by David Brooks
“One of the leading public intellectuals of our day, Brooks challenges readers to focus on the deeper values that should inform our lives—by striving to shift the focus of our living away from the ‘résumé virtues’—achieving wealth, fame and status—toward the ‘eulogy virtues’—those character traits that are worthy of being at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty and faithfulness.”

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter
“To change hearts and minds has been the goal of modern Christians seeking to correct a culture deemed fallen and morally lax. Hunter (author of Culture Wars) finds this approach pervasive among Christians of all stripes and in every case deeply flawed, to the point of undermining the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance. After charting the history of Christian assumptions and efforts to change culture, Hunter investigates the nature of power and politics in Christian life and thought, and then proposes an alternative: what he calls the practice of faithful presence, rooted not in a desire to change the world… but rather in a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth.”

Living with Difference: How to Build Community in a Divided World by Adam B. Seligman, Rahel R. Wasserfall, and David W. Montgomery
“Written by a team of scholars who specialize in helping communities engage with difference, this book explores the challenges and necessities of accommodating difference, however difficult and uncomfortable such accommodation may be. The authors are part of an organization that has worked internationally with community leaders, activists, and other partners to take the insights of anthropology out of the classroom and into the world. Rather than addressing conflict by emphasizing what is shared, Living with Difference argues for the centrality of difference in creating community, seeking ways not to overcome or deny differences but to live with and within them in a self-reflective space and practice.”