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2016 National Gathering Ignite: Danita Nelson

Danita Nelson of New Covenant Fellowship of Austin shares about their intentional, multi-national, multi-racial, intergenerational community.

Contemplation and Social Justice

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

In case you have missed any, here is a master list of  this month’s posts exploring contemplation and social Justice:

Blog curator Therese Taylor-Stinson introduces this month’s topic in “Contemplation and Social Justice: A Month of Blogging by Members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.”

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSC_0082 via photopin (license)

Second, Leslye Colvin shares a reflection on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in “A Clearer Image: Two at a Well.”

Next, Cynthia Bailey Manns explores the challenge of engaging in meaningful discussions about race, faith, and politics in a two-part post, “Reluctant Companions.” You can read part I here, and part II here.

In “Embracing Diversity,” Therese Taylor-Stinson reflects on Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman’s keynote at the 2015 NEXT Church National Gathering in Chicago.

In Jesus Stripped of His Clothing, Leslye Colvin provides a thoughtful Good Friday Reflection on Racism.

Vikki Montgomery compares the contemplative work of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement with Desmond Tutu’s work to end Apartheid in her post Silence Before Protest.

Rosalie E. Norman-McNaney writes about the importance of breath in her spiritual direction sessions and the violence directed against young black men like Freddie Gray in her post Breathe on Me Lord; I Can’t Breathe.

Elizabeth Leung reflects on Thomas Merton in Racism: A Culture of Malformation.

In For What Shall I Pray?, Martha L. Wharton shares a heart-wrenching prayer on behalf of Baltimore mothers.

Vikki Montgomery reviews Krista Tippet’s On Being Interview with Pico Iyer in Out of Stillness and Silence.

Finally, Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks provide a four part series about Intersectionality. You can read part 1, 2, 3, and 4 here.

Embracing Diversity

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Therese Taylor-Stinson

At the annual gathering of NEXT Church in Chicago this year, Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman gave a keynote on diversity.  Its thesis caught me by surprise!

Diversity was not framed in the familiar words of inclusion and tolerance and “Kum-ba-ya,” but in relation to the shocking discovery that diversity is messy.  Using the research of social scientist Robert Putnam, we heard such statements as:

Diversity corrodes trust and organization.

Diversity without authentic inclusion can be harmful.

Robert Putnam’s research on “The Downside of Diversity” shows that, when diversity increases, trust levels decrease initially between groups and within groups.

In diverse communities, when people have the time and resources to make a difference, they do nothing.

According to Michael Jonas’ Boston Globe article of August 2007, even Robert Putnam was disturbed by his findings but could not deny their correlation to civic engagement. There is evidence, however, that though diversity corrodes community in civic matters, it increases creativity and productivity in the workplace, where differing views and perspectives, when included, result in greater innovation and adaptivity.

The positive findings in the workplace leads to another conclusion presented by Jana and Freeman:

People will only participate in that which they help to create.

Thus, I believe Putnam’s findings on diversity in civic life, combined with the findings on the effects of diversity in the workplace, are indeed an invitation. We are invited not to just embrace the truth of the initial mess of diversity in community but also to keep going!  It is indeed an invitation that is worth the mess.  Expecting the messiness should inspire us to keep going and not default to business as usual.

Putnam’s research was conducted in situations of ‘real’ diversity, when divergent ideas, cultures, lifestyles, ethnicities, values, and the like are authentically allowed to co-exist in the same place; not ‘token’ diversity, where everyone has either the same views, background, and or culture, or there is a set of rules to prohibit divergent or conflicting beliefs.  A Rwandan proverb states, “If you can’t hear a mouth chewing, you cannot hear a mouth crying.”  That means we must power through the mess in order to find empathy and compassion for the suffering of others.  The empathy and compassion then leads to authentic inclusion of differing values and ideas, and to the birth of a creative and innovative community.

Real diversity can initially blind us to the ways in which our differences can make us stronger. Thus, we must have the fortitude to push past the messiness of our tribal leanings.  This is where contemplation comes in—to raise our self-awareness and then our awareness of the other.

Brian McDermott, in his keynote presentation at the Spiritual Directors International Educational Event in Louisville, Kentucky, referred to “contemplation in action” [emphasis mine].  That small word “in” as opposed to the usual “and” makes a great difference because it speaks of contemplation indwelling the action taken, not separate from it.  Thus, I wrote in my notes:

We are both connected and separate.  We dwell in both, but we are not meant to stay in either. Separateness allows us to become aware and deepen; then, we are called to remain in that deepened place as we enter the connectedness of the universe.

The dilemma is to know when to remain separate and aware of oneself and when to integrate that more deepened self with the flow and connectedness of the universe. Contemplation calls us to awareness and connectedness, to use the deepening of our separate self to cultivate compassion for our differences in community.  When we acknowledge our experiences and the experiences of the other and come together with creativity to find where our differences merge to create something new and innovative, we overcome the initial messiness of diversity and become a productive human community committed to the rights, the needs, and concerns of all.  We become the human race rather than a socially constructed list of groups with whom we compete for superiority.

I have often contemplated the act of breathing because, as a child with asthma, I sometimes struggled to breathe.  As an adult who had acquired the habit of shallow breathing, I participated in a 6-week workshop to learn how to breathe deeply.  As I thought about the involuntariness of breathing and its power to regulate the body, I pondered on our dependence on the breath to live. Without the breath, we cannot live; without oxygen, the act of breathing is fatal.  This is not just true for humans but for all animal life:  We breathe in and out every minute of our lives, sharing the air as humans and with all other forms of animal life—without conflict.

Thomas Merton wrote, “We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.”  Contemplation quiets the mind so that we can hear from a deeper place, and it is deeply healing of trauma—even generations of trauma.  From that place, there are four actions we must take to truly experience the life-giving aspects of diversity:

  • Healing the trauma that stems from the messiness of equal diversity not allowed.
  • Reconciling differences through love and confession.
  • Increasing the awareness of privilege and how it perpetuates the oppression of others.
  • Dismantling destructive systems that support privilege and deny equal rights to all.

I think it was Brian McDermott who said, “God doesn’t change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their hearts.”  We are called to move from noticing something to letting it affect us and the world around us.  That is contemplation in action.

Wendell Berry expresses it well:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, 

and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Let it be so!


Theres Taylor-StinsonTherese Taylor-Stinson is an ordained deacon and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church and is currently serving as Vice Moderator of the National Capital Presbytery.  She is a member of the Shalem Society for Contemplative Leadership, and she has served on Shalem’s Board of Directors, and Marketing and Communications Committee.  Therese is the Managing Member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd., and maintains a private spiritual direction practice.  She is also a co-editor and contributing author of the groundbreaking anthology Embodied Spirits:  Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color, released in March 2014.

Reluctant Companions—Part I

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Cynthia Bailey Manns

Faith, Race, and Politics…. Each word alone can cause one to hesitate to enter into conversation with another. Yet, we are all accompanying each other on this journey we call life. How do we live “The Golden Rule” of treating others as we wish to be treated as we engage in sacred, non-polarizing conversations that must to be had to continue to evolve as a society?

About a month ago, I felt myself becoming discouraged with the continual negative, antagonistic discourse, from all sides, regarding these topics. I know my responses are viewed through the lenses of my life experiences and theology. I am an African American woman with a Caucasian great-great-great grandfather. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when societal change was creating excitement and fear simultaneously. Since my father was in the Army, I lived throughout the United States and Germany. I was frequently the only little black girl in my classes at school on the Army bases, yet, when I visited my grandparents in Alabama, things were quite different. We couldn’t try on clothes at certain stores, couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, had to drink from the “colored” water fountains and go up the back stairs of the movie theatre to sit in the balcony with the other “colored” people. Living in both realms of reality, segregation and integration, I knew discrimination was unjust because I had experienced freedom. Grounding my intense discontent with inequality was my unwavering knowing that God did not mean for some people to be treated so badly and others not.

Today we are still struggling with the intersection of these concepts–Faith, Race, and Politics. The U.S. continues to grow more ethnically, racially, and spiritually diverse. The Pew Research Center estimates that the Millennial Generation (18-33) is unattached to organized politics and religion, and is America’s most racially diverse generation. In T.D. Jake’s Huffington Post blog, he reminds us that, in the coming decade, one third of the 73 million people on the planet will identify as Christians, and due to this explosive growth occurring predominately in Africa and Europe, the next millennium Christian will be increasing non-white. By 2050, our racial categories will continue to dismantle as racial intermarriage increases, and by 2060, the changing face of America will be 43 percent white, 13 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian, and 6 percent other. Finally, the Pew Research Center informs us that partisan animosity continues to increase with political parties viewing the others as a “threat to the nation’s well-being.”

So, how do we encourage dialogue and action around these topics? Might I suggest we begin with self? I recognize I need to be more contemplative about my response to the turbulent discourse. In her book Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill describes the work of contemplation as “the gradual development of an extraordinary faculty of concentration, a power of spiritual attention.” How do I engage “spiritual attention” to ensure God is present in me in my words and actions with others? How do I engage “special attention” so I can encounter the Christ who is present in the other, in me, and all our surroundings?

Until Reluctant Companions—Part II, ponder these words….

“Everything we think, say, and do is prayer.”  (Neale Donald Walsh)

“I think when push comes to shove people need to remember that, underneath all the pain, hurt, anger, pride, and lies, we are all the same. Human.” (Aimee)

“I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.” (Anthony Bourdain)


 

Cynthia Bailey MannsCynthia Bailey Manns, M.A., currently serves as a spiritual director and educator. Her ministry also includes workshop and retreat facilitation. Cynthia is currently completing her Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Direction.

 

 

Contemplation and Social Justice: A Month of Blogging by Members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Therese Taylor-Stinson

“We are both connected and separate. We dwell in both, but we are not meant to stay in either. Separateness allows us to become aware and deepen; then, we are called to remain in that deepened place as we enter the connectedness of the universe.

The dilemma is to know when to remain separate and aware of oneself and when to integrate that more deepened self with the flow and connectedness of the universe.”

As I ponder the thoughts I wrote above at a recent Spiritual Directors International Educational Event in Louisville, Kentucky, and recently incorporated those thoughts into a coming blog post for this month, I think about how the truth of this statement lives in the Spiritual Directors of Color Network. In some ways, our Network has separated from the larger group of contemplatives in order to share our common experience more deeply and arise more awakened and aware of who we are and what our contributions to the larger contemplative community are. Then, in that more deepened and awakened state, we are called into the Oneness of the Universe.

Hopefully, the series of blog posts you will read over the month of June from spiritual directors of color will pull you aside, whatever your differences, for a little deepening and awareness on the theme of “Contemplation and Social Justice.” Though we are people of color, you will also witness the diversity of our group in our approaches, writing styles, experiences, thoughts, cultures, and passions around this theme.

At the annual Gerald May Seminar, hosted by the Shalem Institute, Jack Finley, psychologist, author, mystic, and former monk, defined contemplation as paying attention, “to reflect on one’s awareness of the present moment.” He also stated that “The mystic is known by the quality of their empathy, integrity, by the authenticity of your presence with each. … You cannot express the beauty of yourself and hide at the same time.” With that in mind, the members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, in cooperation with NEXT Church, will attempt to apply a balm on the trauma of racism and other acts of injustice, to separate ourselves from spiritual disease, which would render us powerless, so that perhaps one day we can enter into God’s dream of Oneness that manifests itself in diverse forms to sustain the life of the whole. Our articles will post on the NEXT blog on the even days throughout the month of June—one day to read and another to reflect.

We are not hiding. We are grieved but hopeful. We want to express the beauty of ourselves in ways that are healing. We are attempting to do the work that is necessary to be true to our calling as spiritual directors–to listen, to ask questions, to pray deeply, and to be an instrument for healing, for change, and for true unity with all its diversity in our broken world.

Enjoy!

Peace be with you,


Therese TSTherese Taylor Stinson is this month’s curator and a Managing Member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd.

Racial Justice, Contemplation, and the Next Church

By Therese Taylor-Stinson

Harriet Tubman said, “I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Her words are still true. Without trivializing the atrocity that slavery was to our ancestors, too many of us today have a false sense of freedom and equality in a country that was founded on white supremacy.

Today’s perpetrators, supporters, and beneficiaries of slavery, colonialism, and oppression suffer from the spiritual disease of racism, whose system enslaves even them and is a web of denial and separation. People who claim that they don’t see color deny their own experience and the experience of those who suffer the effects of racism. That denial prevents true freedom and the dismantling of racist systems that may not be the legalized slavery of history, but mirror those realities today in laws and a culture of white privilege.

For the 21st-century Church, which has always held that contemplation comprises method and inspiration, call and response, our deepest response in God to a suffering world, including the violence and injustice that results from privilege, should come through prayer and responsive acts of love. Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.” The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted [emphasis mine], shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Slavery was not abolished, however, by this amendment, but reconstituted to the penal system, where it remains today.

During Reconstruction (1865-1877), Black men were elected to Congress and to state legislatures. However, after Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws were instituted in the South. I believe we are witnessing something similar today. Several states have passed laws or attempted to pass laws that require voter identification requirements. In 2013, the Supreme Court weakened protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by deciding that “Preclearance laws for southern states with a history of voter discrimination are unconstitutional.” Lynching is not as prominent, but has happened in some form on occasion in our time, such as the murder in 1998 of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, after he was dragged behind a pickup truck for 3 miles. The militarization of the police, particularly in disadvantaged communities, heavily populated by people of color, has become prevalent, and states such as Florida have “Stand Your Ground” laws that endanger young black lives such as that of Trayvon Martin’s. The number of black men incarcerated, relegating them to the penal system, particularly for relatively non-violent crime, as well those targeted by police profiling, are grossly disproportionate to the number of white males committing the same crimes.

One of my past colleagues with whom I served in the federal government, a white man, told me that he was not surprised by the resurgence of racism since Obama took office. He observed that civil rights laws had suppressed racist practices but had not ended racism or racist attitudes, and thus, with a black President, racist attitudes that had been suppressed have resurfaced.

Racism is therefore America’s shadow. It is a spiritual disease, operating to maintain white privilege through cognitive dissonance.

Psychologist Leon Festinger wrote, “…cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” Our civil rights laws establish equality without regard to race, gender, age, religion, sexual preference, or ability. Yet, when black people go out into the world, they are immediately challenged to make sense of their lived experience, which is contrary to the laws established to protect them.

Racism affects every area of life: Education, economics, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war. In defining racism during the height of racial tension in the U.S. during the 1960s and ‘70s, Frances C. Welsing, a Washington DC psychiatrist stated, “Racism is a system of advantage based upon race. It doesn’t mean hating or not liking a race. It is White Supremacy.”

Romal Tune is a United Methodist minister. He left the gang life to graduate from college and receive a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University. He is the author of God’s Graffiti, and upon hearing about the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, he wrote:

“What most people don’t understand about poor black males on the inner-city streets, I can tell you now, they will not stay off the streets tonight, but it’s not just because they are angry and tired of mistreatment by police. It’s because they are tired of being ignored. Because of this tragic incident, the media has shown up and cameras are rolling. The world is watching! Brothers in the hood finally get noticed. The same brothers who were on the street before the shooting and nobody gave a damn.”

This is cognitive dissonance, where young men live invisible lives to a great extent, except when they break the law. In Ferguson, the young men had a chance to be seen for a good cause, yet were still treated as unwanted and unproductive agitators. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” These young men began rioting, looting, and burning property in their own neighborhoods because the need to be heard in a righteous act of protest, a civil right protected by the law, was met with rejection—cognitive dissonance.

Racism can only be healed from within, through contemplation. Both victims and perpetrators can be healed from the effects of white supremacy and racism. Contemplation is a willingness to be immediately awake to the present as it is—to us, to others, and to a Divine, Life-giving Presence that is always available to us. If racism is recognized as a spiritual disease, a person of contemplation engages both reflection and response. As I heed the words of the desert Ammas and Abbas to “pay attention,” I see people of color disparaged in the U.S. and massacred in Nigeria, while the dominant culture deplored the tragic deaths of fourteen in Paris. When Ebola swept West Africa, I see our concern was overwhelmingly for the Americans affected.

Contemplation is pure, existing before archetypes, and is the essence from which everything else flows. Contemplation needs both method (the pathway) and action (the sacrifice), which dwells within its tradition, to be authentic and effective in overcoming the spiritual diseases of white privilege and racism. The NEXT church, the church of the 21st century, should proclaim with one voice that Black lives do matter, as fully as the lives of all others. Let the healing begin!

Amen.


Theres Taylor-StinsonTherese Taylor-Stinson is current Vice Moderator for National Capital Presbytery.  She is a spiritual director and Managing Member of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network.

2015 National Gathering Keynote: Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman

Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman co-owners of the TMI consulting firm based in Richmond, VA, present a keynote at the 2015 National Gathering in Chicago.

Resources:

Seeing Jesus in the Stranger

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During April, as we continue to process the 2015 National Gathering, Joe Clifford is curating a month of blog posts exploring multiculturalism in the NEXT Church. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Joe Clifford

As we enter the season of Eastertide and consider the ways the risen Christ is working among the church, I am reminded of Luke’s story about the road to Emmaus.  You’ll remember that Cleopas and his companion are making their way home from Jerusalem following the crucifixion when they are met by a stranger on the road who asks them what they’re talking about. “Don’t you know what’s happened?” they respond.  And they proceed to tell the stranger about the crucifixion and the death of their hopes and dreams.  They mention rumors of resurrection, but they’re not buying it.

Like Cleopas and his companion, we talk a lot about the bad news these days, about the death of the church and the decline of Mainline Protestantism.  We know the statistics.  Mark Chaves of Duke Divinity School points out that no indicator of traditional belief and practice is on the rise.   Only 25% of Americans regularly attend worship services, and regularly now means once or twice a month.  In the past 20 years, the number of people saying they adhere to no religion at all– the “nones”–increased from 2 or 3 percent in 1990 to close to 17 percent in 2010, with the number of “nones” increasing most dramatically among young adults, with over 25% of Millennials reporting no church affiliation.  Only 15% of Millennials say that living a “very religious” life is important to them.  Institutional religion as we have known it is dying.  We would likely say to the stranger, “Are you the only person who doesn’t know what’s happening in the Jerusalem that is the institutional church?”

The stranger does not respond with much compassion.  In fact, he calls them “fools.” He proceeds to open the scriptures to them, to show that you can’t have resurrection without death.  In the midst of the decline of the white mainline Protestant church, another part of the body of Christ is rising in powerful ways.  According to an article published back in May 2014 on the Daily Digest of the PCUSA website   “American Christianity still has plenty of Millennials — they’re just not necessarily in white churches.”  Rev. Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic congregation in South Carolina reports,  “What I see among Millennials are African Americans and Asian Americans and Latinos who are vibrantly growing in faith and leading the future of what the church will become.”  According to data from the Public Religion Research Institute he’s absolutely right.  The majority of younger Christians in this country are people of color.  White Christians only make up 26% of Americans age 18-29.  Only 12% are white mainline Protestants.  On the other hand 28% of that age group are Christians who are people of color.   This is part of a huge shift underway in American Christianity. For Americans over 65 years old, about 70% of their generation are white Christians.  For my generation, it’s 54%.  For my children’s generation, it’s less than 25%.

GotW-Obama-Romney-Coalitions-and-Age-by-Religion-11-12-2012-Final1-640x388

Rev. Gray believes the future will belong to churches that are multicultural, not because it is politically correct, but “because that’s what God wants.” He cites Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  He concludes, “The reason that we should have multiethnic churches is not that the demographics of America [are] changing — but because it is at the heart of the gospel.”

The rise of multicultural Christianity is connected to the expansion of Pentecostal churches.  The Pentecostal movement is often traced to the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 in Los Angeles.  Today it is estimated that by 2025, over 40% of the global Christian community will be Pentecostal.  That’s a shift the likes of the Protestant reformation.

Back on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion invite the stranger into their home.  There the guest becomes the host, taking the bread, blessing it and breaking it, and their eyes are opened to see the risen Christ. This month we invite into the NEXT Blog, Joel and Rachel Triska from Life in Deep Ellum.  They are ordained ministers in the Assembly of God Church running a fascinating ministry in urban Dallas. We also hear from Rev. Shane Webb and Pastor Antonio Pichardo who are partnering in rural Texas on new worshipping communities.


Joe CliffordJoe Clifford serves as Pastor, Head of Staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas.  In 2006 he came to Dallas from the Alpharetta Presbyterian Church in the Atlanta area.  Joe is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has his Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from McCormick Theological Seminary.  

 

Will #nextchurch2015 Move the Church Towards Racial Justice?

 

This week we are gearing up for the National Gathering! This series of posts first appeared on conference co-director Rocky Supinger’s blog and are shared here with the permission of the author. Check out the original posts at YoRocko!

By Rocky Supinger

NEXT Church is next week!

I’ve enjoyed blogging about past NEXT Church gatherings, for example herehere, and here.

This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].

So, my first question:

The fouled up racial reality of the American context is more clearly in focus today than it has been for years, at least as measured by the mainstream media discourse. Michael Brown and Eric Garner are household names, and #blacklivesmatter is necessary to state now. How will the urgency of racial justice inform what happens next week?

A colleague shared this in an email yesterday:

I still have my same concerns about the church in general and about NEXT in particular. The events of the past six months, especially events around Ferguson, have even heightened my sense of concern for organizations that are predominantly led and and membered by privileged white people, including organizations like the PC(USA) and NEXT Church. I’ll be interested to see if your conference makes any movement this year compared to the last several years I’ve attended.

One way to measure movement toward racial justice in a gathering like this is by looking at who’s up front. NEXT has always work hard at diverse racial representation among its leadership, even if the PC(USA) is a mostly white palette from which to draw.

Among others, this year’s gathering will hear from Chineta Goodjoin, the Organizing Pastor of a new African-American church in Orange County, as well as Tiffany Jana, who heads a consulting firm with her husband Matt that helps organizations harness the power of diversity (watch her TED Talk below).

This year’s theme, “Beyond: Our Walls, Our Fears, Ourselves” lends itself well to addressing the church with urgency to explicitly address its witness to a world in which police officers openly send racist emails, fraternity brothers at a prominent university chant “hang ‘em from a tree” with glee, and young black men are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police.

It’s on us to push things in the direction of justice and reconciliation. I expect next week’s gathering to offer concrete ways to do that.


 

Rocky Srocky supinger (472x640)upinger is associate pastor of Claremont Presbyterian Church in Claremont, CA and co-director of this year’s NEXT Church National Gathering. Connect with him at his website, YoRocko!.

 

 

Why Do Presbyterians Cross the Road?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This November, we are examining what strong-benevolent Christian identity looks like in our pluralistic world. Many of this month’s contributors attended a conference with Brian McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, on October 15th at George Mason University and will be reflecting on their experiences there. 

By Mick Burns

An Imam, a Rabbi, a Baptist pastor and a Presbyterian Minister crossed the road…

…to the first tee.

interfaithGolf

They were teamed up to play golf at an interfaith fundraising event. After introductions were made at the first tee, these religious leaders were informed that it was going to be a “skins” match. They were all a bit nervous and afraid to ask for a definition of a “skins” match. Was it even proper for a spiritual leader to ask about skins?

No, it is not a joke. This really happened!

It was my first real interfaith experience years ago when I became involved with the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion in the Detroit Metro Area. It was an enjoyable fundraising event. Hanging out with the Rabbi, the Imam and another pastor was a delight. Introductions and friendships were being made as religious leaders made room in their schedules to reach out to one another and make a difference by modeling a way forward.

Leaving Michigan I moved to the Fairfax area in 2009. Not long after my move I was befriended by a local Imam who showed up at my office door. Since then we have shared meals, and on two occasions, members of our congregation have joined members of his mosque for dinner as we broke fast during Ramadan. Naturally, I was excited to hear that noted Christian pastor, author, speaker, and activist Brian McLaren was coming to speak at George Mason University in October. The topic was related to his recent book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi‐Faith World. It was a pleasure to hang out with some like-minded leaders at the event at GMU sponsored by “Arise Campus Ministry.”

As I learned back in Michigan, when four religious leaders cross the road together, even to play golf, good things can happen and good things do happen. It was not different this time. Several members and friends from local Presbyterian congregations are meeting and discussing McLaren’s book. They formed their own group called, “Presbyterians Crossing the Road,” and are thinking about ways to continue interfaith dialogue in our community. Soon Interfaith services will take place on Thanksgiving Eve; one continuing a long tradition, another beginning a new one.

Two main questions were posed in the promotional material for the McLaren event. Can you be a committed Christian without having to condemn or convert people of other faiths? Is it possible to affirm other religions traditions without watering down your own?

Why do Presbyterians cross the road? Answer: To get to the other side of interfaith dialogue.

As very busy religious leaders, it is becoming more and more difficult to find time for things outside the life of the church, even though we have all heard the mantra to be “missional.” The fact is, running our churches takes a lot of time. However, interfaith work is worth our investment.

Brian McLaren’s work about interfaith relations is extremely helpful in that he reframes the conversation for us today. He reminds me of Walter Brueggemann. To me, part of Brueggemann’s genius is about how he uses language to reshape our thought. He is not satisfied with all the “theological jargon” of past Old Testament scholarship and he continues to come up with fresh new ways of re-framing our theological explorations. In a similar way McLaren’s genius is in reshaping our conversation for today.

As you know, McLaren and those in the emergent church movement have not been thrilled about the limitations of familiar clichés and pat answers to handle the tough problems in our world. In his book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, he outlines a path for Christians that helps us engage the contemporary world. He believes in the concepts that “hope happens.” When we cross the road with people of other faiths, hope happens. Brian McLaren reframes a host of theological doctrines as a way of engaging persons of other faiths without sacrificing our own beliefs In Jesus Christ.

When I served a church in Moorhead, MN my wife and I played in both indoor and outdoor co-ed soccer leagues for over thirteen years. Our team captain was a professor of plant sciences and people would come from all over the world to do a Ph.D. in advanced durum wheat genetics, etc. under his tutelage. As a result, we also happened to get some of the best soccer players from all over the world to play on our team. After thirteen years I counted that we had played with players from over 45 different countries. The best times were not just on the soccer fields. Once a month we gathered for potluck; a good Minnesota tradition. Everyone brought a dish to share from their home country. Our captain, a Christian from Syria, made the best hummus and baba ghanoush I have ever tasted. A Muslim teammate from Pakistan brought some amazing curry chicken, another Muslim friend from Iran would make Persian Fesenjun. Our Latin American friends from Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Paraguay would not only share their wonderful food, they would share their passion for dancing, and those who wanted to learned a few more steps.

We played side by side with Bosnians who fled to this country to avoid ethnic cleansing. Over Turkish coffee we heard stories of religious hatred and malice from one gifted Bosnian player who lost most of his family to the war. It is amazing what happens when people break bread and hang out together. We learn, we grow and we prosper.

Most of us have already crossed the road of interfaith relationships or we probably would not be reading a blog on NextChurch. Part of the way ahead is to continue on this path as a model for the society in which we live. With the rise of Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Christians need to step up and help others that are trying to cross the road, but are afraid of what might be on the other side.

 


 

The Rev. Dr. Michael P. BurnsThe Rev. Dr. Michael (Mick) Burns as served as the Senior Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, VA since July of 2009. He served Presbyterian churches in Beverly Hills, MI, Moorhead, MN, Grand Haven, MI and Willmar, MN before coming to Northern Virginia.

Mick is married to Joni, a teacher with Fairfax County Public Schools. They have been married for 35 years and have two sons and two grandchildren.