Living Windows

WNCThis week the leadership of the National Cathedral decided to remove two confederate flags from the stained glass windows in the beautiful building. What remains will be a conversation starter for those who visit the Cathedral with plans for the Chapter (i.e., the leadership at the Cathedral) to determine in the next couple years “how the windows will live in the Cathedral.” The original piece I read is here.

I also read a wonderful article at Christianity Today that reminded me about the long history of Black church burnings in the United States and what it means when our churches burn. That piece is here.

I have very little room to think through these two pieces. I want to, and I will soon, but not right now. What’s in me requires space and patience to come forth. Sometimes good words and interesting experiences do that to me. They make me want to find the best words for the occasion.

But there’s teaching to be done, children challenging my limits, and other words rumbling in my head. For the moment, I’m putting these up here for my future reference. I’m not alone in this, but I have things to say. Even if I can’t put my words into sentences yet.


Lessons from Exile

by Leeroy2Having been outside the mainstream for years, African American churches have learned valuable lessons that have given special meaning to spiritual practices and ideas. White Christians may be familiar with them in theory, but to know them from the underside, from the outside, and from the margins is an exercise in growing in new grace.

Silence is the anchor of speech

It’s easy for Christians to speak. We fill our ears, speak truths, and proclaim the gospel. We have good reason for our proclamation. But we hear less. It’s harder to be silent.

Silence is a corrective. For black and brown people, silence is a deepening, strengthening, and centering discipline. It is a discipline that was learned as black folks were taken from West African shores, unable to communicate in their native tongues, and pushed to find a way of hearing themselves, hearing their God, and, eventually, speaking about their pain.

It is learned still when life in the United States is unfair and unjust and when the rules for black and brown people are set to maintain injustice. In her book Joy Unspeakable, Barbara Holmes says that silence and contemplation bolster the interior life of a community, and ultimately sustains it.

Silence doesn’t remove the power of speech. It anchors it. The quiet is constructive because it narrows the focus on what needs to be said. It opens us to seeing what is real. It enables us to say what is wrong and, of course, what is right.

When we’re quiet, we have an opportunity to confront the pain of another. We learn to openly and realistically face our losses. We hear, reflect, and see what has set us apart from our Christian relatives.

The black church is instructed by the presence of God through other folks and notices in the silence those who are as concerned about speaking truth as we are.

I’m thankful to the folks at Leadership Journal for publishing my piece and for David Swanson’s earlier framing and partner essay. Read the full piece here.

On My Conversation With Dr. Gardner Taylor, 1 of 3

I’ve been reading Leadership Journal for several years.  It’s a magazine that’s written primarily for church leaders.  Most of the articles are written by pastors and the Journal provides a massive amount of practical material for people doing ministry, particularly in the Evangelical stream.

A little more than a month ago I recommended to a friend that he should suggest that the Journal publish an interview with Gardner C. Taylor.  My friend, David Swanson, who writes for the Journal’s blog, Out Of Ur, liked the idea and passed it to the editorial team.  He and I have fond appreciation for Dr. Taylor, for his historical significance as a pastor, and for his extreme gifts as a preacher and writer.

We were both pleasantly surprised that the editors took the idea to heart, discussed it with other folks on the magazine’s board, and agreed that it would be a great interview to try to get.  My surprise continued when David and I were asked what kinds of things we’d ask Dr. Taylor.  Of course, we chimed in, glad that our idea was being pursued.

A week or so went by when the next surprise came.  Marshall Shelley, the editor of the Journal, asked me if I’d be interested in participating in the interview, in conducting it with him.  You should know that this was no where in my atmosphere when I suggested the article to Leadership.  I have a sense of how articles are queried, how they are discussed and decided upon, and getting this opportunity was not in my field of expectation.  I was thrilled.  I told Marshall I was thrilled.  I saw mental pictures of him laughing at me because I was so thrilled.

I was at our denomination’s Annual Meeting, a day or two from being ordained when I saw Marshall’s email.  It was a great addition to that week, the thought of participating in an interview with Dr. Taylor.  My wife was happy for the same reason I was.  My denomination was ready to bestow a life-long credential for pastoral leadership while, at the same time, I was about to participate in a conversation with a man who had served churches in various ways for seventy years, who was a friend to folks like Martin King Jr. and Samuel Dewitt Proctor, who had a love for the Gospel and for the church for which Jesus died, and who spent his life as a consummate communicator.  I was looking forward to what was next.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning a bit more about Gardner Taylor, here are two interviews, one more current and one from several years back with the parent magazine of Leadership Journal, Christianity Today:

  1. Kim Lawton conducted a 2006 interview for PBS with Dr. Taylor in Raleigh.
  2. Lee Strobel conducted a 1995 interview for Christianity Today with Dr. Taylor in Brooklyn.

Relationship Abuse & Faith

I was engaged during the last part of my first and all of my second year of graduate school.  Dawn was finishing the last month or so in Urbana-Champaign with my engagement ring on her finger. 

We were engaged for a year, Easter to Good Friday.  When we started our premarital counseling, we saw Rev. Harvey Carey, my wife’s pastor growing up at Salem, and one of the psychologists at the Wheaton College Counseling Center.  I was studying there, and Dawn would come out for the appointment and, afterwards, I would either return to Chicago with her or go to my next class.

During one of the sessions with the clinician at the Counseling Center, we started talking about my personality.  I can’t remember what he asked.  It was a general enough question.  And when Dawn answered, I got the distinct impression that she was describing a person I didn’t know, a person who was cruel, and, worse, a person who was mean.  The counselor looked over at me and said something like, “Michael, what are you thinking?” Or maybe it was, “Michael, how are you feeling as you hear Dawn?”  Whatever it was, I told him and them that Dawn’s description made me sound like I was abusive. 

The counselor said something like Dawn wasn’t saying that and he said that I was a good guy.  I thought he pushed the moment too quickly.  He was right that Dawn wasn’t saying what I heard, but I also felt like he moved that conversation along a tad too fast.

I remember that meeting, that session, at different points in my life.  I remember when my tone gets a little too preacherly, or loud, at home.  I mean too loud for the small space between me and the wife.  I have a voice.  It’s always been a useful instrument, and I tell people that the instruments and tools God gives us are usually the instruments that bring us harm when we’re not attentive.  So I think about that meeting when my voice rises.

The session came to mind when I saw something in my inbox from Christianity Today.  The subject line asked, “Does Faith Hide Marital Abuse?”  I knew the answer was yes without reading it.  I knew that the proper place for faith was, indeed, inside a relationship.  I knew before reading the article that faith–rather than being something to cover or hide abuse–should be the catalyst that sparks change and the vulnerability which precedes it, be it slow conversion or rapid transformation, in a relationship. 

Faith is belief in the unseen but well known.  It is the trust that something is present–something like health and wholeness–because of God’s generosity.  Faith should make abuse impossible.  It should make husbands, boyfriends, and significant others acknowledge our needs for grace.  It should give us permission to admit and accept hard words, particularly when what our partners say about us is true.  Faith should provoke us to be strong and weak or strong enough to admit weakness.  And faith should make us better.

October is the nationally recognized month where people all over pause and say something about violence between intimate partners, also known as domestic violence.  I’m writing at least another post about this but what do you have to say?