Baton Rouge

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Baton Rouge has had a rough time following the shooting of Alton Sterling. A subsequent shooting in Falcon Heights, Minnesota and the shooting of five police officers in Dallas stood as a stark reminder that we are not in a post-racial society.

Recently a group of church leaders from the Gulf Coast Synod and the ELCA Churchwide Organization gathered with local leaders in Baton Rouge to be present, listen, learn, and pray together.

Baton Rouge 02
Pastors Chris Markert, Robin McCullough-Bade, Mike Rinehart, and Mike Button

The first evening we had a large group gather to listen to local friends share their stories and perspectives. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Stephen Bouman (ELCA Director of Domestic Mission), Albert Starr (Director of Ethnic-Specific and Multicultural Ministries and Program Director for African-Descent Ministries), Brenda Smith (Program Director for Faith Practices and Missional Development), Judith Roberts (Program Director for Racial Justice Ministries), Gulf Coast Bishop Michael Rinehart, Chris Markert (Assistant to the Bishop-Mission Catalyst), Blair Lundborg (Assistant to the Bishop for Leadership, Robin McCullough-Bade (Director of Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge), Mike Button (Pastor at St. Paul, Baton Rouge), Kim Little-brooks, (Pastor at Our Saviour, Baton Rouge), Nancy Andrews (Bayou Conference Dean), and Interim Pastor at Bethlehem, New Orleans) met with Edgar Cage (Baton Rouge Together), Willie Johnson (member of Our Saviour’s and Baton Rouge consultant, former school principal, and VP of the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce), Tonia Causey (Holy Grail kitchen), Ashley Bennett (All Star Community Outreach), and Emanuel Milton (radio personality).

Listening

Baton Rouge is divided racially and has been for a long time. Home of the first bus boycott, North Baton Rouge is predominantly African-American. South Baton Rouge is predominantly Anglo. Alton Sterling’s is one in a long line of police shootings. This event is more public, but the folks with whom we met characterized this as “business as usual.”

When we mentioned that Philando Castile had been pulled over 52 times for “random” traffic stops, Emanuel shared that he gets stopped at least once a month. As you can imagine this can be incredibly frustrating. “I’m a nice person, but I find myself being grumpy and mean, because I’m not used to being in a hostile environment.” “Black young men are clearly being targeted,” Tonia offered. Edgar: “Police brutality has been the norm. We need to use this tragic situation to bring a change in how policing is done.”

Baton Rouge 01
Blair and Emmanuel: “I get stopped once a month.”

Emanuel said this is not just about police. There are racial problems across the board: schools, poverty, and so on. Willie shared that she has seen very little progress in these areas. “People fail to see the connection between education and economics.”

“The church has failed,” said Edgar Cage. “You shouldn’t need anti-racism training. If you’re not hearing it from the pulpit, something is wrong.” Ashley added, “We need to bridge the gap, as a community.”

People are protesting because they are frustrated. They need to speak out. They need to do something that gets heard. Civil protest is about first amendment rights. “We need to create space for community deliberation. We need to educate people about civil protest. They need to know their rights and responsibilities. They need training,” Willie offered.

Praying

The next morning we visited the site of the shooting. Our objective was just to have prayer there. It is important for the church to show up at sites of violence and pray. We ran into a local Baptist pastor. She greeted us and thanked us for coming. Another gentleman was sitting outside the convenience store where Alton Sterling had been shot. He told the story and shared his frustration with policing in Baton Rouge. He called the church to speak out for racial justice.

The store cashier, from Jordan, had a similar story to tell. Before we prayed, a street evangelist approached us. “You clergy need to be the voice. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where you are called to babysit buildings and guard offering plates. We are called to be a witness to the world.” We prayed for peace and justice then he went around and hugged each one of us.

As we were leaving, the press showed up. We were already late for an appointment with Roman Catholic Bishop Muench, so a few of us left for that appointment. Bishop Eaton and a few others stayed behind to answer questions, while the rest of us went on to the diocesan offices.

Bishop Muench and Vicar General Tom Ranzino welcomed us. Our schedules are a matter of public record, so the press showed up there as well. The diocese decided our meeting would be more productive if there weren’t cameras in the room, so we asked them to wait and let us meet. They subsequently reported that we met “behind closed doors.” We talked about the way the city was responding and the church’s role in proclaiming peace and justice. We discussed the need for conversations around race that build bridges between communities. There was also talk about the possibility for something like a truth and justice commission, so that people could share publicly their painful stories and have them acknowledged.

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Presiding Bishop Eaton and the Lutheran delegation meeting with Baton Rouge Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Muench.

After our visit at the diocese, we stopped at City Park where many years ago the pool was filled in with concrete as a response to integration. They would rather lose the pool than have to swim together. A brief lunch at the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge recharged us for our next visit.

Pastors, deacons, and some lay leaders, both black and white, gathered at Greater New Guide Baptist Church, a few blocks from the shooting. How can the church respond most helpfully in the midst of such turmoil? The frustration is at a boiling point. How do we help people voice that frustration in a way that leads to substantive action? Comments covered the gamut. We must create space for lament, call people to prayer, invite people to constructive action, preach Jesus’ gospel of non-violence, call people to denounce injustice, shed light on the darkness, build bridges, tear down walls of racism and fear, and dispel complacency. One pastor suggested that he had never heard the white church or the white community offer a clear statement of repentance. At the end of our time together, there was discussion of a march on July 24. This will be a march from Wesley United Methodist Church to the State Capital.

Baton Rouge 06

In the evening we gathered with a group of folks from St. Paul Lutheran in Baton Rouge. Pastor Mike Button offered devotion and invited us into small groups to discuss what love requires of us (1 Corinthians 13). Conversations like this help people put their thoughts out there and work through things. The conversations moved beyond policing to the realities of racial segregation and the cycles of poverty.

How much education you have is directly correlated to income. The U.S. trails behind just about every industrialized country in education equality; everything is impacted by this. Those born into poverty rarely get a college degree (less than 1 in 20). Historically education in the U.S. was the great equalizer, but that has slipped in the last two generations. There were a number of educators in the room, including one person who teaches at the school two blocks from the shooting.

Mean income goes up with education. The following are 2009 numbers:

Education Level – Mean Income
No high school diploma – $20,000
High school diploma – $31,000
College degree – $57,000
Master’s – $74,000
Professional – $128,000
Doctorate – $103,000

How much money you make determines how much house you can afford, which determines what neighborhood you are able to choose, which determines which school you get into, and so on. Income level determines whether or not you are able to send your children to college, and so poverty is passed on from generation to generation. Breaking the cycle of poverty is a huge challenge. “It starts with education,” said one educator.

Where do we go from here?

Bishop Eaton and the folks from the churchwide organization were extremely helpful. Their presence was quite supportive. They also brought perspective and wisdom from other situations around the country, having just come from Minneapolis, for example. It is a blessing to be church together, as opposed to independent congregations. This is something we too often take for granted.

Every congregation needs to establish a relationship, a partnership, with a congregation of a different race. Sunday is still the most segregated hour of the week in the U.S. There are plenty of African-American, Latino, and Anglo churches, but few are multicultural. Developing multicultural churches will be a challenge. We need to find good examples and learn best practices.

In the meantime, it is a huge step to invite people to develop relationships across traditional social barriers. Eat together. Study together. Serve together. Have Vacation Bible School together. Step out of the box. We will learn from one another and begin to see things with new eyes. Set the pace in your community. Show the world what Galatians 3:28 looks like. Instead of being behind the curve, let’s be ahead of the curve.

Let’s Navigate This Changing World Together

 

Peggy Hahn

stacked rocksOur heads are spinning with the current changes in our world. Our congregations recognize that they have an important contribution to make. Faithful leaders like you know that the Holy Spirit has been preparing us for a time such as this.

You:

  • Are really interested in your congregation’s future as a vibrant, vital faith community
  • Appreciate learning from leaders like yourself as well as leaders different from yourself
  • Want ministry to be more strategic and more purposeful as you join in God’s mission
  • Have people with a willingness to try new things and a dissatisfaction for the status quo

LEAD:

  • Works with curious leaders creating intentional experiments, asking good questions, and trying new practices
  • Wants to share what we have learned from working with leaders from across the country to save you from wasting time or resources and to network you with others to learn from them directly
  • Believes every leader and every congregation can grow, but know that growth (in faith or anything else) means new behaviors
  • Expects congregations to engage their neighbors and deepen faith, to equip people for life in a changing world, and to be safe places for all people to ask the hard questions

Let’s navigate this changing world together. Join the LEAD Journey.

Leaders will be surrounded by the support of the LEAD staff, resources, and network. The Journey includes three purposeful learning seminars, monthly coaching, and ongoing resources for congregational staff, council, and your own LEAD team, in the first year. You set the pace for congregational transformation – LEAD will accompany you throughout the journey.

 

Registration deadline for the next cohort is September 30. You still have time to talk with your staff and council about participating. Email us directly if you have questions.

A Proclivity for Paradox

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

elizabeth-eaton
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all
– Martin Luther in Freedom of a Christian

Wow, Lutherans love paradox! Law and gospel. Saint and sinner. Free and bound. David Swartling, former ELCA secretary, often noted that we are a “both and church” in an “either or world.”

This proclivity for paradox, or at least the recognition that this is part of the Lutheran tradition, was often cited as a strength during the churchwide conversation phase of Called Forward Together in Christ.

For four months synod assemblies, synod councils, the Conference of Bishops, the ELCA Church Council, ELCA ethnic associations, churchwide staff, the Faith Formation Network, individuals, agencies and institutions have been praying and considering together what might be God’s priorities for the ELCA. It has been an engaged and energetic process.

Definite themes emerged all across this church. The next phase of the process will present these themes for consideration for all of us in the ELCA—once again in synods, congregations, agencies, colleges and universities, seminaries and at the Churchwide Assembly.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to lift up two of the themes now. First, in describing what it means to be an ELCA Lutheran or in answering the question “What is God calling the ELCA to become?” we overwhelmingly answered “a diverse, inclusive, multicultural church.” In the settings where I led the conversation, I gently admonished pastors to let the lay people speak so all of the baptized could be heard. Diversity was understood to be ethnic, economic and generational. We said congregations should reflect the communities in which they are planted. Marvelous!

The second theme I will raise now is that the ELCA is constituted so there is very little enforceable accountability. ELCA members can decide to participate in the life of their congregation or not. Congregations can decide to participate in the life of the synod or greater church or not. Pastors can decide to be engaged beyond their congregations or not. Even synods and bishops are often caught between their specific contexts and participation in churchwide decisions.

We aren’t bad people. The overwhelming majority of us don’t intend to be oppositional. There are forces at play that exacerbate this lack of accountability. The first is cultural—American Christianity is congregational and the autonomy of the individual is darn near sacrosanct. This started long before the breakdown of trust of institutions in the 1960s and ’70s. Church membership is understood as a voluntary association. One can opt in and out as one chooses. In the American context faith is a private affair.

The second is that it took great sensitivity to care for the histories, polities, and ecclesiologies of our predecessor church bodies (the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, American Lutheran Church, Lutheran Church in America) as the ELCA was being born. It was an enormously daring leap of faith to become the ELCA. I believe we are still working on trusting each other.

Our conversations in the Called Forward Together in Christ process show that we believe God is calling us to be a diverse and inclusive church. We need to be clear about our motivation. If it is a desire, no matter how well-intentioned or noble, to diversify the church, I don’t believe God will bless our efforts. But, if it’s our earnest desire to share the intimate and liberating love of Jesus, then we will have to hold each other accountable as we take the hard but holy steps to open up a 94 percent white church.

Which brings me to the Luther quote at the beginning of this column. Faith is personal—God loves each one of us—but it is never private, nor is it lived apart from other Christians. In Christ we have been set free and in that perfect freedom we are subject and accountable to one another.

 

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This article originally appeared in the August issue of Living Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

Peru Pilgrimage Reflections

In June, twenty-five people from across the country traveled on a LEAD Pilgrimage to our companion synod in Peru. A pilgrimage is a search for spiritual significance, a departure from daily life. It is a journey that stretches your worldview and your God-view. Here are their stories in images and Facebook posts from throughout the journey.

Peru is doing a pretty great job of blowing my mind.
– Heidi Petersen, student at Texas A&M

Lima
The pilgrimage began in Lima where Pastor Greg Gaskamp, an intentional interim with the Southwestern Texas Synod, shared: “Arrived less than 24 hours ago, but already deeply immersed within this journey. The people and history of Peru are opening me up!”

Saturday’s highlight was a Children’s Festival with groups from local congregations coming together for games, crafts, and worship.

Yesterday we co-hosted a children’s festival with several of our partnering Peruvian Lutheran churches. There was much silliness and giggling (mostly at our Spanish). We ended the day with a worship service where the U.S. pastors were invited to stand with the Peruvian pastors to speak against violence, especially domestic violence, which they had identified as a tremendous problem in their churches and neighborhoods (in ours as well). It’s a powerful thing to be invited into the lives of these friends.
– Pastor Mindy Roll, Lutheran Campus Minister

On Sunday, the group worshiped with two different congregations where love and friendships overcame language barriers as the bread and wine were shared.

Serving in hope
Serving in unity
Serving in love
– Deaconess Liesl Begnaud

Peru 05

Cusco & Machu Picchu
The journey continued in Cusco where the city was preparing for Inti Raymi, a festival celebrating the winter solstice.

The evening was spent with our sisters and brothers at Talitha Kum, where we worshiped and enjoyed fellowship together.

The next few days were spent exploring the wonders of the Andes, growing and challenging ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually in the Andes.

No amount of words and pictures can even get close to portraying the amount of God’s beauty and grace I’ve experienced in these mountains, people, and places on this amazing trip!
– Samantha Schwab, student at Texas A&M

The pilgrimage took us to the famous Incan site of Machu Picchu.

A sunrise hike up Waynapichu… Great guide, great new friends, and God’s great creation to experience. The scenery is too awesome to capture in a camera frame.
– Reggie Bruhn, engineer and member of Spirit of Joy! Lutheran

One final reflection in the words of Cecie Suknaic, student at Texas A&M:

Today is my last day in Peru, and it’s been absolutely life changing. I have been challenged in new ways: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I have met some amazing people, both those here in Peru and those also a part of this pilgrimage. I have hiked through the Andes, swam in the hot springs, and visited Machu Picchu. I have eaten some strange courses, including alpaca and guinea pig. And I’m not ready to leave. My heart has been opened to the people of Peru, and God has been doing incredible things in my life these past 10 days – it’s truly been a most excellent adventure! ¡Dios te bendiga!

 

Make September LIVE ON month at your congregation

LIVE ONLIVE ON, the Gulf Coast Synod’s endowment fund, is encouraging congregations to make time during September to focus on the power of endowments and legacy giving to support the mission and ministries of faith communities and the synod.

“We have rebranded the Mission Endowment Fund as ‘LIVE ON—Funding Lutheran Leaders to help people understand how their gifts help the church in many ways,” said Pastor Steve Quill, LIVE ON chair. “During 2015, our endowment made $90,000 in grants that provided financial aid for future leaders during their seminary years, funding for campus ministry in Houston, Brazos Valley, and Louisiana, backing for new and emerging faith communities, and seed money for new and innovative ministries. Since inception, the fund has awarded grants totaling $750,000.”

LIVE ON has several suggestions for congregations that want to increase awareness of the fund’s activities:

  • Designate September as a time to give to LIVE ON
  • Select a Sunday in September for a special offering for LIVE ON
  • Invite a volunteer representative or a grant recipient to your congregation to share their stories on the impact of LIVE ON funding
  • Motivate your congregation to establish an endowment for ministry outreach
  • Encourage members of your congregation to consider annual and planned giving support for the LIVE ON ministry
  • Obtain posters, bulletin announcements, video, and other resources from our website
  • Spread the word. Like us on Facebook.

If you need information or want a LIVE ON board member or grant recipient to visit your church and talk more about the benefits of the fund, please contact Pastor Quill, 713.249.8470.

Legacy Giving will have big impact on either the fund or any Lutheran ministry. For more information, contact the synod’s gift planner, Lizbeth Johnson, 713.775.1595.

 

Day of Service

God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday, September 11, is an opportunity to celebrate who we are as the ELCA – one church, freed in Christ to serve and love our neighbor.

Gods work our hands 2As you continue to share God’s love with your neighbors, whether it is preparing and delivering meals to people and families rendered homeless, cleaning your neighborhood parks, or engaging in the synod’s hunger campaign, consider thanking and holding in prayer the emergency responders in your area as part of your service, on this anniversary of 9/11.

Service activities offer an opportunity for us to explore one of our most basic convictions as Lutherans: that all of life in Jesus Christ – every act of service, in every daily calling, in every corner of life – flows freely from a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.

You work every day to love your neighbors and make your community a better place. Let’s continuing doing this work together in 2016!

Resources

“The world can be a dangerous place. But there are some who, when disaster strikes, run toward the danger. These are the first responders, firefighters, police and EMTs, who live out their baptismal vocation in service to their communities in times of intense need. They do God’s work with their hands.”
– ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton

Faith, Sexism, Justice: Conversations toward a Social Statement

Faith Sexism JusticeThe ELCA recognizes the God-given dignity of all people and is committed to the full and equitable participation of women and men in church and society. God rejoices – and the world is blessed – when all have opportunities to flourish and freely share their gifts for the common good.

We as a church body are engaged in a concerted discussion around women and justice in church and society. Whatever your experiences and perspectives, you are invited to use this study, “Faith, Sexism, Justice: Conversations toward a Social Statement”.

It is a call to hear new things and to explore together how matters of justice and sexism intersect with faith. I encourage its widespread use across our church – in congregations, conferences, circles, social ministry organizations, campus ministries, youth gatherings, homes, and classrooms.

Your participation in this process is important because the feedback you share (due by August 31, 2017) will help the task force continue to think together with our whole church when they sit down to shape the first draft of a social statement.

Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

By Lisa Brenskelle

Lutherans Restoring CreationThe mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy. For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

To contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team for creation care assistance/information, write to Lisa Brenskelle.

 

Learning from the Baptists

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Dr. Stephen B Reid

Stephen Reid
Dr. Stephen B. Reid, Professor of Christian Scriptures at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, showed up at the Common Grounds Coffee House, on the south end of Baylor’s campus, dressed in shorts, t-shirt, Baylor baseball cap, and a warm smile.

As a part of my continuing education, I like to learn from scholars who excel in their field and those doing groundbreaking ministry. It’s fun to read books and then meet the authors. In the parish I had read about Ginghamsburg Church, so I went up and sat down with Mike Slaughter. A few years ago I went to Duke and sat down with William Willimon. Not everyone will say yes, but most folks are enthusiastic about their work and happy to share. This year, after my friend Joel Goza (Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Houston) had me read Baptist Roots, I got interested in picking the brains of some Baptist scholars.

In 1845, Baylor University was founded in Independence, Texas (just north of Brenham), making it the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of Texas. It moved to Waco in 1886 and merged with Waco University. My first time on campus, I found it a beautiful, immaculately groomed place. Baylor boasts 16,000 students on 1,000 acres. It is home to the young (25 years old) George W. Truett Theological Seminary, named after a famous Southern Baptist preacher. Truett has about 400 students.

Dr. Stephen B. Reid joined the faculty of George W. Truett Theological Seminary in the fall of 2008. Previously, he served as Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana. He joined the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary faculty in 1990, after serving almost ten years as associate professor of Hebrew Scriptures and Biblical Theology at Pacific School of Religion.

Reid is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Catholic Biblical Association. He is the author or editor of such books as, Experience and Traditions: A Primer in Black Biblical Hermeneutics, Listening In: A Multicultural Reading of the PsalmsProphets and Paradigms: Essays in Honor of Gene M. Tucker, and Psalms and Practice: Worship, Virtue and Authority. He and his wife Kathy authored Uncovering Racism.

Dr. Reid is ordained in the Church of the Brethren. He has a B.S. from Manchester College, his M. Div. from Bethany Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. from Emory University.

Dr. Reid did his Ph.D. work in I Enoch and Daniel, but his passion extends to reading the Scripture through the lenses of various different cultures. Experience and Traditions: A Primer in Black Biblical Hermeneutics offers a taste of this. He took his love of Psalms, and their laments, and compared them to the blues, hints of one of James Cone’s chapters in The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Reid uses a learning contract model with students and seems to love teaching.

Taking Hold of the RealOf course, when you converse with bright people, you always end up with more to read. He strongly recommended Taking Hold of the Real: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Profound Worldliness of Christianity (2015) by Barry Harvey. It’s pricey in hard cover and paperback, but only $9.99 on Kindle. Bonhoeffer writes about the this-worldliness of Christianity. Harvey says society is built around the constructs of race, culture, and religion, which define people by nation-states and capitalist markets. Christians are called to enter this world through the death and resurrection of Christ, witnessing to a new humanity, which unveils the futility of human categories. Reid: “We have dealt with groups by calling them culture, and we have dealt with color by calling it race. Once you see race as an ontological category, it changes the way you think about incarnation.”Listening In

Dr. Reid spoke a bit about the psalms of lament, comparing them to the blues. He is author of the book, Listening In: A Multicultural Reading of the Psalms. People love the psalms. Books of the psalms sell more than any other book of the Bible except for Genesis.

Reid grew up in Ohio, but later found himself in California. “Dayton is a world in black and white. The Bay Area is not. I had been raised in a bubble. We were still assuming a black and white world. We were reading the scriptures through a black and white lens. I work with my students to listen into cultures not their own and not European. As Christians in Texas, we have plenty of work to do.”

“I like to use a learning contract model of teaching. Students have an opportunity to shape the direction of study. They can read a commentary from Afrikaner noble, a Women’s TanakBible Commentary or a Global Bible Commentary.” Those who read such commentaries notice quickly how very different interpretations can be, and how our life-experiences shape how we hear the Bible. Reid was quick to suggest another book: Marvin Sweeney’s Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible. “There’s something about reading a Cuban writing about Amos.”

I shared some of our struggles with racism in regards to the growing Latino population and backlash against the African American community. He quickly moved to the practical. “Kevin Daugherty on our sociology faculty is doing work on race and congregations.” We discussed the fact that there are very few multi-cultural Mike and Stephencongregations. It’s a tough balance to keep. We talked about the possibility of a conference where we bring together folks and ask questions about multiracial congregations in the 21st century. What does the post-racial congregation look like? Who has made headway? How do we witness to the new humanity in Christ? Houston is now the most multicultural city in the country. How can we have a common future in Texas, and beyond?

When he left, I remembered once visiting an intentionally multicultural congregation in Houston, Wilcrest Baptist. There aren’t very many multicultural churches, so this congregation made an impression on me. We could use some congregations willing to move in this direction.

Dennis Tucker
Dr. W. Dennis Tucker, Jr. is serving as an interim pastor at a Baptist church in Hearn, Texas, down the road from Waco. Researching and writing his next book with a scholar overseas while teaching classes, I don’t know how he finds the time, but clearly his love of the gospel, the church, and ministry drive him on.

Mike and Dennis TuckerTucker is Professor of Christian Scripture at Truett. Prior to coming to Truett in 2002, Dr. Tucker taught at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He received his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition, Dr. Tucker received a Specialist in Education degree in Educational Administration from the University of Louisville. He has completed additional studies at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

Dr. Tucker’s main area of research is the Book of Psalms. His most recent book is Constructing and Deconstructing Power in Psalms 107-150. I’ve been slowly wading through this tome. In it he observes an anti-imperial critique in Book V of the Psalter. He also edited The Psalter as Witness: The Theology of the Psalter, released by Baylor University Press in 2015. Other publications include Diachronic and Synchronic: Reading the Psalms in Real Time, Image and Word (2009), The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology (2004) and Introduction to Wisdom Literature and the Psalms (2000). He also serves as series editor for The Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible. He and his wife, Tish, have three daughters: Hannah, Sarah, and Hope.

We started by talking about post-exilic theology. No kings are mentioned in Book V, not even David. Israel seems to be about reconstruction, and a bit disaffected of glorious monarchy. Yahweh is king, and a hope beyond this world begins to emerge.

There is much interest in the Psalms. Consider that pocket New Testaments often include the Psalms. They are beloved. Dr. Tucker recommended Donald Gowan’s The Theology of the Prophetic Books: The Death and Resurrection of Israel.

I asked how teaching had changed over the last twenty years. He lamented that the biblical acumen of incoming students continues to lower. One wants to teach at a graduate level, but most don’t come with an undergraduate background on the Scriptures. We’re doing the basics.

We also touched upon the challenges of preaching a complex book to lay people and the struggles with inerrancy. Truett slipped away from the Southern Baptist Convention’s demand that all faculty sign on to the doctrine of inerrancy. Like Jimmy Carter, Tucker is part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, more of an association.

I found in Dennis Tucker the enduring heart of a pastor, someone who cares about the gospel both in the trenches and in the congregation. This has to keep one grounded.

Mikeal Parsons
I met Dr. Mikeal (pronounced Michael) Parsons at Baylor’s Tidwell Bible Building, where he offices. We rode over to the Indigo Hotel for lunch, meeting  with my wife Susan, (who had been shopping at Magnolia Farms Market).

Mikeal was raised in the mountains of North Carolina. He discerned a call to ministry at the young age of 16. He has taught New Testament at Baylor for 30 years. He has his B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Campbell University and his M. Div. and Ph.D. from Southern Seminary. His is married to Dr. Heidi J. Hornik, who is a professor of Italian Renaissance Art History at Baylor. They have written three books together, including:

Illuminating Luke: The Infancy Narrative in Italian Renaissance Painting. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003.

Illuminating Luke: The Public Ministry of Christ in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International, 2005.

Illuminating Luke: The Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International. November 2007.

I am currently using his Commentary on Luke, from the Paideia series. You can read excerpts from this commentary in Working Preacher for the upcoming Luke texts. While visiting, he gave me a copy of Body and Character in Luke and Acts, with the intriguing subtitle The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity. This book explores the belief in antiquity that a person’s physical appearance revealed inner truths about one’s soul. So short Zaccheus, the bent-over woman, and the Ethiopian eunuch would have been assumed to be flawed internally or perhaps evil. Luke’s gospel, however, subverts that Zaccheus turns out to be generous. The eunuch converts. Since the bent-over woman is coming up, I’m interest to read this book in the next week or so.

Dr. Parsons laughed easily and inquired about my family and the work of a bishop. He is very passionate about Luke/Acts, which has been his central area of study for decades. While being interested in the minute details of Luke/Acts, he also teaches Bible courses to undergraduates of all majors. He enjoys the interaction with young, inquisitive minds and differing opinions. He said he learns things with every class.

We chatted on quite a bit about Luke and Acts. He regaled me with information about number symbolism in the Greek: Iota and eta, with a line over it, is not only an abbreviation for Jesus in p57, but it’s also the way one writes the number 18 in Greek; 70 or 72 for the Septuagint (sometimes just seven), and therefore the mission to the Greek world (Gentiles); 12 for the twelve tribes of course. This is why in the two feedings of the multitudes, there are seven baskets left over when it happens in Gentile territory and 12 baskets when it happens in Jewish territory. He reminded me how uninterested first century writers were in actual counts, and how important number symbolism was. This ties to the upcoming Sending of the Seventy (Luke 10), as a mission to the Gentiles.

He also chatted about the curious triangular numbers in the Bible. Triangular numbers are serviced by adding consecutive numbers. Hence,

1+2=3

1+2+3=6

1+2+3+4=10

A list of triangular numbers is as follows: 0, 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, 55, 66, 78, 91, 105, 120, 136, 153, 171, 190, 210, 231, 253, 276, 300, 325, 351, 378, 406 …

In John 21:11, the disciples catch 153 fish: a curious number, a triangular number. In Acts 27:37, Luke tells us 276 were shipwrecked. And so on.

Okay, so we’re Bible geeks. I couldn’t help but feel I’d met a soul mate. And it occurred to me, I didn’t feel like I was talking to a Baptist. I was talking to a Bible scholar, who shared my love for the Scriptures. Once again, I felt the denominational organization of Christianity melting away.

After three meetings my head was swimming. I had one more, a preacher who I believe will push me even more.

Joel Gregory
Read about the fascinating drama of Joel Gregory’s life.Joel Gregory.png I won’t go into such detail here. But Dr. Gregory told me the article was a pretty accurate narrative of his journey.

You can also listen to a podcast of this interview.

Then go on YouTube and listen to some of his sermons. The booming voice that some compare to James Earl Jones (aka Darth Vader) and his dramatic African-American style of preaching combine to produce a uniquely American style of proclamation. It’s never worked for me, and so I am filled with questions for him.

Dr. Gregory grew up Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas. He went to Baylor, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and then Baylor again. He learned ministerial ropes in small churches. Ascending quickly, he took Baptistdom’s most prominent pulpit, First Baptist of Dallas, resigning after two years. Divorced, Gregory sold door-to-door for a while. Then a prominent Black Baptist asked him to preach at an event. Preaching invitations rolled in, until he became the most popular white preacher in African-American congregations nationwide. In time, Gregory returned to Baylor.

Dr. Joel C. Gregory holds the George W. Truett Endowed Chair in Preaching and Evangelism at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. Last year he spoke or taught 170 times in 32 churches and 20 conferences in 18 states, Greece and Oxford, UK. He completed a sabbatical at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University where he did research in applied homiletics and 19th century British Baptist history for a forthcoming book and article.

Gregory holds the B.A summa cum laude and Ph.D. from Baylor University. He received the M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1973) and taught preaching there 1982-1985. He served for two terms unanimously elected as President of the 5400-church Baptist General Convention of Texas. He has preached at venues as varied as Westminster Chapel, Spurgeon’s College, and Kensington Temple, all in London, as well as Regent’s Park College in Oxford. He has preached at the Baptist World Congress in Seoul, the International Seminary in Buenos Aires, Princeton Seminary, and Princeton University chapels, as well as scores of seminaries and colleges. His Proclaimers Place® seminars have been conducted in 17 states, Oxford, Paris, Rome, and Athens with more than 70 four-day seminars and more than 1000 pastors trained over the last ten years. For the last ten years, Joel has taught the seminar at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Check out “How Not to Get Shook up When Your World Shakes You Down.”

The World of Gardner TaylorI learned a lot. I began with the question, “Can preaching be taught?” I really wonder if you can teach outstanding communication. He said it can be learned. There certainly is a charisma, a gift that some have and others don’t, but everyone can learn, and even the best can polish their skill.

I also learned that only 1/3 of those working on a Masters of Divinity at Truett intend to fill a pulpit. Many are seeking combined degrees, like getting their Masters in Social Work and their Masters of Divinity at the same time.

Gregory spoke about preaching in the African American church. We have something to learn from them in dialogical preaching. “Fred Craddock says you don’t preach to folks in the African American church as much as preach with them.” He recommended Gardner Taylor sermons.

Preaching with Sacred FireHe also recommended Preaching with Sacred Fire: Anthology of African American Sermons 1750 to the Present. If you want to immerse yourself in African American hermeneutics on the ground, this would be a great place to start.

“Does every sermon have to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus?” I asked. “Hmm. Does every sermon have the gospel in it?” he reframed the question.

Paul Scott Wilson at the University of Toronto would say, “Always preach the gospel.” Eugene Lowry says, “No, preach the pericope. No subsequent theology.” Gregory has seen these two debate the question at the Festival of Homiletics. Some say, don’t go to “following theology.” We discussed the two different streams of thought here. I was trained in a seminary that taught every sermon had to proclaim law and gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus: the kerygma. “If I was going to err, I would want to err on that side…” He went on: “I side with Paul Scott Wilson: Preach the gospel, but maybe not always in explicit terms… There are many ways to understand the gospel. Gospel for Paul is not always an explicit proclamation of the kerygma. It is grace. It is God’s intervention.”

Gregory understands the power of images, but never uses PowerPoint himself. Faith comes by hearing, not by PowerPoint. He quotes Hadden Robinson, however, “I’m for anything short of sin, to communicate…” “We lose something if we lose the orality of descriptive narrative,” Gregory opines. He wants the preacher to paint pictures through evocative language. For breakfast with Jesus on the beach in chapter 21 of John’s gospel, you can use a photo of a sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, or you can paint a picture like a great storyteller, like Anton Chekov: “A stranger on the seashore… The morning air was frigid. There was a chill in the water. Peter jumped in. There was an olive wood fire with smoke that burned his eyes. The stranger handed him fish and bread, and he felt the breadcrumbs and fish oil… If you tell the story in a sensual way, I think you’ll put people more there than throwing up a picture of a sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.” Faith comes by hearing. Don’t over lean on images.

Preaching book“What texts do you use for teaching preaching?” I asked. He still uses Fred Craddock’s book, Preaching. He uses Tom Long’s The Witness of Preaching.

My approach is “Big Idea Preaching” from Haddon Robinson, so I use his stuff but haven’t been using his text recently. He said he had used Biblical Preaching, by Haddon Robinson in the past. Big Idea is having a theme statement (Wilson), a focus and function (Long). If I don’t drive at that with introductory preaching, we don’t get anywhere. You can be as narrative as you want to be in Big Idea Preaching. If the congregation has to figure out what the theme is, it’s a tyranny on the congregation according to Paul Biblical PreachingScott Wilson. Tom Long wants a focus and a function. What’s the subject and what’s the compliment. What’s it about, and what are you going to say about it? Barbara Brown Taylor: “At the top of every sermon, I write a sentence stating what it’s about.

My time with Joel reinforced the importance of having the clarity a one-sentence, present tense, active-voice statement of what the sermon is about. If you don’t know the point of your meandering sermon, your congregation probably doesn’t either. It’s fun to speak with someone who is so passionate about preaching.

Dr. Eugene Lowry will speak at Truett on September 20.

 

Discernment and Encouragement

By Pastor Blair Lundborg

Blair Lundborg

Discernment. According to Webster, discernment is “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure”.  It’s more than just making a decision. There are many things in life that have been decided for us already. We did not, for example, decide on who our parents will be, where, or when we were born. It has been decided.

What we do with the hand we’ve been dealt is discernment. How we steward the gifts and abilities God has given us is discernment. Most of us have had help with this important formation experience along the way. Some of us have helped others in their discernment.

Graduations are just about complete for the class of 2016. In stadiums, auditoriums, and gymnasiums around the world there have been hopeful young people taking the huge step from classroom to career. They will listen to commencement speeches that speak of them as the hope for the future. Others will challenge them to live up to their potential of making a difference in the world. And then, with a toss of the graduation cap or the flipping of a tassel, the students will begin the next chapter of their lives.

The process of discernment began long before these young people marched across the stage to pick up their diploma. And discernment will continue to be a part of their journey as life unfolds. Sometimes discernment comes through the school of hard knocks. Other times it comes from a pat on the back from an encouraging mentor.

Ask a child “what they want to be when they grow up” and you’ll hear answers like “a firefighter, astronaut, teacher, etc.” Others are whispering suggestions in our ear or twisting our arms in one direction or another. I don’t know if anyone has actually done the research of comparing our childhood dreams of vocation with what we actually end up doing with our lives. I suspect the odds are quite low based on the number of firefighters and astronauts that are actually doing the job.

Do you remember your answer to the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I don’t. But I do remember those who whispered words of encouragement in my ear to consider ministry as an option. I didn’t listen at first. I’m not sure I could imagine myself in ministry. My father was a pastor, so I was familiar with job, maybe even too familiar. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do what I saw my Dad doing. But people continued to whisper their words of encouragement.

Interestingly, it was not my Dad who did the encouraging. He was careful not to pressure me one way or another. Those who had the most impact on my faith formation were the adults who made an effort to get to know me. There was Hazel, the study hall monitor at my junior high. I had a hard time keeping quiet for 60 minutes at a time so Hazel would sit with me chatting about my hopes and dreams. There was my football coach. We both knew I would never make much of a football player but Coach encouraged me to explore the other gifts God had given me. My high school choir director thought I should pursue a career in music. If not that, he thought I could use my musical ability in the church in some shape or form. He was right. My love for music has come in handy.

Who are you whispering words of encouragement to these days? I mean beyond your immediate family. What significant relationships do you have with the young people in your congregation or neighborhood? If there are not many young people sitting in your pews, why not invite one or two to join you? Seek out those in whom you see the gifts of ministry. Make it a point to be an active part of at least one young person’s faith formation.

Consider this: 50% of actively serving pastors are over the age of 50. Only 10% of currently serving pastors are under the age of 35. Many of you have heard me quote those statistics before. You’ll probably hear me say it again. It’s no secret that the people sitting in our pews and standing in our pulpits are getting older. Only we can do something to change that.

The church needs to be intentional, deliberate, and passionate about raising up young leaders for ministry. How will you help? Think of someone you might encourage in discerning the call to ministry. Think of one young person you know who has a gift you know God can use. And then, let them know about it, perhaps more than once.