Top 10 List: Favorite Quotes from the 2014 Elevating Preaching Conference

preaching-hopeOn Monday, September 22, 2014, I attended the Elevating Preaching conference at Duke University Divinity School. Rev. Susan Sparks, Rev. Dr. Richard Lischer, Rev. Dr. Nora Tubbs Tisdale, and Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley spoke of the challenges of preaching hope in a culture so often cloaked in despair. From the humorous to the heart-breaking, their words inspired and energized me. Here is my Top Ten List of favorite quotes from the day.

  • Number 10: “What trash do you have in your lives, in your churches? Throw it on the mulch pile!” Rev. Susan Sparks spoke of composting the trash in our hearts by casting the garbage on the mulch pile. She pointed out that garbage, when composted, becomes rich soil from which strong healthy plants grow. Bitterness can grow into forgiveness; frustration into patience. (Can I get an Amen?)
  • Number 9: “They say that one of the best things about New York is the food. It’s not true. There’s not a single restaurant in New York that serves pimento cheese.” Rev. Sparks is a NY transplant, originally from North Carolina.
  • Number 8: “Jesus fought for, not against,” Rev. Sparks, suggesting Christians should toss all their in-fighting on the mulch pile.
  • Number 7: “Hope doesn’t like closure; hope leaves the door ajar,” Rev. Dr. Lischer.
  • Number 6: “Hope is like daybreak,” Rev. Dr. Lischer.
  • Number 5: “Too often, criticism is easier than energizing,” Rev. Dr. Nora Tubbs Tisdale.
  • Number 4: “Preaching can be an invitation to lament. Prophetic preaching gives people permission to let their hearts break,” Rev. Dr. Tisdale.
  • Number 3: “You can’t proclaim the good news of God when you are mad at God’s people,” Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley.
  • Number 2: “Sermons preached from an angry heart wound innocent bystanders,” Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley.
  • And my Number 1 favorite quote from the 2014 Elevating Preaching Conference is: “I’m a fourth generation Baptist preacher. When I went off to college, I met Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Catholics. I told my grandmother this and asked her, ‘So Grandma, I’m wondering, if you weren’t a Baptist, what would you be?’ She didn’t hesitate, just shook her head and said, “If I wasn’t a Baptist, I’d be ashamed of myself.” (Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley)

 

 

Wild Child: An Illustration in Text

text image

A text convo with Trellace—my little workaholic—on a Saturday morning.

Mom: How are you doing?
Trellace: At workkk
Mom: How very unusual!
Trellace: Lol. Victoria and I went to the African art museum yesterday afternoon though.
Mom: Wow. Bet that was packed.
Trellace: Wowwww
Mom: How long was the wait to get in?
Mom: Oh wait, was it a timed entry? I bet it was a timed entry.
Trellace: I don’t appreciate the sass.
Mom: Sass?

Dress Code Cracked

margaret
(A conversation held in our kitchen on the day before the first day of school.)
Margaret: I don’t know what to wear tomorrow.
Me (slightly sarcastic tone): Perhaps we got you too many back to school clothes?
Margaret: No, it’s not that. It’s that I have to wear jeans on the second day of school.
Me: Huh?
Margaret: For band. We have to wear jeans and our band shirt on Fridays.
Me: Well the second day of school is Thursday, not Friday.
Margaret: (!!!!!) Oh! Right! I’ve been forgetting that all day! Okay, now I know what to do.
Me: Do tell.
Margaret: Well, see, everyone wears something nice on the first day of school. On the second day, everyone goes back to normal. So, we [she and her friends] figured out that you should just wear something average on day one and then wear your best outfit on the second day. 
Me: O. . .kay. . .?
Margaret: That way, everyone else just looks okay and you look awesome! So I’ll wear my purple dress tomorrow, and my black and white one on Thursday.
Me: I see. Good plan.
Margaret: I know. 

 

Race in America: Personal Responsibility

on-teaching-responsibility“What in this is my responsibility?”

I ask myself this question whenever I am faced with difficulty or conflict. The answer I give points to where my control lies.

Here lately, I’ve been asking myself the question, “What part of eliminating racism is my responsibility?” As a result of this self-evaluation, I am developing the following habits.

  1. I actively pursue friendships with people outside my ethnic group. I do this in a number of ways, including
    1. Purposefully sitting with people of color at meetings, in classes, or in workshops.
    2. Seeking out and attending events attended by people of color.
  2. I actively work to project confidence in African American people in the workplace. Some ways I attempt to accomplish this are
    1. If I am in a place of business and have a question for an authority, and I am faced with two employees of different ethnicities, I always direct my question to the person of color.
    2. I address all people, regardless of race, with terms considered to be respectful. I’m from the south, so I say, “Yes Ma’am and Yes Sir,” to people in authority, regardless of position, race, or age. To the cashier at CVS who asks me if this is all I need today, I respond, “Yes, Sir.” To the doctor in the ER who asks if I have been seen yet, I say, “No Ma’am.”
  3. I consciously refrain from prejudging people. I know very well that a well-dressed elderly white man can be every bit as threatening or as innocent as a teenager dressed like a juvenile delinquent. I am equally respectful and equally suspicious of both.

Those are just a few of the things I do in my life to help make a difference in the race problem in America. Here’s what I don’t do. I don’t list things African American people can or should do differently to reduce racial tension. As a white woman married to a white man and the mother of three white children, I really can’t participate in this method of eliminating racism. I just can’t.

So I do what I can do, what I should do, the things that fall within my scope of responsibility. What about you? What do you do to help eliminate racism?

 

 

Race in America: Bridging the Divide

TKaydonLaytonRichardsonUKWhen people talk about police shootings, it’s hard to find neutral ground. Folk seem either to be biased in favor of the officer or of the alleged criminal.

But I believe that if we are to find real solutions to racial tension in America, we must find ways to bridge the distance between opposing views.  It seems to me that one way to do that is to identify a point where we all agree. Let’s take the Ferguson situation. There are a number of facts in this case that few would dispute. Here are a few of them.

  1. Looting private businesses is destructive. It is also illegal.
  2. If people are permitted to act in destructive and illegal ways, no one benefits.
  3. Desperate people tend to do desperate things.
  4. American law enforcement officers have a right to defend themselves and to protect citizens.
  5. People who are in the process of breaking laws can be violent and aggressive.
  6. People who are in the process of enforcing laws can make mistakes.

Agree? Okay. Now, while we are all on common ground, let me make one more statement that I don’t believe anyone will contest.

babymichaelbrownEighteen years ago, when Michael Brown was a newborn baby, no one wanted his life to end like it did.

Right?

So let’s just start there. What can we do to see that all the baby Michael Browns grow up to become the men we all want them to be? Well that depends on who you are. But let’s say you are a person of a different race not directly connected to the baby. Here are a few things that might make a difference.

  1. See baby Michael as an individual, not as a demographic. Remember this throughout his life.
  2. Help baby Michael grow into healthy young man Michael. Do that by fighting for the right of every child to have access to basic health care. Promote good health habits. Challenge your local elementary school to offer healthful meals and fight for the right of children to have physical education throughout elementary and middle school.
  3. Support public education so that baby Michael can grow up and go to school. Every minute Michael stays in school increases the likelihood that he will make his parents’ dreams for him come true.
  4. Get to know Michael. Volunteer at his school. Be his coach, his music teacher, his scout leader. Michael benefits from knowing you. Plus, you are benefitted too: your world becomes bigger, you understand people better, and you become less biased against those who are different from you.
  5. Be okay with Michael wearing clothes that are not your preference. Consider that Michael may disagree with your fashion style too.
  6. Are you still seeing Michael as a person, not as an age, race, and gender?
  7. Stop thinking like a racist. Realize you have biases. Work on seeing each person as an individual, not as a member of a particular group. Try this technique: notice people–the cashier, the waiter, the housekeeper. Is the receptionist right handed or left? What rings does your hairdresser have? What color eyes does the police officer have?baby-boy-k
  8. Stop making racist remarks. Wince when you hear the n-word. Take issue with racial profiling. Remember Michael! You wouldn’t want people saying these things about that sweet baby boy, would you?

What else? How can you be a part of the solution?

Race in America: Input from Law Enforcement

So far, I know my posts about Race in America have been one-sided. In truth, I know many more African American people than I do police officers. Indeed, even most of the police officers I know are African American. Because I want so much to be a part of discussions that lead to solutions, I’d like very much to hear from police officers and other law enforcement professionals. Would you share this with those you know who fit that description? I’ll be compiling the information an presenting my findings in an upcoming blog post.

Thanks so much for your help!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Race in America Series: Getting Stopped by Cops

diversityhands“So Nathaniel*, I’ve got a question for you.”

“What’s that,” he said, adjusting his Jansport® backpack. Nathaniel, a first semester community college student, had a solid A in my class due to his impeccable study habits and his professional approach to college. That day, he looked no different than he had every other time I’d seen him—like a stereotypical Ivy League co-ed: short hair, styled fashionably; wire-rimmed glasses; starched button-down shirt; dark blue jeans with a leather belt; and dressy shoes–Sperry’s® I think.

The question I had for Nathaniel arose from a conversation I’d had with an acquaintance the previous day. That month in our community, a 19 year old African American man was shot and killed by a police officer. The young man was allegedly breaking and entering, and officers believed he was carrying a gun. (When he was shot, he was in fact unarmed, though he had been carrying a weapon earlier. You can read the full story here.) This shooting death hit close to home: AJ Marion had graduated with my oldest daughter. He’d been a promising football star and by all accounts, just a really nice guy. Undoubtedly, he’d made some poor choices along the way; most assumed though, that he’d right himself sooner rather than later.

Anyway, I’d seen a mom I knew from my kids’ elementary school days. Her son was about the same age as my kids; I asked if he’d been friends with AJ. She explained that indeed her family and AJ’s were connected through church and family ties and that they were all shocked and devastated.

We talked for a while about the prevalence of police shootings of African American men and then she said, “Oh yeah, I tell my son that if I ever catch him out without his id, I’ll take him into the police station myself.”

Huh? “Um, say what now?”

She repeated herself, but it didn’t help. I had no idea what she meant.

“You don’t make sure your son has his id when he goes out?” she asked me.

“Well, I mean, I tell him not to drive without his license if that’s what you mean.”

“No. What I mean is a police officer can detain anyone and ask for identification. If you don’t have your id, they can take you in for questioning.”

“No way.”

“Absolutely. So I just randomly ask my son for his id just to make sure he always has it with him,” she laughed a little cuz-I’m-the-mama-that’s-why laugh.

“Oh my gosh. I had no idea,” I said, as realization dawned. “I guess I didn’t have to know though. My son is white.”

She nodded. “Mothers of African American boys live in fear of our sons being wrongly accused or worse.”

Heartbreaking. Unbelievable. And in 21st century America.

I thought of my student Nathaniel. Could this be his reality as well?

“It’s a nosy question, Nathaniel, so feel free to tell me to get out of your business.”

“Sure Ms. Aileen, what’s up?” (Despite the fact that I invite my students to call me by my first name, Nathaniel never did, opting for a title he deemed more respectful.)

“Have you been stopped by police and asked for your id?”

He laughed, “Today?”

“Seriously?”

“Ms. Aileen, I’m stopped several times a week, sometimes every day. I get stopped walking from my car or downtown. I’ve even been stopped walking away from this campus. If I have a ball cap or hoodie on, I know I’ll be stopped.” He patted the pocket of his designer jeans. “Got my id right here.”

“This is outrageous!” I said, “How do you not stay furious every single day?”

“Oh, I used to,” Nathaniel said, shaking his head. “But it really doesn’t help to get angry about it. I just figure I’ll keep working on myself, keep going to college, keep moving up, ya know?”

Actually, I didn’t know. I could not imagine how hard it would be to keep a positive attitude while facing such blatant discrimination. “You’re a fine man Nathaniel. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. I had no idea.”

“Thanks. It’s all good. Gotta go to class. See ya Thursday.”

My son, a 6’3”, 18 year old who regularly wears hoodies and ball caps, has never been stopped by the police. Never.

Nathaniel, a 5’8” twenty something who looks for all the world like a future lawyer, doctor, or banker gets stopped weekly, at least.

It’s not all good. Not even close.

*Nathaniel’s name has been changed to protect his identity. I asked my daughter to give me a man’s name that sounded like a doctor’s name. This is what she chose.

Still think racism doesn’t really exist? Take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti5ZFmglzV4
Want to know how big the problem is? Then watch this video: http://youtu.be/tkpUyB2xgTM

Guest Blogger: Sacred Connections

Please welcome guest blogger Rev. Dr. Jim McCoy of First Baptist Church of Weaverville. In this month’s letter to the congregation, Dr. McCoy reflects on recent events, both national and local. I was challenged by his words and asked if I could share them with you here. Be blessed.candles

Dear Loved Ones,

Two high profile funeral services were held this past weekend.  On Sunday, a congregation gathered at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester,New Hampshire for the funeral service of James Foley, the photojournalist who was murdered by radical extremists from a group called ISIS. On Monday at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, another congregation gathered for the funeral of Michael Brown, the teenager shot and killed by a police officer under disturbing circumstances that are still under investigation.

Given the fury of the events themselves plus the bright glare of a 24 / 7 media, the funeral services provided not only some much-needed context but also profound insights into what these agonizing events mean.  The Bishop who preached at James Foley’s funeral reminded his parents of the blessings they received at their eldest son’s baptism, and how the priest at that time had prayed that they would “see hope of eternal life shine on this child.”  Then the Bishop told Diane and John Foley, “Rarely do we recall those words, but I bring them to mind for you, as they are more poignant and prophetic.”  Imagine that – the remembered vows and promises of baptism provide the mooring when, years later, the floods of chaos threaten to overwhelm.

A cousin of Michael Brown said that Michael had told the family that one day the world would know his name.  “He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy,” the cousin stated.  “He did not know how his name would be remembered.  But we are here today remembering the name of Michael Brown.”

The funerals of these two men also offered direction and challenge on how to move forward.  Foley’s photojournalism calls us “to see the world through a different lens” and to “hear the cries [of those suffering in war-torn regions] that are a world away.” Michael Brown’s death in the week before he was to begin college brings to a head a host of long-simmering realities of racial inequities.  “We will not accept 3/5 justice,” the family attorney said.  “We will demand equal justice.”

There was another momentous event this weekend, one that for me was even more intensely personal.  I sat by the bedside of Geneva Cheek and sang hymns shortly before she departed this earthly life.  The death of this dear sister in Christ, the blessing of her presence in this church family, and the unshakeable hope that all our lives are woven into the larger story of the Gospel, are a part of the brightest light of all that shines in the darkness.  As we prepare for her funeral, Tom Long’s unforgettable words come to mind:  A saint has died, and is traveling to God, continuing the baptismal journey toward the hope of the resurrection of the body and God’s promise to make all things new.  We have been given the blessed burden of carrying a child of God to the waiting arms of God, singing as we go.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

Dr. Jim McCoy, pictured here with wife Jane, Minister of Music at FBCW.

Dr. Jim McCoy, pictured here with wife Jane, Minister of Music at FBCW.

Dr. McCoy has been pastor at First Baptist of Weaverville, NC for the past 17 years. Dr. McCoy is active in Christians for a United Community and the Ekklesia Project

Race in America Series: A Quest for Hope

 

race-in-AmericaI’m deeply troubled by the great racial divide in our country. This is not a black thing or a white thing. This is a people thing and we really have to do better.

If I were to trace the problem of race in America, I would go back through Jim Crow laws and legalized discrimination. I would go back before Ruby Bridges and Dred Scott. I’d go back to the end of the Civil War when slaves were set free, homeless and penniless, to live in a world that refused to hire them and rushed to oppress them.

But I would not stop there.

I’d go back to 19th century Charleston, SC where shackled men, women, and children shuffle across the auction block as white landowners place a price on humanity. I’d hear the clanging of chains, the crack of bull whips slashing across tattered flesh, the cries of beloved torn from beloved.

But I’d keep going.

I’d go all the way to the coasts of Africa where 18th century opportunists snatched up human beings and stacked them like cheap cargo on ships bound for American shores. I’d want to look away, knowing as I do that so many of them will die on that trip, their bodies discarded with the galley garbage.

Instead though, I’ll look in the face of this imbecilic, barbarian behavior and say, “Here it is! Right here. This sin will fall from father to son, mother to daughter, through generations. This treating people—people created by God Almighty—as objects in your sick game of immediate self-satisfaction is the very essence of evil.”

Think about it. That wrong, that undeniable injustice, has created a culture of oppression and corresponding mistrust that has characterized race relations in America for millennia.

So what do we do about it?

I don’t know. I really don’t. But I believe we absolutely must do something. In my next few blog posts, I’ll be reflecting upon this issue. Will you join me? I’d love to hear your thoughts as we muddle through the mess we’ve made to find solutions for a more just world.

RIP Charlie

IMG_1463He was supposed to live forever. I felt sure he’d live to be 15 at least. That meant I’d have him another four years minimum. And heck, Butch—the oldest beagle on record—was 27 when he died, so I figured if Butch could do it, so could my Charlie.

Charlie and I found each other one September afternoon in 2003. I’d been looking for a dog since my youngest child, Margaret, went to kindergarten a month earlier (the house had become way too still). I prayed about it all the time, asking God to guide me to the right dog for our family. I had in mind an adult female mixed-breed rescue; but despite visiting several shelters, I had not found one with whom I felt even a slight connection.

It was my husband who suggested a beagle puppy. I checked the classifieds and of all the beagle listings, one ad stood out to me.

“Three month old, tri-color beagle puppy. 
Male. Full blooded.
Parents on site. $100.”

(The ad might as well have said, “The exact opposite of what you think you want.”)

The children (5, 7, and 9 at the time) buckled up, and we followed the back road directions I received when I called the number listed. We rounded the last bend and the address came into view. As we drew closer, I saw a woman out in the yard with a blur of black and tan at her feet. I pulled up and shifted into park. The blur settled into a brown-faced, floppy-eared, saddleback beagle, his white-tipped tail waving to me. Instantly, I knew. I knew because I felt deep in my spirit that all-to-rare feeling of being perfectly in sync with God’s will. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was truly one of the high holy moments of my life.

I bent down and held out my arms. He came to me. And in less than 20 minutes, we were on our way back home with the beagle I’d already named Charlie. At puppy school a week or so later, the trainer remarked, “Wow. Charlie is definitely bonded to you. It’s unusual for such a connection to exist so soon.” Unusual? Shoot; it was downright supernatural.

Fast-forward 11 years to June 7, 2014.  My oldest daughter would be 20 in a month; she was living and working in DC for the summer. My son was about to graduate high school and Margaret, 16, was finishing her sophomore year.

She was the one who called to me, “Mom! You need to come here! Something’s wrong with Charlie!” I went upstairs immediately  to the kitchen where I found Charlie standing, awkward and immobile. He seemed stunned, confused, afraid. I scooped him up and Margaret and I took him to the closest vet. Still, it absolutely did not occur to me that my sweet baby could be dying. That was unthinkable.

By the time we got out of the car ten minutes later, Charlie had begun losing hair by the fistful.  He could still walk, but he trembled all over, his tail sagging and his steps unsure. In the exam room, we held him close, telling him what a good boy he was, so handsome, so brave. When the vet came in, I lay Charlie on the table, continuing to stroke him while I told the doctor what had been happening. After the briefest of exams, the vet told me it didn’t look good. He could barely get a blood pressure and Charlie’s heartbeat was weak.

My husband, my son, and his girlfriend arrived and crowded into the exam room with me, Margaret, the vet, and the vet tech. My beloved beagle lay in the midst of us, fading away. “There’s nothing more we can do for him,” the vet said, “As best we can tell, he’s had a stroke. The humane thing would be to let him go.”

I think I screamed.

Seconds later, his heart stopped beating and he was gone. It hadn’t been forever. Not even close.

When he was alive, Charlie did not actually follow my blog (Google Translate™ doesn’t do Beagle), so I’m pretty certain he’s not reading this now. But if he were, if I could tell him just one thing, it would be this:

“Rest in peace my Sweet Baby. And thank you. My heart is better for having been shared with you.”

(To read more of Charlie’s story, click here, or paste http://aileengoeson.com/?page_id=1597 in your browser.)