New Position and New Reading Material

On January 1st, I am starting as the Executive Director of CHARM Prison Ministry.





The ministry was started by my good friends, David and Kaye Trickett, and God has blessed the ministry by growing it to the point of needing a full-time director. (For those familiar with CHARM David is not going anywhere, I am only stepping in to run the day-to-day operations so he can be freed up to do the ministry God has called him to do.)

I will share more about CHARM and the prison system in the coming days and weeks, but as I prepare for my first week in full-time prison ministry I did what most academics do…I ordered a few books relevant to the subject.

1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – I am only a couple chapters into this book, but it has already begun to open my eyes. Transition homes is the area CHARM has grown the most in the past few years, and her thoughts on the prison label clearly identified an issue I knew was there but couldn’t explain. She writes, “So long as large numbers of African Americans continue to be arrested and labeled drug criminals, they will continue to be relegated to a permanent second-class status upon their release, no matter how much (or how little) time they spend behind bars. The system of mass incarceration is based on the prison label, not prison time.” I look forward to reading the rest of the book.

2. Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System – This book lays out a 12 points for changing the current prison system.

3. The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race – Dr. Jennings’ book has been on my radar for a while now, excited to read it in conversation with these other books.

4. The Cross and the Lynching Tree – I am not sure what to expect of this book. I admire James Cone’s works (and usually enjoy reading them because he is a gifted communicator) but never been able to jump on board with his theology. Wanted to save this book to read with other voices like those above.

I am really looking forward to 2015 and all the new beginnings (also part of another new project – projectCURATE). And hopefully at least one happy ending (I am scheduled to complete and defend my PhD dissertation this summer).



UntitledprojectCURATE … The longterm goal is to open a Center of Reconciliation in Houston, TX. But in the short term, the UMC has stepped up and given us two grants (GCORR and The Center for Missional Excellence) to pilot the project with 6 congregations in the Houston Area. There will be plenty more about this project to come (also on its website once it goes live), to start you can read the initial info sheet we are sending out to the churches involved:

This project was born out of a deep hunger for a new Christian imagination to take root in our city. Houston is currently the most ethnically diverse city in the United States; it is also one of the nation’s largest and most rapidly expanding cities. As Houston emerges as a leading global city, economically, culturally, and even religiously, scholars project that Houston will be emblematic of what the rest of America will come to look like over the next few decades. We seek to discover and attend to the educational, spiritual and relational conditions that will allow the church to build bridges across divides that often occur with this growing diversity. We seek to cultivate deep kinship between the participants in an innovative learning environment that will spark and awaken new forms of redemptive action in our city.

As a project, we identified three key goals for nurturing this new Christian imagination in our city:

  1. Theological Learning in Context – Our goal is to bring together a cohort of 35-40 individuals from 6 racially diverse congregations within our city to learn from academics, activists and from each other. The cohort will meet monthly from February 2015 – April 2016 to worship, engage our communities, and enter into learning together.
  1. Theological Learning that is Practical – The cohort will work through 4 modules focused on contextual theology, scriptural imagination, peace-making, and specific intercultural issues related to our communities. In each section, renowned academics and local social activists will join the knowledge that the participants bring, to heighten our education and inform our innovative action in the city. Additionally, the cohort will come together for “Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope” within the different communities.
  1. Theological Learning that is Accessible – A MOOC (massive open online course) will be created to guide the cohort in the education process. The MOOC will be co-created by the participants and a broad range of communal and theological voices. This MOOC will be able to be assessed anywhere the participant has an Internet connection. Films, articles, forums will all be assessable on a computer or mobile device.

Our desire is to create an innovative learning process that spans the boundaries of our city, nurtures kinship among us and inspires us to learn from one another while we take creative action in our city towards redemption and reconciliation. We could not be more excited that you are joining with us!

America: The Modern Phoenicia (Guest Post by Todd Miller)

In Apologetics for the 21st Century, Louis Markos writes, “Phoenicia controlled a mercantile empire run on greed, realpolitik, and the bottom line, and they set up outposts all over the Mediterranean world to ensure their control of the sea” (Pg.86). Markos further describes them as being considered “bad pagans” by such different countries as Rome and Israel. It is something upon which even these ‘enemies’ could agree, and something that I think many modern nations would agree with as well. The question we have to ask though is could modern America be a descendant of ancient Phoenicia?

Mercantile empire. Check.
The United States trades all over the world. We import more products than any other country. Our multinational corporations sit in every country in the world. We export everything we can, and these days we are exporting work as much as products. According to the US Department of Transportation, the United States exported 901 million tons and imported 1,238 million tons in 2012. Mercantilist empire? I would say so.

Run on greed, realpolitik, and the bottom line. Check.
We only have to read the latest article of white collar crime to see that greed is everywhere. Years ago John Stossel did a report titled “Greed Is Good” for 60 Minutes. He discussed how greed is actually what leads people to create new products and services, to start businesses, and to build economic success. While I believe that there are a lot of businesses still built on a vision to make a difference, our largest companies, the mercantile empire, tends to be run by greed where decisions are made based on what is in it for me instead of what is best for the organization.

Can we even doubt that our nation has become a collection of laws and rules based on realpolitik? Realpolitik is essentially politics based on power — coercion. It also focuses more on the practical and material rather than ideology or morality or ethics. The headlines are rampant with politics of coercion in this country. Politicians threaten their detractors with retaliatory actions rather than discuss, debate, and compromise. Recently in Houston, the mayor and city attorney chose to ignore a petition with adequate signatures and in turn subpoenaed five churches to provide “all communications from pastors” regarding the mayor, homosexuality, and the petition. Many believe that this is the first step to quiet the voices of the Church and potentially its members regarding city politics. This is realpolitik in action. It is the use of power to quiet the people.

In addition to the greed and realpolitik, the bottom line rules the day. Business decisions, government decisions, leadership decisions, all decisions are based on the bottom line. Does it prosper us? Will it put money in my pocket or take it out? We lay off thousands of people to ensure that the bottom line does not suffer, while ensuring that those in power make their numbers and get their bonuses. I was part of a layoff in 2000, along with 16,000 other people, but the co-CEOs each got their million dollar bonuses for making their numbers. Business decisions are based on the numbers at the end of every quarter with little regard to what that will mean to the business in the long term or to the employees who have to continue to deliver more with less. These decisions cannot be restricted to business and government leaders either. We decide not to fund public schools, our own children’s education, because it might mean a few more dollars in taxes. I have been involved in many conversations lately about the bond vote for our school district this fall. People complain about schools being overcrowded and not having enough resources while at the same time denying the district the funds it needs to build new schools. The bottom line is what matters.

They setup outposts all over the … world to ensure their control of the sea.
The United States has the world’s most powerful Navy. We have warships that can deliver ordinance anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. We maintain control of shipping lanes with our Navy, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is evident that we control the seas. A recent trip to the movie theater to see Captain Phillips shows how involved our Navy is in the world’s oceans. Halfway around the world, it was the United States Navy that showed up to rescue the captain, crew, and cargo, not the navy of some nearby country.

We are indeed the Phoenicia of modern times. Mammon is our god, and we serve him well. Our materialist culture has more than it needs and still does not have all that it wants. We want more, and we are willing to sacrifice our lives to attain it. We work overtime, seven days a week to ensure that we have the funds to pay for the house we had to mortgage our lives to buy, to fill with furniture that we bought with interest free credit, to park our cars that we bought with no money down and low monthly payments, so that we can send our kids to every activity ever created by man. We kill ourselves for our god. We serve our master well.

Maybe there is still hope for us though. We have yet to succumb to the most heinous of the Phoenician traditions – child sacrifice. This is the practice the Israelite and Roman alike despised the Phoenicians for doing. But at least we Americans do not look at children as a mistake that will only ruin our chances for a prosperous future, that will only cost society money in welfare, and that will only cost us money and time in the long run. We have long given up on this notion with the help of science. Now we can get rid of them before they become a problem, when they are still just a “blob of cells,” so we are clearly more advanced and more civilized than those Phoenician barbarians. Maybe there is hope for us.

* Todd Miller is a graduate of the University of Houston holding both a Bachelors and Masters in Business Administration. He has spent a lifetime studying leadership and strategy and most recently taken up the challenge of a Masters in Theological Studies at Houston Baptist University.

0c66361He is particularly interested in theologies of work, business, and leadership. He is a huge fan of Walt Disney, the man and the company. He happens to have a family that is equally Disney crazy, which makes it easy to justify annual journeys to the happiest place on earth.

Follow Todd on Twitter: @toddscottmiller.