Might as well join the parade of Top 10 lists of 2014…
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).
The decisive point, however, is this. The second presupposition of a fruitful discussion between them and me would have to be that we are able to talk on a common plane. But these people have already had their so-called orthodoxy for a long time. They are closed to anything else, they will cling to it all costs, and they can adopt toward me only the role of prosecuting attorneys, trying to establish whether what I represent agrees or disagrees with their orthodoxy, in which I for my part have no interest! None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all. They take the stance of those who happily possess it already and who hope to enhance their happiness by succeeding in proving to themselves and the world that I do not share this happiness. Indeed they have long since decided and publicly proclaimed that I am a heretic, possibly the worst heretic of all time. So be it! But they should not expect me to take the trouble to give them the satisfaction of offering explanations which they will simply use to confirm the judgment they have already passed on me.
Karl Barth, Letters 1961-1968
Quoted in Confessing Christ for Church and World by Kimlyn Bender
projectCURATE … 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 projectCURATE.org 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
IVP Academic provided a copy of this book for review.
Confessing Christ for Church and World by Kimlyn J. Bender is a collection of essays that “are really ‘looking along’ with Schleiermacher and Barth to the reality they were trying to describe, which for both of them meant (though in radically different ways) the reality of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ” (16). The essays are divided into three sections:
- Church and Conversation (Chs. 1-4) focuses on ecclesiology and ecumenity.
- Canon and Confession (Chs. 5-9) focuses on scripture, biblical authority and tradition.
- Christ and Creation (Chs. 10-12) focuses on Christology, creation and covenant.
I am just starting to read the book, and as a Baptist I decided to start with Ch. 8 “Barth and Baptists: A Fellowship of Kindred Minds.” In this chapter, Bender focuses on Barth challenge to Baptists’ reluctance to acknowledge the importance of creeds or traditions. Bender begins by pointing out some key thoughts shared by Barth and Baptists, such as baptism, ethics of discipleship, the importance of the local congregation, and the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Yet, the shared space he builds from in challenging Baptists is found in this quote:
In Barth we see a truly unparalled focus on Jesus Christ, a truly christocentric theology at work, with a firm commitment to Holy Scripture as the unparalleled authority for the church’s faith and confession, and with an emphasis on proclamation and preaching as central to the church’s worship and practice, all within a theology dedicated to service to the church that focuses on themes of witness and discipleship (249).
From this foundation, Bender builds a case for challenging Baptists tendency to make “statements of opposition and mutual exclusion, for example, pitting the Bible and tradition against one another” (250). Bender, first, explains that while Barth realizes that scripture and tradition have a relationship it is not on equal grounds. Scripture, as the unique revelation of God, is unquestionably superior to tradition. He writes, “All church proclamation, as well as church tradition, comprised of doctrine, creeds and confessions, must be based on Scripture which stands over them” (250). But, Barth does not go so far as to empty confessions, or tradition, of all meaning. Rather, Barth insists that for the church to confess its faith in the present it must pay attention to the church’s past confessions. Thus, tradition is important because in tradition the church reads scripture together.
It is this idea, that the church, past and present, is needed for understanding scripture that Bender challenges Baptists tendency to have a “me and my Bible” approach to reading scripture. He even repeats a phrase I have heard often as a Baptist, “Ain’t nobody but Jesus going to tell me what to believe” (263). Bender argues that Barth challenges us at this point by reflecting on the importance of reading scripture together in the present by using the past. Bender writes, “Barth sees a real authority in confessions but does not see them as absolute, nor does he espouse forced subscription. He upholds the uniqueness of scripture against all creeds and confessions, but does recognize a real authority in them and refuses to ground Christian faith in subjective personal experience” (264).
As a Baptist, I appreciate this challenge from Bender to take the past seriously. Baptists can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking Christianity began on the day they were saved. Faith begins when we “walk the aisle” and so why should we go back. But this idea is not only misguided it is dangerous as it leads us to prioritize our feelings and leads us to towards a “me and my Bible” approach to reading scripture. In Barth, Bender finds a voice that challenges this tendency by asking us to reconsider this approach and instead come to understand reading scripture as “we and our Bible.” While there is much we might want to argue with in Barth, surely this is a place we can find some humility and acknowledge he might just be right.
Or as Bender writes, maybe we can ask and answer with Barth, “How does Jesus tell us what to do? Jesus’ voice is found in Scripture, and Scripture is read in a community of persons that, like us, he has called to be one people” (263-4).