Religious Roots

Today, the cohort considered Lewis Baldwin’s seminal work, There is a Balm in Gilead, the first of a two part series on Dr. King’s cultural roots and legacy. Our vigorous conversation gave way to a fascinating discussion on the role of religion and politics, led by Rev. Dr. Helen Holton, who will soon be stepping down after 21 years serving on the Baltimore City Council. Her doctoral dissertation concerns the intersection of faith and politics, particularly in the Black church. Surrounded by African American colleagues who minister in and around the Baltimore/D.C. area, I heard stories about the events leading up to, during, and after the Freddie Gray shooting. It was an incredibly powerful and palpable experience, knowing that we share a faith that calls us to act in the face of injustice, and to be in the presence of people who live it in very real ways, each and every day, was amazing.

After lunch–which was filled with talk about Montgomery, Selma, and the Confederate flag–we gathered around table once again to share aspects of our spiritual autobiographies. Any pastor reading this right now knows this is not an uncommon thing for clergy; in fact, but the time we are ordained, most of us have grown so tired of our own spiritual autobiographies that we hope to never read them again. This time around, though, I had made the conscious decision to not tell the typical story; when I wrote the paper, I skimmed over much of what one might expect me to talk about: Stephen’s suicide; my coming to faith; the divorce that pulled me away from my first pastor; my discovery of Cross Creek Community Church and the start of my discernment toward ministry. I skimmed over it in favor of another emphasis: my sense of being on fire for Jesus Christ.

So, if you know me you know that is a sentence I don’t write lightly. I generally shy away for people who say they are “on fire” for Jesus, because that usually means that they intend to burn someone. They use their words as flames of fury to scorch others in the name of God. For me, my love of Jesus means that I want to talk less and work more; I seek out relationships not so I can convert, but so that I can serve; and I see injustice as an affront to the inherent dignity of God’s children, and most often those people are the ones who are most ignored by popular religion.  I feel like I’m coming out as being in relationship with Jesus and we have gotten really serious. My whole world seems to be wrapped up in this thing called discipleship. And today, I was surrounded by people who get it. And not only do they get it, but they have organized their entire lives around being present for others. It is humbling and invigorating. 

I think about my village, about the opportunities I have to be of service. It feels exciting to know that a big plan–that I am not ready to reveal, as there are lots of moving pieces–could frame the next 3-5 years of my life and ministry. So while we talked about Dr. King’s religious and cultural roots in terms of influences, I realized today that my religious roots, as in the forces that ground me to time and place, are firmly planted in Yellow Springs. I’m loving my time here in Baltimore, but I know it will be good to get back home.   

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