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On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Dream is Lost

The Dream is Lost: Voting Rights and the Politics of Race in Richmond, Virginia, by Julian Maxwell HayterVoting Rights and the Politics of Race in Richmond, Virginia

Historian Julian Maxwell Hayter starts out The Dream is Lost by observing that Richmond, Virginia is “seldom central to the narrative of the American civil rights movement”, but his study of race and politics in that city from the 1950s to the 1980s proceeds to make a persuasive case for why it should be. His account follows the political struggles of African-Americans who formed groups like the Richmond Crusade for Voters to avoid being disenfranchised. Hayter’s work shows that local activism and legal measures like the Voting Rights Act led to African-Americans gaining political power in the city, but it also chronicles how economic woes caused by the legacy of white supremacy made that an almost pyrrhic victory.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“This detailed narrative explores the quest for African American political power but also chronicles the limitations of this achievement. Hayter’s description of voter mobilization efforts, coalition building, and litigation offer an important level of detail to our understanding of black politics during and after the civil rights era.”—Pippa Holloway, author of Living in Infamy: Felon Disenfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship

“This illuminating book offers a sobering account of the limits of politics as a vehicle to transform African American communities.”—Timothy N. Thurber, author of Republicans and Race: The GOP’s Frayed Relationship with African Americans, 1945–1974

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Prophet With a Pencil Gathers Scholars in Birmingham

Prophet With a Pencil 2018

On June 8 and 9, 2018, the Project on Lived Theology convened our Prophet with a Pencil workgroup in Birmingham, Alabama, for two days of presentations and conversation focusing on the theological significance of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The assembly’s work will produce a single volume entitled Prophet with a Pencil: The Continuing Significance of Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ which will be released by Cascade Books in 2019.

The Prophet with a Pencil contributors shared and discussed their work during this two day research retreat. Day one was held at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) located in the historic Civil Rights District of Birmingham, just across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park. Contributors’ chapters-in-progress focused on theological themes from King’s letter and its surrounding culture including judgment, rest, gender, and the power of images to affect change.

At lunch time, the workgroup welcomed participants in the historic Children’s March in Birmingham, 55 years after this historic event. Our guests shared stories from their time as “foot soldiers” and talked with the group about their continuing civil rights efforts.

Following the afternoon work session, the group toured the Civil Rights Institute.

On the second day of the workgroup, we met at Historic Bethel Church, a National Historic Landmark and Civil Rights National Monument. The church played a central role in the civil rights movement under the leadership of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth. In this sacred place, Prophet with a Pencil contributors delved deeper into the theology of King, focusing on his non-violent approach and the sociology of racism.

At the close of our meetings, we heard a presentation by Dr. Martha Bouyer, executive director of the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Foundation, on the history of the church’s role in the civil rights movement. She shared a beautiful tapestry covered in affirmations and notes of thanksgiving from individuals and groups around the world who have visited the church.

Before returning to the hotel, participants visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail, which highlights the integral role the city played in the movement.

The mission of The Project on Lived Theology is to clarify the interconnection of theology and lived experience and promote academic resources in pursuit of social justice and human flourishing. The Project offers a variety of familiar and unconventional spaces where theologians, scholars, students, practitioners, and non-academics can demonstrate the importance of theological ideas in the public conversation about civic responsibility and social progress. The project was established in 2000 with a grant from the Lilly Endowment.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Clarence Jordan

Clarence Jordan: A Radical Pilgrimage in Scorn of the Consequences, by Frederick L. DowningA Radical Pilgrimage in Scorn of the Consequences

Starting in the 1940s, Clarence Jordan tried to put Christianity into practice in the South, which was flouting segregation and inequality. Despite having a PhD, he made an impact not by being a lofty intellectual but by founding Koinonia- an interracial Christian farming community- and serving as a formative influence on Habit for Humanity. As the writer of the Cotton Patch Gospel, Jordan adapted the stories of the New Testament to fit the South and to address racism. In this new biography by Frederick L. Downing, who previously authored religious biographies of Elie Wiesel and Martin Luther King, puts Jordan in historical context and looks at the influences that shaped him. Jordan’s life has rarely been studied and Downing’s work is an important effort to document his prophetic witness.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Downing has rendered us a great and judicious service by his compelling research. It is crucial that Jordan in all his daring courage should be remembered. Downing assures us that this singular saint of gospel obedience will not be forgotten.” —Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary

For more information on the publication, click here. To read more about Clarence Jordan on our Civil Rights Digital Archive, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day offers “literary sabbatical” in her visit to UVA

On April 24, the Project on Lived Theology welcomed Patricia Hampl to UVA Grounds to speak on her new book, The Art of the Wasted Day (Viking, 2018).

Hampl spoke in Project director Charles Marsh’s afternoon class about nonfiction personal narrative writing, and in the early evening, she read from her book at the Bonhoeffer House. Both events were open to the public.

Students in Marsh’s class, God and the Mystery of the World, read Hampl’s book and wrote reflections on it in preparation for her visit. Students called the book “a literary sabbatical” and “an inner rebellion against the notion of daydreaming as a sin.”

Hampl spoke of the origins of personal narrative writing, referencing Michel de Montaigne, often considered the father of the essay genre. But she clarified that when Montaigne spoke of the essay, he wasn’t thinking of a rigidly structured, five-paragraph composition by a high school freshman. “By ‘essay,’ Montagne meant, ‘my thingamajig.’ ‘My whatever.'” An essay, to Montaigne, was a “portrayal of consciousness.”

In our own time and place, Hampl reflected, Americans love the personal voice. We trust it against all the evidence that it is unreliable: people lie, plain and simple. Still, we sense an authority in the first person voice because it connects to our experience of the world.

Hampl reminded us that nonfiction personal narrative writing is treacherous. You can get in trouble on all sides. Readers inevitably raise questions of veracity–“Are you telling the truth?”–and of decency–“Does your mom know that?” And of course, as Hampl has written in her book, I Could Tell You Stories, you can hurt those whose stories you tell along the way. But there is an upside to the treachery: nonfiction can have an particular electricity that fiction often does not have.

You can listen to or watch Patricia’s talk here. Her reading is available here. Hungry for more? Read more about her visit in this Cavalier Daily article. And of course, enjoy your own “literary sabbatical” by purchasing her book.

Watch the entire lecture through its resource page here.

Patricia Hampl is a Regents Professor and the McKnight Distinguished Professor in the English department at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches creative writing.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Thoughts After Reading Mitch Landrieu’s, In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History

Peter Slade

A Tale of Two Surprises

Thoughts after reading Mitch Landrieu’s, In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, Viking, 2018.

by Peter Slade

Mitch Landrieu’s book, In the Shadow of Statues, is the backstory of the speech he gave as mayor of New Orleans on May 19, 2017, following his removal of three Confederate statues—Lee, Davis, and Beauregard—from the city. Pulling down statues symbolizes regime change. Statues of Lenin fell across Eastern Europe during the revolutions of 1989 and statues of Saddam Hussein tumbled in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003. It seems reasonable, then, to consider that the current struggle to remove Confederate monuments is symbolic of a struggle to change a regime here in the United States of America. But this outgoing regime—unlike the communists in East Berlin or the baathists in Baghdad—is one that is hidden in plain sight and may not be outgoing at all. Viewed from this perspective, Landrieu’s book is above all an account of the surprise of discovery: his surprise at discovering this hidden regime’s history and his surprise at its continuing political power.

Landrieu is surprised to see the history he did not know celebrated in a landscape he did not see. Challenged by his friend, none other than the jazz great Wynton Marsalis, to remove the Confederate statues from New Orleans’s streets, Landrieu details his awakening to the meaning of the statues he had driven past thousands of times. He presents his personal testimony of “learning to see what’s in front of me” in the hope that his readers will also see these symbols and their American history with the veil torn away. This is a book written in the easy voice of a man with the common touch: the voice of a successful politician who expects to bring you along with him. For those familiar with the development of the religion of the Lost Cause and the history of race in America, there is nothing new here. But there is something depressingly instructive for historians and activists in Landrieu’s naive story of personal awakening. How is it, we need to ask ourselves, that a well-educated, intelligent, and humane white man who had spent his professional political career studying the motivations of his constituents was so surprised by this at all? How did he miss it?

Landrieu’s second great surprise is at the power and persistence of white supremacy. He opens the book with his shock that, despite the support of the city’s government and all his office’s money and connections, he could not hire a crane to take down the statues. He returns to his quandary again near the end of the book: as the mayor of New Orleans, “[after] all the billions of dollars we’d spent on contractors,” “I still can’t get anyone to lease me a damned crane: This still eats at me.” Again, the surprise of a powerful white man at the political center of his world should be instructive. How did the intimidation of contractors with death threats and arson come as a surprise to Landrieu?

With his awakened hindsight, Landrieu gives an account of race and the regime of white supremacy running through his life from his earliest memories of his Catholic upbringing as the son of a mayor of New Orleans to his own assumption of that office. For Landrieu, “[race] is like a song that you cannot get out of your head.” With this song in heavy rotation by the summer of 2015 when he announced the removal of the statues, Landrieu was not surprised by the popular appeal of Donald Trump: he had seen it all before in Louisiana in the political success of the Klansman David Duke. “When I look back today,” Landrieu writes, “David Duke’s demagoguery stands like a dress rehearsal for the rise of Donald Trump.”

In the interviews Landrieu has given to promote the book, he has been asked repeatedly if he will throw his hat in the ring as a challenger to Trump. It’s clear that Landrieu constructs his narrative with the intention of introducing himself to a national electorate. He interlaces his stories with extraneous reflections on his current policy positions on race, gentrification, education, guns, police, mass incarceration, and urban crime, and makes a case for his skills and experience at running a political administration and in beating politicians like Trump. Whether or not he does run in 2020, Landrieu should bear in mind that he will be faced with a white America that, by-and-large, does not like surprises: certainly not the ones that force us to confront the power and persistence of white supremacy in America.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more news from PLT fellow travelers, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

PLT Alum Kelly West Figueroa-Ray Defends Dissertation on Beloved Community

Kelly Figueroa-RayDissertation Entitled Beloved Community in Multicultural Contexts: The Lived Theology of Pastor Miguel Balderas

On April 18th, PLT alum Kelly West Figueroa-Ray successfully defended her dissertation entitled Beloved Community in Multicultural Contexts: The Lived Theology of Pastor Miguel Balderas. This study is a hermeneutical ethnography that situates Pastor Miguel’s approach to multicultural ministry within the lived theological tradition of Beloved Community. This research combines ethnographic methods with a set of hermeneutical tools, traditionally used to analyze ancient scriptural commentary, to examine enacted theological expression, specifically preaching, liturgical choices, and leadership models.

When reflecting on the most important insight from this study, Kelly states:

“By imposing upon his congregation the scriptural values and characteristics of the Kingdom of God in light of the Pentecost experience of Acts 2, Pastor Miguel’s lived theology can be described as the insurgent multiculturalism of Beloved Community. Unlike other multicultural approaches within mainline Christian churches that encourage assimilation to the majority-white culture, Pastor Miguel’s approach encourages his congregants to move towards a congregation in which: 1) the leadership works as a team and reflects the diversity of the community’s demographic and 2) “se come la comida de todos” (everyone eats the food of everyone). This is not an International Day form of sharing, but rather a practice that becomes part of the fabric of community life. Through this organic approach to multicultural training, Pastor Miguel’s hope is that the long-term, majority-white, and English-speaking members could lead their congregation alongside non-English-speaking immigrants, with every person functioning as a full participant in the leadership process.”

This research contributes to the growing body of literature on multiracial congregations by offering a unique ethnographic perspective missing from the scholarship—an in-depth examination of a non-multicultural congregation’s approach to developing multicultural ministries. Hermeneutical ethnography as it is applied in this study also offers a new method for Christian ethnographers, anthropologists, and other scholars interested in how scripture and Christian tradition function in contemporary religious communities, a method that takes seriously the role of texts within the process of lived theological expression.

Kelly graduated last week and has also accepted a one-year faculty position at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. She looks forward to offering courses that will explore contemporary scriptural hermeneutics and the lived theology of faith practitioners and Christian communities.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more news from PLT fellow travelers, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #PLTfellowTravelers. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Students Reflect on Clarence Jordan Symposium

SeedlingsCelebrating Koinonia Farm’s 75th Birthday

Two UVA students recently attended the Clarence Jordan Symposium at Koinonia Farm, an event focused on honoring Jordan by increasing peace, community, and racial justice in the world today. Megan Helbling and Isabella Hall traveled down together with the support of the Project on Lived Theology.

Isabella was curious about sustainable agriculture and the methodology, struggles, and successes of different intentional communities. Interested in exploring the role of the church in social reform and conciliatory communication, Megan learned about the legacy of housing and economic justice created by Koinonia affiliates. Both women were able to meet notable activists from mainstream Protestantism and heard notable Christian activists and thinkers, including Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne, William Barber, and Ruby Sales.

Reflecting on the stories of Koinonia workers, Megan stated:

“While inspired by the life of Clarence Jordan, I am reticent to idolize him because the narrative of Koinonia often prioritizes Jordan’s biography over the women and African Americans who labored alongside him. Since the voices of those marginalized actors often go unheard, this conference unexpectedly was an opportunity to celebrate the folks who often aren’t honored in the usual telling of this history…The speaking style that most of the highlighted speakers adopted the form of storytelling, whether about their own intentional communities, their experiences in peace movements, or formative interactions with Jordan or Koinonia. Coming from the environment of UVA, this
gave us an opportunity to consider new ways of learning that are different from the academic lectures to which we’ve grown accustomed. Storytelling, we realized, is a much more relational and distinctly communal form of learning and sharing knowledge. It represents a more peaceful, less assertive style of instruction, as it doesn’t assume that all knowledge manifests itself into different lives, communities, or cultures the same way. Rather, it offers one isolated example of the ways that one person encountered different lessons or themes, and invites the listener to extrapolate their own meaning or application for the story into their own lives.”

Isabella was interested in comparing her experience living in the Perkins House at UVA to the experience of living at Koinonia Farms, as well as being able to reflect on the Civil Rights Movement through the people she met:

“Without a doubt, the people we encountered were my favorite piece about the Clarence Jordan Symposium. From Mennonite Pastors Sarah Thompson and Joanna Shenk, to our new friend Gabriel, a current Koinonia resident, and finally, founding Koinonia members themselves. Physically inhabiting the same spaces which served as battleground for ethnic and economic justice during the Freedom Movement was impactful. I couldn’t help but be reminded on Charles Marsh’s notion of the American South as Theological Drama and indeed, we had entered into enfleshed theological drama. For instance, the symposium was hosted at the very Methodist and Baptist Churches which excommunicated Jordan and his Koinonia flock years ago. The church doors which were once unconditionally closed to Black Americans now hosted a symposium committed to racial reconciliation and strategizing for combat against systemic racism. Attending the conference was important for both Megan and I in order to understand how our own justice- work and theological experiences are situated within a broader narrative, that is, the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement.”

For more information on Koinonia Farm, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more news from PLT fellow travelers, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #PLTfellowTravelers. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: On Second Thought

On Second Thought: Essays Out of My Life, by Donald ShriverEssays Out of My Life

Donald Shriver, Jr. has had a distinguished career. Trained as a minister and a Christian ethicist, he won the Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his 2005 book Honest Patriots and served for 16 years as president of Union Theological Seminary in New York. In his memoir, On Second Thought, Shriver offers his insights on a variety of topics and his hopes for the future. Subjects range from a chapter on ecology based around his own experiences at his family property and his reflections on the life of his eldest son, to his appreciation for Beethoven. In the introduction Shriver say he aimed to follow the advice of a friend, to avoid making this book a scholarly tome replete with footnotes and instead to “write it from the heart.” The result is a religious and deeply personal book of essays.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“In Chapter 5, Shriver puts this wise question: “Whoever grew up without a lot of help?” (p. 68) However we grow in life, and whatever we accomplish in life, we do so on the shoulders of others. I have been inspired also by Shriver’s reverent practice of reaching out and offering “thank you” messages to several persons who have shaped his life. Shriver’s chapter on friends and friendship describes friends as “gifts arriving in one’s life without notice or asking.”  In his final chapter, Shriver offers an intriguing letter about his hopes for his great-grandchildren that he will never see: That they will be alive and well in 2060. That they will be daily grateful. That they will be honored to belong to a worldwide human family. That they will be deeply in love in a permanent marriage of companionship and fidelity. That they will be faithfully aware that they are greatly loved and empowered to love by a “love divine, all loves excelling.”  I chose this book as the basis for our retreat discussions because Shriver winsomely articulates what has been ultimately important to him and his life pilgrimage. I believe his reflections provide a remarkable instrument for exploring what is ultimately important for each reader.”—Dean K. Thompson Former president, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

For more information on the publication, click here.

Donald W. Shriver Jr. is an ethicist and an ordained Presbyterian minister who has belonged to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations since 1988 and was president of Union Theological Seminary from 1975 to 1991.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

PLT Alum Tim Hartman Celebrates Lived Theology Course and Sabbatical Plans

Tim HartmanReflecting on Class Takeaways and Future Studies

PLT alum Tim Hartman of Columbia Theological Seminary recently taught a class entitled “Theology and Community: A Lived Theology Approach,” which studied the social consequences of religious belief by examining famous historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bonhoeffer. The class delved into past movements as well as more current ones in order to get a more nuanced perspective of lived theology.

Reflecting on his course, Professor Hartman stated:

“My students are hungry to see how theology makes a difference in the world. In Theology & Community: A Lived Theology approach, students explore the social consequences of religious belief through four case-studies: the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., Nazi Germany, the Rwandan genocide, and contemporary ‘stand your ground’ culture in the U.S. to learn some ways that the Christian faith has been used for both oppression and liberation.”

Since having taught this course, Professor Hartman was awarded a grant from the Louisville Institute which will allow him to study Christianity from a non-western perspective. His main project will be writing a book that is a theological introduction to Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako. He plans to spend the first six months of his sabbatical in Cape Town, South Africa, as a visiting scholar in the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of the Western Cape prior to visiting other African countries.

To read the full announcement detailing Professor Hartman’s sabbatical grant, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more news from PLT fellow travelers, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Radical King

The Radical King, Cornel West and Martin Luther King Jr.A revealing collection that restores Dr. King as being every bit as radical as Malcolm X

In the introduction to The Radical King, Cornell West declares that this new collection of King’s writings presents “a radical King that we can no longer sanitize.” West argues that King was a revolutionary figure, one who called for “a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life, and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and average citizens.” Containing twenty-three selections of King’s writing and oratory, the collection shows how King’s message of radical love was simultaneously political and religious. The collection makes clear that King’s prophetic nonviolent witness was not just intended to advance civil rights, but also aimed to address poverty, inequality, war, antisemitism and colonialism.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“King’s skills as a preacher and rhetorician are amply in evidence, as is his profound empathy with others.”—Publishers Weekly

“This useful collection takes King from the front lines of Southern segregation to a national movement for economic equality to an international condemnation of imperialism and armed intervention.”—Kirkus Reviews

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.