Lived Theology a Year After Charlottesville

Like many of our friends and neighbors, near and far, we at the Project on Lived Theology experienced the events of August 11 and 12, 2017, with horror, grief, anger, and determination. In the days, weeks, and months following those awful days, we were heartened to hear so many voices invoking theology in their reckonings with our national demons of racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia. What follows is a collection of some of those voices. We offer them here not as a full representation of voices, nor as perspectives which we necessarily endorse, ouiut as a resource for those who, like us, are still wrestling with this painful, ongoing story, and who wish to do so in the light of larger stories and deeper truths.


Following the events of August 12th, the University of Virginia’s Religious Studies department put out an open letter condemning the ideology and violence of the white supremacists who were demonstrating.  It points out that their actions stand condemned in all the world’s religious and ethical systems.

The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University published a series of short responses to August 12th by a number of religious professionals in the Charlottesville Community, including several faculty members in the University of Virginia’s department of religious studies and local clergy. The following individuals wrote:

Faith leaders as well as faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students of the University of Virginia wrote reactions to events that appeared in a variety of outlets. These are below:

News outlets and magazines covered the religious and personal aspects of the events of August 12th. Some of the notable pieces are:

More recent and forthcoming books and articles reflecting on the events of August 12th and its impact over the past year:


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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Trouble in Mind

Trouble in Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years - What Really Happened, by Clinton HeylinBob Dylan’s Gospel Years: What Really Happened

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan has long been an enigmatic figure. Perhaps the most controversial period in his career was between 1979 and 1981, when the Jewish-born Dylan began espousing Christianity. In Trouble in Mind Clinton Heylin – Dylan’s most meticulous biographer- argues that this period was one of the most creative and generative of Dylan’s life. Heylin documents the influences in Dylan’s life, such as the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, that led to his brief and highly visible conversion.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

Trouble in Mind documents the tours and recording sessions with an obsessive detail that, at the very least, encourages the reader to come at it all afresh. . . . his interrogation of what it was all for is, to fans like me, highly illuminating.” —NewStatesman

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.

What’s in a dumpster?

Main Street is at once otherworldly and absolutely mundane. Its arteries are lined with blockish, sky-scraping superstructures and sprinkled with neon golden arches which glow like beacons for the hungry, the poor, and the destitute. Main Street’s soundtrack senselessly echoes in a polyphony of dissonant voices, traffic tunes, and melodic advertisements. They call to one another, to no one, and beyond—sending signals without the hope of a response. Main Street is like a stressed nervous system, secreting chemical solutions and flexing automatic muscles, outstretched hands attached to observers collect infinite quantities of information, nearly all of which is sifted, sorted, and deleted in a split second. You couldn’t take it all in, even if you wanted to, and you wouldn’t want to. There are no visible features to betray Main Street’s identity, its uniqueness, if it possesses any at all. Main Street could be anywhere. Main Street is almost everywhere. Luxurious displays strategically arranged, sealed behind glass, contrasted against the dirty body of the street dweller who obscures the charming contents. The narrative is disrupted when a woman emerges, crisp and colorful paper protruding from her shopping bag. She greets the stooped man with shamefully averted eyes. She senses something amiss. He senses resignation to the assigned roles.

I am carried by the current like a tumbleweed, politely swatting away, “May I help you? Are you looking for something?” Actually, I am. I don’t know what, but surely I’ll know it when I find it. The search takes me to vendors, shops, eateries. There are entry fees which I pay by way of purchases I don’t need. Here, I am minding my own role in the social drama, though I have a niggling sensation I’ve forgotten some important line. I’m unsure who I am meant to be portraying, and I worry that I’m doing it incorrectly. When I try to speak, my words come out backwards. I stutter and hum until I’m sweating from the strain of my searching. A formidable force of disconcertion arises, and I have no name for the thing, no knowledge of its source.

“Consumption,” surmises the old man in the park, bent over a chess board, a fuming cigar in hand. I take his answer and turn it over in my mind’s eye, trying on its fit. Consumption seems an apt description. It’s as though naming the thing has given me some sort of power to resist it, but I quickly find as I drift down monotonous concrete slabs that I’m consuming all sorts of things, even as my mouth and wallet remain shut.

A soundless whisper skids across my mind like a glass marble traversing tile. It forms words without sound as if I were reading text from a page. It offers direction, promises safe passage, and leads me to the mouth of an alleyway between two buildings so tall the sunlight above is completely crowded out. The seemingly tranquil stillness before me is disrupted by movement, differentiated shades of darkness which invite me forward into the fold. I have stumbled into a colony. There are parentless children, childless women and fatherless men dwelling together in a makeshift family. Dread chills my innards, pity produces a fearsome headache, and helplessness stiffens my knees. Then the sensations leave me and understanding threatens to set in. I attempt to envision the daily regimens of these outcasts and vagrants but the structure of their days evades me, existing just beyond the bounds of my imagination. Their lives assume templates so dissimilar from my own I cannot even recognize them. These beings defy convention so thoroughly their beauty is rendered invisible in my purview.


I don’t know why I was brought here, but the kinship I feel with these folks is unmistakable. Knowing hands tug at my clothing and frame, pushing me toward an industrial sized dumpster so revolting even the paint on its exterior is wilting away. The invitation is bewildering, and somehow sacramental, so through the looking glass I go. In the rubbish bin, there are 25 nameless birthday cakes topped with unlit candles. There’s all the plastic that has ever been produced, which will not decompose for another 500 years. Designer kitchen salts extracted from melting arctic glaciers. The waterlogged remains of the Great Barrier Reef. The pelt of the last grizzly bear that lived in California. Seventy-two billion pounds of food waste—the annual total in the United States. Fifteen million US households who are hungry. Subsidies which pay farmers to work fallow land. Logic that resists reason. I find other things too—Charles Baudelaire’s “The Eyes of the Poor” and Joan Didion’s iconic line, “The center will not hold.” I discover the answers to Fermat’s riddle and Da Vinci’s code. However, I don’t find the equation to recalibrate distribution, to eliminate waste, to remedy greed. I don’t find the salve to heal a broken humanity. Instead I find a cosmic loom which knits every thread together. Hope and despair in equal measure. Life and death all bound up together. Irresolution and no conclusions.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: He Calls Me By Lightning

He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty, by S. Jonathan BassThe Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty

There are many histories that focus on the grand sweep of the civil rights movement. Historian S. Jonathan Bass’s He Calls Me By Lightning offers an intimate scope, examining on one case that shows the brutality of the legal system in the Jim Crow south. Bass’s book focuses on Caliph Washington, a black man who was attacked by a white police officer in a small Alabama town. During the course of the altercation the officer was killed, likely by his own gun accidentally discharging. Washington fled, and was eventually convicted of murder. Washington was sentenced to death, and the book chronicles more than a decade of stays of executions and legal maneuvering before he was eventually released.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

He Calls Me by Lightning is riveting, heartbreaking, and vitally important. Through meticulous research and vivid prose, Bass brings the raucous world of Bessemer, Alabama, to life as it was in the Jim Crow era, and recovers the epic story of Caliph Washington’s struggle for freedom. This odyssey through a profoundly unjust legal system has a great deal to teach us all about the present.” — Patrick Phillips, author of Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

“In sharper focus, thanks to Bass’s painstaking research, is a picture of how Jim Crow legal systems operated at the local and state levels. . . . There is much in He Calls Me By Lightning that we needed to know. There is much, almost too much, that is simply nice to know. But we are left, at the last page, with insight into a history of America that can no longer be left unknown.” — Colbert I. King, Washington Post

He Calls Me By Lightning insists that we face the cost of lives that don’t matter to a persistent racial caste system. It reminds us that human endurance and irrepressible love outlast the glacial pace of change, and proves how much we do not yet know about our history.” — Timothy B. Tyson, New York Times Book Review

For more information on the publication, click here.

S. Jonathan Bass is a Professor and Chair of the History department at Samford University, along with being the University Historian. His areas of expertise include the civil rights movement, the American south, and legal history.

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.