Overcoming the anxiety of talking about racism

Carolyn Helsel’s upcoming book from Chalice Press aims to help white people talk about racism. In this guest blog, she reflects on the August 11-12 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Brad Lyons)

Carolyn Helsel
Carolyn Helsel

Sick. Sick to my stomach. I opened social media Saturday morning to reports of torches and racist slogans of white nationalists at a “Unite the Right” rally on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

I turned off my phone to get breakfast for the kids. We were traveling to San Antonio for the day, so attending to children occupied my mental space. But I wasn’t hungry for breakfast.

While I tried to keep current events out of my mind, they kept showing up. As we drove through downtown San Antonio, three white men carrying signs and wearing shirts with Confederate flags crossed the street in front of my car while I waited at a stoplight. These men were headed several blocks away, to join a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue from a San Antonio city park.[1]

Later that afternoon, while I sat at a restaurant, the news on the TV reported the alarming headlines: at the Charlottesville rally, a neo-Nazi drove his car into the crowd of counter-protestors, killed a woman and injuring 19.

Minutes later, I overheard a young white man joking at a nearby table, “I tell you, white men have it hard these days.” I’m not sure he’d been paying attention to the news from Charlottesville.

Driving back to Austin, my mind kept returning to the white men wearing Confederate flags in San Antonio and the white men in the pictures from Charlottesville, carrying torches. I kept wanting to distance myself from them: these white people are not the kind of white people I know and love. These are really bad people. Ignorant people. Evil people. But feeling sick-to-my-stomach did not go away. I could not distance myself far enough.

Returning to social media at the end of the day, several people called out to white preachers, asking: “How are you going to change your sermon for tomorrow?” Articles in major news outlets challenged the Christian church to respond with a definitive condemnation of white supremacy, asking: “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?[2] And “How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville?[3]

But I wondered whether the people who went to this rally even went to church? I doubt it. I wanted to think of them as crazy hate-filled heathens who would never step foot in a church. I want to think of these people as so very different from me.

But as a colleague of mine from Austin Seminary, Dr. Margaret Aymer, reminded me, these people still look like me and are not that different from me. Dr. Aymer posted the picture of the torch-wielding men, and instructed viewers to look them in the face: “If you are white or the parent of a white male child, as I am, look at these faces. Look hard. These are not monsters. These are not deformed or mentally ill people. These could be your sons. These could be my son. Look hard. There is no “they” out there. This is about you. This is about me. This about how you interact with family and how your raise your children. Do not look away.”

As uncomfortable as it makes us, we need to keep looking. We need to sit with the discomfort of these terrorizing moments, because they will not go away when we are not looking. They will keep happening. There will continue to be demonstrations that support this way of thinking. We need to denounce them as evil and to condemn this rhetoric.

At the same time, the depth and breadth of racism is thicker than this one event, bigger than a group of white nationalists protecting a statue, older than the history that these whites want to memorialize. And condemning racism as evil demands more than realizing that racism is a problem. We have to keep talking about it with other white people.

White liberals have prided themselves on “getting it.” There’s a sense of self-righteousness that comes from feeling you are on the right side of history. But self-righteousness fosters a sense of superiority. And superiority continues to compete for superiority. There will always be better labels, more critical analysis, and more radical calls for change; but if these only lead to self-satisfaction in our moral superiority, we have failed. Whites who want to make a difference need to accept that there is no moral high ground for us: no matter how “woke” we are, we continue to be part of a system that unjustly benefits us. We are not superior to these white nationalists. We bear the guilt as well.


[1] Emilie Eaton, “Dueling San Antonio protestors clash with each other, police over Confederate monument.” The San Antonio Express News. (August 12, 2017). http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Dueling-San-Antonio-protesters-clash-with-each-11814577.php

[2] Jemar Tisby, “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?” The Washington Post. (August 12, 2017). Accessed online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/12/after-charlottesville-will-white-pastors-finally-take-racism-seriously

[3] Emma Green, “How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville?” The Atlantic. (August 13, 2017). Accessed online at https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/will-the-church-reckon-with-charlottesville/536718/

Is Your Pastor Sexist? Is the New York Times Sexist? Are You Sexist?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched our Presbyterian colleagues protesting Princeton Theological School’s plan to honor Tim Keller, who in his long ministry has argued women should be subservient to their husbands, a point of view that is also interpreted to state women should not be ministers.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: CBP/Chalice Press strongly disagrees with that stance, or with any stance that espouses inequality in any form whatsoever. There are many, many, many1 women doing incredible ministry that should inspire us all to step up our game. We’re lucky to work with them.

Back to the story. Traci Smith, author of the recently released Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home and a Princeton alumna, blogged about this and caught the attention of both Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News (she declined their interview request) and the New York Times, which didn’t reach out to her but quoted her blog instead.

Is Your Pastor Sexist?, by Times contributor Julia Baird, referred to “Rev. Tim Keller” and “Dr. Keller.” It then referred to Traci as “Traci Smith, a former Princeton seminarian who is now a minister,” and noted Christian author Carol Howard Merritt as “a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” No Rev. before their names.

Surely this was a mistake, right? Copyediting gone awry? 2

Traci and Carol both mused about that on social media, and their connections jumped on the bandwagon. I’m not one to fire off Letters to the Editor, but this was clearly an instance where we could offer our opinion as a publisher regarding one of our writers, as well as share a view on the world of ministry with some folks who might not necessarily understand how things work in the professional field. So this morning, I sent off this missive:

    Dear editor,

    Julia Baird’s opinion piece, Is Your Pastor Sexist?, contains several unintentional but extremely ironic sexist errors. The male subject of the article is referred to as both Rev. Keller and Dr. Keller, indicating the Times uses honorific titles. Two female pastors, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, do not have Rev. attached to their references, indicating the Times does not use honorific titles. Which is it? Surely this decision isn’t driven by gender?

    It’s likely bad copyediting is the culprit here, but this oversight epitomizes the everyday challenge female pastors face in their vocation — sexism undermines the equally challenging work they do in a workplace that is all too often hostile to them simply because of their chromosomal combinations.

    I see one correction already in the online version. If a story about sexism is inherently sexist, that probably merits at least a correction as well, does it not?

    Sincerely,
    Brad Lyons

A few hours later, an email rolled in from Matt Seaton, Staff Editor in the Op-Ed Department:

    Thank you for your letter regarding Julia Baird’s Op-Ed essay “Is Your Pastor Sexist?” I am responding because your letter was forwarded to me as the editor of this article.

    Times style usually allows for use of the title “Rev.” (for Reverend) only on first mention, and this was applied to the Rev. Tim Keller in this case. (Thereafter, he appeared as Dr. Keller, given his doctorate of ministry.) But honorifics are applied as context allows, not as a rigid rule.

    Our chief copy-editor explained to me that the “Rev.” title was not applied to the other two ministers in the piece, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, because they were introduced in ways that would have made the addition of “the Rev.” awkward and clumsy, and because, in each case, they were both clearly identified as minister or pastor.

    On second use of each of those ministers’ names, “Ms.” was the correct honorific, since neither of them, to the best of our knowledge, has a doctorate of divinity or ministry.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter and taking the trouble to communicate your view to us.

    Best, Matt

So the honorifics were cut because it would make the writing clunky. That’s weak. Very, very weak. Just rewrite the sentence! You’re not going to wear out your computer or need Tommy John surgery to fix that.

But it’s more than weak — it’s offensive.

I understand we’re talking about a few letters, but those few letters make a world of difference. Though their choice was intentional, their choice also subliminally subjugates female pastors in their vocation and in our culture.

CBP/Chalice Press is a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has for decades ordained women, and our first female General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, is about to be followed by our second female General Minister and President, Teresa Hord Owens. We’re darn proud of that. Beyond that, we work with women and men, ordained and non-ordained, from many denominations, because we believe everybody has gifts from God regardless of whether they’ve gone through school or the proper training.

What I hear from my female colleagues in ministry is that it’s getting better but that the gender gap we see across society still exists in ministry – in the lack of respect shown to female clergy, in disparate compensation packages, and in the opportunities to lead at vibrant congregations. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix this, but we must fix it, and all the other prejudices in our culture, if we are to live in the Beloved Community.

It falls to all of us in the ways we talk about each other, the ways we hold each other accountable for our biases, the way we work on ourselves to erase those biases. But the New York Times, bless its heart – I sure hope it comes to its senses soon.

Footnotes

1. Many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many… well, you get the gist.
2. Baird reached out to Traci and said she hadn’t used titles, that they were added later.

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

How Progressive Christians are playing catch-up

Every once in a while, small publishers think about big media and how to overturn the tables in the temple.

A few weeks ago, Publishers Weekly’s Lynn Garrett asked for my thoughts on Progressive Christian publishing given the electoral insanity beginning to unveil itself on our national and state stages. (There is still sanity at the county and municipal levels, thank God. Let us unite around quality trash collection!) That article, “Justice a Hot Topic for Religion Publishers: Books on racism, immigration, and poverty are more relevant than ever,” was released on Inauguration Day, and it looks across the broad religious spectrum. It’s a good read about the state of the industry.

Here’s the quote Ms. Garrett used:

“Progressive Christians now have the sense of urgency that the Evangelical church has had for a long time. Conservative Christians built their movement through a variety of media, and book publishing has been a key part of that. Now it’s the progressives’ turn.”

Need evidence? Driving across southern Missouri last Sunday, I couldn’t find the Packers-Falcons game[1] – one of the NFL’s penultimate games, two teams playing for a Super Bowl berth – but I could find half a dozen evangelists trying to save souls through the AM dial. For at least 40 years, Evangelical Christians have learned how to organize and how to spread their message, and now they dominate the political stage, the airwaves, and the bookstore shelves. Progressive Christians haven’t had that multimedia ambition, and we’re paying the price.[2]

One would think the Republican Revolution of 1994 would have been enough to jumpstart the liberal/progressive multimedia boom. Or the 2000 election. Or the rising tide of resentment in the Tea Party eight years ago. But here we are, a quarter-century later, lagging far behind, with the highlights being Air America and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Both secular, and both just memories now.

But what good is a multimedia network if you have no clear message? Let’s not dwell on the Evangelical with-Jesus-or-against-Jesus mentality that can be wonderful or terrifying. Let’s think about the message of the Progressive Christian media. The Jesus of Progressive Christians welcomes the immigrant; shows mercy and tangible support for the downtrodden; and celebrates the iconic American belief – and Christian belief – that in our uniqueness, we are all beautiful in God’s eyes. Progressive Christians need to teach that Jesus[3], the scorned Jesus who weeps when 30 million Americans lose their health care, when refugees are sent away, when LGBT persons are treated as third-class citizens.

And what will the multimedia network empower us to do? It will train a new generation of Progressive Christians in the art of opposition and organization; teach the language of protest, conflict resolution and compromise; and reframe for the world the oft-ignored fact that Christian values come in many forms often the polar opposite of what the high-profile, media-darling Christian leaders assert.

There is room on the airways, in the bookstores, and in the places where power resides, for all points on the theological spectrum. But we can’t just hope that equal time will materialize out of thin air. It will take action, it will take money, it will take commitment, and it will take courage.

So far, we’re all set on courage. Saturday’s global Women’s March included all the issues dear to progressives; we may finally feel the urgency. The tide might actually be turning. The time is right for a Progressive Christian media explosion. Now it’s the Progressives’ turn to put in some grunt work and build our movement. Religious publishers can be a key part of that new movement, but that will require having those books more widely available and visible, and people will need to buy them. And, I think, people will buy them … AND put them to good use.

Let’s get to work.


[1] Thank goodness. I was wearing Green Bay green, and the afternoon did not go well. Not at all.

[2] And without mass media sharing the inclusive message of the mainline church, it shrinks rapidly as the Evangelical church grows. I can’t help but think there’s a connection.

[3] Have no doubt that our Islamic siblings would say the same of Muhammed, our Jewish siblings the same of their prophets, our Buddhist siblings the Buddha, and so on. Bar a few folks dealing with severe mental illness, we’re all on the same side — of peace and justice and freedom, despite what the fear mongers want you to believe.

 

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Christians and Standing Rock: An Update

News outlets often describe the standoff between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Energy Transfer Partners, developers of the North Dakota Access Pipeline, as contest between the water rights of indigenous peoples and the energy needs of the nation. This is a false and misleading characterization of the conflict.

People of faith have understood from the beginning that for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe the deeper issues are Native sovereignty, treaty rights, and religion. Religion for many Native peoples is land-based, and Native spirituality is bound to the land, making sacred places set aside for human remembrance such as burial grounds. For the Great Sioux Nation, to be a Sioux is to care for Mother Earth.

The centrality of land for Native spirituality was recognized by the United States with the enactment of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. This law calls upon the government to “protect and preserve for Native Americans their inherent right to freedom of belief …  and to worship through ceremonies and traditional sites.”

In October Churches Uniting in Christ, eleven denominations in covenantal relations, joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other indigenous peoples to support tribal sovereignty, water, cultures, way of life, and sacred sites, citing the centrality of land to Native peoples and Native religious practices

On November 4, 524 clergy representing many denominations responded to a call put forth by Reverend John Floberg, an Episcopal priest who has been serving the Standing Rock Sioux people for 25 years, to come to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, for a time of prayer and to be in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The clergy who gathered used the occasion to ceremonially burn a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, a policy used to justify the confiscation of Indian lands, the destruction of Indian cultures, and the taking of Indian lives.

One month later, with protesters facing an order from the North Dakota governor to leave their encampment before the harsh winter sets in, more than 1,000 communities around the world joined an Interfaith Day of Prayer. People of many faiths came together to pray with and to pray for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Water Protectors. That same day, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a key permit needed to finish construction, a major victory for the water protectors. Whether that victory will end the debate, rerouting the pipeline away from Standing Rock, time will tell.

These prayers and the ongoing vigilance of the faith community is greatly needed. North Dakota Governor Dalrymple called the Army Corps of Engineers decision “a serious mistake.” The Morton County Sheriff’s Department pledged to “continue to enforce the law.” Energy Transfer Partners has pledged to complete the present pipeline.

Christians from many denominations are showing strong support for the religious rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. We must stand in deep solidarity now and in the coming year.

David Phillips Hansen David Phillips Hansen is a minister in the United Church of Christ and author of Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice, available for preorder now for delivery in January.

Black Friday – Cyber Monday – Giving Tuesday

This summer I attended a trade show for Christian publishers and retailers. When I entered the display floor, I was amazed – and, frankly, appalled – at the size and expense of some of the displays. Convention floor space is never cheap, and displays are ridiculously expensive. Lots and lots of marketing dollars were being spent in that display hall on what struck me as frivolous, wasteful spending.

Then I realized: The big spenders were for-profit publishers trying to make money for investors. And the idea that people are making money off of other people’s faith turned my stomach a bit. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus and the moneychangers.

CBP/Chalice Press is different. We are a non-profit corporation, a charity, a ministry. Our revenues are reinvested into our company, our products, and our employees. We have no stockholders to satisfy. Giving Tuesday: November 29, 2016

Though we are affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we do not receive one copper penny of financial support from the denomination. We do not approach congregations, organizations, or individuals for donations. We make nearly all of our money from selling our products and services.

Today, Giving Tuesday, is the only time this year we will ask you to consider making a tax-deductible gift to support our ministry. Every dime you give goes directly to the development, publication, and distribution of resources that invite all people into deeper relationship with God, equip them as disciples of Jesus Christ, and send them into ministry as the Spirit calls them. We are careful and accountable stewards of financial resources in our care. You may find many details about our governance and management at guidestar.org.

More than that, we believe now more than ever that progressive Christians need to have a voice in society’s heated discussions on inclusion, privilege, race, gender identity, and multifaith cooperation. We want to proclaim the messages of 21st-century prophets to a broken world desperate for good news.

This ministry depends financially on the people and congregations who buy what we publish and the donors who believe in what we do. This work depends on you.

You can donate through ChalicePress.com, either directly or when you make a purchase. You can also choose to mail a donation to CBP/Chalice Press, 483 E Lockwood Avenue, Suite 100, St. Louis, MO 63119.

We are grateful for the work we do, the people we work with, and the customers we serve. Thank you for your support.

Thankfully,
Brad-signature
Brad Lyons
President and Publisher

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

America’s Undeclared Martial Law

Twenty-something years ago I was a police and fire reporter. Fresh out of college, I worked for two Oklahoma newspapers: first in a mostly rural county of about 30,000 residents and then in Edmond, my upper-class suburban hometown. I spent mornings reading police and fire reports, talking to the police department spokesperson, occasionally calling the families of those who had died or who clung to life. I got to know the officers I met each morning, and we built a cordial, professional relationship. We never went out for drinks after work, but I never feared being pulled over by one of them during a traffic stop.

During my time in Edmond, I had the misfortune of covering two fatal shootings by police in the course of about a month. I forget which came first, but one involved two police officers in the woods firing 13 shots at a naked, intoxicated suspect. I think he was Hispanic. The other shooting resulted when a suspect, high on inhalants carrying a baseball bat, charged the officer. I think he was white. 1

After the second shooting, I had the so-called audacity to ask publicly if the police department had a shoot-first-ask-questions-later problem. In a time before tasers became standard-issue, I asked whether pepper spray should have been used instead. This challenge of authority didn’t sit well with the spokesperson I talked to each morning. He and the police chief thoroughly lectured me that the cardinal rule of use-of-force is to keep the upper hand on suspects. To an extent, I understand why police are trained to use necessary force before somebody uses it on them. When dealing with people consciously breaking the law or who are mentally ill or chemically altered, they are not making good decisions. Police officers, more than anyone else, know lives are on the line, especially theirs. We thank them for their courage, for doing what we cannot.

But goodness gracious, these are hard times to be a cop in America. Not only because American policing is so militarized. Not only because training is outdated. Not only because mental health services for police are insufficient for the demands of the job and using mental health services is scorned by an uber-tough culture. Not only because there are more guns on the streets. Not only because violence is gaining tacit, silent approval from the powers that be. Not only because racism is getting bolder and more aggressive in its violent manifestations. Not only because the income disparity makes the poor poorer and more willing to take desperate measures. Not only because politicians want to look tough on crime so they overprosecute the financially vulnerable to feed the prison-industrial complex. Not only because politicians knowingly drive wedges between races and classes as a way to mobilize their base.

I can’t help but think that in 2016, the hardest factor for any socially conscious police officer has to be how race figures into law enforcement – and the worst-case scenario of having to fire shots. Over the past two years, since the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, the relationship between police and people of color is under tremendous scrutiny – as it should be.

Let’s be perfectly clear here: People of color in this country are living – and dying – under undeclared martial law.

People of color – not whites like me – are living and dying under undeclared martial law. I know it’s highly unlikely that I, a middle-aged suburban white guy, will have to deal with a police officer drawing a gun on me, due only to the fact that I’m a middle-aged suburban white guy. White privilege is on full display right here.

Cops know that people of color are justifiably angry. Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, a million other injustices – who can blame people of color for being scared of law enforcement? The lack of trust makes both the officer and the citizen even edgier when engaged in a law-enforcement situation. The odds of an altercation rise immediately.

Our Wild West mentality toward guns only makes it worse for both the cop and for people of color when their paths cross. Loosening gun laws means police are now far more likely to assume people are carrying guns (and they probably are) and instinctively react based on that assumption. Lawmakers do police officers no favors by loosening gun laws despite opposition from the law enforcement community. If politicians support law and order, why are they betraying the people entrusted by our society to carry it out?

How do we break this horrific cycle? How do we reduce violence, build trust, and find common ground?

Fact of the matter is, fewer and fewer people know how to do it – and the so-called leaders in American society don’t appear to give a damn. That means politicians, and that means the voices of faith as well. Across the political and theological spectrum, the increasing polarization of American society portrays compromise as a vice, and listening to the opinions of others a weakness. That trickles down into the way we treat each other each day. We don’t listen to each other, our relationships crumble, we hurt each other and ourselves. We allow the love for our fellow humans and the world around us to decay. We quit thinking, we shut down emotionally, and we live hollow lives. Yes, we are physically safer for it, but are we morally or ethically better for our isolation and emptiness?

Clearly there is not an easy answer. But it is our duty as followers of Christ, of a man who called for us to reconcile a broken world, to turn the other cheek, to seek justice, to represent the oppressed – it is our God-given duty to try. We are called to be reconcilers, to hear others, to facilitate the exchange of ideas, and then to put the best ideas to the test. And if we have to try one hundred thousand different ways, and all but one of them fails, it will have been worth the effort.

Where shall we start?

Gratefully,

Brad-signature


Suggested resources:

Introducing a 25-part series on how to reduce police brutality following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philander Castile by Shaun King, New York Daily News

Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines by Sandhya Rani Jha

Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis

Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation by William J. Barber II and Barbara Zelter

Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter by Chris Crass

Reconciliation Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)


1 The articles I wrote for the Edmond Sun are no longer online, so forgive me if I misremember a specific detail.


Brad Lyons’ opinions are not necessarily those of the Christian Board of Publication, its imprints, authors, or other affiliates.

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

America, Christianity, and Social Media

We’re in publishing. We believe in words. By basis of location, we are an American publisher, and we believe freedom of speech is a fundamental right. By basis of mission, we are also a Christian publisher. Our mission is to invite all people into deeper relationship with God. We want to allow people to comment on our social media posts, but lately some of those post have been personal attacks more than constructive criticism or reasoned arguments.

Last week, in the wake of the horrific shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, we posted a link to an interview with one of our authors who helped organize the Dallas protest. Suddenly we saw comments like we’d never seen before—angry, accusatory words that attacked the author and Chalice Press. We’ve had pushback, criticism, and even a little hate before, but these comments seemed incendiary.

Censorship is not our style. We publish provocative works—works to stir and maybe make the reader uncomfortable with their current mindset—that we believe will fulfill the great commission. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  We are careful with our editing because we don’t want to censor the writer’s voice.

So what does an American, Christian publisher do about divisive, angry comments on its Facebook page or Twitter feed? We have a bottom line. We need to sell books in order to continue our ministry. It would be easy to assuage those folks by allowing their comments to remain, to assure them their comments are valid and that we’ve heard/read them. To “save the sale,” as it were.

But our ministry is publishing books to call people to greater knowledge of God, which we believe to be bringing justice and peace to all God’s children. We would not publish a book with the vitriol and hatred espoused in some of the comments on our posts. Why allow it on our social media feeds?

One of our upcoming books is Better: Waking Up to Who We Could Be, by Melvin Bray. Better’s premise is, what if we could change the world by telling better stories? That is what Better, and Executing God, and Available Hope, and Unified We Are a Force, and (we believe) all our books are attempting to do—to change the world by telling stories of faith to create a more just world for all of God’s creation. They are provocative and progressive and prophetic.

To those posting comments which are really personal attacks: We know you believe you walk in the righteous path. Freedom of speech makes that righteous path wide and varied. Freedom of religion — as well as  Jesus’ words as a call to love our God and our neighbors — means we work to ensure there is room for everyone on that path, and that we are all welcome to join in the journey.

K.J. Reynolds K.J. Reynolds is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator for Chalice Press.

Uncertainty

Few of us are fans of unbridled uncertainty.

Oh sure, there are exceptions. Game Seven. Jon Snow: Dead or aliveTonight’s winning numbers.² But the impact of those gambles on our own lives are generally quite limited. Whether a team wins or loses, whether a fictional character lives or dies, most likely won’t impact the next days. It’s manageable chaos. Most of us appreciate having our affairs in order, know how the day will probably turn out, and look forward to that bit of manageable chaos with our kids’ sports or binge-watching.

"In gratitude I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. [Very short pause] Thy will be done." No uncertainty for Homer -- he knows what God wants, right?
“In gratitude I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, give me no sign. [Very short pause] Thy will be done.”
Chaos, uncertainty, and I have had a rough relationship over the last few years, and this week was marked by an hour of horrific uncertainty. At 10:50 Wednesday morning, my cellphone rang with a call from the school district my kids attend. It was a robocall, but it was flagged as an emergency phone call. They were informing us the high school was in lockdown and that the other schools had locked the doors and weren’t letting anybody in. That was all they could tell us. Uncertainty.

I quickly texted my sophomore son, “You guys are on lockdown?” An uncomfortable amount of time passed before he responded, “Yup.” I read that as nonchalant. I read that as “can’t say much right now.” I read that in the mindset of a parent in the post-Columbine days, and my pulse shot up. Uncertainty.

Once a journalist, always a journalist. I understood why the school district couldn’t tell us more — they believed they had an active threat and were working the problem, and sometimes too much information can be problematic in an investigation. But I immediately jumped on social media to see what the scuttlebutt was, knowing full well that the information had a high chance of being unreliable. What was true? Unknowable.

Damn the uncertainty.

For an hour I sat at my desk, reloading the district’s social media feeds, looking at local news websites, hoping for the best. Two more calls came from the district telling us they didn’t have much to tell us. Finally, almost an hour later, they tweeted that the lockdown was over and that the school day was resuming as usual. I exhaled, a bit, relieved that whatever had triggered the lockdown hadn’t come to a violent manifestations. My son and I talked about it that evening, and his biggest complaint was the boredom of being in a dark classroom for an hour. May he never feel the anxiety I felt this morning.

The uncertainty in life. It kills us slowly sometimes, and we want it to end as quickly as possible. Rip off the bandage. Tell me the bad news first. Text me when you get there so I know you’re OK. A terrible side effect of the Information Age is when we find ourselves cut off from information. We are alone, abandoned, forgotten.

Here’s the catch: As a Progressive Christian, my faith lives in the uncertainty. Living this life means accepting ambiguity, appreciating the gray patches that fills our lives, and frequently admitting to ourselves and those with the courage to ask that we don’t know the answer — and that we may never know the answer.

Yet despite which choice we make, there’s always somebody saying there’s only one way to read scripture. Funny how that person usually disagrees with us, isn’t it? Chaos versus order, ambiguity versus certain, my way or the highway.

Must be nice, having the answers to the quiz. Except there’s not necessarily one answer.

At Chalice Press, we get our fair share of criticism from the conservative side of the church. Despite our feisty tendencies, usually we let it roll off our backs, chuckle amongst ourselves “he didn’t read our Company Profile,” and move on. But we approach our books and our ministry this way: We strive to ask the right question, then to give our response an option, a suggestion — but not an answer. We don’t dare claim we speak for God.

We Progressive Christians look at scripture and read between the lines, discovering the layers of interpretations in the words translated over the centuries and presented to us in the writing style we find most engaging. We see the morals established by Jesus and try to apply those to our own lives and our own society. We try to live out those morals even when there is a tremendous amount of ambiguity. God is very good most of the time at not giving us any firm signs whether we’re making the right choice or the wrong choice, at letting us make our own decisions and deal with the consequences.

Sometimes, uncertainty is the correct choice. Sometimes, it’s the only choice.

¹ Re Jon Snow: Be honest — we knew all along what the answer would be, right?

² Re the lottery: Be honest — we knew all along what the answer would be, right?

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

A Publishing Company *and* a Ministry

Chalice Press is a publishing company, but Chalice Press is also a ministry. Other corporate publishers are in the Christian publishing business to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as a publisher founded on Christian principles that is an active part of a Christian community and faith tradition, when our authors are those called to be 21st-century prophets for justice and equality, we feel called to speak up when lawmakers consider or approve discriminatory legislation.

Our company is incorporated in Missouri, but we also have a physical presence in Georgia, where our warehouse is, and North Carolina, where an employee lives. All three states have engaged in legislation recently that has compelled us to raise our corporate voice as a Christian ministry.

Flag_of_Georgia_(U.S._state)

First, Missouri, where the legislature is currently considering a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 39 (see the Update below). Here’s how the Associated Press describes SJR 39:

The proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution would prohibit government penalties against those who cite “a sincere religious belief” while declining to provide goods or services of “expressional or artistic creation” for same-sex marriage ceremonies or celebrations. The measure cites photographers and florists as examples of those who could be covered.

Businesses would be protected if they deny services for a wedding or a reception that happens around the time of the wedding.

The measure also would shield clergy and worship places that decline to participate in such weddings.

Here’s how we describe it: Deeply incompatible with our religious beliefs. SJR 39 would enshrine discrimination against the LGBTQIA community in the Missouri Constitution. It is also bad social policy in a country that should set the world standard for equality.

We also see SJR 39 as harmful to the Missouri economy, which will impact our employees and our communities, as well as our own business should boycotts be implemented.

We’ve sent letters of protests to leaders of the Missouri Senate, which saw an epic 37-hour filibuster broken by a procedural vote earlier this month, and the Missouri House of Representatives, which hasn’t yet taken up the bill as of this writing. Time and the Missouri House will determine whether this discriminatory legislation appears on our November ballot.

Next, Georgia. In the past week we’ve written to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal urging him to veto House Bill 757, which has much in common with Missouri’s proposed constitutional amendment. We’re pleased that our letter won’t arrive in time to influence the decision; on Monday, Gov. Deal vetoed the bill, saying Georgia is a state full of “warm, friendly and loving people” who “work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to.” Preach, Governor Deal, preach!

No such luck in North Carolina. In the past week we’ve also protested to leaders in that state, which passed House Bill 2, overturning local LGBT equality legislation allowing transgender individuals to use public bathrooms for the sex they identify as and banning cities from passing such legislation. This hideous legislation was reportedly written behind closed doors, raced through the legislature during a special session, and signed into law in an incredulously quick pace usually reserved for disaster declarations. Our hope is that legislators will do an about-face; our expectation is that the courts will overturn this legislation. Either way, everything about this legislation and the process leading to its passage is deeply troubling.

It would be easy to turn away from this legislation, to hope legislators will come to their senses, quit pandering to their bases, and forever swear off legislation that unambiguously and unabashedly discriminates in an effort to get more of “their people” to the polls on Election Day. It would be easy to hope the judiciary will right the wrongs, and soon. It would be easy to hope these laws go unenforced or ignored. But in today’s hyper-polarized world, who knows?

If lawmakers won’t come around, then it’s time for the activists to rise up. I’m proud Chalice Press supports the activists who oppose these laws and that we are able to join the chorus in some way, even if we can’t protest in person. Let’s hope common sense returns to statehouses and that we can turn our focus back to the work and ministry we love.

Gratefully,

Brad-signature

 

P.S. Chalice Press is an imprint of the Christian Board of Publication, which is a 501c3 non-profit corporation. That legislation allows companies to be involved in political activity as long as specific candidates are not being endorsed. We respect that line and don’t cross it.


Update: On April 27, the Emerging Issues Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives split 6-6 on this bill, which most likely killed the bill for the session.


 

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.