This was originally a post on FaceBook linked to this post. Read it first, then come back here.
When I was a kid growing up in a deeply Democratic family in a deeply Republican area in the south, I never understood the calls of “liberal elite.” After all, my family wasn’t elite. We were deeply working class in our ethos, even though by that time both my parents had put themselves through college and grad school. My parents, as white southerners who grew up in the Jim Crow era, were (and are) deeply committed to the Voting Rights Acts, Civil Rights Act, are extremely active in their local branch of the NAACP. We were pro-union, pro-New Deal, pro-Great Society, and anti-Reagan.
When I was about 5 my dad and I were watching one of the party conventions on TV (back then we always watched both), and I asked him why we were Democrats. He said it was because Republicans cared about big business interests and Democrats cared about “people like us.”
I was taught the importance of never crossing a picket line.
And then I went away to college. And for the first time, I saw and experienced what the Nikki Johnson-Huston wrote about from fellow white people. I was looked down for my southern accent, saw poor people, white and black, ridiculed for not buying fair trade coffee or for shopping at Walmart. I was even chastised for “racial insensitivity” for planning a picnic on Dogwood field (we are a farm school) because picnics are apparently racially insensitive, especially if they include fried chicken.
So I realized that while I may be left of center in many of my policy desires, I wasn’t a “liberal” and I certainly wasn’t a partisan Democrat.
I don’t know what I am, other than a deeply flawed sinner trying my best to follow Jesus in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world. I believe that we are stronger together than as individuals, that the needs of the many should outweigh the desires of the few, and that every single person should be equal in the eyes of the law, has a right to cast a ballot, and shouldn’t have to live in fear.
We live in hostile and rage filled times. It terrifies me.
E Pluribus Unum.
Last Wednesday a man opened fire at a baseball field here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, wounding four people including the house majority whip.
On Friday, a jury acquitted a law enforcement officer in the death of Philando Castile, a man who had committed no crime and was, by all accounts, doing all that he could to comply with the officer’s requests.
These two, horrific events, are inexorably linked. They are two sides of the same coin of American violence.
On Wednesday, after news broke that the shooter in Virginia had been a volunteer on his presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders released a statement condemning the shooting, saying that violence, especially political violence, “runs against our most deeply held American values.”
With all due respect to Senator Sanders, no sentiment could be further from the truth.
When I was a child my parents taught me that your values were not what you said you believed in, but what you actually did. Values that are not enacted are pointless exercises in lovely rhetoric. This echoes James admonition that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).
What good is it to mourn and cry and gnash our teeth, to claim that violence “runs against our most deeply held American values,” but then to do nothing about the violence that surrounds us?
The history of this country, including the political history, is bathed in blood. Our founding dates to a bloody war of rebellion, the genocide of the native people of this continent, including at the hands of our local, state, and federal governments, and the brutal and dehumanizing enslavement of Africans and their children.
We are currently witnessing fights all around the South about the placement of monuments glorifying men who took up arms against their government, many of them breaking oaths in the process, to protect their “rights” to keep those self-same people enslaved.
Since 1789, when George Washington took office, four Presidents have been assassinated, and many more have had attempts made on their lives. In that same time, only one British Prime Minister has been assassinated.
The Tony award-winning musical Hamilton ends with the death of Alexander Hamilton at the hands of Aaron Burr in a dispute that was, at its core, about a rivalry born of politics.
Countless black men, women, and children have died, and continue to die, at the hands of white supremacists, each an act of political terror and violence.
At its core, the conflict that gave rise to the Great American Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona was between Democrats and Republicans and residual sectional animosity rooted in the Civil War.
There is a black wall in our nation’s capital with 58,318 names on it, each belonging to a service member killed in a war fought not against an enemy that attacked us, but a war started based on a political theory about dominos and bi-polar hegemony.
As of my writing, there have been 307 shootings in the U.S. in the last 72 hours. There have been 166 mass shootings since 1 January 2017. Fourteen of those have been in the last week. Five of the 166 have been in Virginia, all except the one in Alexandria within an hour’s drive of where I live, and one of those last Thursday.
America has a violence problem. We always have. This nation is bathed in blood, baptized in blood, swimming in blood.
I do not know what the answer is, if there is a panacea. I am pretty sure there is not one. I do know, however, that until we start telling the truth, until we own up to our culture of violence, until we are honest about who we actually are, there will be more bodies on baseball diamonds, more fathers gunned down in front of their daughters, more death.
It is time to get serious. It is time to admit that we have a problem and that guns, either fewer of them or more of them, are not the answer.
After the very first murder, fratricide no less, Cain, as way of defense, asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to that question is yes, I am responsible for my brother and sister.
Let us honor this responsibility, showing our values, even our very faith, through our actions.
Let us end the violence.
 Defined as a shooting in which at least 4 individuals are shot
These are the opening pages of Foy Valentine’s The Cross in the Marketplace. I recently purchased a copy. It came in the mail yesterday. It is hard to believe that these words were published 51 years ago in 1966. They could be written about our current time.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest, your know, when I get time.
There is a lot that we can learn from the past if we just allow ourselves to engage it.
Or actually: the Boss plays with the True King.
Elvis gets a lot of love. He even carries the moniker of “The King.” But the True King of Rock and Roll, the man that actually made it all possible, especially British invasion Rock with its heavy Blues influence that led, directly, to Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, even Punk, was Chuck Berry. I’m sure you are aware that Berry passed away yesterday at his home in Missouri.
While he did receive accolades, he never really got the ones that were due him. Maybe (probably) it was because he was Black. But he was also a multi-conviction criminal. He was a sex criminal, including raping a 14-year-old girl. Maybe that kept him from getting the artistic recognition that was due him. Can we honor his art while recognizing that he was, at best, a very troubled person? I don’t know. I have a hard time separating the art from the artist; something as personal as art is of the individual, a part of them manifest for us, the audience, to experience.
But I do know that much of the music that I listen to simply wouldn’t exist without Berry.
Here is a video of the Berry and Springsteen playing together in 1995 at a concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Enjoy it. Think about the mess of his legacy tomorrow.
So, I just went off on a bit of a Twitter rant. I honestly didn’t mean to, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop.
This all came about because I pulled a book off the shelf to check something. The book in question, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, has, as an appendix, the text of the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern, signed in 1973. I wasn’t all that interested in the text of the statement; after all, you can find the text online. But what the book has is a list of all of the initial signatories (I’m actually working on something about the statement and its signatories; it is quite the list.).
Today I saw a name that I had never seen before, that of Foy Valentine. Valentine was the head of the Christian Life Commission of the SBC from 1960 until 1988 when, in the middle of the SBC Conservative/Moderate controversy, the SBC pulled funding for the Baptist Joint Committee and relaunched the CLC as what is now the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In that time, Valentine was a voice in the SBC for racial justice and reconciliation. Additionally, he was a longtime trustee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
My point here is that Valentine was important. His teacher, T.B. Maston, was also the major professor for James Dunn (the head of the BJC that over saw that organization’s transition into the organization it is today, after the cessation of SBC funds). Maston, Valentine, Dunn, and of course others all provided the intellectual underpinnings for what came to be known as the Moderate Movement.
As I express below, I am fearful that we are going to lose some of our identity and distinctiveness if we don’t reclaim our intellectual (and theological) roots and traditions.
(BTW, I don’t really know how to embed tweets into WordPress, so I am not sure that this is going to work. If you have a problem reading/following the thread, let me know and I’ll fix it, somehow.)
When we were cut off from our institutions of higher ed, we lost connection with our rich theological and ethical tradition.
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
Maston, Valentine, and others were the ones that laid the intellectual seeds that would bloom into the #ModerateBaptist movement.
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
This is not, at all, to slight our great seminaries. I am a proud student at @btsr4u. But we don't have indigenous PhD programs.
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
#ModerateBaptists have an amazing intellectual tradition, and it is high time that we (a) own it, (b) preserve it, and…
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
I didn't mean for this to turn into a twitterstorm, but I guess it did. I'm done now. Now to Beauty and the Beast!
— Carter McNeese (@cm1165) March 16, 2017
This should, in no way, be seen as a final and authoritative statement as to the state of intellectual and theological life within the Moderate Movement (and in particular the CBF), but I hope that we can, maybe with this, maybe with something else, begin a conversation about reclaiming a robust theological, ethical, and intellectual identity.
I feel like what we have to offer is too important to not have this conversation.
On it is the JCC in Asheville, NC. I have been there. I have attended events there. Somehow knowing that I had been in that building shook me in a way that all the other reports haven’t, and I’ve been shaken already.
It made it personal in a way that seeing video of a cemetery in Philadelphia or St. Louis just didn’t. And that greives me. Why is it that we need a personal connection to really be shaken to the core?
It probably has something to do with human nature.
Also on this list is a JCC in Harrisburg, PA, my wife’s hometown, a community that I’ve come to care about and pray for through my relationship with Audrey and her family, deeply rooted in that place.
This isn’t ok. I was reading an article in Haaretz earlier today that reported that there have been 190 anti-semitic acts like this in just the last 45 days (this press release has the number at 100, but that may be just for acts against JCCs). The article went on to say, as if it needed to be, that this is unusual and not simply the ways things have been. Also included in the article was an interview with a security consultant who stated that evidence suggests that these are not the acts of one person, but multiple and are, at best, copy cats but possibly a coordinated campaign of terror and hate.
This must stop. This has to stop.
Wow, has the last few months been crazy.
A quick catchup:
In March, actually in a period of less than 24 hours, I both was accepted to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and asked A to marry me.
From that point it was a full on sprint to get scholarships lined up. We are still waiting to hear back about that, but so far it all seems to be falling right into line. Let me just say this, I have been super blessed.
I have also joined the staff of Second Baptist Church in Petersburg, VA as their Associate Pastor for Children and Youth.
So, as you can see, lots and lots of changes. This means that I will, yet again, be morphing my web presence as I start these new roles. I hope to really build a platform and I felt like a fresh start was needed. This means that many of the posts that had been here are now unpublished. I still have them, and might, at some point in the future republish them. However, for right now, they will not be available.
I am hoping to move toward a self-hosted site sometime in the near future. However, let’s just take it one step at a time.
Let’s not call it a New Year’s Resolution. Let’s just say that it is a manifestation of renewed and reimagined priorities, some of which you can read about in last week’s post.
But, whatever we are calling it, I am trying to cut back on politics in 2015. I am disengaging. I have already radically cleaned out my Facebook feed. I have found that the “unlike” option is quite handy. It is amazing how my stress and anxiety level have declined, just in the last 12 or so days. There is less animosity in my heart, less hate on my tongue.
This is not to say that I am giving up totally. I am maintaining my memberships in various political organizations, mainly because membership equals money equals good work getting done, and for the most part I still support the work of many of these organizations. So if you are a member of one of these organizations and are reading this, don’t worry! But I am going to be stepping back from being publicly active with these organizations. In the end, this is a decision about what is best and most healthful for me, my life, and my path moving forward.
However, I am certainly NOT giving up on Justice. To do that would be a denial of my faith and a denial of Jesus.
This weekend I was blessed to worship with the great folks at CrossPoint Church in Harrisburg, PA. The message this week was on Isaiah 58.
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free,and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them,and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn,and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward,and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry,and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden,like an ever-flowing spring.” (Isaiah 58:6-11)
What is clear from this is that we are called to do works of justice. We are called to “Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free,and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them,and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” This is a big, big call. In fact, it might even make us do things that we don’t WANT to do. It is these things, these acts of mercy and justice that God wants from us, not the empty, vain, self-serving ritual fasting that Israel thought would save them.
This passage from Isaiah reminded me of this passage from Amos:
“I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” (Amos 5:21-24)
So, what does all of this mean? It means that this year I hope to step away from the politics of the world and into the Grace and Justice of the Kingdom of God. Towards that end, I intend to engage primarily with faith-based advocacy and justice groups. Groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network, Evangelicals for Social Action, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America ~ Bautistas por la Paz, Sojourners, International Justice Mission, and many, many more.
That said, my main justice priority this year is racial justice and reconciliation, both inside the church and society as a whole. I have been, for several years now, a member of the NAACP and will continue that membership and hope to be more active with the local branch here that represents York and James City counties, and the City of Williamsburg. In addition I will continue to build relationship with and be involved with the “Black Lives Matter” group here in Williamsburg that is focused at the College of William and Mary.
For, as Galatians tells us, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Come, let us build the Kingdom together!
It has been a hot second since I have posted here. Well over a year in fact. Almost two.
Life has continued on.
And my life is entering a new season, hopefully. For most of the last two years or so I have been working at Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, VA as a historical interpreter. While I have been enjoying the work, it is just about time for me to move on, or more accurately, move back into what it is that God has called me to.
In the next few days, I will be submitting my application to the MDiv program at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. I hope to finish my MDiv that I started at WFUSD and move into the congregational ministerial role that I know that God has called me toward.
Before we even started dating, my dear A looked at me one day while we were walking and talking at work and said, “don’t you think its time to stop running.” Well she was as right then as possible. It is time for me to stop running, stop pretending that God hasn’t called me to vocational congregational ministry. The models are changing. I don’t know what it is going to look like, but I know that it is going to be amazing.
As I prayerfully move into this new stage of my life, I ask that you pray with me. I don’t really know what the next year or two is going to look like (although I have some hopes!) but I know that I intend to chase and seek the heart of God in a very real way.
Expect another post in the next day or so in which I will lay out my priorities for the next year or so for myself and how I plan on engaging the world, both IRL and here on the web.
Love and Peace to you all!