All posts by Starlette Thomas

About Starlette Thomas

Seeking to lead words and people to their highest and deepest expression, I am natural shepherd of the alphabet and a few sheep.

Books for lovers of community

“Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

| First Corinthians 10.24, ESV

Put down your phone and pick up a book. Yes, I am a purist who still believes in turning actual pages.  I’m showing my age in this digital world.

I know that they are bulky but evangelism, outreach, hospitality, neighboring (Yes, it’s word.), community- building is even heavier lifting. If we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, then we must, of course, begin with ourselves.  The journey of love starts with us.  If we are to reach out, we must first reach within ourselves.

I am on a mission to build beloved community, to cultivate and inspire those who want to build this kind of fellowship and practice this far- reaching faith.  Together, we seek to inspire those who don’t just want to have community days but live in beloved community all the days of their life.  But every change comes with not only a to- do list but a reading list.  Here are a few that should help us along the way.

Douglas Avilesbernal, Welcoming Community: Diversity That Works, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2016).

Ruth Haley Barton, Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Everyone Belongs to Christ: Discovering the Hidden Christ, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2015).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1954).

Henry G. Brinton, The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2012).

Jini Kilgore Cockroft, From Classism to Community: A Challenge for the Church, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2016).

Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992).

Curtis Paul DeYoung, Coming Together: The Bible’s Message in an Age of Diversity, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1995).

Mike Graves, Table Talk: Rethinking Communion and Community, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017.

Wayne Gordon & John M. Perkins, Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

Craig C. Hill, Servant of All: Status, Ambition, and the Way of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016).

David Anderson Hooker, The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing, (New York, NY: Good Books, 2016).

David Janzen, The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus, (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013).

Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice, Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).

Grace Ji- Sun Kim & Jann Aldredge- Clanton, Editors, Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2017).

Martin Luther King, Jr., Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1968,1986).

Gary L. McIntosh & Alan McMahan, Being the Church in a Multi- Ethnic Community: why it matters and how it works, (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2012).

Brenda Salter McNeil, A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008).

Charles E. Moore, Editor, Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, (Walden, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2016).

Toni Morrison, The Origin of Others, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

Richard P. Olson, Side by Side: Being Christian in a Multifaith World, (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2018).

John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2017).

Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999).

Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain us, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012).

Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring: Building Relationships Right Outside Your Door, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012).

Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis, The Neighboring Church: getting better at what Jesus said matters most, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016).

James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010).

Kenneth L. Smith & Ira G. Zepp Jr., Search for the Beloved Community: The Thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1998

Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, (New York, NY: An Image Book, 1999).

Howard Zehr, The Little Book of Restorative Justice, (New York, NY: Good Books, 2015).

Clarence

A video recorded by his wife has been viewed more than five million times. It is not of Clarence playing in the yard with their children or him walking their dog. Instead, it is a video of Clarence being falsely identified, nearly handcuffed and arrested by a police officer.

He fits the description of a suspect… in Louisiana. But, he doesn’t live in Louisiana. This is not Louisiana.  This is Texas.  Where are we?

Where is this going? Why does Clarence have to follow where this officer leads? Why does Clarence have to trust his lead, his hunch and not his gut?

I’m sick, nauseated, afraid. I’ve seen this video before. I’ve seen this play out before. It doesn’t end well.

I want to watch his back. Walter Scott shot in the back while running away after a traffic stop. But, his death does not stop traffic. We follow the directions of the crossing guard and walk past him.

“Just relax.” But, I can’t because Eric Garner can’t breathe.  My body is tense and I press my eyes closer to the screen.

I want to be there. I want to make a citizen’s arrest of this police officer. You are in his personal space and trespassing. “Get your hands off of him.”

The police officer has a warrant for his arrest. Who’s arrest?

“Reg.”

“Quentin.”

“You know your name?”

“Tell me your name?”

Clarence refuses. His life is not a game. This is not a guessing game. There are not multiple choices. He has only one choice—make it out of this conversation alive.

Voices raised. Who has authority over his body? This is his body. Don’t touch his body. Shaky hands with a trigger finger.

Clarence doesn’t want to go anywhere with the officer. He fears he would be a dead man walking. “Calm down. This doesn’t have to be a show down.”

Bystanders say, “Just show him your ID and it will be over.” Amadou Diallo tried that. Reaching for his wallet, he was shot nineteen times. They thought he was suspected of rape. Dressed in plain clothes, they bloodied his.

The survey says, “Just go to his patrol car like he asked you.” But Sandra Bland did that and she didn’t make it home alive. Cop car turned hearse. Freddy Gray will tell you it’s a bumpy ride.

Know your rights. Clarence’s two rights still made him wrong. The law is not on his side. The law is in his yard trying to take him away from his family. Because the officer could not see him—as a man, as a husband, as a father– and not a suspect who fits the description of people that interestingly all look alike.  If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right?

Besides, you don’t need ID to see that Clarence is a fellow human being, right?

The supervisor with no supervision will write up the report. And you will read it and take his side… again.

Sandra

See the source image

Another day, another offense, to list them would elicit a lament.  Another video surfaces and we want to push it back down.  We turn up the television or the music to drown out the sound of her voice.  But, our silence is deafening.

The truth we try to deny, we want so desperately to hide is in our hands.  We have the evidence.  It’s on our phone.  She recorded her exchange with the police officer on her phone.  Taser in her face and the officer’s voice is raised.

She’s calling us.

Answering to the truth is a calling.  When will we answer?  Because someone has to answer for this.  Like Cain, her blood is calling us from the ground. “Lord, can you hear her now?”

She was telling the truth.  Too much force leaves me with too little faith in the systems that we create.  It is uniform hate.  We all fall in line and fall farther behind in the journey to arrive in one piece, one single unit, a family.

Sandra Bland videotaped her arrest.  She’s dead now.  No witnesses, we don’t see anything.  Her body is the only witness.

She’s buried now.  But she can’t let it go, won’t let it rest.  She knows how traffic stops often end for those socially colored black.  Don’t reach for your wallet.  Don’t turn your back.  Don’t trust the report.  Back from the dead, she wants persons to know what really happened to her.

Did you hear what she said?

She is here again like Jesus, who keeps showing up after the crucifixion.  We must answer for our inaction.  Sandra is back to continue the conversation we thought was litigated by the courts.  Judgement for the plaintiff?  No, money is betrayal of our value.  This calls for more.

I’m listening, Sandra.

Sending word

See the source imageLife is filled with false starts, abrupt stops, detours and wrong turns. We didn’t know it would take this long to come to ourselves, that there were so many copies to choose from, that being original is harder than it looks, that it is easier to repeat, to nod in agreement with the majority, that in going along to get along, we never find ourselves. We wake up one day and question aloud, “How did I get here?”

“Stop this ride; I want to get off.” I told Jesus to take the wheel so why do I feel like I want throw up? Hands in the air, we sing, “I surrender all.” But today, I worry about what I will have left.

When will things go right? When will all things come together to work for my good? When will this all make sense and come into focus? Because I can’t see what’s up ahead; I’m just tired of these raindrops falling on my head.

Tearstained faces, life is not a commissioned pretty picture and we don’t hold the paintbrush. We receive the brush strokes like everyone else—sickness and death, depression and debt, heartbreak and pain. In the course of our days, life can get ugly. And what we say in those moments can make or break us.

Henry David Thoreau said, “A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate in us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only but be carved out of the breath of life itself.”

We are a collection of words. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Language is a form of life.” Whether we know it or not, we are a spoken word, words that both define us and diminish us, question and answer us, love and hate us, attack and defend us. We are who we say we are. This is why we must choose our words carefully.

Because words can make you or break you. Because one wrong word can cause you to lose your place. Because one word can set us back and set us up for failure. Because the world capitalizes on us forgetting ourselves, on losing ourselves around here somewhere. They squeeze out our voice so that we can’t get a word in edgewise. Oscar Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Because “life and death are in the power of our tongue.”[1] Because I learned a long time ago, good words are hard to come by. So, I carry my own. I call them journey words.

Some people collect rare stamps and coins, dolls and cars. I carry a deck of 3×5 cards that remind me of who I am, what I believe, what my work is and where I am going. When I cannot find the words or my way, they take me to where I belong. They are words of commission and calling. They are words of clarity and certainty. They are words of direction, pointing me back to the track I sometimes I get off of. Tripping on the tongue of others, they have picked me up on more than one occasion.

They are my conversation partners, my guides. They are words from the living and the dead. They are words past, present and future, words outside of me, that call me inwardly, words behind me that propel me forward, words that I desperately wanted to hear as a child, words that I listen out for as an adult.

They are words that sound like me, the woman I have heard of but have yet to meet.   They are words like:

“Voyager, there are no bridges; one builds as one walks” (Gloria Anzaldua).

And—

“I must see my understandings produce results in human experience. Productivity is my first value. I must make and mold and build life. As an artist, I must shape human relationships. To me, life itself is the greatest material. I would far rather build a man than form a book. My whole being is devoted to making my small area of existence a work of art. I am building a world” (Jean Toomer).

And—

“The time is always right to do what is right” (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

And—

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the world” (Archimedes).

And—

“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul” (Mark Twain).

And—

“Treat people as if they are what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).

And—

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.27-28, NRSV).

And—

“Do the work your soul must have” (Katie Geneva Cannon).

Zora Neale Hurston coaches me, struts alongside me saying, “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.” Frederick Douglas is with her and chimes in, saying, “I prefer to be my true self, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false and incur my own abhorrence.” Thomas Merton nods in agreement, adding, “To be a saint means to be myself.” Less I be tempted to lose myself in the crowd, James Baldwin tugs on me, saying, “The effort not to know what one knows is the most corrupting effort one can make.”

Because it is easier to walk away, to take what is offered and leave ourselves on the table, on the cutting board, to erase the image emerging on the drawing board. Because we have reached our word limit and “if they say one more word…” This is why we need words like Abraham Joshua Heschel’s who declared, “Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible. … To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Because what you say will determine what you see. Because in the words of Mary Anne Evans, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Jesus’s words are a journey in themselves. We cannot read them and not be moved. And if we carry them, they will carry us home to our true selves, our new selves in him.

____________________

End notes|

[1] Proverb 18.21

 

Life after Easter

“So. Jesus the Way, the ways of Jesus. He shows the way. He also is the way. He doesn’t point out the way and then step aside and let us get there our own as best we can. Jesus points out the way, but then he takes the initiative, inviting us to go with him, taking us with him across land and sea, through all kinds of weather, avoiding dead ends and seductive byways, watching out for danger and alerting us to enemies.”

| Eugene H. Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way

Where do we go now? We’ve reached the end of the story for Jesus. He died, was buried and has been resurrected. It’s the end of the road for his disciples, right? We can go home too.

Jesus’s resurrection is the high point of our liturgy. “Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.” Our work here is done, yes? No and not so fast.

We still have a long way to go. “Thy kingdom come.” There are also some changes that still need to take place. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

After the resurrection, we are commissioned with the disciples. Jesus says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20, NRSV). Jesus tells the disciples to get moving. His work is finished but ours has only begun.

Hands extended on a cross are now shooing us out the door. “Go out into the world and talk to strangers. Spread out and spread the word. Make students of my teachings,” Jesus says.

He adds, “And you have all that you need: God above you, the Holy Spirit within you and me walking with you every step of the way. And don’t you worry; I’m never leaving you again.” We will not lose him again; we will not come this way, pass by his tomb in sorrow again.

The worst is behind us and the kingdom of God is before us. Life after Easter looks like that of the early Church as recorded in the book of Acts. As the wind of the Holy Spirit blows, we, like Peter, John and the other disciples, walk in the authority of Jesus’s name. Preaching, teaching, baptizing, serving, our hands are extended. Jesus is and likewise, we are just getting started.