February 14 – March 22, 2013
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III
Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, has a unique gift of communicating across generations and reaching young and old alike with his rousing, prophetic messages. He grew his first church, Tabernacle Baptist in Augusta, GA, from 125 to 2,100 members. Dr. Moss holds full dual ordinations in the United Church of Christ and the Progressive National Baptist Convention and has degrees from Morehouse College, Yale Divinity School and Chicago Theological Seminary. His theology and preaching are influenced by Zora Neale Hurston, August Wilson, Howard Thurston, Martin Luther King, and jazz and hip hop music. A native of Cleveland, OH, Dr. Moss is currently pastor of Chicago's United Church of Christ. His publications include Redemption in a Red Light District and The Gospel Re-Mix: How to Reach the Hip Hop Generation.
Rabbi Sandy Sasso
Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, IN
Rabbi Sandy Sasso, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, IN, and first female rabbi ordained, says that she often hears from others that "they can't believe in a God who causes bad things to happen to good people, who rejects others because they believe differently, or have a different lifestyle." Her response, "The God you don't believe in, I don't believe in either." She cited the example of a teacher who told his disciples that God is in the world "wherever we let God in." That means, Rabbi Sasso stated, "Our greatest challenge is to figure out what it means to let God in. What would that obligate us to do?" She and her husband, Rabbi Denis Sasso, are the first married rabbinical couple to serve the same congregation together and have been doing so for 36 years. Commenting on that partnership, she says, "We have had a love affair in life and in the rabbinate," adding that they don't disagree "on what really matters." As the writer of children's books including theological concepts, the most important thing for her is "to encourage a conversation between the parents, teachers and children," to promote questions, and "help children see how they are part of a holy story."
Rabbi Sasso answers questions about her life, faith and personal journey
Sunday Evening Event with Rabbi Sandy Sasso
Customarily, when we read the Bible, we listen to its ancient words, allowing it to tell us our ancestors’ stories. But what would it mean to read the Bible by allowing it to speak to our own times and concerns? What if the old stories really are our stories? That is what midrash, a 2000-year-old method of interpretation, does. Come eavesdrop on the storytelling of the ancient rabbis, and then hear how the biblical words can still address each of us today. Childcare will be available for children 5 and under.
The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong
Author and retired bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Newark
The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong considers the most rewarding aspect of his years in service, scholarship and leadership as "having 11 clergy who served with me in the Diocese of Newark become bishops." He feels that the greatest challenge facing people of faith today is "separating the explanations of the past from the reality of the God experience." In reference to the Christianity he gives his heart to and what he considers the essence of that faith, Bishop Spong states, "The Christianity that calls me to live fully, to love wastefully, and to be all that I can be . . . compels me to make the same thing possible for everyone else." Regarding his message to people searching for faith and meaning today and his book, Reclaiming the Bible for the Non-Religious World, the bishop believes that "the Bible is not sacred; it points to that which is sacred and it guides us toward that goal."
Bishop Spong answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey
Waffle Shop after Dark with the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) in Washington, DC
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Director of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC, found James Calvin Davis' book, In Defense of Civility, compelling. In this book, Davis focused on "the need to understand public engagement on political issues from" the perspective of the framers of the U.S. constitution. They provided a "politically balanced lens" through which to view and discuss the "morally and ethically based implications" of tough issues facing American society. Dr. Nelson feels that "the prophetic voice of the church must find new meaning in this present hour" and focus on "making disciples who are willing to speak truth to power in love." In terms of his previous parish ministry, he misses "the weekly engagement and on-going relationships with parishioners" and knowing the role he played as pastor in the development of their children. Listening to jazz and working out in the gym help Dr. Nelson re-charge for facing his challenging work.
The Rev. Nelson answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Founder of Cordoba Initiative, an independent, multi-faith, and multi-national project that works with state and non-state actors to improve Muslim-West relations
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf believes the greatest challenge facing people of faith today is learning "to recognize the eternal truth of God and spirituality in faiths other than their own." He is the founder of New York City's Cordoba Institute, which works to improve Muslim-West relations. He explains that "Islam means surrender to God" and that this is "a very difficult thing to do as we humans tend to want to teach God His religion." Imam Rauf adds that "Islam as described in the Quran is not exclusively the religion revealed through the prophet Muhammad, but is in fact God's religion revealed to every prophet sent to all communities on earth." He finds signs of hope "in the many young who want to see the presence and vision of God in their own experience," pointing out this "is the basis for creating increased understanding."
Imam Feisal answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey
Monday Evening Event with Imam Feisal
In his talk about “A New Vision of Islam in America,” Imam Feisal will address some of the conflicts and challenges in the lives of Muslims living in the United States. Imam Feisal will offer his perspective on coexistence, common ground, and the damage done by misconceptions of Islam. This event is free and open to the public.
**There were some technical difficulties with the audio of Ms. Tickle's March 1 sermon
Ms. Phyllis Tickle
Founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, Millington, TN
As a young teacher at what is now Memphis' Rhodes College, Phyllis Tickle encountered fixed hour prayer at Memphis' Burke's Bookstore, "in a short stack of books on their way out the back door to the trash." Her treasure was The St. John's Abbey Short Breviary. Although "reared Christian" she had never had what might be called a "conversion experience" until then "when I touched that book." Completely unfamiliar with a breviary and how to use one, she remembers that "my hand, once on that book, was truly welded to it. I knew." Her research in the college library taught her "not only the why of fixed-hour prayer, but also the how." It became the prayer discipline for her, although she realizes it's not for everyone. For her, "it keeps me anchored in the reality of God . . . and by interrupting my days, it gives order to them." Praying together with thousands of others in the same time zone, "we are," Mrs. Tickle emphasizes, "for those few minutes, seven times a day, the Church Universal at work."
Phyllis Tickle answers questions about her life, faith and personal journey
Brian D. McLaren
Author, speaker, activist, and networker among innovative Christian leaders
Responding to what he considers is the essence of Christianity, Brian D. McLaren reflected that "I was attracted to Jesus as a radical leader in the way of love. To me, the essence of being a Christian is learning how to love as Christ loved us." He considers one of the greatest challenges of being a Christian is "rediscovering that the good news that Jesus proclaimed is profoundly life-altering, not simply 'interesting.'" In McLaren's most recent book, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words, he invites readers to "skinny dip in the river of sacredness." For him, "simply getting out in God's creation is ideal. I'm a great lover of birds, plants, and other wildlife, and in creation I sense God's wisdom and beauty coming to me in surprising and enchanting ways."
Brian McLaren answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey
Waffle Shop after Dark with Brian McLaren
Dr. Marcus J. Borg
Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon
In his Easter reflection, Dr. Marcus Borg agreed with the more than 90% of American Christians who stated in a poll that the resurrection of Jesus "mattered greatly" to them. He disagreed with them, though, that the resurrection was "physical" or "bodily." This, he believes, would turn it "into an utterly spectacular event that happened once a long time ago." Borg points out that, "In the gospels and the New Testament as a whole, the meaning of Easter is twofold. First, Jesus lives; and second, Jesus is Lord. Both convictions flow out of his followers' experiences of him after his death." Jesus continues to be "a present reality," and "his followers continue to experience the same spirit" that "they had known in and around him in his historical lifetime," the Spirit of God. "'Jesus is Lord' is the constant affirmation of the New Testament. It has even been called the earliest Christian creed" because "Easter is about the transformation of the world. Easter is about saying 'Yes' to the passion of Jesus. He's still here, still recruiting."
The Very Rev. Andy Andrews
Dean, St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Memphis, TN
The Very Rev. Andy Andrews feels that "with our accelerated 21st century lives," as people of faith, "we struggle to feed our wild, dreaming, dancing sides. It seems easy to forget these days that life is a spiritual exploration with few limits and boundless possibilities." His choice of a Biblical figure with whom to spend a day would be "Saul of Tarsus, who had a tremendously bright mystical experience and evolved spiritually into St. Paul, herald of the peace of God 'which passes all understanding.' This saint was knocked off his high horse and saw the world afresh, aglow through new eyes. Life is a continuous conversion of seeing the world we always see but with different eyes." About his work at St. Mary's Cathedral and within its diverse neighborhood, Andrews says, "I have met many angels who live and work in the area. I've also met some wild-eyed, tough, battered folks. It is slow, methodical, holy work, an adventure of mostly goodness every day."
Andy Andrews answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey
Waffle Shop after Dark with the Very Rev. Andy Andrews
The Rev. Dr. John Philip Newell
Poet, peacemaker, and scholar
Newell finds one of the greatest challenges facing people of faith today is "to bring back into relationship what has been so tragically torn apart," for example, "Spirit and Matter, Heaven and Earth, the Divine and the Human, the East and the West, the Masculine and the Feminine, the Conscious and the Unconscious." He believes our "great challenge is to live as bearers of healing in our world rather than as bastions of separateness" and refers to a posthumous collection of Thomas Berry's essays, The Sacred Universe, in which "Berry calls for a 'spirituality of intimacy' with the natural world rather than a 'spirituality of alienation.'" Newell spends his time living in both the western isles of Scotland and the high desert of New Mexico. In each he is touched by "the wildness of God, the vast unboundness of the Sacred" and hears "the unnameable, untameable depths of what it is to be made in the image of love." "Iona," he states, "reminds me that the day of creation is now, always now. New life is forever coming forth from the heart of God."
John Philip Newell answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey
Thursday Evening Event with John Philip Newell
A reception and book-signing in Cheney Parish Hall will follow. This event is free and open to the public.
A Quiet Day with John Philip Newell
A Quiet Day will be offered at Holy Communion on Saturday, March 9, from 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. with registration and a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m. This half-day workshop will be meditative and experiential in tone, a slow-paced combination of teaching and guided contemplation. Cost is $20 at the door. Advance registration is required. To register, contact Eyleen Farmer.
The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber
Founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA mission church in Denver, Colorado
The Rev. Bolz-Weber believes that the greatest challenge to people of faith today is what it's always been: "ourselves. We wish to create our own Gospel and fashion God in our own image." She finds in her work at the House for All Sinners and Saints that people "long for a 'tether' to tradition," and although the people in her parish "have no liturgical or sacramental background, they find such deeply rooted traditions comforting. I think they appreciate that the liturgy has its own integrity. But," she explained, "the way in which we do liturgy is different. We are pro-participation so most of the liturgy is led by lay people who "decide what they would like to do in terms of participation, say the Collect or the Benediction or post-communion prayer or read the Gospel. No one has to deem them good enough. We value them doing it."
Nadia Bolz-Weber answers questions about her life, faith and personal journey
The Rev. Jeanne Finan
Author and rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Asheville, NC
The Rev. Finan focuses on the sacrament of baptism in her book, Remember Your Baptism. She explains that "our baptism - and our Baptismal Covenant - are the heart of who we are as Christians, as Episcopalians. Her book is a series of meditations which "lets the reader reflect on baptism" rather than on its history or logistics. She believes that we should "participate in our baptism every day, consciously living into the promises. This helps us re-member ourselves as children of God. Plus there is that wonderful moment when our foreheads are anointed with the oil of chrism, and we are 'marked as Christ's own forever.' Talk about being beloved and belonging." If given the opportunity to spend a day with a Biblical figure, she "would pick Mary of Bethany to learn how she managed to choose the 'better way of prayer,' to keep her focus on what really matters even in the midst of urgent demands, and to still be in loving relationship with her sister and all the other 'Marthas' that often criticized her contemplative choices."
Jeanne Finan answers questions about her life, faith and personal journey
Waffle Shop after Dark with the Rev. Jeanne Finan
Friends of the Groom
Theater Company, Terrace Park, OH
"Good art always shows more than it tells. In this regard, it's incarnational. Art can put flesh on the words of scripture, on the words of the church, on the words of the Holy Spirit whispering inside us." This Christian theater company is now in its 33rd year, and the director, Tom Long, says, "I'm a little amazed at how we've moved forward a year at a time. I'd almost have to call it a 'manna in the wilderness' business plan." When he's adapting scripture, he comments that "it's a process of translation," trying "to stay true to the events of the text," but finding "ways to creatively present them using current images." He thinks "it's important for artists to reveal their hearts in their work, not just their technique," because "when it comes to the really important things in life - love, faith, relationship - we only truly learn them when we see them acted out, or we act them out ourselves."
Friends of the Groom answer questions about their life, faith and personal journeys
The Rev. Elaine Blanchard
Writer, storyteller, actor in Memphis, TN
"The greatest challenge facing people of faith today," the Rev. Elaine Blanchard states, "is accepting life's opportunities to rediscover the joy of curiosity. We fail to have fun, to make things up and to enjoy playing with love and life." She points out, "We have fallen into an unimaginative approach to things of the spirit," and "if our faith is to be meaningful during the living of our lives then we do not have to be afraid of our own curiosity and imagination." She observes, "My continued inspiration and commitment for doing the work of Prison Stories come from the sincere gratitude that the participants express. They choose, at some point along the way, to trust the process and to intentionally be vulnerable." At the same time, "I see that my response to share the gifts I have been given opens the door for others to trust God and share their gifts too. It is a partnership inspired by God's calling and my desire to know the freedom of living into God's call."
Elaine Blanchard answers questions about her life, faith and personal journey
The Rev. Daniel P. Matthews
Rector Emeritus, Trinity Wall Street, New York, NY
Regarding the approximately 80 percent of Americans who today define themselves as spiritual, the Rev. Matthews observes, "The use of prayer, which is at times almost universal, defines a person as claiming to be spiritual. However, organized religion demands giving, community and loyalty, all of which are losing popularity in the dominant culture." Thus, he feels that "the ecumenical, interfaith nature of the Calvary Lenten Preaching series is more important today than ever in its history." The movie, Lincoln, captured his imagination this past year because "he told stories at profound moments, just like Jesus." In reflecting on his years of ministry at Trinity Wall Street there is no doubt about which event overshadows all others - "9/11. We ran for our lives to escape the thundering collapse of the Towers 150 yards away. None of us will ever be the same."
Dan Matthews answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey
Listen: The Rev. Christopher D. Girata at Waffle Shop After Dark on Wednesday, March 20
Rabbi Micah Greenstein
Senior Rabbi, Temple Israel, Memphis, TNN
In terms of Biblical characters, Rabbi Greenstein would like to spend a day with Job, "hearing how he found the strength to meet adversity and the courage to tell his friends they were wrong when they tried to explain his afflictions as 'tests' and even punishments from God." In reference to his introduction to This Holy Alphabet by Margaret B. Ingraham, he hopes readers of it will "understand that creation is ever-evolving, unfolding, and brimming with infinite possibilities." After being named by Newsweek as one of America's 50 most influential rabbis in April 2012, Rabbi Greenstein generously noted that, "In every profession, the quality and caliber of colleagues can inspire new initiatives and breakthrough thinking." And as senior rabbi of Tennessee's largest synagogue, the question he feels most needs to be addressed is "How will the proud and historic Memphis Jewish community survive without a major infusion of new blood?"
Micah Greenstein answers questions about his life, faith and personal journey