Debbie Blue writes and preaches about the Bible’s seemingly endless capacity to reveal glimpses of God, what it is to be human, and things we might rather keep hidden. She loves rooting around in its stories (which often raise more questions than they answer) and in the layers of interpretation (which are often beautiful, sometimes hilarious, and occasionally terrible). She lives on a farm with three other families and assorted chickens and goats. Blue is a founding pastor of House of Mercy in St. Paul, MN. Her most recent book is Consider the Women: A Provocative guide to Three Matriarchs of the Bible.
As executive director of the Memphis region of Facing History and Ourselves, Marti Tippens Murphy is inspired by the stories of upstanders: extraordinary people who embraced the challenge to speak out, stand up for others, and make difficult decisions. Together, they helped to create a more inclusive, just, and compassionate Memphis. She led the commissioning of the Upstanders in Memphis History Mural in downtown Memphis. A native Memphian and Rhodes College Alumna, Tippens Murphy’s love for history and the power of story-telling led her to the Los Angeles office of Facing History in 1997. Since returning to her hometown in 2014, Murphy and her team continue to use the lessons of history and empathy to empower youth to stand up to bigotry and hate.
Rabbi Micah Greenstein loves Torah no matter where it comes from. "Torah" in a broad Jewish sense refers to the teachings and wisdom of Judaism, but he treasures insights on goodness, love, justice, shalom, and compassion from every faith tradition and every reflection of God's unity. What inspires him most about the Jewish legacy he lives and teaches is that it is not simply a tale of enduring persecution and surviving hate, but rather a 4,000 year-old joyful embrace of faith, family, and the blessing that comes with being God's partner in healing a broken world.
Obstacles abound in loving our neighbor; and understanding requires vulnerability, empathy, and courage. As an activist, Rabbi Judy Schindler is inspired by her relatives who resisted the Nazi regime. As a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Queens University, she is inspired by students who strive to build a better world rather than to pursue fancy job titles. As a rabbi and an author, she rejoices in the inspiration and power of words which can generate positive change. Schindler loves her immediate and extended families, which grow larger each day as she works toward overcoming obstacles to love.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Jefferson, a homiletics professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, is an emerging scholar interested in the ways that consciousness and imagination inform preaching. His message is that Jesus came to confront our sinfulness, comfort us in our struggles, and also conform us into his image for the sake of our souls and for the future of creation. VTS is honoring its 200th anniversary on Oct. 15, 2023. As a contribution to this effort, Jefferson will preach 200 sermons locally, nationally, and internationally leading up to this bicentennial celebration. His love of people--especially his mother and grandmother--inspire him to preach with passion and purpose.
Since childhood, “Pastor Sonia” of First Congregational Church has been an observer of and a voice for social justice. Her platforms have changed through the years, but never her intentionality or persistence. Sometimes she raises searing questions; sometimes she is moved to act. Walker’s compassion and respect for the journey of childhood guided her to many arenas: quality education for all children; easy access to nutritious food for families; arts exposure and engagement for children, youth and adults; opportunities for people of color when the word “equal” is not enough; and the ministry of reconciliation for all people.
Father James Alison has been at the forefront of mining philosopher René Girard’s fecund writings for theology. He preaches the Gospel of grace that flows from Jesus the Forgiving Victim, with the paradigm shift that entails for basic Christianity. He is also known for having firmly but gently faced down the dishonesty of his own Church on matters related to LGBT and lived to tell the tale. He has written numerous books, including the critically acclaimed Raising Abel. Alison travels worldwide as preacher and teacher, longing to help build up LGBT communities of faith and those who are not scandalized by them. He currently lives in Madrid, Spain.
The Rev. Dan Matthews is a consistent favorite at Calvary’s Lenten Preaching Series. His preaching is inspired by powerful and meaningful stories, like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. In light of these stories, Matthews pushes us to recognize when genuine blessings come our way. He believes that these moments of being “kissed by God” are more than being in the right place at the right time. His spiritual discipline of holy love is modeled after his mother’s ability to love with abandon. Each time he receives communion he is reminded of the transformative power of that love.
The Rev. Kirk Whalum believes that music is the language that communicates across borders. Music can break and enter into a person’s soul. The difference is a musician is not there to take; he’s there to give, to leave something. Whalum’s saxophone style blends his Memphis roots with Houston nightclubs and Parisian concert halls. When not on tour, he serves on the faculty of the Visible Music College in Memphis.
An Episcopal priest, the Rev. Fletcher Harper holds that the Earth and all people are sacred and at risk. To address that risk, GreenFaith is building a worldwide, multi-faith climate and environmental movement. GreenFaith’s members aim to transform people, spiritual communities and society to protect the planet and to create a loving, compassionate, and just world.
An enrolled member of the Potawatomi Citizen Band and also a practicing Christian, Kaitlin Curtice writes on the intersection of Indigenous spirituality, Christian faith in everyday life, and the church. Her first book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, was published with Paraclete Press in 2017. Curtice has contributed to OnBeing, Religion News Service, USA Today and Sojourners, among others, and she was interviewed by the New Yorker about colonization within Christian missions.
The Rev. Gary Meade’s journey with Christ began in earnest in a church basement with a high school youth group, a group that, despite sometimes using the coarsest language, always demonstrated the deepest love. When they prayed to God, they were in conversation with someone who they knew deeply loved them. They welcomed Meade, prayed for him, and shared with this stranger the deep well of God’s all-forgiving, all-embracing, never-ending love. As a priest in Christ’s church, Meade wants others to experience God’s love as he has and his prayer is that we share God’s love with all.
Dr. Scott Morris describes himself as “a one-note guy” who focuses on the link between faith and health. He believes that to follow Jesus, Christians must have a healing ministry. The people, patients, staff, and volunteers he has worked with since founding Church Health in 1987 inspire Morris to explore the scope of God’s imagination and encourage him in his journey of love and following Jesus. Morris holds that if we care for our bodies as well as our spirits, we will become closer to God.
Jemar Tisby is the president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, where he writes about race, religion, and culture. He is also the co-host of "Pass The Mic,” a podcast that amplifies dynamic voices for a diverse church. Tisby’s writing has been featured in the Washington Post, CNN, Vox, and the New York Times. He has spoken nationally at conferences on racial reconciliation, U.S. history, and the church. His first book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism was released in January 2019. Tisby is a PhD student in History at the University of Mississippi studying race, religion, and social movements in the 20th century.
As a rabbi drawn to Hasidism and Kabbalah, and a practitioner of Perennial Wisdom found at the mystic heart of all religions, Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s message is simple: Alles iz Gott: everything is a manifesting of God. He is inspired by anyone who dares to step outside the safety of sacred opinion to experience and perhaps utter Truth beyond “ism” and ideology. Love is a reaction to images we hold of others rather than to the others themselves. With this in mind, Shapiro prefers to meet others as they are rather than love them as he imagines them to be.
Mr. Ekundayo Bandele comes from a strong Christian background. His great-grandfather founded Memphis’ Lane Avenue Baptist Church. His paternal uncles are pastors, and his father was in and out of the pulpit. As a college student, Bandele became a voracious reader of holy books--the Bible, the Torah, the Koran--and was an observant Sunni Muslim for four years. In 1994, he was initiated as a ‘babalosha’ (priest) in the Ifa belief system of Nigeria. Today, his beliefs are a mix of the various faiths he has practiced, and the stories that are told on the stage of Hattiloo Theatre probe questions of meaning and connection.
David Waters, a newspaper journalist for more than 35 years, is best known locally and nationally for his award-winning work as a religion reporter, columnist and editor for The Commercial Appeal (“Faith Matters”) and The Washington Post (“On Faith”). Along the way, he’s learned the vital difference between occupation and vocation, and how discerning our vocation can save us and our communities. He believes in “nature and nature’s God; the First Amendment, and the Church of Baseball.” He believes poverty, pluralism, and care of the planet are our greatest challenges. And he believes journalism matters now more than ever.
Molly McCully Brown is the author of the poetry collection The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded which was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017, and the forthcoming essay collection Places I’ve Taken my Body. With Susannah Nevison, she is also the co-author of the poetry collection In The Field Between Us. Across forms and genres, her work is occupied with place, faith, art, desire, and the complicated, ongoing challenge of an embodied existence, and motivated by the belief that language doesn’t just express but makes reality.
The Rev. Sam Teitel is a minister, poet and storyteller with an irreverent wit and a deep, abiding love of scripture, especially the weird parts of scripture that people don't usually like to talk about. His sermons are candid, accessible, and often funnier than he means them to be. A lifelong Unitarian Universalist, he won the grand prize at the 2018 Preachers Fight Club storytelling event. Teitel has served as the minister of The Church Of The River in Memphis since 2017. Before he became a minister, he toured and performed as a slam poet. He is beyond thrilled to be returning to Calvary’s Lenten Preaching Series!