Younger Voices | Blog

Selected blogs by writers under 40

Wednesday
Mar212012

Bending toward justice

What’s the expiration date of hate? The shelf life of discrimination? The half life of exclusion? 

There is one, you know. Today’s institutional, systemic discrimination is tomorrow’s acceptance. 

You can bemoan that fact as a symptom of moral relativism or the liberalization of society or you can champion that fact as symptom of right winning out over wrong, but it doesn’t matter. 

Maurice Maeterlinck wrote, “At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past.”

Whether you’re a stumbling block or conduit, discrimination does have a shelf life.
 
Case in point: if you told me when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s that the presidential election of 2012 would have an incumbent African-American president, a Democrat, sparring with three possible Republican nominees—one a Mormon, one a Catholic, and the other a Lutheran turned Baptist turned Catholic who has chosen wives as many times as he’s chosen denominations—I would’ve laughed at your ridiculous ideas. 

Just in my 30 years of life, I’ve heard people argue that a person’s race, a person’s religion (denomination!), or a person’s marital history not only precludes them from being a good leader, but also precludes him or her from being a whole person. The societal qualifications for complete personhood change.  Opinions change.  Things change.
 
Things progress. You can call yourself whatever you wish—moderate, liberal, conservative, etc.—and by all means follow and vote your convictions—but the world is progressing. And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot that people can do to stop it. 

Slow it down, sure. But you can’t stop it. The Arab Spring has sprung. Interracial couples marry and are more accepted. Women are ordained to serve as deacons, as ministers, as pastors in Baptist?—yes, Baptist—churches. People with disabilities are finding more societal support and understanding and less discrimination.
 
You can argue notable exceptions to this white man’s thoughts about discrimination. You’d have a fair point.  You can argue that people who peddle discrimination will always have a good living. You’re right. You can argue that, even in this election, people suggest that it’s more tolerable to be Catholic than Mormon (though they don’t care for either one), that it’s more acceptable to be black than to be married three times (though they don’t care for either one), more acceptable to be conservative than liberal, more acceptable to be moderately wealthy than to be ridiculously wealthy (though they don’t care for either one). 

Discrimination hasn’t changed, you might argue, but the list of things we’ll tolerate has. Perhaps you’re right.
 
My point is this: if there’s safety in numbers, opinions that elevate one group of people and subjugate another will only be culturally safe for a certain amount of time. Discrimination is a gamble. History suggests it’s a losing gamble.

Know when to walk away from your hate. Know when to run. Progressing takes blood, sweat, and tears. Not progressing is more difficult and, ultimately, less successful.
 
What if your principles guide your acceptance or lack of acceptance? What if you’re not concerned about societal whims, just about the difference between right and wrong? If you’re a Christian, this is both your principle statement and your principal statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Let the dissection of the words love and neighbor continue just as they have for millennia; the progress of the world will continue even with the etymological dissection.
 
“The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King said, “but it bends toward justice.”
 
Let the bending continue.

-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C.

Thursday
Mar082012

Umbrella people

By Josh Hunt

Three friends are walking on the way when a sudden thunderstorm brings a deluge to their town. They immediately weigh their options. One of the friends is out of shape and can’t run to escape the weather. One of the friends is older and isn’t as fast as he used to be. The third friend is the picture of physical health, but decides that she’d rather walk with her friends than leave them by themselves on the way. Fortunately, one of the friends is always prepared with an umbrella. She pulls it from her side and lifts it over their three heads.
 
The three friends crowd into an umbrella designed for two. It doesn’t take them long at all to realize that they’re still getting rained on. “We really should invest in a larger umbrella,” says the one who is always dependable enough to bring one. The other two agree, and the three of them begin a conversation about what kind of umbrella they should buy, who should make the purchase, where it should come from, what it should look like, how big it should be, and so on.
 
A man wearing an industrial three-piece rain suit and fishing waders spots the three friends and begins to cross the street to meet them. He’s dry and warm, but all the stuff he carries around to keep the elements away cause him to move erradically as he lunges around traffic to push himself into their conversation. He looks like he has experience playing in traffic in his raingear.
 
“You three look ridiculous,” he says, his bright yellow fishing hat protecting his perfectly coiffed hair from the squall.  “This is the last storm the three of you will ever be under one umbrella.  You’ll split up and get a second umbrella.”  Finished dispensing his wisdom, he’s gone, crossing the street back to the side he came from, apparently self-satisfied with his prediction.
 
The friends wonder why the man takes pride in saying such things. “We don’t want to walk under two umbrellas. We’re going to the same place. We enjoy being with each other.  We want an umbrella where all of us can have a place.”  They continue on the way.
 
“Hey, umbrella freaks!”  The voice calls from the intercom of a 45-passenger bus that has just pulled up beside them. “Don’t you have enough sense to get in out of the rain?  There’s plenty of room for EVERYBODY here!  Want to join us?  We had this umbrella conversation years ago.  You’re so behind the times.  A bus is where it’s at.”
 
It does look nice and warm and dry and roomy in there. It’s tempting.
 
The three friends discuss it. “I enjoy our walks together,” says one. “I have walking shoes that would never get used if I rode the bus,” says another.  “After walking with you for years, I’ve got huge calluses on my feet,” says the third, “and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
 
“We’ll walk together,” they say in unison into the intercom, and the bus speeds off, leaving them in diesel fumes.
 
When the smoke begins to clear, the umbrella-holder asks, “Are you all sure we’re doing the right thing? Lots of people seem to be questioning this conversation. This new umbrella will be heavier and harder to carry. It will attract attention, some of it from people who prefer smaller umbrellas or rain suits or buses.”
 
But then they see a man who has no umbrella, no rain suit, no bus. He’s cold and wet.  They invite him to share their small umbrella as they continue their discussion. Of course, now they look even more ridiculous than before. They don’t care. The four of them decide that the journey they cherish, and the friends they love, and all the people who are caught in the rain make the conversation worth having and the criticism more bearable.
 
“We really do need a bigger umbrella,” they say.  And they continue on the way.

-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C.

Wednesday
Feb222012

Wilderness practice 

By Josh Hunt

It was just a few years ago that Rev. Linda Nye, then one of
my student colleagues at the divinity school at Gardner-Webb University and an
Episcopal priest, invited me to her parish for Ash Wednesday. It
was my first such experience. 

The observance of Lent that year changed completely my celebration of Easter Sunday. Easter felt more victorious, more real, more celebratory, more life-affirming, more welcomed.

How could I experience Easter in such a way one year and then conscientiously choose not to celebrate it that way again? I couldn’t.

Linda Nye caused me to develop the tradition of observing Lent. I saw how it changed my spiritual life and I could not go back.

I didn’t grow up observing Lent. It’s still novel to me. It’s still novel to my church. In fact, I spend a lot of time and effort each Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday in Lent reminding myself and my congregation of why this is a valid and valuable season in the Church Year, and why it is worthy of our attention and observance.

I’ve come to understand Lent as an opportunity to journey into the wilderness in practice mode, to simulate hitting rock bottom in a controlled environment. We have the opportunity to journey into this season in community. We confess and repent. We pray. We meditate. We practice silence. We empty ourselves of some of the stuff that may not be worthy to fill our lives in the first place.

We find God in the wilderness.

And if we can see God’s love and redemption and grace at work in the “practice mode” wilderness of Lent, we might have a better opportunity to see God in the real-world wilderness that begins not in a predictable way on Ash Wednesday, but in an unpredictable way in a doctor’s consultation room, in a funeral home chapel, in a lawyer’s office, or at the bottom of a bottle.

I choose to journey into the wilderness of Lent so that I might be better prepared when the wilderness comes against my will.

 

-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C., and is keeping up his blogging resolution deep into February.

Monday
Feb132012

More than enough glory to go around

By Josh Hunt

We came by the dozens, representing diverse congregations and multiple Christian denominations. A local civic organization had invited the Christian clergy of Shelby, N.C., to a luncheon held in our honor at the local country club. 

Our host asked us to stand one by one and briefly—they emphasized the word briefly because they knew the stripes of those to whom they were speaking—briefly share about what God is doing in our churches and ministries. 

What followed from many of my colleagues was a summary of building projects, budget increases and numbers of baptisms. 

Are these the marks of a good church, a successful ministry and minister? Are these the indicators of a faithful people and a faithful God? 

Let me pull back the curtain just a bit on this profession and some of the professionals in it. Like the Hindenburg, the ministerial ego is gigantic, fragile, poorly designed, unsafe, and often deflated and grounded only after a spectacular failure and blaze of glory.  “Oh, the humanity!” — indeed.

We can be territorial. Competitive.  Flashy. 

We can be attention seeking and attention drawing. Tenacious. 

We can be hungry and thirsty for more money, and more people, and more spaces in which to gather even more money and even more people. Insatiable. 

We can be holy headhunters, ordained organizational consultants, glorified investment brokers who are quick to remind our congregations and community that they are, indeed, receiving a fantastic return on their investments in us. 

We can project being indispensable and irreplaceable. Some of us love our titles — and we will be addressed accordingly, thank you very much. 

God is working tremendously through us and our ministries. Among the many things for which we’re thankful, we’re most grateful for the fact that there’s enough glory for God and us to share.

And if by some chance we’re not like that? Well, there’s something wrong with us, and the congregations we serve are to be pitied.

Sometimes I wish you could hear us, because your presence might change what we say and how we say it.  Most of the time I’m glad our conversations with each other are private, because I think the metrics we use to determine success in ministry are embarrassing to the Body of Christ.

The French call it l'esprit de l'escalier, the wisdom of the stairwell. It’s what you wish you had said back there — wherever and whenever back there is. I’m glad the French have a word for it, because it happens to me an awful lot. 

I didn’t say this when I stood from my polished oak chair in the country club dining room at lunch the other day. But when I got to the stairwell, I wish I had.

“I won’t — and, quite frankly, I can’t — compete in your…your…certain kind of contest for baptisms, budgets and buildings. I cede that game to you. You win. I might not perform as many baptisms as you do. I might not get paid as much as you do, and I don’t have a building project to speak of.  I can, nonetheless, report that God is at work in the church I am privileged to serve, that God is at work in the lives of the people of the church I am privileged to serve, and that God is at work in my ministry and in my life. Oh, the Divinity!”

 Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, North Carolina.

Tuesday
Feb072012

A germinating thought

By Josh Hunt

Some scientists have developed a theory which states that our concern with being germ-free might actually be detrimental to our health. 

They suggest that we allow hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps to do what our bodies are actually designed to do: kill the germs that would make us sick.

The cells that are intended to attack bad germs do not suddenly lose their sense of purpose just because they have fewer germs to attack. They continue to attack, these scientists believe, and since there are fewer outside germs to attack, they turn on the body of which they are a part, and attack healthy cells. It's one of the theories about why some cancers develop.

Take the theory with a grain of salt if you wish. And please take my layman's terms and reporting of the theory with a grain of salt. 

But whether this scientific postulation holds water or not biologically, I know this phenomena in the church as a pastor. 

We have work to do, a calling to fulfill, energy to expend. When we aren't given the opportunity or don't take the opportunity to busy ourselves with the work that should keep us busy, we turn on each other. We attack the body of which we are a part.

Therefore, let the Church — and all the members thereof — be busy with the work to which we have been called. May we be too busy to nitpick, to venture into the peanut gallery, to turn on each other.

-Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, N.C.