The Joy of Reading Aloud Together

When most adults think of reading aloud, they most often think of reading to young children which I highly recommend. It is the best way to create a lifelong adventure with books and to insure a great vocabulary. It also strengthens the bond between reader and child.

Reading aloud to each other as adults provides great enjoyment as well and provides a time of togetherness. I first discovered the beauty of oral reading as a student in Sara Lowrey’s interpretative reading classes at Furman University. Before that reading aloud in the elementary grades was more painful than rewarding. Many years later I had the great privilege of working with the readers of Christ Our King Catholic Church to help them improve in the oral reading of scripture. . Don’t misunderstand. You don’t need any training to enjoy reading aloud to each other. It’s just plain fun.

As Carol, my wife, inched into moderate Alzheimer’s disease, we began a routine of her reading aloud to me every day. Over the course of a year or so we went through a ton of books. Some were serious and many were humorous. She loved to laugh. We discovered some unfamiliar writers and revisited favorite ones. Slowly her understanding of what she was reading slipped away. Even so we kept our routine for as long as we could. She was a wonderful reader and this was one more effort on my part to keep her beautiful voice alive. We both enjoyed the time together. Carol could read anything and make even dull books sound interesting. Years earlier Liz, my first wife and mother of our children, read selections from The Wall Street Journal to me. She loved the writing in that publication and had several articles already earmarked for when I got home. It was an almost every night ritual. We had many great discussions about those articles. Liz loved words and their subtle nuances. It doesn’t really matter what you read as long as you both enjoy the experience. Being together is the best part.

If you are looking for something different to do and you have a partner who has seen all the reruns on television twice, try reading aloud to each other. Take turns selecting the books or magazine articles. Discuss what you have read. The memory of your togetherness will last.

Tags: , , ,

Movie Review – Michelle Obama ‘Becoming’

If you have never been discriminated against, passed over through no fault of your own or felt the subtle sting of rejection, you have no way of understanding the pain that such behaviors inflict.

In watching the movie, “Becoming,” a Netflix documentary focused on Michelle Obama’s book tour, it is painful to feel some of the unfair criticism she received.

During the time before the election and her time as first lady, she was criticized for everything from her gestures to her hairstyle, her sleeve length to the words she used.

Both she and President Barack Obama were painted with the same brush as their former pastor, as being anti-American. Although they conducted themselves with grace and charm, their every move received the maximum scrutiny.

While rather slow moving and in need of some sharper editing, it nevertheless presents an accurate portrayal of an accomplished woman being judged unfairly at every turn.

The counselor at Michelle Obama’s high school told her she was not Yale material even though she was an outstanding student. That stung and it has stayed with her until now. Likely, it will continue to plague her.

Near the end of the movie, she reveals how much she was upset by the failure of the black community to turn out to vote in the mid-term elections. She said it felt like a slap in the face.

She takes these things very seriously.

According to a December 2019 Gallup poll, Michelle Obama is the most influential woman in the world for the second year in a row. She was also the most admired woman in a July 2019 YouGov survey.

This is outstanding when you consider her “competition.”

It is gratifying to see an audience composed of black and white people together standing and cheering a black woman.

Michelle Obama’s philosophy of hope and love shines through when she is on screen.

There are still the detractors. Those diehards who think that Barack Obama’s election was the result of some kind of plot to undermine American democracy or those who feel he is a Muslim plant. There are those who feel the couple still hates America.

The movie seems to be intended for supporters like me and likely will have no effect on the naysayers, except perhaps to inflame them.

Thankfully, the majority of Americans see the Obamas for what they are – decent hard-working American patriots.

The movie itself needs focus. I wanted more of the book tour and less of walking through hallways.

I wanted less chitchat and more emphasis on the advice she was giving young people, as well as additional focus on her interaction with the public on the tour. She is at her best when interacting with individuals.

Her advice to “look each person in the eye, don’t look over them or around them” is right on target. She has mastered those skills.

Her book, “Becoming,” is an excellent portrayal of an accomplished woman in her own right discovering her own voice and finding her place in the process.

Unfortunately, for me, the movie falls short of reaching that same high mark.

MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements and brief language.

Director: Nadia Hallgren.

Cast: Michelle Obama; Barack Obama; Phoebe Robinson.

The documentary’s website is here.

Tags: , , ,

How a Seminary Professor Became “My Doktormutter” By Mark Medley *

Editor’s note: This article was written prior to Molly T. Marshall’s resignation announcement. Its publication was delayed, along with the “Brother Molly” podcast about Marshall’s life and ministry, due to the announcement. The author has given permission to publish the article in its original format. “Brother Molly” is scheduled for release on May 12.

In the fall 1988 semester at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I took Molly T. Marshall’s *Systematic Theology 1 course.

Prior to enrolling in her class, I was well aware of Dr. Marshall’s reputation as a popular, brilliant and dynamic theology professor. That course, and Dr. Marshall, altered the trajectory of my ministerial vocation.

A love of theology ignited (and continues to burn). A doorway was opened to explore the possibility of serving the church as a teaching theologian.

And my hanging around after class, or stopping by her faculty office, to ask questions were the beginning of a relationship that led to Dr. Marshall becoming my “Doktormutter.”

That relationship bloomed into friendship as a fellow scholar and theologian, a trusted mentor and counselor, and a sister in Christ.

If you have ever heard Molly preach or lecture, you quickly know that she uses “big words.” She does so not to impress. Rather, those “big words” invite the listener to journey deeper into faith.

Those “big words,” for me, were her invitation into the great cathedral of theology.

Let me tell you some of what I learned (and continue to learn) from Molly in the beautiful, transcendent space of this cathedral.

First, theology is attending to God.

In the classroom or in a rocking chair in Molly’s faculty office, I quickly discerned that theology is a sharing in the mystery of God’s triune life.

Theology happens as the Holy Spirit works within us the mystery of God’s word made flesh as we bear before divinity our joy, gratitude, lament and protest.

As a human practice, theology arises as we, in community with other disciples, seek the meaning of life, especially the suffering of life, against the divine landscape of God’s creative and redemptive purposes.

Second, I learned that Christian theology and faith are eucharistic.

Molly once said in a lecture that Baptists suffer from eucharistic famine. I have been wrestling with that piercing insight my entire academic career.

Not only have I considered the effects of such malnourishment, but I have also imagined the meaning of eucharistic abundance.

I learned from Molly that God is a eucharistic God: God is thanksgiving; God is self-giving; God is known in taking, blessing, breaking and sharing Jesus’ food; God is abundance; God is communion.

Stanley Hauerwas is right when he says, “Gratitude turns out to be not only a central virtue but a strong claim, indeed even a metaphysical claim, about the way things are.”

So, secondly, I learned to rethink everything from the reality of the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.

Third, I learned that theology is doxology.

With regularity, Molly began class with song. Good theology should and must be sung she always reminded her students. In this way, she taught that worship shapes theology and theology shapes worship.

As we pray and proclaim, sing and be silent, confess and profess, eat at Jesus’ table and baptize in the Triune name, we are immersed in the language of faith. Filled, soaked and saturated with the story of God, we press and write theology upon our hearts, minds, imaginations and bodies.

Fourth, I learned to discern who is absent from the prominent places in a cathedral.

Molly modeled and taught me that women’s exclusion from the ambo, the pulpit and the communion table diminishes and demeans the gospel’s radical vision of belonging envisioned by the Christ and conjured by the wild, liberating Spirit of God.

Such gender exclusion in ecclesial leadership personally and spiritually injures women, as well as, wounds the body of Christ.

In Molly’s Feminist Theology course, I truly began to learn how to be an ally with women in the advocacy for women’s leadership in the church.

The church rightfully images the triune God when women are readers of Scripture, proclaimers of the good news, officiants offering Jesus’ food to the people of God gathered at his table of hospitality, and senior ministers prophetically and pastorally leading the people of God.

Lastly, I learned how to be a teaching theologian.

In her faculty office in Norton Hall, Molly had two rocking chairs.

As a student, if you arrived at her office and Molly really wanted to have conversation, you took a seat in the rocking chair in front of her desk. Coming around her desk, she sat in the other rocking chair.

In that holy space, Molly would question, probe and push your theological reflection; she would challenge your suppositions; she would ask you to clarify your thought. Other times, she may guide a reflective conversation on vocational discernment.

In those moments, Molly exercised, in maximal ways, her gifts as professor, teacher, pastor and counselor.

In those rocking chairs in her office, Molly modeled a professor concerned with the intellectual, spiritual, personal and vocational flourishing of students.

My students at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky would say that I too like “big words.” I take that as a co
How a Seminary Professor Became

*Mark Medley is professor of theology at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Georgetown and Louisville. He teaches courses in theology, ethics, Baptist heritage, and Christianity and culture. He is theologian-in-residence at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Lexington, Kentucky. Mark and his wife, Maria, live in Georgetown, Kentucky, and have one son.

*Dr. Molly Marshall is a friend of mine. She was a favorite of those attending The Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. Mitch

Tags: , ,

I’ll get to hope. For now, I need to sit in the ashes and mourn – Susan Shaw


If you often find yourself uninspired by online church services, yelling at the nightly news on TV or just generally cranky over all the unjustified optimism about reopening the United States economy, this is for you. Rather than serving up more sunniness and positivity, I offer a lament.

As I’ve watched Christians leap to Bible verses about hope and share words of support and cheer on social media, I have at times felt like the Eastertide equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. Bah, humbug! I am not encouraged by images of neighborhoods cheering healthcare workers or inspirational stories about recovery from the virus. Upbeat Facebook posts just annoy me. I don’t want to have a virtual cocktail hour huddled with others around our computer screens or listen to another church choir sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” while individually sheltering in place.

“We need to mourn and rage and contemplate what led us to this moment.”

I have been trying over the last month to make sense of my reaction, my absolute rejection of a seemingly endless number of attempts to help me feel better about the situation in our world. I’ve realized that in reaching for hope beyond the pandemic, we may be trying to avoid the hard step in between pandemic and normalcy (whatever that becomes) – namely, grief. Raw, unadulterated grief and, at least for me, its attendant rage.

The scope of devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States was largely preventable. If we had been blessed with competent, responsible and empathetic leadership in the White House, if President Donald Trump and his administration had acted six weeks sooner (or even one week sooner), if we had universal healthcare, if we had a guaranteed minimum income and living wages, if our political leaders had listened to the scientists and pandemic experts – the horrific levels of death and disaster could have been mitigated.

Instead, we must now live with the consequences of our collective choices.

Before we rush to hope, I think we first need to sit for a while in the ashes. We need to mourn and rage and contemplate what led us to this moment.

We know that COVID-19 disproportionately affects the most vulnerable. We also know it has disproportionately spread in communities of color. The impact of the novel coronavirus is yet another consequence of our long national history of white supremacy.

We know that the poor and economically vulnerable feel most deeply the economic impact of the pandemic. This is the consequence of our embrace of an unbridled capitalism that has left so many people behind even as it has multiplied the vast wealth of a few.

We know the U.S. government knew about the pandemic as early as January when the World Health Organization sent out alerts, and yet the president chose to minimize the risk, to suggest any criticism of his refusal to act was a Democratic hoax and eventually to offer up the WHO as a scapegoat in a stunning act of cynicism and cruelty. This is the consequence of Americans’ choice to elect a greedy, selfish, incompetent and amoral narcissist who over the past month has been more concerned with the ratings for his daily televised press briefings than the health and welfare of the citizens he was elected to serve and to protect – especially those who are the most vulnerable.

We know that a faction of the evangelical church has made things worse by defying stay-at-home orders and minimizing the danger of the virus, as if all we need to do is pray the pandemic away. This is the consequence of the choice of a bloc of white evangelical leaders and voters to become nothing more than a wing of the Republican Party and to sell its soul to the cult of Trumpism.

So, before we move to hope, we need to sit for a while in the ashes of democracy and the evangelical church.

To be clear, I’m not pondering the why of all this suffering. I’m not asking why bad things happen. I’ve come to terms with the intellectual question of human suffering. Sometimes bad things happen because we live in a world with earthquakes and tornadoes and deadly viruses. Bad things also happen because people commit evil acts.

This pandemic is not a theological crisis. It’s a moral one. And we would do well in this moment to take the prophet Jeremiah’s advice: “Because of this put on sackcloth, lament and howl” (4:8, NRSV).

“Sometimes, despite our best efforts, evil wins. Perhaps for now we should just sit with that a while.”

We need to mourn. We can’t just jump right to hope. People are dead. In the United States alone, nearly 60,000 – SIXTY THOUSAND – people have died from confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a monstrous figure that is both certain to be higher than the reported total and that will continue to climb. Like Job’s children, they are dead, and new children don’t make up for the ones who died.

We can’t gloss over their suffering or their families’ suffering as if death is not real. Sometimes Christians treat death that way. They deal with their grief by jumping to resurrection without making space to mourn real loss. In this pandemic people have died needlessly, especially those who were already marginalized and vulnerable – the very people for whom Jesus had greatest compassion.

We need to sit with that loss and its utter futility. So many did not have to die. This is the consequence of our choices.

We also need to mourn that so many people in the U.S. think vulnerable people are dispensable for the sake of the economy. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, an outspoken evangelical, suggested grandparents would be willing to die to save the economy. A few weeks later, he underscored his stance, saying, “there are more important things than living.”

We must mourn who we have become as a culture. Mary Oliver warned us in her poem, “Of the Empire”:

We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

As a culture and a nation, we are mean – and a number of conservative Christians are leading the pack in meanness, particularly in the face of COVID-19. R.R. Reno of the conservative Christian website, “First Things,” warns about the “sentimentalism” of trying to save lives. “There are many things more precious than life…. There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost.”

I can’t imagine that the biblical notion of laying down your life for your friends includes laying it down for the capitalist economy.

I recognize that many progressive Christians have tried to do the right things. We’ve voted our convictions, written our legislators, protested, stayed at home, worn masks and donated to churches, nonprofits like Feeding America and other organizations trying to help the most vulnerable. Perhaps for us, that makes our grief and rage even greater. No wonder we often feel hopeless.

Some might find this lament to be unchristian in its despair and fury. I think sometimes Christians believe that it’s not OK for us to mourn and be furious. We’re supposed to be positive and optimistic, to live in the hope of the resurrection. But even Jesus grieved at Gethsemane and on the cross. We gloss over that sometimes. We think Jesus knew the end of the story and so somehow his suffering wasn’t quite real. But I think when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” there was no hope, no resurrection in his heart and mind. There was overwhelming grief and doubt and suffering.

“I can’t imagine that the biblical notion of laying down your life for your friends includes laying it down for the capitalist economy.”

Rather than jumping right to hope and resurrection, I think we would do well to follow the advice of the prophets and “take up a lamentation.” Or the poet Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Suffering and death are not always meaningful. Sometimes it’s just death; sometimes it’s unjust, unnecessary and unwarranted.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, evil wins. Perhaps for now we should just sit with that a while in sackcloth and ashes.

I’ll get to hope. I’ll get to resistance and radical love and a vision of God’s beloved community to come. But not today. Today I just need to sit here and mourn.

Read more BNG news and opinion related to the coronavirus pandemic:





Tags: , , ,