Dr. Burris Reports from His Sabbatical

Dr. Burris has been making music this summer.
Dr. Burris has been making music this summer.

Dr. Burris has been working on a new book during his sabbatical, Wisdom From Africa: Theological Reflections on the Confessions of St. Augustine. He hopes to have it complete in 2016.

He has also played a lot of music during his sabbatical as a way of getting a break from the writing. His group, Total Focus, has played in Vallejo and San Pablo, and are scheduled to play in Oakland on August 22 for the Faith Fancher Breast Cancer Challenge to combat breast cancer. They will play early in the morning (8-10) at Lake Merritt. He hopes many will come out in support of this event.

Everything Old Is New Again #wgfest15


I realize this is a little premature, but this feels a little like a “What Did I Do Over Summer Vacation” essay that I had to write in fifth grade. Mrs. Henson was a stickler for good penmanship and right manners. Old school. She was decidedly old school. But I digress.

This summer I had the distinct privilege of being asked to serve as the Liturgical Coordinator for the Wild Goose Festival held in Hot Springs, NC. The festival is a time and place of celebrating the “intersection of Spirit, Justice, Music, and the Arts” that began a few years ago. As such liturgies abound. Some of them were rather traditional. The Episcopal tent, for example, held Compline services every night. They also broke out of the mold and hosted a songwriter circle and an agape feast. The Goose is like that. Ask the Methodists about the beer tent. Oh, and the Baptists had a coffee shop.

People break from the mold a little. There was a eucharistic liturgy where a blacksmith literally hammered a rifle into a farm implement. It was an unusual eucharist, to be sure, but beautiful.

Dr. William Barber preaches at opening ceremonies.
Dr. William Barber preaches at opening ceremonies.

This summer’s theme was “Blessed Are The Peacemakers.” Preachers like Dr. William Barber were there to inspire us. Rev. Traci Blackmon from Ferguson, Missouri was also there. She preached at our closing Eucharist. Rev. Joy Wallis was our celebrant.

Others were there like Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. There were three or four different sessions going on simultaneously each of the three days. Ana Hernandez was there to help out with music. She says hello to everyone.

Matt Morris offers his musical talents.

Right, the music. One of the ways to understand Wild Goose is to imagine Burning Man and then mashing it up with Greenbelt or the Chautauqua Institute. Musicians from various stripes were there to perform. Gungor, Matt Morris, Yara Allen, Emmanuel Jal, The Collection, The Brilliance, and many others. No one genre was featured. No one style. There were pop-up concerts all over the place. Jam sessions and impromptu meet-ups happened all the time.

As the Liturgical Coordinator, it was my responsibility to make sure that the scheduled liturgies and their organizers had all they needed. I tried to have my title changed to Liturgical Enabler because that’s what I was actually doing. Everyone there had a liturgical habit they needed met. I was happy to help out. From free church to high church and everything in between and beyond, I counted over 45 liturgies (officially sanctioned or otherwise) during the festival.

Bree Newsome spoke.
Bree Newsome spoke.

This was the first year they asked for someone to serve in the position. I was not the first person they asked. I’m really glad that the first person turned it down. It was incredible.

What all these liturgists needed was a sense of common vision, a way to articulate a liturgical posture or narrative for the weekend. So, to close this little missive for you all, I’m going to share what I offered during our opening ceremony. I wanted to show people what I was already seeing and to invite them into a community, a social space, a geographical place where everything old was new again.

What is going on here?

You have stepped through the veil
into a temple without walls jet-lagged,
road weary, burned out, intrigued, hopeful,
enthusiastic, and just a little confused.

You have entered a basilica
where the dome of heaven itself is the ceiling.
Shrines and altars line the route on our pilgrimage together;
a holy time;
a thin place crafted by your hands
and kissed by the Holy Spirit.
She is inviting you to join in
The rhythms of our time together.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is the three great days of Holy Week,
a continuous liturgy that begins on Thursday night
and concludes on Sunday morning.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a tent revival
where we will testify to the movement of The Divine
in our streets, classrooms, courthouses, homes,
and even our churches urging one another
to wake up to the truth that the holy is in each of us.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a festival of art and music where we are reminded
that we are bodies-good creatures-blessed icons of heaven on earth
and we can move and sing and be engulfed
in landscapes and soundscapes of hope.

Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are you, the peacemakers.
Blessed are we, the peacemakers.

This is the liturgy of Wild Goose. Welcome.

It was an honor to have the opportunity to play with 2,200 people who gathered there on the banks of the French Broad River. I hope to do it again.


Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at American Baptist Seminary of the West and a PhD student in Liturgy and Ethnomusicology at Graduate Theological Union.

A Tribute To James Dunn

The following is a tribute to James Dunn, the former Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty by the current president of our Board of Trustees, Jim Hopkins.

James M. Dunn was a true Baptist. Thus, when he wrote and spoke he was always very careful not to claim to represent whole groups, communities or identities. He spoke as James Dunn, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee, not as James Dunn representative of all Baptists. He wrote as James Dunn, a wry Baptist from Texas, not as James Dunn exemplar of the one true faith.

Thus, I write this tribute as Jim Hopkins, an Alliance of Baptists pastor honored to serve on the Board of Directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Jim Hopkins, an American Baptist pastor who is shaped by the way James spoke truth to power with a fire in his soul and a twinkle in his eye.

I went to seminary in the early 1980’s and inched my way toward leadership in our family in the later years of that decade. In many quarters the religious right was rising and I searched for models of Baptist faith and practice who spoke honestly about  the Bible,  the United States Constitution and our tradition. I had read a bit about James Dunn (he was not a household name on the West Coast) and then in 1989 I met him at a conference in Phoenix. What a breath of fresh air he was.

He brought a feisty faith to bear on a national stage. He said meaningful things in memorable ways. He understood that the Baptist tradition of Soul Liberty needed to be embraced by, rather than expunged from, our congregations. He understood that even though none of us is always correct, we are not well served by silence on matters of religious liberty.

Over the years, James’ faithful witness continued to inform, encourage and inspire me. I am one of a great company of witnesses that is forever in his debt. Warnings like these from James continue to shape my being and my doing – “God is minimized in any marriage of religion and politics…we wind up making God the national mascot.” God was much more than a mascot in the vital faith of James Dunn. For this I am grateful.

Jim Hopkins

Pastor, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland , CA Former President, Alliance of Baptists Secretary, Board of Directors, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Poetry Corner


O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Originally posted on Talk With the Preacher:

Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes


Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor…

View original 492 more words

Too Painful for Words #AMEMassacre

State Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-Kershaw) gets emtional as he sits next to the draped desk of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Thursday, June 18, 2015, at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C.  Pinckney was one of those killed, Wednesday night in a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.
(Lamentations 2:11)

Should Priest and Prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord? Young and old lie together in the dust of the streets; my young men and maidens have fallen by the sword.
(Lamentations 2:20-21)

On Wednesday evening June 17, 2015 at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina a modern crucifixion took place.  Taking the lives of:

Rev. Clementa Pickney (Pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. Church and a South Carolina State Senator) age 41
Cynthia Hurd, age 54
Tywanza Sanders, age 26
Myra Thompson, age 59
Ethel Lance, age 70
Susie Jackson, age 87
Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, age 49
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, age 45
Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., age 74  

Because they were bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, and spirit of our spirit we too are a suffering people.  We cry out with the Psalmist “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing”. (Psalm 22: 14-18)

Not only do we hurt with the Emanuel A.M.E. Church Family, but God also suffers with us because the name Emanuel means “God is with us”!  Our God meets us in suffering and in death.  The cross is the meeting place between God and us.  The cross is the place where God experiences human suffering and the human family understands the pain of God.  The wounded heart of God is revealed on the cross.  Abraham Heschel has reminded us that in the prophets God experiences pain and sorrow with a feeling of intimate and loving concern because life is a partnership between God and humanity.  The crucified heart of God in the New Testament is revealed through the death of Jesus Christ.  This death on the cross is not only the expression of God’s love for us, but also the defiance of God against evil.

Members of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church engage in a moment of silent prayer Sunday for Charleston
Members of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church engage in a moment of silent prayer Sunday for Charleston

It is so easy for us as a suffering people to grow weary and inarticulate in endless despair and aborted hope that will satisfy the forces of evil; however, the Apostle Paul reminds us “to be in Christ means not only to know the fellowship of His suffering, but the power of His resurrection”; therefore, as a crucified and a resurrected people let us make a double commitment to preach a liberating gospel from the evils of racism, materialism and militarism.  If we can make this commitment then we will respond to the Charleston massacre with living hope.

In 1850 Frederick Douglass, a member of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston stood in Faneil Hall in Boston speaking as if waiting justice would never wipe sleep from his eyes.  In response to his morbid message Sojourner Truth who knew the evils of slavery from personal experience, having been sold four times, and having risked her life many more times as a conductor of the underground railroad arose to her feet, and said with a commanding voice: Frederick is God dead?  As true believers with Sojourner Truth let us act on the words of James Russell Lowell: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch [over] his own.”

Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr.
Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr.

Rev.Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr., Chair

Sankofa Institute for African American
Pastoral Leadership
Oblate School of Theology
285 Oblate Drive
San Antonio, TX 78216


Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., Chair
Dr. Diana Hayes, STD
Rev. Dr. Dwight Hopkins, PhD
Rev. Joni Russ
Rev. Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, PhD
Rev. James Noel, PhD
S. Addie L. Walker, SSND, PhD, Director
Dr. Scott Woodward, Academic Dean, OST
Dr. Rose Marden, Associate Dean Continuing Education, OST

Home Another Way


Several of us heard this powerful message at the #MissionSummit15 in Kansas City.

Originally posted on Talk With the Preacher:

Home Another Way
American Baptist Churches Mission Summit 2015

Acts 9:1-19

ABC SummitGood evening, American Baptists! It’s wonderful to be with you tonight as we gather for worship together.

I’m especially grateful to join you this week in celebrating the ministries of my friends Rev. Dr. Roy Medley and Rev. Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins. Roy, Aidsand, your leadership as General Secretary and Executive Director of American Baptist Home Mission Societies has helped us to live into our shared call as American Baptists and, indeed, as followers of Jesus Christ. Because of your capable and prophetic leadership, our denomination is poised to move in to the future with courage and vision.

I myself am proud to be an American Baptist, inspired tonight to live boldly into the adventure of discipleship by the leadership of these friends and so many of you. But unlike some of you “lifers,” I myself come a little late…

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Dean Flesher’s Year-End Review

Academic 2014-2015 was an exceptional year! Our student enrollment has increased to about 170 students in five academic programs: Master of Divinity (MDiv), Masters in Community Leadership (MCL), Master of Arts (MA), Doctor of Ministry (DMin), and Spanish Language Bachelor of Arts Equivalency in Ministerial Studies (BA equivalency). On May 16, 2015 we graduated 18 students that are now working in the following arenas:

Pastoral Ministry
Interim Ministry
Bi-vocational–Ministerial Staff at a local congregation
Running an specialized Independent 501c3
Social Worker at the local YMCA
Hospital Administration
Director of Communications at the Graduate Theological Union
Teaching at a private High School
Beginning a ThD program at the GTU

As you can see our graduates end up in a wide variety of locations and positions. We are no longer training solely for pulpit ministry in the traditional sense, but for broad categories of ministry inside and outside of the church building. National surveys have shown that church attendance and membership are in decline across the board, yet faith and spirituality are on the rise. This is a time for public discourse and theology. At ABSW we are training our students to become Public Theologians. Whether a graduate takes a church, chaplaincy position, or some type of non-traditional ministry, to be effective today they will need to have developed the skills for public discourse in diverse and unsettled environs.

Academic 2014-2015 was a politically charged year as our nation strove to confront the inequitable devaluation of some of its particular sub-cultures through public discourse and demonstrations. ABSW sought to address these concerns through relevant coursework that could be taken to the public-square as well as special chapel services and lectureships.

In fall 2014 we co-sponsored UNCO West (the Un-Conference) focused on entrepreneurial development of church/ministry; co-sponsored the Baptist—Muslim Dialogue along with Zaytuna College and the GTU Center for Islamic Studies; and embraced the #BlackLivesMatter movement through special chapel services that addressed issues related to race, poverty, police brutality, public demonstrations, and how to become a co-conspirator for the cause (Dec-Feb).

In spring 2015 ABSW professors geared their courses toward addressing the unrest in our nation, which included the creation of several new course options: The #BlackLivesMatter Movement; The Bible and the Newspaper; Parable Theory and African American Hermeneutics; Religious Readings of African American Women’s Literature; and The Food, Faith, Justice Garden Project. In addition, our Annual Drexler Lecture focused on the theme Extreme Poverty in the US: What to Do? and we co-sponsored the annual TransFORM conference held in Washington D.C.

As we move into academic 2015-2016 we are putting the pieces in place to take our curriculum(s) online. Beginning fall 2015 non-residential students can enroll in our MDiv and MCL programs online. To apply, visit our website, download the application, fill it out, and mail it in to our Director of Admissions, Rev. Tripp Hudgins.

If God is calling you to a ministry of Public Theology, then ABSW is the place for you.

Come join us, whether face to face or in cyberspace. Let’s start this new thing together!

11074135_10153323084959020_7941640121830232180_nDean LeAnn Flesher, Academic Dean and Professor in Hebrew Scripture