Innovation and improbable friendships

One of the deepest blessings of my life has been being a part of the St. Paul’s community. I understand Jesus’ words in John when he told the disciples, “I have sent you to reap that for which you did not labor." This has been distinctively true for my time in this community. Part of the blessing is what we are innovating through the mission of St. Paul’s is being brought into conversation with others around the world. 

For the last two years at projectCURATE (Center for Urban Reconciliation and Theological Education), we have been invested in cultivating a context that is intentional about building bridges across the divides in our city.  From 2014-16, two cohorts totaling 120 people from across socioeconomic, cultural, racial, educational and denominational lines came together to get to know each other and to learn from each other. We met monthly for workshops, lectures, pilgrimages all with an eye towards developing what I have come to understand as “improbable friendships.” Iconoclast Artists emerged out of these relationships, as did an international conference called “Re-Imagining Incarceration and Return” For 2017-18, we’re creating curriculum around race, solidarity and kinship. There is still room in our cohort this year and I encourage you to sign up

The curriculum that we are writing is emerging out of an improbable friendship in my own life with Cleve Tinsley. Cleve is a Ph.D. candidate at Rice University, Theologian in Residence at St. John’s UMC and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Houston (BLMHTx). We came to meet each other following a vigil that St. Paul’s hosted in honor of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the the five Dallas police officers killed in July 2016. Our own friendship began to take shape around these events. Through a series of deep conversations, we both began to wonder if there was an opportunity to talk about race, our Christian faith, the history of slavery and white supremacy in America, and if doing so we might discern a different way forward.

In December 2016, Cleve and I launched the first of a number of “House Parties” that we will host around race, solidarity and kinship. It began with the simple idea of inviting our friends into an intimate setting of a home where we could host a difficult conversation that we need to have but often do not know how. In this diverse gathering we had wonderful musicians fill the air, an Iconoclast Poet opened the evening and Cleve and I led a conversation that knitted together such topics as race, privilege, economic transformation – all rooted in an alternative biblical narrative. If you are interested in being a part of one of these conversations in the future let me know. We will host them throughout the city in the coming year. The pictures in this post are from that evening.  

This month, I am accepting the invitation to return to lecture at Cambridge University’s Theological Federation. Cleve and I will co-teach a short course entitled “For the Welfare of the City: Toward a Theology of Improbable Friendship.” In the coming days, I will sketch out some of the work that we are involved in though the ministries of St. Paul’s, provide an outline of the class, and will point to some of the books I have been reading in preparation for this short course.

I covet your prayers in these coming days and am deeply grateful for the opportunity and depth of community that is St. Paul’s!