Al Staggs began his ministry as a typical Baptist minister from Texas. He sometimes used humor and dramatic monologues in his preaching. Eventually, he found a calling from God to evolve these monologues into a ministry as a performance artist. So, he left the pastorate and became a hospital chaplain, first in Texas, and now in New Mexico–where more regular hours leaves him freedom for his other calling as a performance artist. See his website for more info. and for ordering DVDs of particular performances.
I had suggested for 2-3 years that Al would be a good person to have at the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s Summer Conference, and this year they agreed with me and he gave several performances throughout the week. The monologues he gave us this past week were:
- Oscar Romero: A Martyr’s Homily in which Al dressed as the late Archbishop of El Salvador and delivered his final sermon before the U.S.-trained death squads assassinated him at mass in March 1980.
- Clarence Jordan and the God Movement. Al looks nothing like Clarence Jordan, but I have heard many of Jordan’s sermons on audiotape and, if I closed my eyes, it sounded like Clarence was in the room with us. For those who don’t know, Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) was a maverick white Baptist preacher from South Georgia who began working for racial justice in the 1930s(!!), was a pacifist and conscientious objector, founded an interracial farming community in South Georgia in the 1940s known as Koinonia (from the Greek for “community”), wrote Southern-style paraphrases called “Cotton Patch Gospels,” helped to start Habitat for Humanity, and much else. Al brought Clarence’s humor and prophetic voice to life.
- The Sermon on the Mount delivered in its entirety without commentary–as Jesus’ original hearers might have first heard it.
- A View from the Underside: The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in which Al dressed as a prisoner and represented Bonhoeffer after the Nazis imprisoned him for his role in the conspiracy to overthrow Hitler. Al spoke to the audience as Bonhoeffer using passages taken from Bonhoeffer’s writings throughout his brief life.
Next time, I would like to see Al Staggs’ performance of The Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch, but one can’t do everything in one week!
Here are three of the many kids at “peace camp” taking a break from their projects to just have fun–although the projects are also fun. This is where we grow the next generations of justice seekers and peacemakers. Environments like this one help these kids develop spiritual “antibodies” to the consumerism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and militarism of the dominant U.S. culture–too much of which is also shared by the dominant U.S. church culture.
This is the 22nd annual summer conference (“peace camp”) for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and some of the young adults have literally grown up in this environment. Some belong to churches that emphasize peace and justice and so have a supportive home church environment. Some get that only one week a year at peace camp. Frances Kelly falls into the latter category. Her parents are longtime Baptist peacemakers, but their work took them to that wilderness known as “Shreveport, Louisiana” (rural Louisiana nowhere near hurricane ravaged New Orleans). This is a very socially and politically conservative region. Frances was not only one of the few kids in her public schools to be for justice and peace, but was the only one in the children’s and youth departments of her church to have such views.
As she put it in her testimony (we Baptists greatly value giving and hearing personal testimony), everyone in Shreveport that she met believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and everyone believed the U.S. was in danger. The only reasons she knew to oppose the invasion came from her faith–and that was a perspective on faith that appeared to be only shared in her family–except every year at peace camp. To folks who told her that she would “grow out” of her idealism, she would reply that she knew people from around the world in their ’60s and older who remained active in trying to make the world a more just and peaceful place, having met them every year at peace camp.
Frances has just completed her first year at Yale University where she has become a campus activist. As she told us, this was the first time she met people who had reasons for working for justice and peace who were not Christian–she finally learned to articulate “public” reasons for her stands that might make sense to people who didn’t share her faith perspective. Not that Frances hides her Christian identity–and her more secular Yale friends are often surprised to meet a Christian, especially a Baptist, who doesn’t meet the rightwing stereotype.
I remember a few years ago at peace camp, Frances fell and broke her leg. We were meeting in Maryland and decided to take one day to visit the White House in nearby Washington, D.C. and bring our peace banners and bear witness for our desire to end the Iraq war. Frances insisted on coming, crutches and all, and bearing her witness. She literally learned at these yearly meetings how to be the amazing young woman she is, today.
Frances Kelly is one of many amazing examples of what’s RIGHT with young people today.
My oldest daughter, Molly (12), took this picture of our friends, Andy Loving, Susan Taylor, and their children, Sara Burton and Walker. Like us, they are members of Jeff Street Baptist Community @ Liberty in Louisville, KY and usually go to the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s “peace camp” every year. Susan and Andy often work in teaching the children, but this year Sara Burton, like Molly, was in her first year with the youth program and they wanted to be available for both their kids. Susan, Dr. Susan Taylor, when she’s being formal, is a Ph.D. in economics and Andy has an M.Div. from SBTS and an M.A. in Christian ethics from Emory. They own their own socially responsible investment firm and they use their talents in economics to promote fair trade (rather than free trade) and, as our pastor once remarked, are always finding ways to turn money into justice.
Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) was born 146 years ago, today, 31 July 1861. A friend of Susan B. Anthony and, like Anthony, a pioneer feminist and suffragist, Montgomery was active in social reform and became elected to the Rochester, NY city council–in a day when it was still considered shocking for women to walk outdoors unaccompanied or to speak up in mixed gender public assemblies. A graduate of Wellesley College(A.B., 1884), Montgomery placed first in her Greek course, which came in handy later. A Baptist layleader, Montgomery worked hard for the cause of missions, writing books on missions and prayer. She also became the first known woman to translate the New Testament from Greek to English and have the translation published professionally. Montgomery’s translation of the New Testament was published by the American Baptist Publication Society (forerunner of Judson Press) in 1924 as a celebration of ABPS’s 100th year of publication–which is why it was called the Centenary New Testament. It remained in print until the 1990s (and I used to give it to women ministers when they were ordained). Montgomery’s translation appears to have been the first to put titles on chapters and sections of the Bible and moved the verses to the side of the page to make it easier to read the text in paragraphs.
In 1921, Montgomery was elected President of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA), the first woman to serve as head of a major Christian denomination and one of the few laypeople to hold such an office. Although never ordained, Montgomery was licensed to preach and frequently led the worship at Lake Avenue Baptist Church, Rochester, NY when the pastor was absent. For ten years she was president of the Women’s American Baptist Missionary society and she was also elected president of the National Federation of Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions.
In addition to missions and the struggle for universal suffrage, Montgomery also championed such causes as the elimination of poverty, free public education, and peace.
Happy Birthday, Sister Helen! May your life and witness inspire many today, especially among women and Baptists!
In the middle of the Berea College campus is a fountain. Around the outside is the Bible verse that is also used in the college coat of arms (found in many places throughout the campus): Acts 17:26. God has made of one blood all nations of people. What a guiding Scripture in our world of raging nationalisms, ethnocentric and religious violence, and racism!!
William Penn (1644-1718), founder of Pennsylvania (“Penn’s Woods”) as a colony where Quakers and other Dissenters could enjoy religious freedom, died on 30 July 1718. He made peace with the Native Americans by the simple practice of treating them like equal human beings and dealing fairly with them–something few European colonizers were willing to try. As long as Quakers dominated the Pennsylvania colonial legislature, it stayed out of wars
and had no slavery (Correction–I am reminded that Penn owned slaves and that although Quakers abandoned slave-holding prior to the U.S. Revolution, they did not begin “without sin” in this area. Thanks to Friend Kirk for catching my inadvertant anachronism.)–but all that changed once Quakers were outnumbered (and then went into their “Quiet in the Land” apolitical phase). But in Colonial America only Catholic-founded Maryland and Baptist-founded Rhode Island rivaled Pennsylvania for religious liberty. Much of that is the legacy of Friend William Penn.