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The lost art of listening

(04/11/22 4:00am)

When people think of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they may think of what he said—especially, “I have a dream.” Those famous words come from an unforgettable speech delivered before the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Dr. King was certainly a gifted orator rooted in the Black Church tradition, but what people sometimes overlook is that his prophetic speech had deep roots in an inconspicuous source: silence. 


(03/28/22 4:00am)

Judging by the cherry blossoms outside of Duke Chapel, spring must be here. I welcome it. It’s a time many people decide to get their hands dirty tilling the soil, planting seeds, tending shoots and pruning branches–all so that the plants will bear their delicious fruit. With this natural turn to nature, I want to share a lesson from a Great Gardener: You are made of matter—the dust of the earth—and for that reason alone your life matters. 

Sports and the spiritual life

(03/14/22 4:00am)

Duke University is a top-level research and educational institution that aims to integrate a high level of academics with excellence in athletics. If you were paying attention at all recently, you would know the important role Duke men’s basketball plays at this university, especially during the 42-year tenure of Coach K. And now we are headed into March Madness, Even I know that, for some, the number one religious building on campus is not Duke Chapel; it’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Remembering Trayvon and Jesus

(02/14/22 5:00am)

Every day I’m reminded of human brokenness, particularly those whose bodies have been broken by hatred and violence. That’s because on my Duke Chapel office desk, sitting side-by-side, is a physical memorial: a communion cup and plate to remember Jesus Christ, and next to them a can of Arizona iced tea and a packet of Skittles to remember Trayvon Martin. When I look at these elements, I hear a faint cry, “Remember.” 

The calling to live your ‘why’

(01/31/22 5:00am)

There is what I call “a turn to the human” happening in academia. Universities across the nation, including Duke, have been altering their academic approaches by including in their curricular and co-curricular offerings themes related to the meaning and purpose of life. It is a trend that recognizes that students are more than heads on a pile of research papers, chemistry lab findings or the latest computer algorithms--they are whole human beings.

A coherent life

(11/29/21 5:00am)

When I was on the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary, I used to teach a course called “Speech Communication in Ministry.” It was a class that helped first-year seminary students with public presentations. Students would work on vocal, eye and hand gestures while presenting various literary forms. I’d draw on the oral interpretation of literature in which the aim is congruency or matching what one says with how you say it. For instance, how could someone say, “I despise you” with a smile? In that case, the words and the embodiment of those words would not match and would break up the communicative event and perhaps cause confusion. 

Creation vocation

(11/01/21 4:00am)

Whether you’re 18 years old or the ripe age of 80, you have probably experienced loss in life, whether it is the end of a friendship, the loss of a parent or leaving a community. In the face of such emptiness, there is not a single answer for everyone but there is a response that all human beings can make. As creatures, we can create.

Hearing hope in a harmonica

(10/18/21 4:00am)

I grew up in a very musical family and I’m the last of five children. My father is a preacher and whenever he traveled to speak somewhere, we would go with him to sing. We weren’t The Jackson 5 but The Powery 5! My oldest brother played the trombone. My second brother, the saxophone. My third brother, the drums. My sister, when she got older, played the piano. My mother played the harmonica. And I, the youngest, walked around looking cute. 

If it wasn’t for the women

(03/29/21 4:00am)

It is still Women’s History Month, and I can’t help but think about all of the women who have made an imprint on our lives. “If it wasn’t for the women” is the expression sociologist Cheryl Townsend Gilkes uses when she describes the importance of women in the Black Church. She’s so right—and not just about the presence and work of women in the church to keep it going and thriving, but in all of life. If it wasn’t for the women—their voices, their courage, their strength, their wisdom, their ingenuity, their expertise, their love, their care and concern—where would we be?

The cost of healing

(03/15/21 4:00am)

As we walk through the current health pandemic and related social pandemics, there’s a lot of grief and lament, but as people get vaccinated and the virus metrics move in a better direction, there is also talk about healing. There is hope as we anticipate a healing process of sorts, one in which a kind of wholeness of relationships is restored, where we are no longer socially distant and people no longer get sick with the coronavirus at the same rates. As we look forward to these positive developments, it’s worth remembering something less obvious: the newness and change of healing come with costs. 

Dare to dream

(02/15/21 5:00am)

Dreams can be fleeting and ephemeral, but there are also transformative dreams that birth new realities. These enduring dreams are worth holding onto and sacrificing for. The Bible describes dreams that are prophetic, such as Joseph’s dreams in the book of Genesis. His dreams of rising above his older brothers get him into trouble. At the age of 17, just when one is supposed to be dreaming of bright hopes of being accepted into Duke University, life is the pits for Joseph, literally, because his older brothers throw him into an empty pit. Why? His older brothers hate him because he’s a dreamer. His dreams make them want to destroy him—“we shall see what will become of his dreams,” they say.