it all started with jesus christ superstar
Memory one: I was six. Maybe seven. Jumping up and down on my sister’s bed when I first heard the story of Jesus. It was told through the soulful voice of the late, great Carl Anderson and the lens of Judas. I was never to be the same again. The words of Tim Rice and the music of Andrew Lloyd Weber started my love affair with Jesus. Here, you see me with the closest I’ve come on this side of the veil, when I was able to meet the incomparable Ted Neeley (and Barry Dennen, who played Pilate, a role I managed to not completely dishonor in 1994 when I took a stab at it). This is an important part of understanding how we got here.
Memory two: I was eleven years old when I met James Farmer at Antioch College. My father was the PR director, and Farmer was on a tour for his book, Lay Bare the Heart. In the middle of the speech, Farmer took a small pill box out of his pocked and popped a pill, before continuing to talk and answer questions. When he finally came off the stage, he looked at my father and said, “Doc, I do believe I have had a heart attack. You might want to call the ambulance.” I was always a sensitive child and I broke into tears when the medics placed Farmer on the gurney. Noticing a child in distress, the great man pulled off his oxygen mask, grabbed my small hand, and said, “Son, don’t worry. I’ll be alright. I’ve been through much worse.” I knew at that moment he was the type of person I wanted to become.
Except for a few years in Michigan, Ireland, and West Hollywood, I have called Yellow Springs home since I was ten years old. A 1994 graduate of Yellow Springs High School, I rebelled against my atheist/agnostic upbringing by becoming a religion major. A series of bad decisions and life circumstances later, I landed at Antioch and graduated with a BA in Humanities. I immediately began pursuing an MA in Theology at Xavier University in order to be the next Richard Dawkins when my beloved older brother, Stephen, who suffered from schizophrenia, took his own life. I had his Paul on the Damascus Road experience, something I detail in my book The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot: A Meditation on Suicide. Thinking I was going to be a biblical scholar, I went on to earn an MA in English Literature and was on the faculties of Antioch University, The University of Dayton, and Xavier University over the course of nearly ten years. I taught courses on the Gospel of Mark, Hasidic Judaism, Buddhism, Religion and Literature, Christian History, and everyone’s favorite: English 101 and 102.
As I crested past 30 years old I began to wonder what I was really doing to do with my life. Adjuncting is tough, demanding work that offers little pay. Spiritually, I felt like I was in limbo; I had converted to Christianity and talked a good game, but I wasn't very engaged. I made a new year's resolution in 2009: find a church by Easter. And I did. Don't look for it now. It's gone, but those who know will attest to the special place that was Cross Creek Community Church. I am a proud member of the successor congregation, Harmony Creek Church. That pretty much changed everything. I quickly discerned that God was leading me to the ministry, and when a wonderful scholarship opportunity presented itself, I began matriculating at United Theological Seminary. I graduated in 2013 with a perfect 4.0, and was soon ordained by the United Church of Christ (UCC). God has a sense of humor though; despite promising that I would never take a pulpit in my hometown nor would I pastor outside of the UCC , I found myself as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs.
The past three years have been life-altering.
I left Xavier one year after assuming the pulpit for two reasons: One, my visiting professor contract was up and I didn't want to return to the adjunct pool; and two, I felt once again like I was playing at being a Christian. I could pontificate and string together pretty words all day long, but I began asking myself what I was really doing to follow Christ. Sure, I was a pastor. But I was hired for only 18 hours and the pay was/is not one my wife and I can sustain ourselves on. I knew that I had to take another job but I felt like it had to be ministry. I accepted a job with Dayton Ministries in Higher Education for their Jubilee Year. Little did I know that God was preparing me for what you are reading right now.
DMHE was prototypical of a campus ministry: filled with passionate people trying to make do with less money, less resources, less access to students, less time, and a changing educational landscape that requires educators to function like corporate employees. Mainline Protestant denominations that had long funded campus ministries are themselves struggling financially; fewer and fewer campuses can justify a campus ministry, and fewer students want one that is Christo-centric. As I worked with the incredible people of DMHE and Sinclair College, where I was based, we moved the campus ministry more fully toward a multifaith identity, re-branding them as the Multifaith Campus Alliance (MCA). After a year and a half, I decided to step down. I am proud of the work we did together, and I wish the organization continued success with their new minister. I resigned for two reasons: health and a sense of call. I firmly believe God allowed me to glimpse what we are hoping to to with the BCPYS.
Once again broke and wondering what was next, I decided to take six months, only work one job (the audacity!), and to give a terminal degree one more shot. That is when I discovered Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt's cohort at UTS and I became one of the first five MLK Beloved Community Scholars, the first doctoral program dedicated exclusively to the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's concept of Beloved Community. I am invigorated and inspired by my colleagues, and I am in Baltimore at least twice a year, so stay tuned for those updates because we get crazy for Jesus when we all gets together :)
I'm back at Xavier to help make ends meet, but my passion is here. With this project. I have spent 20 years developing relationships with people of all different backgrounds and spiritual affiliations. I am sometimes the only Christian the person knows or trusts. I have no agenda to try to convert anyone, or to shift them toward my way of thinking. What I have noticed is that many of the people whom I love deeply find themselves worn down by their fights, the requirements of their existences, the draining nature of justice work or of living on the margins. I realized that I have much privilege and I can use it to help create safe space and then retreat into the background. If there is anything about this project I will take possession of in an ego-driven, prideful way it is this: the diversity across ethnicity, race, gender expression, sexual orientation, philosophy, religion, and age is remarkable. We're creating something that is about healing, empowering, and acting. We refuse to be told that it can't be done. We reject notions that we have to adhere to a model with which we had nothing to do with crafting.
This project is not about me. Not really. Not now. Now that it is out there, it belongs to us. And there's a place for you here. You just need to tell us what, and help us to help you so that you may help others. Maybe you need us to play the role of teacher. Maybe you need facilitators. Maybe you need spiritual community. Maybe you don't know yet and we don't know yet, but we'll know when we see each other. So, please. Let's see each other.
We are the Beloved Community Project of Yellow Springs.
meet our directors