Putting a Comma at the End of a Bearings Year of Calling Out the Beautiful, the Bodacious, and the B*llsh*t

Gertrude and Lloyd were members of a church I served for 25 years. They were both in their 80s, and though they made it to Sunday worship once in a while, they were part of that catch-all category of “shut-ins” who received pastoral visits from time to time. During one of those afternoon visits, Gertrude was very generous in thanking me for my visits and, to my slightly embarrassed surprise, bestowing on me rather extravagant words of appreciation. I recall starting to make some kind of “aw, shucks” response. However, Gertrude had placed not a period, but a comma at the end of her praise, anointing me with a blessing I have never forgotten: “… but don’t let it go to your head. We’ve loved all our ministers.”

It was the most humbling, freeing, and instructive compliment I’ve received in my ministry.

That blessing, that lesson, comes back to me as the Executive Director of The BTS Center today, as I am asked to put some punctuation on Season Two of The Center’s blog, Bearings: Navigating Life-as-Ministry. Consider this post a comma, not a period, on the award-winning second season** of Bearings, which does not so much end, but rather shifts to a more relaxed pace befitting summer.

And for heaven’s sake, please don’t ask me which blog post was my favorite! I have loved the work of all our bloggers.

I am deeply grateful for the way they have all shared from their heads and hearts … and their guts. I am moved by how skilled and passionate they are with their craft. The work of these  invited writers—each of them as unique in their giftedness and their voices as the ministers who came before me in Gertrude’s life—has been instructive, freeing, and humbling for me.

In September, weekly Bearings posts will resume, with some new voices among those you have come to know. Dr. Elizabeth Drescher and the Rev. Alyssa Lodewick will continue to shepherd the blog. I am so thankful for their labor of the past two years, developing and producing this growing body of work that is supporting theologically grounded 21st-century ministry.

Based upon the feedback we have received from readers, I am persuaded that this season’s forty evocative (and provocative) Bearings posts have been engaging, enlightening, and empowering for others as well. And as it is clear that some of the pieces have been transformative, inciting changed minds, changed hearts, and changed lives.

I am persuaded that this season’s forty evocative (and provocative) Bearings posts have been engaging, enlightening, and empowering for others as well. And as it is clear that some of the pieces have been transformative, inciting changed minds, changed hearts, and changed lives.

As I understand their general purpose, blogs are not meant to be timeless. And yet, in these contributions to Bearings, all our authors have captured snapshots that are full of enduring values and meaning. They have testified to personal experiences of inspiration, insight, and sometimes indignation.

Thinking about the scope and impact of the second season of Bearings, and also about our evolving sense of the prophetic purpose of this ministry of The BTS Center, I harked back to last August and Jon Stewart’s final “sermon”—at least, that’s how I regarded his monologues— on “The Daily Show.”

Stewart issued a call to action that night that helped me think more strategically, and irreverently, about how we might frame the outcomes we seek with Bearings.

20160630_cow_manureHe began with a prophet-like utterance: “B*llsh*t is everywhere.” And he piled it up. He went on to clarify that b*llsh*t of the “social-contract fertilizer” kind is OK. “But then there’s the more pernicious b*llsh*t—the pre-meditated, institutional b*llsh*t, designed to obscure and distract.”

Then, Stewart urged his viewers to actually pay attention, to truly see what is right in front of us. He said, “The best defense against b*llsh*t is vigilance. So, if you smell something, say something!”

Yes, I thought, that has to be a core element of Bearings!

It occurred to me at the time that maybe the “BTS” in “The BTS Center” could be more than a legacy reference to our roots as Bangor Theological Seminary. Maybe there was in this acronym a missional tagline for a spin-off from the Bearings blog: B*llsh*t Theology Sightings. (For the profanity-phobic, we could substitute “Bogus.”)

It occurred to me at the time that maybe the “BTS” in “The BTS Center” could be more than a legacy reference to our roots as Bangor Theological Seminary. Maybe there was in this acronym a missional tagline for a spin-off from the Bearings blog: B*llsh*t Theology Sightings. (For the profanity-phobic, we could substitute “Bogus.”)

For me, many of our bloggers have taken Stewart’s call to action to heart. They have logged their B*llsh*t Theology Sightings, warned us to pay attention, called out the fear-mongers, and confronted all those who seek to “obscure and distract” efforts to compose communities of compassionate, common good. Many of our writers have pushed back against the kind of divisive, exclusionary inclinations within us that have found frequent, fatally flawed expressions in unspeakable acts of violence and oppression. And they have offered alternative ways of understanding one another and living together.

At the same time, I notice that other blog posts from Season Two have lifted up Beautiful” Theology Sightings. Or Bodacious.”

I suspect that these latter “positive” iterations of a hypothetical tagline might play better with most audiences, but both the sacred and the profane are of concern to us, both affirmation and transformation.

I would love to hear if you have been stirred to some specific form of action by a Bearings post during this past season. Did you have a “favorite,” a post that was more compelling, persuasive, or even challenging and possibly uncomfortable? Was there one, or more, that moved you to respond in some concrete way? What did you think? Say? Do?

If I have any favorites among our blog posts, it would be those that broke open the lies, the deceptions that are ubiquitous in our world, and in our lives—the blogs that called “bullshit” on the ways in which I/we allow fear to rule and ruin us.

If I have any favorites among the past year of Bearings, it is all those writers who helped me notice things, name them, and make change happen in myself, or in the world around me—change that is both beautiful and bodacious. In that case, I guess I have to say I’ve loved all our bloggers!

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** In April, we were appropriately proud to receive two DeRose-Hinkhouse Awards of Excellence, in the Blog and Blog Series categories, from the Religion Communicators Council (RCC), a national interfaith association of religion communicators at work in print and electronic communication, marketing, and public relations. Developed and edited by Dr. Elizabeth Drescher, and edited and produced by the Rev. Alyssa Lodewick, the Standing for Justice series consisted of these four pieces that stimulated a great deal of interest and engagement:

We were also pleased to learn that Heidi Shott, Canon for Communications and Advocacy for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, received a Polly Bond Award for Special Achievement in Church Communication from Episcopal Communicators, for “The Privilege of Belonging,” a piece that she contributed to Bearings last October.

Image credits:

Cover – neys fadzil, “Comma,” June 6, 2008. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0 / Desaturated.

Inside – Ian Barbour, “Cow Manure,” June 24, 2012. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0.

Robert Grove-Markwood

The Reverend Dr. Robert Grove-Markwood is the Executive Director of The BTS Center. Previously he was the final president of Bangor Theological Seminary during its historic closure and re-invention. Bob also served as the pastor of the Presque Isle UCC in northern Maine for 25 years. Connect with Bob on Twitter @rgrovemarkwood.

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