8 Writing Lessons from the FLOTUS

“How we urged them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level.”

Lesson four: Unleash the power of three. Notice how often the speaker relies upon a pattern of three to make her point. This is one of the oldest tricks in the orator’s book. In literature, three is always the largest number. “Of the people, by the people, for the people.” Four examples or 40 become an inventory. Three encompasses the world, creating the illusion we know everything we need to know.

“Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

Lesson five: Express your best thought in a short sentence. This is one of the best lines in the speech for a number of reasons. It’s a short sentence, only seven words. Each word is a single syllable. There is parallelism between “they go low” and “we go high,” emphasized by the repetition of the word “go.” The sentence is complex, that is, it begins with a subordinate clause “When they go low,” which describes the opponent’s weak move, followed by a main clause that gives greater weight to the speaker’s values.

“Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered, Is my hair like yours?”

Lesson six: Find a focus. Stick with it. In the story “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, the winner of the town’s annual lottery gets stoned to death. It is a surprise ending, but there are several mentions of the word ‘stones’ as foreshadowing — never “rocks.”

If I had to choose one word to describe the speech, it would be “kids.” It is repeated five times on a single page. She also uses words like children, sons and daughters, but the informality of kids draws you in: “So, how are the kids?” There is a significant literature in African-American culture about the issue, the problem, the glory of hair. Of “good” hair, and “bad” hair. It feels almost daring for Michelle Obama to refer to this incident, to turn a taboo into a parable and a blessing.

See Roy Peter Clark’s full piece at Poynter here.

See Mrs. Obama’s speech here or below.

Thanks, Ed!

America’s Next Top Model

by Karl Fredrickson

Sunday before service started I told Nate Noonen that the sermon was hard for me, hard in the preparation. I told him it was harder for me than the words appeared to me on the page after I’d written it.

Usually I try to move beyond a sermon when it’s over. I know that many preachers find this difficult, even if by virtue of our work we, simply, have to go off to the next thing. I learned from Dallas Willard how important and ministry nurturing it can be to move along, to keep going, and to not get stuck in a sermon.

It can be a tempting thing to linger over what we say as preachers. Aside from our easy proclivity to esteem ourselves, we can also lose sight of the purpose of the sermon. It’s purpose is, in part, to move people to action.

Lingering and action contrast. The best sermons are worth lingering over, returning to, hearing again, and they somehow move us to act, to be in the world, and to be different in the world.

For me, moving beyond Sunday’s sermon has proven particularly difficult. I invited the church, our intentionally multiethnic church, to listen to and learn from the life of Hannah, a sister in the first testament who spent years asking God to remember her, asking God for a son. Most of us don’t embrace the real experience of waiting while asking for the same thing. I personally find it’s more efficient to keep going. Especially in terms of injustice and other topics that prove our country’s lack of growth, conception, and productivity.

As part of the sermon, I gave a few names of people that I think our church folks would be tutored by in our work of reconciliation. These people “came up before me” during my sermon preparation the weeks prior. They aren’t, by any means, an attempt at a longer treatment of the question. Of course this was in the same message that I offered my personal and hard questions about why that ministry of reconciliation is even important and how hard it is despite its biblical relevance. Hannah is answering some of my personal questions these days.

My brother, David, has offered a wonderful resource on the topic and related themes of reconciliation in the form of an annotated bibliography. You need to read it here.

At Nate’s request, here are those names of people I mentioned. I characterized them as contemporary renderings of 1 Samuel 1-2, fully realizing that these folks themselves would use other words to describe their work. Thanks for asking, Nate Noonen.

  1. The writings and work of Audre Lorde whose poem, New York City, I read as a contemporary version of our scriptural passage (1 Samuel 1:1-20)
  2. The writings and work of Peggy McIntosh
  3. The writings and work of Patricia Leary
  4. The writings and work of Tim Wise
  5. The writings and work of Ida B. Wells
  6. The writings and work of bell hooks
  7. The revolutionary suicide post on Dr. Melissa Harris Perry’s blog was to be my second contemporary version of the text but I didn’t have the time to include it; it’s here.

“good news for all of us”

by Tim Marshall

Walking into a room and meeting another person wherever they are. To show up and shut up and be present. To move through the human desire to say something to make it all okay and just be. To be a reflection of God-in-flesh to those who are suffering.

Also, my patients reflect God to me. People who are dying share visions of angels and whispered messages from the hereafter. Patients who are undergoing intensive rehab therapies after a stroke speak of wrestling with God in the dark hours like Jacob and emerging with a limp, but having touched God.

Chaplaincy is not a cerebral ministry of long hours spent in a pastor’s study in preparation for preaching. It is holding hands through bed rails and wearing isolation gowns and being willing to literally stand in suffering with God’s beloveds. It is not about translating Hebrew or Greek from ancient texts, but about translating scripture into something now that matters to the mother who is delivering her stillborn child or the son losing his father to cancer.

The theology of the cross is particularly apparent to me in my hospital work. This theology holds that God’s love for all of creation is most clearly seen in the act of dying on the cross.  That God did the most human thing of all, which is to die. The theological conviction that shapes my ministry as a chaplain is that God knows what it is to suffer and to die, and there is no place that God is unwilling to go, even death. This is good news for all of us who feel immersed in suffering, our own or that of others.

Read Amy Hanson’s full post here.

Politics of Being Woke

by Sander Smeeks

Read Professor Lawrence Ware’s post here at the Root.

For me, being woke means awakening to the pervasive, intersectional insidiousness of white supremacy. This awakening is not limited to people of color. Black folks are not the only ones who needed a wake-up call.

Souls that inhabit white bodies can be allies and accomplices in the fight against oppression, in the same way that black folks can be agents and accomplices in promoting, promulgating and protecting white supremacy. As my grandmother once said, conjuring Zora Neale Hurston, “All your skin folk ain’t your kinfolk.” Meaning that you can inhabit a black body and be an agent of white supremacy. Just ask Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, or any of the thousands of black Americans who are more concerned with white feelings than with black lives and bodies. Black folks don’t have the market cornered on being “woke,” and there is no agreement about how best to actualize the potentiality of the black community.

White supremacy frames black intellectualism as monolithic. Put another way, to expect black folks to think the same is an assumption filtered through a white conceptual lens. To quote Kanye West’s “New Slaves,” white supremacy says, “All you blacks want all the same things.” But this is not true. Black people may all awaken to the reality of institutional, covert and overt racism and still disagree about what is the best response to those ills.

For Tonight’s Service of Lament

by Gabriel BarlettaTonight we pray for the people of our city, our country, and our world because we have seen, participated in, allowed, and suffered so much violence. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the parents who have lost children because of police violence, state-sanctioned violence, faith-sanctioned violence, grief-induced violence. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the spouses and significant others to those who have died at murderous hands, that you would grant them vision to see again new life even while noticing how all their plans have shattered. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the children who are without mothers and fathers, asking that you would come close to them in special ways and offer them every needed grace for a life you never imagined for them. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the fallen that their names would be remembered as you recall them, that their stories would be among your best told ones, and that their deaths might inspire us to fix broken law enforcement programs, to face the fundamental wickedness of white supremacy, to turn from the error of all hatred seen and unseen. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for those Dallas police officers who were murdered this week and for the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and other victims of excessive force and for every family involved that your grace would be as overwhelming as their grief, that your kindness would envelope each one like a protest, and that your tears would mingle with ours as we suffer. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the unarmed who have fallen from bullets by police in 2015 and by name:

Dontre Hamilton

Eric Garner

John Crawford

Michael Brown

Ezell Ford

Dante Parker

Tanisha Anderson

Akai Gurley

Tamir Rice

Rumain Brisbon

Jerame Reid

Tony Robinson

Phillip White

Eric Harris

Walter Scott

Freddie Gray

Matthew Ajibade

Leslie Sapp

Brian Pickett

Andre Murphy

Tiano Meton

Alvin Haynes

Jeremy Lett

Natasha McKenna

Terry Price

Calvon Reid

Thomas Allen

Darrell Gatewood

Charly Keunang

Naechylus Vinzant

Bernard Moore

Anthony Hill

Terrance Moxley

Askari Roberts

Brandon Jones

Denzel Brown

Keith Childress

Bettie Jones

Kevin Matthews

Leroy Browing

Roy Nelson

Miguel Espinal

Nathaniel Pickett

Tiara Thomas

Cornelius Brown

Chandra Weaver

Jamar Clark

Richard Perkins

Stephen Tooson

Michael Marshall

Alonzo Smith

Yvens Seide

Anthony Ashford

Lamontez Jones

Rayshaun Cole

Paterson Brown

Christopher Kimble

Junior Prosper

Keith McLeod

Wayne Wheeler

India Kager

Tyree Crawford

James Carney

Felix Kumi

Wendall Hall

Asshams Manley

Christian Taylor

Troy Robinson

Brian Day

Michael Sabbie

Billy Davis

Samuel Dubose

Darrius Stewart

Albert Davis

Sandra Bland

Salvado Ellswood

George Mann

Jonathan Sanders

Victo Larosa

Kevin Judson

Spencer McCain

Kevin Bajoie

Zamiel Crawford

Jermaine Benjamin

Kris Jackson

Alan Williams

Ross Anthony

Richard Davis

Markus Clark

Lorenzo Hayes

De’Angelo Stallworth

Dajuan Graham

Brandon Glenn

Reginald Moore

Nuwnah Laroche

Jason Champion

Bryan Overstreet

Terrance Kellom

David Felix

Lashonda Belk

Gregory Harris

Terry Chatman

William Chapman

Samuel Harrell

Norman Cooper

Brian Acton

Donald Ivy

Frank Sheppard

Darrell Brown

Dominick Wise

Jason Moland

Nicholas Thomas

Quintonio LeGrier

Bettie Jones

In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the perpetrators of violence, be they police, children, racists, politicians, citizens, people we love or people we hate; will you do the impossible and the unthinkable and save them in every just way. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the people who are responding out of fear and pain alone, that they might arrest their own turmoil and refuse to allow it to cause more harm. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for the churches and faith communities which have been too quiet, done too little, and barely accepted your truth; that you would open us to reality as you know it and that we would be absolutely changed. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for a gospel experience with Jesus that will convert us to the truth of love that dies but that always, always, always defeats death. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for a Pentecostal experience that we might be shaken and roused by the holiest of spirits who will give us right words. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Tonight we pray for hope because Black folk have lost it, protection because no legal system provides it, wisdom because all our best rules never seem to apply to us, and justice because it can only really come from you. In our pain we ask for your enduring mercy.

Oh, God, hear and answer us.

Rohr on Resurrection, Transformation, & Humanity

by Felix Russell-SawI might quibble over a point in this, but today’s meditation was a gift to me, given recent challenges to my soul, recent deaths I’m dying. Here’s part of it:

Resurrection is not a miracle as much as it is an enduring relationship. The best way to speak about the Resurrection is not to say, “Jesus rose from the dead”–as if it was a self-generated miracle–but to say, “Jesus was raised from the dead” (as many early texts state). The Eternal Christ is thus revealed as the map, the blueprint, the promise, the pledge, the guarantee of what is happening everywhere, all summed up in one person so we can see it in personified form.

If you can understand Jesus as the human archetype, a stand-in for everybody and everything, you will get much closer to the Gospel message. I think this is exactly why Jesus usually called himself “The Son of Man.” His resurrection is not so much a miracle that we can argue about, believe, or disbelieve, but an invitation to look deeper at what is always happening in the life process itself. Jesus, or any member of “the Body of Christ,” cannot really die because we are participating in something eternal–the Cosmic Christ that came forth from God.

Death is not just physical dying, but going to the full depth of things, hitting the bottom, beyond where you are in control. And in that sense, we all probably go through many deaths in our lifetime. These deaths to the small self are tipping points, opportunities to choose transformation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people turn bitter and look for someone to blame. So their death is indeed death for them, because they close down to growth and new life.

But if you do choose to walk through the depths–even the depths of your own sin and mistakes–you will come out the other side, knowing you’ve been taken there by a Source larger than yourself. Surely this is what it means to be saved. Being saved doesn’t mean that you are any better than anyone else. It means you’ve allowed and accepted the mystery of transformation, which is always pure gift.

If we are to speak of miracles, the most miraculous thing of all is that God uses the very thing that would normally destroy you–the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust–to transform and enlighten you. Now you are indestructible and there are no absolute dead ends. This is what we mean when we say we are “saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.” This is not a cosmic transaction, but a human transformation to a much higher level of love and consciousness. You have been plucked from the flames of any would-be death to the soul, and you have become a very different kind of human being in this world. Jesus is indeed saving the world.

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View More

by Paul GilmoreI’ve been inching up to what is probably going to become a basic prayer of mine for the next few years. Though I didn’t know it, the prayer seems to have simmered up from a recent conversation with a tight friendship circle, a few reflections on the lives of brothers, and an article that I read from a theologian I respect. Even with those prior soul contacts, I wasn’t listening to my soul until I opened an email.

I get this email regularly. It’s from one of the digital photo collections which send me pictures. In this particular email, there are always six new pictures. You can’t click on the pictures to see or download them. You have to hover under what you see and click the box “View More.”

Those two words are becoming a ready prayer. I’m finding myself feeling those words, thinking them, contemplating them. They hold a basic request that continues to flourish in my depths.

I’ll be asking God to grant that to my congregants and to my patients and to my students. I’ll be praying for larger views for the folks in my family and for my friends. I pray that for you who might fall over this post. I hope and I pray that you will, by God’s help, be able to view more.

Keep looking. Keep listening. Keeping seeing more.