I’m always amazed at how God works in this imperfect, sometimes downright horrible world. So often, we see negative news or experience the worst of what the brokenness of humanity has to offer. I, for one, don’t believe God is behind all the horrible things that happen. But I do know that God can work for good in spite of these things, creating something beautiful even amidst the ugliness we humans can cook up.
When negative things happen in this world, I am reminded of Ash Wednesday, where we recognize our humanity – with its imperfections, its mortality. And yet, God created us in God’s image and called us good, so in spite of our brokenness, God sees the good and calls us to see the good in others. In the 1990s I recall a Christian music song I grew up hearing called “Beauty for Ashes,” and it recalls Isaiah 61:3 where Israel experiences God’s favor, receiving a crown of beauty instead of ashes:
“He gives beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair…”
In the last couple of weeks, I have publicly faced a personal attack on my work and ministry. To be honest, the person who wrote it regularly contacts me about how he and his church feel about my pastorate at First Baptist, and I regularly ignore them and do not engage. I recognize that their calls for “dialogue” are nothing of the sort and will only serve to encourage their ongoing harassment of my church and other churches in the area. I also do not wish to broadcast futile arguments all over the local TV station or internet when there is nothing to be gained for the Kingdom of God.
All that to say: I expected (and expect) this kind of goading for attention from this group in our community. It’s unfortunate for our city that our faithful are put down and belittled so regularly, but what made this instance different was its publication in the local paper. Thankfully, the paper has chosen to remove the personal attack and has reached out to apologize and change its policies for letters to the editor going forward.
What was so amazing about all this, though, was not the changing of policies or the apology from the paper. What was amazing was that when this went public, the city of Martinsville said that this letter from this person did not represent them or how they felt about my ministry or anyone else’s. Father Nicholas Hull wrote a fantastic letter decrying the bullying that so regularly happens from this group. Rev. Ashley Harrington wrote a strong letter that supported women serving in ministry. Countless comments on social media and via email poured in showing support for me and my ministry, and decried the negative letter as unrepresentative of this community.
From my own church, I received calls and letters and cards. From my prior church, River Road Church, Baptist in Richmond, I received a signed letter from many members, along with calls and letters and cards supporting me. God has spoken through hundreds of people to me, and I can see the bountiful beauty God has made from this broken, ashy situation.
Despite the negative publicity, and despite the questioning of my call to ministry or the questioning of my commitment to God, God has brought beauty from all of this. And for all those who have reached out, though I likely won’t have time to catch you all personally, I want to say Thank You.
Your love and support for me, for my ministry at First Baptist, and for the collective of clergy here in Martinsville and Henry County who are so regularly bullied is felt deeply. You have been the hands and feet of Christ in my life these weeks, and I know that through this, you have inspired so many to overwhelm hate with love – the way Jesus would have wanted us to do it. You, your ministry, your words are the beauty God brings from ashes.
So, thank you. All of you. I appreciate you, and I look forward to many more years of ministry in this church and in this community.