They Cannot Take the Sky

By Joyce Hollyday

sunset 3

Many years ago, when South Africa was in the stranglehold grip of the system of racial hatred and separation known as apartheid, I visited that country to learn about and report on the freedom struggle there. On one of my last evenings, a young man named Jabulani was showing me around the black township of Khayelitsha outside Cape Town, just as the sun was beginning to set. Domestics and laborers, weary from a long day’s work in the city, were making their way home in the last glimmers of daylight. A stream of women, water jugs balanced on their heads, some with swaddled babies on their backs, moved slowly out from the central spigot of the township’s rutted roads in the encroaching cool of the evening. Paraffin lamps came to life, one by one, up and down the rows of small and fragile homes constructed of plywood, cardboard, and corrugated metal. Continue reading

Howard Thurman: A Contemplative Guide for Our Times


Howard Thurman is one of the most important religious figures of the 20th century who had an enormous impact in both spirituality and social activism.  A grandson of slaves, he was a spiritual guide and visionary for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many of the leaders of the civil rights movement. A visit with Gandhi in India led to the conviction that nonviolence as a way of life could be a vital tool in the struggle for justice in the United States. A gifted preacher and prolific writer, his landmark book, Jesus and the Disinherited, was a ground-breaking exploration of the gospel as speaking directly to the oppression of Black Americans. But more than anything else, Thurman was a contemplative and mystic.

Sadly, Thurman’s powerful theological, spiritual, and social contributions have been greatly marginalized. He is only superficially known in much of the progressive White Christian world (a symptom of racism, one must assume). But he may be a spiritual guide for us precisely in these times, when many of us recognize that our struggle for justice, shalom – even for mere sanity – requires deeper spiritual mooring.

Thurman’s early critique of the commandeering of Christianity rings painfully true today: “It cannot be denied that too often the weight of the Christian movement has been on the side of the strong and the powerful and against the weak and oppressed-this, despite the gospel.” He called us to grasp the reality of Jesus of Nazareth, who stood with “the disinherited.” He also called us to a contemplative spirit, in which we both come to know ourselves in our fullness and our vocation in the world: “The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men and women often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.”

 The Alternative Seminary and Mystic Soul Philadelphia are hosting a special event to explore the life and work of Howard Thurman and to tap this wisdom and courage. “Howard Thurman: A Contemplative Guide for Our Times” will take place on Saturday, February 22, 9:30  – 11:30 am, at Project HOME, 1515 Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia. We will view the one-hour film Backs Against The Wall: The Howard Thurman Story that documents Thurman’s life and legacy, and we will explore together his vision of contemplative spirituality as the foundation for engagement in movements for social change. A light breakfast will be served. A donation of $10 (or whatever you can afford) is requested to cover costs. To register or for more information, contact Will O’Brien at 215-842-1790 or

 Mystic Soul Philly is a community of individuals committed to creating local spaces that center the voices and experiences of queer people of color at the intersections of faith, mysticism, activism and healing.

The Alternative Seminary is a program of biblical and theological study and reflection designed to foster an authentic biblical witness in the modern world.  For more information, see

The Yoke’s on Us

UrsulaBy Nichola Torbett

The following is a sermon I preached at Open Door United Methodist Church today. The scripture is Isaiah 58: 1-12.

I was reminded this week of a short story by science fiction writer Ursula LeGuin. The story is called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” It’s the story of a city called Omelas. Imagine a place where everyone lives happy, peaceful, rich lives, a place filled with music and dancing and cultural expression, where everyone has what they need.

Well, almost everyone. There is one exception. A small one. Very small, in fact.

In a tiny, dark mop closet of a dank, unfinished basement in a single building within this vibrant and beautiful city lives a small child—emaciated, terrified, and alone. She has been in there for years, but you wouldn’t guess how old she is, because her development—physical, intellectual, and emotional—has been stunted by neglect and malnourishment. The only interruption to her unending empty terror comes when someone rattles the door open and slides in some meager food. At these times, she cries out, “Please help me! I promise I’ll be good! Just let me out. I’ll be so good! Just help me!” But every time, the door slams closed and she is left in the dark. Continue reading

Sermon- By this Authority.

14045939_10208859512578630_2180424516011809531_nBy Bill Wylie-Kellermann, January 25, 2020
This was the closing sermon to the United Methodist Global Water Summit at Cass United Methodist Church in Detroit. His opening sermon was posted on February 12.

Romans 6:1-18

In the summer of 2013 as the Water shut-offs spiked under Emergency Management, St Peter’s Episcopal became the first water distribution station of We the People of Detroit. The first contribution was a truckload borne across the Ambassador Bridge by the Council of Canadians. It didn’t have all the necessary paperwork, so the Border Feds had to decide whether to halt it and cause an international press incident or just allow I through irregularly. The latter wisdom prevailed. We received it at St Peter’s with a small ceremony, carried  it in brigade-style and stored it along the outside isles of the sanctuary. But mostly we grouped the bulk of it around the baptismal font which is the first thing you see as you enter. At one point we had 1500 gallons of water there. We hung a banner behind the font which said St. Peter’s Water Station, making the very same connection as this summit. Continue reading

Sermon “By Water and the Spirit: A Global Water Summit”


Bill Wylie-Kellermann at his granddaughter’s baptism. Photo credit: Tony Eggert

By Bill Wylie-Kellermann, January 24, 2020

Isaiah 55:1-3

In the name of the One who breathed across the face of the waters in creation; the One who is Lord and Servant of all; and the Spirit militant that summons, fills, and holds us together as one, let all of this be.

I am a former pastor of this congregation, so I’ve preached many times from this pulpit; I was married in this sanctuary, my daughter was baptized here, and still I confess to feeling the burden of bringing a Word to this important summit. I’ve been asked to “lay a theological foundation” for these conversations. In that, I’m mindful that the charism we need in this moment is less one of speaking than of listening – especially to our guests from the African continent. Continue reading

Healing Trauma, Decolonizing Memory

ElaineBy Elaine Enns (right), re-posted from Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology.

All four of my grandparents fled Ukraine and Russia in the 1920s, coming to Saskatchewan with some 22,000 other Mennonite immigrants.2 During the Russian Revolution and Civil War (1917–21), they and other German-speakers endured a continuous climate of violence, plundering, rape, and killing. As a child, I knew something unspeakable had happened to them. But my grandparents spoke only about the good times and the vast abundance and beauty of the land. In my senior year at a Mennonite high school in Saskatchewan, our drama teacher had us perform a reader’s theater rendition of Barbara Claassen Smucker’s novel Days of Terror. 3 Survivors of the Zerrissenheit (a German term loosely translated as “a time of being torn apart”) spoke with us about their experience. Seeds of a call to become a “remembearer” in my community were planted in me, which have grown for thirty years. Click here to keep reading.

What is Whiteness? A Provisional Articulation

Council on the WayBy Jim Perkinson

Note: this is a long working definition of Whiteness. Dr. Perkinson laid this down for a committee reflecting in the wake of The Council on the Way (right), an October 2019 gathering of white men envisioning and embodying a redemptive white male theology. The conversation over two days in Washington D.C. was conceived and coached by Ruby Sales, theologian and veteran of the Black Freedom Struggle.

What is whiteness? I would understand the paler shades of skin color that are typically referenced, when the term “whiteness” is used, as a kind of shorthand for a whole social system of infrastructure and expectation, as well as conscious/unconscious identification. It is a system that is rooted in European Christian colonialism taking land on this continent by force (either violent conquest or coercive legal imposition) from indigenous peoples and making much of that land yield “resources” by means of enslaved African peoples (as well as other coerced peoples of color, and to some degree even coerced lower and working class European heritage peoples). Continue reading