The Intersection of Religion & Secular Life
Congrats, NorthPark! You’ve made it to 695,000 minutes of service, which brings us to the level of our next great reformer, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor.
Rev. Taylor was ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church in 1984. Throughout her lengthy career in ministry she has penned 14 books, many of which deal of the issues of theodicy (the eternal question of why bad things happen) and dark nights of the soul. She has accumulated a long list of accolades, including Time Magazines “100 Most Influential People of 2014” and is a public figure at the intersection of religion and secular life in the USA.
Taylor believes the church is especially called to minister to those in “darkness,” including emotional turmoil. Well-meaning phrases like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” end up causing deep theological wounds. People experience darkness as much as they experience light and “Sunny Spirituality,” so it’s paramount that the church be able to address those in light and darkness alike, without resorting to clichés or greeting card theology.
In 2011 a friend of mine interviewed Taylor for our Austin Seminary newsletter. She ended the interview by asking Taylor what she thought was the biggest struggle that mainline churches face today.
Taylor answered, “I am sure there are ten good answers to that question. I’d say that the biggest struggle is to resist the centripetal force that pulls church people in on themselves (focusing on their own internal struggles) because that’s so much easier than engaging the forces that are threatening the planet (pollution, poverty, overpopulation). The church that seeks to save its own life may end up losing it, just like Jesus said.”
Taylor’s writing style is easily accessible to those with little or no formal theological education. I recommend beginning with When God is Silent (1998), Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014), and An Altar in the World (2009).
Rev. Kelly Staples is Associate Pastor and Director of Youth Ministries for NorthPark Presbyterian. She grew up a member of First Presbyterian Church of Shreveport, received her Bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University, and her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.