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Actor Stephen Baldwin

Actor Stephen Baldwin

An update from Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, who is in DC for the inauguration:

I’m leaving for the Western States Inaugural Ball in a few minutes, but I wanted to post an update on the day’s events.  It was simply amazing to be in that crowd of 1.8 million people witnessing and celebrating this historic event.  The feeling was electric, positive. The crowd was as polite and excited as I’ve ever seen.

My seat gave me a view of the stage on the steps of the Capitol, even thought it was partially obscured by a tree!  I was able to move forward for President Obama’s speech and got some nice photos.  Sharon Watkins and Rick Lowery had equally wonderful seats.  They even spent the morning before the inauguration with the Obama family in the traditional pre-inaugural prayer service.  We’ll have to find out from them what that was like!

Stars, stars, everywhere.  For this little Okie from Muskogee, it was kind of thrilling, though not as thrilling as the main event, of course!  But I saw Bruce Springsteen and Stephen Baldwin and some other actors whose names I can’t remember … yet.  Actress Ellen Burstyn was in my row!  Such fun.  Wesley Clark passed me at one point. And Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ family sat in front of me.  Were they embarrassed by his flub up?  I couldn’t tell!  And of course I could see Rick Warren and Aretha Franklin and Rev. Joseph Lowery from my seat.  And the poem was wonderful, too.  What an honor it was to be there.  Photos will come soon.

Tomorrow is the reason I came to D.C.  The national prayer service starts at 10:00 am.  I am looking forward to hearing our General Minister and President wow President Obama and all the nation!  Yeah Disciples!

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An update from Verity Jones, in Washington D.C.:

DisciplesWorld's Verity Jones with CNN's Roland Martin

DisciplesWorld's Verity Jones with CNN's Roland Martin

I spent this morning talking to Steven Gentle, the pastor of National City Christian Church, while our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins conducted a few telephone interviews in the next room with print and radio reporters including CNN, AP, and NPR.  Watkins is bringing lots of media attention to Disciples.  Her appearance at the national prayer service on Wednesday may even be televised.  National City Christian Church is preparing to host a large group of Disciples from South Carolina who are coming with their regional minister, Sotello Long, to attend the inauguration.  Grown-ups sleeping on mattresses meant for teenagers in a church hall!  How’s that for dedication.

Other Disciples in D.C. are busy celebrating Martin Luther King Day.  Of course, this year’s celebration links King’s legacy to Obama’s Inauguration.  Disciples of note — Michael Kinnamon, Rita Brock, and Joan Brown Campbell — will participate in an Interfaith Peace Service at All Souls Unitarian church later this afternoon. More Disciples will gather at Michigan Park Christian Church for a dinner and celebration this evening.

The city, meanwhile, is in the process of lock down.  At 3:00 pm, most of the streets within a two mile corridor surrounding the National Mall will be closed to cars.  Only pre-approved buses, taxis, and limos will be allowed in.  National Guardsmen can be seen on every corner, even outside National City Christian Church.  They say they are practicing for tomorrow!

Last night, I attended the African American Church Inaugural Ball along with my sister, Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, the birthplace of Black Theology.  Disciples were well represented at the ball.  Watkins and her spouse Rick Lowery, along with Cynthia Hale and her mother Janice, April Johnson, Delores Carpenter, Sotello and Dee Long, Lois Artis, and Michael Paige.  It was quite the event.  Luminaries such as Jesse Jackson, Desmond Tutu, and Marian Wright Edelman were present.  CNN commentator Roland Martin was the master of ceremonies, and even actor Chris Tucker made an appearance.  Singer Jessye Norman closed the event.

I’ll be posting updates to Twitter and photos to our Facebook page, in addition to the blog and news stories on DisciplesWorld.com. Keep up with the happenings in D.C. this week!  I have a GREAT ticket to the swearing in ceremony.  I should actually be able to see!

An update from DisciplesWorld editor and publisher Verity Jones, who left Sunday for Washington, D.C.:

I’m off to Washington, D.C., today to the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.  I’m going on behalf of DisciplesWorld in order to cover the national prayer service on Wednesday Jan. 21, at which our own Sharon E. Watkins, the Disciples’ general minister and president, will preach.  We just learned that Cynthia Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga., will also participate in the service. The newly inaugurated president and vice-president will be in attendance as well, of course.

I’m thrilled beyond belief, for Disciples, for our nation.  I’ll be up in the balcony of the National Cathedral for the prayer service with all the other reporters, so I’ll have a bird’s eye view of the service.

I’m going to Washington, D.C., today, however, to find out what Disciples in D.C. are doing to recognize and celebrate the inauguration.

I’ll also attend the swearing in ceremony on Tuesday!  Look for me on television.  I’ll have on a black coat and tan hat — I’ll really stand out from the crowd.

Jones will be providing updates on Twitter, Facebook, the NewsMuse blog, and on DisciplesWorld’s website, throughout the week.

If pre-inauguration discussions are any indication, there’s going to be plenty of talk over the next four years about the role of religion in public life.

Yes, that conversation’s been going on for quite some time, I know. But the advent of the Obama era is widening it.  Mainline church leaders have been sort of on the margins for years.  I know — I post religion news from the Associated Press on our website six days a week, and most articles are about a.) scandals b.) homosexuality or c.) evangelicals. That’s fine, but meanwhile, mainline churches — which have millions of members even though our numbers are declining — are still places where faithful and interesting ministry happens, all the time.

We don’t get much attention in the mainstream press, but that’s all changing. Witness the selection of Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to deliver the sermon during the inaugural prayer service on January 21. She’s the first woman to be asked to do this, so it’s an honor. It’s also an indicator, I think, that Obama cares about Disciples, and Methodists, and UCCers, and Lutherans, and Presbyterians.  To me, that’s even better news.

And it’s not just the mainline church that’s finally got a listening ear in the White House. Historic African American churches are going to be heard from more, and misunderstood less [i.e Jeremiah Wright]. So are people of other faiths — Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and others.

Even atheists. Yep, that’s right – atheists. I’m not one, but I think their questions about the interplay between religion and government will be taken seriously. Atheists have the right to ask questions, and attacking atheists for asking them only makes people of faith look ignorant. Some of the battles atheist choose may seem trivial, but others are salient.  People of faith who believe religion should have a role in public life need to be able to make that case (and relying on the founding fathers alone is not going to cut it).

One way or another, things are going to get interesting.

So here’s a question to ponder. In all the discussion of who gets to pray and who doesn’t, and who’s going to pray to what deity, there’s the more fundamental question of whether or not prayer is appropriate at all. [for some, this isn’t a question, I know]. Jennifer Garza of the Sacramento Bee explored the question in an article yesterday. She also interviewed Bob Cornwall, who writes the Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog (always an interesting read) about the selection of Watkins to preach on Jan. 21.

Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, will be in Washington D.C. covering Barack Obama's inauguration

Verity Jones

DisciplesWorld Publisher and Editor Verity A. Jones will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to provide special coverage of Disciples participating in the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

She’ll be posting updates on the News Muse blog and on our website, www.disciplesworld.com. You can also follow her on Twitter. Check our Facebook page for photos and subscribe to our RSS feeds there (and if you notice quirks with the RSS feeds please email me at news@disciplesworld.com).

If you’ll be in DC for an inauguration events, let us know what you’re doing and how to reach you.

Oh yeah – and be sure to wish Verity a Happy Birthday tomorrow, Jan. 14. How old is she, you ask? [evil laugh] I’ll never tell! [especially since I’m older.]

Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins

Disciples have a new reason to look forward to Obama’s inauguration (or if you’re not looking forward to it, here’s something to change your mind): our general minister and president, Sharon Watkins, will be preaching at the inaugural prayer service on the day after the inauguration. She’s the first woman to be asked to lead this service, and the New York Times ran an exclusive today.

DisciplesWorld editor and publisher Verity Jones had the inside scoop, and we posted our own article as soon as Obama’s people gave the ok. Here’s that link.

Send us links to any other articles you come across, and we’ll post them. This is big news. A proud moment for Disciples. Woo hoo!

If you missed hearing Sherri on the WFYI-FM, you can still listen to the podcast….

DisciplesWorld Managing Editor Sherri Emmons was interviewed about Jim Jones and Jonestown last week for a segment on WFYI, the public radio station in Indianapolis (90.1 FM). The segment airs Tuesday, November 18 around 5:45 p.m. during “All Things Considered.”

Want to listen, but don’t live in Indianapolis? You can listen live online. If you don’t catch it live, check the site for archived programs. I’ll post the link for that  after it airs.

Someone once told me that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest drinking day of the year. Or maybe it was the Friday after. Whatever the case, here is a sobering reminder as we go into a season of abundant opportunities to overindulge: an article that ran on the front page of the Chicago Tribune today.

Josh Jahn, pictured in the photo, lost his wife and two children in an accident involving a driver who was drinking and allegedly ran a stop sign, hitting their vehicle. The funeral was held at First Christian Church in Morris, IL where the Jahns were members.

Last week I got a call from my cousin. About 10 years ago, she left behind staff work for several Presbyterian churches in Birmingham, Alabama, and since then, she’s been involved in new and creative ministries.

When I asked what she’d been up to lately, she said, “ghostbusting.”  Before you try to picture my cousin, who looks like she stepped out of a Vera Bradley catalog, chasing down the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man, let me explain. She works in a methadone clinic.  As recovering addicts wean their bodies from heroin and other opiates, she helps them deal with the mental and spiritual effects – the ghosts that haunt their dreams, realizations, and memories, and threaten to “fill the house” (as in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 12:43-45).

Memory is tricky. For every Kodak moment, there are the times we’d rather forget. Conflicts, disappointments, times when our actions hurt ourselves or others, even abuse. What do we do with those memories? If we play them back over and over again, they can trap us in a prison of guilt, shame, anger, and regret.

As much as we try to avoid difficult memories, we usually have to face them sooner or later. If we do it well, they can teach us about our strengths and weaknesses. We can talk with others who were there to get their perspective. We can consider making amends with those who we’ve harmed. We can forgive those who’ve hurt us.

In short, we can learn from our individual and collective memories, instead of granting them the power to harm us.

During the 2005 General Assembly in Portland, I was alone in the press room one afternoon. A man came in and introduced himself as Graham Kislingbury. He was a journalist with the Albany (Ore.) Herald-Democrat, and a Disciple. We chatted for a few minutes, and then he asked if DisciplesWorld would be doing an article or an issue on the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, in 2008.

Graham’s younger sister, Sharon, died in Jonestown. He told me a bit about her, and mentioned that he sometimes gave talks about Jonestown and his sister.

I jotted his down name and a few notes on a business card. The other editors and I hadn’t talked about whether we’d write about Jonestown, I told him. Not wanting to overpromise anything, I said we’d be in touch.

I lost the business card, but Graham’s name, face, and story were something I couldn’t forget. Surely, I thought, if he can honor his sister’s memory by talking to people about her death, in hopes that they will understand how easy it was (and is) for well-educated, “normal,” idealistic people to fall under the spell of a charismatic religious leader-gone-bad, then DisciplesWorld can do its part to tackle the subject.

What is the role of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in remembering Jonestown, and what is DisciplesWorld’s role? Some would say we  have no business digging up “bad news.”  Jonestown, most Disciples would agree, was not the denomination’s fault.

But the question of “fault” is only one of many about Jonestown. As the denomination that ordained Jones, and the one in which he still had ministerial standing when he and more than 900 others died in Guyana, there are questions about Jonestown that haunt us, whether we choose to face them or not.

The first question is “What happened?” The government only recently released some of the information, including audio tapes, of the fateful events of November 18, 1978.  The full answer may never be known, but there are pieces still falling into place.

Another question for Disciples is whether a tragedy like Jonestown could happen again, given our congregational structure and our covenantal polity, which works fine as long as everyone is well-behaved and trustworthy. But sin, greed, lust for power, and other temptations — staples of the biblical narrative and Christian theology — raise questions about accountability. These are the exceptions, not the norms, but they are still part of our reality as Church, and of our history as Disciples.

The third question is what, if anything, do Disciples owe the friends and families of those who died in Jonestown? Legally, perhaps nothing. But spiritually, the question needs to be asked. Perhaps the answer is as simple as the courtesy of remembrance, and of letting others know what lessons were learned so that next time, a tragedy might be averted.

Sherri Emmons, our managing editor, took on the task of researching Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. She talked with survivors and with the families of those who died.  She listened to their stories, looked at their photos, laughed with them, cried with them, and then put together a great issue of the magazine, including an editorial explaining why, after 30 years, we feel it’s time for Disciples to do some ghostbusting of our own.

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