“Turning” with Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 24
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 24: “Turning”, with Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards was released on June 14, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:
In today’s episode, we’re joined by a familiar voice – ~ing host Allison Maus is joined by ~ing host, Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards (Professor at North Park University)! With the interviewing tables shifted in a new direction, we’ll learn a little more about Dennis’ passions and interests, as well as reflecting on themes from his recent book, Might From the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice, as well as other projects that he has on the horizon. Marginalized Christians are already changing the face of the church. Will we embrace their power to change the church’s heart? Listen to find out more!

Allison Maus, Dennis Edwards, Rohadi Nagassar, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world.

Dennis Edwards  00:27
A lot more people of color have been writing books and talking about what does it mean for our voices to be to be more prominent? Or even when we look at the landscape and say, “Okay, we’ve got racism, patriarchy, sexism, so many of these isms that we’re confronting.” And there are some people say, “Well, you know, the people in the margins have been talking about that for a long time.”

Ben Wideman  00:48
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.

Allison Maus  00:55
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of ~ing Podcast, Allison here. And today I’m here with a familiar voice. Someone you will recognize… Reverend Dr. Dennis R. Edwards. So welcome, Dennis!

Dennis Edwards  01:10
Oh, Allison, it’s really good to be chatting with you.

Allison Maus  01:12
Yeah, we’re putting you on the other side today. You’re not interviewing, but I get to ask you about your work and the books you’ve written and our writing and all of that. So I’m excited to like for you to be able to share in a different way on this platform.

Dennis Edwards  01:28
I’m looking forward to it. Thank you. Good.

Allison Maus  01:30
I know, probably our listeners are familiar with you, because they’ve heard your voice a lot. But will you do a little recap of who you are what you do?

Dennis Edwards  01:39
Yeah, well, thank you. I’m currently I’m the Associate Professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. And I’ve come to this position after years of being an adjunct professor of New Testament in various places, and a pastor in different cities, namely, Brooklyn, New York, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis, Minnesota,

Allison Maus  02:03
You are a deep well of wisdom, it seems, with all of the things that you’ve done… teaching and leading, and church planting and all of that. So thank you. I’m excited to talk to you more.

Dennis Edwards  02:15
Thank you. That’s kind of you. I am a well of wisdom. That sounds nice.

Allison Maus  02:23
Well, I would love to first talk to you about your book, Might From the Margins: The Gospel’s Power to Turn the Tables on Injustice that was published in 2020. Right?

Dennis Edwards  02:34
That’s right. Yeah. When we were all out and about frolicking and right, a different world, there really was a different world. Yeah.

Allison Maus  02:43
So I’m, I’m curious, why this book, what inspired it? Who is it for?

Dennis Edwards  02:49
Yeah, thank you. I point to two main things. One is an academic point. And that’s that I had done some work in the book of 1 Peter. And this notion of people being connected and alien and stranger. In fact, he uses the word diaspora and dispersed people. That kind of image resonated with me – certainly as an African American part of a diaspora, if you will. But but it wasn’t just that people are alienated is that that alienated place can be a place of significant. Christ’s likeness, folks who are displaced, can represent Christ well, and often have, because Jesus is like that, not quite in the center, but on the margins. So that was resonating my mind. And then then the second thing, so that was academic, but second thing is experiential, is that in my life, I’ve often been in settings that were hopeful about what was then called racial reconciliation, trying to get people of different races, different backgrounds together. And many times the discussion was about proximity, not about power. It was almost as if we had to convince white people that somehow we were worth their time and energy. And even in some of those discussions, why people would if they got angry, that, you know, would shut down. And I started thinking… I said, “Do we really need like permission from white people to exercise our power as people who are marginal?” And I thought, “Well, you know what? That’s actually the way the gospel has been. It’s been there in the margins, right?” So it’s been from experience, as well as my academic study that I thought, Oh, let me see if I can express a hopefulness for people who have been on the margins to say we have something to add to the whole Christian witness. In fact, our voices can should be more prominent in at least in the States. So I came at it from pretty much those two lenses. Yeah,

Allison Maus  04:52
Well and your book is really helpful. You tell a lot of stories that I think are great illustrations for that. Yeah, how power is used in the Gospel, but also how you have seen it dispersed in the different settings you’ve been in. And I think that, for me, as a white woman who, you know, has been in the center of whiteness, and has, you know, had these narratives built up around me that I have lived into and believed for so long, you were so helpful in showing that like shift of centering in a way that I needed to be reminded of and always need to be reminded of, right, because I think and you mentioned this in your book, too, right? Oftentimes, us as white folks will think centering means inviting one or two people of color in into our like, conference, right? And thinking, “Oh, we’re, you know, centering black voices or marginalized voices.” But the truth is, like, we need to, like, deconstruct and move and recenter

Dennis Edwards  06:06
Yes, yes.

Allison Maus  06:07
And that’s can be big and scary.

Dennis Edwards  06:09
Yeah, well, no, perhaps it can be scary. I, I, I suspect anytime we have been in a place where our voices are prominent, and then somebody else’s voice emerged, it can feel scary. And so part of what I was trying to say in the book, and you did ask me earlier, like, who is the book for? And I didn’t answer that directly. But I didn’t want to write another book trying to convince white people that they should behave differently. Although I’m happy if White people read the book, you know, you know, all messages I think could be worthwhile in some sense. But, but, but I talked about the scene, you know, in the movie, Black Panther, that when you have King T’Challa, incapacitated, he needs help. So an entourage goes to see them. The Jabari tribe that has kind of stayed out of things in Wakanda. And as they go to make an appeal, it’s the White agent Ross, who starts to speak up and explain the situation. And M’baku, he pounds his staff and he starts to bark and the whole Jabari tribe barks. And they drown out Agent Ross. And I, I said, how I wanted to stand up in movies. In fact, I kind of got out of my seat in the movie theater, because it that seemed represented something powerful. For me, it’s not that agent Ross couldn’t help. But he didn’t need to be the one explaining everything, he didn’t need to be the one at the center, he didn’t need to be the one in control. But it also suggested that he was probably used to that. And he sort of assumed he could go ahead and speak. And that’s the way I’ve experienced whiteness, even in Christian circles, sort of the assumption that white people are in control or in charge, and they’ve actually have the more important voice. And, and so it’s not. So when we say centering, it doesn’t mean eliminating other people. But it means shifting the focus, right, and putting the focus in a different place. So that’s what I was trying to do in the book. So thank you for noticing that. I mean, you said it helpful. And I hope that I really can be although i i suspect for some white people might be uncomfortable a bit to get into what I’m talking about.

Allison Maus  08:21
Yeah, and I think I use the word scary, because another thing you mentioned is we get in the tendency of thinking of grace or faith in this like zero-sum game way, right? And it’s that unlearning that truly needs to happen so that we can, yeah, see, like, drop those assumptions and not feel like oh, my faith is at risk if someone else’s voice is lifted up.

Dennis Edwards  08:48
Amen! And I think, you know, some of my experience in church work… and it’s a reflection of my age. I came to my faith, or at least a more robust understanding of my faith when I was in my college years, like maybe a lot of people. And so I was around white Christians, American Christians, for the most part, those two groups. So I was getting some level of nurture and teaching and training in different places. And I maybe naively looking back thought, oh, I should be a bridge in this place. Because that’s seem to be the roles I was thrust into. But I found out that in some places, when you’re trying to be that bridge, there is that zero sum game thinking and it’s often on the part of white people who have been used to being the majority voice right? So I served the church in Washington DC and I talked about it in the book. And that when the possibility that there will be more people from our neighborhood around the church coming to the church, actually frightened many of the white people in the church who lived in the suburbs, but and really enjoyed coming into the city for that church. And I thought to myself almost the same words as you… zero-sum game. I thought, why, why? Why do we see the kingdom of God in such a limited way? But the phrase that some people use as well, Dennis is attracting more “City People.” That was a euphemism, I think was euphemism for black people. They said, “there’ll be no place for us.” And I thought, really? I never thought that the kingdom of God was like that. I really thought it meant we get, we just keep, you know, adding another leaf to the table. You know, we keep figuring out how to get more of us around there. Not that you had to knock somebody is I mean, it’s not musical chairs, right? You don’t have to knock somebody off and remove a chair. You keep adding. So anyway, that what you just said about zero sum game had me thinking I think you’re right on target. Yeah,

Allison Maus  10:42
Of course, you agree with me… I stole it from you. I did read your book I did my homework!

Dennis Edwards  10:48
I appreciate it!

Allison Maus  10:50
But that was just one of the things that I think was I had to be like, alright, what are the ways I’m thinking about that in my ministry or in my life? Right. Like, it’s a good reminder, because it is something that I don’t know if it’s society perpetuates, or, you know, white Christianity is perpetuating or what it is, but yeah, yeah, it’s an it’s an important thing.

Dennis Edwards  11:13
Thank you.

Allison Maus  11:16
In your book, you talk a little bit about anger. And Jesus’s anger. I wonder if you could speak into that, or do you have anything you want to follow up on?

Dennis Edwards  11:25
Yes, thank you, Allison. I’m particularly concerned that when we are agitated over injustice, and we show it in some way, and by we I mean, in this case, often minoritized people that we get ignored or even further marginalized by people in power, because they don’t like the tone of our of our conversation, or they don’t like the way that we, we challenge authority, I have been turned, people have turned me off by saying, “well, you’re angry,” as if my anger is not legitimate, but doesn’t give me a voice. So I really wanted to say that anger, which, of course, it’s a righteous indignation, but rather than saying it all fancy like that, it is what it is. It’s anger, and even Ephesians, when it says, you know, be angry, don’t sin. Don’t let the sun go down in your anger don’t give place to the devil, they’re all commands. So some have argued, well even be angry is a command there. So it’s somehow legitimates my anger in that text. But I but I, but I really want to point to the anger over injustice. So I look at Jesus and a couple of stories in Mark’s gospel, where he’s angry at folks when he’s going to heal a man with a withered hand. And then when they tried to stop children from coming to him, in both of those situations, Jesus is described as indignant or angry. And, and it’s clear that people are placing their attention in the wrong place right there. The end. So for Jesus to be angry, that says something to me, a legitimate it legitimates my anger, when I say I’m angry that over the things that Jesus is angry about. So for me, anger is a legitimate response to injustice. Not all people should be angry about the same things. It’s anger over injustice. And so that’s the kind of thing I tried to talk about in there. And hopefully allows people been pushed to the side to say, yes, our voices matter. And we can raise them. Yeah.

Allison Maus  13:24
Yeah, that’s helpful to think of that as a tool or a marker.

Dennis Edwards  13:29
Yes. Yeah.

Allison Maus  13:30
That can be used. Thank you and not be shamed. Yeah,

Dennis Edwards  13:33
That’s right. That’s right. Not be ashamed to raise our voice, even in anger, when it’s when it’s justified. Certainly.

Allison Maus  13:42
Another thing you mentioned was that the best teachers of the gospel are those who have been oppressed. And I wonder if you could speak more into that?

Dennis Edwards  13:53
Yeah, I I’d love to. And what I’m finding interesting is, even in the two years since I’ve written this book, I’ve been seeing other voices emerging, and maybe just because of social media, and I have my lens on it, but a lot more people of color have been writing books and talking about what does it mean for our voices to be to be more prominent, or even when we look at the landscape and say, Okay, we’ve got racism, patriarchy, sexism, so many of these isms that we’re confronting, and there are some people say, Well, you know, the people in the margins have been talking about that for a long time and some people just coming to an awareness. Right. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that there has been some renewed interest or reinvigorated interest and paying attention to us, you know, okay. But my main point and you caught it is that for, you know, since Christianity is became a movement, you know, with Jesus, there has been always this sense that we’re not to be like the rest of the world and Jesus even says to decide was don’t be like those who lord it over others, right? That that the way of the Kingdom is always this under – and that’s why I think I’m Anabaptist – this sense that the power comes from under, and not top down, right? But the way we operate in American Christianity anyway, at least in USA Christianity, as we tend to think we’ve got to influence the top. And if we can get to the top, then the top people will you know, it’ll trickle down to some kind of spiritual influence. But if you were to look at the people who’ve been you know, we’ve been tracking the last few years, the big church name some of those folks, not all of them, of course, but many of the issues have emerged in churches where people who have big platforms weren’t held accountable. And we kind of got all excited about their bigness and all that they were doing. And actually, I would, I would wager that in all those churches, there were probably some core people who were the prayers, who were the ones doing discipleship, who were the ones nurturing others whose names aren’t up on the marquee and who people don’t even know. But that’s where the real spiritual life is. And I would say that that’s happened throughout time. So I point to people in my family, I point to two other people who are perhaps unsung heroes of the faith, who have been faithful to look like Jesus, even when they don’t have the large platforms. So my thesis, as you call it, there is that that’s where we are, those are the people we need to listen to. Because they’re there, they’re around us, they’re in our churches, they’re in our communities. But somehow, we still have this fixation to turn to the big names. So I think even some of us who get a platform I’m not, I’m not arguing against the platform, some of us who have a chance to write a book or, or have a podcast, or have people pay attention to us, I think it’s part of our task to keep turning people’s eyes back to where the power is. And it’s not up where we think we’re trying to get it’s back, where it’s always been on its knees, doing good serving, humbly, faithfully walking the way of Jesus. That’s the transformative power.

Allison Maus  17:08
You mentioned, as we hopped on to this interview that your next project is about humility. And I am hearing a lot of those tones and what you’re saying, right? Affirms and, and understanding humility, I’m wondering, yeah, how did this project about humility come about after like, the research you’ve been doing for the previous book? And yeah, what else?

Dennis Edwards  17:30
Yeah, well I guess you’re you you’re seeing it, I think there’s a connection there. And so I happen to be talking with an editor. And she and I were discussing some of my life’s journey and my my academic interests. And she came to me and said, “I think you are the person to write a book on humility.” And I thought, “Well, I appreciate you saying that.” I said, because it’s it’s a topic I’ve, I’ve been thinking about for much of my life. So there’s a connection point between life and margins for white writing. First, a commentary on First Peter, and some of the other things I’ve kind of thought about is, what’s what’s under misunderstood often, or, or minimize what? And one of the virtues I think that gets minimized or misunderstood is that if humility, because if we assume its weakness, we don’t want anything to do with it. And if it’s not that, then what is it, you know? So… So I said, let me see if I can explore this in a robust way, but not just to define it, but to illustrate it. So what I’m trying to do is to say, let’s look at the whole trajectory. Let’s look at thoroughly in the Old Testament. You know, Moses called the meekest man or the humblest man on earth. And look at these concepts of meekness, humility. Sometimes kindness overlaps, but mostly meekness and humility, and trace a bit and see how it goes. So one little teaser that I’ll say is that this this proverb, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, gets spoken or written in some way or another, from the Old Testament into the intertestamental literature, the apocryphal literature like in Syriac, into the New Testament, particularly in James and First Peter, and then into the Apostolic Fathers, particularly first, Clement. I mean, there’s something about this humility that travels all the way through that when we look at Jesus we can’t help but to think of that God oppose God is anti the proud but gives grace to them. Yet, yet, we tend to make excuses in our society for people who are proud or will say, well, it’s not really proud, you know, pride or something. But you know, the apostle Paul denounces it, you know, and Philippians two would be the primary place, right? Where he tells us to be humble, and to consider others better than ourselves. And then he gives us Jesus as the ultimate example. So that’s in a nutshell, what I tried to do in that work. I honestly think, say one more thing about… about it, that if more Christians thought about humility, not in terms of weakness, but it also in a power, power, subversive, subversive power way that we could… we could see some healing done in our society. There’d be a little more listening, there’d be little more respect and, and even the nastiness that we see sometimes on social media or in other venues. I think we could really challenge that if we could lean into what humility really is. That’s my, my thinking anyway.

Allison Maus  20:33
Yeah, I like that definition. It’s helpful to think about weakness is not synonymous with humility. But that it’s the antithesis to pride. Yeah. Because I, as you were speaking, I was wondering, yeah, how does this kind of call to power that you’ve spoken of in your might from the margins, coincide, especially when I feel like people use the term humility to like, tell people who are trying to speak truth and you know, speak from the margins to be like, No, you need to be humble.

Dennis Edwards  21:10

Allison Maus  21:10
It’s a way of suppression instead of like, a true humility.

Dennis Edwards  21:14
Yeah. Well, you’re catching it. I think that’s, that’s precisely the issue. So I, I wrote a chapter called… well, each chapter at least so far, I’m giving it like a participle. So it’s like “yielding,” “communing,” one of the chapter is I say “empowering.” Because the issue is all right. So if we take this picture of Jesus, and Philippians 2, sometimes you’ll see the term cruciformity that our friend, Michael Gorman, has made popular this idea of living this cross shaped life. That for the people in the margins… women, ethnic minorities, sometimes that that picture looks scary, because it seems like we can’t, we’re destined to stay in that hurtful, harmful place. And, and then we have this biblical precedent to say, yes, that’s exactly where you should be. So I’m arguing that no, humility is not humiliation. And it’s not even a license to humiliate someone else. In fact, it’s just the opposite that if we’re truly humble, then rather than being afraid of being a doormat, we would be asking, why are there doormats? Why do we allow people to to be stepped upon? So for me, humility, humility becomes empowering because it it allows us to see the those who are who are being hurt and and, and damaged in our society and we become advocates for them. It doesn’t mean that the people who are lower, who are low have to go lower, it means people who are who could easily ignore them need to come to where they are. So ultimately, humility, lifts up the downtrodden.

Allison Maus  22:54
Humility assumes I know the power is not mine to hold, but it’s ours to carry together.

Dennis Edwards  23:02
Amen. Well, well, with you on that. Thank you.

Allison Maus  23:05
Well, I would love more spoilers, but I always wait to read it and encourage others.

Dennis Edwards  23:13
Well, we got to see what the editors do with it, too. Yeah, I’m excited about every chapter. But then when I get something from the editor, I like Oh, okay. I guess I can say that differently. So I’m at that stage right now. sharpen it up. But, but I will say this, that, of course, Jesus is the ultimate example. Philippians too, but I don’t stay just there. I mean, it’s not a book about Philippians 2. I think that’s partly what Michael Gorman does in his book, Cruciformity. But it is it’s trying to say that there’s much more throughout the whole Bible to pay attention to. And then of course, we have the ultimate example in Jesus who says, “I am lowly of heart. And I am meek,” he says “and lowly of heart” in Matthew 11:29 or so. So that that to me is a guideposts for us to say if the Lord defines himself that way, then we ought to pay attention to that. Yeah,

Allison Maus  24:04
Thank you. I wonder as we wrap up here, if there is a benediction or a charge that you would like to leave our listeners with, is they think about power and humility and all that we’ve talked about?

Dennis Edwards  24:19
No, that’s a great question. I I really wish I had thought more deeply about it. But I’ll say the first thing that comes to my mind is something I have been reflecting on so maybe that’s worthwhile. There’s something powerful about listening and I I feel like we often don’t listen well. So my blessing would be or which is also a challenge is to ask people to give each other the gift of your attention and, and to be quick, as James would say, to listen slow to speak, a lot of people out there think they’re prophets and need to denounce everything. It would really be nice if more of us listened well. So I’ll say that.

Allison Maus  25:10
Well, first, I’ll say thank you so much for sitting down to this interview, it was a treat to read your book. And it was thoughtful. And I’m glad to be a student of yours now already. So thank you for this and all the insight you’ve shared. I would, I’m sure other people are curious to follow along on your upcoming projects and other things that you’re doing. How can people find you and follow along?

Dennis Edwards  25:35
Well, thank you, Allison. I also appreciated the conversation. Most of my handles are well actually, they’re all the same RevDrDre. So RevDrDre.com is the website. But that’s also my handle for Twitter. Also, my handle for Instagram. Haven’t been on Facebook much these days. But those places are the main ones, Twitter, Instagram, and the web and my website. So thank you.

Allison Maus  26:00
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you again, and thank you all who listened too long. This has been a wonderful conversation, and I hope that you, yeah, learn something or we’re able to be thoughtful about something and peace to you as you go by friends. Amen.

Ben Wideman  26:21
Next week on ~ing Podcast, we’re joined with another one of MennoMedia’s authors. Rohadi Nagassar is a writer, entrepreneur, nonprofit developer, and pastor,

Rohadi Nagassar  26:31
For folks who’ve been pushed to the margins… And the story I weave is around my own story. So as a racialized minority, there are so few places where you can just let your hair down and be you without looking over your shoulder and wondering, you know, do I have to put on a face here is someone going to say something out of place. And so to have those safe spaces, where you’re truly seen for who you are, that there is a comprehensive aspect to belongingness I think.

Ben Wideman  27:00
As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.