Empowerment with Lisa Bowens and Dennis Edwards

“Empowering” with Lisa Bowens and Dennis Edwards

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 14
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 14: “Empowering” with Lisa Bowens and Dennis Edwards was released on April 4, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

We’re joined this week by a familiar voice – Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards returns to ~ing Podcast with his new co-author and editor, Dr. Lisa Bowens, to talk about their new book, Do Black Lives Matter?: How Christian Scriptures Speak to Black Empowerment (available for pre-order from Wipf and Stock Publishers). We’ll be looking at themes from this compilation of essays, as well as what this book might offer churches as they approach racism and justice with a biblical approach.

Todd Wynward, Dennis Edwards, Lisa Bowens, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?

Dennis Edwards  00:09
So the pressure from me is to say, “Can we can we see the scriptures as generating that kind of activist spirit? I think all the folks that we were able to get into this project, which share that kind of passion, that the scriptures actually don’t squash our activism or our passion for justice, it actually pushes us

Lisa Bowens  00:30
This understanding that God is still with us. Right in the midst of what we’re facing, God is still present.

Ben Wideman  00:43
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. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Hello again, friends. Welcome to ~ing Podcast. We are so glad that you are here with us again, we have another really interesting book project to take a look at here today. And I’m really excited to be joined by two people who have edited a book called Do Black Lives Matter?: How Christian Scriptures Speak to Black Empowerment. This feels so relevant, ongoing relevancy here in the United States, but but really culturally in a lot of different parts of the world, to think again on how our faith speaks to black empowerment, to racial justice… And to have two prominent thinkers here with us today feels like a real privilege. I’m joined by a familiar friend, Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards is here with us. After some time away from ~ing Podcast, Dennis used to be one of our hosts of the podcast. And since taking on the Seminary Dean and Vice President of Church Relations at North Park Theological Seminary. You’ve had to pass on some podcasts for the last several months, Dennis,

Dennis Edwards  02:09
Pass on a few things!

Ben Wideman  02:12
Continuing to be busy, it’s really great to have you and we’re joined by your co author, co editor, Dr. Lisa M. Bowens, who is an associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us on ~ing Podcast.

Lisa Bowens  02:29
Thank you for having me. Great to be here.

Ben Wideman  02:32
It’s a real privilege to talk to you both. I’m curious. If you would start just telling us a little bit more about how the two of you connected with each other? You’re both sort of thinkers and teachers and educators in church spaces. How did the two of you cross paths and get to know each other?

Dennis Edwards  02:51
Well, I’ll start on that when at least how I remember at least I, I actually, I don’t know if I ever totally said this, but there was an essay of hers that I had cited a few times, that touches on some of the themes that are in her recent book on, on Liberative Readings of Paul by African Americans… she had an essay, but then I got to meet her in person at a society of biblical literature conference where we were both in the same…. The same study, same group, there… the same session that Missional Hermeneutics session. That’s what I remember.

Ben Wideman  03:28
Do you want to… do you want to clarify that or anything else?

Lisa Bowens  03:32
Yeah, I remember that as well. I met Dennis at Society of Biblical Literature. And it was just an instant connection, right? Because we were both interested in the New Testament, and in ways in which African Americans have read scripture in ways. So there was just a connection there. And I use Dennis’s book, Might From The Margins in my class. And he’s been gracious enough to visit my class via Zoom. And talk about his work. So yeah, just the instant connection that. Yeah.

Ben Wideman  04:15
So have you done any writing together leading up to this, this book project?

Dennis Edwards  04:19
No, we hadn’t been on anything in common, although we were in those common spaces. And in both, and we both had connection to Wipf and Stock Publishers. And so we, we were approached by Wipf and Stock about this. So we knew the same person that we have at Wipf and Stock, and we had done other work, but we didn’t we hadn’t worked together on a project.

Ben Wideman  04:43
This book comes out June 1, 2023. It’s still not out yet at the time that we were recording this. And I’m curious, from  reading the summary… The two of you have compiled a volume of essays that highlight black resilience and how scripture sort of speaks to this resilience. I’m curious if you are going back in the archives, if these are our essays from, you know, all of a history or if this is a collection of brand new essays that have been put together, what went into assembling this collection? And how do you describe it?

Lisa Bowens  05:21
All the essays deal with black resilience. And subtitle says how Scriptures speak the black empowerment. And the idea for this volume came about after the murder of George Floyd and thinking about how can we as scholars speak this moment, right? How can we as scholars speak this moment in which there’s so much pain and trauma. And yeah, just wrestling with what it looks like, in the aftermath. Such a tragedy, right? So Dennis, and I were very fortunate to be able to assemble a wonderful array of scholars from New Testament, Hebrew Bible, Old Testament ethics, theology history. So we were able to bring together great scholars, great thinkers, people who could, this moment, and it’s a continual moment, right, because we’re having these type of events happening, where unarmed black people are being killed. So it really was a journey, I think it was saying that it was a journey in so many new scholars, but it’s also a journey as you read their essays. All of them are very powerful insight into what it looked like in the midst of this. ,

Dennis Edwards  07:05
I agree with that. And, and just adding a little piece, when you mentioned on when you asked Ben, if there are old or new essays, they’re, they’re, they’re new essays, but you will find that some of the scholars are drawing on, you know, years of their work and thinking and so I’m sure there’s some overlap with thought that they may have expressed previously, but the essays are, for the most part really new. And and we’ve included the voice of some practitioners. So there’s some sermons that punctuate the scholarly work as well. So I’m excited about that. So you get you hear scholars voices, and then you also hear passionate preacher voices to

Ben Wideman  07:44
Wow, what was your litmus test or criteria for who you asked or who you shoulder-tapped? How do you… How did you sort of cast the net to put together this collection?

Dennis Edwards  07:57
I’m laughing because that was hard. I mean, there was so many people that really could have been in here, we cast the net widely based on our own appreciation of African American scholars who are out there doing work. There were some folks that I didn’t know that Lisa had relationship with and contact with, can we really ask that person? You know? Oh, yeah, we can reach out to so so. So we, yeah, there’s some folks who are, who will be really very familiar names. I mean, for example, Dr. Angela Parker, she’s been doing some wonderful work in New Testament, and, and she has her own book that’s really taken off. And, and it was, you know, just the grace, grace of God that she was able to, you know, speak into this volume. Now, I just called out one name, I should call that call out all the names, but but there was, there was some folks that we just we did cast the net really widely and said, “Can we ask these folks?” and some some folks, you know, they graciously, were not able to. But I’m, I’m just so surprised that so many that we’re able to offer an essay for this volume. I called out a New Testament person, so I should probably call out a few others. But we’ve got folks in OT and you know, Old Testament, New Testament and theology, just like Lisa said, already. Yeah, so I could I could go down the whole list of names, but maybe I will come back to that. If I can find our our table of contents handy.

Ben Wideman  09:28
All right. Do you know just offhand how many voices have contributed to this volume?

Lisa Bowens  09:33
Yeah, so so far, we have we have twenty people, twenty contributors. And that’s including the sermon writers, those who wrote sermon for the volume. Yeah. Twenty, including Dennis and myself.

Ben Wideman  09:49
Okay. And is there a component of the book that that you all have, have written trying to tie everything together?

Dennis Edwards  09:59
Lisa gave the first stab at that. And then I said, it sets the stage to say what Lisa was saying earlier about the moment that we were that we were experiencing. And unfortunately, that moment is not passed. That’s right. I mean, so. So even though it was the murder of George Floyd that sort of prompted us pulling these voices together, it… that, that reality has been with us and continues with us. So. So yeah, that the intro kind of does that it says, speaks to this moment, and then how these voices kind of contribute, I’m going to add a little piece in there and that, in my own experience, over time, I would hear Christians sort of be a bit dismissive about issues of race as if they’re sort of ancillary to our study of the Bible, or even our understanding of what the gospel means and such. So the subtitle scriptures speaking to black empowerment was very much a deliberate way of saying that these are not merely sociological phenomena that are separated from theological inquiry, that, that what we’re experiencing is something that the Bible speaks to. And that’s what we we wanted to make that clear.

Ben Wideman  11:10
Thanks for that clarification. I’m guessing there’ll be some that read that subtitle and think, “Well, this is a book specifically written to African Americans, to the black community.” But I get the sense that this is not limited in that way. Can you? Can you say more to who you were, who you were thinking about this audience for this book?

Lisa Bowens  11:32
Yeah. It’s not limited to African Americans. But it does speak to the African American experience. So it’s not limited to African Americans, but it speaks to African American experience. And I think also those who aren’t, you know, African American can learn a lot from reading these essays as well about what your what black, what the black brothers and sisters are going through and how scripture empowers them, and how people can walk, walk alongside their brothers and sisters of color in moments of pain and trauma and how they can be allies and be in solidarity with those who are experiencing difficulty in existing, right?

Dennis Edwards  12:34
Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s not, we don’t mean to limit it. My own children… I have children who are millennials, they looked at the title, and they said, “Well, some people are still asking that question, Do black lives matter? We think that some folks already have an answer to that question.” I think that thing, what the question does is stimulate both, you know, it’s sort of folks who are who wouldn’t identify as Black would say, of course, my life matters. And then they’ll look at the subtitle and say, “Ah, the scriptures are speaking to this.” For some white people, there might still be a question mark out there. Yeah. I mean, so this is a way of saying, in case you’ve wondered, we’re here to, you know, and, and so I think it’s a, we intend for anybody to be able to read this and hear our voices, unapologetically.

Lisa Bowens  13:22
And I would add too, one of the things that’s also important about these essays, essay discussion question that we hope that, you know, once people read, they can maybe use this in a Bible study group, or cell group, or Sunday school… these questions will be a way to talk about what you’ve just read, and age, the readings and discuss, you know, and not focus away. Now that we’ve read this essay, how does that speak to our community? What can we do? What can we be about? So that was another thing we thought intentionally about, including discussion questions after, say, generate discussion and thought.

Dennis Edwards  14:15
Thank you. Lisa I had actually forgotten about that for a moment that we do have those discussion questions. I mean, there’s also rich bibliography at the end of each essay, yes.

Ben Wideman  14:38
I worked as a campus pastor here at Penn State University for six years, trying to be at the intersection of faith and peace and social justice. And one of the tensions that I didn’t expect before I arrived was that quite often, the justice-minded students would say, “You know, faith is part of the problem. We don’t want anything to do with the faith community.” And somewhat frequently, the students of faith would say, “You know what my faith is all about heaven and discipleship, it has nothing to do with with justice issues.” And it was almost as if these two groups didn’t know how connected they were. And I’m guessing that’s some some tension in this compilation of essays too. Do you, did you feel that as you were trying to put it together? Did you have any, I guess, probably, since you’re reaching out to mostly biblical scholars for their feedback, you may or may not have gotten that kind of pushback. But can you speak a little bit, I guess, to that tension between those those worlds that sometimes seem at odds with each other, and in the way that our, our culture and our contexts, shapes things?

Dennis Edwards  15:44
You know, I suspect I mean, I have his certainly sense that tension from others, but but least his work is one of those places, and I’m thinking mostly of your recent book, least, that shows how this activist spirit among African Americans, even in the 18th 17th centuries, I mean, going back or 19th centuries, I say, 1890s, that was predominantly that those activists of the 18th and 19th centuries were often energized by their understanding of Scripture. And I think the thing that, and here, I’m really celebrating Lisa’s work, because sometimes we don’t read Paul, as that kind of liberative voice, we might see him even as an oppressive voice. So the pressure from me as maybe not for others, but it’s to say, Can we can we see the scriptures as generating that kind of activist spirit? And, and, and for some, I think they, they might not read that. But I think all the folks that we were able to get into this project, which share that kind of passion, that the scriptures actually don’t squash our activism or our passion for justice, it actually pushes us.

Lisa Bowens  17:01
Yeah, yeah, this is right about that all of the contributors don’t see that dichotomy, right. Oh, of justice is over here. And over here. For them its all woven. There’s no extra position. And you’ll see that in every contributor, essay, their understanding of Scripture, and Christian faith, as really central to what we’re called to do as believers. Yeah. My work, I think, you know, when I wrote that book was a journey for me to kind of go back to our historical forebears, right, and how they thought about Scripture and how scriptures, as it said, energize them, to see customers, right to go against what they saw as us and racism for them scripters of life and a embrace that that’s what spurred them to do what we’re doing and tons of activism. For them. There was no dichotomy and for these contributors, you don’t see that dichotomy.

Ben Wideman  18:29
I think it happens most frequently in white spaces. Now that I think about it that that that separation, or that tension exists, but especially in the the young adults I was working with, for those that understood how they connected, they were so much relief in finding other people who also felt that way. And I think that’s why a book like this is so important. It’s almost like you have to hide half of yourself when I think that the other half is against you, right? The I think about like, like Christian students who were also LGBT, had to kind of hide away their their faith when they were in the LGBT Center and hide away their the queer part of who they were in the, in the spiritual center. And, and when we when we bridge that gap, and we’re able to see, this is holistic, this is a part of a bigger movement. And it’s not just something our modern minds are pushing together. But we’re part of a long history too. I think that it’s just so empowering to, to have voices, like the ones you’ve compiled in this book remind us of this tradition that we stand on and this this movement that that we are, we are becoming a part of. So thank you for that. I imagine another tension is when you’re working with generations and centuries of white supremacy, is that it can be fairly depressing work. Where were you seeing hope in this project as well? Like you were saying, we almost need this book to be written every month because it just seems like there’s always another story around the corner of this pain in this violence. Where are you finding hope in the midst of some of that pain?

Dennis Edwards  20:10
That’s a good question. I, I wrestle with that a lot. I mean, I, it’s not like I’m a hopeless person, but I do find myself struck struggling at times, to think about change. And we have, we have a long tradition, at least an African American community of, of praying for singing about hoping for change, and, and perhaps even looking forward in the next generation, you know, and, and I say that now, as an older person, that man, I don’t like to admit it at being older. But when I’m looking at some of these younger scholars, who have picked up like this mantle, and and this charge, that’s hopeful for me, it’s sad that they have to, you know, but it’s hopeful to me that their voices press into, into our world situation, and whether it’s conflict, or even spaces of of hope and joy, but they speak into it with a new kind of enthusiasm that for me as when I was a younger guy, I didn’t see as many people doing that there was so few African American scholars, especially in Bible that we didn’t have this collective big voice, you know, and so it’s growing. So hope for me, I guess I’m saying as I see it in the upcoming generation of scholars, yeah.

Lisa Bowens  21:40
I would agree with that. Um, and I would add that one of the things that runs throughout the project is the hope and fiddling club, and the set of the God who passed now, still speaking, this, this understanding that God is still with us, right? Even in the midst of everything we’re facing, God is still present, you’d see that in these essays as well. Combined, as I say, with the hope of the presence of these voices at hopeful time, right? At that we were able to have these contributors speak and write and talk about this topic is me means when I think about it, when I think about like those who as I said a few minutes ago who came before it long for this generation, right? Those who came before who were not privileged to go the Graduate School of Education and how long prayed for the day when the generations will be able to do what they couldn’t do. And so you see in this volume, the generation that the our forebears prayed for, as I said, it’s sad that we’re still having issues of racism and all of that, but at the same time, recognizing that the voices come about, because about two came before. So there is a sense of hope in that right, that the God was present in the past is still present with us now. And it’s still speaking through voices in the present.

Ben Wideman  23:55
So you said there are 20 voices involved in this? Can you tell me a little bit about the diversity of who’s involved in and give us some names to if you’re able?

Dennis Edwards  24:06
Yes, we have a range of folks who are working in this book. And as you noted, Lisa and I both work in the New Testament, but we have people who work in Old Testament, some in theology, some in history, like Lisa mentioned earlier, some practitioners. I want to read to you the list of folks that are contributing, I’ll just give their names and not their positions at their schools. But if if your listeners are interested, they can find these folks. In addition to Lisa and me, there’s Joseph Scrivener, Angela Parker, Jennifer Kaalund, Jaime L. Waters, Danjuma Gibson, Valerie Landfair, Antonia Daymond, Brian Bantum, Reggie Williams, Joy Harris-Smith, Vince Bantu, Marcia Clarke, Antipas Harris, Luke Powery, Efrem Smith, Donyelle McCray, David Daniels, and I think one more person Lisa?

Lisa Bowens  25:11
Yes, Dominique Hopkins.

Ben Wideman  25:14
Lisa, can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve structured all these essays in this book?

Lisa Bowens  25:20
Sure. So we have three parts in the book. First part is on Biblical Analysis of Ethnics. That’s the name of the first part in that section, our biblical scholars, though, too, are engaging through bible – Old Testament and New Testament, and talking about what blackness is in light of Scripture. That’s the first part, the second part. It’s called Theological Reflections, Expressions of Black Empowerment. And in this section, we have theologians who are talking about black empowerment, empowerment. We have historians in that section, as well, as is talking about black empowerment from their particular vantage point. And then the last section is a section on sermons. So we have a variety of sermons, and that’s called Sermons on Blackness. So again, homelies on, on how to create, I guess you could say, from a black empowerment perspective.

Ben Wideman  26:44
Wow, that’s so that’s so cool. Just to hear that structure and that that way you’ve crafted this I think will be really powerful. Well, friends, I really hope that you check this book out, it gets published on June 1, 2023. And again, just so grateful for Dr. Lisa Bowens and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards for your work in compiling this. The title again, is Do Black Lives Matter? How Christian Scriptures Speak to Black Empowerment, and it has been life giving to me to hear the two of you talk about this journey of putting this together. And I hope that all who pick up this book will find it meaningful as well. Get a get a pile of copies and use it as a study guide. Use the study questions there. Help reimagine what your faith community can be like by using this title in your daily and weekly worship. Thank you, friends, thank you for this offering to the church. Really appreciate it.

Lisa Bowens  27:46
Thank you for having us. Thank you.

Dennis Edwards  27:48
Yeah, thanks, guys.

Ben Wideman  27:49
Next week on ~ing Podcast, we’re joined by Herald Press author, Todd Wynward.

Todd Wynward  27:58
And it might have been my own defiant ego, but I don’t think so… I think it was God speaking that said, “this place of death will be a house of life once again.” So that vision that prophetic imagination to turn this defeat, and from the ashes to be resurrected felt like a God thing.

Ben Wideman  28:19
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.