Northaven UMC’s members tell First Baptist to chill (and have a happy holiday)

I love when an article starts conversations. The Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas story in the Spirituality section of this week’s Dallas Voice about First Baptist Church’s GrinchAlert.com seems to have done just that.

Last week after I spoke to Eric Folkerth, the pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church, he posted something on his Facebook page about it.

He received dozens of comments.

On GrinchAlert, you can rebuke, reprimand, belittle, berate and spew your general hate for working people, many of them minimum wage, who don’t quite greet you the way you want on their busiest working days of the year. After all, what exemplifies Christmas better than trying to get someone fired.

I called Folkerth for my article because Northaven is a mainstream church and is a beneficiary of Black Tie Dinner.

He obviously has no love for First Baptist’s pastor.

One of my favorite comments on his Facebook page came from Jim Lovell, a member of Northaven who is an elementary school music teacher in Plano. Here’s his comment that is one of the most beautiful descriptions of the holiday season that I’ve seen in a long time.

“All this reminds me how much I love my job,” Lovell wrote. “Today, a 6-year old Muslim boy was so proud to give me a Christmas cookie that his mother (who wears a hijab) bought. His beaming face just made my day! Other Muslim children are sporting Santa hats. Some of the favorite songs of our Christian and Hindu children are about dreydls. Everyone is getting along and having a good time. Happy Holidays, one and all! Whatever it is that you’re mad about, give it up!”

Here were some of the other comments.

“Interesting that they are using the secular Grinch to illustrate their religious celebration,” said one.

Interesting indeed. Not just that the Grinch is a secular character, but that the character was created by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

Geisel began his career as a cartoonist. Before World War II, he warned of discrimination against Japanese-Americans, African-Americans and Jews. I think Dr. Seuss would be horrified at using one of his characters to spew the hatred coming from First Baptist Church.

Other comment’s on the Facebook page of Northaven’s pastor commented on how little the narrow-minded members of First Baptist actually apply the lessons of their religion.

“Don’t they have something more important to spend time and resources on? Cause if they cant think of any, they surely aren’t listening to the world around them,” said one commenter.

But that’s the point of GrinchAlert.com. You need to celebrate Christmas my way.

—  David Taffet

Good will toward men

Homophobia nearly derailed the TCC’s planned Tyler concert, but some scrambling saved the day — even without drag queens

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

O, HOLY CRAP | A three-year effort for the Chorale to perform in Tyler was almost scuttled, but with a little help from Santa, Jonathan Palant, left, found a solution. Dallas will get its annual Christmas concerts, too. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

O HOLY NIGHT
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 15, 20 and 22.
8 p.m. $30–$67.
TurtleCreek.org.

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Almost since Jonathan Palant took over as artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, he’s been trying to schedule a concert in Tyler. He is friends with the choir director of the Marvin United Methodist Church, a congregation with an inclusive pastor and active concert series. It was all but a sealed deal earlier this year.

Then came word this summer that some powerful members of the church objected to a gay men’s chorus performing. The offer to perform there was revoked.

“At the time, my blood was boiling,” Palant admits. “But teaching acceptance is in our mission statement, and my personal approach is to encourage tolerance. This wasn’t a time for payback. A picture is worth a thousand words, like the one of the TCC standing beside the [all-men] U.S. Army Chorus. That makes more of a statement that a speech could.”

And he wanted to do that same with the Tyler concert.

“We circled back around and found a different location. Within three weeks we had three churches asking to host us. For acoustics and size, we went to the First Presbyterian Church, and they voted unanimously to approve it,” he says. Which means Tyler will be getting its chorale Christmas concert after all.

And the adage no press is bad press seems to be holding true. “Word has it everybody in Tyler is gonna make a night of it — I’m told it will be standing room only in the 750 seat sanctuary. It’s all the more enticing to attend [when you have been banned],” he says.

The chorale is well-known for its campy concerts, even (especially?) at Christmastime, but Palant says he wanted to go old-school this year — both in the slightly truncated Tyler version and the one that returns to the Meyerson Symphony Center for three performances, starting Wednesday.

“Since we’re back at our home in the Meyerson [following last year’s concert at the Winspear], I really wanted to make it ‘home for the holidays’ — your favorite Christmas carols that you could sing along to,” he says. “We’re leaving the plots and the theatrics behind this year and, as one member called it, the deluxe version of the TCC holiday concert because it’s very traditional — very stand and sing or as I call it ‘park and bark.’”

For traditionalists of another kind, however, there are plenty of chorale favorites. On the slate will be the popular Nigerian hymn “Betelehemu” with African drums, a few light-hearted numbers (one, called “Omnes Virginus Levite Manus” should recall the best of chorale humor, but is more invigorating than silly) and there will of course be “Silent Night” performed with American Sign Language solos and the dedication of poinsettias for departed chorale members (the number has grown to more than 180). And Santa Claus will be there as always.

“We have some new arrangements that are unique enough to keep them fresh but the melodies are still there, like an amazing version of ‘Silver Bells,’ a great gospel arrangement of ‘Children, Go Where I Send Thee’ and a stunning minimalistic version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ — it’s the version used in the movie Sex and the City,” Palant says.

Sex and the City figuring into a Christmas concert? Sounds like the chorale we’ve come to know and love.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Resounding success

For the third year, Tim Seelig’s choral group sings to feed a real need

Resounding Harmony
SUPPER CLUB | Tim Seelig, center, with members of Resounding Harmony, wants his concert to feed North Texans.

RESOUNDING HARMONY
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St.
Nov. 10. 8 p.m. $30–$50.
ResoundingHarmony.org.

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Timothy Seelig gets angry when he considers that during the season of Thanksgiving, there are still thousands of North Texans who go hungry. Which is why, for the third year in a row, the new season of his Resounding Harmony choral group begins with a fundraiser for the North Texas Food Bank.

“Resounding Harmony is an amazing blend of men [and] women, ages 13 to 77, from absolutely every walk of life, brought together by the music and the larger mission of making a difference in our community,” explains Seelig, the founding artistic director for the chorus.

Now more than 200 voices strong, Resounding Harmony had its genesis in a smaller mixed choral group Seelig helped put together for the March 2008 Voices of Peace celebration to honor Maya Angelou. That group caught the eye of Gregg Smith, a pastor at the Oak Lawn United Methodist Church, who approached Seelig and Hope for Peace & Justice about creating another chorus to help raise money and collect food for the needy. Not long afterwards, Resounding Harmony and its “musical philanthropic mission” were born.

“The North Texas Food Bank shared with us that they had just launched a three-year initiative and we immediately signed on to partner with them,” Seelig says.

The first year, Resounding Harmony raised enough to provide the NTFB with the means to offer 65,000 meals to North Texans unable to feed themselves. Last year, the chorus took an even more ambitious aim: to help provide 100,000 meals — a goal it surpassed by 10,000 meals. This year, Seelig once again wants to exceed the 100,000 mark. The concert takes place Nov. 10 at the Meyerson Symphony Center

“We are working very hard to add to the concert proceeds, income from the virtual food drive, actual food drives, Dinner in Destin Raffle, the Recyclable Grocery Bags and the Fabulous Table Auction,” Seelig says.

While the concert is intended to call attention to the reality of hunger in North Texas, Seelig promises that the show itself will be “[a] perfect balance of humor and seriousness.”

Some songs on the program, like “Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise” and “Jalapeno Chorus”(a distinctly Southwestern play on Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”) are laugh-out-loud funny. Others, like the poignant “Famine Song” and the rousing “Love Can Build a Bridge,” are intended to stir emotions.

Additional concert highlights include Russ Rieger playing the Lay Family Concert Organ and pianist Antoine Spencer performing a medley of Leonard Bernstein pieces.

“Every person attending will enter these holidays with beautiful music in their ears and in their hearts,” Seelig says.

In the three years of its existence, Resounding Harmony has also sung on behalf of other organizations, such as the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts, Lowe Elementary and The Samaritan Inn. With its June 2010 Carnegie Hall “Sing for Cure” performance for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it has also quickly established itself as a distinguished member of the Dallas arts community

“The philosophy is to use our music as a philanthropic vehicle to raise money and awareness,” explains Seelig. “It is truly an effort to use music as a means to a greater end, rather than an end in and of itself.”

— M.M. Adjarian

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Thinking 2 steps ahead

Theologians, ministers gather at Brite for ‘Beyond Apologetics’ discussion on LGBTs’ future role in religious communities, efforts

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Joretta Marshall and Stephen Sprinkle
Joretta Marshall and Stephen Sprinkle

FORT WORTH — Where do we go from here? That’s the question at the heart of a project called “Beyond Apologetics: Sexual Identity, Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Practices,” an ongoing symposium with its next installment set for Thursday, Oct. 7, at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

The event will feature six scholars and pastors, representing five different schools, talking about new ways of thinking about ministry with LGBT people after the battle for acceptance is over.

“Originally, this project was organized to do two things,” explained the Rev. Joretta Marshall, openly lesbian pastor of theology and pastoral care and counseling at Brite and co-director of the project.

“The first thing was to bring scholar practitioners together for conversation to try and answer the question, ‘What would we be talking about if we didn’t always have to focus on gaining acceptance of TLGB people” in churches, Marshall said.

“We want to go beyond defending TLGB people in the churches and start figuring out what those next conversations will be about. For instance, I am hopelessly involved in the United Methodist Church. It is in my blood and in my bones. But there is still a debate within the UMC over whether we [LGBT people] should be welcomed into the church. We want to get past that so that we can work on transforming the world, on bringing justice to the larger community.”

The second piece of the equation, Marshall said, was equally important: “Educational institutions should make a difference in the places where they live. We wanted to invite the community in to participate in these discussions and to let them know that Brite is a place where we talk about these things.”

For the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, the openly gay associate professor of practical theology and director of field education and supervised ministry at Brite, the idea that a theology school in Fort Worth, Texas is host to such a discussion, is an amazing accomplishment.

“We’ve never had a gathering of LGBTQ scholars of faith in Texas before. Not like this,” said Sprinkle, one of the six speakers participating in the Oct. 7 discussion.

“This is the first meeting of its kind here, but it won’t be the last. That was the experience that we had in Oklahoma” last February when the first discussion in the project was held at Phillips Graduate Theological Seminary in Tulsa. He explained that the project was first conceived as a partnership between the two sister seminaries — Phillips and Brite — and six speakers participated in a public event held at Phillips that followed the same format to be used at Brite.

The whole idea, Sprinkle said, is to plan for the future and prepare pastors, churches and the public for the day when LGBT people are already part of the church and can truly give their own unique gifts to its efforts.

“We are thinking two steps on down the road. We’re thinking outside the box, to use the cliché. The question is, if we are not having to constantly think about creating space enough for the LGBT community to be accepted, then we can think about how to move the LGBTQ community into a richer, more whole position to contribute to the church’s work.”

The term “apologetics” refers to advocacy, Sprinkle explained. In thinking “beyond apologetics,” he continued, “what we are saying, as LGBT scholars, is that congregations and nonprofits already have everything they need in order to include LGBT people. They already have the know-how, the theology. We believe the arguments for inclusion have already been made, and made very well. The question now is, what do we do to take things to the next stage of development?”

In his part of the discussion, Sprinkle will focus on his work in documenting anti-LGBT hate crimes and in advocating for the passage of hate crimes laws that include protections for LGBT people. He used his own work and its future direction as an example of the focus of the project overall.

“We argued for years and years for a hate crimes law. We’ve got that now. But the reality is, we are still being killed. So what are we, as an LGBT community, going to do to understand who those dead are to us? How will that shape our identity?” Sprinkle said.

“We have to move beyond being just a loose association of people with a variety of concerns on a variety of issues to become a real people that remember and honor our dead. That is what a community does,” he continued.

“African-Americans can list their people who died in lynchings. Jewish folk have never forgotten the 6 million lost in the Holocaust. Japanese-Americans remember those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But we as an LGBT community seem to have a hard time even acknowledging that members of our community are still being killed. So what I am trying to do is to think down the road about how we can strengthen this community by remembering the thousands who were murdered because they were just like us.”

Another member of the project — although one who won’t be at the discussion next month at Brite — is Darnell Moore with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is, Sprinkle said, “one of the most dynamic and most original thinkers I have ever seen.”

Moore’s focus, Sprinkle said, is finding a new way to think about coming out.

“People are often afraid to come out because it compromises them and they are vulnerable. What Darnell says is that it is time that we begin to invite people in, really invite them in, and have something to invite them in to. What would it really mean to say to the majority culture all around us, ‘Stop being tourists in our lives. We will share with you what we have, but you have to come to us.’

“Now we’re talking! Now we’re really thinking!” Sprinkle continued. “From now one, there won’t be just one National Coming Out Day a year. There won’t be one day of silence in the schools. From now on, the LGBTQ community can be seen as a powerhouse of innovation and creative thinking. We approach that already in the arts and entertainment. But we don’t seem to be secure enough or understand ourselves well enough to be confident doing that in other spheres.”

For Marshall and Sprinkle, the idea that such new ways of thinking are being birthed here in Fort Worth is reason for celebration, and for hope.

“I came here in 1994, and I was open and out [as a gay man] from the time I first showed up,” Sprinkle said. “But it has been a fight. Then when we decided to invite Joretta [to join the faculty] and she accepted, I knew we were turning a corner.

“This project represents a new era at Brite. Fort Worth is the reddest of the red in a red state. And here we are, co-hosting this powerhouse event, this first-of-a-kind academic gathering of people of faith, right under the nose of the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary!

“It’s unbelievable in a way,” he said. “I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s real. But it is real. And it is a sign that the time is right to take these next steps.”

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‘Beyond Apologetics’

The Beyond Apologetics Project will hold a public symposium Thursday, Oct. 7, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Robert Carr Chapel at Texas Christian University, 2855 S. University Drive in Fort Worth.

The event is free and open to the public.

Scholars and pastors presenting their preliminary work at the discussion will include Duane R. Bidwell of Claremont School of Theology and co-director of the project; Kathleen Greider of Claremont School of Theology; Benjamin Reynolds of Chicago Theological Seminary; Jeanne Hoeft of St. Paul School of Theology; David Mellott of Lancaster Theological Seminary and Stephen V. Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School.

Other participants in the Beyond Apologetics Project are John Blevins with Emory University; United Church of Christ minister Malcolm Himschoot; Joretta Marshall of Brite Divinity School; Darnell Moore of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Jason Hays of Brite Divinity School; Cody J. Sanders of Brite Divinity School; and Leanne Tigert of Andover Newton Theological School.

For more information e-mail j.marshall@tcu.edu or cody.j.sanders@tcu.edu, or go online to BeyondApologetics.wordpress.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens