Along the Way

These reflections illuminating areas of church, Christian and spiritual life are offered in each Friday email by our Plymouth clergy.

Justice in Public Life

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

“Remove your evil deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16b-17)

Over the last few years, religious people and institutions have been at the center of the political upheaval in our nation. There is a deep distrust of and dissatisfaction with institutions that many people are inclined to abandon or tear them all down, including the church. Anger and anxiety permeate spiritual spaces such that religious people cannot be counted on to inspire the public to care for the poor, do justice, or welcome strangers. Even the folk who attend church faithfully and consider themselves highly observant of spiritual practices appear to be more beholden to their ideology than they are to their God. As a result, our public life is in trouble.

In describing Isaiah’s prophetic utterances to Israel, the theologian Walter Brueggemann has suggested that not reflecting God’s will in public life will lead to trouble in public life. Not only is there trouble in our public life, but it also appears that religious people have ceased to be exemplars of the grace, mercy, and justice to which the biblical witness testifies as central to God’s character. The words, worship, and presence of religious people in the public square may arguably reflect less what is important to God and more often what is important politically. If you look at how the religious show up in public life, you’d think God only cares about abortion, protecting the right to bear arms, closing public restrooms to trans people, and Supreme Court nominees. Our songs, prayers, and liturgies talk about a God who cares about the poor, justice, and loving our neighbors. Yet, when the church shows up in public life, it is mainly silent or hostile when it comes to doing justice.

I recently saw a book in the religion section of the bookstore with a title that suggested that social justice is anti-God, anti-biblical, and destructive to the church. But according to Isaiah, doing justice is an undeniable, non-negotiable part of being in relationship with God. Taking care of the most vulnerable is not a suggestion for God; it is imperative. Isaiah prophesied to Israel that God didn’t want to be flattered and did not share the gifts of worship and covenant for their sake alone. Israel failed, and its public life shattered. Yes, we are experiencing trouble in public life. We are engaged in a heated and frenzied struggle over the future. However, I hope we double down on seeking justice in response. May we all do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow. May it be so.

Taking Time to Notice Beauty


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

I want to tell you that the world is still beautiful . . . I still believe we are capable of attention, that anyone who notices the world must want to save it”—Rebecca Baggett, “Testimony”

Several weeks ago, I stopped at an intersection traffic light behind a car with several bumper stickers plastered on its rear bumper. When the light turned green, the driver took far too long to move because they were distracted by something in their center console or passenger seat. In annoyance and impatience, I was just about to blow my car horn and let loose with words I shouldn’t use when I noticed the message on one of the bumper stickers: “There is so much beauty in the world. Take time to notice it.” I don’t know how it worked, but my anger immediately subsided, and I searched for the beauty around me. A few days ago, a colleague of mine posted a wedding anniversary picture with her spouse with a crudely painted message on the wall behind them, “Life is beautiful.” I found myself nodding in agreement. Okay, I get the message. Beauty surrounds us. I am convinced that transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is right in his conclusion that “beauty breaks in everywhere.” Our loss is failing to notice it.

With so many challenges menacing the world, especially the destructive consequences of our abuse and exploitation of the earth’s natural resources, we may forget just how still beautiful the world is. I take for granted the beautiful plants and flowers in the courtyard at church. Sometimes, I forget to take notice of the sky or a tree until someone points them out to me. Noticing beauty may not answer the world’s most profound problems or injustices. Still, it can be a necessary temporary distraction from the hard stuff that creates feelings of despair and hopelessness. Yes, I know beauty is subjective, but whether its effect is emotional or intellectual, the beauty around us can be a source of delight no matter what else.

In light of the depressing news about war and violence, pandemics and climate change, and political backlash and polarization, the words and wisdom of poets have reminded me of the world’s beauty more so than scripture. Don’t get me wrong. The biblical witness about love, justice, and God’s faithfulness affirm my faith and fortify my resolve. But the poets often serve as the heralds of beauty ignored, forgotten, or discounted. The poet Rebecca Baggett invites us “to look again and again” to recognize beauty in the tender grass, the river rocks, and the October leaves. Perhaps that can be a new discipline to incorporate into our spiritual practices and explorations: taking intentional time to notice beauty. I pray that each day you find beauty around you in which to delight. May it be so.

Enfleshing Good Religion


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

What about the [Jericho] road? It is important to take care of people. It is important to be a good neighbor. But somebody needs to fix the road . . . I’m sick and tired of poor religion

—Bishop Yvette Flunder

I attended The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM) biannual leadership conference this past week. TFAM is a radically inclusive, trans-denominational fellowship of churches and ministers founded by Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder in 2000 to propagate “a radical social ministry, reaching to the furthest margins of society to serve all in need without prejudice and discrimination.” We gathered again at a time that is far more politically, culturally, and economically fraught for women, the poor, and LGBTQ people. The theme of the conference was “Have We Got Good Religion?” a provocative riff off the lyrics of the Negro Spiritual Certainly Lord, which asks, “have you got good religion” and “do you love ev’rybody.” The theme set out an intentional contrast with the churches, theologies, and religious collectivities that have used their authority and influence not to liberate and empower the poor, the oppressed, or the marginalized seeking justice but to serve their own power and political interests by controlling the levers of governmental power. It is an acknowledgment that there is bad or poor religion, which is not a force for good in the world.

Bishop Flunder set the frame for considering what “good religion” looks like in her sermon at the opening worship and plenary, using the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke as her preaching text. In describing the dangerous Jericho Road and the laudable response of the Samaritan in demonstrating the good religion of love and care for a suffering neighbor, Bishop Flunder lamented that the most visible manifestation of faith in our current culture and politics is “where the religious cross the road” to avoid serving their neighbors in need and never work to fix dangerous roads where people get hurt.

At a time when people of faith are searching for ways to be a constructive force for collective action in a toxic political environment, this conference issued a prophetic call on people with a progressive faith to engage a public hungry for proactive religious responses to the betrayal of women and their right to reproductive justice, retrenchment from voting rights and multiracial democracy, and backlash against racial justice and LGBTQ rights. Every prophetic word prompted us to consider how we may enflesh and manifest “good religion” that sees, loves, and affirms all of God’s beloved. Although bad religion appears to be winning the day, and even if the politicians who seek our votes and support are failing to meet the moment, we have an opportunity to enflesh and manifest a “good religion” that works on both serving our neighbors and fixing systems to which too many of our neighbors remain vulnerable. I pray we show the world good religion.

Previous Articles

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October 23, 2020 and Earlier

October 23, 2020 Plagues, Pandemics and Promises

October 16, 2020 The End of Times

October 9, 2020 Rebellion as Sacred Work

October 2, 2020 The Notorious RBG!

September 25, 2020 The Call

September 18, 2020 Dismantling the Silos

September 11, 2020 Revolutionary Love

September 4, 2020 Jesus Is the Answer

August 28, 2020 Worship: God Is the Audience

August 21, 2020 Our Knowledge of God Is Participatory

August 14, 2020 Frederick Douglass, Prophet

August 7, 2020 Do You Want to Be Healed?

July 31, 2020 Vulnerability

July 24, 2020 God’s Backside

July 17, 2020 A Sign of the Times

July 10, 2020 Desiderata

July 3, 2020 A Genius with a Thousand Helpers

June 19, 2020 Unsung Volunteers

June 12, 2020 Our Own Gardens

June 5, 2020 Church Update

May 29, 2020 The Call

May 22, 2020 Scroll Down

May 15, 2020 Don’t Push Send

May 8, 2020 Navigating Mistakes

May 1, 2020 Teach Us to Count Our Days

April 24, 2020 Sitting with Not Knowing

April 17, 2020 Feed My Sheep

April 10, 2020 Life’s Refrain

April 3, 2020 How Do We Show Our Love?

March 27, 2020 Moving through the Fog

March 20, 2020 To Love Kindness

March 13, 2020 The Virus

March 6, 2020  The Seth I Know

February 28, 2020 Triage

February 21, 2020 Impermanence

February 14, 2020 Pruning

February 7, 2020 Inner Life

January 31, 2020 Ask Not

January 24, 2020 Doing Right Things

January 17, 2020 Radical Acceptance

January 10, 2020 The New Year—20/20 Vision

December 27, 2019 Closing the door

December 20, 2019 Winter Solstice and Christmas Day

December 13, 2019 Sacred rest

December 6, 2019  Judge little, forgive much

November 29, 2019 My favorite holiday

November 22, 2019 Making space is spiritual work

November 15, 2019 Looking to the future

November 8, 2019 We stand at the crossroads

November 1, 2019 Ecumenical and Interfaith Connections

October 25, 2019 A Plea for Civility

October 18, 2019 Preacher, Pastor, Prophet

October 11, 2019 . . . to being still