Announcing Talking About God When People Are Afraid: Dialogues on the Incarnation the Year That Doctor King and Senator Kennedy Were Killed. Edited by Keith Watkins; Foreword by Ronald J. Allen
“The question might come up, ‘Why would a reader in the early twenty-first century be interested in sermons preached in 1967 and 1968?’ The answer is that the 1960s were a period of unusual cultural ferment in North America, a ferment that included changes taking place in churches and in preaching, and we find ourselves in a similar situation as the 2020s unfold.” In these two sentences, Ronald J. Allen, recently retired from the faculty of Christian Theological Seminary, describes the import of this book. “Indeed, as I write in the spring of 2020,” Allen continues, “the United States is in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic with its attendant social crises.”
He describes the conflict during the 1960s between two attitudes toward life. One was the promise, based on the flourishing of science, technology, and the economy, that Americans could an anticipate an ever-increasing good quality of life. The other was a deepening sense of anxiety because of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, generational conflict, poverty, and the civil rights movement.
From August 1967 through June 1968 my family and I were living in Seattle, where I was on research leave from my teaching position at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. I had been appointed visiting minister-theologian at University Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We participated fully in the life of this large, socially active congregation, and I spent most of my time doing research and writing. Living, working, and ministering in this vibrant, complex, controversial, and liberal university community was a life-shaping experience for me.
Midway through the fall season, Robert A. Thomas, senior pastor of the congregation, invited three younger clergy serving on the church staff to join him in what he called an experiment in preaching. Together we would plan and preach a series of dialogue sermons during the Advent Season. The series was given the title “Born to Set the People Free.” Because of the response from the congregation, we developed a second series during Lent, with the title “The Tragic Vision.” The title for the two series combined was “Dialogues on the Incarnation.”
Although the sermons were fully scripted, we made no effort to publish them, even for distribution to members of the congregation. All these years, I have kept a carbon copy of these dialogues and now, half a century later, have transcribed them. With the new title, Talking About God When People Are Afraid, they now are available to speak again to people living in a fearful time.
Thomas R. McCormick, who was campus minister at the University of Washington, and I are the surviving members of that quartette of preachers, and I thank him for extended conversations while I was working on this book. Robert A. Thomas and Eugene Kidder are deceased, but members of their families still live in Seattle. One of my daughters, Marilyn P. Watkins, was in grade school in Seattle that year and has lived most of her adult life is this city. She continues an active professional life as Policy Director of Economic Opportunity Institute.
At the publisher’s request, Marilyn prepared a statement that appears on the back cover of the book. “Written in an earlier period when protesters were challenging institutions of power, these sermons ask questions relevant today, particularly for white Americans grappling with their own complicity in perpetuating racial inequality. They remind us of the message of liberation at the heart of both biblical and American traditions, and point to our responsibility to challenge authorities that maintain wealth and privilege by oppressing neighbors.”
Talking About God was published September 11, 2020, and is available as a print book and as an ebook. It can be ordered from the publisher (with a 25% discount). https://wipfandstock.com/talking-about-god-when-people-are-afraid.html