The Church Cracked Open
by Stephanie Spellers
A Review by Dwight A Moody
Spellers is a native of Kentucky, an ordained minister, a woman of color, and a high official in The Episcopal Church of America. None of that might be relevant as you read through this book, with it fresh language, vibrant faith, wide learning, and infectious spirit; but it might, and all of it together could inspire in you this thought: “I’d like to meet this woman or at least hear her give voice to the good, gospel word that tumbles out of this marvelous testimony.”
I’m glad to say I’ve done the former and hope to do the latter. She came to Lexington, Kentucky, in the company of her boss, the presiding bishop of her church, Rev. Michael Curry (he who preached the most heard sermon in the history of the Christian movement, at the marriage of Harry and Meghan in 2018). A billion people won’t read this book, and that’s unfortunate; were that to happen it would trigger revival, renewal, reformation, and renaissance all at once—not just of the Christian community but of the whole human race. That’s because there is a wideness to the vision of Rev. Spellers and a winsomeness as well, full of hope and insight and practical direction.
Spellers wrote this book as a meditation of the tragic year of 2020—pandemic, economic disruption, social protests, and complete dislocation in every arena of life: education, employment, religion, even politics. It takes its prevailing image from the Jesus story recounted in all four gospels, of the woman who broke the alabaster jar in order to anoint Jesus just before his death. Spellers likes that image, shard scattered in all directions and aroma filling the space. “I want to sit at the feet of this sister and tell her about today, about decline, pandemic, reckonings, loss, and disruption. I want to confide in her: ‘So much has cracked open….We don’t know how to embrace the disruption, make the sacrifice, stop worshipping the beauty of the jar … so the healing substance inside can work its way into a world that so desperately needs it…. And we’re really terrified we might be the jar, broken open by God, for love of the world….’” (5).
That pretty much sums up the book and its message. We have been cracked open by God, and the last thing God wants is for us to spend out time putting back together those scattered pieces. God wants to free us for fresh gospel work in the new world all around us.
I liked this book from the very beginning and like it even more when I came to the close—and it didn’t take me long to get from one place to the other! I read it straight through, fascinated by her frank description of her own tradition, Anglican, and her own denomination, Episcopalian. They are one and the same, of course, and she knows its history well, as chaplain to the empire, as she states repeatedly: the one religious network who calling, for good and for ill, was to support the British Empire and minister to those working in that direction.
Which meant, of course, supporting colonizers and slavers. And this is where her chosen Christian tradition comes into conflict with her given human condition: a woman, a black woman, an American black woman living in the lingering context of all the violence perpetrated on native peoples in Africa and the Americas by the representatives of the kings and queens of Europe, all of them baptized Christians.
Spellers cracks open this history, finds much to hate but also some to love; and these she names one by one, gospel workers who stood against the empire and invested in the kingdom of God. She takes inspiration from them and offers it to us in a three-fold strategy for following Jesus in our cracked up world: lose your life (kenosis), gain your life (solidarity) and walk in love (discipleship). She even offers a seven-fold way to be a disciple of Jesus: turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, and rest. Not a bad summary of the entire Bible!
Every Christian tradition, including my own Baptist, needs a version of this book, one that traces the specific sad trajectory of how we (in our own specific ways) have come short of the kingdom of God, yet one that finds hidden in our own history signs of hope for this year of despair, for this disrupted world, and yes, for the human community in all its cracked-up glory.
Thank you, Stephanie. Come back to Kentucky and preach us this good word!! (and I, for one, noticed the Oxford commas, completely proper for a daughter of the queen!)
by David P. Gushee
Becoming C. S. Lewis
Harry Lee Poe
Becoming Mrs. Lewis
by Patti Callahan
Hearing and Responding to God’s Call
edited by Barry Howard
The Church Cracked Open
Disruption, Decline, and
New Hope for Beloved Community
by Stephanie Spellers
Climate Church, Climate World
by Jim Antal
by Ayad Akhtar
The End of White Christian America
Robert P. Jones
Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles
by Amy Lotson Roberts & Patrick J. Holladay
Is God Colour Blind?
by Anthony Reddie
The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Jesus Loves Obamacare
by Barbara Young
Just Mercy: Story of
Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson
The Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglas, an American Slave
by Frederick Douglass
Paul: A Biography
by N. T. Wright
This Precarious Moment
by James Garlow, David Barton
Raising Boys Who Respect Girls
by Dave Willis
How the Early Christian “Third Way”
Changed the World
by Gerald L. Sittser
Robert E. Lee and Me
A Southerner’s Reckoning
with the Myth of the Lost Cause
By Ty Seidule
Songs of American: Patriotism, Protest,
and the Music that Made a Nation
by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw
The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump
edited by Ronald Sider
The 21: A Journey
into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs
by Martin Moseback
Truth Over Fear:
Combating the Lies about Islam
by Charles Kimball
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Universal Christ
Where Do We Go From Here?
edited by Kevin Slime
Here are four books written by Dr. Dwight A. Moody, provided here (or in the near future) in both text and audio format. All are in various stages of production for this web site. Feel free to provide comment on these books using the response form at the bottom of each page.
This was a series of sermons preached by Dr. Moody at Third Baptist Church of Owensboro, Kentucky. It is inspired by (and follows the format of) the influential book by Buddy Shurden, Four Fragile Freedoms. The text here includes an epilogue written in 2018 that offers reflections on the book, 20 years after its publication. It is also the intent of Dr. Moody to provide an audio version of this book; to date, only the Preface and Introduction are available.
On the Other Side of Oddville: Stories of Religion and Everyday Life
For a number of years, Dr. Moody wrote and published in public newspapers around the country a weekly column on Religion and American Life (something he continues to do through this Meetinghouse initiative). This book collects 105 of these 700-word essays. You may purchase a sign copy of this book–$20 inclusive of shipping; simply request it through the Response Form at the bottom of each page of the website. (This text is in production.)
Its’s About Time: A Memoir of Ministry at Georgetown College
From 1997 to 2008, Dr. Moody served as dean of the chapel and professor of religion at Georgetown College in Kentucky. This is the narrative essay that forms the core of this book. Upon leaving the school to launch the Academy of Preachers, he produced this self-published book. The book also included sermons, prayers, letters, essays, and memos; it can be ordered through Amazon. (This text is in production.)
Nine Marks of a Good Sermon
During Dr. Moody’s tenure at Georgetown College, he taught a course in “Communication for Ministry” (and popularly called “Preaching). This material was developed during that ministry and continued during his years as founder and first president of the Academy of Preachers. It is published here without the illustrative sermons included in the book.