Monday, October 20, 2014

Some Cuba Photos

I have enjoyed reliving my recent week in Cuba by sorting through photos (which is a lot since with digital cameras I figure why not take a photo). I am splitting them into various albums to share so there is not one massive one. Here are the first three albums, with some captions to help tell the story. But feel free to ask questions in the comment sections of the photos and I will add more details about what is in the picture. I will post more albums later this week.

The key event I attended in Cuba was the 40th anniversary celebration of the Coordinación Obrero-Estudiantil Bautista de Cuba (Coordination of Baptist Workers & Students in Cuba). The group, usually called COEBAC, seeks to help Cuban Baptists engage in their context and society. The album from that meeting primarily features speakers: Cuba, part 1 (COEBAC)

The two-day COEBAC event occurred in Ciego de Ávila (a city in the middle of the island). Other than Havana (coming in a later album), Ciego is where I spent the most time in Cuba. I enjoyed the time in that city and hope the album captures it: Cuba, part 2 (Ciego de Ávila)

In addition to joining the COEBAC meeting at a Baptist church, we also visited a Baptist church in Pinar del Río, the seminary of the Western Baptist Convention in Havana, and the offices of the Cuban Council of Churches in Havana. These various visits to Christian groups are combined in one album: Cuba, part 3 (Christian groups)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thanks & Gracias

Late last night (actually early this morning) I returned home after spending just over a week in Cuba. I joined a Churchnet delegation to visit Cuban Baptists, which involved seeing several parts of the island nation and joining an important Cuban Baptist anniversary gathering. It was a great trip, and I will cover it in much more detail in news articles, blog reflections, and photos over the next several days. Today, however, I have focused on catching up on things I missed and playing with my son. I also have attempted to decompress after spending a week in a different context and culture. I caught myself several times just before saying "gracias" to someone instead of "thanks." Images of Cuba keep bouncing in my head, often clashing with those presently before my eyes.

As I caught up on emails and other items today, I noticed an Ethics Daily column by Robert Parham on "Word of Thanks: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due." His piece offers thanks to the various members of the Ethics Daily team who together make the organization a top-notch source of news, opinion, video, and more. He rightly sings high praise of Cliff Vaughn, Zach Dawes, Michael Leathers, Joel Emerson, and Brittany Jackson.

Parham did not toot his own horn, but he deserves much praise. Ethics Daily literally (and I use that word that correctly and not in the Joe Biden way) would not exist without his vision and tireless work. He has enriched Baptist life by filling voids left by misplaced priorities of fundamentalists and mediocrity of moderates. I am happy to be part of the effort, and appreciate the kind words he offered about me in his piece.

"Brian Kaylor, our contributing editor, offers our readers the best news analysis pieces on Baptist life available, unsatisfied with rewrites of press releases," Parham wrote. "His coverage of the Baptist World Alliance is unmatched. His substantive reporting unparalleled. His work builds constituency through deep content."

I appreciate the kind words and will strive to model such writing as I work on my pieces about Cuba and beyond. As I think about Cuba and transform the experience into words, I will offer a teaser from the trip. While in Cuba, I ended up on state TV (fortunately just in an audience shot). The news segment featured the Cuban Baptist meeting and noted the presence of a group from the United States (or at least that is what I was told the Spanish says). You can watch the short clip here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Baptist World Magazine

The newest issue of Baptist World magazine, the quarterly publication of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) features coverage from the BWA annual gathering this summer in Turkey. An article I wrote and four photos I took are included. The article (on page 19) is "Middle Eastern Baptists share fears, hope as minority faith." The photos are of BWA President-Elect Paul Msiza of South Africa (on page 6), Ertan Çevik of Turkey (on page 11), Orhan Pıçaklar of Turkey (on page 12), and Azar Ajaj of Israel (on page 19).

Read the full Baptist World issue here. I am excited to help spread the word about the great annual gathering and the important work of the BWA.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Unread Books

I sent out my monthly email update for October, which notes some of my recent publications. It also includes a short reflection on the process of writing and editing books (with a teaser about next book, which will be published soon). You can read the update here and subscribe for future editions on my website.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Happy 90th

I entered this world just in time to experience the last eight days of Jimmy Carter's presidency. I don't remember anything from it, but I'm pretty sure I had life pretty good back. People took care of my every need and everyone talked about my cuteness (of course). Over the years, however, I have grown to admire Carter. As a political junkie, I have had the thrill of meeting Carter on three occasions, and hearing him speak a couple of other times.

The first time I met Carter, he suddenly appeared through a door behind me at the Carter Center in Atlanta. As a co-chair of the Communications Committee for the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, I arrived in Atlanta for planning meetings. We met with Carter, the convener of the historic and impressive gathering. My first thought, after being surprised by his sudden presence, was how much shorter he stood than I expected. I managed to recover enough to shake hands and offer greetings. 

I met Carter again at the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant the next year, and again at the Clarence Jordan Symposium a few years later. Both times he offered insightful remarks, as he also did during the Baptist Border Crossing (a regional New Baptist Covenant gathering) and remarks at James Madison University. His vision for peace and reconciliation makes him a much-needed religious and political voice. 

I am glad I had the opportunity at both the New Baptist Covenant and the Clarence Jordan Symposium to thank him for his tireless work. He has received much more substantial accolades (like something from Oslo), but I still think it's important to encourage those with courage to speak truth in an age of deception. 

Carter is clearly the U.S.'s greatest ex-president, something most Republicans even admit. However, he was also a better president than most people give him credit. He was at times a poor politician, unable to manage his own party (who often fought him as much as the Republicans) and unable to recognize what he needed to do to win reelection. However, his vision for who America should be trumps that of any other modern president. 

I recently read a new biography about Carter by Randall Balmer, a brilliant historian. Balmer's book, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter, is not only the best book I've read on Carter but also one of the best on religion and politics. In this important exploration of the rise, fall, and rise of Carter, Balmer offers a nuanced look at religion, politics, and race. He provides an honest look, noting Carter's flaws and mistakes. But, I can't imagine how anyone could walk away from the book without thinking more highly of Carter (even if one disagrees with some of his positions and decisions).

Balmer develops a couple of key narratives. First, he documents how Carter's fall came as religious and political leaders exploited issues of race. Sadly, the effort to divide Americans on racial lines worked, and the first president from the Deep South since before the Civil War found himself packing after one term. Although it's disturbing enough to see political leaders use racist rhetoric to gain office, it's particularly angering to see Christian leaders do the same. There are some white conservative Christians who would likely prefer their campaign efforts from the late 1970s and early 1980s not be so exposed.

Second, Balmer details Carter's unique moral vision for the U.S., which unfortunately hasn't been continued by those who followed Carter into the Oval Office. From building Middle East peace to working to reduce nukes to respecting the sovereignty of Latin American nations (especially seen with the transfer of the Panama Canal) to addressing environmental concerns to pursuing diplomacy over war (especially seen in the Iran hostage negotiations) to pushing human rights as a guiding principle, Carter sought to make our nation better. Fortunately, Carter didn't give up after losing reelection and has still advanced these goals through the Carter Center.

Today is Carter's 90th birthday. Two years ago, I joined the crowd at the Clarence Jordan Symposium in singing "happy birthday" to Carter. Today, I wish to again offer him a hearty "happy birthday!" Hopefully he'll be around for more years to keep pushing the work of redemption.