Speak? No, don’t speak.

Speak? No, don’t speak. Seriously. Don’t speak.

Here’s what I learned about open communications over 40 years of adult living:

First I was a newspaper reporter during the time when reporters were expected to maintain “objectivity” about the news. Don’t speak.

Then I was the former anti-nuclear protester who walked into a Boston church where all the women plucked their eyebrows and wore nylons. Don’t speak.

I was the Northerner who walked into a consulting firm of (very smart!) Southerners who were also church-goers and very politically conservative. Don’t speak.

Then I was the local resident who opposed development plans my company prepared. Really, really, really don’t speak.

“Authenticity” is the last thing we allow.
We “curate” our lives as if we are
precious personal museums of me

I was the elder’s wife in a marriage where truth fogged away, and accusation, misinformation, and silent treatments took its place. Don’t speak.

I was the charismatic Christian in a business leadership forum organized by a Pentecostal “health and wealth” teacher. Don’t speak.

Everything in 40 years of adult life says “Don’t speak.” Don’t speak my opinions. Don’t speak the truth about my life. Don’t acknowledge differences with the people around me.

We’ve (ironically) determined that “authenticity” is what we want from each other. And at the same time, “authenticity” is the last thing we allow. We “curate” our lives as if we are precious personal museums of me.

And yet, we’re just being realistic. Employment contracts limit our civic engagement. Online communications are monitored for signs of emotional distress and political extremism.


Don’t speak.

It’s the new authenticity.



Posted in Carlene Byron | 4 Comments

Spiritual Transfusions for Bad Blood: Charlottesville, Tulsa and My Ancestry

If family history research teaches anything, it is that none of us is without some fundamental sinfulness that tarnishes our family line across many generations.

So while I can join those who are reeling in horror at the weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I also remember the shameful place my family apparently took — and almost entirely denies — in the 1921 riot that destroyed middle-class black Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A Good Christian Woman

My father’s great aunt Ila — or Mrs. S.A. Gilmore, as she was known in Tulsa society — was a respected, if not particularly important, member of that community in the early 1920s. The only time we know that her photograph appeared in the Tulsa Daily World is this image from June 8, 1923. She stands in the second row of “this unique Bible class,” made up of women from more than one of the city’s Protestant congregations.


At the time, the idea of a multichurch Bible study was remarkable, let alone a Bible study that crossed denominational lines. The Bible study grew from an evangelistic crusade held in Tulsa in late 1921 by the enthusiastic Billy Sunday. Nonetheless, the newspaper reports, “none of the class members believe in religious fanaticism.”

Indeed, the span of views represented in the class included Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Church of God, Church of Christ, “both branches of the Methodist church,” a couple kinds of Presbyterian, United Brethren and members of the local Christian Science church.

When the photo was taken, the class had just finished its second year together. They had studied Acts, Romans, and the life of Christ as depicted in the four Gospels.

Shot by ‘Negro Rioter’

Six months before Billy Sunday got to Tulsa, Aunt Ila appeared in the “social news” report of another newspaper, in her brother’s home town of Twin Falls, Idaho.


The breathless and solicitous social news columnist reports that the Hill family had received a telegram notifying them of Mrs. SA Gilmore’s injuries during the riot. This report, and another in the Tulsa paper, describe her as having been shot by a negro “sniper” stationed in a church while she stood on her own front porch.

The journalist in me kicks in and remembers to ask: Who said that a “negro sniper” shot her? Who said that she was on the front porch?

Neither article answers. Which only piques my journalist’s curiosity further.

Critically Wounded by ‘Triple Through and Through’

According to the family story, Aunt Ila survived a “triple-through-and-through” shooting in the riot. The legend says that the bullet passed through her forearm, her upper arm, and her torso, making it entirely reasonable that the June 2, 1921 Tulsa World would report her still in “critical condition” on the afternoon of June 1, half a day after the injury.

What I found puzzling is how someone just standing on a porch could sustain that wound track. And I admit, at this point I’m playing amateur CSI like everyone else does. I’m holding my arms one way and another trying to imagine how a bullet could go through those three places. Am I leaning on a porch rail? Leaning on a porch support? I suppose if the “sniper” shot me in the back, the bullet could make that triple injury. Otherwise, the railing or porch support would get the bullet and I’d be safe.

Could a Bullet Have Traveled that Far?

But wait a minute. The Tulsa World also reports Mrs. Gilmore’s home address as 225 East King. That’s nowhere near the riot line.

In fact, although Aunt Ila’s house no longer stands, the address is about a mile and a quarter from the district where white Tulsa “held off” black Tulsa in a riot that white Tulsa fomented. And lest anyone imagine this was “defensive” action on the part of the white community, know that white Tulsa emerged almost unscathed. Tulsa’s middle-class black neighborhood, the Greenwood District, with its brick-built houses, schools, post office, shops, and cinema, was leveled. Thirty-five city blocks were left in smoking ruins.

Is it possible that in the midst of such race war, a “negro sniper” wandered more than a mile into hostile white territory to hole up in a church and from there shoot my aunt as she just hung out on her own porch?

I measure that possibility with the same credulity I gave the 8-year-old who once told me it was “possible” she might drink the school water fountain dry — “improbable,” she said, but “possible.”

So if it is very “improbable” that a “negro sniper” was anywhere near where Aunt Ila lived, how did she get shot?

The Tulsa World dated on the day the riot began gives me a clue:

Several hundred women armed themselves and were part of the crowd of whites that swarmed on Second street from Boulder to Boston avenue watching the gathering volunteer army or offering their services.

White Women with Rifles. Oh My.

Armed women. Oh my. I begin to retest my amateur CSI hypotheses. What if Aunt Ila had been on the riot line — ready to fire a rifle? That trajectory might work …

And so I find myself with a new hypothesis, based in part on the remarkable lack of attribution in two different publications in two states. Who says Aunt Ila was shot by a sniper in a church? I don’t know. Who says Aunt Ila was standing on her porch? I don’t know. Which means I can’t assume the source is trustworthy. In the end, looking back nearly a century, the injury pattern the family describes seems to tell much more truth than family legend and unattributed news stories. One address reported in the newspaper makes the whole story, as our family tells it, simply not credible.

Aunt Ila had to have been one of the armed women on the riot line. And just as I carry the original sin from the Garden, I carry this racial sin from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A Nasty Spiritual Blood Line


Ben 22 Klan Charlottesville Toronto Star

The Toronto Star published this image of 22-year-old “Ben,” who identified himself as a member of the KKK, marching in Charlottesville.

I can be appalled at the neo-Nazis and Klansmen who marched on Charlottesville. But I can’t pretend that their DNA is not in my veins. Without a spiritual “blood transfusion” from Jesus, I’m doomed to repeat my family’s history.


A Spiritual Transfusion? I Can Only Hope

Did Aunt Ila get a spiritual transfusion during the Billy Sunday crusade? Almost a hundred years later, I can’t know. Someday, I can only hope, I’ll meet her in heaven and hear how God changed her heart. Someday, I hope, you’ll meet me in heaven and believe God has changed mine.

[Cited Tulsa World newsclips from June 1921 were reviewed and noted in 2012. Links are not provided because they are no longer available to non-subscribers.]


For those unfamiliar with this episode of history, a few resources include:


The Questions that Remain: Tulsa World, 2009 

This extensive multimedia publication includes information about the Klan’s rise in Tulsa beginning just months after the “riot” and events in the early 21st century aiming at reconciliation.

Tulsa Race Riot Overview: Oklahoma State University Library

1921 Tulsa Race Riot: Tulsa Historical Society & Museum



Posted in Carlene Byron | 2 Comments

Book Review: When Faith Catches Fire

When Faith bookThis book makes the case that the US church has a great deal to learn from Latin-American immigrant congregations. No argument there. It points out the passion and enthusiasm of Hispanic Christians, notes their frequent transition from traditional Catholic roots to the authors’ Pentecostal traditions, and asserts that the Latino church offers a uniquely well-integrated representation of Christianity’s dual movement: upward (toward God) and outward (in service to people).

The co-authors are Assemblies of God pastor Dr. Robert Crosby, founder of Teaming Life ministries, and Samuel Rodriguez, a Pentecostal preacher born in America to Puerto Rican parents. Rodriguez founded and serves as president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), formed in 2001 by unification of several Hispanic church networks. NHCLC currently self-identifies as the largest network of Latin American churches (with evangelical theology) in the US.

The authors tend to place white and black US churches at poles, with new immigrants offering a better, middle way:

In too many cases, the white church just wanted to give people “hope” and the black church just wanted to give them “help.” Today, Latinos are instead underlining the need to do both … (pg. 91)

As a reader (Anglo), I find myself frequently pained by the authors’ apparent inability to see that US Anglo churches could have been learning these same lessons for decades from the African-American church. I found it particularly painful when the authors suggested that the “brown” Latino church could function as a “bridge builder” between white and black in America (with the caveat that the black church owes an apology to Hispanic immigrants … page 194).

What I hear (again, as an Anglo reader) is that many American Anglos find it difficult – for reasons both cultural and historic – to learn from black Americans. So, having come to a place where Anglo church leaders acknowledge the weaknesses in their own movements, they will not look to the black church for lessons. They will look elsewhere.

I do not have the right to speak on behalf of African-American Christians. Therefore, only as an outside observer, I will say that this book feels like it encourages spiritual disrespect of long-time Americans. In my view, this spiritual disrespect parallels the professional disrespect we have frequently observed in the US as next-wave immigrants threaten to displace longer residents in the job market.

The response to professional challenges has been disrespect in the form of nativism, closing the ranks, and, at one time, employment notices that rejected outright applicants from particular countries. I fear that this elevation of an immigrant church over a long-standing church network with similar spiritual characteristics will function similarly as a disrespectful challenge that only serves to harden dividing lines.

[An aside that I hope helps to make my point: I recall a mischievous moment in a talk by psychologist Kenneth Pargament (Anglo), now emeritus at Bowling Green. After reviewing data about the differential impact of worship services on various populations (attending church causes greater positive change in the mental health of African-Americans than of Anglos, it turns out), he impishly suggested that maybe the difference happens because there’s “more God” at an African-American service. And then, he as he started to outline the differences he had observed in black and white worship experiences … you had to wonder if he was really kidding.]

While the authors acknowledge the impact on Latino Christians of having an Argentine pope, they don’t acknowledge the valuable foundation that a catechism upbringing may have provided these first-generation Catholic-to-Pentecostal Christians. They even use a linguistic bridge to these new Christians’ faith heritage by coining the term “Passio Dei” to describe an enthusiastic passion for God. Catholic Christians are, of course, familiar with the Latinate phrase “Passio Christi,” which describes the sufferings Jesus endured during the week leading up to the crucifixion.

For those inexperienced in cross-cultural communications, Chapter 9 offers a valuable introduction to one tool for bridging into “honor-shame” cultures (such as those from Latin America, most of the world and even much of the US outside the Anglo middle class) . Katie Rawson’s Crossing Cultures with Jesus provides more detail and extensive examples.

Based on the study questions, I would suggest that this book is best for church leaders, not laypeople.

Have some people underestimated the impact of Latino Evangelicals? What is the danger of relegating Latino Evangelicals to a ‘voting bloc’?” pg. 151

The perspective is almost entirely Pentecostal, and offers limited vantages from outside the Anglo and Hispanic communities. There’s only so much that can be done in 224 pages … still, I find myself wishing for more.

I received a free, prepublication copy of “When Faith Catches Fire” from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Posted in Carlene Byron

Can Anyone Try Too Hard?

I’m a desk-worker by trade who is currently “trying” to lay a brick walkway at my home. Right now, I’m still at the shoveling stage: shovel out 18 inches of dirt, shovel in a sand and gravel mix. This morning, I had to remind myself that the walk won’t get done if I don’t move some more sand and gravel before the sun gets hot.

This will be the second brick walk I’ve put together at this house, and I may or may not require help from my brother this time. I still need to push myself to finish edging a garden bed with the same brick — hand-formed antique red brick that my parents “acquired” when they took down a chimney.

Part of being a New Englander is to do stuff. It’s kind of like when you’re trained as an engineer or machinist: you know that you can figure out how to do just about anything, so you figure whatever is in front of you is something you can (and should) do. How can a person try too hard or try too many things?

The questions for me are less about whether I’m “trying” too hard, but whether I’m attempting tasks that aren’t my own:

  • Am I asking often enough for help?
  • Am I honoring others by letting them know I need what only they can offer?
  • Am I choosing to batter a wall instead of using a nearby window or door?
  • Am I trying to “break in” to someone else’s lifestyle instead of quietly living my own?

I can “try” too hard in some arenas and not hard enough in others:

  • Am I trying to learn life skills that I’ve missed to date (for example, how to build supportive friendships)?
  • Am I trying to shape my character where I fall short: most notably (as everyone can attest) in humility?
  • Am I trying to make my life fertile ground for God’s good work of growing spiritual fruit?

This last, to me, is where the “trying” and the “not trying” are most clearly linked. Getting fruit depends on effort and on things that are beyond effort. I can’t force the Concord grapevines in my backyard to bear fruit. But I can — and did — prune them properly (thanks to internet how-to graphics). I can — and do — irrigate them during dry, hot weeks.

Concord Grapes 301 Maine

Last year’s Concords, in this picture, are few compared to the green grapes now ripening on the vines I learned to tend.

This year, Lord willing, I’m going to have a huge harvest on grapevines I didn’t plant, never imagined looking after, and have only “tried” to care for properly.

I try to do what God puts in front of me. I avoid doing what God has put in front of someone else. God takes all the efforts we make together and sends the results.

Grapes, bricks, and better character. I’m trying. God’s doing. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Today’s Five Minute Friday blog link-up prompt is “Try”.

Posted in Carlene Byron | 4 Comments

A Cake, the Klan, a Senator’s Stand

I have two writerly “woohoos!” today! First, my piece about Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, her conscientious stand against 1950s hatred, and her yummy blueberry cake, appears in the lead position at The Redbud Post this month.



Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine appeared in Gallup’s Top 10 Most Admired Women for 19 years.


Then, I received a contract today from Anita Montague Johnson for a piece about my mother’s lessons in priority setting. It will appear in Alnita’s forthcoming anthology, Cherish Her!

Alnita Johnson.jpg

Alnita Montague Johnson teaches a “Phenomenal Woman” workshop and is publishing an anthology about the lessons we learn from our mothers.

These two portraits of admirable women land just as Maine is celebrating one of its own female phenomena, Sen. Susan Collins.

Last week, applause erupted in Bangor International Airport when Sen. Collins stepped out of the jetway. Collins, together with Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, had steadfastly resisted pressure from members of their own Republican party to repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacement. Both had heard loud and strong from their constituencies — rural, lower income, with challenges accessing needed care — and both chose to represent their people instead of bowing to their party. Sen. John McCain took a break in his medical treatment for cancer to provide the last vote needed to protect the ACA.

Susan Collins

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), together with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) held the line to protect health care for their rural, low-income constituents.


Collins and Murkowski acted in the same tradition that caused Sen. Smith to stand up to her Republican colleague, Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin in the 1950s. Smith lost a key committee seat in the process, but gained the admiration of a nation. Read about it at The Redbud Post. And get Smith’s blueberry cake recipe there, too. The first Maine wild blueberries are just ripe.



Posted in Carlene Byron