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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Renorming: Conversing with Dr. David C. Forbes

Shaw University Divinity School successfully navigated the gamut of accreditation, receiving reaffirmation from SACS along with our entire university, and being recommended for full reaffirmation, with no notations, from the visiting team of the Association of Theological Schools.  That latter one is not official yet, but we anticipate a good result when the Commission meets this summer.

We thank Dean Bruce Grady for his leadership during these years of self-study and complex change in our degree programs.  We have made and implemented a number of significant changes such as shortening our degree programs and reshaping the curriculum outline.  We have added needed faculty and begun work on more comprehensive plans for fundraising to increase student financial aid.  Dean Grady has been instrumental in all these accomplishments.

He did so well that the higher echelons of administration have given him a promotion.  He will now begin to serve as Interim Vice-President for Institutional Advancement.  We are proud of him and anticipate good things for the university and divinity school because of this new work he will undertake.  We are also sad to see him go after four good years of working together.  But God has not left us orphaned.

We are blessed to have the experienced and dedicated Shaw Man Dr. David C. Forbes as our Interim Dean.  He has been part of our divinity school family for many years, and he has been deeply involved in the life of Shaw University at all levels.  He was profiled last year during Black History Month, and I found the article very intriguing.  His work in SNCC and as a leader of Shaw students is impressive, and his many years of pastoring display an admirable record of service to God's church.

Dr. Forbes and I have a common experience that has drawn our hearts together in recent months.  He lost his wife of many years, Hazel, four years ago.  It was for him, as losing Everly has been for me, both wrenching and disorienting.  In a couple of recent conversations, he said to me that he has come to realize this time in his life can be characterized as "renorming."  The normal, of living a life shared with Hazel, has been taken away.  And now God's Spirit is at work to renorm a life, give it a new normal, orient it in new ways that both hold on to the good of Hazel in his life, but also point his energy and creativity toward new opportunities in this time without her.  Based on the profile I linked above, he had already learned some things about renorming when he led students to protest discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement.

That is an encouraging word to me.  I have already been at work theologically to address the notions of normativity and how assumptions of whiteness preclude understanding of other church traditions considered to be the productions of outsiders and marginal people.  This calls for a renorming, for the capacity to say as I wrote some time ago, that black theology's normativity also deserves acknowledgement.  Of course, that move challenges the very notion of normative theologies.  Figuring out the path beyond that challenge is clearly something like what Dr. Forbes is calling renorming.

Moreover, I have written repeatedly about the disorientation of life without Everly.  Having organized my life, in many ways specifically about helping her to flourish and succeed, much of that purpose seemed to vanish when she died.  I definitely had to reorient.  Renorming is a good word for it.  What is the normal that emerges from all that Everly poured into my life, now that she is gone, but also now that God still has a purpose for my continued living?  That is a renorming.

We have been renorming our understanding of our work at Shaw University Divinity School for some time.  The pattern that was succeeding through the early years of the millennium came face to face with the economic conditions that continue to keep the 99% struggling in this era.  Students are finding it harder to afford graduate school.  Educational systems have tightened up the availability of financial aid.  School loans have held high interest rates while huge, wealthy banks get their money for free and continue to make up schemes for trading paper and building houses of cards as a way to make more and more money.  People's homes remain foreclosed with little or no help.  Jobs are still too scarce, and the wealthy have become bolder in claiming that they deserve to be rich and the rest of us deserve the pittance wages they pay.

If we want to survive as an educational institution, we will have to keep renorming.  We'll have to find a way to provide education in the most affordable manner for today's students.  We'll have to make more financial aid available to them.  We will need to meet them where they are and remake ourselves in the form of service that is suited to our Servant Lord and to building a servant people.

So thanks be to God for both Bruce Grady and David Forbes.  May their leadership and ministry flourish in new roles, and may we see the signs of the Reign of God all around our distinguished, historic, and innovating Shaw University Divinity School.

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