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Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Dr. Chris Burton finds time for an illuminating chat

Leadership Institute director is the most recent guest on ‘Leading Theologically’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Chris Burton (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — With a hand in so many realms of kin-dom building — consulting, speaking, preaching, doing antiracism work, leading a seminary institute — it’s a wonder Dr. Chris Burton found a spare 30 minutes on Thursday to appear on the podcast “Leading Theologically.”

But he did, and you can hear Burton’s conversation with the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of Theological Education Funds Development for the Presbyterian Foundation, by going here or here.

Burton, director of the Leadership Institute at Union Presbyterian Seminary, also operates an antiracism consulting firm where he’s known as Di Baddist Chaplain and co-hosts the podcast CrossStreets.

Having recently completed his doctoral degree, “I feel a lot of excitement and joy going into the summer,” Burton told Hinson-Hasty, having the simultaneous sense of having climbed one mountain and standing at the base of another. “I feel energized by that,” he said. “There are people I haven’t met yet with whom I will be co-laboring.”

His dissertation explores Jesus as “the prime abolitionist. Every single act recorded in the gospels is a liberative act, an act where Jesus is setting someone free,” Burton told Hinson-Hasty, adding he tells people taking leadership training courses at Union Presbyterian Seminary that “you are in the business of setting people free because Jesus was in the business of setting people free.”

“I had never heard of Jesus as the prime liberationist,” Hinson-Hasty told Burton.

It’s more than freedom from physical bonds, Burton replied. It’s freeing people from poor health and inadequate health care, the lack of access to quality food and educational opportunities. “All these come into direct conflict with Jesus declaring, ‘I came so you might have life abundant,’” Burton said. “Jesus is not just dealing in metaphors, but has a direct impact on people’s lives.”

He called the Leadership Institute “a wonderful opportunity to bring folks who would not otherwise learn from one another to the same space.” People who are “deeply church-related,” who are, for example, working at becoming certified ruling elders called to lead congregations “are learning alongside folks who just want to leave the world better than what they found it. That’s almost like an innovation lab,” Burton said.

Announcements on upcoming courses led by “stellar scholars and teachers” will be made next month, Burton said. “You will be excited to see the folks we have,” Burton said. “Make sure to sign up when the courses are announced” as they can fill up fast, he said.

CrossStreets, which Burton co-hosts with Brittany Buongiorno, originally explored “our neighbors” in the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods of Brooklyn. “It served as an avenue to promote the dignity of Black people. We talk about soul care,” Burton said. “For people who don’t get to live in proximity of Black people, you can see the different avenues [by which] we can pursue our calling in life.”

Burton said he’s excited to hit the road this summer to “show people the on-ramps to abolitionist work and how to live into antiracist practices.” He’ll explore biblical ties to the work found in the books of Daniel and Esther and plans to work with “different organizations, churches and schools who are deeply concerned about this and want to know what’s coming next.”

The Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

Asked by Hinson-Hasty how he manages to squeeze so much work into his days, Burton said it’s foundational practices, including starting the day with gratitude, that see him through a packed daily schedule.

“You understand that happiness is a gift that visits, but joy is that thing you need. Joy is the source,” Burton said. “Everything flows from a sense of abundance. Because I have taken care of my first responsibilities, I am able to flow into other aspects of life.”

Hinson-Hasty replied that “it feels like a Christian practice” to “step across the gap and meet someone and get to know people not like you. That feels like a good first step.”

Summer is Burton’s favorite season because “it’s the time of year people allow themselves to sabbath. I love being around well-rested people” who “take time to keep the main thing the main thing.”

“In our American culture, we make busyness the same thing as business,” Burton said.

“It’s so true, frankly, in our Reformed tradition,” Hinson-Hasty said. “There are good things that can come from that, but it can become an idol easily.”

“I’m so grateful for who you are. What a beautiful journey,” Hinson-Hasty told Burton before asking him to bless and send listeners. Among the words Burton offered in his blessing: “My hope for you today wherever you are listening to this is you continue to realize the difference between what you feel like you have to do and the things that are near and dear to your heart — the ways in which God is speaking to you, not in the thunder and the rumblings, but in the still, small voice that God uses.”

“I hope and pray that when you get a deeper understanding of who you are and what God has made you for, that you understand yourself as a blessing, as a blessed person — not [a blessing] to keep in your pocket, but to be a blessing to every single person you encounter. May you be blessed and may you be a blessing. God bless you and keep you. Much love to you.”

At 1 p.m. Eastern Time on June 15, Hinson-Hasty plans to turn the microphone and sit for an interview by the Rev. Teri Ott, editor and publisher of the Presbyterian Outlook. Listen to their conversation here or here.

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