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Gardening and the Sophistication of Life

April 12, 2015

Today, our social media editor Craig Katzenmiller shares some thoughts inspired by his small, 64-square-feet farm.

My spouse and I relocated to Knoxville in mid-March, into our first home. Suddenly the strange  pools of water in the garage, the door that won’t close all the way, the out-of-place gutter drain are our responsibility. Gone are the assurances of having a landlord. Likewise, though, gone also are the fetters of having a landlord. And so, this past week, I bought six 2x8x8 pieces of lumber and turned the soil over in two 8×4 patches. Then I constructed two 8×4 boxes with the aforementioned lumber, filled them with garden soil and seeds and compost. I sowed my first garden.

Growing up, my father always had a garden. One of my fondest memories of his many gardens is the year, long ago when I was perhaps 10 or 12 years old, we finished planting and were left with various varieties of many extra bean seeds. Dad quickly made a final row in the bean section and we haphazardly sowed all the seeds together in that row. And, several months later, we had a crowded row of many different kinds of beans—all growing together in harmony.

Those were the proverbial good old days. Somewhere along the way though I got a little too big for those britches.

Will Campbell, the much revered Southern preacher and contrarian, speaks of entering his “sophisticated period” when he went off to Yale Divinity School. After leaving Yale, and returning to the South, he learned that much of the stuff he learned in Yale Divinity School didn’t communicate in rural churches. So he had to become unsophisticated again. Somewhere in his writings, he mentions gluing his “ordination papers”—the handwritten document his church drew up when he was a youngster, complete with typos, that said he was a minister in God’s church—over his degree from Yale. One of my friends who used to visit Will reports having seen those ordination papers glued over Will’s Yale degree. Through the years, Will learned how to be thoughtful without being “an Eastern shit”—a term Stanley Hauerwas uses when narrating his own story of gaining sophistication, incidentally, after attending Yale Divinity School.

At any rate, after those good old days mentioned above I entered my sophisticated period in college and grad school. I was not deemed smart enough to enter Yale Divinity School nor did I move eastward. But in my own way, I became an Eastern shit. Regrettably, I looked down my nose on many things—perceived lesser theologies, perceived lesser vocations, etc.

Thankfully, I met people like Lee Camp and Richard Goode while in that sophisticated phase, and they introduced me to people who recognized their so-called sophistication and abandoned it—the Will Campbells, the Stanley Hauerwases, the Zooey Glasses. Through introducing me to various authors as well as to the men who I now count among my friends at Riverbend Maximum Security Prison, I was able to identify and abandon my pretense to sophistication—or at least, in my better moments I’m able to abandon that pretense.

And so, my tiny little garden out back. Gardening was one of those things I once thought myself too evolved for. I had Tyson chickens and Walmarts after all. All I needed to do was drive a couple of miles and pay for that stuff. Why go to the hassle of growing it? Well, I have since evolved to see that that consumeristic tendency is plain toxic.

So, having given up the pretense to being above it, I dug my hands into the dirt and buried some seeds. It is indeed a practice that is and will be good for me. Gardening, in a most concrete way, teaches the virtue of humility (for I cannot control the outcomes here) and it leads me to what Ragan Sutterfield calls “the agrarian mind” (Farming as a Spiritual Discipline, 31–35). According to Sutterfield, the agrarian mind has two components: first, becoming aware of the many dependencies we have—everything from grocery shopping to fuel consumption to clothes buying—and second, ridding ourselves of as many of those dependencies as we can. So we might sew together clothes instead of buying them; or we might ride our bicycles to nearby places instead of driving; or we might grow what’s needed for nourishment instead of relying on overly processed foods. These alternatives are, for Sutterfield, practices that inform virtues. As Sutterfield puts it, following Alisdair MacIntyre, “[W]e do not learn virtues through abstractions but through the concrete discipline and work of practices within a community and tradition. The intricate work of table-making is a better instructor in patience than a classroom dialogue and the discipline of a sport is a better instructor in self-denial than an abstract lesson in ‘virtue education’” (19). Sewing, cycling, and gardening are such community-based and tradition-involved practices.

Sutterfield goes on to identify gardening as a spiritual discipline precisely because it teaches us the virtue of humility, “the only sure path toward being fully human” (21), and forces us to slow down and to be aware of the gifts of God—for example, the gift of fallen leaves, which are ideal for composting. “We will have to beat the trash trucks through suburban neighborhoods to pick up bags of leaves we know are beyond value,” notes Sutterfield (39). “Gardens get in the way of progress. They start people thinking that maybe God gave us the means to feed ourselves without Tyson and Walmart getting in the mix.” And that bit of subversion initiates the defeat of the “forces who are working against the arrival of something abundant and healthy in a world that thrives on scarcity and disease” (38).

Gardening, then, allows us the time and space to grow and to become more deeply rooted to our place in the world.

Gardening allows us time and space to reflect on the fact that just as plants come from the graced nothingness of seeds, so we humans come from the graced nothingness of seeds.

And gardening allows us the time and space to be what God created us to be, namely, co-creators with God of new life around tables where there is food for all.

Craig “Dusty” Katzenmiller is social media editor at Tokens and is a soon-to-be stay-at-home dad.

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Tokens Show in Malibu

March 11, 2015

We are Most Pleased to report that Tokens returns to the Pepperdine University campus on Tuesday May 5.  This will be our third foray out to that picturesque spot perched out on the edge of our beautiful continent.  Tickets are available through the Pepperdine lectureship, with registration required here. Pleased also to report that Dr. Kent Brantley will be featured interviewee on Tokens Show that evening, one of Time’s “Person of the Year” for his work in fighting the Ebola epidemic.



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January 25 Show Re-scheduled

January 21, 2015


The Nashville Choir’s show scheduled at the Schermerhorn January 25 featuring the Tokens Show and friends has been re-scheduled for Sunday evening October 4, 2015.  For more information on the 2015 Tokens Show schedule, please visit www.TokensShow.com/shows.  Our first show in Nashville this year will be April 14, 2015, featuring special guest David Crowder.  Season tickets for four shows, plus a special patron-only show, are still available starting at the Most Outstanding Discounted price of $97.50.  Click here for season ticket information.

Schermerhorn - Nashville

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Conferences and Conventions

January 1, 2015

You may download a pdf of our latest Electronic Press Kit by clicking here.

Nashville’s Acclaimed Tokens Show now offers innovative, customized, and compelling programming for conferences and conventions coming to Music City. Let Tokens Show provide a Nashville experience like no other. Contact us at Info {at} TokensShow.com.

Two paragraph blurb:

The Nashville Scene recognized the Tokens radio show as Nashville’s “Best Local Variety Show” in 2013 which is a “grass-kicking shredfest” that is a “huge success,” with “genre-bending creativity.” The Tennessean calls it “one of a kind,” and a “virtuouso ensemble.” Prominent Nashville music critic Peter Cooper recently opined that Tokens “is amazing. It’s amazing that [Tokens] has integrated music, humor and scholarship into something so seamlessly entertaining.” Other reviewers have called Tokens “spectacular” and”provocative.” Best selling author Shane Claiborne calls Tokens “dazzling. magical. better than CATS … creating beauty and mischief.”

For more information, visit the following sites:

Publicity Photos:

Tokens Show at the Ryman Auditorium

Host Lee C. Camp, cropped

Host Lee C. Camp with band

Tokens Show Cast on Stage

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Hymns and the Battle of Nashville

December 16, 2014

My friend and faculty colleague Donna King serves as our regular “go to” authority on helping us sort through song and music possibilities befitting any given theme for Tokens Show. She recently worked on gathering materials for the tolling of the bells in Nashville marking the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Nashville, and we asked her to share a bit of her findings.

Also of interest may be this week’s podcast episode on the Battle of Nashville, and some segments from our show on the Civil War, “Singing Down the Pain,” recorded in 2011.

Pax, LCC


One of the events commemorating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Nashville is a citywide tolling of bells beginning at 4:30 today and continuing for four minutes—marking the close of the bitter and deadly battle on its second day, at dusk.

As I began collecting hymns to play on Lipscomb University’s 35-bell carillon after the tolling, I was struck again by the great sadness of that Civil War, and the great need to discover that in tragic and desperate times our humanity–or some piece of it–is still intact.

More than thirty camp books that included hymn texts were printed for soldiers; knowing the actual number distributed is problematic, but some estimates are easily more than one million.* Books, sized smaller than regular hymnals to easily fit into pockets, were printed by various Christian denominations, other Christian organizations, and even government agencies. The U.S. Sanitary Commission, for example, distributed The Soldier’s Friend, where a Union soldier could find information about burying a body, procedures for getting an artificial limb, and a substantial appendix of hymn texts. Facts like this, and titles like The Soldiers Hymn Book for Camp and Hospital, I find especially poignant—little pieces of paper crying out for the humane amidst the horrific.

These titles also explain why, for the most part, the contents were not songs written during or about the war, though Union hymnals, especially, included traditional patriotic songs. Mostly, the soldiers carried, read, and sang hymns already familiar and meaningful to them, no matter which side of the conflict. Common themes were duty, the authority of Christ, and assurance of comfort. Titles printed in many books, and still sung in many churches today, were “Come Ye Who Love the Lord (Marching to Zion),” “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” and “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” Yes, clearly, conflating the Army of the Lord with the Battle at Hand has a long history, but the acknowledgement of not knowing, while placing faith in the God who does, is also timeless, as Cowper’s eighteenth-century words remind us:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

One seasonal hymn that was penned during the Civil War years, and has become timeless, was not included in any of these soldiers’ hymnals. In fact, its use in hymnals of the nineteenth century was minimal, though its popularity as a hymn increased with each successive American conflict, peaking during the 1960s and 1970s. When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” in1863, his recent life was one of conflict and sorrow. His wife had died tragically in 1861, and he had disagreed sharply with his oldest son about participation in the war. Charles, the son, finally feeling bound by duty, had joined the army early in 1863 without telling his father, leaving only a note; then, he was seriously injured in a November battle. Longfellow’s reasons for despair must have seemed many, and his despair is little restrained this text: “Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.” Yet, by the end the poet turns, like the psalmists and prophets, to hope, to the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. These best-known verses continue to resonate in our time as they did in his:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

For further, excellent reading on this topic, see Mark Rhoads’s website: Singing the Songs of Zion.

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2015 Season Tickets

December 8, 2014

Get your season ticket to the show that the Nashville Scene describes as a “grass-kicking shredfest” that is a “huge success,” with “genre-bending creativity,” and The Tennessean calls “one of a kind,” and a “virtuouso ensemble.” Music critic Peter Cooper recently opined that Tokens “is amazing. It’s amazing that [Tokens] has integrated music, humor and scholarship into something so seamlessly entertaining.” Other reviewers have called Tokens “spectacular,” “provocative,” and a “marvel.” Sojourners opined that “…if A Prairie Home Companion ever moved South and got religion—or at least went to divinity school—it might look a lot like TOKENS.” And fans describe Tokens as “UH-MAZING,” “awesome,” “unforgettable,” and “wow!

Order Tickets Online

For more details about the schedule of Nashville Tokens Shows, click here.

For more about the Tokens Show, click here.

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From the mouths of babes

December 4, 2014

Here in the Bible Belt I hear a few white men (mostly, and occasionally white women) appearing to question the reality of white privilege, and speaking in terms that seem to assume that the fundamental locus of moral questions is the individual, rather than the more complex, and I think more realistic vision of the New Testament: that, indeed, individuals must accept or reject a call to live according to a vision of the good and liberating and rightly ordered will of God; but that there are also, in fact, great powers of deception and lies and injustice woven into the very fabric of human existence, of our communities, and policies, and institutions; and no less important, woven into the stories we tell.

I came today, looking through old journals, upon disturbing stories I had long forgotten, from when I was a younger man, still a boy in many ways, and Laura and I were living in Nairobi, Kenya. The country was relatively new to independence, the marks of western colonialism still manifest in numerous social realities, of language and commerce and cultural morays. Laura and I were working at a school in a slum. My friends Sammy and Francis would take me out into the streets, and we would visit a particular group of street boys, boys who lived on the streets, who ate out of the trash piles, who survived literally trash-pile to hand to mouth. They slept and took refuge in a wretched alley, each end of the alley way blocked by immense piles of garbage, garbage that would ooze a yellowish filth over my shoes as I would try to ease my way up and over, trying to get to their little street-boy village hidden away behind those piles, the smell of that refuse searing the nostrils, staying with one for days, long after the yellowish muck had been washed from one’s shoes.

One day—April 6, 1994—we went to visit, and began to discuss Bible stories. These African boys began to discuss the origin of the black man. “Obviously,” one said, in my own paraphrase, “the black man was the result of something going wrong with the white man—after all, we know Adam and Eve were white, because we’ve seen them on movies.”

Then another street boy told the story of Noah: when Noah was building his ark, he grew weary, and so took a rest. While he was resting, some people came and started using the ark as a toilet. It was used to such an extent as a toilet, that it was filled with shit. As the people who had just used the ark as a toilet departed, their skin contracted an awful disease. They approached Moses to ask what they should do to cleanse themselves from the disease. They were told to go back to the ark, and cover themselves with the shit found there, and they would be healed. They did so, finally emptying the ark of the human waste, covering themselves in it. Such, so this young African said, was the origin of the black man.

Let the white men and women who have ears to hear, hear.

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Thanks to Our Presenting Sponsor – AGAPE

November 22, 2014

We at Tokens are very grateful to share the following information about our Presenting Sponsor for Sunday night’s Tokens at the RymanAGAPE.

For 48 years, AGAPE has been a trusted source for building strong families.
Adoption, foster care, and family preservation have been the cornerstones of their existence since 1967. They are also one of the largest Christian professional counseling and psychological services organization in Tennessee, providing children, adolescents, and adults with guidance through many difficult life circumstances.

Professional Counseling and Psychological Services
AGAPE’s counseling department has grown significantly in the past 35 years and consists of Christian professionals licensed as psychologists, psychological examiners, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and professional counselors.
From preschool children to mature adults, we address life issues such as relationship problems and grief, to more serious clinical issues like depression, anxiety, ADHD, or eating disorders. We are also a source for support groups for children and adults. Counseling offices can be found all across Middle Tennessee.

Crisis Foster Care
Sometimes, parents may be faced with the critical choice of how to care for their children due to substance abuse rehabilitation, need of medical or psychiatric care, job loss, or homelessness. Knowing that children are being cared for and nurtured is vital to recovery and that is how AGAPE can help. We provide temporary, out-of-home placement for children with fully trained and approved foster parents who are backed by our staff of professional social workers. A stable home for children and temporary assistance with parenting may be the best step toward restoring families.

Adoption Services
With the belief and conviction that every child deserves a family, AGAPE provides homes for newborn infants as well as older children. More than 85% of our adoptions are children who are older, have siblings or are of minority race; some are physically or mentally handicapped. A “forever family” is our goal for each of them.

Maternity Counseling
We provide a safe, caring place for an expectant mothers to turn to when facing an unplanned pregnancy. Our professional staff works closely with each mother, helping to make a life plan for the child, whether through parenting or adoption.

In addition to the information above, it is important to note that in its history, AGAPE has served over 5,000 children in placement services. Over 1,000 have been adopted into forever homes.  In 2013 alone, AGAPE conducted over 13,000 counseling sessions serving more than 1,700 counseling clients.

Location and More Information
AGAPE’s main campus is located at 4555 Trousdale Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37204 (615-781-3000). Information about all their services, as well as contact information, can be found on their website, AGAPENASHVILLE.ORG.

Their missions statement sums it up well: AGAPE exists to serve the needs of families, children, and adults in Middle Tennessee with an unconditional agape love through Professional Counseling and Psychological Services, Adoption Services, Crisis Foster Care, and Maternity Counseling

We at Tokens are mighty thankful for the wonderful work and ministry performed by the most outstanding folks at AGAPE. And we encourage you to seek more information if they can be of service to you or someone you love.

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The Welcome Table: A Thanksgiving Reflection – Revisited

November 19, 2014

This is a revised version of a piece Michael McRay wrote after attending the 2010 Thanksgiving Tokens Show “The Welcome Table.”

For some, tolerance is a noble endeavor. Many speak of the need to tolerate other religions, other viewpoints, other orientations, other cultures, or maybe even simply other denominations. But for others, and hopefully for Christians, tolerance does not go far enough. Tolerance merely allows the other to speak without actually taking the time to listen and understand. Tolerance says the other can stay but just so long as we don’t have to genuinely engage one another. Tolerance, itself, is not a Christian discipline. Christianity teaches hospitality.

Hospitality takes tolerance to the next level. It is inviting, welcoming, and gracious. Hospitality encourages the other to speak, and then listens, and engages the other in their story. Tolerance says, ‘You may stay, but on your side of town.’ Hospitality, though, is an open door. It means inviting the Muslim, the Arab, the enemy, the poor immigrant, the former prisoner, the stranger, the friend to come inside and be at home. Hospitality invites everyone to the welcome table, to break bread and fellowship.

Since the creation of the Church, eating together has been a central component of Christian practice. The book of Acts tell us that the disciples met in each other’s houses for the ‘breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously’ (2:42). Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is constantly seen participating in meals, eating with those that mainstream society claimed should not be welcome at the table: tax collectors, debtors, prostitutes; in short, the ‘other.’ Many of the parables Jesus told describing God’s kingdom centered around the image of a feast table where the poor and outcast are ushered in off the street to share in the King’s celebration meal. The Gospels record Jesus performing two miracles pertaining to food: the feeding of the 4,000 and the feeding of the 5,000. For some scholars, particularly referring to the Gospel of Mark, the miraculous nature (or at least emphasis) of these stories is not the multiplication of the food, but rather the fact that there was enough for everyone. This is God’s kingdom. All of people’s basic needs are met. No one has more than he or she needs, and no one has less. There is simply enough. The meal was a microcosm of this reality, but the disciples translated this ethic into all areas of their lives, sharing all they had so that all were provided for. As Ched Myers writes, the disciples, in keeping with the example set by Jesus, created an economy of enough within a cosmology of grace.

At the welcome table, everyone is disarmed, and society’s classes are destroyed. As ethicist and theologian John Howard Yoder notes, equality is present at the table as the meal provides the space for the ‘condemnation of economic segregation’ (Body Politics, 22). At the table, host and guest are made one as everyone eats together. Power structures do not exist at the welcome table, only relationship and fellowship. The powerful are dethroned, and the poor are exalted – all by the sharing of a meal.

During my time serving as a volunteer chaplain at Riverbend maximum security prison—before the warden banned me—I often shared a meal with those working in the chaplain’s department. Prison at its very core is a place of segregation, physically, relationally, visually, etc. Prisoners all wear the same attire, always with a white stripe down the leg that reads, “Department of Corrections.” One Friday, before a chapel service that night, a few other inside friends joined the chaplain’s department for dinner. We all gathered in the office and handed out plates of rice, salad, and enchiladas, compliments of the head chaplain, Jeannie Alexander. Some of us sat on bookshelves, others in chairs, others on tables, and still others stood. There was laughter; there was conversation; there was silence; and there were second helpings—but there were no stripes. There were no insiders and outsiders. There was just “us.”

The night before Jesus was killed by the powers of his day, he broke bread with those closest to him, those with whom he had shared his life of ministry: essentially, his community. The welcome table is the lifeblood of true community. We come together with those among whom we live and work so that we might encourage and strengthen one another in our vocations. The meal provides the opportunity for everyone to break from life’s hectic routines (except for maybe the cooks!) and be reminded of the presence of God and the vitality of community. During the holidays, the meal is often the central point of the seasons’ events. For many families, the meal is a chance to regroup and reconnect after a long day, or for extended families at the holidays, after many months. The meal is a place to be renewed and rejuvenated, and perhaps even to reconcile offenses. In my family, the table has always provided the occasion for laughter, tears, and storytelling. Some of the most important lessons and conversations of my life have occurred around the meal table.

Hospitality and the welcome table are central components of many cultures. Within Islam, for example, one of the names for God is hospitality. In Palestine, many families, especially the poorer ones, share a meal sitting in a circle, whether at the table or on the floor, and everyone eats from a single dish laid at the center of the circle. Here there is equality. No one sits above or below anyone else, and no one has greater access to more food. Everyone is the same. If inequality exists at all, then it is in favor of the guest, who is honored and cherished.

Jesus describes and incarnates God’s kingdom as such an event. All are provided for, all are welcome, and no leaves wanting. There is enough for everyone. Today, regardless of the origins or transformation of this holiday, this community of generosity and jubilee can be celebrated. As we gather as family and friends, we both rejoice in the hospitality and fellowship that we experience but also are mindful of those who are alone. As Dickens so profoundly notes in A Christmas Carol, this season of the year is one where ‘want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.’ May we always and in all ways extend the welcome table to those who so intensely feel this want and are left in the cold of despair and involuntary isolation. And may we also celebrate this economy of enough, fellowshipping in the breaking of bread, as we both literally and paradigmatically participate in God’s beloved community.

Michael McRay (M.Phil. Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, Trinity College Dublin | at Belfast) is adjunct professor at Lipscomb University, lecturing in forgiveness and reconciliation, international conflict resolution, storytelling, et al. He is the co-founder of No Exceptions Prison Collective, organizer and host of Tenx9 Nashville Storytelling, and author of Letters from “Apartheid Street” and the forthcoming Where the River Bends: Considering Forgiveness and Transformation in the Lives of the Incarcerated (Cascade, 2015), with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu.

As of the time of this post, tickets are available for the Tokens at the Ryman 2014. Visit our Tickets page for details.

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