Pastor Joshua McHenry Miller is a relative newcomer to Madison. In the last four years, though, he has jumped in with both feet, seeding a new church in the Leopold neighborhood and forging strong and deep partnerships with Leopold Elementary and a number of other organizations.
Rank your top five MCs. So true story, the only Spotify playlists I’ve ever created revolve around my favorite TV shows. I do appreciate Kayne’s early work, and Lauryn Hill is incredibly talented.
Which motivates you more: doubters or supporters? It’s changed over the years. When I was growing up, I definitely had a chip on my shoulder, so I thrived on proving people wrong. Now, though, I love the power of community, and I’ve found myself much more passionate when I’m surrounded by people encouraging and supporting each other as they work together in trenches.
What does it mean to be a white pastor in Madison? For over 15 years, I’ve identified first and foremost as a child of God, who happens to be white and serves as a pastor. There are positive aspects from my race and profession, but they also leave me with some pretty massive blind spots and harmful implicit assumptions. As long as I keep my foundation on being God’s child, I can celebrate who he made me to be, while learning from men and women also created in his image but who come from a different perspective and life experience. When we start from a place of unity, it’s a lot easier to appreciate our differences, challenge corrosive presuppositions, and unite as one family.
What three leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most? Honestly, you Henry would be an easy answer to start off with, but I wanted to give a shout-out to leaders we don’t hear about as often. First, Jeremy Thorton, the Family and Community Specialist at West High School. He’s an African American from East High School, and I see him pour into the youth of our city day in and day out. One day he’s going to be a principal or superintendent, book it. Second, Karine Sloan, the principal at Leopold Elementary School. She dove head first into one of the most challenged schools in the district with a perfect blend of passion and humility. Finally, Hakeem Williams, a twenty-two-year-old from the south side of Chicago. I’ve watched him overcome so many challenges, because he wants to pass on something better to his one-year-old son. That’s the definition of true leadership.
What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities? We don’t listen to each other. Instead, we argue and shame others into acting how we personally believe they should. The only way out of this mess is to commit to listening to the voices we have long marginalized, to ask more questions and offer less trite solutions, and commit to doing it together.
What are your top three priorities at this point in your life? There are three goals I keep on 3×5 cards next to my desk. The first is to help heal the racial division in Madison through the family of Christ. Second, one day, I’d like to become a bestselling young adult author. Third, I have a number with a bunch of zeros after it that I’d like to give away to charities and communities before I die.
Your Church, The Bridge, adopted Leopold elementary school. Why did you decide to adopt Leopold School? It was the door God opened. When we started in Madison, we knew schools were a priority partnership, and we had been praying over the 53713 zip code. We reached out to the school district, and they put us in touch with Mary Bartzen and the Foundation for Madison Public Schools. Leopold had a budding group of partners, and she suggested we start with them. Four years later, we’ve hosted crock-pot cooking classes, built a book garden, helped other organizations adopt classrooms, and a whole host of other activities.
You are one of numerous community organization who are hosting the Peace in Park block party at Leopold park on August 20. What are you hoping comes out of the block party? America is getting really good at dividing itself. My hope is this serves as a small step where we can celebrate with our neighborhood together. We have over two dozen organizations participating in the Peace in the Park Block Party, including businesses, the local elementary school, faith communities, and even the police. We get to dance together, eat together, and have fun together. I’m pumped!
If you weren’t a Pastor what would you be doing? Ha. I don’t know, but it’d have to be something where I get to talk to people. I joke if something terrible ever happens to my tongue and I can no longer speak, it’s probably time to go hang out with Jesus.
Name your top 3 tv shows of all time Top 3’s are always tough, but we’ll go with Firefly, Lost, and Chuck.
What sport are you excited about watching in the Olympics? Swimming is the only sport I can hold my own in, so I’m pumped about both the men’s and the women’s swim teams. Obviously, Michael Phelps is a huge draw, but we could really dominate this year between Katie Ledecky and some of the other young gunners.
You have written a book. What surprised you the most about that process? The power of good storytelling never ceases to amaze me. When a great book or movie comes out, it’s something we experience as a collective. It brings us together. It teaches us truth we may not be ready to receive in a more direct form. I spent ten years studying story craft before I wrote Tyrants and Traitors, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of how much impact a story can have!