Guest Post by Beth Ford Friend: Mindful Motherhood

ABSW:

In every day, there are moments to hold in gratitude and moments to offer to God for healing, as well as fears that lurk in the shadows. By bringing these to the light, I grow in freedom. Tomorrow, we begin anew. Sometimes even, in the next hour.

Originally posted on Centering Down:

Today’s motherhood story comes from Beth Ford Friend. Beth and I first met in seminary many moons ago. She was then and still remains a kindred soul. Beth is the mom I wish lived across the street so she could talk me down from my frustrating days with her gentle spirit and remind me to enjoy the good days with her beautiful smile. Even though Beth lives miles away, today she comes to bless us with her own journey on learning to mother from a more contemplative, mindful place. I felt calmer after just reading it. I hope you do too!

When my first son was three weeks old, I met an angel. Her name was Josie, and she was a lactation consultant. I saw her only once, but even now, four years later, her words return to me.

I said something to the effect that the day before had…

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Baptist scholar leads celebration of his friend Thomas Merton

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ABSW:

“Little by little, I gained more confidence that I understood what Thomas Merton was trying to do,” Hinson said. “I think he was trying to make us understand how to be contemplatives in a world full of activity.”

Originally posted on CBFblog:

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May 18, 2015

By Carrie McGuffin

ATLANTA, Ga.  — About 60 Cooperative Baptists gathered May 14 at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta to hear respected Baptist scholar E. Glenn Hinson and celebrate the contributions of contemplative theologian Thomas Merton.

To mark the centenary of Merton’s birth, the Pitts Theology Library at Emory hosted an exhibit in honor of the theologian’s life and legacy titled “The Journeys of Thomas Merton,” curated by Emory librarian Denise Hanusek and featuring many first editions of Merton’s books, pamphlets and photography.
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Hinson, emeritus professor of spirituality and John Loftis professor of church history at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, shared with attendees about his friendship with the American Catholic writer and mystic. As a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a monastery in Kentucky, Merton wrote extensively on contemplation, comparative religion and social activism focusing on the need…

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Pastoral is Political: Those “NONES” again

ABSW:

“When we reduce the Church to a set of marketing catch phrases, “branding” our “outreach” and “mission,” we forget. It is not about us. It is not about who we want to join us. It is especially not about locking onto the needs of special interest groups within the Church.”

Originally posted on RevGalBlogPals:

The Pew Research Center recently posted their findings: fewer adults identify themselves as “religious.” The decrease in 7 years was significant: from 78.4 percent of the population in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.

“What this means” has been colored in fifty shades of… red and blue. It’s easy to take a daunting statistic and push it in the direction you want. I’ve read several articles on what “the Nones want.” It’s not changed, really, from the time I was a teenager. It boils down to two simple presuppositions:

1) “Nones” (or nonbelievers, seekers, disenfranchised members, or unchurched, depending on which expert you read) are looking for religious people who have genuine, personal, honest beliefs.

2) “Nones” are also searching for people who live out those beliefs in a way that brings hope and encouragement to others.

When I researched this topic several years ago as part of my divinity studies…

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A Brief Service of Prayer in Response to the Pew Research Religious Landscape Study

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A Brief Service of Prayer in Response
to
The Pew Research Religious Landscape Study[1]

 

L: Lord, make speed to save us.
P: Lord, make haste to help us.
Glory to the One God who redeems all, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 90: 1-4, 13-17 (unison)

Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the earth and the world were formed,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust and say:
‘Turn back, O children of earth.’

For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday,
which passes like a watch in the night.

Turn again, O Lord; how long will you delay?
Have compassion on your servants.

Satisfy us with your loving-kindness in the morning,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

Give us gladness for the days you have afflicted us,
and for the years in which we have seen adversity.

Show your servants your works,
and let your glory be over their children.

May the gracious favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
prosper our handiwork; O prosper the work of our hands.

First Response: Chris Baker, PhD student, Garret Evangelical Theological Seminary

In response to the reality that religion in general and Christianity in particular is in decline in the U.S. and throughout the so-called “West,” I’m seeing a number of articles, posts, and books on why “we need religion.” This, I think, is a terrible mistake.

First, we don’t “need” religion, and those leaving our houses of worship understand this. The underlying needs met by participation in a religious community — social, psychological, ethical, and especially the felt need to connect with the divine — can be met elsewhere. To conflate those needs with “religion” is the sort of self-serving dishonesty that turns people off.

But, more importantly, to say that we “need” religion is to reduce religion to the logic of necessity. Such logic is limiting. Religion — as noted above — isn’t “necessary.” It is, in fact, quite gratuitous. But, at its best, it is a peculiarly literal kind of gratuitous. That is, it is a gratuity. A gift.

My faith is a gift to me. The community that nurtures my faith is a gift to me. That community, and all religious communities, ought also to be a gift to the broader communities we find ourselves in. If religious communities are to survive and thrive in an age where needs can be met elsewhere, that is the path to survival. In our very gratuitousness we can find our vocation as a gift, freely given to a world that is equally free to reject the gift. But if we aren’t a gift, we have no business surviving in the first place.

Revelation 3:14-20

‘And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:

‘I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

Religiously UnaffiliatedSecond Response: Rachel Held Evans, author and theologian

Not everyone who leaves church is “nominally Christian” or “lukewarm.” For many, our doubts and questions about faith are intense, real, and deeply important to us. I’ve only just begun limping my way back to church, but the time away wasn’t because I didn’t care. I cared. Deeply. Checking off the “none” box in a religious survey may seem like a halfhearted or causal response, but for many of our friends and neighbors, it carries a lot of careful thought, a lot of pain, and in some cases, a lot of courage. We are each so much more complicated than the boxes we check on survey. Especially when it comes to faith – one of the most beautiful, frustrating, and complicated things of all.

Reading: Matthew 6: 26-34

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Third Response: Henry S. Kuo, PhD student, Graduate Theological Union

I have one thing to say about that Pew report: why is almost everyone so worked up about it? If you’re so worried mainline Christianity is “dying” (never mind the lack of a robust definition of it), then get to work and minister to the people. Whining and crying over numbers isn’t going to solve anything. At least my pastor is hard at work ministering to the people.

Closing Prayer:

P: Eternal giver of life and light,
the world shines with the radiance of the risen Christ.
Renew your church with the Spirit given us in baptism,
that we may worship you in sincerity and truth
and may shine as a light in the world,
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

L: Rejoicing in God’s new creation,
let us pray as our Redeemer has taught us:

P: Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

      With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.[2]

L: As Christ burst forth from the tomb,
may new life burst forth from us
and show itself in acts of love and healing to a hurting world. Amen.

Religious Nones

[1] http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

[2] See more at: http://kathwilliamson.blogspot.com/2009/05/lords-prayer-from-new-zealand.html#sthash.nMBhPPmq.dpuf

Clergy Self-Care Begins With Awareness

Here are some statistics (PastorBurnout.com) about pastors and servant leaders, that may shock members of a congregation, but will probably not surprise clergy members:

  • 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure

This project, “Self-Care: A Model for Servant Leadership”, was birthed because I had reached the end of my rope…more than once. Each time, I had tied a knot and held on, but the knot kept unraveling itself. I did not have a formal calling in ministry the first time I burned out. Several years later, still hosting a type A personality, I was full time Seminarian, student leader, minister-in-training, and part-time Chaplain. I was also the go-to person in the family, living on the West Coast, with an elderly mother on the East Coast, who has since passed away. I traveled to the East Coast six times inside of nine months. Does this sound familiar to you? I hit a wall. When was I going to start taking care of myself? When you are six feet under it is too late. I was not six feet under. My next words were Lord, help me!

I was always telling people to take care of themselves, but I never practiced what I preached.

My opportunity came in the form of a Senior Mentor Year project my last year of seminary. The project had to be meaningful for me to properly engage it. The project was planned in the fall and executed during the spring semester. I wrote up a proposal to host two, two hour self-care workshops for servant leaders, not just clergy, of all faith traditions.

Workshop participants consisted of Seminarians, Pastors, Chaplains, and other servant leaders. The first two hour workshop discussed burn out, what it might look like for the individual and how to mitigate burn out. The second two hour workshop, held approximately thirty days later, discussed what the participants experienced and practiced to alleviate stressors that lead to burnout. These practices included journaling, exercise & nutrition, message therapies, and relaxation techniques such as power yoga, meditation, and mindfulness walking.

Whereas all participants did not practice one of these every day, they did report more consciousness of stress triggers and awareness of healthy ways to address them.

Self-care begins with awareness!

Minister Phoebe Jeter is a 2015 graduating Seminarian at ABSW.

The Beautifully Ambiguous Apologetic

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The contemporary challenge to the Protestant mainline is realizing that we do not have to explain ourselves to the rest of our culture. Yet, we are called to the work of evangelism. How then do we proceed? The trick will be not repeating the mistakes of American evangelicalism in the process of crafting this new-to-us practice. It’s not enough to craft another set of Fundamentals. No. We need to invent something else entirely.

Or, at the very least, we must proclaim to others what it is that we already offer. We offer people something ambiguous enough for a multiplicity of perspectives to exist in one community simultaneously. No fundamentalism is needed. Instead, we offer faith.

Rachel Held Evans wrote a great piece based off her new book, Searching for Sunday. Keith Anderson responded. Rachel Held Evans responded again (it’s so good). I said something about them both providing examples of a conversation I would like to see more of. Let’s talk about the relationship between mission and liturgy, shall we? Please? Moving on.

Today Tony Jones wrote a thing in response to both of them. Clint Schnekloth wrote a response to Tony and Keith accusing them both of a certain degree of mansplaining among other things. Last but not least, Elizabeth Drescher wrote a piece that helps frame a great deal of all this talk about why church and loyalty and belief specifically where our children are concerned. Why do you make your kids go to church? This is where I want to take the conversation.

As usual, Elizabeth is on it:

Inviting kids to choose whether or not to go to church may not say that God is unimportant, that faith doesn’t matter. It may say that parents cannot adequately and authentically explain why it does matter in the context of lives that are filled with moral ambiguity and contradiction.

For the mainline, a set of Protestant traditions that may have begun as religious dissident movements, but became the establishment religion in the United States for a time, ambiguity is the name of the Christian game. Unlike our evangelical kin, our creedal statements have come with a certain degree of wiggle room. In spite of our traditions being founded on movements willing to go to war over creedal statements (see: Zwingli, the Thirty Years War, etc.), the lived traditions in the United States have learned how to make room for a multiplicity of interpretations of the same religious tradition. Martin Marty called it “Baptistification.” Others have simply called it pluralism. This is what it means to be “progressive” for many of our congregations.

Ambiguity is everything.

This is why so many of our communities depend upon our liturgies to do the apologetic heavy lifting for us. Held Evans’ testimony is a great example of how this can work well.

Liturgical symbols are notoriously ambiguous. They are juxtaposed with one another establishing if not reifying contradictions. Whether or not that was their intended purpose, it’s pretty clear that our communities engage in both official theological definitions of liturgical symbols (action, objects, songs, etc) as well as local definitions. Thus liturgical symbols become an embodied apologetic as essential to our identity as any outreach activity.

An Autobiographical Turn:

I was not raised Christian. In college I started to question my place in the universe. There’s no need to share the whole story here, but I found faith in Christ by singing in worship with the college choir. This initial faith was reinforced and stretched during my time living and working at Richmond Hill, a retreat center in Richmond, VA.

Committed to work of racial reconciliation and justice, the community of Richmond Hill also took vows. We prayed together three times a day. We shared in the Eucharist. The community was ecumenical and socially engaged. Our liturgy became the place for me to hold the strident language of Paul, the definitive claims of the creeds, and the oddity of the movement of the Holy Spirit in creative tension. More accurately, these things would hold me as I came to love them all. Paul’s strident theology, for example, only makes sense in a life of liturgy and justice seeking. It is there that Paul becomes a brother, a person struggling to make peace with God. It is there that the Nicene Creed becomes the testimony of a people rather than the legalistic claim of an ecclesial court. It is there that our prayers mingled with all the prayers of all the faithful in every time and place.

All of the liturgy is a conversation with saints and angels. Theology is a polyphony, a symphony, an ambiguous cacophony of faithful testimony.

The Problem of Fundamentalism:

Ambiguous. Fruitful. Generative. Liturgical signification is polyvalent, don’t you know. The hermeneutic of a community of the faithful is always so. This is what I learned at Richmond Hill. This is what I continue to learn in my communities of faith.

Jones, to the contrary, asks the Mainline to rethink this approach. I get it. He’s looking for a passionate, definitive response to American fundamentalism. He wants to say, for example, that not ordaining women is actually heretical. What I want to suggest is that the mainline in the United States is offering a passionate response to fundamentalism. But at our best, it’s not through a competing fundamentalism.

The difficulty for Tony is that our response is simply too ambiguous. Instead, I believe, he wants us to propose a new set of Fundamentals.

What I think Rachel Held Evans sees as the value of the mainline is that we aren’t suggesting a new set of Fundamentals. Instead, we are offering symbols for people to engage all on their own. We are inviting people to breathe. We are inviting people to open up. We are making room for testimony. We are collecting them with the great cloud of witnesses.

At American Baptist Seminary of The West, we have some working language on all this. We say, “We are a group of radical thinkers in a world where theology is a matter of life and death.”

This kind of ambiguity is a radical posture in a world of digital certainty. It is a radical response to a long-standing habit of fundamentalism. Theology can bring life or bring death. Fundamentalism is death-bringing.

What Jones wants is more of what he knows from evangelicalism…fundamentals. What Evans offers is an alternative to a violent theological praxis that Jones clings to.

The need to be right is a poison in the Church. How do we let it go and practice a more generous hermeneutic?

I have already cast my lot with Held Evans and the rest. That happened a long time ago. Are there risks? Sure. People bail. Our children don’t carry on the tradition. We can slip into a kind of moral relativism. Vaguery happens. More ink has been spilled and blogs shared on this subject than can be counted by Google.

Still, I’ll take the risk. Such an apologetic is too beautiful to ignore. And I want to live.

Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at ABSW and a PhD student at Graduate Theological Union studying liturgy and ethnomusicology.

Liturgy and Mission: Why Rachel Held Evans and Keith Anderson Are Right

When did you last think about the relationship between your community’s worship practices and their missions? It’s such a loaded conversation. What makes for “mission”? Why do we set the two practices – what we do in worship and what we do after – at odds with one another? Is it simple geography? One happens behind the ecclesial closed doors while the other is more public? I want to know when we lost the sense that our liturgies were public events rather than secret rites. But that’s another post.

Keith Anderson has written a response to Rachel Held Evans’ post on the sacraments and getting Millennials back in church. From where I sit, both pieces are strong. And Keith’s critique is really for those who think that RHE has given congregations afraid of change a get out of jail free card. She hasn’t. Quite the opposite. And Keith is driving that point home.

“Judging from the comments I’ve seen in the days since Held Evans’s article was posted, I’m afraid that her assertion has had the unintended consequence of reinforcing the tendency toward inertia exhibited by some Mainline ministry leaders. “See, we’re fine. We don’t need to change,” I can hear them saying. “We can keep doing what we’re doing. Let’s put on some coffee, order some new communion wafers, and wait for the young evangelicals to come pouring in.”

Good luck with that.”

He’s absolutely right. Rachel is saying something quite different. You see, she’s doing the work of connecting the mostly obvious dots. By doing, she offers a critique of the “relevant liturgy” industry. Such liturgy is an invitation into a purity cult whereas her experience of the Episcopal church reflects an invitation into something much broader.

“But I believe that the sacraments are most powerful when they are extended not simply to the religious and the privileged, but to the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and the left out. This is the inclusivity so many millennials long for in their churches, and it’s the inclusivity that eventually drew me to the Episcopal Church, whose big red doors are open to all — conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, gay, straight and even perpetual doubters like me.”

She sees the connection between the liturgy and the mission of the community with which she worships. On the other hand, the communities seeking slicker styles are often masking an inhospitable theology with their very hospitable aesthetic. The beleaguered Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill is an easy example of what I’m talking about.

What I like about both pieces is that they are desperate to connect the dots between the liturgy and the liturgy after the liturgy (Ion Bria’s helpful gloss). Ruth Meyers has a new book out entitled Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission that suggests the image of a Mobius Strip to explain the relationship between worship and mission. It’s worth your time, if you like reading that sort of thing. Here’s a related essay for you as well. In an interview she suggests:

“I introduce a worship matrix as a tool for preparing missional worship. Take one part of that matrix — perhaps the gathering with which worship begins or the way you arrange and use your worship space. Consider how that aspect of your worship can more fully express God’s love for the world and draw the assembly into deeper communion with the triune God. Experiment a bit — try one new thing in worship and see what happens.

Most importantly, pray and study the Bible, listening for the still, small voice of God and opening your eyes to the ways God is already at work in your assembly for worship and in your neighborhood.”

This is what excites me about this kind of exchange we’re seeing right now online. People are questioning the relationship between their worship practices and their missions. Deepening our understanding of these two practices and how they are actually connected to one another can only strengthen the ministry of any community.

Rachel and Keith are both right and they are both providing examples of how we might all examine our own practices.

Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at ABSW and a PhD student at Graduate Theological Union studying liturgy and ethnomusicology.