I will do better. #SyrianRefugees

Fear mongers abound. We are afraid of Syrians. We are afraid of angry young white men. We throw around statistics like they were meaningful data points. We prooftext holy writ as if that was ever a convincing argument to someone who disagreed with us. Words like “always” and “forever” litter my social media streams. – Tripp Hudgins

I was thinking about the reasons for my withdrawal from social media over the last couple of months when I came across a friend and colleague’s post (Thanks Tripp Hudgins.) I’ve mostly been thinking about one ethicist’s analysis of our predicament. In essence he argues that we have no shared basis for providing rational justifications for our assertions and therefore we are left with a clash of wills. (To my grad school friends – don’t worry I remain no fan of McIntyre) So we may spout off statistics and facts or pseudo-facts like we are in some rational debate but because we share no common premise of the good and the right all we are really doing in our discourse is trying to over power each other. And here of late all I see in my social media feed (Nextdoor, Twitter, Facebook, SeeClickFix) is a power struggle and it hurts. It hurts because I believe that at some fundamental level the point of communication is to work toward empathy and seeing the world from the perspective of the other. As a communal practice it should lead us toward the construction of the common good, in the parlance of the secular, or the Beloved Community in that of the sacred. Perhaps I am just too impatient as we struggle to come to grips with life’s complexities and tragedies and need to be reminded of the fuller nature of human struggle for “we struggle not against flesh and blood….”

Leslie Bowling-DyerIn addition to being loved by Jesus, Leslie Bowling-Dyer is a mother, wife, daughter, neighbor, preacher, teacher, PhD student, bicycle commuter and wishes she was a good hip hop dancer. She is also an alumna of ABSW.

Raising My Voice and Praying Expansively

Whenever there is a major event happening in the world, in the United States, or locally, I get a text from my colleague and dear friend, Tripp Hudgins, at ABSW: “Blog?” he asks. Since he came aboard at ABSW almost two years ago, Tripp has been encouraging, nay, urging, nagging, and prodding the faculty and administration at the seminary to get our light out from under its bushel. He wants us to contribute our voices and our unique perspectives to the ongoing conversations that happen via social media, in the twitterverse, through blogs, on the interwebs everywhere and all the time—but especially when major things happen. Protests, mass shootings, bombings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, racist attacks, police brutality, and non-indictments: all of these generate massive dialogue on the internet.

Public theology means that our faith traditions can make meaningful, even radically transformative contributions to civic discourse and public policy at times of crisis as well as calm. The Jesus we seek to follow did not shy away from making his faith publicly significant. He weighed in on taxes, imprisonment, just pay, forgiveness of debt, ethnocentrism (which would be the equivalent of racism today), and the deep value of women and girls. Jesus allowed his life to be ended in a most public and political way when he was crucified by the Roman Empire. His earliest followers stayed true to this public living out of faith through their formation of radical communities with shared property, meals that crossed the boundaries of social status, and offerings distributed to the poor. Other early followers also gave their bodies over to be destroyed by the empire in order to point to a reality of Love and Resistance that will forever be greater than any empire—then and now.

Though there were plenty of times Jesus stepped away from the crowds so that he could rest and pray, once his faith became public at around age 30, it was definitely not in the form of quietism. Jesus was active, engaged, and not afraid of conflict with the politically and religiously powerful people of his time. Quietism, whether or not it ever actually existed as such, is a sort of deeply unflattering caricature of contemplatives who sought unity with God’s Sprit above all else, even to the eradication of their own in-tact selves for the sake of the world. Such self-annihilation is considered heretical inasmuch as it leads to, well, it leads to nothing. As the great Evelyn Underhill wrote: “The self must be surrendered: but it must not be annihilated, as some Quietists have supposed. It only dies that it may live again” (Underhill, Mysticism, 68).

So please don’t get me wrong when I say: It is at times like this that I long with all my heart for quiet. Even though the request comes in for me to say something in the form of a blog, and even though I believe that my Christian faith tradition has much to contribute at times like this—despite this, I know that the last thing I want to do right now is contribute to the cacophony of voices that are clamoring to be heard right now. Some of those voices are prophetic, some are strident; some are beautiful and grace-filled, some are challenging and hard-to-swallow; some are gospel-filled, some are hate-filled; some are war-mongering, some are peacemaking; some are creative, some are cliché; some we desperately need to hear, some not so much. But when I think about being one more voice (a voice perhaps more likely to be cliché or strident than prophetic or grace-filled), I honestly just want to be quiet instead.

Continue reading

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

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

God is not done!

It was when I was about ten years old that we did not have a TV set at home. In fact, we did not even have electricity in the village where I grew up in Korea. But I remember everyone’s ears pricked up to this radio live report: Neil Armstrong was stepping down on the surface of the moon and we got all excited about this historical event of 1969.

But I hear there are people who believe that the Moon landing was just a Hollywood showcase and that the US Government has been lying to us for 40 years now.

We still deal with the aftermath of 9/11 and the wars after that tragedy are still not finished. But if you go online, there are conspiracy theories arguing that the collapse of the twin towers was an act of controlled demolition orchestrated by government officials of this country. Wow…

Also in Korea, there are some people, especially young ones, who do not believe that there was Korean War at all. Again, wow.

Throughout history, the same thing has been true with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many people who think the resurrection was fake. Some people have argued that Jesus’ body was stolen by someone. If that was true, how would you explain what happened later on: how did the disappointed disciples after Jesus’ death go back to Jerusalem and later give their lives for the Gospel of the resurrection? Could it just happen? I personally cannot make that connection. What would have been their motivation?

From the very beginning, there have been many folks who did not want to recognize the risen Christ Jesus.

John Lennon of the Beatles once said: “Christianity will go… We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Now, John Lennon has been gone since 1980 but Christianity is still going! And it is going strong in many parts of the world.

Six weeks from today, I will be going to East Africa to do some volunteer teaching for ministers there.

As you can imagine, people’s lives in that part of the world are tough; resources like water and food are so scarce that people are always hungry and thirsty. The living conditions are beyond your imagination.

But one thing I saw last time was this: churches are on fire. People love Jesus. People give their lives to God. People experience the power of the Holy Spirit. People are healed from their illnesses. There are miracles happening in people’s lives.

God is not done with the world. God reveals himself in the works of millions of people who are followers of Jesus Christ in every corner of this planet.

When I was in Uganda six years ago, many pastors had more than one church because churches were growing and there were not enough pastors. The majority of them give their lives with no pay; they want to learn; they have this hunger for education; they have the desire for the Bible and theological education.

By the time I come back from this trip, I know I will be exhausted physically, but I will be much stronger spiritually.

I want to go there not just for the people, but for my own spiritual formation. I want to be challenged; I want to be energized; I want to be empowered by the spirit of God; I want to be refilled by the power of the risen Christ that is among those Christian men and women who, despite all the difficulties they face, never give up their hope and continue to work to spread the Gospel.

I believe they are the true role models of Christian faith in this day and age. How can you give your lives without even getting paid? Do you think it is possible without the conviction of faith? Do you think it is possible without the presence of the risen Christ?

In Luke 24: 13-35, two disciples are on their way home to Emmaus. They were like retreating German soldiers after World War II dragging their feet with their heads down. Even though they had heard from some women about Jesus’ resurrection, they said, “No, it can’t be true.” “No, I don’t believe it.” “Get real; it is done; we are going home.” No hope, no dream; the only thing they had were regrets and disappointments.

But Jesus was not done with them. Jesus was there walking with them even though they did not recognize him. Jesus was reminding them of the biblical promises about himself, the messiah. And it was when they sat down and broke the bread with them that they recognized it was Jesus. Coming right back to Jerusalem, they realized they were not the only ones that Jesus had revealed himself to.

Before, everyone was disappointed; everyone was down; everyone was hurt; everyone was broken; everyone was sad; everyone thought it was all over. Now, after that evening, everyone was joyful; everyone was convinced; everyone was rejuvenated; everyone was hopeful; everyone was ready to do anything even though they would not get paid.

Folks, here is the bottom line: God is not done with us. Our life hangs in the balance of whether we believe in the resurrection or not.

I know American churches are struggling; I know churches here are all dragging their feet just like those disciples who were heading to Emmaus.

But Jesus is here with us; the risen Christ is walking and talking with us in every step of our life.

God is not done with us. Your life and my life can become transformed by the same power of Jesus Christ who transformed the disciples 2000 years ago and many others these days in many parts of the world.

The future of your life and my life, and the future of all the churches can not only become changed but we can also transform this world… Not by our power but by the power of Jesus Christ who is the Lord of all.

God is not done yet. Because of that, God is calling you and me to open our eyes and open our hearts so that we recognize Jesus, the risen Christ, not just with our heads, but in our hearts and minds and in lives and actions.

Every Sunday should be Easter; the joy and excitement of Easter should be our everyday experience. It is what God wants from us; He wants us to recognize His presence no matter where we are.

Church! Before this service, I am sure that some of you came here with doubts and uncertainties about your faith. But now and after this moment, I hope and pray that we have this unwavering faith in the risen Christ so that we not only live a new life in faith but we can also share this good news of Jesus Christ with others in this world.

Christ is not done with us; he is walking with us reminding and empowering us with his presence.

Amen.

¿Dónde me inscribo?

La Iniciativa Latina en ABSW es el sueño de 10 años de nuestra Decana, la Dra. LeAnn Flesher. Cuando nos reunimos en el 2011, nos dimos cuenta que compartimos la pasión por un programa como éste, y de inmediato empezamos a planear los primeros pasos para que se hiciera realidad. Hoy, después de muchos cursos y varios esfuerzos para levantar fondos, estoy más convencida que nunca que esto es exactamente lo que nuestro pueblo latino necesita.

Casi el 25% del Área de la Bahía es hispana. Eso es un gran potencial para el alcance y ministerio de la iglesia; aún así, nuestras iglesias deben tener liderazgo bien entrenado que pueda ponerles en el siglo 21. Muchos de nuestros líderes de habla hispana no pueden obtener una mayor educación teológica por la barrera del idioma y porque no tienen estudios universitarios.

Nuestra Iniciativa Latina está ofreciendo clases de ministerio en español a un nivel compatible con una licenciatura. Nuestros estudiantes están aprendiendo sobre el cuidado pastoral, la predicación y el pensamiento teológico, mientras que acumulan unidades que serán reconocidas como equivalencia del título de Bachiller y calificarán para entrar en un programa de Maestría en Divinidades. Esta es una gran oportunidad para aquéllos que están haciendo ministerio y desean adquirir herramientas que mejorarán sus dones ministeriales, pero también es un camino para aquéllos que recién han sido llamados al ministerio entre los de habla hispana en los EE.UU..

La Iniciativa Latina no sólo es una gran oportunidad, pero también es muy relevante. Nuestros estudiantes están aprendiendo de una manera holística. Cuando aprenden a predicar, también aprenden a desarrollar el pensamiento teológico; cuando estudian la Biblia, la lean con la perspectiva de hacer ministerio; y cuando aprenden administración, la aplican al evangelismo y al liderazgo. Estamos educando a la gente para que puedan conectar todo lo que aprenden con la realidad que viven. Creemos que una de las funciones más importantes de la educación es enseñar a la gente a pensar por sí mismos. Nuestras clases son completamente interactivas y proporcionan un espacio seguro para que los estudiantes pongan a prueba sus hipótesis.

Por último, la característica única de esta iniciativa es su accesibilidad. En un esfuerzo sin precedentes y demostrando su total compromiso con el éxito de este proyecto, ABSW está ofreciendo estas clases a un precio nominal que está al alcance de cualquiera. No sólo eso, sino que también hemos celebrado algunas actividades a beneficio del programa con el objetivo de crear un fondo de becas

Este es un programa increíble, muy necesario en el Área de la Bahía , con un alto nivel académico, en el lenguaje de la gente, y se ofrece a un precio ridículo. ¿Dónde me inscribo?

~Rev. Dr. Liliana Da Valle

An Open Letter to Communities of Faith, Religious Leaders and Justice-Seekers

The grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in the last few months have fueled growing alarm over inequities in our legal system and the ways in which racial bias affects law enforcement. These decisions have brought into relief the profound and deep-seated racism that affects the daily lives and deaths of people of color, especially African-American men, and have galvanized a movement that at its heart simply claims: #blacklivesmatter. They have also sparked many different actions of protest and dissent across the United States and around the world. Last Monday night, several students, staff and faculty from across the schools of the Graduate Theological Union, including the American Baptist Seminary of the West, Pacific School of Religion, and Starr King School for the Ministry, took part in one of those actions and 16 of us were arrested for participating in a peaceful protest.

While some have criticized the form that this protest took as both dangerous and ineffectual, we have come to understand it as part of the disruptive work that we are called to as spiritually rooted, theologically grounded faith leaders working for social change. When systems of oppression seem intractable, disruptive action becomes an important first step in transforming them. We must stop the flow of business-as-usual in order to imagine a new world breaking in. While occupying a freeway may not create racial justice, it points toward the disruptive action that will be needed to dismantle the systems of racial injustice that create the world in which Michael Brown, Eric Garner and countless others are killed with impunity. For Christians, this kind of disruption is part of God’s in-breaking into the world, the incarnation of Love-made-flesh. The table-turning Jesus disrupted the flow of history by enfleshing God’s love in our midst; so, too, are we called to disruptive action that embodies and animates God’s justice and compassion in the world.

Before joining our comrades in the streets of Berkeley, 35 or more seminary students, staff and faculty, clergy members and chaplains gathered in Pacific School of Religion’s chapel to remember and take on the responsibility to which God calls us. We prepared ourselves with basic first-aid kits, food, and water knowing that where there is hunger, we are called to give nourishment. That night we sought to be visible signs of solidarity, peace and hope. Some wore vestments and collars, others carried signs that said “Chaplain,” hoping to remind the police that these are peaceful protests, and to remind anyone who is fighting for their lives that they are not alone. Our marching took us from the UC Berkeley’s campus throughout the streets of Berkeley, all the while seeking to maintain the peaceful character of what came to be a crowd of thousands. In the spirit of this ministry of accompaniment, we went where the people were.

That journey culminated in a parking lot behind a shopping mall, where we and 200+ other protesters were trapped and held by police in riot gear. As anxieties, anger at the situation, and a sense of powerlessness to affect the outcome grew, it became clear that things could easily escalate. One fellow protestor asked us if we would start singing, as we had at other tense times that evening, and we did. In that moment we connected to a call that resonates in every religious tradition. We found ourselves in the position to help people remain in the spirit of the primary motivations behind their presence in these protests all along. kettleatrossWith each song, we, protestors and police alike, became a little bit more human, a little bit more connected, a little bit more grounded in the justice we sought and the peace we protected. Even though our night would end in handcuffs, without justice or peace, for those moments we were rooted in the deepest yearnings of our hearts.

We were not there to be arrested, but the path of solidarity we chose came to that. As a group of mostly, but not all, white people, we recognize that this act of solidarity comes from a place of privilege. The reality is that we, unlike Eric Garner, can breathe, and we benefit from the same system that wrung the life out of him. But our arrests, especially for those of us who are white, implicate us in a commitment not simply to affirm that #blacklivesmatter at a theoretical level, but also to engage in concrete action that foregrounds black voices and supports the struggle against the horrific effects of white supremacy. So the question for all of us becomes how will we advance this movement? To which communities and voices are we going to hold ourselves accountable as we move forward? How are we going to put down the figurative bullhorn and be allies as people of color lead the way toward change?

Hwy80-Dec7It is easy to feel powerless when confronted by systems of injustice that seem intractable. It is tempting to rely on others to bring about the change we know the world needs. We end up questioning the tactics, arguing about strategies, and throwing our hands up in despair. But Michael Brown’s death calls us to put our hands up in solidarity and cry out “don’t shoot” to a system that devalues black lives. And if we are white people, justice demands that we take part in dismantling the system of racial bias that ensures our privilege. Embodying both righteous anger and transforming love is complicated. It is always an imperfect and ever-unfolding process. Yet, we, as religious leaders and people of faith have a responsibility to take action, to embody God’s disruptive love in the world. We have the opportunity to reconnect people to the primary motivations behind their anger, their demand for justice, and their hope for a better world. We invite you to see our witness as an invitation to a broader conversation, a bigger dialogue about racial injustice in the United States that must begin with communities of color. And we implore you to find your own ways of disrupting corrupt systems that perpetuate racism, of amplifying the voices of those who cry in the wilderness for justice, and of holding us all accountable to our deepest values and purpose. How will you let your light shine in such a time as this?

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
For Michael Brown, I’m gonna let it shine.
For Eric Garner, I’m gonna let it shine.
With the police, I’m gonna let it shine.
Until freedom rings, I’m gonna let it shine.

In faith,
Caitie Daphtary
Tom Emanuel
Marissa Evans
Caiti Hamilton
Nikira Hernandez
Lauren Hotchkiss
Lacey Hunter
Tara Limbaugh
Robert Peach
Jamie Sprague-Ballou
Randall Sparling
Peter Watters

Jennifer Davidson, Associate Professor of Worship and Theology, American Baptist Seminary of the West
Sharon Fennema, Assistant Professor of Christian Worship and Director of Worship Life, Pacific School of Religion

Mentor Preaching at ABSW

Last night was Mentor preaching night at ABSW.  The class, led by Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble, invited me to come hear their sermons.  Topics ranged from “Rest” to “Emerging Church,” “Discipleship,” and “Community Organizing/building,” to “Honoring Elders,” “Living Life Well,” and “Imagining the City as the Beloved Community”.  It was a joy to hear the sermons of eight students that had entered seminary fall of 2012 at which time I had them all in the Introduction to the Old Testament course.  They each stood with tremendous poise and presence and orated the depth of their thinking on their topic of choice for their senior projects.  I was so very proud and pleased!

Preachers

 

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD is Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament at American Baptist Seminary of the West at The Graduate Theological Union