General Secretary Medley Reflects on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Originally posted here, these words are a good reminder for us all. 

Dear American Baptists,

In the midst of all the harsh rhetoric spoken and actions taken with regard to allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in America we can take inspiration from the Baptist community of Lebanon. Though a very tiny community, the Baptists of Lebanon have been in the forefront of compassionate efforts to assist the thousands of refugees fleeing from Syria to Lebanon. They do so out of a simple gospel principle: Christ calls them to love. As a response to this incredible response of welcome and care, many of these refugees are now found in Baptist churches on Sunday. One of the Muslim leaders put it this way, “In all the history of our faith, we have never seen such love toward us.”

In the midst of the fear mongering we can make a difference as the American Baptist community in simply being who Jesus calls us to be and extending compassion to those who have lost everything in the strife in the Middle East. We all look back and wonder how nations could have turned aside Jewish families seeking refuge as Hitler rose to power. May the same not be asked of us.

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA

Blogging on Blogs

Perhaps because I was born before the 20th century’s mid-point, i.e. before 1950, I’ve just not quite gotten the “hang” of blogging. And, to be honest, I’m thinking I may be a bit too old to master this particular “new trick.” Please follow this link if you need a reminder about just how recently internet communication became widely available and utilized.

As a way to start out slowly on this blogging venture, I’ve decided to direct readers to a couple of exceptionally good bloggers–people I know personally and hold in high regard. Each of them offers deeply significant and often seriously humorous (or, humorously serious) reflections on a wide range of contemporary realities. I hope you’ll enjoy them. I hope they will challenge and inspire you. They certainly have that effect on me!

One of the bloggers is my very good friend, Marian Ronan, PhD, who was professor of theology at ABSW from 1997 to 2008 and later served as visiting professor at New York Theological Seminary. The other blogger I want to introduce is David R. Henson who earned his M.A. in theology at ABSW\GTU, and is an ordained Episcopal priest. I had the great pleasure of studying with David in a course I offered on earliest Christianity’s various understandings of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. I’m certain I learned more from him than he did from me, though he graciously insisted that the resources used in the course were compelling in ways that enabled him, as he said, “to pursue some ‘really new’ lines of thought” on the subject. Both Marian and David are extraordinarily insightful observers of local, national, and global issues. They are also conversant about, and engaged with, the variety of ways communities of faith are responding to these issues.

Marian’s blog is entitled “Marian Ronan: An American Catholic on the Margins,” and you can read her blog posts at this web address. She’s a brilliant, critical, and deeply insightful Christian theologian.

David’s blog is entitled “Edges of Faith,” and is on the Progressive Christian Channel at the PATHEOS website. He, too, is brilliant, critical, and insightful.

Finally, a word of warning: One of David’s great gifts is SATIRE. In a recent post, “World Leaders Close Borders in Fear of Renewed Terrorist Attacks” he reflects on the violence perpetrated not by Syrians or people of color in the U.S., but by white Americans. As one who belongs to that particular group, I was at first shocked, and then quite humbled, when I read David’s compelling piece.

Dr. Margaret McMannus is Associate Professor for Historical and Theological Studies.

Editor’s note: Rev. David Henson recorded a video for the seminary recently. There’s nothing satirical about this video. You can watch it here. #staywoke

The Rev. David Henson from ABSW on Vimeo.

The Feast of St. Cecelia

I know.

We’re a mostly Baptist seminary, but this is a special situation. You see, Foo Fighters has released a surprise EP entitled Saint Cecelia on the feast of the saint herself. Some of you may know that Cecelia was a martyr and virgin noted for her musical ability.

An open heart may sing for God.

Well, Foo Fighters recorded this EP at Hotel Saint Cecelia in Austin. It is available to stream on Spotify if you aren’t sure you want to shell out the cash. But they are asking for listeners to donate to the victims of the bombings in Paris.

You can read more on Rolling Stones’ website.

Now, there is a new, hopeful intention that, even in the smallest way, perhaps these songs can bring a little light into this sometimes dark world. To remind us that music is life, and that hope and healing go hand in hand with song. That much can never be taken away.

To all who were affected by the atrocities in Paris, loved ones and friends, our hearts go out to you and your families. We will return and celebrate life and love with you once again someday with our music. As it should be done.

St Cecilia
“St. Cecilia and the Angel,” Carlo Saraceni

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

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.

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