At the South Yarra Community Baptist Church (SYCBC) in Melbourne, Australia, moving worship and congregational life online during our city’s four-month hard lockdown proved so successful that there is now a serious conversation about the possibility of continuing it and not returning to physically gathered worship.
The dominant powers in this country have set the gameboard where different communities are pitted against one another with myths that we tell of “the other.” Contrary to the model minority myth, many Asian Americans suffer from the same racist system that hurts all communities of color. Following the Atlanta massacre, I saw a God-given opportunity to build solidarity as so many allies, especially from the Black community, raised their voices in support.
This beautiful tension of unity and diversity was on full display during the 2021 Biennial Mission Summit. Women and men representing a variety of ethnic, social, and theological perspectives provided inspiration and encouragement for participants to imagine the kingdom of God in their contexts.
Remember: if it’s fun, that doesn’t mean it’s not work. It could be that’s exactly the place you are called to contribute right now. Could you do more of what is fun and easy and less of what is hard and a struggle? It’s not cheating to exercise your greatest gifts.
I return again and again to the power of ever-so-brief children’s sermons. They cannot eradicate generations of racism, hatred, and narrow-mindedness, but inch by inch they can influence attitudes and values for good.
The Church has been waiting for nearly two thousand years for God’s Kingdom to be fully realized. Where are we now? God never promises when we will see the kingdom, only that it will come soon and very soon and that we have work to do in the time between now and then.
Now is the time, with the world watching and holding relevant parties to account, to work towards a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine. The underlying core issues of the conflict must be addressed—for both the sake of Israelis and Palestinians.
School may be out for summer and given vaccinations and increased immunity, the pervasive need for virtual learning may decrease. However, the persistent gaps and inequities uncovered must be addressed. We have a collective responsibility which rests with all who care for and want to see the success of our children. May we be moved to get involved and advocate, lest we find that the cost of school being out is too great to bear.
Annually, the United Nations designates June 20 as World Refugee Day. The UN encourages member countries to highlight the situation of refugees, advocate for their rights and needs, and celebrate the contributions refugees make to their new locations once resettled. The recent Ben Sharrock film “Limbo” invites its audience into the deep uncertainties of a refugee.
Trauma’s impact is not restricted to the individual that endured the trauma, it affects those who perpetrate the trauma and the descendants of both. To heal from a traumatic experience involves dealing with not only the symptoms that are manifested because of the trauma, it involves reconciling with the source of the pain. This is not work that has been done concerning racism in America.
The church may become informed on resources for poor families, such as federal aids, and become a part of collaborations to create resources for immigrant families since they do not have access to federal aid. The church may also create informal networks among congregations and social agencies, and work with social services to stay in touch with children who have had to go into foster care.
Informándose sobre recursos para familias pobres: ayudas federales, etc. Siendo parte de colaboraciones para crear recursos para familias inmigrantes ya que estos no tienen acceso a ayudas federales. La iglesia puede crear redes informales entre congregaciones y agencias sociales. También podemos trabajar con servicios sociales para mantener contacto con niños que han tenido que ir a cuido de crianza.
Being truly grateful to God most merciful and kind for a fruitful and satisfying ministry, my desire is to be a friend to younger men and women in Christian ministry, and to encourage them and hold them up in prayer so that they may reach their potential in Christ, balancing their prophetic and priestly roles.
I, and the Christian community of Minneapolis, cannot resurrect George Floyd, but we can do everything we can to create a community where BIPOC neighbors have lungs full of breath and where they live long, happy, fulfilling lives.
Listening evaluatively is the mark of a thinking mind. After the wars of disinformation which we experienced in the past half decade, we must rethink how we listen and how we think. I crave evaluative listening skills for my grandchildren, for my neighbors and friends, for all who sit in the pews, for all who vote, and for all who watch, read, or listen to the news. But I cannot wish it for another until I engage in it myself. So, may I practice what I preach, and may all of us desire to grow in our skills as people who think critically and listen evaluatively.
If part-time ministry supported by secondary (and sometimes tertiary) employment is truly “the wave of the future,” we desperately need to face the elephant in the room. We need to have honest, straightforward, and faithful conversations about clergy compensation and how the church can lead in economic justice.
The best way to think about Pentecost is to consider that without that event the church would have no power. Pentecost is the day when churches all over the world pause to remember the moment in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit swept into the upper room where the disciples of Jesus were still in hiding, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus. Up to that point, those men barely ventured outdoors for fear that what had happened to Jesus might also happen to them. Up to that point, there was no preaching going on and no healings occurring in the name of Jesus. There was just a group of frightened people not knowing what to do next. Christ may well have been risen, but before the Day of Pentecost “the church had no power!”
Speaking and preaching about mental illness with directness and compassion will only take a congregation so far. Real and sustained progress requires a change in cultures that demand people hide a part of who they are.
So this day, we hope to remember the day of Pentecost, as the Spirit of God breathed life into the Church, and remember that we are not at the end of that holy fire, as if we are the dying embers at day’s end. Instead, we dare to think of ourselves as the continuation of that story, with the desire to live our lives together as a spiritual community, responsive to the Spirit kindling within us, prompting us, pushing us, beckoning us to reach beyond our boundaries, beyond these four walls, and out into the world.
How shall we, as people of God, demonstrate love for one another in our neighborhoods and overseas? How shall we choose to be devoted to and honor one another while we remain God’s ambassadors of mercy, hope, and love while we serve? I humbly offer that Isaiah 61 invites us all to be a greater witness of God’s love as a resurrected people breathing for truth, mercy, and love. May our individual and collective breath last for more than 9 minutes.
Tony Bennett is a wonder. I’m astonished at the way he kept performing into his 90s. Recently his family made public the fact he has Alzheimer’s. Despite his diagnosis, he’s collaborated with Lady Gaga on a second album expected out soon. In a wonderful story in the AARP magazine, I was reminded of four things I admire about Tony Bennett, in addition to his music.
Perhaps, beginning this month, we can reexamine just how it is that we might play a role that could contribute to the rising incidence of suicide among veterinary professionals, and give them our best attention and efforts when we take our pets into see them. Our veterinarians are usually giving us their best, and reciprocation is a good start to helping them, ourselves, and our animal relatives live in an abundant way.
The Black church struggles with the stigma of mental illness. Due to past and present experiences with institutionalized racism in America, Black church leadership and their members have been apprehensive to collaborate with mental health agencies. However, the Black church is positioned to be a pivotal partner in supporting mental wellness in the African American community.
My mother was the one person that I believed had not given up on me. She was the epitome of kindness and loyalty, and her gifts were heartfelt, genuine, and long-lasting. Mothers who actively demonstrate how to love others and pass that along to us–well, they are the moms for whom Mother’s Day was created, after all.
While we may be able to legislate reform, mandate equitable policies, and reframe policing, this will still leave much work to do. The model of change that helps me to continue to embrace hope in a sea of darkness is the model of love. The concept of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is where not only reform happens, but transformation occurs.
The Tatmadaw (Myanmar military), long scorned for its disregard for human rights, is pressing its full might against the restoration of democracy in Burma. The threat to the people of Myanmar has spurred Baptists from across the U.S. and parts of Myanmar toward a common message: we all desire peace for the people of Myanmar. We lift the people of Burma and the diaspora communities in prayer. We pray democracy and freedom shall prevail.
Living well in continual overwhelm is possible through intentional, creative adaptiveness. We have agonized, lost, and mourned. And we have pondered, found, and moved on with new tools and techniques forged by ingenuity and necessity. Our response to complex, unrelenting challenge can be as much transformative adventure, as it can be daunting obligation. The choice is ours.
The belief in the dignity of every individual, be they Democrat or Republican, Palestinian or Israeli, is essential if we are going to be advocates of equality and agents of justice. This is my prayer: that our engagement in political action embraces the principles of equality and justice for all people—from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Middle East. Christian witness is at stake. Might all who follow Jesus commit to denouncing Christian Nationalism and offering a more compelling witness for the sake of our faith, our country, and the world.
Father Raymond Brown suggests that the deepest belief, the one that embraces with joy the glory of Christ’s resurrection, is the one that understands what is happening beyond the most visible signs. It is one thing to see the empty tomb. It is quite another to see God at work in the midst of things, doing something that surpasses all expectations.
The America I hope for requires work that cannot be completed in a lifetime. We must forge ahead to a future that better reflects the possibility of America, no matter how much it challenges the notion of who we believe ourselves to be.
Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash ‘Kumbayah’ is no joking matter Rev. Donald Ng April 21, 2021 I sang “Kumbayah” for the first time sitting around a campfire at Pond Homestead Baptist Camp in Wrentham, Massachusetts. It was memorable because the quietness of the night...
We face a choice of how we will live with each other and on this planet. We can bully all of the other birds out of the feeder with greed and malice, take the seeds of justice and hope for ourselves, pollute the resources that were meant for everyone, and go down together. Or we can remember who and whose we are. We can remember the fragile balance between us and our home. We can remember that we are stewards of our planet and stewards of each other’s well-being.
The Lord’s message arrived strong to the ancient cities of Nazareth, Capharnaum, and Jerusalem; it interrupted as an agent of kindness, mercy, and transformation, that was lived not just in physical health, but also in emotional, spiritual, familiar, social, economic, and political well-being.
El mensaje del Señor llegaba con fuerza a las antiguas ciudades de la Nazaret, Capernaúm y Jerusalén; irrumpía como un agente de bondad, misericordia y transformación, que se vivía no solo en la salud física sino en el bienestar emocional, espiritual, familiar, social, económico y político.
Pastors are called to be visionary; they are asked to keep order and use tried and true formats and materials. They are called to innovate, and they are required to keep the cherished traditions of any individual church alive. They are called to take the long view; and they need to meet the day to day needs of congregants. Can one person do it all? Can that one person do it all well?
When liturgy and worship become the work of the people, space for the sacred stories of those living with mental health conditions begin to have space in the collective experience. Isolation can break down and connection can be formed as people begin to understand the deep humanity of their neighbor in the pew. Remember that worship is a collective act, and the collective is only truly inclusive when all can participate in a meaningful way in the act of worship.
Genocide is the biomarker that humankind has a long, long way to go on the evolutionary spectrum. Holocaust Remembrance Day should always serve as a reminder of what was lost, and that sadistic, contemporary attempts at renewing anti-Semitic ideology cannot and will not be tolerated.
Moving from self-judgment to self-compassion is a long, slow process. It’s a deeply spiritual process. It begins with simply noticing the judgmental thoughts. Frequently they are so automatic you don’t even know you are having them. A lifetime of self-judgment doesn’t disappear in an instant. In times of high anxiety (like now) it’s easy to go backward.
Both medical science and ancient traditions point to the power of focused breathing to heal both physical and emotional wounds. Perhaps healing the wounds of our world begins with the intentional practice of honoring the life-giving breath shared by all living things.
The way of peace is controversial. To favor peace in practice goes against the culture, and the consequences are negative. It was for Jesus. He mentioned the good news of the gospel in his hometown community of faith, and they were filled with rage and ran him out of town (Luke 4:28-29). Likewise, those who stand against war might find themselves run out by their communities of faith.
Sam Baker’s brief, beautiful song has kept me going through these strange, otherworldly times of death from a virus on a scale not seen in over a century, of lives and livelihoods disrupted, of businesses, school buildings, churches and other houses of worship closed.
This particular Holy Week is crying out for God’s people to recognize the vitality that has always been there. Is it possible that we have never needed Holy Week more? People everywhere are yearning for a resurrection.
We are all tired of Covid-19, but evidently it isn’t tired of us. Therefore, we set the policies that feel right to us and respect when others do the same. As much as we care about making people happy, and want to make things easier for them, right now is a time we ask that they cross the river, stay on the train, and do whatever it takes to honor our boundaries. We do so in part because the lives we have, as created beings, aren’t a privilege but a gift we’ve been invited to tend with loving care.
The Lenten season and Holy Week recall gospel lessons and other passages of Scripture appropriate to the season, yet we need to ask if we read these sacred texts of “Old” and “New” Testaments with awareness of the history that has unfolded over the past two millennia.
Here’s how you play.
Wake up in your safe suburban neighborhood, move
ahead two spaces…
Walk into store and watch
as they stare at your half-hidden face.
The mask, useless. Your onyx hair and
crescent eyes betray
your invisibility. Move back
When you see hate, combat it with love to bring justice. If you hear cries of violence, rise in solidarity to support movement into liberation. Do not be so concerned with your personal problems of the day that you forget to also extend care to your neighbor. Get to know your neighbors to strengthen community connection, harmony, and safety. Join with others to dismantle stereotypes, myths or misconceptions that prevent us from seeing each other’s humanity.
In times like these, we can feel adrift. We can feel that we are being pushed and pulled in all directions. We can feel like the wind will knock us down and off our feet if it hasn’t already. We can lose our sense of grounding—of what we believe, what we stand for, what matters most to us.
I’m tired of talking about the pandemic. I know there’s still so much to consider, decisions to make, adaptations to develop, attention to pay to matters like getting the vaccine. However, I feel like I’m having the same conversations over and over. Here are a few questions to generate some different conversations now. Some of these will still be about the pandemic, but it is possible to shift into talking about something richer and deeper in relation to it.
On March 4, 2020 we published the first of many articles in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Today, we mark the occasion with this series of excerpts from articles published over the past year. They are a reminder of trials and tribulations experienced and challenges that remain. As with all that we publish, we hope these excerpts will inspire, encourage, and challenge our readers to bring a greater measure of justice, mercy, and faith into our communities and world.
Women’s History Month for 2021 happily appears to be part of what is becoming the year of the woman here in the United States. Women have, of course, historically served in leadership roles. It is our appreciation of that fact that often seems absent. Deb Haaland has demonstrated effectiveness as a tribal leader, and America is finally gaining some ground with respect to recognizing Native American women.
What our society looks like on the other side of the pandemic depends on what we do to address inequity it has revealed. We have agency. We can choose which direction we want to push ourselves and our society, and maybe even our world.
From the United Church of Christ to the Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to the Church of the Brethren, pastors across denominations are encountering people in acute mental health crisis. Despite the sustained stigma surrounding mental health in Christian circles, many people still turn to their local pastor before seeking out care from a mental health provider or physician. This undergirds the importance of clergy and church communities becoming better equipped to be welcoming and affirming spaces for those with mental health conditions.
For Christians in America, this particular Ash Wednesday might advance one of the most introspective Lenten seasons in memory. The turmoil of recent months—the pandemic, presidential impeachment, the violent expression of white supremacy—calls for a reconciliation with God that is apt to bring many into a season of meditation to which they haven’t been accustomed.
For Ash Wednesday 2021, when even gathering for in-person worship is a matter of caution and clergy have been debating if, let alone how, one might safely impose ashes, could we make space in such rituals to feel the heaviness of a year now past in our Lenten disciplines and reflection? If we keep our personal piety disconnected from our global and national problems, are we truly learning the ways of mourning and penitence?
With the advent of Social Security, the United States made a concerted, and largely successful, effort to reduce poverty among the elderly. It is time we made a similar investment in the lives of children.
Except for a few short years in K-12 education, my career has always danced between positions in higher education and the church. I have observed some similarities in how the two types of organizations function, especially when under economic pressure.
We are called to build a more just, fair, equitable, inclusive, and hopeful society. In these troubled times, we cannot—must not—seek to go back to “normal.” Our fundamental task is to re-imagine and recreate our lives, communities, and this nation.
I am cautiously hopeful that representative, principled, leadership will rise up in this nation – that we will indeed build back better for everyone through a more equitable and unifying agenda more than we ever have before. Those of us who are Jesus followers have a role to play in leading in a more excellent way of love, and nurturing others to do the same.
Lent comes around every year in the Christian calendar as a time of reflection, self-denial, and confession. It has traditionally been a time of some kind of fasting or abstaining from certain things. If there’s ever a year to rediscover Isaiah’s words about ‘the fast God has chosen,’ it’s this year: “…to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isa. 58:6 NIV). In particular, maybe this Lenten season is the time to get serious about loosening our chains of racism.
As two members of my congregation recently let me know that they had received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, I decided to write a prayer to be recited upon receiving the coronavirus vaccine for members of my congregation and for the wider world.
Like the Duke and Duchess of Hastings in the Netflix series “Bridgerton,” we have forgotten how to love. We have forgotten the joy of being together and hearing one another’s thoughts and perspectives. However, we cannot blame the pandemic on our separation. We have allowed social media to be the divider, allowing it to separate us into polarized camps. But if we could remember, we could heal. It is a choice, but it is one we need to make.
The January 6 attack on the Capitol revealed the fragility of our democracy. When it comes to corporate political spending, ICCR investors believe a return to “business as usual” is something we can longer afford.
Now that we’re well into 2021, we’ve discovered that all the problems of 2020 didn’t just magically go away, alas. We can expect 2021 to maintain continuity with 2020, and in fact, carry forward the trends that have led us to where we are today.
In his Letter, King saw with clarity from a jail cell what many in Birmingham could not or would not perceive in the social order’s status quo predicated on segregation and inequality. I prayerfully hope that we will experience indictment anew from King’s Letter as a people gathering to celebrate King’s witness just weeks after early January’s national turmoil. The myopic habits to exclude and occlude others in society are still strong in the American psyche and certainly proved pernicious in the last few years—and devastatingly so in recent weeks.
King aptly grasped that the love Jesus displayed and taught was not reflected in American Christianity. American Christianity sought a gospel that suited itself, not a gospel that drew individuals closer to their Creator. King had moved beyond American Christianity, comprehending a belief that united humanity. As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, may we hear the messenger that spoke beyond American Christianity and challenged us. May the message of loving one’s neighbor challenge us to live lives that reflect the message Jesus proclaimed. May we find ourselves being the good Samaritan on the Jericho road, in Jesus’ parable, regardless of the stranger’s ethnicity, gender or age. May we reflect on the love ethic taught by Jesus and preached by King. May this message empower us to resist hate and recognize that we are all connected in the tapestry of life.
We can learn much from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership when considering it in total: being guided by a foundation of beliefs; leveraging educational and formational experiences that help us connect with others; and employing courage to stay the course. However, we must additionally extend ourselves beyond King’s leadership by exercising a humility that seeks the ideas of those without power and amplifies the voices of those who have been marginalized.
What is the measure of a human being in today’s daunting world? We must return to the core of our being, the depths of our kindness, in order to answer that key question for ourselves, and Dr. King continues to show us the way through his writings and his spirit.
Following the attack on the Capitol one week ago today, we asked our contributing authors to share a brief reflection or excerpt from what they were planning to say to their congregations in sermons, pastoral letters, and prayers.
As the calendar turns and an extraordinary 2020 concludes, advertisers for gyms and weight loss programs bombard us with some version of, “A New Year, a new you!” The fitness industry’s perennial pursuit of profit based on our short-lived desires for self-improvement is worryingly ingrained into the lifecycle of the American psyche. However, the annual call to honest self-examination is an important challenge that resonates. Nobody needs honest reflection and a “New Year, new you” campaign more than the American church after its response to 2020.
I am uninterested in living into the false image of the flawless pastor. I’d always rather be the authentic pastor, the one who has been to the valley and sits with another individual who is traversing those shadowy passages themselves.
In America today, it is clear that a radicalized minority, with the backing of the President, poses a risk to the republic—one that is perhaps greater than past majorities united by common interest. What then are we to do? Where, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., do we go from here?
Following yesterday’s failed coup at the U.S. Capitol, we decided to republish this 2019 article on the symbolism and sanctity of a building designed to reflect and serve a quasi-religions function—to be nothing short of a civic temple.
If humility means acknowledging when we are wrong, then humility also encompasses politicians accepting the results of elections, even when they cannot believe, or would rather not concede, the choices voters have made.
The work of Christmas, because it is the work of Jesus, becomes for us a lifelong Christian imperative. It begins by caring about the things Jesus cared about. Then, perhaps someday, we might at least make a difference to one of them.
Just as an Easter faith celebrates the resurrection each Sunday, a Holy Saturday faith—suspended between the bad news of the crucifixion and the good news of the resurrection—might have significance beyond Holy Week in a world similarly suspended between death and life.
Peace, when it comes, is indeed a gift, and certainly when it is brought about by the Spirit. How, though, are we becoming peacemakers during this holy season? How are we promoting peace now and into the New Year, which holds both promise and challenge?
Unbeknownst to my family when my husband and son were sick last Christmas, God was preparing us a year ago for a season of birthing that would be—and still is—profoundly difficult. When I read the song of Mary now, in the midst of this pandemic, my longing is not for the return of Christmas past. I believe we are laboring together for a world where the hungry are filled, unjust rulers removed from their thrones, and the humble raised to places of honor. I remember anew that the light we pass is symbolic of the call to radically redistribute God’s resources in the world. We aren’t yet holding that newborn life in our arms, but the midwife has asked us to breathe deeply and feel for when it’s time to push. We are preparing the way.
Being pregnant at Christmas, especially this year, feels in a strange way to be a sacred act. We made the conscious decision to try and expand our family in the midst of great uncertainty. For me especially, this pregnancy is a very real sign of hope after two years of infertility, miscarriage, my mother’s death, and then 2020 in general. Advent is the season of hope, regardless of how we will be able to celebrate it. Our family will retell the Christmas story and the expectation that God remains with us even in the midst of despair and turmoil.
Dr. Seuss’s classic tale, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” reveals that there are people who struggle with the “good cheer” at Christmas. There are people who do not find the season of expectation enchanting, nor do they look forward to it.
This season of Advent and Christmastide, plagued by a pandemic and the fallout of a divisive election, has the potential to be emotionally heavier than ever before.
It’s going to be a tough Christmas season with the need to be especially careful as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. How can you connect with the people in our congregations who need care and connection? In-person visits are still prohibited in senior living facilities in many places. No matter official policy, you don’t want to put any vulnerable person in your congregation at risk.
This pandemic has weighed heavily on our traditional plans of Advent and Christmas and required us to think creatively, but that does not mean our hope is lost. The Christian Church first started as a movement of house churches and micro-communities struggling to figure out how they can practice their faith in extremely challenging times. This year for Advent and Christmas, your church, family, or community can pivot to have a vibrant and imaginative holiday season.
It is not a new idea to consider Advent, Christmas and the new year as an annual “reset,” a chance to begin again to repair the broken pieces of our lives. But it may be time to rethink how we are to make our way forward in such a time as this – clear-eyed and determined, wielding glazing kits, sewing kits, whatever tools we can muster. We are people of hope, after all. And no matter the rancor and outrage and sorrow and fear of this year, a light is coming.
Advent is a season between. Advent is about celebrating the coming of the Messiah in Jesus and the second coming of Christ. It is about living in such a way that we are honest about our grief while also living with hope. It is asking God to show up and expressing our gratitude for all the ways God is already present. Advent is a lot like dawn…it is neither night nor day. But like a watchman, we turn our back on the darkness and turn our face toward the eastern horizon in hope for coming light.
Advent is the season of anticipation and hope, and we are all yearning to make connections and meaning in a season that promises to be unlike any other. The pandemic doesn’t mean that churches have to give up on traditions. They simply have to be creative in how they implement them this year. If done right, we might find that the new ways that we live out our traditions help us to make meaning in unexpected, delightful ways. Such surprises are always a part of this time of year, and the Great Surpriser is sure to show up this unusual Advent season.