Looking for a daily miracle helps your brain stay active by anticipating something special. For people of faith, it’s a wonderful way to live. You have to slow your pace a bit to notice, rather than rushing from task to task (or Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting).
In John 17, Jesus claims that “the hour” is at hand when he would be glorified and his disciples given their chance to be in the fullness of what his gospel proclaimed. Even when the future we see looks cloudy, the prayer Jesus offers up for his believers is one of trust, hope, and love.
We are never left orphaned. We are never forgotten.
Christ’s prayer continues to bless us, now and forevermore.
Love through the lens of emotion has a foundation of reciprocity coated in preference. From this perspective, one must have an affinity towards another before love takes root. This type of love lacks the power to deal with race or any of the world’s challenges. Love that transforms is not some sentimental outpouring feeling. The love that has the power to transform is agape, which seeks nothing in return, but is “redemptive goodwill for all men.”
The musical Hamilton asks, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” But I would also ask “Whose story will we revere and embrace as patriotic? Countless people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and others who have cut against the grain of the majority are speaking out. Too often their words and actions are regarded as traitorous. But in this pivotal historical moment, we have an opportunity to be better.
Christian citizenship requires, not that individuals seek to impose Christianity on the society, but that individual Christians operate within the framework of Jesus’ teaching as they respond to the way government treats all its citizens, especially those who are in the greatest need.
There has always been a divide in faith and politics particularly in race, economics and power. To transform the divide, now that may be the radical and revolutionary work still needing to be done.
Be vigilant about teaching the next generation the transformative power of kindness, gratitude, and respect. Truly, the only way to save our nation and change our world is to return to “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Cover your mouth.”
As Christians, we are duty bound to go and see what our Lord thought was so important. Can anything good come from terrorist attacks or viral pandemics? Come and see. Right now, you might feel stressed under the fig tree of your own anxiety, but a belief in the restorative power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus of Nazareth embodied can carry you beyond any crisis because that was God’s plan from the beginning—to make us whole again.
Every name lost to police brutality or COVID-19 was a baby at some point. Each one held and loved. Each had dreams and expectations and hopes attached to him or her. Let us not forget their names. Let us weep.
“Ring Them Bells,” originally written by Bob Dylan for his 1989 album “Oh Mercy,” is a richly poetic song with plenty of biblical references and allusions. Many observers have pointed to the apocalyptic hints in the song, and those are certainly there. But there’s something else I hear in the song that speaks to why I like it. It reminds me of the place of the church in turbulent times.
Too often, our churches merely reflect the polarities of the day. We tend either to silo ourselves in congregations on one side or the other of the cultural divides or we fall into a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” silence, in which case our Christianity collapses into a privatized religion that’s polite, palatable and toothless.
These are days we need to be daughters and sons of Walter Rauschenbusch who said goodness means following Jesus in purposeful suffering on the Via Dolorosa. These are days we need to be so good we wake up the devil and bear the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Let us proclaim that no labor is unskilled, and that all deserve a seat at the table of our economy this Labor Day. Let us advocate for the ending of exploitation of undocumented workers. Let us acknowledge that Jesus worked, and let that acknowledgment challenge and change our faith. Let us also be filled with a spirit that acknowledges that changing how our world thinks about work and workers’ place in our economy will be hard work – hard, but worth it.
We are in an unexpected place, amidst the pandemic, protests over racial injustice, economic downturn, and social isolation. Despite this, hope—which has enabled Christians and others to endure for centuries—can help us persevere.
The connection we need to be exploring is what kind of political order is fostered by our fundamental God images, symbols and rituals. How do our basic images of God legitimate or critique our institutions of governance?
Lamentations, arguably, offers an “explanation” which fits one of the dominant frames of the Bible—the Deuteronomic system of blessings and curses—and yet also offers a poetic counter to this theology.
Courage has a context. Bravery flows not from mindless risk-taking, but from compelling reasons to act on behalf of one another. We do not dare God to keep us safe no matter what foolish actions we may take.
The fact that we can regard as real something that is not or see something in an image that we want to see, suggests an openness to being misled and manipulated by the purveyors of false or misleading political claims and information. This is cause for concern in a democratic republic in which citizens are responsible for choosing their leaders.
Justice is not something we form or fashion. It is woven by God into the very fabric of creation. It has been from the very dawn of time.
Strategies must be implemented to undo the long history of racism within the North American Church culture and structure. Good intentions are not enough.
When this present moment becomes history, how will people know how your faith community responded? Will they know that many congrega¬tions quickly developed the capacity for online worship services—or even be able to watch our worship from their future position? Will they know which communities continued to supply food banks and provide housing for the home-less? Will you leave records reflecting the shift from pastoral visits to pastoral telephone calls and emails? It all comes down to how well you document these days.
Getting churches to capture this moment in time will be helpful not only for future generations. It will be also a chance for congregants to recall the immediate past and start working out what these challenging times have shown them about their own lives, as well as the inevitable travails and the graceful moments where the resilience of a local church was revealed.
Significant anniversaries provide an opportunity to take stock of where one has been and where one is headed. This month, I celebrate 25 years of ministry with American Baptist Home Mission Societies. While my portfolio has changed during that time, one constant has been my involvement with The Christian Citizen.
Everything beautiful in its time: COVID-19, mental health, and resilience in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States
Members of the Karen ethnic group in Myanmar (formerly Burma) are no strangers to conditions that threaten their physical existence or inhibit their ability to think or reason freely. Thousands of Karen people were forced to flee their homes to escape violence, persecution, and war in the 20th century. The freedom they sought in Thai refugee camps left much to be desired, as they experienced degradation, restrictions on working and moving about, and food rations that often left them hungry and malnourished. The opportunity for some to immigrate to America, earlier this century, rekindled hope and dreams of better days. I interviewed 25 pastors in the Karen Baptist Churches in the United States (KBCUSA) to gain a glimpse of the challenges they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than defending a traditional concept of community and common welfare in which individuals understand the connection between rights and duties, many who claim the conservative mantle substitute a doctrinaire individualism that ultimately benefits neither the individual nor society.
Through belief in Christ, the one who was born and lived among the marginalized, whose death was at the hands of the “powers that be” of this world, and whose resurrection, ascension, and promised return we take hope in, we learn to tell, and live out, a different story. The response of the faithful is not to turn a blind eye toward the sufferings of the world, nor to be willing or silently complicit partners to these sufferings taking root in political, economic, or social policies.
Hebrews 10:24-25 is a command to fellowship and to not stop gathering together as others have done. It is a command to encourage one another. How do we fulfill this biblical command while also following the local authorities’ command to “shelter in place” during these times? What is the role of the church during this historic moment? As some churches are grieving and others are calling this an opportunity for a revival, the inherent complexities of these questions and the reality of how one event can affect individuals differently are on full display.
Without negating or disregarding the significance of mothers (Mother’s Day was last month), fathers are critical to the family dynamic. The value of a father’s loving leadership is incalculable.
Father’s Day has arrived yet again, and no situation—no father—is perfect. Perhaps you have an imperfect relationship right now with an imperfect father. What’s your legacy? Visible or invisible, it’s likely there, but you might not have a full grasp of it until he’s gone. And that’s okay. Believe me, you’ll know it when it is upon you, and then it will be your legacy.
What Father’s Day should do for people of faith is open up space for us to consider the ways that earthly fatherhood does and does not map onto our experience of God. There will undoubtedly be points of slippage between our experiences of being fathered or being fathers and our experience of God’s love. For those for whom there is much distance between their personal experience and the term Father, I would invite them to find and use different terms for God.
Communal singing is an important way we as Christians connect with God and one another in worship. No matter our preferred style of singing or level of vocal skill, we use music as a source of spiritual nourishment. In times of troubles, favorite hymns or worship songs bring us consolation and comfort. In times of joy, we yearn to lift up our hearts in song. However, as we look forward to reopening our church buildings for worship, the future of communal singing is uncertain.
Part of why this protest and others are lasting so long is that we have a country full of lonely folks from Covid. Grief has been bubbling up from so much loss, and people need each other. Though Covid is still a real danger, the pandemic of racism must be defeated.
As you continue to walk through these days, reflect on what this has been like for you, and what it is like today. What do you notice about yourself? What have you learned about yourself from this time of isolation and loneliness? Or what have you learned about yourself from the enforced togetherness? What do you intend to do differently? What is God calling you to do now in this new environment?
Our nation has failed at offering liberty and justice for all, as have all nations. It is a high ideal, worthy of our every attempt. I am happy to place my hand over my heart to pledge for our Republic to continue to try its best to provide, protect, and promote liberty and justice for all, as long as all means no exceptions
The lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic should not be forgotten. Indeed, those lessons should fundamentally change how we do church, making us more creative. If we are assured of anything, it is that church can and should change so that it can meet the needs of others. After all, church was made for times like these, fostering connection when we so desperately need it.
We as a society are dealing with a lot of grief and loss right now. Woe to us, the church, if we don’t recognize and live into our crucial and unique role in this situation. In particular, I see two important but largely neglected roles for the church: public lament and grief shepherding.
There is power and a gift in grieving. When we are allowed to grieve, and when those relationships we are connected to are recognized, the process of healing is made available.
As sustained protests have multiplied, so has their powerful and passionate message: racism and police brutality are no longer acceptable. It’s a clarion call coming from a diverse, multi-racial, multigenerational Unites States of America, and it’s being echoed by our global neighbors.
Like traditional retailers whose weaknesses were exploited by the pandemic, churches suffering from the impacts of decline have similarly been placed in precarious positions. So, if we might consider this time as an opportunity for reorganization, what would such changes look like? Here are a few thoughts.
When asked what the greatest command was, Jesus said that it was to love God and love your neighbor. Right now, our neighbors need us to stay inside and to social distance. The “essential business” of the gospel is to do this. Jesus calls us to social distance, but not to be distant from each other.
We live in two Americas. One in which police brutality against people of color continues unabated and unaddressed. And another in which there are no permissible grounds for protesting white supremacy, whether taking a knee during the anthem or chanting “Black Lives Matter” in front of the White House.
Public protest by concerned citizens is one of the most basic and fundamental rights of any American citizen. Video of Floyd’s death by asphyxiation captured on multiple cell phones was one of the darkest and yet most revealing moments in recent American history.
The challenges before us are great. So is our capacity to address them. To do so, we must reject false distinctions that separate us from those with whom we share this brief moment of life. Moreover, we must learn, in Kennedy’s words, “to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all.”
This pandemic has pulled back the veil of our cliché-ridden faith and reminded us of what most of the rest of the world knows: life is hard, circumstances are unjust, children die, and simplistic religion is valueless.
Pruning for new growth—removing distractions during this season of isolation to allow for new growth in our lives and our relationship with God
During this season, we can use this opportunity to remove distractions that will allow for new growth in our lives and in our relationship with God.
Walter Rauschenbusch did not write only for mass audiences or only for academics, he wrote for both of them at the same time. Rauschenbusch knew movements were not sustained through sermons and articles, but through prayers (he wrote a book of social justice prayers) hymns (he collected social hymns), letters, pamphlets, and meetings (all of which he did).
What teaching Baptist history during the pandemic taught me: Our tradition offers the tools we need for the present moment
Symbols can take place anywhere, even virtually, and they give rise to the same sort of reflection and deep commitment that our tradition affirms in our understanding of the ordinances.
This Memorial Day, as we remember our war dead and our loved ones, we can also remember the institutional church that had been crusted over and in decline. But looking to the lessons of history and trends of technology, we can be hopeful for the emergence of a reincarnated church that is virtual and vibrant; focused and intentional.
You might accomplish something in the latter half of this year that you previously thought impossible. When we refuse to let a good crisis go to waste, we demonstrate our ingenuity and courage. We give the people around us a sense of hope and renewal.
All shall be well: Julian of Norwich’s conviction, borne out of the suffering of the Black Death, can sustain us during the time of COVID-19
As we move through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and into discernment of what’s next, Julian of Norwich’s conviction that “all shall be well” can sustain us. This is not a dismissal of suffering, but a deep awareness of God’s presence through suffering.
As Baptists, we don’t and shouldn’t look first to the government for how to overcome most difficulties. Our commitment to the separation of church and state is rooted in our theology and our history, neither of which is changed by government efforts to provide relief in a time of crisis or shifting standards of constitutional law.
Ending a catastrophe—proclaiming and providing glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien called eucatastrophic joy
I know many are struggling and will struggle. I admit many were struggling mightily with socioeconomic injustice well before any sign of a global pandemic was on our national horizon. But I do hold out the hope and the trust that God is with us even now, providing a pathway toward the ending that benefits all creation.
And that end shall be good, whatever catastrophe bears down on us. We have a story that calls us to proclaim and provide glimpses of what J.R.R. Tolkien would call eucatastrophic joy.
Eventually the curve of COVID-19 will flatten, and in its wake will not only be those lives claimed by the virus but those who survive. Survivors will be traumatized emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. There will be a growing need for communities of faith to provide space for healing as individuals process grief.
With households becoming schools and parents and other primary caregivers managing unprecedented challenges, making family life the primary locus of Christian education can feel like just one more overwhelming task. But it doesn’t need to be.
Let us spend the rest of the COVID-19 confinement praying this threefold prayer:
First, Lord, what would you like us to stop? Second, Lord, what would you like us to start? Third, Lord, what would you like us to strengthen?
What I’ve learned amid the COVID-19 crisis—We can choose to go back to the way things were, or we can live anew
When it is safe to have dinner with friends again, go back to work, and congregate in houses of worship and schools and City Hall, we have a choice: to go back to the way things were, or to live anew.
While we collectively know that “normal” as we knew it may never return, we have signs that we will emerge from this crisis transformed. The Church is demonstrating resourcefulness and creativity in continuing to serve our communities with mission and purpose. We recognize that the good news of Jesus Christ is as important today as ever – and that the message will find a way to be heard.
In this unprecedented time, instead of asking, “When do we get to go back to leading normal worship services?” Christian leaders can seek God’s guidance in order to innovate and minister in new ways beyond the walls of church buildings and the limits of physical spaces.
During these last several weeks we have experienced many unexpected outcomes, and there will undoubtedly be more. None of us knows how to pastor during a pandemic; this is unlike other crises as we still have no idea how or when it will end. We are not going to do this perfectly. Each of us is carrying traumas of our own, and none of us is going to be at our best. Now, more than ever, we need to show ourselves – and our congregations – the grace that we proclaim.
Despite being forced to cut back on our experiences, expenses, and exposure, we collectively remain in a hurry. We were in a hurry before the virus forced us out of common spaces. We have been in a hurry seeking to adapt to sudden change. Currently, we seem to be in a hurry to get back. Back to what? Back to the office, back to school, back to profits, back to consumerism, back to sanctuaries, back to normal? Are we in such a hurry to get back that we are missing the chance to move forward into something new?
The very same systems and power structures that embody racism and oppress the most vulnerable among us under normal circumstances make the experience of living during this global pandemic decidedly unequal.
Lethal neglect—structural, intentional social neglect and the disproportionate COVID-19 mortality rate of African Americans
After the coronavirus has come and gone, the underlying social and economic issues will remain. African Americans will continue to face disproportionate levels of poverty, sickness, and early onsets of diseases that can cripple our bodies and shorten our lives.
Science fiction can help us imagine a future or alternative reality. While living in the uncertainty of the here and now, and learning the opportunities and limits of conducting work and worship via digital tools, here are three science fiction shows available to stream.
The struggle to care for the integrity of our creation cannot be waged and sustained apart from the struggle for justice amongst people. Biblically, justice and a spirituality of ecology are linked to each other in one ecosystem.
I was a child when the “Keep America Beautiful” public service announcement first launched in 1971, and I remember being captivated by it. Nearly 50 years later, the impact of pollution is more dire, and each of us must do our part. As the “Keep America Beautiful” announcement reminds us, “People start pollution; people can stop it.”
Earth Day reminds me that in Greek, the word for world is cosmos. For God so loved the cosmos…beyond each person on the planet, God’s love encompasses all that God created.
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, people have rallied around the concepts of conservation, environmental protection, and ecological well-being. But why do we need an annual day to remind us of these all-important ideals? Shouldn’t we have made these goals a matter of daily practice by now?
A new standard of living—Jitsuo Morikawa and the intersection of social justice and ecological wholeness
Jitsuo Morikawa was ahead of his time in discerning the intersection of social justice and ecological wholeness. His work and vision were instrumental in bringing these concerns together in the American Baptist Churches ecojustice emphasis of the early 1970s.
The Yehuda Bauer quote, “thou shall not be a bystander,” is a reminder that by doing nothing, we do not remain blameless. As we reflect this month, on those lost in the Holocaust and the redemption offered on Easter, let us remember that love sets us free and that in love there is no place for nationalism.
Churches are not often equipped as professional mental health centers, but we can do some simple things to create a hospitable culture for those in anguish.
If someone has a diagnosable mental health condition, we cannot pray it away, just as we can’t pray away a heart attack or diabetes. We pray, and then we seek the help and support we need.
Talking about mental illness can be a taboo subject in the church, because people often shy away from what they don’t understand or deny that it even exists. However, it is imperative that the church becomes prepared to care for and love those in our community with mental health challenges.
One in five Americans annually experience mental health issues. Of this number, four in ten adults and just over half of children aged 8-15 receive appropriate care. Pastors can help address this disconnect between need and appropriate care by preaching and speaking about mental illness with directness and compassion from the pulpit.
For churches that are seeking to do ministry well in this unprecedented moment, the quotidian has emerged triumphant. The creation of community strains under too much initiative, too much planning, too much hustle and bustle. It thrives, like a sourdough starter, when given space to digest and share.
The church finds new wineskins in every generation and every culture. The essence of our faith holds firm; the wrappings forever change. We sing new words to old songs and fresh prayers to our ancient God.
Is the end goal of the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) membership or discipleship? How might we think differently if we are inviting people to follow Jesus rather than focusing on adding members to the roles? We might look to the model of Jesus in creating disciples. Jesus met people in their everyday lives, doing their everyday things.
Easter is worth a lot more than one day a year, in my book. The church calendar allots seven Sundays, not just one, leading up to Pentecost. Liturgical churches talk about the “Great 50 Days,” a season of 50 days from Easter Eve to Pentecost.
Raising children in faith is one of the biggest responsibilities for faith educators — clergy, lay leaders, family members and others. Holy Week holds its own particular challenges with stories of Jesus’ life, ministry and crucifixion and themes of sin, betrayal, political machinations, death and resurrection. Such topics are difficult for adults to understand, let alone children.
This Holy Week, Christians find themselves scattered like the first disciples, each to their own homes. This is as it should be given the threat this pandemic poses. And yet, amid the fear and anxiety of whether we or our loved ones will become sick, amid difficult conversations with our children and others about worst case scenarios, amid the worry of our children over something so present yet so imperceptible as this dread virus—have we left Jesus alone?
In times of crisis or disaster in the community, nation, or world—Selected worship resources from The New Manual of Worship
In order to be fully present and pastoral in the lives of our people, ministers and worship planners/leaders need to be ready to make changes in our plans when there is a disaster or tragedy in our midst.
Either Christ has dominion, or he does not. By what authority do any of us act? How do we pick our battles? Our choices, and how we elect to assert the reasons for them, say much about who we are and what we ultimately believe.
Who could have imagined that great nations like Italy, and possibly France and Spain, as well, would be on nationwide lockdown? From China to the United States to Europe and everywhere else on Earth, we are being reminded that, while we have great wealth and great wisdom, there are some moments when we are at the mercy of Nature and must yield to its awesome and sometimes terrifying power.
It’s impossible to be in a climate like this and not be affected by the anxiety swirling around. What’s a leader to do? You can’t manage other people’s anxiety for them, but you can work on your own.
Followers of Jesus should use this standstill in our nation to raise questions that must come prior to returning to business as usual; questions regarding the welfare of millions of people whose extreme existential vulnerabilities are now exposed in the areas of income inequality, lack of wage protection, access to food, housing, healthcare and technology access.
During the coronavirus crisis, churches must resist the urge to make panicked decisions, and instead prayerfully and faithfully lead others through new challenges.
This Easter many Christians, perhaps most, will gather as the earliest Christians did—in homes. Unlike those early Christians, they will do so as individual families connected, if at all, through online platforms and streaming services. Like those who preceded them in the faith, they will break bread and praise God as the church has done through the ages—amid war, peace, famine, plenty, pandemic, plague, freedom, oppression.
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.
Though far removed from us in time, a shepherd boy destined to be king, struggled with fears as terrible as our own while he hid from the peril of death at the hands of Saul’s soldiers. Perhaps it was in the darkness of a cave where he had fled, breathless with fear as armed men closed in upon him, that Psalm 27 began to form in his heart, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
We are waiting. We are in uncharted territory, our entire planet trapped between ordinary life and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. It feels like we are living between trapezes. Having let go the secure bar of the first trapeze, we hang in mid-air, awaiting the arrival of the next. The next bar is not in sight.
Every day, God bursts forth in our world. From sheltered-in-place residents singing to each other across balconies in Italy, to Canadians “caremongering” for those in need, to two young cellists who gave a concert on an elderly woman’s porch so that she could enjoy the music while homebound, evidence of God’s presence through human kindness is everywhere.
I see more adults sitting on their front porches now, a result of the mandated social distancing. They wave or speak. People continue checking on their neighbors, volunteering to retrieve groceries or medicine. During the enforcement of this social distancing, some are embracing the concept of a healthy togetherness.
The coronavirus pandemic is a disaster. It has begun slowly but it is building exponentially and more than likely its devastation will be experienced on multiple levels for years to come. It will bring waves of individual and communal trauma that will reverberate within and beyond your own ministry.
“Alabama Story”—Recent play tells the story of librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, her strength, fortitude in the face of misunderstanding, intolerance
Kenneth Jones’ recent play “Alabama Story,” set in Montgomery in 1959, reminds us to remember the past and live for a different future.
“None of us walks the path of life alone”—Sen. Robert Dole’s message to the disability community is what we all need right now
“We all face challenges in life – some have a tougher road than others,” Dole wrote in a letter for the occasion of receiving the American Association of People with Disabilities’ Lifetime Impact Award. “But what sets us apart is how each one of us chooses to handle those challenges. Our resilience. I’ve faced a few bumps in the road throughout my life, but I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of optimism – looking ahead at brighter days to come.”
Rethinking the injustice of Native American cultural appropriation: mascots, tomahawk chops, and superfluous DNA testing
I propose that the problem of Native American cultural appropriation is not about political correctness, as some have suggested. It is about kindness, compassion, and respect, things that, as I understand them, the Lord God would have us emulate.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s story is compelling. And her own words and example are inspirational and challenging. Here are three ways that we can lead as she did, with her own words to reinforce them.
I’ve been compiling some of my “financial practice as spiritual practice” ideas, questions, and challenges, and I offer them here to begin a conversation with those who feel similarly called to this deep and life-changing work.
How the disability community can respond to COVID-19: Ensuring people with disabilities can access prescription drugs during the current crisis
Disrupting treatment always endangers patients, but even more so in a pandemic. COVID-19 is expected to heavily tax the resources of the health care system.
African American women learned that education was the means for advancement. Through oppression, they recognized the inclusivity of all as a requirement. Embracing unity, they realized that the target of their efforts had to be the community. And girded by faith, African American women looked to God for perseverance.