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.
People of faith possess a deep reservoir of spiritual resources for facing difficult times. When the news flashes at us faster than we can assimilate it, we are well-served to be reminded of the foundations of our trust in God.
There is much we can, do, and should disagree about. But the greatest heresy is not what that brother or sister across the table believes. The greatest form of heresy is when I insist that the Head of the table disinvite them, or when I leave because they are there. When in doubt, meet me at the table.
Our mortality is assured, but so too is our resurrection. So, we will live with the sure hope that Easter will redeem all plagues. To practice resurrection means that even though we occasionally despair, we are always looking for hope through the grace and mercy of God.
Some tips and practices for planning worship and pastoral care during COVID-19.
In light of the outbreak of COVID-19 we, along with some of our American Baptist Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors, have been sharing best practices to encourage those we care for in these times.
Those of us who love the life of the mind are often reminded quite simply to rejoice, and those of us who love all kinds of melody are reminded that sometimes the words we speak and sing mean something, too.
Lord, in this time of anxiety, fear, and isolation, we come to you for support, encouragement, and direction. We lay our worried minds and troubled souls before you and in your care.
No single leader, organization or group can achieve a community’s goals on their own. We need each other. We must be in the same boat.
We are in an uncertain time, a liminal space. Perhaps it is not so much a dystopia as living into the reality of Lent this season—wandering in the wilderness of a COVID-19 outbreak.
May we – clergy, Christian educators, and leaders of the church – encourage the pondering of curious questions about the most challenging of subjects, especially at Eastertide.
To be fit to fight spiritually involves spiritual disciplines that equip, edify, and encourage when the days are dark, and life becomes difficult. During the season of Lent, fasting and praying are spiritual practices that facilitate spiritual fitness.
Healing and wholeness are found in washing in the muddy rivers of our own lives. They are found in everyday practices that align our resources with God’s values.
As we enter the season of Lent, imagine with me that we might actually live Lent in our very bodies, and not just think about it.
If Jean Vanier did not recognize the connection between his own wounds/sins and what he did and taught, that is yet more evidence of the far too human capacity for self-deception. If he did, then the tragedy is that he did not come clean, be open, repent, ask for forgiveness, and look for his own healing more honestly. Vanier has left that responsibility to his greatest contribution and legacy, the L’Arche community. The tragic irony is that in their commitment to the soul of L’Arche, they knew they had to be perfectly honest and transparent about the brokenness of their beloved leader and the mentor to so many of us.
Instead of fighting over the last roll of paper towels or loaf of bread, we are probably better served checking in with our neighbors, doing what we can not to spread the virus to others—living out an ethic of care.
Traditionally, the Lenten season requires “giving up” and “letting go” of something in order to replace it with that which is far more enriching, edifying, and inspirational.
In the middle of anxiety-producing breaking news, big trees remind us there’s a longer time frame than our day-to-day life. Ancient trees have survived it all.
During Lent, consider how Jesus was rejected. Many have felt the pain of rejection. Even if the feelings never go away, you can learn to manage your feelings. There are attitudes you can adopt and actions you can take.
Far more than mere fasting from one’s favorite indulgences, the traditional purpose of Lent is the ritual preparation and spiritual rededication of the believer and the church to their purpose in the world. The distortion of sacred rituals to serve self-indulgent and superficial displays of piety is not new.
Fifty years after the emergence of Black Theology, some white, conservative evangelical Christians still fail to or refuse to see the connection between the message of the gospel and the freedom struggle for black people in the United States.
When you look at the life of Malcolm X, you will readily notice that he did not shy away from challenges or controversy. He did not necessarily seek them out, but they were the byproduct of the work that he was involved in. This speaks volumes of Malcolm’s character and his passion.
Malcolm X may have been an unwanted voice, his message may have been difficult to hear, and his critique may have caused many to shy away; however, those who took the time to listen heard the truth.
Scholar of the Psalms J. Clinton McCann suggests that the 23rd Psalm “be read and heard as a psalm about living,” placing the wisdom of the psalm squarely in the day-to-day world that we inhabit rather than the promises of a world yet to come.
The future of ministry is not going to be found in the traditional 90-credit seminary degree, but in modified virtual centers of learning.
Bivocational ministry may well be the wave of the future – but only if we can really prepare our people and institutions for this reality.
Does God care about who Christians vote for and does God endorse certain candidates? Is there a “mandate from heaven” directing certain individuals into certain offices?
With worship in three different languages (Spanish, English, and Haitian Creole), poor and affluent members, locals and visitors all participating by serving their immediate community, Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural (ICM) is a vibrant and unique place in the Dominican Republic.
Our efficacy comes as we understand and engage the systems of evil. It includes confronting the government and the police when they fail to behave in trustworthy and effective ways. And it includes working with them when they succeed.
How can we address this distressing upsurge in anti-Semitic prejudice and violence? Here are 5 practical ways for churches and individuals to make a difference.
If we cannot teach slavery, which was irrefutably core to our history, how will we ever teach or face this country’s racist past? And if we cannot face our racism, how will we ever dismantle white privilege and the persistent beliefs that stem from it?
“Re-Learning” King—New Baptist Covenant Bible studies highlight insights and connections to contemporary issues
We believe that it is important to both keep Dr. King’s “prophetic voice” in the forefront of the struggle for racial and social justice and reconciliation, and to remind people that his message and work were firmly grounded in Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to encourage individuals and congregations to honor Dr. King’s legacy by doing the same.
Ruth Everhart courageously shares her experiences and others in “The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct.” Everhart weaves in her story, the stories of other victims, and stories from Scripture of abuse and assault. She lifts up women’s and children’s voices who have often been silenced, concluding each chapter with questions of what the text asks us, and what her own hope is for the church.
Social activism and spirituality are both well-served when what is wrought in the one is woven into the fabric of the other.
If we can find God in our shared meals, perhaps there is space to find God in the preparation of those meals if we take the time.
Today, I pray for a grand emergence of a new generation of radically Christian and socially subversive parents who will shepherd their little church faithfully and unabashedly.
From the Civil Rights era to the fight for human rights for all—commemorating the life and walk of Martin Luther King, Jr.
We all have a purpose, to fight for that which is right, with the tools and gifts and opportunities we are given. May this year’s commemoration of the life and walk of Dr. King bring you closer to that walk with God, for in God we live, move and have our very being. And until all of us are free, none of us are free.
Like Martin Luther King, leaders need to be willing to take a risk and define themselves to those they lead: “Here’s what I believe. Here’s where I stand. Here’s where I’m heading.”
“Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prophetic question waits for a response
While the voices of the biblical prophets spoke to a nation of people in a particular moment, their words echo through history and speak to a world very different from their own. In the same fashion, we hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s prophetic voice today.
As he prepared to be installed in his first pastorate, Martin Luther King said to his faithful flock, “Remember Christian friends we are now in the colony of time, but our ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity.”
The God who created humanity as good is the basis from which we can assert the infinite value of human personality. Therefore, we affirm God’s assertion of humanity as good by promoting and esteeming the infinite value of humanity.
Together, lets develop a dangerous unselfishness that honors and extends the legacy of Dr. King.
Whether 2020 marks some great milestone in your life or whether it is just another year, hold on to the constant which is God and the grace that God offers.
Have we lost sight of the goodness of Earth, this remarkable, fragile, sanctuary that teems with life and possibility amid the cold, indifferent, expanse of space? Have we lost sight of the remarkable gift of life that is ours to enjoy, however fleetingly, amid the immeasurably vast expanse of time and space?