From Thomas C. Goodhart

What is your only comfort?

We go to that line a lot. And it is, understandably so. As a pastor, I have an excessive desire to comfort folks. Even at times, detrimentally so, for myself and for them. As a person, I seek—at least yearn for, if not always seek in a full way—comfort, peace, that all might be copacetic.

But all is not copacetic. All is not peaceful. Certainly, comfort is illusive, comfort for many.

Which is why alongside receiving our only comfort in Christ, we need to also experience more of the tension. Maybe cry a bit more and get angry at the things we ought to get angry about.

That is why I was so moved by a prayer request in a recent article on Ferguson written by the Jeff Chu, incidentally an elder at Old First Church (RCA) in Brooklyn. He quotes the Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ, towards the end of the piece:

I asked Traci Blackmon what people of faith outside of Ferguson ought to pray for. “I want you to pray for justice. I want you to pray for reconciliation. I want you to pray for restoration,” she said. “But I don’t want you to pray for peace. We don’t need peace right now—we need unrest.”

We need unrest.

Do you feel unrest?


James Cone, The Persistent Widow, and Theological Responses to Riots

From Jes Kast-Keat

Jes Kast-Keat is currently on holiday and has invited Daniel José Camacho to write today. Daniel is currently a Masters of Divinity student at Duke University Divinity School. He graduated from Calvin College in 2013 with a major in philosophy and minor in congregational & ministry Studies.

I was profoundly disturbed when I saw the chilling images initially coming out of Ferguson, Missouri last week. Mike Brown, another unarmed black teenager, laid dead in the streets. His mother: crying, pleading. Brown’s father: holding up a sign reading “Ferguson Police Just Executed My Unarmed Son!!!”. Then came the images of Ferguson police’s militarization and brutality in response to protests and unrest. What pained me, in the midst of this, was knowing the inevitability of many—but certainly not all—Christians failing to understand the gravity and lopsidedness of this situation. Yes, the robbing and destruction of stuff is bad but that is not the same as the occupation and destruction of people. I stopped and prayed: “Dear Jesus, please help the church avoid abstract talks of reconciliation & peace that avoid addressing police brutality/militarization.”

The situation in Ferguson made me recall something that James Cone had written in 1975. In the book “God of the Oppressed,” Cone recounts his disappointment with Christian responses to the Detroit riot during the summer of 1967, responses which simply deplored “unrest” and failed to see the fundamental issues at stake. He writes:

I knew that that response was not only humiliating and insulting but wrong. It revealed not only an insensitivity to black pain and suffering but also, and more importantly for my vocation as a theologian, a theological bankruptcy. The education of white theologians did not prepare them to deal with Watts, Detroit, and Newark.

I wonder how much has changed. What in our theological formation has prepared us for Ferguson?


You Will Laugh

From Scott Hoezee

My last few posts have been on the heavy side, though the last one in particular struck a chord for lots of folks--indeed, I've never had a post on The Twelve that was subsequently mentioned as often by my fellow bloggers as that last one on this "sad summer."  So maybe something a bit lighter, albeit relating to something that in and of itself is not light: the death of Robin Williams.

I wish Mr. Williams were still alive for all kinds of human and Christian reasons.  But I am surely glad he came our way.  Oh, I know, he had lots of personal problems and was not above cutting loose with language that offends us religious folks.   But he was natively funny and he made us laugh, and that is a gift I think we sometimes undervalue.  Even some comedians downplay their role in the grander scheme of things, acknowledging that what they do is not exactly akin to cancer research, the work of heart surgeons, or relief workers in disaster zones.  Still, laughter is a gift and even the Bible--and Jesus himself--are funnier than most Christians tend to realize or acknowledge. 


Robin Williams, Mental Illness, and the Church 

From Jeff Munroe

The internet has been abuzz since the death of Robin Williams with the news that a few “Christians” have announced he is now in hell.  Are you surprised by that?  Tragic news always brings the haters out, along with delighted members of the media looking for someone stupid to quote.  The theology of these pronouncements is dubious – Williams is in hell because of his use of profanity and two divorces. So much for a self-identified Episcopalian (more on that below) being saved by grace.

What is more disturbing to me is that the 90+% of Christians who are aghast at the proclamations of Williams’s eternal damnation have not created churches that are safe places for those dealing with the sorts of issues that drove Williams to take his own life.


Embracing Differences

One of the beauties and challenges of living in New York is that you are exposed to a wide array of both philosophical and theological discourse. Just a couple weeks ago, Deepak Chopra was in our sanctuary with a huge crowd, discussing the future of God. After the talk one of my members asked, is it okay for me to be a Christian and explore the teachings of Buddha? It was a question I didn't expect, but one I have continued to ponder. I suggested to her that one of the messages that Christianity has to of-fer is the good news of both a radical equality and a radical grace.

The notion that we are neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor fee, male nor female, Buddhist nor Christian. That somehow it’s possible not so much to do away with the differences, but nevertheless to find a way to gather around those differences. For in doing so we create space to discover our faith and grow in our understanding. We had an excellent conversation and both of us left wanting to talk more, not to convince one another of our own thoughts or values, rather ready to learn more and discover a bigger picture of God.

Today, I am on the campus of Dartmouth College. I am once again reminded that growth and learning happen best when there are a wide array of thoughts, values, cultures and opinions. It opens the mind to new possibilities and enlarges the hearts capacity to love and accept.

While out walking around the campus, I recalled that John Shelby Spong shared that the story of Jonah is about human prejudice. He went on to suggest that it was about a prophet who is called by God to speak to people for whom the prophet does not care. Jonah refuses to speak and goes in the opposite direction. But God keeps pushing him back to Nineveh.

To me, that story is designed to demonstrate that the love of God does not have boundaries. Churches have boundaries, religions have boundaries, nations have boundaries, tribes have boundaries, prejudices have boundaries, and fears have boundaries. But the love of God has no boundary. If God can love the Ninevites, there must be something bigger going on here. It goes beyond just tolerating people. It goes on to acceptance and affirmation of people, not despite their differences, but because of their differences. Spong believes that such efforts are at the very heart of the Christian Gospel.

Wherever you find yourself in ministry, there are people with questions about faith and life. They may be very different than our Reformed understanding, which to this day is central to my identity and belief. However, the learning for me has been to be slow to speak and ready to listen and learn, for in doing so I have discovered that our differences help us to see a bigger picture of God.

Rev. Kirsty DePree is an associate minister at Marble Collegiate Church (RCA) in New York, New York.