Cherry Bream, Flickr, under Share-Alike License

Thursday
Nov062014

“I Stand Sunday?” Not Even Close to “Here I Stand”

From Theresa Latini

In case you haven’t heard, 2,500 congregations across the United States participated in “I Stand Sunday” last weekend, an event intended to support “the pastors and churches in Houston, Texas who have been unduly intimidated by the city’s mayor in demanding they hand over private church communication.” For readers who haven’t followed this news story, it all began last May when Houston passed an ordinance aimed at protecting the civil liberties of LGBT people. It’s an anti-gay discrimination policy that actually exempted religious institutions. (In other words, it did not apply to churches, non-profit ministries, and so forth.) Those who opposed this ordinance, including a group of Houston pastors, attempted to repeal it by gaining enough signatures to place it on a ballot. Though they obtained approximately 50,000 signatures, most of them were nullified on technical legal grounds. A group of Christians then sued the city of Houston. In response, Houston’s lawyers sent subpoenas to five local pastors who participated in the repeal effort. The subpoenas asked for “all speeches, presentations, or sermon related to HERO [the ordinance], the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

Not surprisingly, this created a national uproar, with accusations of the violation of the first amendment and a fair amount of vitriol directed at Houston’s mayor. This is the point at which I first heard about the ordinance, the petition, the subpoenas. Facebook friends posted links that sounded the alarm about the eradication of religious freedom. Thankfully I’ve learned to read multiple sources before jumping on the bandwagon of fear and rage. So I did. More rational analyses indicated that the city’s lawyers had overreached their bounds with such a broad subpoena. At the same time, they also suggested that sermons could be legally subpoenaed in certain cases.

Wednesday
Nov052014

The Disappearing Blog

From Jennifer Holberg

So...it's the classic case of the "computer ate my blog." Yep, almost done and then wiped out.  I'll see if I can construct it for next time.

To fulfill my duty as a member of The 12, however, here's a video one of my former students shared with me yesterday. A short discussion by Brene Brown (apologies--I am further oppressed by technology by being unable to correctly insert the accent in her name)--she of the TED talk on vulnerability fame.

Here she is discussing one thing she learned when she went back to church.  In a season of mourning for so many, I thought this was worth a watch. And a discussion, too.

Brene Brown Returns to Church (And Finds Jesus Weeping)

Tuesday
Nov042014

Green Pastures

From Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

A couple months back, I sat in an Iowa pasture with 14,000 others to see Bill and Hillary.

Don’t read too much into that. It is more about me being a sucker for spectacle and possible history-in-the-making, than a Clintonista. Bill was his usual empathetic and charming self. Hillary less so.

The day’s most moving moment came from the host of the event, retiring Iowa senator Tom Harkin. In a public swansong of sorts, he told about the cherished memento that hangs on his office wall in Washington. It is a postcard his father received from President Franklin Roosevelt inviting him to come to work for the Works Progress Administration. Harkin shared how his family, which until then hadn’t been particularly promising or political, became that day staunch Democrats—so much so that their son would become a United States Senator—all because Franklin Roosevelt cared for them.

Looking at the people assembled in the pasture, I surmised that many would have told similar stories. FDR’s New Deal locked in generations of future Democrats.

Monday
Nov032014

Pastoring in the midst of Ebola

From Jessica Bratt

Susan Sytsma Bratt serves as Associate Pastor of Northridge Presbyterian Church (USA) in Dallas, Texas. She’s also my cousin-in-law (and daughter-in-law of fellow 12 blogger James Bratt)! Her congregation has ties both to Vickery Meadow, the neighborhood where the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the US had been staying with relatives, and to Texas Presbyterian, the Dallas hospital where that patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, was treated and later died. 

Susan and her husband Peter are also anticipating the arrival of their first child in just a few weeks, and the birth is planned to take place at Texas Presbyterian Hospital. I asked Susan about her experiences as a pastor and parent-to-be in the midst of the ongoing reactions to Ebola in Dallas. Many thanks to Susan for sharing her perspectives with The 12 this week!

Jessica: Overall, what has it been like to pastor in the midst of this situation?

Susan: I’ve taken on a different pastoral role than usual in this situation as I’ve been more conscious of the public role I can play in terms of being a non-anxious presence, sharing facts via social media and in sermons and newsletter articles, and framing this situation and our response theologically and biblically. I have felt called more than ever too to a ministry of presence in Vickery Meadow where parishioners live, and at Texas Health Dallas Presbyterian Hospital.   

Ebola in Dallas has also compelled me to connect more intentionally with colleagues.  I’m grateful to those like George Mason of Wilshire Baptist, and Brent Barry of NorthPark Presbyterian Church, the Attending Clergy Association of Dallas Presbyterian Hospital who have worked to connect clergy to form a web of support and leadership in our community.

J: You're due to deliver your first child at Texas Presbyterian next month. What are the reactions you're getting, and what are your own thoughts about how to stay level headed in the midst of this? How do you deal with other peoples' fear, personally and professionally?

S: First, I have to say that I implicitly trust Texas Presbyterian, or Presby as locals refer to it. It is an asset to our community, and has been very involved in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood. Most of my parishioners go there for procedures etc., and it is why I chose my OB practice in the hospital, and why we chose to deliver there before Ebola hit. I also serve on the Attending Clergy Association Executive Board of Dallas Presby, an interfaith group that is led by Rev. John Engelhard (a fellow Calvin College alum).  It is a hospital that has its roots in mission and in caring for all. Given that history, and their solid commitment to excellent care I trust the institution.

Sunday
Nov022014

“I’ll Be There In Spirit.”

People get nervous about the Holy Spirit.

I’ll never forget developing a friendship with someone in my neighborhood, who I’ll call Jordan, when my wife Monica and I moved to Philadelphia in 2008 to start Liberti Church. Jordan is like most of the people who live in my neighborhood: smart, cosmopolitan, and decidedly un/non/post-Christian. Shortly after meeting him, I realized that I was literally the first Christian person he’d ever really interacted with.  

Jordan told me over dinner one evening, that he did have one other run-in with Christianity. Something of a jack-of-all-trades, he worked on the film Jesus Camp, a 2006 documentary that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, about a kids’ summer camp called “Kids on Fire” which happened in the Midwest. At the camp, children were taught to “get the Spirit,” roll around on the ground, babble crazily, and yell at the top of their lungs. After describing to me the strange, alternate universe he entered when on location for the film, he wrinkled his face up: “Is that like what you do?”

Even Christians are a little uncertain about the Spirit. Christians call God “Father,” and “Son”—both of which are relational titles with human analogues. The other member of the Holy Trinity? “Spirit.” Or, in the King’s English, “the Holy Ghost.” (That’s pronounced as one word south of the Mason-Dixon line: the “HolyGhost”.)

Yet, two millennia of Christian praying, worshipping, and theologizing has insisted that we can’t commune with God, can’t follow Jesus without the mysterious third member of the Trinity. After affirming “I believe in God…” and “I believe in Jesus Christ…”, the community of Jesus takes a breath, and gets in on the action: “I believe in the Holy Spirit… the Church… the forgiveness of sins…”  

John’s favorite word for the Holy Spirit is “parakletos”-- a rich, many-sided term variously translated as “Advocate,” “Comforter,” or “Mediator.” Tertullian called the Holy Spirit the “doctor veritatis”—the “Truth-Teacher,” or “Truth-Doctor.”  Augustine of Hippo thought of the Spirit as the “digitus Dei”—the “finger of God.” The Holy Spirit is God-in-action, God-in-person.  

The Holy Spirit attaches us to God’s past, present, and future. The Spirit brings God’s mighty history in Christ into our present; unites us with God’s own life, and offers us a foretaste of God’s great promised future.  

This makes profound sense in the lives of people far from Christian faith: the Christian story takes us seriously as whole persons. Christianity is a matter of history, intellect, facts—but not only these things. Christian faith is both intellectually compelling and spiritually satisfying.  

Oftentimes, when I’m invited to a dinner party, a wedding, or some other various-and-sundry-kind-of-get-together, and I can’t (or don’t want) to attend, I’ll often say, “I’ll be there in spirit!” The night before his death, Jesus told his friends this too, but he meant it, and it’s still good news for his friends two millennia later.

Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).

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