Thursday
Sep112014

The Problem with “Seeing is Believing:” Reflections on the Ray Rice Video

From Theresa Latini

Of the many new stories in the airwaves this past week, the Ray Rice video rose to the top. Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, was suspended for two games at the end of July after a video showed him dragging his unconscious fiancée, Janay Palmer, from an elevator. The incident occurred last February. Rice was arrested but his fiancée (now wife) did not press charges. The case was dropped, but the NFL was pressured to respond with some sort of discipline. So they did—the two game suspension. After a firestorm of public criticism that this fell far short of adequate, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a public apology and instituted a new and rather commendable policy on assault, battery, domestic violence, and sexual assault applicable to all NFL personnel (not just players). 

A few days ago, the full video of the incident was leaked to the media. It shows Rice punching and knocking out Palmer and then dragging her from the elevator with obvious disregard. Again, public outcry intensified. Rice was let go from the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

Much could be said about this incident as it has unfolded, but one question has stuck with me: What did people think had gone on in the elevator before we saw him drag her out?” Marie Fortune, executive director of Faith Trust Institute, arguably the most influential organization in the United States dedicated to training clergy and theological educators about domestic violence, sexual abuse, and clergy misconduct, asked this precise question in her recent blog. While she didn’t reflect further on it, I can’t seem to let go of it.

Wednesday
Sep102014

A Personal Invitation

From Jennifer L. Holberg

Let me begin by expressing my deep gratitude to Sarina Gruver Moore for guest-blogging for me all summer here on The 12.  Sarina is such a talented, wise writer—I know from the emails I received when people realized that I was not the source of the postings under my name how much she was appreciated by all of you.  For me personally, Sarina’s willingness to take over the blog this summer was a great gift that allowed me to really focus on learning: I was in Italy much of the summer, where I had the privilege of studying Dante’s Commediaas part of a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar.  Despite the direness of the summer—what theNew York Times described yesterday as “the worst summer of news ever”— the summer of 2014 for me was rich and restorative. But that is thanks to Sarina and my other friends who made my being away possible. 

It’s the possibilities of friendship, then, that made me want to think a little more about what Jeff Munroe explored last week in “What the Ice Bucket Challenge Means for Fundraising.”  Curious about the phenomenon of the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge that swept the internet over these last months, Jeff notes at one point: 

And not being famous or popular enough to be named by someone is the downside of this challenge.  Millions of people were named, but millions of others who probably would have participated were never challenged by someone else. 

I wonder if the “downside of this challenge” is actually the biggest lesson: people participate—even in things that seem odd or unexpected or costly or potentially uncomfortable—when they are asked.  They typically don’t when they aren’t.  That’s a simple but provocative idea.  Think about its implications. 

Think about how it might change how we do church, how we do ministry, how we do life.

Tuesday
Sep092014

Ten Incredibly Profound Thoughts

From Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

The bane of the internet is that no one ever has a thought she doesn’t share. Your bane today is ten of mine. Maybe one or two will give you pause to ponder, or put a momentary smile on your face.

  1. Our church yard has been especially beautiful this summer—languid shade trees, lush grass, lots of flowers in bloom. Many people work hard and find joy in making it so. A wise friend once said, “The state of a church yard is an indication of their doctrine of creation.” Discuss among yourselves.
  2. A few weeks ago, I did a funeral for a stout old Dutchman with an eighth-grade education. In the front row sat his grandson, with his beautiful Caribbean island mother next to him. He was missing the first day of orientation at an Ivy League college for the funeral. We all can find plenty of things that need fixing about the United States, but when I see an instance like this, I am hopeful.
  3. On vacation in Seattle, that mecca for “young nones” and happy pagans, I’ll confess I skipped worship on Sunday. Walking our friends’ dog past a neighborhood church at about 10 AM, a nicely dressed older gentleman stood outside, obviously on greeter-duty. We nodded at each other. I felt his desire to connect with me, to express warmth and welcome. I empathized with him as he wondered how to convey all that to this shorts-and-sandals-wearing, dog-walking person (me). For an instant I thought of stopping and explaining myself. “I’m a minister on vacation. A brother in Christ! Grace and peace to you!” I walked on.

Monday
Sep082014

Pannenberg

From Jessica Bratt

Wolfhart Pannenberg, 1928-2014I heard over the weekend that German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has died. He made immense contributions to theology in the past several decades, especially to interdisciplinary work on how the natural sciences and theology relate. I’m no expert on his expansive writings, but one of his ideas has particularly enlivened me in the decade since I first encountered it. I was in my last semester of seminary, taking a course on theological anthropology and paleoanthropology with Dr. Wentzel vanHuyssteen, who studied Pannenberg’s early work for his own doctoral dissertation. In the course we were exploring questions of human uniqueness—what makes humans distinct, and how do theology and science understand whatever uniqueness we possess over against animals and the rest of creation? This led us to consider the Imago Dei—how does being “created in the image of God” set human beings apart, and what exactly does that image consist of?

Pannenberg suggested that the God’s image in human beings is expressed in exocentricity, an openness to the world and to relationship with others, including God, that brings transcendence to human experience. We yearn to transcend the immediacy of our environment, to move beyond the egocentricity that lures us into thinking we ourselves are the center of the universe—a tempting scenario but one which leads to self-absorption, not self-transcendence.

Sunday
Sep072014

The Need for Creed

If you’ve happened upon this blog post in search of material related to the 90’s rock band Creed, I am sorry- both for your taste in music, and your misdirected Google search. This piece begins a series on the Creed of the Apostles’ variety, not the Scott Stapp variety.

This, and every, Sunday, many of the world’s 2.8 billion Christians will rise to their feet and declare “I believe…” In favellas in Brazil, cathedrals in Europe, and ramshackle storefronts in Los Angeles, followers of Jesus will say the Creed. It’s been handed on from candidates for baptism in caves, to Roman noblewomen, to African chieftans, to union drywallers on Long Island. During the fall, to finish out the season of the year the Christian family calls “Ordinary Time,” my church  will be exploring the affirmations of the Apostles’ Creed, and as we do so, I’ll offer some musings and provocations here as well, in an attempt to wonder at what you and I do together week by week, even though separated by space, time zone, culture or, perhaps even, musical preference.

To pilfer the title of Bill Bryson’s sparkling piece of prose, the Apostles’ Creed is Christianity’s “Brief History of Nearly Everything.” Neurologists, philosophers, and sociologists in sophisticated, elite institutions lately are unearthing what all sorts of cultures have taken for granted for millennia: we are story-shaped creatures. All of us live by some sort of story, some narrative that makes sense of the big questions: Where did we come from? What are we for? What’s a flourishing life? What’s wrong? Where is life headed? As the late David Foster Wallace noticed once in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, “We need narrative like we need space-time; it’s a built-in thing.” (“Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” in The Review of Contemporary Fiction 8.3 (1988), p. 8.) We have an innate “need for Creed.”

Declaring a credo, having definite beliefs of any sort, is of course also profoundly unfashionable. In a now-famous TED talk he did a few years ago entitled “Atheism 2.0,” leading British intellectual Alain de Botton unfolds a popular approach to out-of-style Christian beliefs. His unfolds that, of course, religious faith generally, and Christianity specifically, isn’t true, in any God-given sense. But Western secularism, as an approach to life, is also bankrupt in all sorts of ways. So, he says, we ought to excavate the remains of religion for what’s good, beautiful, and helpful to the world- whether that be commitment to education, promotion of the arts, or validation of spiritual experience.

Here’s the trouble, though: there’s a reason why Christians have for millennia patronized and promoted the arts, prayed and marched for justice, taught children and housed the homeless. Our Credo. Our ultimate beliefs, inescapably, ultimately shape our lives.

All of my friends and neighbors, however skeptical of my faith, want to live as if it’s better to seek peace than war, better to learn to live together well with others of different races and classes. They want to think that neurological research and public education and love matter. The Christian story summed up in the Creed offers me, them, and the world, with our inborn “need for creed,” a Brief History of Everything that actually makes sense of these desires and says they’re not an illusion.

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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