Rehumanizing ” the stranger”

I would like to take a moment and introduce our guest blogger, Hannah Hunthausen. Hannah is the program coordinator for the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs. She joined the School of Theology and Ministry in 2013; prior to working for the Center, Hannah served as program coordinator for the school’s Gates-funded Faith & Family Homelessness Project, which worked to increase advocacy, partnerships, and overall engagement around the issue of homelessness among Puget Sound faith communities. The Center builds on that legacy, integrating scholarly examination of homelessness and other pressing social issues with practical, solution-oriented responses initiated by faith communities and their organizations.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Rehumanizing “the stranger”

On cold rainy days like this one, I think of the many people and their many stories living on our streets, sleeping without shelter, without “home.” These strangers in our midst, to whom we are called by our religious wisdom traditions to show hospitality and love (Exodus 22: 20-21; Exodus 23: 9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Matthew 25: 34-40; Hebrews 13: 1-2; Surah An-Nisa 4:36; Sn 1.8: Karaniya Metta Sutta), we so often ignore and exclude instead.

I think of a remarkable woman named Raven Canon.

Plagued by health problems, poverty, addiction, and bouts of homelessness for much of her life, Raven had the incredible spirit and grit to launch Colorado Springs’ first street newspaper this past December. She quickly rose to become her community’s most prominent homeless advocate with seemingly boundless energy and zeal.

“You have to realize that we are human, and that we all must do more to help,” she would say, as Tim Harris, her friend and the Founding Director of Real Change, recalls. (Harris poignantly shared her story in the paper last week.)

But, in a time of acute personal crisis that landed her back on the street earlier this month, her own big heart was not reflected back to her—she died outside and alone in the Colorado winter.

. . .

Sometimes, after sharing a story like Raven’s, advocates will make the point that she is one of many, that there are countless stories of tragedy and injustice like hers.

And this is true and important to note[1] in certain contexts as we fight for justice.

But today, I want to make the point that she is not one of many, but one—one precious and irreplaceable human life.

Irish poet and theologian, Pádraig Ó Tuama, speaks powerfully to this notion in his poem, “Pedagogy of Conflict” (excerpted):

When I was a child,

I learnt to count to five:

one, two, three, four, five.

But these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count

one life

one life

one life

one life

Because each time is the first time that that life has been taken.

‘Legitimate Target’

has sixteen letters

and one

long

abominable

space

between

two

dehumanizing

words.

(It’s worth listening to the whole poem here.)

 

Though the poem excerpted above references the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the way in which it speaks to human beings’ tendency to dehumanize the other, and its implicit call for a re-valuation of human life, is universal and compelling. Distancing and faceless collective terms like “the homeless” or “illegal aliens” could just as easily be substituted for “legitimate target.”

The poet’s refusal to quantify life and to insist on individuating and sacramentalizing each in a persistent litany of “one life” recalls, for me, God’s loving creation of and care for humanity as expressed in Psalm 139: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139: 13 NABRE).

I think of all those precious humans who have been, and continue to be, individually and systematically devalued and marginalized: black and brown, poor and homeless, refugee and migrant, disabled and mentally ill, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming.

I also think of the many ways we have become (or continue to be) strangers to one another—divided across racial, class and wealth lines, religious and political, urban and rural, cultural, generational, and geographical.

Our world paradoxically both enhances and stymies our human connection, and we suffer for the ways in which our technology, our social segregation, and our media consumption widen the gaps between us and neighbors near and far. As individuals and as a society, we continue to otherize and deny our shared humanity.

But I have hope.

After more than three years of doing this work—learning and teaching about poverty and homelessness, sharing resources and successful models, and catalyzing partnerships—I have seen acts of extraordinary compassion, moments of recognition and deep empathy, and people joining together across difference in the long, hard road toward justice.

This work for justice is the essential progression once we’ve decided to live into our shared humanity with the “stranger.”

In a 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,

We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (King, 1967)

Using the parable of the Good Samaritan, King challenges us to reexamine the meaning of true compassion. If we take our shared humanity and the mandate of the Golden Rule seriously, it follows that we examine and challenge the systems that cause suffering.

Urban planner Peter Marcuse presciently warned in 1988 against the dangers of continuing to simply treat the symptoms of homelessness, which depoliticizes and divorces the issue from its complex structural causes (Marcuse, 1988). Nearly a quarter of a century later, social ethicist (and Center scholar) Laura Stivers has challenged Christian communities and organizations as they approach homelessness to question the neutrality of policies and systems (housing, education, transportation, etc.) that marginalize black and brown individuals and communities: “We do not have a level playing field, and until we uplift those who are routinely disadvantaged by “neutral” attitudes and systems, we cannot equate neutrality with justice” (Stivers, 2011, p. 14). We are called to both charity and justice.

. . .

In the fear-ridden and empathy-depleted era of President Trump, it will be more important than ever to embody King’s vision of true compassion by confronting structural causes.

This begins from a place of solidarity and relationship with our neighbors, as Rev. Craig Rennebohm, author of Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets (2008) and founder of Seattle’s Mental Health Chaplaincy, attests:

In reaching out to the stranger in our own midst, the person we have been taught to fear or ignore or shun or despise, we discover the fundamentals of faith. The pilgrimage of peace does not require travel to faraway sites; the way begins with our next step, with our neighbor who is suffering (p. 9).

 

 

Harris, T. (2017, March 15). Director’s Corner: Remembering Raven Canon. Real Change. Retrieved from http://www.realchangenews.org/2017/03/15/directors-corner-remembering-raven-canon

King, M.L., Jr. (1967, April 4). A Time to Break Silence. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qf6x9_MLD0

Marcuse, P. (1988) “Neutralizing Homelessness.” Socialist Review, 88(1), 69‑97.

Ó Tuama, Pádraig. (2013). “Pedagogy of Conflict.” Sorry for your troubles. Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press.

Rennebohm, C. with Paul, D. (2008) Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets. Boston: Beacon Press.

Stivers, L. (2011) Disrupting Homelessness: Alternative Christian Approaches. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

 

[1] When compared to the general population, people experiencing homelessness, unsurprisingly, “are at greater risk of infectious and chronic illness, poor mental health, and substance abuse” and “have a mortality rate four to nine times higher than those who are not homeless” (CDC, 2016). In 2016, well over 10,000 people (and likely many more) were experiencing homelessness in King County on a single night in January (All Home, 2017), and at least 549,928 were experiencing homelessness across the country (HUD, 2016). But street counts reliably underestimate (Bernstein, 2017), so there almost certainly more than 550,000 people experiencing homelessness nationwide, and millions more living in poverty and with housing instability.

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

International Women’s History Month

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This month is International Women’s History Month, and this week brings International Women’s Day with its theme: Be Bold for Change! This call to change is both an invitation to possibility and a rejection of what has been. For women in religious contexts particularly, there is much to mourn in the history of organized religion and much to lean into toward a preferable future. While most of the major religions in the world have some history of heteropatriarchy woven into their tapestry of expression, Christianity bares a heavy burden in seeking to normalize the marginalization of women in the Western world. From Tertullian’s caricature of Eve as more fleshly and carnal than her male counterpart—thus making her the particular locus of sin—the Church has found a way to make female embodiment a problem (Longfellow 1994). Thereby preferencing the masculine.

Patriarchy is a socio-political system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak—especially women—and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence (hooks 2004). The Bible and other religious texts have often been co-opted and hijacked in the service of patriarchy with the express intent of subjugating women. From the role of women in the family unit to the role of women in ministry, much of the religious rhetoric has denied the equality of woman in such ways to disempower the voice and presence of half the human population. The post-Pauline Church vehemently asserted as norms the patriarchal relations of husband over wife and master over slave so that any countercultural Gospel must be ferreted out. The authentic narrative of Jesus that is an egalitarian vision of the Kindom—a purposeful nod to the anti-imperialistic message of Jesus—must be rescued from the lines of the New Testament. It must be salvaged, in contrast to the patriarchal Church that established the canonical framework for interpreting Christianity (Ruether 1993).

As we mourn the history of women’s plight in organized religion, we look with fresh eyes toward a picture of a better future. What if we radically redefine the way we talk about the Divine? In spite of Western and Christian uneasiness over female imagery for God, since the imago dei is twofold, female as well as male, and yet beyond both, both types of metaphors should be used. Names are important because what we call something, how we name it, is to a great extent what it is to us (McFague 1987). If we began to embrace female imagery and metaphors for God, how radically different we would understand and lift the voices of women in our community. The Quakers as far back as the Reformation included the right to preach and act as lay governors in the spirit of egalitarianism. They wrote that the subjugation of woman was not God’s intent, but represented the sinful distortion of human nature (Ruether 1993).

Indeed, change is possible when we apply a liberative ethic and lens to the work of Justice in the world. Such an approach to bringing together particular and universal moral concerns compels people of faith to engage in an ongoing struggle for sustained and systemic changes in the universal moral agreements about social relationships in our society. Likewise, this effects improvements in the material conditions that help produce these particular problems (West 2006). Our vocation is to let suffering speak, let victims be visible, and let social misery be put on the agenda of those in power (Buschendorf 2014). My prayer as we approach the celebration of women is that we will look at those places where we have betrayed the best of our faith traditions and reclaim the voices of those who have been pushed to the margins.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship

901 12th Avenue, Seattle WA 98122-1090 Office (206) 296-6357  |  donalso1@seattleu.edu  Follow the school on social media: Facebook | Twitter |  Instagram  | YouTube | LinkedIn | Vimeo 

Works Cited
Buschendorf, Cornel West with Christa. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.
hooks, bell. 2004. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.
Longfellow, James B. Nelson and Sandra P., ed. 1994. Sexuality and the Sacred. Louisvile: Westminister/ John Knox Press.
McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1993. Sexism and God-Talk. Boston: Beacon Press.
West, Traci C. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Woman’s Lives Matter. Louisville: John Knox Press.

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

The Present Moment

o-VULNERABILITY-facebookThe opening lines of Michael Eric Dyson’s latest work  tell us that America is in trouble. He goes on to say that everywhere we turn we see discord and division, death and destruction. I think he is absolutely correct (Dyson 2017).  It is true that U.S. history  is fraught with dissonance, and the very DNA of this grand democratic experiment is laden with revolutionary polarities; however, this moment in history exhibits a profound bifurcation that cannot, and should not, be ignored. Amidst the partisan atmosphere where the worst of humanity’s xenophobia seems to have become normalized, the church has the opportunity to be quite radical and countercultural.

We are currently embroiled in some of modernity’s worst problems: mindless relativism, corrosive cynicism, disdain for tradition and human dignity, and indifference to suffering and death. However, we have the opportunity to ensure that our liturgies and worship experiences provide a public space that offers a critique of, and an alternative to, global militarization, the commodification of personhood, multinational corporate greed, racism, patriarchy, and the other failures of love that plague our society.

All positive religions contain three distinct parts: First, a code of morals that is nearly the same in all; second, a geological dream; and, third, a myth or historical novelette, in which the last becomes the most important of all (Buell 2006). I believe that the scripture, at least the Bible as we now have it, is a record of our ancestors in faith seeking to worship God (Spong 1998).  Moments occur in the recorded narrative when those who lived before us got it right, and definite moments are recorded when they missed the mark. We learn what is necessary to be successful in navigating our world by interrogating their attempts in their own contexts.  If we are to take seriously the ancient attempts at worshipping God, we must consider the admonition to the church at Rome not to be conformed to this world. Rather we are told to be transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Here the ancient writer calls the Church to its countercultural work, and asks that we not conform to the ethos of our particular epoch, but rather allow gospel values to lift a prophetic witness against the lower inclinations of our human condition.  Because some components of every culture are dehumanizing and contrary to the gospel message, our worship must transform cultural patterns that idolize the self (or a group), at the expense of the wider human community (Wilkey 2014).

Perhaps God is using the turmoil of this moment to invite the church into a new way of being gospel messengers. It might be that in our current sociopolitical climate we reimagine what is good and right in our praxis as church, holding on to only those practices that redeem. Our hymnody, Eucharistic celebration, and preaching moments should call on each individual to abandon every habit that wars with their physical welfare and moral improvement, and to produce—by appeals to the reason and conscience—the love of inward order that leads to the wellbeing of the collective (Buell 2006). We must ask our congregations key questions upon which the success of our grand social experiment hinges: Can we be equitable? Can we listen deeply? Beyond our intellect? With our heart? Can we offer our attention rather  than our opinions? We seem bifurcated in our intentions, while we long to be generous and equitable, at the same time, we cling jealously to our share (Palmer 2011). As we attempt to live into the mission of the church, my prayer is that we will become the passionately reasoned voice of compassion and justice in the midst of the insanity that is our present moment.

 

Peace Is Possible,

++Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Buell, Lawrence, ed. 2006. The American Transcendetalists. New York: The Modern Library.

Dyson, Michael Eric. 2017. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America . New York: St. Martins Press.

Palmer, Parker J. 2011. Healing The Heart of Democracy. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Black History Shared Destiny

advent 3

Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of Black people in U.S. history. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

Race relations in the United States have been fraught with trouble and a constant source of division in the Christian tradition as a direct result of the Maafa and the deplorable and barbaric system of slavery. It is true that race is an artificial social construction, deliberately imposed upon people to secure their exploitation. In America it has always been an unequal relationship between social aggregates, and in being so, whiteness as a racial identifier is a mark of privilege (Douglas 1999). Known as America’s original sin, slavery and all of its subsequent forms and issues profoundly divided the church. From the beginning of the American slave trade, many slaveholders justified stealing Africans from their homes and enslaving them with claims that they were evangelizing heathens (Douglas, The Black Christ 1994).  These slaveholders rationalized that the brutality of slavery was outweighed by the assurance of salvation. The Black church and Black liberation theology, born from the atrocities of slavery, are among the greatest gifts this nation has given our global community. From the very beginning the slave undertook the redemption of the religion that the master profaned in his midst (J. Cone 2011).

While the whole of the Black church tradition has been instrumental in being a prophetic witness of gospel values, Black liberation theology offers the whole Christian community language about the way Jesus shows up on the side of the marginalized and dispossessed. Black theology recognizes that God, through Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, works with the poor as they learn to love themselves enough to practice their total freedom and create full humanity on earth as it is in Heaven (Hopkins 1999).

In the larger history of Christian theological reflection, Black liberation theology has endeavored to give substance and systemic expression to a theological perspective that sees the work of salvation in the broadest of terms. This work underscores the theme of liberation as the central message of the gospel and the essential work of the church (Warnock 2014). Early Black Liberation theologians needed to find a means to relate the Christian Gospel to the Black experience in a way that did not condemn Black people’s responses to their oppression. These early theologians were working to force theologians from—and the general body of the dominant culture to deal with—Black people’s particularities set in a white supremacist system undergirded by patriarchy (Douglas 1994).

Because Black liberation theology emancipates Black people from white racism by its affirmation of Black humanity, it provides authentic freedom for Black people, white people, and ultimately all people (Lincoln 1974). Black liberation theology asserts that if we are to take seriously the doctrine of imago Dei, then we must recognize that in the created order no individual or group can be held as privileged to “other” another; no racial construct, or premise for marginalization is valid.  The gift of Black liberation theology is that, for all people, it resists all forms of supremacy. As we consider Black History Month, no matter the ethnic composition of your own local parish, it is incumbent upon us to look at the gift of Black liberation theology and seek to understand the way in which it is able to speak to our congregations. The themes of equality, equanimity, and justice are not limited to the fissures of Black/white relations, they are gospel values for all people at all times.  The task of theology is to keep the Biblical community and the contemporary community in constant dialogue—and even tension—so we may speak meaningfully about God (Cone 1986). May this month refresh your hunger for Justice, and your thirst for Righteousness.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 1986. A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Cone, James. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

—. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black theology of Liberaton . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Lincoln, C. Eric. 1974. The Black Church Since Franklin. New York: Shocken Books.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

A Call to Action

together

“Religion is at its best when man [sic] is asked to develop his [sic] power of reason in order to understand himself and his position in the Universe” (Fromm 1978).

All religions that have contributed value to the larger society are in some way rooted in the ethic of neighbor Love. This ethic is deeply embedded in the Christian tradition; the New Testament explicitly claims the very essence of God is Love, and that Love is humanity’s highest expression of Godliness (1 John 4:7&8). We cannot claim to be truly religious, Christian or otherwise, if we are not functioning manifestations of Love!  If God is Love then Love is God. Volumes of books have been written in an attempt to define Love, and it is an endeavor for which people have given both their careers and lives. bell hooks, echoing Erich Fromm and M. Scott Peck, gives an interesting working definition. She claims Love is the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s or another’s spiritual growth. Love is an act of will: both an intention and an action (hooks 2000).

Our nation has been plunged into a crisis of Love.  Executive orders that completely fly in the face of the neighbor Love ethic have caused some  to be diametrically opposed to everything good and right about religion. The preference of one religion over another in the public square amounts to nothing less than xenophobia. People of honest religious fervor cannot be so aligned to nationalism that they fail to offer a prophetic critique of its dangers. If internationalism based in the ethic of neighbor Love had become more powerful in the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the twentieth century would have been less barbaric, less fascistic, and less chauvinistic (Buschendorf 2014).  When nationalism gets in the way of the ethic of neighbor Love, it becomes the most insidious form of idolatry.  White supremacist capitalist patriarchy cannot be allowed to become normalized for people of faith. There must be in every congregation, mosque, temple, and synagogue a radical call for resistance to bigotry, dominance, exclusion, and marginalization of any kind.  If we fail to de-center hate, we have failed to engage society in the best that religion has to offer.

Viable religion is one that has a working reciprocity with the culture that produces it, or with which it interacts (Townes 1995). It is the unique task and privilege of our religious communities in this epoch to bring to the attention of the masses, an ethic of neighbor Love that will redefine humanity and how we relate to one another in our shared global realities.  As I think about my own religious tradition, I have to echo the words of Dr. King that if today’s Church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning (Jr. 2015). We can by no means afford to sit silently sequestered in our houses of worship content with pious emotionalism nor austere intellectualism. Love opens the whole creation up to life and calls things into being. Love deepens relationships and simultaneously expands our humanity. The more we Love we discover that life is interdependent, interconnected, and indivisible (Spong 1998).  The time has come for people of faith to by word and deed speak truth to power. Any religion that professes to be concerned about people’s souls and is not concerned about the slums that cripple those souls—the economic conditions that stagnate the soul, and the governments that may damn the soul—is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion that should immediately be abandoned (Warnock 2014).  It is incumbent upon each faith community to live into a radical hospitality and an ethic of neighbor Love that turns the world upside down.

 

 

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Buschendorf, Cornel West with Christa. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.

Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.

hooks, bell. 2000. All About Love: New Visions. New York: HarperCollins.

Jr., Martin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

 

 

 

Faculty Reflections Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in the early twentieth century in the Roman Catholic Church and spread quickly to Protestant and Orthodox branches of Christianity. In 1948, with the founding of the World Council of Churches, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity became increasingly recognized by different churches throughout the world.

The heartbeat of this week focuses on the Church being united as the universal mystical body of Christ. It finds its roots in the prayer of Jesus that His followers be one in the way He experienced oneness with God (St. John 17:21). Somehow in the pursuit of unity, it has been my experience, we have failed to achieve this oneness and digressed to hegemonic displays filled with invitation to sameness, rather than the beautiful equality of oneness.

When I first encountered The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I often heard that the worship experiences would be a melting pot of all theological, cultural, and racial perspectives and that this would show how we valued the diversity and unity in God.  The problem I found was that much like a true melting pot all the ingredients were expected to lose their unique flavor with the taste and texture of the dominant culture prevailing. When there have been nods toward difference they have often been nothing more than cultural appropriation that ignores the lived realities and experiences that have given birth to the traditions. Sanitizing hymnody is nothing more than a sacrifice on the altar of political correctness; it is not unity. At best it is conformity.

To consider culture in our worship experience is more than changing the picture of Jesus or Mary on the front covers of our worship aids or advertisements.  It is not enough to invite a Gospel choir to sing a selection or two and call it unity. Culture is the basis of all ideas, images, and actions. To move culturally is to move by a set of values given to you by your culture.  The basic criteria for culture include mythology, history, social organization, political organization, creative motif, and ethos (Cone 1997). If our unity services are to be truly reflective of the oneness of the Body of Christ, some weighty matters need to be considered.

As we reimagine the potential of our gatherings for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we might consider the task of the church. Fundamentally the Church refers to the communal gathering around washing, texts, and meal, as these are interpreted as having to do with Jesus Christ, and yet it is so much more (Lathrup 1993).  It is the place where people develop their power of reason to understand themselves, their relationship to others, and their position in the universe in light of the teachings of Jesus (Fromm 1978).  This constitutes an invitation to discover and celebrate not just our differences, our unique gifts, but what makes us different and how those differences play a major part in the whole.

What we should vision for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year and beyond is not so much a melting pot, but perhaps a tossed salad. Each ingredient bringing its own unique flavor separate, distinct, and perfect. When these ingredients come together, they make one delicious offering where no one is diminished and no flavor appropriated. Unity in not about sameness, unity is an act of solidarity. We are called to be one with, even when we are not one of. Seeing and acknowledging the difference allows each to be truly known and understood, while being valuable as a contribution to the whole. Perhaps this week rather than focus on Jesus as coming to die on the cross our attention should be focused on Jesus who showed redemption through a perfect ministerial vision of righting relationships (J. Cone 2011).

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor

Works Cited

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Cone, James. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.

Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Church and Politics

In times of national unrest, it seems to me that people turn their attention to matters of the heart, and churches, mosques, and synagogues become places of refuge from the upheaval of the times.  As the inauguration of a new American president draws near, religious institutions such as churches, seminaries and schools of theology have a unique opportunity to be the voice of comfort, reason, and justice.

Politics is the ancient and honorable endeavor that creates a community in which the weak, as well as the strong, can flourish, love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day (Palmer 2011).  Our task, as practitioners of the sacred, is to assist people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being and even love are discovered, and further to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998). Our corporate worship is indeed in many ways very political; they are experiences of the community, for the community, by the community.

In the Christian tradition the Eucharist has been a visible sign not only of the union between believers and Christ, but also the unity of believers in Christ. In the early church it gave Christians constant access to communion with Christ and also communion and fellowship with one another. It was a sense of mystical unity that crossed all ethnic and socioeconomic borders—neither slave nor free, neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female—a unity that was not abstract, nor was it made by coercion or force.  No political allegiance before had ever achieved this kind of community, nor has it since (Pecknold 2010). At the heart of Christian gathering is that which transcends political reality and reminds each congregant of the humanness of all.

As we navigate the days ahead we are tasked with helping our congregations adjust to a new normal while still holding hope and a picture of a preferable future. We recognize that we will, on this journey, experience a wide range of emotions: surprise, disbelief, excitement, doubt, joy, and also reassurance.  This is a gift to shake up our thinking, engender new insights, and strengthen our commitments. We will be reminded at many points along our journey that our faith is rooted in a paradox, because the cross is a religious symbol that inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, and that the last shall be first and the first last (Cone 2011).

Worship experiences provide us an opportunity to intentionally engage in empowering our community. We make community by creating religious, educational, health care, philanthropic, political, and familial institutions and professional organizations that enable people to survive (Mitchem 2002).  As you think about your local assembly I challenge you to look for the opportunities to make community. Ask yourself how are you responding to the realities of the moment? Are your parishioners experiencing life affirmation? Is your liturgy challenging enough to meet the rigorous demands of the present social milieu?  When you answer these questions you will understand what your work will be going forward.

Peace Is Possible,

+Donalson

 

Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor

 

Works Cited

Cone, James. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis.

Mitchem, Stepahine Y. 2002. Introducing Womanist Theology. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Palmer, Parker J. 2011. Healing The Heart of Democracy. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pecknold, C.C. 2010. Christianity and Politics: A Brief Guide to History. Eugene: Cascade Books.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

 

 

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