Center for Religious Wisdom and World Affairs

Happy_Passover

 

This week Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry will convene the inaugural symposium of The Center for Religious Wisdom and World Affairs.  Everyone on campus is infused with a palpable excitement about the collaboration of faculty, students, staff, scholars and religious leaders from around world and their engagement of the subject of homelessness. The Center synthesizes three resources – civically engaged academic scholarship, faith-based action and theological education.  It seeks to help faith-based leaders and activists become more thoughtful in their social action; scholars to become more relevant in their research and attentive to practical application of their thought; and students to learn from this interchange and become smart and effective “public” theologians capable of presenting the wisdom of religious traditions to the broader community.

 

As we move into the launch of this new and innovative endeavor I am curious about whether or not our liturgies in our faith communities take seriously this idea of religious wisdom engaging world affairs?  Does the hymnody of the week speak to the news cycle of that week, while at the same time address the broad existential realities of the human condition?  Is the preaching informing a response to moral questions about the economy or military acts? If the church is a community of people bond together by their willingness to journey into the meaning and mystery of God, then should not our corporate worship experiences be directed toward the meaning of God as it relates to our present realities (Spong 2001)?  This work of engaging society in gospel values that the new center is undertaking should be a part of the work of every local congregation.

 

I believe our world would change drastically if only the wisdom found in our religious traditions was lifted to the forefront of public discourse. Postmodern culture is one where social identity is formed through mass –mediated images and where culture and economy have merged to form a single sphere (hooks 1990). The mass media dwells on and perpetuates an ethic of domination and violence because our image makers have more intimate knowledge of these realities than they have with the realities of love  (hooks 2000).  Every major religion has some teaching on self-love and neighbor love, these values alone have the potential of reshaping our world toward a more just and humane society.   If the work of the image makers was informed by a love ethic they would consider it important to think critically about the images they are creating. The shape of our culture would be completely different if religion and its values began to inform how we think and act in everyday life.

Eric Lincoln suggests that viable religion has a working reciprocity with the culture that produces it or with which it interacts (Lincoln 1984). What causes us to be a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple that is alive, vibrant, and engaged in relevant work, is our ability to present a clear message of how our spiritual tradition offers a preferable picture of society. We become prophetic as a people when we threaten culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads (Pearce 2002). There is a need to revitalize the prophetic witness of religion in today’s culture, and endeavors such as The Center for Religious Wisdom and World Affairs are powerful answers to that call. I wonder what it would look like for our local congregations to engage the work of public witness in ways that lift gospel values to the forefront of public discourse?  How would the sociopolitical landscape of our cities, states and country be different if we took seriously the task of emphasizing in the commons the best values and norms of our various religious traditions? This week as you contemplate the liturgical life of your local community I invite you to ask these and other questions that will spur an active engagement in the betterment of the world.

 

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

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

—. 1990. Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End Press.

Lincoln, C.Eric. 1984. Race, Religion, and the Continuing American Dilemma. New York: Hill and Wang.

Pearce, Joseph Clinton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street press.

Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.

 

 

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Liturgies of Resistance

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Any liturgical moment that intentionally decenters imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy as norm and gives voices from the margins room to speak is a liturgy of resistance. Practicing Christians are identified by their involvement with the symbols of particular Christian traditions. There are many Christianities based on the many engagements with ancient text. These ways of being Christian are lived through the patterned symbolic activity that we call ritual or liturgy. It is our liturgies that embody the main theological teachings of our traditions (Empereur 2002). This is the place where the conversation begins for my upcoming course at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. As we consider the one set of interlocking political systems that are foundational to our nation’s politics; and we live in a political climate where so much of our populace is being impacted by the collision and/or collusion of these systems, those of us who take ecclesiology seriously must create spaces where resistance takes center stage (hooks 2004). Liturgy is about ritual; it is about holy actions. Christian liturgy is particularly a volunteer gathering of diverse people in local communities enacting a shared vision that always carries public meaning (Lathrup 1993).

Our worship gatherings are some of America’s most intense moments of ritual. Ritual provides the actions and forms through which people meet, carry out social activities, celebrate, and commemorate (Empereur 2002). In this way liturgy lends itself to be a site of prophetic resolve or resistance. I believe that the heart of the gospel is found in Jesus’ message of radical welcome; he consistently identifies with those on the margins. This message of liberation is a prophetic critique of the society which Jesus encountered as well as the world we face today. The tasks of our liturgies, then, is to empower the community of those gathered to engage the principles of Jesus message of liberation. In this way the church becomes a real, visible, embodied presence of Christ’s body in the world, i.e., the sacramental presence of God on earth as it is in Heaven (Pecknold 2010).

We live in an epoch that demands a countercultural prophetic critique of the systems of domination that threaten to hamper human flourishing. Our liturgical moments must involve the transformation of cultural patterns that idolize the self or the local group at the expense of a wider humanity, or give central place to the acquisition of wealth at the expense of the care of the earth and its poor (Wilkey 2014). Our conversation on May 30-June 2 will focus on strategies of resistance from the past and present, with an eye toward the future. Whether it be the music selection, the text for preaching, or the drama presentation in your local church context, each can be a transformative countercultural moment of resistance. Often our resistance is as simple as changing the lyrics of a hymn that excludes our siblings based on gender or that dismisses our siblings based on race. Our resistance can be as profound as changing the bread we serve at the moment of communion. Wherever we discover systems of oppression, domination, or subjugation that marginalize, disenfranchise, and alienate people from experiencing the fullness of human flourishing, the Church is called to rituals of resistance. This week ask yourself and your worship planning team in what way will our liturgy allow the suffering to speak?

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
Empereur, James L. 2002. Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company.
hooks, bell. 2004. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.
Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Pecknold, C.C. 2010. Christianity nd Politics: A Brief Guide to History. Eugene: Cascade Books.
Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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The Cross and the Resurrection

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For millions around the world this week marks the apex of the Christian calendar. This Sunday is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, also known as Easter. In many circles there is much contention about the association that Easter may have with pagan celebrations or the Jewish holiday of Passover;, however, the Council of Nicaea settled the formula for determining the date of Easter in 325AD and completely Christianized the celebration, centering it in the Jesus narrative (Davidson 2005).

The story of the resurrection is central to the Christian faith and holds powerful imagery of possibility and potential. It is an invitation to radical newness and boundless hope that resonates with our shared human drive toward generativity. It beckons us to take seriously the mystery of life and the ways in which our lives are transitory. Resurrection is a consolation to Christians of the shared affirmation that death is not the end. Yet this radical newness comes at an expense; for with every resurrection there is a preceding death. This resurrection narrative speaks to us of a new embodiment; a new way of being human in the world.

The resurrection of Jesus is no exception; it is as expensive as it is glorious. The crucifixion of Jesus, commemorated this Friday and known as( Good Friday), is a horrific scene of epic proportions. It is described as that moment so disturbing that the sun refused to shine and God turned God’s self away so as not to behold the tragedy of the moment. The message and paradox of the cross and resurrection ground us in “deep time” – which encompasses all time, past and future, geological and cosmological, and not just our little time or culture. The deep time connection somehow orients the psyche, gives perspective, realigns us, and grounds us in a narrative of triumph over tragedy (Rohr 2011).

What unites the tragedy of the cross with the triumph of the resurrection is an inversion of the world’s value system; that is, with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, and suffering and death do not have the last word. The cross calls out our desire for justice— and the empty grave fulfills the requirement. The occupied execution tree and the empty tomb work together to show that even in the face of the worst of humanity’s worst behavior, there is always an unquenchable ontological thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning (Cone 2011).

Life is a series of expanding frontiers. Every crossing is something of a death and resurrection (Spong 1993). A new way of being in the world requires a no to what was and a yes to the possibilities of what can be. In our current sociopolitical moment this sacred dance between the occupied cross and the empty tomb—which sees Jesus falsely imprisoned, undergo a sham of a trial, get convicted and sentenced to execution by torture,— exhibits the power of the resurrection with more potency than ever. Surely it is insanity in the face of massive evil and global destruction that we miss the opportunity to lift the hope of resurrection. As an American I am profoundly aware that of the American prison industrial complex holds the largest incarcerated population percentage of citizens in the free world and I ask myself and my faith community if we are holding hope this Easter for the resurrection of those we have labeled convicts? Is it possible that this Easter celebration we might take the bombings happening around the world, whether at the hands of citizens or governments, as an invitation to seek for new ways of being human in the world?

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. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Davidson, Ivor J. 2005. A Public Faith: From Constatine to the Medevil World. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks .
Rohr, Richard. 2011. Falling Upward. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Spong, John Shelby. 1993. This Hebrew Lord. New York: HarperOne.

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Liberation Sunday, The Invitation of Palm Sunday

741bcd727efaaffcd7bd9581ef50216b_clipart-palm-sunday-graphic-clipart-palm-sunday_2400-1159This Sunday all over the world Christian churches will celebrate Palm Sunday. Some referring to it as the Triumphal Entry, it is the day we set aside to commemorate the final entry of Jesus and his disciples into the Holy city of Jerusalem. In many traditions churches will pass out Palms and people will sing songs of celebration. This is for some, one of the most festive times of the year where the church is decorated in special colors and other visual cues reminding congregants of majesty and glory of the Christian faith. For some there will be pomp and pageantry, and some may even present the celebration in ways that have imperial and militaristic undertones.

 

With all this celebration, I wonder if we are remembering anything at all? I wonder if in our time of celebration we take pause to consider the radical otherness of Jesus? Jesus was a member of a minority group in the midst of a larger dominant and controlling group. How many churches will remind congregants of the historical setting in which Jesus grew up, the psychological mood, or the economic and social predicament of Jesus’ family (Thurman 1976)? Are we in our congregations having discussions of the embodiment of Jesus who knew intimately refugee status, occupation and colonization, social regulation and control (Copeland 2010). Do we remember that the triumphant entry was a political satire? The Jewish people, the people of Jesus were not just trying to survive in terms of economic viability, they were in a fight for their culture and faith. Roman military intimidation and brutality coupled with Herodian economic exploitation and taxation uprooted and displaced people from their land, forced them into debt, and occupations less than what was indicative of their capacity. This celebration of Palms was a genius and most creative act of resistance. This was a clear moment where an oppressed people exercised self-determination. The Romans were famous for their parades of militaristic might, oft times amidst Jewish feasts and celebrations and here is Jesus mocking the horses and chariots of Rome while the whole Jewish community came out to cheer!  Here he who is born in poverty unhinges the relationship between the underpriviledged and the privileged. Here in this moment without wealth or military might, Jesus becomes a King by being proximate with those who are on the underside of power.

 

In this time when so many people in our world are suffering under the interlocking sociopolitical systems of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy a fresh look at the person and work of Jesus may be precisely what we need (hooks 2004). Perhaps this year we are being invited to turn our celebrations from spectacles into deep rituals by lifting up the radical nonnormativity of Jesus. Ritual is that ceremonial act that carries with it meaning and significance beyond what appears, while spectacle functions primarily as entertaining dramatic display (hooks 1992). This may hurt our liberal sense of erasure by forcing us to actually see those members of our communities who are disinherited. This may injure our conservative pietistic ego’s need to hyper-spiritualize the memory of Jesus. This is an invitation that may cost us.  Liberation theologies of all sorts have focused on reformulated patterns of communal ritual as one primary bearer of the hope of liberation; perhaps this Sunday in our churches can be for us Liberation Sunday (Lathrup 1993). A holy Sunday of resistance; the kind of resistance that takes seriously the person and work of Jesus. My prayer is that in each celebration the church will find a way to offer the exploited and oppressed a vision of freedom that is linked to the struggle to end systems of domination in the world.

 

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

Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.

—. 2004. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.

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

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited. Boston: Beacon Press.

 

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