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Embracing curiosity: Asking good questions is a crucial index of faith

MOLLY T. MARSHALL  |  SEPTEMBER 18, 2018 BaptistNewsGlobal.com16041

Quite a bit of interest in curiosity suffuses business journals and higher education essays these days. The Harvard Business Review devoted a good chunk of its most recent issue to making the business case for curiosity, contending that it can improve a firm’s adaptability and performance. Key benefits are fewer decision-making errors, more innovation and positive changes, reduced group conflict, and more open communication and better team performance.

As a person who has a complex job leading a seminary, I am heartened to read: “When we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively and have less defensive reactions to stress.” The longer we are in a particular role, the more we need to be vigilant about cultivating curiosity as it usually declines as we settle into predictable strategies. This is true for business people, faith leaders, and educators. Curiosity is not only the province of the scientist or researcher.

Over the past several years articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education have probed the question about the role of curiosity in academic success. Intellectual curiosity is a strong predictor of future academic performance. It is as important as conscientiousness and nearly as important as intelligence itself. A “hungry mind” is of great value, and professors need to find ways to construct learning opportunities that open the door to student discovery. Yet the very demands made by the college admissions process often requires only good grades and concrete service projects, not curious dabbling that might awaken one’s true interests.

Curiosity, it seems, has been an undervalued human attribute, too often squelched as troublesome. It is seen as costing time, at the expense of efficiency. Exploration is too open ended for controlling leaders, especially those who have not cultivated their own inquisitiveness over the years.

When asked about his near miraculous landing on the Hudson River, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger described his passion for continuous learning. In the 208 seconds between discovery of his airplane’s problem and bringing it safely down, he sorted through available options in his mind and decided to act bravely and creatively, as Francesca Gino, a Professor at Harvard Business School reflected (HBR, September-October, 2018, p. 55).

“Christianity may have done more than its share of tamping down the questions it was not sure how to answer.”

Christianity may have done more than its share of tamping down the questions it was not sure how to answer. Famously, when a student asked St. Augustine what God was doing before God created the heavens and the earth, he exasperatedly answered: “God was creating hell for people who asked such questions!”

Asking good questions is a crucial index of faith. When stumped, some teachers have attempted to shush the questioner thereby underscoring that faith is not to be interrogated, or they have offered simplistic answers as a cover for the mystery they could not comprehend. The very nature of faith, however, summons questions, as faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Early in Scripture our human forebears could have profited by asking more questions. When instructed not to eat from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” Adam asked nothing. What was in the mind of the Creator in issuing this prohibition? Do you suppose God had set up a teaching moment, waiting for the curious “why?” Obviously, Adam discussed this with Eve, for when the serpent showed up she was aware of the prohibition. The crafty serpent demonstrates a far more developed curiosity than the fledgling humans. (Irenaeus thought we really expected too much discernment from these recently created beings!)

Rabbinic writing often contrasts Noah with Abraham as each heard the news of impending doom, through a flood and through the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Noah was incurious and just tended to the exact measurements of the ark, his family, and the animal companions. Abraham, on the other hand, did not follow Noah’s lead in thinking he was the only righteous family remaining. Abraham asked God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Then he began to bargain with God about how to preserve as many as possible. His questioning of God’s justice, which God does not rebuke, is seen as a model of “contending with God” that other biblical figures will follow.

“The very nature of faith summons questions.”

The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday recounts Jesus’ teaching about his upcoming betrayal, death, and resurrection. “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32). Evidently, they had been arguing about who was the greatest, and they totally missed an opportunity to ask serious questions about how their Teacher was seeking to interpret the future outcome of his ministry.

Curiosity purportedly “killed the cat” — a tired and unlikely adage. Surely life is far more interesting and faithful if we explore how this world works and our spiritual place within it, especially the relationship between divine and human agency.

I think that would make God smile.

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Lord Give Me Patience and Make It Snappy – Rev. Susan Sparks

Hi Y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger!

First — a word of concern for our brothers and sisters in the path of Hurricane Florence. Let us pray for their safety and wellbeing.

Now — let me share a message . . .

Our modern society can best be described in three words: fast, immediate, and instant! We speed walk, speed dial, and speed date. We disdain anything that takes extra time, including the US mail, which we affectionately call “snail mail” (an ironic nickname, given that 150 years ago, mail delivered by horseback was called “the pony express”).

We even speed pray. Recently, while waiting in an inordinately long line at the DMV, I mumbled through gritted teeth, “Lord, give me patience.” Almost without thinking, I then added, “And make it snappy!”

It’s hard to have patience in a sound bite world. That said, it is a virtue worth cultivating. We see this lesson over and over in scripture.

Consider Hebrews 12:1: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”In short, life’s a marathon, so pace yourself.

Patience may be one of the best things we can do for our stamina and our health. Exhibit A: my Dad, Herb. A twentieth-century Buddha with a North Carolina accent, Herb was never in a hurry. Nothing ruffled him, and nothing phased him. His heart rate stayed the same through thick and thin (roughly seven beats per minute). Even though he lived on a diet of fried chicken, cream gravy, Frito scoops, and pecan pie, Herb made it to the ripe old age of 89. Why? Because he was patient. It’like the old saying goes, “It’s better to be patient than to become one.”

Patience also brings perspective. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Similar advice came from a partner in my old law firm. He used to say, “always wait twenty-four hours before firing off an angry response.” That suggestion has saved me from much unnecessary angst.

How many times have you fired off an email or a text in a knee-jerk reaction that you regretted, or spewed out words that you wish you could take back? With the buffer of time, you might have been able to see the issue or the person differently. In the end, what’s the downside of waiting to respond? If it’s that big of an issue, it’ll be there tomorrow.

The opportunity for growth is perhaps the most important gift we receive from practicing patience. The Bible says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters . . . See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains” (James 5:7)Its too bad that we don’t treat others like farmers treat their crops, enabling their growth through patient tending.

Too often we get impatient with people—finishing their sentences, tuning out if they take too long to tell a story, or taking over their jobs if they don’t do the work quickly enough or in the way that we want.

The author Paulo Coelho tells the story of a man watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. The man decides to help the butterfly by cutting open the cocoon to free it. What he fails to realize is that the effort required to break free from the cocoon is nature’s way of strengthening the butterfly’s wings. By trying to accelerate the process, the man destroys the butterfly’s ability to fly.

Similarly, we can clip people’s wings through our own impatience. It takes time for things and people to strengthen and grow into their potential. We must have patienceto allow them that room.

This week, when you feel your patience waning, ask yourself: is this worth my health? In twenty-four hours, will my perspective change? Is this something or someone that needs extra time to develop fully?

Patience is a virtue worth cultivating. Try it. Just breathe. Take a beat before you respond. Be gentle with those you love. And if all else fails, then use this simple prayer to get you started: “Lord give me patience . . . and make it snappy!”

(This piece was featured as a nationally syndicated column for GateHouse Media. To read this and other columns,click here!)

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Dear Judge Kavanaugh: Jennifer Hawks – BaptistsNewsGlobal.com

SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

As a fellow attorney who – like you – takes my faith seriously and is actively engaged in my congregation, I am sure we have much in common. However, we seem to disagree about the robust way that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, alongside the Free Exercise Clause, has protected religious liberty in our country and permitted religious dissenting groups – including Baptists and Catholics – to thrive.

The institutional separation of religion and government is a foundational aspect of our democracy, one deeply rooted in our shared history and experience.

In reviewing your record, I was disappointed to learn that you think the metaphor of a wall of separation is “wrong as a matter of law and history.” Admittedly, all metaphors are imperfect; yet, good metaphors are one of the best ways to conceptualize an abstract idea. As a religious liberty advocate, constitutional attorney and ordained Baptist minister, I urge you to reconsider the metaphor you’ve disparaged.

The wall metaphor was first articulated by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America. He said that a wall was needed to protect the “garden of the Church” from the “wilderness of the world.” Church and state governed two different realms, and neither would ever truly succeed if distracted by the ultimate concerns of the other. President Thomas Jefferson famously picked up the metaphor and used it to reassure Baptists in Connecticut that the new constitutional government would indeed protect their religious freedom.

“For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.”

Separating the institutions of religion and government ensures that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship do not rise or fall based on compliance with state-sanctioned religion. The institutional wall provided space for our dissenting religious ancestors to seek converts and pass their religious teachings down to current generations. It is up to the people, not the government, to teach our respective faith traditions to future generations. For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.

This is why the concept of a wall of separation worked for Roger Williams and President Jefferson – and still works today. The wall does not keep people of faith from the public square but separates institutional control. There is debate about the application of “the wall,” but it is certainly not “bad history,” nor is it useless in modern debates.

“It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray.”

Judge Kavanaugh, we see this in our public schools. I imagine that, like myself and millions of other Americans, you place a high value on the power of prayer and see it as a conversation with God. I know that you and I agree that public school students have the right to individually and collectively pray on school grounds. What I am unsure of is whether you also agree that students have the right to choose not to pray. It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray. Even between us Christians, there is a vast difference between typical Catholic prayers and typical Baptist prayers, let alone the prayers of non-Christian faiths. A government institution should never be allowed to force any of us, much less children in state-run schools, into religious observance.

Colonial Baptists, Catholics and other dissenters endured imprisonment, whippings, fines and other forms of state-sanctioned religious persecution so that each American could voluntarily choose to be a person of faith or not. As members of the American legal community who value our respective faith traditions, we must remember and continue to honor those sacrifices by taking seriously – and enforcing robustly – both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

America has never been united by a single religion, but in the Constitution we secured unity in a commitment to religious freedom for all people. Separation of church and state is good for both.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jennifer Hawks
Associate General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Libertyge Kavanaugh, the wall of separation is worth defending
OPINIONJENNIFER HAWKS | SEPTEMBER 4, 2018

26344
Dear Judge Kavanaugh:

As a fellow attorney who – like you – takes my faith seriously and is actively engaged in my congregation, I am sure we have much in common. However, we seem to disagree about the robust way that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, alongside the Free Exercise Clause, has protected religious liberty in our country and permitted religious dissenting groups – including Baptists and Catholics – to thrive.

The institutional separation of religion and government is a foundational aspect of our democracy, one deeply rooted in our shared history and experience.

In reviewing your record, I was disappointed to learn that you think the metaphor of a wall of separation is “wrong as a matter of law and history.” Admittedly, all metaphors are imperfect; yet, good metaphors are one of the best ways to conceptualize an abstract idea. As a religious liberty advocate, constitutional attorney and ordained Baptist minister, I urge you to reconsider the metaphor you’ve disparaged.

The wall metaphor was first articulated by Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America. He said that a wall was needed to protect the “garden of the Church” from the “wilderness of the world.” Church and state governed two different realms, and neither would ever truly succeed if distracted by the ultimate concerns of the other. President Thomas Jefferson famously picked up the metaphor and used it to reassure Baptists in Connecticut that the new constitutional government would indeed protect their religious freedom.

“For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.”

Separating the institutions of religion and government ensures that the rights and responsibilities of citizenship do not rise or fall based on compliance with state-sanctioned religion. The institutional wall provided space for our dissenting religious ancestors to seek converts and pass their religious teachings down to current generations. It is up to the people, not the government, to teach our respective faith traditions to future generations. For faith to be vital, it must be voluntary and uncoerced.

This is why the concept of a wall of separation worked for Roger Williams and President Jefferson – and still works today. The wall does not keep people of faith from the public square but separates institutional control. There is debate about the application of “the wall,” but it is certainly not “bad history,” nor is it useless in modern debates.

“It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray.”

Judge Kavanaugh, we see this in our public schools. I imagine that, like myself and millions of other Americans, you place a high value on the power of prayer and see it as a conversation with God. I know that you and I agree that public school students have the right to individually and collectively pray on school grounds. What I am unsure of is whether you also agree that students have the right to choose not to pray. It is not the role of the state educational institution to dictate religious conformity by telling students when or how to pray. Even between us Christians, there is a vast difference between typical Catholic prayers and typical Baptist prayers, let alone the prayers of non-Christian faiths. A government institution should never be allowed to force any of us, much less children in state-run schools, into religious observance.

Colonial Baptists, Catholics and other dissenters endured imprisonment, whippings, fines and other forms of state-sanctioned religious persecution so that each American could voluntarily choose to be a person of faith or not. As members of the American legal community who value our respective faith traditions, we must remember and continue to honor those sacrifices by taking seriously – and enforcing robustly – both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.

America has never been united by a single religion, but in the Constitution we secured unity in a commitment to religious freedom for all people. Separation of church and state is good for both.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jennifer Hawks
Associate General Counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

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Churches, wake up and smell the coffee: communion with a cup of joe?

BRETT YOUNGER  |  AUGUST 28 Baptistnewsglobal.com

“Should we say something to her?”

“It’s not her fault. She didn’t grow up in church.”

The object of concern brought a cup of coffee into the sanctuary and set it down on the pew as if it was acceptable behavior. The troubled church members tried to let her know telepathically that coffee is not allowed in the sanctuary. How could she miss the invisible line beyond which a cup of joe is not permitted?

But how could the church not see that in a world that is asleep, coffee is no doze?

Coffee appears only two times in The Message Bible: “Never again will friends drop in for coffee” (Job 7:10) and “Wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee” (Luke 17:8).  Imagine how many times “coffee” would be in the concordance if Jesus had thought to change water into cappuccinos at the wedding in Cana.

“Imagine how many times ‘coffee’ would be in the concordance if Jesus had thought to change water into cappuccinos at the wedding in Cana.” 

Opening the church to coffee drinkers has been a long, difficult struggle. Coffee dates back to the 15th century and the Sufi monasteries of Yemen. One legend is that the mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili was traveling in Ethiopia. He saw birds acting unusually lively, and upon trying the berries that the birds had been eating, experienced the same vitality. Coffee was soon part of religious practice in the Islamic world. The Sufis used the beverage to keep themselves alert during nighttime devotions and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God.

Because Muslims loved coffee, several Christian groups, including The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, made a big brouhaha and banned coffee. Mormons still avoid this potion made with magic beans.

Churches need to wake up and smell the coffee. When I ask Siri to “find coffee” she lists four places within 800 feet of my house. Our neighborhood has more coffee shops than churches.

Coffee is the most important meal of the day for many. In the midst of the daily grind, coffee is invigorating. A yawn is a silent scream for coffee. Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation. Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven and tastes like hopes and dreams.

When we are holding a cup of coffee, the warmth radiates through our hands. The aroma drifts through the air. The cream goes into black coffee and magically changes it into good-to-the-last-drop caramel. This sensual experience helps our sleepy selves greet the day with gratitude. We reflect on what we now have the energy to achieve.

“We should take our coffee seriously and joyfully. We should fill our churches with sugar and cream, sweetness and light.”

Worship would be less lively without a cup of joy. We can tell a lot about a church from how they caffeinate worshippers. My parents’ Baptist church is Folgers. Unitarians drink fair trade coffee. Mennonites have Keurig committees that wash and recycle those little cups. Presbyterians fill their fellowship halls for the sacrament of coffee hour. Catholics serve decaf at midnight mass. Sharing coffee is a way of saying, “We love you a latte.”

Church should be a place for common ground and a home to hang your mug. “Bible study” is less enticing than “Coffee and Bible study.” Nominating committees should choose a church barista.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?” is an offer of friendship. Coffee turns a counseling session into a conversation between friends. Saying “yes” to coffee at the end of a meal is a promise to hang around.

Here is a question that needs to percolate: would coffee be a better symbol for communion? Grape juice is dull. Wine puts you to sleep. Coffee refreshes, revives and stimulates. The Lord’s Table could be a coffee table. If we drank coffee at communion, we could get rid of those tiny shot glasses. Picture the communion cup holders on the backs of pews becoming real cup holders. Coffee would be a fine symbol for the enlivening of the Spirit that happens at the table.

We should take our coffee seriously and joyfully. We should fill our churches with sugar and cream, sweetness and light.

 

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