Archive for category Christian Civility

Civility or incivility, an alternative for the Church: ‘communionism’

As culture demands civility or incivility, an alternative for the Church: ‘communionism’

ERIC MINTON  |  JULY 20, 2018 BaptistNewsGlobal

The partisan bloodbath currently passing as our national political discourse has led to renewed discussion over the act of discussion – how we should go about dealing with our ever-widening differences. Some of us advocate for a new civility, one that seeks to dig out one another’s humanity from underneath the mountains of memes we now use to punctuate our preferred political positions. Which, in this post-apocalyptic-Ridley-Scott-directed-Presidency, comes across a bit like Lord Grantham clucking his tongue at a hastily re-arranged coterie of deck chairs on the Titanic. It seems glib, condescending and aloofly privileged in a world where there are children sleeping in cages near the border.

Others of us clamor for all-out-war on the “enemy,” with whom we live daily or see at holidays or worship alongside weekly. According to this thinking, blood has already been spilled by someone else, and when the Visigoths are at the city walls all appeals for decorum and proper protocols are sacrificed on the altar of our hemorrhaging and smoking democracy. In my experience I’ve found it difficult to ferret out the “truth” or the “facts” once the dopamine kicks in following my release of a string of self-righteous, ad-hominem sentence fragments.

I’m saying this too seems glib, condescending and aloofly privileged in a world where there are children sleeping in cages near the border.

Now that we’ve exhausted ourselves by either endlessly tone-policing or cathartically releasing our animosity into the ether of our broken national conversation, perhaps we might finally be ready for the world’s worst question most often posed by the world’s worst “therapist,” Dr. Phil: “Well, how’s that workin’ for ya?”

“Our raging incivility – or cool civility – isn’t very effective in keeping children out of cages, families out of poverty or your aunt from refusing to come home for Christmas because of your grandfather’s preferred news outlet.”

From where I sit, our raging incivility – or cool civility – isn’t very effective in keeping children out of cages, families out of poverty or your aunt from refusing to come home for Christmas because of your grandfather’s preferred news outlet. Which begs the question, is there a third option between civility and incivility that we’re too emotionally dis-regulated or cynically withdrawn to recognize?

In his initial correspondence to the early Christian community in Corinth, the Apostle Paul famously invoked “Communion” as a way of bringing this disjointed first-century community together. Here he is, blogging from the nearby city of Ephesus: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” . . . 

Paul ends the paragraph rather ominously: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

The Gospel of Luke’s account of that same meal echoes Paul’s (chronologically) earlier treatment: “. . . And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”

 Again, the closing line, this time from Jesus, is telling: “‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.’”

For most of my life, whenever folks attempted to prove Jesus’ divinity, they typically led with the miraculously sacrificial nature of his death on the cross and his tomb-clearing follow-up album, “The Resurrection (Part 1).” But then I read about how Jesus ate a whole meal with people who had known him for years and still misunderstood what he was trying to do, why he was trying to do it and what it meant for them and everyone else. One of them was so desperately misguided and politically motivated that he even sold Jesus out for money.

Yet, there our Lord was, supping with them all the same.

As I’ve gotten older and survived more than a few contentious Thanksgivings, I’ve come to realize that the Last Supper isn’t some boring intro we survive once a quarter in order to remember some othermiraculous part of Jesus’ life. Communion is the miraculous part.

The fact that a God (which is what we believe Jesus to be in the flesh) could stand to be misunderstood to the point of death by 12 people who would then be responsible to carry on his work after he was goneis beyond comprehension. A few towns over, in Babylon, they believed their God literally created the earth by ripping another monster in two (it’s an awesome story).

In America we believe our God has all the words – especially the best ones.

And in that rented room 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, before the dry ice and laser lights of Easter, we find out that the Christian God is totally okay with people missing the point about who he is and what he’s here to do. It seems like he even sort-of expects it.

Perhaps, then, Jesus’ invitation to “do this” over bread and wine wasn’t to hermetically seal his words and actions behind a veil of professionalism, theology and traditionalism. What if, instead, the “do this” is for the whole of humanity to look one another in the eyes over good bread and better wine as a way of bringing all of us concretely back to the realization that there is something elemental – sacramental, even – about the fact that we all live on bread and wine, even if we give up or give in or misunderstand the way of Jesus. Or if we have different political ideas that cause us to sell him out again and again.

We all hunger and thirst, and Jesus just keeps breaking himself open and pouring himself out again and again.

As a way of bringing proper acknowledgment to the extremely radical (and unpopular) nature of just this kind of dinner, we might be better served by changing its rather tepid title from the Lord’s Supper to something almost blasphemous: communionism.”

“Communionism” is a practice demanding that followers of a misunderstood God engage in concrete solidarity across tradition, political identity, geography, theology, socio-economic status, ethnicity and what Paul later called “the dividing wall of hostility” in order to bring a whole new world into being – together. A world that begins with bread, wine and a shared commitment to surviving difference together, not by ignoring it or sacrificing it, but by looking it in the eye and washing its feet and passing the plate.

Honestly, what sounds more like Jesus to you: only participating in religious rituals with people who have the appropriate credentials? Or breaking bread and pouring wine with people who sold you out and abandoned you and constantly misunderstand you and your motives?

These days it seems as if our polarized and violent civilization could use more followers of Jesus radically committed to bravely eating with difference, even if the difference is almost impossible to bear. To commune together, even when there’s good reason for withdrawn civility and hostile incivility, seems a miraculously unlikely experience – one that requires profound faith.

Which is probably why the Church has spent the majority of its life protecting the metaphor instead of practicing its meaning.

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Bless Our Boat – Jo Turner – St. Alban’s Episcopal Church

June 26, 2018
Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson relayed the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee, and their boat was swamped during a squall. There were certainly messages of theological importance in the reading, but what grabbed me was feeling swamped. This last week, perhaps like you, I felt morally buffeted, splintered, frightened, and emotionally swamped.
Thank goodness I was in church for the lovely bilingual service, where something marvelous happened. Sitting in the choir’s front row, singing the communion hymn God Is Love, I was acutely aware of all the people passing in front of me on their way to the Lord’s Table: beautiful golden toddlers, fairly racing their parents to the altar; senior parishioners struggling to make it up the steps; our Spanish speaking worshippers, some equipped with little English and seeking reassurance of safety; couples whose loving relationships had been illegal and demeaned not too long ago; newcomers; parishioners in mourning or with life-limiting illnesses; friends of all shades and accents reaching out in affectionate greeting . . . .
God is Love: and he enfoldeth
all the world in one embrace;
with unfailing grasp he holdeth
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
then they find that selfsame aching
deep within the heart of God.
Hymn 379, 2nd verse
I sang the hymn with a lump in my throat and tears welling up. Surely this is how the Kingdom of God appears. Thank God we are all in this boat together, and Jesus is with us in the storm. May we remember that God’s peace is present if we seek it, and may we bear witness to that peace with faith.
God is Love: and though with blindness
sin afflicts the souls of all,
God’s eternal loving-kindness
holds and guides us when we fall.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love for ever
o’er the universe must reign.

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Faith: A Journey for All – Jimmy Carter – ethicsdaily.com

 

Mitch Carnell – 

'Faith: A Journey for All' | Mitch Carnell, Jimmy Carter, Book Reviews, Baptists, Social Justice

Jimmy Carter comes down solidly on the side of social justice with our obligations to the poor and disenfranchised at the forefront, Carnell says. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

One of my birthday presents this year was accompanied by a great compliment.

My son gave me Jimmy Carter’s new book, “Faith: A Journey for All,” and said, “Dad, this sounds like you.”

It was an over-the-top compliment, but I sincerely hope that it is true.

There is not much that surprises in this new volume, but it does remind me of the Baptist faith that surrounded me in my formative years.

Yes, segregation was in full flower, but, even then, it was beginning to fray at the edges.

My parents were products of their time and place, but to their everlasting credit, they never taught my sister and me to hate. They knew that we would not live in the same world that they had experienced.

The message of love for all people was preached from the pulpit every Sunday, just not practiced toward the local African-American population. One of the great ironies was that we took our offering to support missions for those living in Africa.

Carter touches on all of the hot-button issues, especially the struggles within the Southern Baptist Convention that moved this great body from a position where the Bible was the only creed to a hard-and-fast creedal denomination.

The before-unassailable belief in soul competence of the individual was trampled along with the time-honored independence of the local congregation.

Carter says that three words describe this type of fundamentalism: pride, domination and exclusion.

He contrasts these views with the teachings of Jesus: humility, servanthood of leaders and breaking down barriers between people.

The most important statement in the book is, “Christians should be known by our love and our laughter.”

Carter’s love for every human being and the planet shines through loud and clear.

Considering the current arguments against social justice, Carter comes down solidly on the side of social justice with our obligations to the poor and disenfranchised at the forefront.

The press often wondered how such a spirit like Jimmy Carter’s could emerge from what most considered a dark, provincial, unsophisticated background.

If one grew up in the same Southern Baptist churches at the time that Carter and I did, it is not a mystery.

The gospel lessons were presented in such a way that they took hold in a receptive soul.

There was no doubt in my young mind that God loves every human being. The problem was reconciling the teachings with the practices I saw around me.

Jimmy Carter had the great influence of his mother and her social involvement as a model.

In addition to his mother, he was greatly influenced by the theological writings of Karl Barth, William Sloane Coffin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Joshua Herschel, Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich.

He also gives great credit for his way of thinking to Millard and Linda Fuller, Dr. Bill Foege and Admiral Hyman Rickover.

One name on his list of influencers that surprises me is that of his brother, Billy. He pays great tribute to him.

Carter has taught Sunday School classes for most of his adult life. He has written extensively about his faith and has practiced his humanity before the entire world.

In this book, he states his basic philosophy very succinctly, “My general attitude toward life is that of thanksgiving and joy, not anxiety or fear. In my weekly Bible lessons at our church, I teach that our Creator God is available at any moment to any of us for guidance, solace, forgiveness or to meet other personal needs.”

He also emphasizes the importance of prayer in his life. At 93 years old, Jimmy Carter states, “Faith is not just a noun, but a verb.”

I cannot recommend this book too highly. Reading it and reflecting on its contents constitute pure joy.

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.

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Preach Like a Girl – Susan Sparks – Madison Avenue Baptist Church

I knew I was called to be a preacher at six years old. While there were many signs, the clearest was my weekly Saturday night ritual of lining up an audience of stuffed animals so that I could do some preachin’ based on the Sunday School lesson for the next day. The animals seemed to love it.  My Southern Baptist Church home, however, did not.

It all came to a head one hot July day when our Vacation Bible School teacher asked our class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I flung up my hand and quickly announced that I was going to be a preacher. The teacher sighed, looked over her reading glasses, and curtly spit out the message that literally changed the trajectory of my life: “Susan, God only calls men to preach.”

What else can you do at six years old when you hear such words?

You change your dream.

So, I decided to become a lawyer (same job as a preacher, just different clients).

I spent ten years as a litigator, but the voice from that tiny preacher kept circling back and eventually became too strong to ignore. At age 38, I joined the American Baptist Church, a denomination that ordains women, and entered seminary.

Yet here in 2018, after ten years as a trial lawyer, two graduate degrees, an honors thesis in seminary and twelve years as the Senior Pastor of a historic Baptist congregation, I am still not allowed to preach in that Southern Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I grew up.

Why?

Because I’m a woman.

As a lawyer, I can’t help but scratch my head at the logic. The Southern Baptists have no problem with women on the U.S. Supreme Court. They are happy to send a woman into space as an astronaut. Heck, they would have put Sarah Palin in the White House (bless their hearts, as we would say in the South).

But a woman preacher—in a pulpit?

No. Way.

Their argument is that scripture excludes women from ordination and leadership. Of course, all those who interpret that scripture within the Southern Baptist Church are . . . men. So, how does that work?

Their position hangs on a literal interpretation of passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in which the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the women keep silent in church.” Of course, a literal interpretation of this passage would also mean that women may not sing or verbally praise God in worship. Anyone who has attended a Baptist service knows that is a manifest impossibility.

Paul makes a similar statement about the need for male authority and female silence in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Even if we set aside the historical context of this scripture (his words were directed at marital issues and not ministry), there is the larger problem of selective enforcement. This same passage forbids women to wear gold jewelry or pearls, but we don’t hear much about that section. I guess the Southern Baptists decided that would be too much to enforce on us bling-lovin’ Southern sisters.

We also don’t hear much about Romans 16:7 where Paul describes Andronicus and Junia (a woman) as “outstanding among the apostles.” (Not surprisingly, some later translations changed the female name “Junia” to the male “Junias.”)

If you want to adopt a literal interpretation of the Bible, consider Acts 2:17-18: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”

As I used to say in my prior legal career, “I rest my case.”

In one of his most famous parables, Jesus said that the Kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who entrusted his three workers with certain talents (money). Two invested the talents, doubled their value, and were rewarded. The third worker was punished, because he buried the money and barely returned what was given.

The Southern Baptist Church is burying the divine gifts borne by over fifty percent of God’s children. It is wasting these talents.

We can no longer afford this unjust denial of vocation.

We can no longer afford to stifle God’s call.

Given the broken nature of our world today, I say we need all the help we can get—Supreme Court Justices, jet pilots, preachers, and all.

Postscript: This week, thanks to multiple revelations of abuse, including sexual misconduct conduct, by leaders of the Southern Baptist Church, the denomination is meeting to discuss a resolution acknowledging that, throughout the church’s history, male leaders and members of the church “wronged women, abused women, silenced women, objectified women.” While acknowledgement of this horrendous conduct is long overdue, shockingly, there is no inclusion in this resolution for the women who are “wronged and silenced” by being forbidden ordination, leadership, and/or the right to preach. This column is dedicated to them.

— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and ordained minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. To find out more, visit her website, www.SusanSparks.com

 

 

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