Archive for category Say Something Nice

A fresh take on Lent from Jewish New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine

March 7, 2019 by Emily McFarlan Miller

(RNS) — Amy-Jill Levine has described herself as a “Yankee Jewish feminist” and said that although she attends an Orthodox synagogue in Nashville, she is “often quite unorthodox.”
For one, Levine teaches both Jewish studies and New Testament at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
And the professor has written a new Lenten study titled “Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week,” published by Abingdon Press, an imprint of the United Methodist Publishing House.
“If I’m not a believer in Jesus, and I think these are fabulous stories, how much more so should somebody who’s a Christian find extraordinary meaning in them?” Levine said.
And as a Jewish historian, she said, she “can point out meaning that perhaps Christians were not aware of.”
In her new book, Levine walks through several stories Christians typically read during Holy Week, or Passion Week, marking the final days before Jesus was crucified, according to New Testament accounts.
That week also marks the final days of Lent, the penitential season many Christians observe leading up to Easter, when they celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For Catholics and many Protestants, Lent began this week.

Author Amy-Jill Levine
Levine spoke to Religion News Service about Lent and risk and reading the New Testament from Rome, where she recently spent a morning talking to American priests on retreat about “why I think Jesus is wonderful.” In the coming weeks, she plans to present Pope Francis with a copy of the Jewish Annotated New Testament she co-edited.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In your new study, you draw a comparison between Lent in Christianity and the Days of Awe in Judaism. Can you talk about that?
Lent reminds me of what are called the Days of Awe — the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the Jewish liturgical calendar. We think about what we’ve done in the past and what we should be doing in the future. We take time to repent. We take time to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing in the world and how we can do it better.
The month that’s the run-up to Rosh Hashanah is also a time of introspection. You make amends — because you can’t put yourself in a right relationship with God if you’re not in a right relationship with people in your life.
It’s kind of like a theological do-over. And I find that remarkably healthy.
Both in Lent on the Christian calendar and in parts of the Jewish calendar, the community does this together. So you’re not alone in the difficulties of assessing what you’ve done. You’re not alone in trying to figure out how to do life better.
How does delving into the history and literature of Holy Week make the texts more meaningful?
Anybody can read the Bible. You can just pick the text up and say, “What does this text mean to me?” And you make a profound response.
But I do think the more history we know, the more profound the reading experience becomes. In the same way, if you fall in love with somebody, you want to know that person’s background.
If somebody claims to appreciate the stories of the Bible, it seems to me they ought to try to know something about the context in which the Bible was written. If we talk about Jesus teaching in the Temple, which is part of Lenten readings, then it helps to know what the Temple was like. It helps to know that there are Roman soldiers who are in the area. It helps to know that there were pilgrims from all parts of the empire — many of them don’t speak the same language — rejoicing and celebrating this Feast of Freedom, and those are the folks who are listening to these teachings. If we think about Passion Week coming at the same time as Passover, it helps to know what Passover is and how Passover is celebrated. If we read Scripture and Jesus quotes a passage from the shared Scripture — what the church would call the Old Testament and the synagogue would call the Tanakh — it really helps to know what that Scripture is and what comes before and what comes after and how people read that text in the first century.
Is there a particular story in these texts that stands out to you?
I like them all, but I’m very much drawn to the story where, at the beginning of these events, Jesus is at dinner — he eats a lot — and a woman comes in and anoints his head with very expensive ointment, like Chanel. People complain, and they say, “Wait a minute, this is expensive perfume. You could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor.”
And Jesus says, “You’ll always have the poor with you.” And then we stop because that’s a quote directly out of Deuteronomy, and you know the next line is, “And therefore extend your hand to the poor and the needy.” You always have the chance to do this, but, as Jesus goes on to say, “You will not always have me here, and what she has done is anoint me for my burial.”
And he goes on to say, “This story will be told in memory of her.”
The story is supposed to be told in memory of her, so how do we tell that story? And when we tell it, do we tell it about her? What was she thinking? And later on in the Gospel of Mark, when three women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, did it not occur to them that this woman had already done that — that she got it right, that she understood what was going on?
Why don’t we have, on the Christian liturgical calendar, a dinner celebrating her? I think that’s the new feast that needs to be invented: We have a special dinner at the beginning of Holy Week and we tell stories about all the women who made this mission possible. How cool would that be?
This study is all about risk. How do you see that theme in the stories of Holy Week?
Jesus knows he’s going to die. You don’t have to be supernaturally prophetic to know that if you go into Jerusalem and you’re a popular leader, that’s going to come to the attention of the powers that be and your life is going to be at stake. So let’s talk about the risk-taking in which he engages, and let’s see how Lent can help us take the risks that we need to take in order to live more complete lives.
We’re happy with the status quo. We know that certain things are wrong, but if we have to risk our reputation or our economic status or our political connections or even our own communities because we’re in favor of something that the community is not, when do we finally make that step and take that risk?
Jesus talks about taking up your cross, which is an extraordinary image. It doesn’t mean, “Oh, I have to take up my cross. I have to pick up the dry cleaning today.” It means, “I’m going to do something where I’m going to risk my reputation, my life, but this is exactly the right thing to do.”
I think Lent helps us with that. We can ask not only what should we have done, but what did we fail to do? When were we too afraid? When were we too self-interested to take the steps that need to be taken in order to do what Jews would call “tikkun olam” — to engage in the reparation of the world?
Some people see the New Testament, and in particular, some of the stories of Holy Week, as anti-Jewish. You also co-edited a Jewish Annotated New Testament. Do you see this in the text, or is that in how these stories have been interpreted?
I think one, as a scholar or as a reader, could pick up parts of the New Testament, like much of the Gospel of John, for example, and say, “This is an anti-Jewish text.” I think that’s a fair reading, but it is not the only reading.
Whenever we read, we interpret, and what’s anti-Jewish to one person is not anti-Jewish to another. I just find it more helpful to say it is certainly the case that over time that many of these texts have been interpreted in an anti-Jewish manner. Therefore, it is our responsibility as moral readers to make sure that we do not inculcate or reinforce anti-Jewish views to people who hear what we have to preach or read what we have to write.
Because reading is often a moral act, what choices do we make when we interpret a text in one way rather than in another way? Do we read benevolently or do we read malevolently? And that’s a choice. I don’t think if you read the New Testament, you are going to come out as an anti-Semite. It’s not a necessary reading, but it’s a possible one.
What do you hope people will take from your study?
Part of my goal is to get people to appreciate how each Gospel has a different story to tell. Rejoice in those distinctions. Rejoice in the separate stories. Because these stories are so wonderful that there’s no single way of telling them any more than there’s a single way of telling the creation story in the Book of Genesis. To be Israel means to wrestle with God.

“Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week,” by Amy-Jill Levine
Think about Judas Iscariot and what were his motives, because they vary from Gospel to Gospel. Think about how the apostles felt, because, at best, they’re confused. Look at all those minor characters like the woman who anoints Jesus or later the centurion at the cross — what did they think and how were they functioning? Listen to Jesus’ teaching: What does he say about paying taxes? What does he say about the greatest commandment and why?
Each story opens up to so many possibilities — profound, inspirational, often challenging. And I want people to take that challenge, which is in fact to take that risk, to let the stories challenge us and sometimes to indict us.

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A MORNING PRAYER: REMEMBERING THOSE WHO WORK FOR SO LITTLE

Rev. Susan Sparks: Madison Avenue Baptist Church NYC
January 20, 2019

Gracious God,

We give you thanks today for all our many blessings. So many of those blessings are provided to us by our brothers and sisters—your children—who work for so little.

We raise up all who do the jobs others don’t want: those who clean, who take care of our sanitation, who care for our poor, homeless, sick or elderly.

We give thanks for their work.

We remember those who do the jobs behind the scenes: those who wait on our tables, cook our food, deliver our papers, drive the trucks that bring food to our grocery stores, operate our transportation, patrol our streets, and protect us from fires and danger.

We give thanks for their work.

We acknowledge those who do important jobs for low pay, like home healthcare aides, teachers, farm workers, nurses, and social workers.

We give thanks for their work.

We specifically pray for all the federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay: our TSA and homeland security workers; our tax workers; our air traffic controllers; the National Park Service workers; the National Weather Service; our EPA inspectors who keep our chemical factories, power plants, oil refineries, and water treatment plants safe; workers in the criminal justice system, including the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service; and our Food and Drug Administration workers who inspect our food and protect us from contamination.

We give thanks for their work.

Lord, this morning we are mindful of those blessings provided to us by our brothers and sisters—your children—who work for so little. May we remember their sacrifice. And may you give us the strength to ensure that the blessings we receive from them are not only used for the betterment of our world but someday are equally returned to them. Amen.

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Jimmy Allen, visionary denominational leader, dies*

BOB ALLEN | JANUARY 8, 2019 – BaptistNewsGlobal

Jimmy R. Allen, the last moderate president of the Southern Baptist Convention and executive director emeritus of the New Baptist Covenant, died early Jan. 8 at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, Georgia.

His pastor, Tony Lankford of First Baptist Church of St. Simons Island, said the 91-year-old had been in failing health. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Jimmy Allen

Named in 1999 one of the most influential Baptists of the 20th century, Allen served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1978 and 1979, the two years before conservatives took over control of the nation’s largest Protestant body in a move they called the “conservative resurgence.”

In 1990 he presided over the Consultation of Concerned Baptists in Atlanta, forerunner to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. In 2008 he agreed to become program chair and coordinator for the New Baptist Covenant, a pan-Baptist gathering promoting racial unity spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter.

In 1995 Allen wrote the book Burden of a Secret, a personal account of his family’s battle with AIDS.

A pioneer in religious broadcasting, he led the Southern Baptist Convention’s Radio and Television Commission from 1980 to 1990, hosting a national cable talk show called “Life Today.” In 1988 he won an Emmy as producer of a show produced for ABC television filmed in the People’s Republic of China titled “China: Walls and Bridges.”

Always interested in ethical concerns, Allen led the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 1960 to 1968. In 1962 he helped plan the first state workshop on Christianity and race relations in Southern Baptist history. During the Johnson administration he helped plan the first White House Conference on Civil Rights.

From 1968 until 1980 Allen served as pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas – at the time the sixth largest church in the SBC – leading the urban congregation to establish new social ministries while at the same time expanding its evangelism and nurturing ministry base.

As SBC president he launched Mission Service Corps, a pathway for adults to serve as missionaries, and was chief promoter of Bold Mission Thrust, a plan to take the gospel to every person on earth by the year 2000.

In 1993 Allen joined Los Angeles Times journalist John Dart in a prize-winning report on the relationship between news media and religion called Bridging the Gap.

He once served as a non-governmental observer at the United Nations and led a fact-finding mission to Iran during the hostage crisis at the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979-1980.

In later years he served as chaplain of Big Canoe Chapel, a multi-denominational chapel in the north Georgia mountains, before moving to St. Simons Island in retirement. Lankford, who began serving at First Baptist Church in St. Simons Island in 2015, called it “an honor to get to know him.”

“He blazed a trail of ministry in such a way that younger men and women could follow,” Lankford said. “Many people, including me, are grateful for the life and ministry of Rev. Dr. Jimmy Allen.”

Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said she has “known, loved and respected Jimmy Allen” her entire life.

Paynter called Allen “a visionary Baptist leader who believed in the power to convene good people for the surprising work of God.”

Paynter said Allen “engaged in honest dialogue and true cooperative ministry” and “brought a strong voice of encouragement and expectation to any endeavor.”

“I am so grateful for this pilgrim of faith,” Paynter said.

Hannah McMahan, executive director of the New Baptist Covenant, described Allen as “a man of vision and compassion” who will be “sorely missed.”

“He dedicated his life to the steadfast work of the gospel and was a shining example of a life well-lived,” she said. “Under his leadership, the inaugural meeting of the New Baptist Covenant in 2008 reminded our entire Baptist family what we are capable of when we lean into the best of who we are.”

*I first met this wonderful man in 1986 when I went to be interviewed on the Acts Network in Ft. Worth. Years later he graciously agreed to write a chapter in my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. I was blessed to attend the first meeting of the New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta. His vision and leadership will be missed.

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Welcoming People in from the Storm – Rev. Susan Sparks

This piece was recently featured by The Christian Citizen.

A few weeks ago, my husband Toby and I were sitting on the dock at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin. It was around 4:30PM, and we were doing what we usually do about that time: fishing, eating cheese curds, and sipping a festive beverage or two. In short—nothing.

As we sat doing nothing on that lazy Wisconsin afternoon, we heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Within minutes, the sound grew closer and stronger. Then, almost out of nowhere, a ferocious storm blew in. As we scurried into the cabin, the winds began howling across the lake, and the storm sirens in town started to wail.

Huddled in our living room, we listened to the tempest outside. Then, shockingly, amidst the claps of thunder, we heard a knock on the door. We peered out and it was our next-door neighbor. Utterly drenched, he came in and told us that his 2000-pound pontoon boat had just been picked up in the storm and flipped upside down on the lake.

In the middle of telling his story, another knock is heard and there was our neighbor who lived across the lake. She was in the area when the storm hit and got stuck because all the streets were blocked with downed trees. We lite some candles, pulled out food and drink, and sat together in the shelter of the cabin as the storm raged on.

What else could we do but welcome them in from the storm? It’s too bad we don’t follow that ethic in our nation and our world.

Every day, our neighbors come to our house, at our door, to find shelter from the storm.

And everyone is fighting some type of storm. We may not see the tempests immediately. People love to pretend that everything is perfect and lovely—God forbid we show vulnerability or admit we need help. But notwithstanding the faces people show, everyone has their storm.

Some storms are personal, like the storm of a difficult relationship or a family issue. A personal storm could also be a physical one, such as chronic pain, or a financial storm.

It could also be part of a national or global storm, like the storm of hatred and judgment toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Or the storm of racism and bigotry towards our brothers and sisters of color. There is the storm of ignorance waged against our Muslim brothers and sisters. And then there is the immigration storm that is raging in our country.

Every day, people from all over the world come to our house, and stand at our door, asking for shelter from the storms of poverty, tyranny, oppression and religious persecution.

And what do we do when our global neighbors come to our door?

We slam it in their face. And if that’s not bad enough, we take their children. While there are no hard and fast numbers, the estimate is over 3000 children separated from their parents at the border.

I imagine God in heaven, watching all this going on, preparing to yell down to earth:

“People! Have you read my book? It’s pretty well known. I bet you’ve heard of it . . . It’s called the BIBLE! If you had read it, you would see that I ‘execute justice for the orphan and the widow, and love the strangers, providing them food and clothing’ (Deuteronomy 10:17).

You might also remember that I said, ‘When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If you’ve read nothing else, surely you remember my son Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 25:42-45: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Something must change. And it can. Sharing hospitality and welcome is not that complicated. Just like on that stormy night in our cabin, it comes down to two basic things: food and shelter.

First, we must feed the people. Sure, that can mean literally offering food through a food bank, or soup kitchen, or cooking something to feed someone in need. But food can mean so much more. People are hungry in their hearts—hungry for affirmation/acceptance, hungry for respect and dignity, hungry for love. And we must be the ones to provide that food to all we meet, no matter storm brings them to our door.

We must also offer shelter. That can mean literally providing a place by supporting a homeless shelter or participating in the national sanctuary movement to help protect our immigrant brothers and sisters. It can also mean providing people with a spiritual or psychological safe space from the storm by welcoming them unconditionally and listening without judgment.

A few days after the storm on the lake, as I was flying back from Wisconsin to New York City, our plane banked right over the Statue of Liberty—the symbol of our nation—which reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” How tragic that those beautiful words have been eclipsed by our nation’s hate, ignorance, and greed. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

As Rachel Held Evans writes in her new book, Inspired, “The story isn’t over. There are still prophets in our midst. There are still dragons and beasts. It might not look like it, but the resistance is winning. The light is breaking through.”
JUSTICE POSTED ON SEP 12, 2018 BY SUSAN SPARKS

Welcoming People in from the Storm

This piece was recently featured by The Christian Citizen.

A few weeks ago, my husband Toby and I were sitting on the dock at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin. It was around 4:30PM, and we were doing what we usually do about that time: fishing, eating cheese curds, and sipping a festive beverage or two. In short—nothing.

As we sat doing nothing on that lazy Wisconsin afternoon, we heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Within minutes, the sound grew closer and stronger. Then, almost out of nowhere, a ferocious storm blew in. As we scurried into the cabin, the winds began howling across the lake, and the storm sirens in town started to wail.

Huddled in our living room, we listened to the tempest outside. Then, shockingly, amidst the claps of thunder, we heard a knock on the door. We peered out and it was our next-door neighbor. Utterly drenched, he came in and told us that his 2000-pound pontoon boat had just been picked up in the storm and flipped upside down on the lake.

In the middle of telling his story, another knock is heard and there was our neighbor who lived across the lake. She was in the area when the storm hit and got stuck because all the streets were blocked with downed trees. We lite some candles, pulled out food and drink, and sat together in the shelter of the cabin as the storm raged on.

What else could we do but welcome them in from the storm? It’s too bad we don’t follow that ethic in our nation and our world.

Every day, our neighbors come to our house, at our door, to find shelter from the storm.

And everyone is fighting some type of storm. We may not see the tempests immediately. People love to pretend that everything is perfect and lovely—God forbid we show vulnerability or admit we need help. But notwithstanding the faces people show, everyone has their storm.

Some storms are personal, like the storm of a difficult relationship or a family issue. A personal storm could also be a physical one, such as chronic pain, or a financial storm.

It could also be part of a national or global storm, like the storm of hatred and judgment toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Or the storm of racism and bigotry towards our brothers and sisters of color. There is the storm of ignorance waged against our Muslim brothers and sisters. And then there is the immigration storm that is raging in our country.

Every day, people from all over the world come to our house, and stand at our door, asking for shelter from the storms of poverty, tyranny, oppression and religious persecution.

And what do we do when our global neighbors come to our door?

We slam it in their face. And if that’s not bad enough, we take their children. While there are no hard and fast numbers, the estimate is over 3000 children separated from their parents at the border.

I imagine God in heaven, watching all this going on, preparing to yell down to earth:

“People! Have you read my book? It’s pretty well known. I bet you’ve heard of it . . . It’s called the BIBLE! If you had read it, you would see that I ‘execute justice for the orphan and the widow, and love the strangers, providing them food and clothing’ (Deuteronomy 10:17).

You might also remember that I said, ‘When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If you’ve read nothing else, surely you remember my son Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 25:42-45: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Something must change. And it can. Sharing hospitality and welcome is not that complicated. Just like on that stormy night in our cabin, it comes down to two basic things: food and shelter.

First, we must feed the people. Sure, that can mean literally offering food through a food bank, or soup kitchen, or cooking something to feed someone in need. But food can mean so much more. People are hungry in their hearts—hungry for affirmation/acceptance, hungry for respect and dignity, hungry for love. And we must be the ones to provide that food to all we meet, no matter storm brings them to our door.

We must also offer shelter. That can mean literally providing a place by supporting a homeless shelter or participating in the national sanctuary movement to help protect our immigrant brothers and sisters. It can also mean providing people with a spiritual or psychological safe space from the storm by welcoming them unconditionally and listening without judgment.

A few days after the storm on the lake, as I was flying back from Wisconsin to New York City, our plane banked right over the Statue of Liberty—the symbol of our nation—which reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” How tragic that those beautiful words have been eclipsed by our nation’s hate, ignorance, and greed. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

As Rachel Held Evans writes in her new book, Inspired, “The story isn’t over. There are still prophets in our midst. There are still dragons and beasts. It might not look like it, but the resistance is winning. The light is breaking through.”

Brothers and sisters, every single person we meet is going through some type of storm. And every day, people come to our house, to our door, looking for shelter.

Don’t shut them out.

Welcome them with hospitality. Offer them food and shelter. Let the light break through.

“For whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

This column was drawn from a sermon given at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC on June 24, 2018.hers and sisters, every single person we meet is going through some type of storm. And every day, people come to our house, to our door, looking for shelter.

Don’t shut them out.

Welcome them with hospitality. Offer them food and shelter. Let the light break through.

“For whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

This column was drawn from a sermon given at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC on June 24, 2018.

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