Posts Tagged faith

Wisdom seeks a third way – Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins*

Wisdom seeks a third way: The congregational dimension of Christian citizenship

Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins

October 5, 2020 – The Christian Citizen

Visit a Christian church in the United States today, and you might spot two flags on the chancel: an American flag and a Christian flag. Nothing could better symbolize the reality that as Christians and Americans, we are citizens of two realms.

What does this mean for the faithful women and men who comprise America’s churches?

There is an inherent tension with this dual citizenship. Much of the time, we do not think about it. But when the values of our faith contradict the laws or practices of our government, what then?

It might prove helpful to remember how Jesus navigated his dual citizenship as both an adherent of the Jewish faith and a subject of the Roman government. In the synoptic gospels, we read about the Pharisees (Jewish leaders) and the Herodians (Roman loyalists) joining forces to trick Jesus, asking him if a good Jew should pay taxes to Caesar. If Jesus says, “No,” he will be at odds with the Roman law. If he says, “Yes,” he upsets his Jewish followers. “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus replies to the chagrin of his Jewish companions. It appears that Jesus has aligned with the Herodians. But then he continues, “and to God what is God’s.”[i] The tricksters offer Jesus a binary problem; Jesus responds with a non-binary solution. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ challengers are amazed by his answer; their false dichotomy exposed in the light of his wisdom.

Wisdom seeks a third way.

Whether the rub as Christian citizens is between church and state or between Republican and Democrat, or something else entirely, wise followers of what the earliest believers called “The Way” must continually seek a third way: a higher way that exposes the fallacies of either/or thinking. Trinitarian expressions of faith were born for this.

The United States has a two-party system with either/or thinking built into its DNA. Citizens are pushed, pulled, dragged and cajoled into ascribing loyalty to one party or the other. Party identity often becomes a primary way we see ourselves and one another. When we begin to think of ourselves as “Democrat” or “Republican,” we can be confident that we have fallen prey to either/or thinking.

What does third-way wisdom look like in a congregational setting, especially in 2020 when a global pandemic rages and racial tensions flare in the midst of an election year? What can church leaders do to lift disparate people above the cacophony of partisan dog whistles and political posturing?

Wisdom seeks a third way.

What does third-way wisdom look like in a congregational setting, especially in 2020 when a global pandemic rages and racial tensions flare in the midst of an election year? What can church leaders do to lift disparate people above the cacophony of partisan dog whistles and political posturing?

Name it. For starters, church leaders can name the tension. The election will be on the minds of worshippers in 2020. If church leaders ignore the election, or if we dance too delicately around the discord, we become irrelevant. Our message becomes anemic, sterile, impotent. Jesus was not afraid to name Caesar and God in the same lesson. We must not be afraid to name current reality. Church leaders, as responsible citizens, will ultimately cast votes borne out of a two-party system, but until and beyond that day, leaders must lift, prompt, urge and beckon believers up above the partisan fray. Wisdom seeks a third way.

Reframe it. Keeping the great commandment to love God and neighbor ever central, the job of the church is to constantly point people to a higher way. This calling is especially prescient during these polarizing days. “The left says this, the right says that, how might we look at this through the lens of faith?” As we explore that question together as church communities, we will be on the path to discovering a third way together. Wisdom seeks a third way.

Seeking a higher way, a third way, will be challenging. It will require a willingness of church members and leaders to sit with the tension on the way to third-way wisdom. It will summon us to seek to understand, holding loosely our need to be understood. It will necessitate deep listening; we must be prepared to be transformed by the conversation.

These are precarious days for leaders of “purple churches” (churches comprised of people who identify as both Democrat and Republican). Those who preach must “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”[ii] A good rule of thumb for this kind of preaching: pastoral always, prophetic sometimes, partisan never. But preaching can be more than meeting people in the middle. Relevant preaching aims to be not apolitical, but transpolitical—aspiring to lift the collective vision higher, above zero-sum politics. Wisdom seeks a third way.

At our best, our nation and our faith share a common third-way vision: that the United States would be a land of “liberty and justice for all.”[iii] The church gains relevance as it points its communities to this ideal. This is no time for the church to be silent while partisan voices jockey for attention. Now is the time for the church to rise above the binary bickering, showing the world that wisdom seeks a third way.

*Rev. Dr. Rhonda Abbott Blevins is the senior pastor of Chapel by the Sea in Clearwater Beach, Florida and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. Blevins holds a Doctor of Ministry from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and previously served as the coordinator of CBF Kentucky. She and her husband, Terry, live with their two sons in Palm Harbor, Florida.

 

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Get Wisdom

Knowledge is not wisdom.

Intelligence is not wisdom.

Intuition is not wisdom.

Belief is not wisdom.

Conviction is not wisdom.

Faith is not wisdom.

Feeling is not wisdom.

Love is not wisdom.

Power is not wisdom.

Experience is not wisdom.

Wisdom comes with age sometimes.

Wisdom comes from failure sometimes.

Wisdom comes from loss sometimes.

Wisdom never appears in noise.

Wisdom often appears in silence.

Wisdom never comes at the expense of the other.

Wisdom often comes in knowing ones’  self.

Wisdom shows when the body, mind and soul are in harmony

Wisdom is being at one with all of creation.

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A Visit to Madison Avenue Baptist Church with Rev. Susan Sparks

Sunday January 12, my daughter, Suzanne, and I were fortunate to worship at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. My friend, Susan Sparks is the senior minister. We were greeted warmly by the greeter outside the door on the street. The church is located within the Roger Hotel, but with a separate entrance. Rev. Sparks came through the congregation greeting and welcoming visitors. The sanctuary is beautiful. Susan says that she and the congregation will join in the celebration of Say Something Nice Sunday on June 7.

We also met a group of women ministers from Ontario, Canada. They also committed to joining in the celebration of Say Something Nice Sunday.

The service was wonderful. The choir and the soloist were outstanding. The call to worship was, “Surly the Lord Is in This Place.” The sermon by Susan was not what I expected to hear, but was exactly what I needed to hear. Her sermon was based on passages from the Book of   Ecclesiastes. Her sermon in a nutshell, “Life is tough. Get over it and serve God anyway. What other choice do we have other than to go it alone?” Of course Susan had some great stories to bring her point home which she did in a very few minutes. She has the ability to make her point without chasing rabbits. According to the book’s writer, “There is nothing new under the sun. The sun comes up and the sun goes down.” I have had a hard time dealing with my wife, Carol’s, death. Her sermon helped put things in perspective. The closing hymn was one of my favorites, “We Shall Overcome.’

The congregation is up to its ears in social justice ministries, a coat drive currently. Susan writes a weekly excellent blog, “Shiny Side Up.” It was good to have been there. If you are in New York City on a Sunday go there. You are welcome no matter what your tradition or circumstances. Susan is the author of two books: Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines. She is originally from North Carolina.

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Hope – Suny Side Up – Rev. Susan Sparls

Here’s the thing that I hate about living in New York City: you can’t see the stars. Oh sure, you can watch movie stars sip their lattes in the hipster restaurants in Brooklyn. You can observe television stars through the glass walls of the talk show studios near Rockefeller Center. And you can see the Broadway stars on . . . well, Broadway.

But I’m talking about real stars. The kind that gleam from the sky. Sadly, those stars are hidden by the lights shining from the city. That’s why every once in a while, I have to leave the Big Apple and head to a place where I can actually see the stars. I need remind myself that they are still there.

Last week, I did just that in Dubois, Wyoming. There, at a spiritual retreat center named Ring Lake Ranch, the night sky exploded with more stars than I could ever have imagined. Pulsing overhead were constellations and shooting stars and the dazzling Milky Way that seemed to leap out of the sky in three dimensions.

There’s something about looking up at a sky full of stars that transports us past our tiny, limited worldview. To see the stars on the darkest night brings a sense of hope. In fact, I think finding hope is just like trying to find the stars in New York City.

Sometimes in life, hope seems so near and clear to us, like the stars in a Wyoming sky. But then, sometimes hope feels more like the night sky in New York City where the celestial light is dimmed. During those dark times, we must have faith that hope still exists, even though we can’t see it or feel it. It’s as Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

A few years ago, a dear friend of ours, Ed Charles, passed away. Baseball fans may remember Ed as a member of the 1969 World Champion Mets and one of the first black players in the major leagues. Ed used to tell the story of when Jackie Robinson came to Daytona Beach where he grew up. Ed and his friends sat in the segregated section of the park and watched Jackie play, and after the game was over, they followed Jackie to the train station, running down the tracks and listening for the sounds of that train as far as they could. When they couldn’t hear the train any longer, they put their ears to the track so they could feel the vibrations.

That train carrying Jackie Robinson gave Ed hope, and he held on to that hope as long as he could. We, too, must hold on to hope. And when we can’t see the light of hope anymore, then we must listen for it. And when we can’t hear it, then in faith we must hold on to the memory of it through prayer, meditation, or scriptures such as “Do not fear, for I am with you,do not be afraid, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10).

Hope is always in our hearts. It may not seem like it, for the world tries its best to beat hope out of us, but the operative word is “tries.” We might have to dig, excavate, search, and wait for it, but hope is there—and if we have faith, we’ll find it. It’s just like living in New York City where even though you can’t see the stars, you know in your heart they’re still there—watching over us, shining down on us, and lighting our way.

This piece was also featured as a nationally syndicated column with GateHouse Media.
 

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