Posts Tagged faith

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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In Shooting Aftermath, How Can Faith Infuse Our Daily Lives?

In Shooting Aftermath, How Can Faith Infuse Our Daily Lives? | Mitch Carnell, Mass Shootings, Gun Control

As a community of faith, our challenge is to change hearts. That means we must be more relevant to today’s world, Carnell says.

I heard the devastating news of the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, when I returned home from church.

The horror of that incident is almost too much to comprehend. How can a single individual harbor that much hate? I have no idea.

I am the product of a small town and a small village church where everyone knew everyone. I am also the product of a Baptist church where fellowship is next to godliness.

Although my current church, First Baptist of Charleston, South Carolina, is much larger, worship and fellowship walk hand in hand.

We know that it could happen here. In fact, it did happen here only a few blocks away at Mother Emanuel AME Church. That horror is still with us and remains an open raw wound.

We know why Dylann Roof carried out his massacre. We don’t yet know what the Texas shooter’s motives were. Whatever his motive, we know that he was in a mental health facility in 2012.

When I was in graduate school, I had an apartment which was behind an unrented unit. There was an unsecured connecting door.

After a night that included fending off would be intruders, I resolved to purchase a gun. At some point, I realized that the only person that I would injure with a gun would be myself.

I knew that I could be deadly at close range with a wooden baseball bat; therefore, I bought a baseball bat instead. I knew that another gun was a recipe for disaster. There are too many guns now.

I know the arguments for gun rights. I also know that we cannot just do nothing. We can engage in a reasonable dialogue at the very least.

How does our religious faith impact our day-to-day lives? What action steps can we take as a community of faith to bring about greater safety at home and away?

Of course, we must remain vigilant to any threat. When we see something, we must say something. But we can do more.

Where does our faith fit in this struggle? What do we really believe?

I grew up in a culture of guns, but not in a household of guns. My dad had a 12-gauge shotgun that stayed in the corner for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what happened to it. It disappeared at some point.

Two of my teenage friends were playing with an “unloaded” pistol in their home. The pistol fired, and one brother was paralyzed from the waist down and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Our church employs an off-duty police officer on Sunday mornings. He is usually in the parking lot but parks his patrol car in front of the church.

Our leaders are trying to protect us, and, sadly, it seems to be a necessity these days. But my heart sinks every time I see it. For me, it sends a chilling message.

I am not naïve. We are a downtown church. We must take reasonable steps to protect those who worship with us.

I and three others are greeters. We are not armed nor would I ever want to be. Although we know most of those who enter, we are a historic church with visitors from all over the world.

One of us tries to talk with every visitor, but we know that we miss some. There is a second set of doors that leads to the sanctuary.

These add a little more security, but not much. Our minister is very good about referring troubled members for counseling.

No guns could have prevented the tragedy at Emanuel AME Church. After all, the shooter sat and worshipped with his victims for an hour before launching his attack.

As a community of faith, our challenge is to change hearts. That means we must be more relevant to today’s world.

We must defeat hatred and disrespect for others. We must make it a priority to make friends. We must find a way to let our faith infuse our daily lives. We must ask ourselves, “What does it really mean to be people of faith?”

Our local newspaper ran a feature article based on the question, “How Can Your Faith Contribute to Better Race Relations?”

Perhaps it is time to ponder a different question: How can our faith create a more harmonious environment and reduce the violence in our culture?

If every congregation would open a dialogue on that topic, we might begin to make some progress. There are no easy answers, but we must diligently search for those that are consistent with our faith.

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How My Faith Can Influence Race Relations – Charleston Post and Courier

The Charleston Post and Courier challenged readers to write a short 100 word or less statement on how faith can change race relations. The newspaper published and posted the responses on November 5. This was my responses which they posted on their web site,

As a child, I sensed that there was a disconnect between what my church taught and what it did. We were urged to bring our offerings to send missionaries to Africa, but the Black children who lived a few blocks away could not come to our church.

That sensitivity guided me as PTA president at my children’s elementary school during the first year of racial integration, as CEO of a not-for-profit agency and as a board member of the Sea Island Comprehensive Health Center. The first scripture I learned was, “God is love.” There are no modifiers.

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These Reformation Heroes Were Glossed Over by History – Pam Durso

These Reformation Heroes Were Glossed Over by History | Pam Durso, Reformation, Women in Ministry, Marie Dentière, Martin Luther

Marie Dentière was one of the many women, mostly privileged women born to families of wealth and nobility, who dared to proclaim publicly their commitment to reform teachings, Durso writes.

Churches around the globe paused earlier this week and remembered the courage of a man named Martin – and rightfully so.

Martin Luther’s challenge of the Catholic Church on Oct. 31, 1517, reshaped the 16th-century Christian landscape, and it continues to influence Christian life in the 21st century.

Soon, other voices joined Luther’s call for reform. We are familiar with many of those names: John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox.

Yet there are names we don’t know. Women’s names.

Women were active in this new movement. They spoke out, some even dared to preach. Others wrote letters, poetry and books; still others were financial underwriters of the movement.

Yet the names of these women did not make it into history books. Their stories have not been widely told. Their voices were often silenced during their lifetimes, and their voices have been silenced by history.

Among these women was Marie Dentière (c. 1495-1561).

Born to a French noble family, as a young teenager Marie entered an Augustinian convent. She eventually rose to the rank of abbess.

In the 1520s, Marie embraced Reformation teachings and was forced to leave her convent. She fled to Strasbourg, married a former Catholic priest, joined with him in working for reform and eventually moved to Geneva.

Among Marie’s strongest convictions was her belief that every person should have the opportunity to read God’s word. She believed that women and men were equally qualified and entitled to interpret Scripture and practice their faith.

In the 1530s, Marie began writing, first publishing an anonymous pamphlet about God’s intentions for reform in Geneva and later writing a book on the history of reform work in her city.

Marie also began speaking out, talking with people on the street corners and in public taverns and “preaching” to the crowds that gathered.

In 1539, Marie wrote a letter to fellow Reformation sympathizer, Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, in which she pushed beyond the teachings of Luther and Calvin, calling for equality for women.

Several of Marie’s writings appeared in Jane Dempsey Douglass’ book, “Women, Freedom and Calvin,” published in 1985 by The Westminster Press.

Marie wrote, “If God then gives graces to some good women, revealing to them by his Holy Scriptures something holy and good, will they not dare to write, speak or declare it one to another? … Ah! It would be too audacious to wish to stop them from doing it. As for us, it would be too foolish to hide the talent which God has given us.”

Marie’s letter also included these words: “Although it is not permitted to us [women] to preach in public assemblies and churches, it is nonetheless not forbidden to write and admonish one another in all love. Not only for you, my Lady, have I wished to write this letter, but also to give courage to other women held in captivity, in order that they may not all fear being exiled from their country, relatives and friends, like myself, for the word of God … that they may from now on not be tormented and afflicted in themselves but rather rejoicing, consoled and excited to follow the truth, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. … This is the principle cause, my Lady, which moved me to write you, hoping in God that in the future women will not be so much despised as in the past.”

The letter was published in Geneva and caused quite a scandal. The printer of the letter was arrested, and Marie’s books and writings were confiscated.

She was accused of “meddling with preaching and perverting people of devotion,” and as a result, Marie’s voice was silenced. Her name is known today only by a few.

Marie was one of the many women, mostly privileged women born to families of wealth and nobility, who dared to proclaim publicly their commitment to reform teachings.

Many of these women were reprimanded by male reformers. Some were persecuted, some burned at the stake. Their names certainly deserve to be remembered. They should not be a footnote in history.

I can’t help but wonder if their voices made a difference. Did the influence of these women result in freedom, equality, opportunity? Did women gain any ground as a result of the Reformation?

Most scholars agree that the Reformation did not instigate any drastic changes in gender roles and expectations. Protestant women did not gain freedom in their homes, society and certainly not in the church.

Women continued to be excluded from the priesthood. They were not given official leadership positions in the church. And yet the Reformation brought freedom or at least the possibility of freedom to women.

Many women embraced Luther’s principles of “sola scriptura” and the priesthood of all believers and believed wholeheartedly that these teachings meant that they too were included in the mission of the church.

They believed that spiritual equality was possible, and they used the avenues available to them to share their convictions, to spread the liberating message of the gospel.

Their names are not remembered. Their voices have been silenced. But in this anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, let us not also be guilty of forgetting these women.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) in Atlanta, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on Durso’s BWIM blog. It is used with permission.

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