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For God So Loved the World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

Early in its life, NEXT Church sensed a call to be a place within the Presbyterian Church (USA) where we could build bridges across the divisions in our lives and in our church. The divisions are many —

theological differences

urban or rural or suburban or small town distinctions

larger churches, small churches

generational divides

rich or poor or somewhere in between.

Our culture is one of increasing division. We see it writ large today as the final polls suggest a presidential election – and a country – fairly evenly (and often bitterly) divided across party lines.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

As many of us go to the polls to shoulder part of our responsibility as citizens in a democracy, the 1946 Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church in the United States offers this prayer:

Almighty God, who dost hold us to account for the use of all our powers and privileges: Guide, we pray Thee, the people of these United States in the election of their rulers and representatives; that by wise legislation and faithful administration the rights of all may be protected, and our nation be enabled to fulfill Thy purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Does our vote — the best of each person’s wisdom, experience, conscience, and faith teachings — count? Yes.

Does it matter who wins today? Yes.

Will the next president and city council member and senator and school board member enact laws and policies and nominations that will effect our daily lives and the lives of our fellow citizens? Yes.

Will winning or losing mean life as we know it is over? No.

The reality is that regardless of how the votes turn out, we still have to live together on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and through the next year and the year after that.

The division and anger we have seen around this presidential election is significant. We have been quick to demonize the other candidate, the other party, the other supporters, the other voters. And yet, truly, there is no them. There is only us.

At Montreat Conference Center a few weeks ago, Melissa Harris Perry quoted Maya Angelou saying, “You can never say of other people that they are monsters. Anything that another human can do, you can do. We are all capable of greatness and of horror.”

That sounds familiar. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

Against that backdrop of human goodness and sinfulness – our capacity for greatness and horror – Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Indeed, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. My friend and colleague Don Meeks says be very careful who you label an enemy, because the second you call someone an enemy, you are compelled to love that person.

I pray that on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and beyond, the church will help us find a way forward as a country and as communities. We are well poised to do this — not only because of our Lord’s command to love one another — but because of the kind of community we are called to be.

For the church gathers NOT around a particular issue that aligns with a particular political agenda, but around a foundational belief in the transformative power of God who has the power to transform us individually and collectively.

We gather NOT out of convenience or likeminded-ness, but because of a deep commitment that we belong to each other – that our salvation is bound up in the salvation of others.

We gather NOT around identity politics or ideology or age. Rather, we’re one of the last places in our society where people gather across generations and differences and seek to create together the beloved community.

We gather NOT as a social club or professional organization, but as a people who are seeking to know and follow Christ in our daily lives.

Go vote today. And in the days ahead let us commit ourselves to the long, slow work of loving our neighbors and loving our enemies and seeking together the common good for the sake of Christ who was sent because God so loved this world.


JessicaTate270Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC. 

Can the Center Hold?

by Don Meeks

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

(The Second Coming – W.B Yeats)

These immortal lines, penned nearly a century ago in the tragic aftermath of the first world war, seem eerily prescient of our current moment in American culture. Things are falling apart in front of our very eyes. Or so it seems.

Racial injustice. Income inequality. Theological division. Political acrimony. The list could go on.

Can the center hold? Can we bend just a little further without breaking? Can we find our way through this wilderness? Can we bridge what divides us?

Or even more modestly, can we even talk about all this?

ncp-open-spaceA few of us in National Capital Presbytery have begun a project that is far easier said than done. Aware of the many divides that impact our churches, we have asked ourselves one simple question: Can we talk? That is to say, can we reach across one of the aisles that divides us – the theological aisle – and actually have a meaningful conversation as evangelicals and progressives?

Can we honor each other, in the name of Jesus Christ, as sisters and brothers? Can we listen deeply and attentively to one another? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own?

The catalyst for this conversation came from an event hosted by one of our sister churches in the presbytery during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. The event featured a panel discussion on Christian civility between Richard Mouw, then president of Fuller Seminary, and Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times.

Mouw noted in passing the common practice in political conversation for one camp to put their very best up against the worst of their opponent. Naturally. This is how the game works. In short, demonize your opponent and you never need engage in substantive debate on the issues.

Driving away from that event, I wondered aloud to myself, “What would happen if we turned this thing on its head? What if I chose to openly acknowledge the worst of the evangelical tradition and practice, and chose to affirm the best of what I see in the progressive tradition? And…can I find a progressive to join me and do the same?”

I call this a “thought exercise,” for it requires a fair amount of thinking. Some hard thinking. Some counter-intuitive and counter-cultural thinking. (Trust me – it gets easier).

In time, I posed the thought exercise to one of my presbytery colleagues, Jeff Krehbiel, and thus began what we now call a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience.

Jeff and I have co-moderated an on-going Open Space dialogue prior to presbytery meetings for the past two years. We modeled this conversation at the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta last February. And most recently, we led a panel-discussion and officiated communion in presbytery plenary meeting.

Can the center hold? Can we find others to join us in this modest and gracious conversation?

Jeff and I have been asked to curate this month’s NEXT Church blog in hopes that we might widen the conversation and bend it toward reconciliation and bridge-building across the theological and other divides. We invite you to join us as conversation partners and ambassadors of reconciliation in Jesus’ name.


don-meeks-headshot-2Don Meeks is the senior pastor of Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia. He is active in the Fellowship Community within National Capital Presbytery.  His vision for ministry is to invite people to experience and express Christ-likeness in all of life. He is an avid golfer, psalmic intercessor and songwriter.

Community Work, Transforming the World

by Angela Williams

When I was discerning a second year in the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, I felt called to focus on activism, advocacy and community organizing. At the time, I did not know that working with NEXT Church would dip my toes into the world of community organizing. I did not know that splitting my time with NEXT and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church would place me in direct contact with pastors who have been organizing for more than 25 years. I did not know that I would become a part of a core team of leaders in the church organizing with Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), an affiliate of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation. I did not know that this would be my perfect placement.

tsr_5500_webIn the past seven months, I have learned practical and applicable skills to work in the world as it is in order to help transform it into the world as it should be. In the church, we use language like “redemption” and “reconciliation” to describe how God is working with us here and now to create the world as it should be. As resurrection people, we see many cases of injustice, indecency and death in the world around us, but we have faith in the good news of Jesus Christ that tells us God is not done working to reconcile, redeem and resurrect every part of Creation. Because of this truth, we must continue to have hope that God is working to make all things new, to make the world as it should be.

Together, as a community of beloved children of God, we are called to do our part in reconciliation and redemption efforts. Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a sister organization to WIN, shared some of their organizing story at the 2016 National Gathering, which continues to inspire me. Their leadership illustrated what is possible when faith leaders, community members, governments and businesses, representing all colors and creeds, come together to improve the community. However, Alison Harrington reminded me, the nitty gritty work is not sexy, nor does it make headlines. Often, it is difficult, mundane and frustrating. Still, I remain committed to the idea that organizing is a necessary and essential part of creating the world as it should be. If you missed Alison and BUILD at the National Gathering, I encourage you to check out the videos of their time at the National Gathering, as well as all of our other challenging, yet inspiring speakers.

I invite you to join me on this weekly blog journey of the day-to-day work to organize and create positive social change in my community. Perhaps you may find possibilities to act in your own context.


AngelaWilliams270Angela Williams is currently walking alongside the good folks at NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, D.C., after serving a first YAV year in the Philippines. She finds life in experiencing music, community organizing, cooking any recipe she can find, making friends on the street, and theological discussions that go off the beaten path.

2016 National Gathering Allan Boesak Keynote

Allan Boesak presented our Monday evening keynote at the 2016 National Gathering. You can find a PDF transcript of his keynote here in addition to the recording.

Allan Aubrey Boesak was born in Kakamas, Northern Cape, South Africa in 1946, studied at the University of the Western Cape and received his PhD in Theology from the Protestant Theological University in Kampen, the Netherlands in 1976. 1976 also marks the Soweto Uprisings and Allan Boesak’s entry into public life in South Africa. Dr Boesak served the church and the ecumenical movement in various senior capacities since 1978, including as President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the first person from the global South and youngest ever to be elected into that position. Under his leadership this world body adopted the “apartheid is a heresy” declaration and suspended the two Dutch Reformed Churches from membership for their theological and moral support for and justification of the apartheid system. In 1983 Allan Boesak called for the formation of the United Democratic Front, which became the largest organised, non-racial, nonviolent anti-apartheid movement in the history of the country. Allan Boesak became its most visible leader and spokesperson until its closure by the ANC in 1991. Dr. Boesak is a preacher and teacher, and remains deeply and passionately involved in global struggles for human rights, social, economic and ecological justice, gender and sexual justice across the world. His most recent publication, Kairos, Crisis, and Global Apartheid, the Challenge for Prophetic Resistance, was published by Palgrave McMillan, 2015. Dr. Boesak is the first holder of the Desmond Tutu Chair for Peace, Global Justice and Reconciliation Studies, and founding director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Reconciliation and Global Justice at Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University in Indianapolis.

Numbness to Conviction, Fear to Faith

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post was originally shared on the Union Presbyterian Seminary RSGA blog.

by Laura Kelly

All of creation feels like it is aching in the pains of terror, violence, oppression, and injustice. And, prior to attending the NEXT Church National Gathering, I felt burnt out, numb, isolated, and like I was pleading for justice to an brick wall, my flawed confessions merely run amuck in the midst of all the noise.

laura_next_reflectionWhile listening to some of the speakers at NEXT, I found myself dancing again, the dance of liberation. My numbness turned to conviction, my fear to faith. With words from Denise Anderson and Jessica Vazquez Torres and Allan Boesak and Pastor Eesh, I couldn’t help but feel my cup begin to overflow, not for my own self benefit but for the world who is thirsty for living water. NEXT met me at the crossroads of the world’s pain and God’s abundant reconciling grace. NEXT forced me to consider how I might use my voice to respond and serve those who have been marginalized and forgotten. NEXT challenged the status quo – by shifting from a conversation of lament about a dying church to a call for an engaged church who uses its voice for denunciation of injustice in all spaces and places.

Allan Boesak challenged the church by sharing that when God has reconciled the world to God’s own loving self, God will ask us where our wounds are. If we say we have none, we also say that we had nothing to fight for. Yet, there is so much to fight for. Children drinking poison in Flint, refugees who have no place to lay their heads, violence erupting within sanctuary walls, and politics that seek to instill fear of other rather than love of neighbor. As these clashing sounds erupt in the sphere of public life, the church turns toward the vision of God’s creative order and we must dance until liberation flows from our mouths and hands and feet and into our lives unto a new and restored world reconciled to the love of the Triune God.

Three days in Atlanta with hundreds of inspiring stories. One lifetime to accept the challenge, and press on. Let’s do this.


laura kellyLaura Kelly is a final level M.Div. student at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Laura will begin the process towards board certification as a hospital chaplain as she embarks on her CPE Residency year at VCU Health System in the fall. She enjoys improv comedy, reading, writing liturgy, and spending time with people she loves. Laura loves the city of Richmond, and serves on the board for Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities. Her favorite place in the world is a small village in Guatemala called “Chontala.”

Racial Justice: For White People Who Want to Do Something

Michael Brown.

Eric Garner.

Tamir Rice.

Freddie Gray.

Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. Depayne Middleton-Doctor. Clementa Pinckney. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson.

Sandra Bland.

Samuel DuBose.

Friends, it’s been a heavy year and we’ve had much to grieve. Our sanctuaries and worshipping communities have held space for lamenting our loss, uncomfortable learnings about white supremacy, but unfortunately, devoted very little action to racial reconciliation. Many of us are trapped by white guilt and white fragility–paralyzed from acting by the fear of doing it wrong and revealing that though we desperately want to build God’s beloved community, our subconscious thoughts and actions are shaped by racial biases.

So instead, we work to educate ourselves about white privilege. We teach a Sunday School class on The New Jim Crow. However, at the end of the course–when the media frenzy surrounding the latest instance of police brutality against a person of color dies down–passions fizzle out and we put our work for racial reconciliation on hold until the next grave injustice garners our attention again.

Here is a proposal–hardly unique–that we hope will build accountability and momentum for moving past the white fragility where many of us get stuck. It’s simple: reverse the order. Instead of beginning with education and research with the hope of discerning how best to act, begin with the action to generate the energy needed to continue moving.

Act. Hold a prayer vigil. Collaborate with local racial justice groups in a parade or demonstration. Partner with a neighboring black church for a mission project and relationship building. Audit your church’s children’s library and add books until 50% of characters are represented as non-white. (Then move on to the adult library and add books until 50% of the authoring theologians are non-white.)

Reflect. Evaluate your action. Discern directions for what comes next. Grapple with addressing your own racial biases. Find the gaps in your education and follow your curiosity to begin learning more.

Educate. (We like to think we’re great at this!) Begin filling in those gaps. Research and lay the groundwork for your next action.


To help you get started, here are some resources for each phase:

ACTION: Do something concrete.

  • If you’ve ever thought, “If I weren’t so busy, I’d have time to do something about race,” Showing up for Racial Justice has action tool kits that conveniently lay out actions that you can take based on time commitment. If you have 2 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or more, SURJ has suggestion for how you can make the best use of your time do something.
  • For a more holistic approach, Laura Cheifetz’s blog post outlines eight concrete ways to address racism, from shifting your news source to supporting black businesses to hiring a consulting firm to partner with your congregation for training.

REFLECTION: Take some time to process and evaluate.

  • This NEXT Church resource runs through the basics of an IAF-style evaluation. In this instance, your “big picture” goals may have been “show solidarity and support” or “further develop relationships and foster understanding.”
  • Our blog topic in June 2015 was Contemplation and Social Justice–here is a list of all posts. Contributors from the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. shared reflections on their experiences of race and the transformative power of contemplative practices. These authors model how to integrate faith and action with making sense of racial oppression. (Intimidated by the list? Try starting with For what shall I pray?)

EDUCATION: After doing something and reflecting on that experience, where does your curiosity lead you?

  • For the novice: Have a burning question about race? Ask a white person. This site is run by a group of experienced racial justice anti-oppression educators for peer-led discussion. While tempting, it isn’t fair to turn to our POC friends and colleagues and ask them to shoulder the burden of educating white folks by sharing their experiences of oppression. Is there a time and a place for meaningful sharing and discussion around racial justice? Absolutely. But do your research first. This is a great place to start.
  • For the group learner in need of structure: There is a free online class taking place in August. It’s an introductory course covering systematic racism, white privilege, racial bias, and being a good ally. Learn more and sign up here.
  • For the independent learner: In the wake of the massacre in Charleston, an academic twitter conversation (#CharlestonSyllabus) emerged for folks trying to make sense of the tragedy by studying its historical context. This is a list for voracious readers and historians that covers a wide range of topics from the specific context of race in Charleston — colonial times through reconstruction and the civil rights movement–to systematic white supremacy, and even how to talk about race with children. (And for those of you who would rather watch documentaries than read thick tomes, there is an similar film syllabus as well!)

What other resources for ACTION, REFLECTION, and EDUCATION would you add to our list? Let us know.

2016 National Gathering: Feb 22-24 – Register Today!

Faith at the Crossroads

 

What’s at stake?

For you? For your congregation? For your community?

First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta

Feb 22-24, 2016

This NEXT Church National Gathering—timed at the beginning of Lent—will engage questions that invite us into the transformative power of reconciliation and inspire us by the stories of those witnesses who go before us. We will hear stories of reconciliation from Allan Boesak, liberation theologian and advocate for social justice in apartheid South Africa. Atlanta native, Bob Lupton will share experience to prevent charity from becoming toxic. Andrew Foster Connors, Bishop Doug Miles, and Glenna Huber of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) will witness to the importance of community organizing in creating social change and reconciliation.

We will worship together and be enriched in workshops, testimonies, IGNITE presentations, and relationship building. The questions framing our time together are:

  • How do we navigate the choices before us in faith-filled, Christ-honoring ways?
  • What’s at stake in the mission of the church today? Why does the church matter to the world?
  • What does it look like when the community of faith engages in reconciling work in a fractured city?
  • For what are we willing to give up the past and present form of the church we know and love? For what are we willing to sacrifice ourselves and lose our lives?
  • How do we practice the reconciling work about which we preach without giving in to partisanship or confines of ideology?
  • How do we give voice to places of sin, brokenness, and violence without becoming stuck and overcome by guilt, but able to move forward in hope and humility?

There are choices to be made in how we go forward as Christ’s church — as individual disciples, as congregations, as a denomination.

Learn more and register here!

Will #nextchurch2015 Move the Church Towards Racial Justice?

 

This week we are gearing up for the National Gathering! This series of posts first appeared on conference co-director Rocky Supinger’s blog and are shared here with the permission of the author. Check out the original posts at YoRocko!

By Rocky Supinger

NEXT Church is next week!

I’ve enjoyed blogging about past NEXT Church gatherings, for example herehere, and here.

This week I’m sharing four questions I’m bringing with me to my favorite annual gathering of Presbyterians [full disclosure: I helped plan this one].

So, my first question:

The fouled up racial reality of the American context is more clearly in focus today than it has been for years, at least as measured by the mainstream media discourse. Michael Brown and Eric Garner are household names, and #blacklivesmatter is necessary to state now. How will the urgency of racial justice inform what happens next week?

A colleague shared this in an email yesterday:

I still have my same concerns about the church in general and about NEXT in particular. The events of the past six months, especially events around Ferguson, have even heightened my sense of concern for organizations that are predominantly led and and membered by privileged white people, including organizations like the PC(USA) and NEXT Church. I’ll be interested to see if your conference makes any movement this year compared to the last several years I’ve attended.

One way to measure movement toward racial justice in a gathering like this is by looking at who’s up front. NEXT has always work hard at diverse racial representation among its leadership, even if the PC(USA) is a mostly white palette from which to draw.

Among others, this year’s gathering will hear from Chineta Goodjoin, the Organizing Pastor of a new African-American church in Orange County, as well as Tiffany Jana, who heads a consulting firm with her husband Matt that helps organizations harness the power of diversity (watch her TED Talk below).

This year’s theme, “Beyond: Our Walls, Our Fears, Ourselves” lends itself well to addressing the church with urgency to explicitly address its witness to a world in which police officers openly send racist emails, fraternity brothers at a prominent university chant “hang ‘em from a tree” with glee, and young black men are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police.

It’s on us to push things in the direction of justice and reconciliation. I expect next week’s gathering to offer concrete ways to do that.


 

Rocky Srocky supinger (472x640)upinger is associate pastor of Claremont Presbyterian Church in Claremont, CA and co-director of this year’s NEXT Church National Gathering. Connect with him at his website, YoRocko!.