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J.Lo, Latina Body Politics, and the Church

By Kate Riney

Michelle Gonzalez, in her essay, “The Jennifer Effect: Race, Religion, and the Body,” treats theological aesthetics and body politics through the pop culture phenomenon of Jennifer Lopez.[1] Gonzalez argues that Lopez is the most influential Hispanic entertainer in the world given her multi-industry participation including, music, film, television, fashion, and dance. As a result, Lopez is hotly debated by the media, but also by global feminist theologians who see her as either problematizing or liberating a Latin identity.

For this feminist theologian, the treatment of Jennifer Lopez in the media acutely problematizes the white American eroticization of Latina bodies as exotic and “other.” Deconstructed, commodified, and reduced to her body, and specifically her butt, Lopez stands as a glaring example of objectification of women as a theological issue.

Lopez is the first Latina actress to be paid over a million dollars.[2] Rising swiftly to fame in the 90s, Lopez has built a career on her artistic talents, business savvy, and ability to seamlessly crossover industries. Her most celebrated, albeit controversial role to date, is still that of Selena, in which she played the real-life Mexican-American pop singer. While Lopez, a Puerto Rican-American, argued that her Latin identity gave her enough in common to understand the role and represent Selena well, many criticized the casting of a non-Mexican Latina in the role of such a historical figure.

Lopez’s argument reflects “Latinidad,” a global perspective that blurs the distinctions between individual Latin ethnicities, cultures, and politics. This universalizing of the Latin identity prioritizes a focus on the arts, bilingualism, and a close connection or solidarity with the common people.[3] Still this blending of cultures does not have to equate homogenization or essentialism of ethnic identity. Others argue that this concept of a “Latinidad” offers a solution to the shared, if diverse, cultural self-understanding present in Latin culture due to multiple colonizations. Alicia Gaspar de Alba says, it “embodies the very cultural, linguistic, and racial affinities the historical realities of colonialism, mestizaje, linguistic terrorism, cultural schizophrenia, territorial displacement, and organic feminism.”[4]  Likewise, for Frances Aparicio, Latinidad is a “decolonial imaginary” that represents the organic development of widespread shared cultural experience due to colonization, immigration, and subjugation.[5]

An analysis of Jennifer Lopez’s part in the global imagination of Latino/as, has to consider the treatment of her body. Throughout the 1990s, Jennifer’s rejection of the Hollywood ideal body-type (Anglo, slender, and virtually androgynous), became not only a celebration, but a fetishizing of the curvaceous body-type. What is more, this shapely body was equated with people of color (further homogenizing ethnicity) and eroticized the butt.

Men of color were characterized as “ass men,” a construction we still see today with the advent of public figures like Kim Kardashian and revival of lyrics like “my anaconda don’t want none unless you have buns, hun.” Gonzalez says, “Lopez’s body is a public site where Latina sexuality and Latina bodies are constructed, exploited, and celebrated.”[6] Through the media’s portrayal of Lopez and the treatment of her butt, Latin women were homogenized and essentialized as “brown, voluptuous women.”[7] Conversely, Frances Negrón-Muntaner finds in the attention to butts the celebration of Latino/a culture, “it is a sign for the dark, incomprehensible excess of ‘Latino’ and other African diaspora cultures. Excess of food (unrestrained), excess of shitting (dirty), and excess of sex (heathen) are its three vital signs.” Risking imposing my opinion as an Anglo North American feminist theologian on others, I resolutely disagree with Negrón-Muntaner. Even a celebration of the “excesses” of colored culture is a gross over-simplification that sounds dangerously akin to stereotyping.

Does the subversion of the white gaze, drawing the Latina gaze, constitute a form of empowerment? I do not see a liberating aspect to the objectification of any person, regardless of ethnicity. Whether empowering to Latin identity or not, Lopez’s body becomes reduced to the male sexual gaze. She is trivialized and her body takes the shape of a container. The package is worshipped, while the contents, however appealing or entertaining, become accessories to the main event: the sexualized body. Who cares what Jennifer Lopez sings about as long as her butt looks good?

Female body commodification, women’s bodies objectified as commodities for sexual use and economic gain, is an issue in virtually every culture, none more so than in the economically robust U.S., however, for immigrant populations like Latino/as, their aesthetic differences are most easily harnessed, exported, and appropriated for sale of goods (if not sex itself), due to their perceived exoticism, and their extreme marginalization.

As residents who often lack political voice, communication abilities due to a language barrier, and diminished economic opportunity, immigrant Latino/as of all ethnicities in the U.S. are reduced to the capabilities of their bodies. For men this often looks like forced or underpaid manual labor, for women this is also often the case, however, even more often Latinas’ bodies are appropriated for sex. Their body(ies) stand as a symbol of eroticism for popular Anglo culture and a container for both white and colored men’s penises.

This is only further demonstrated by the fetishizing of the large/round butt—yet another avenue for men’s sexual pleasure. Jennifer Lopez’s body is not sensationalized for dark hair, espresso complexion, pleasing facial features, a delicate collarbone, “thick” thighs, muscular arms, a shapely back, or even wide hips. No, the obsession remains squarely with her ass-et. Would Jennifer Lopez be as famous without the sexualization of her body? Certainly not, but many Latinas would not have to struggle under the gender oppression of body politics in such gruesome ways if not for her butt’s singular significance.

Gonzalez reflects on Christianity’s response to body politics, noting that, “it is ironic that a religion that emphasizes the importance of the historical embodiment of its savior is so ambiguous about women’s bodies.”[8] Thus the theological task remains to restore a right understanding of the physical and material, including embodiment. Still, a far broader witness is required in our U.S. Christian context. The first task requires recognition of the sacredness of life and human worth. The second is to develop a right celebration of embodiment, particularly with respect to women, in which our bodies are equally reflective of the image of God and a part of the incarnation. Third, we must name and denounce the myriad of ways we see women of color, particularly our Latina sisters being commodified.

The signs and stories of Latina oppression and objectification are present in the news, media, history books, our neighborhoods and pews. As pastors, preachers, and theologians we need to use our influence and prophetic witness to call out this evil, minister to the wounds of the oppressed, and transform our culture through rejection of fetishized bodies and an acceptance of a healthy theology of embodiment.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Michelle Gonzalez. “The Jennifer Effect: Race, Religion, and the Body,” in She Who Imagines: Feminist Theological Aesthetics, 87-101. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2012.
  2. Ibid., 88.
  3. Ibid., 90.
  4. Ibid., 91.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 92.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., 100.
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The Missing Witness

By Paul Knowlton

About ten years into my law practice despite both legal and business successes, I started to sense that something was missing from both. Something big and transcendent that I couldn’t put my finger on, the absence of which created a tension in my otherwise fulfilled career. At first I considered it some amorphous lack of enjoyment so I tried to placate it, usually by upgrading to a faster motorcycle. But that proved too naïve a solution. Rather, the sense was akin to the frustration of knowing there is an evasive eyewitness to the proximate cause of my client’s injury, but until I identify, locate and produce that witness the jury will be unable to resolve the questions of fact and decide the case in my favor.

I also began to understand that I was not alone in my tension; my lawyer friends could not identify, much less locate and produce our evasive witness. I tried putting words to that which we couldn’t identify, but to no avail. Several attorney friends, all older, leaned into the space separating us to offer clues and encouragement designed to propel me further into the quest for our mutually evasive witness.

And search I did. I began with the usual path for a lawyer looking to do more in the name of justice and career satisfaction: volunteering for pro bono work and lots of it. I began with being a guardian ad litem and quickly grew that to include family matters, landlord tenant disputes, wrongful termination, wrongful foreclosure, immigration, and criminal defense, all with an eye toward finding the mother lode of fulfillment through working for justice.

One difficult week, after mediating one pro bono client’s third divorce and defending another’s fourth drug charge, I began to think about the relationship between the law and the business of the law in a different way. Perhaps, I thought, there was fulfillment and a sustainable business model in being more than just the damage control guy a client needs in crisis. What if I could work upstream of a crisis by counseling a client away from the self-destructive thinking and behaviors that led him or her to court? In other words, what might it look like to wear the counselor-at-law hat to deal with a client’s litigation yet be able to put on the licensed professional counselor hat to help clients avoid future conflicts and crises that inevitably led them to litigation? My experience suggested to me a market opportunity for lawyers willing to broaden their practice with a complimentary skill set.

But did I really want to return to graduate school for a master’s in counseling just to test a market hunch? Could I afford the risk of reducing my practice while pursuing another degree program? Even confident that I would excel in the coursework, did I really want to cram and sit for another round of day-long licensing exams? To each of these questions my response was an honest, “No, not really.” Nevertheless, after completing my due diligence, and with the support of both a patient spouse and faithful friends at the firm of Hope Baldauff – who worked with me to dial back but continue my intellectual property practice, I began the Fall 2011 semester as a master’s degree candidate at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus.

Several months into the program, between the assignments due at Mercer and work product due at the firm, I somehow found time to read an interview of Chief Justice Hunstein. There she quoted a famous maxim I’d read before, but this time it profoundly resonated with me. “The practice of law is one of the three great professions: theology for preservation of the spirit, medicine for preservation of the body, and law for preservation of civilization.” What resonated so profoundly with me was that I finally noticed theology was listed first. (Note: the word ‘theology’ is used, not the word ‘religion’ and the distinction shouldn’t be glossed over or the words carelessly exchanged.) I do not read this maxim as necessarily placing theology above the others, but I do read it as placing theology before the others.

I weighed and reflected over that maxim for some weeks, particularly in light of my recent coursework and training. As a lawyer I knew crises causally reside upstream of litigation. My recent training taught me mental health counseling preemptively resides upstream of crises. Through the lens of the maxim and similar recent training I then turned a corner to understand that theology is preemptive even of counseling. Logically, of course, this means theology likewise resides upstream of both crises and litigation.

Soon I began to wrestle with whether theology was that big and transcendent but absent something that initiated this search. What an odd twist to my quest, I thought, to find the missing witness hiding front and center of a famous maxim. I researched, discussed, and tested the possibility that theology – a sound theology that both guides and supports balanced justice – is the real upstream solution to both my clients’ crises and my quest. That was not an easy realization for me. Neither was the switch to pursue an M.Div from Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology instead of a counseling degree, as I remained confident about the market opportunity for an attorney who is also a licensed professional counselor.

Surprisingly, I was one of three lawyers in my class of theologians at McAfee and a meaningful number had graduated before us. I was encouraged to know I was not alone in my quest. More surprisingly, I am grateful for the switch to studying theology. As I prepare for the last semester of this program, I have to ask myself and honestly respond whether the deep dive into theology was worth the painstaking effort and sacrifice. The brief answer is: absolutely. I now understand the exploration of one’s theology as a sure route to fill the void or ease the tension that most of us attorneys live with daily. I propose theology provides a preemptive solution to crises, litigation, and counseling. It is the “missing witness.”

I suspect my deep dive into theology is just the beginning of a journey that if nurtured will be lifelong. Since coming to understand the role of theology vis-à-vis the law, and putting theology in its proper position ahead of both the law and the business of the law, I find fulfillment in both. There are a number of additional benefits to practicing this new perspective. The most glaring may be a strengthened love of a good law or judicial decision, a deepened appreciation for a well-run law firm, and a renewed faith in the grand potential of lawyers that lead with sound theology. I recommend the quest for one’s theology to every lawyer desiring to fill the void and ease the tension. Take the risk to explore, even if you are comfortable with your present theology—no, especially if you are comfortable with your present theology.

……………………….

Paul Knowlton is a lawyer and M.Div candidate in the Pastoral Care track at McAfee. He and his wife Amy live in Decatur. This is Paul’s last semester and like most graduates is in search of the right career move upon graduation.

F

Why I Still Use the “F” Word

By Kali Freels

In my theological schooling, I have learned much about mindfulness. We are taught to be mindful of others’ emotions, aware of others’ hurts, and considerate of others’ journeys. This consideration of our brothers and sisters involves an openness to their story. It is a discipline that requires patience, practice, and compassion.

One of the biggest components of mindfulness is how we refer to God. Progressive seminaries overflow with conversations on gender-inclusive or gender-neutral language about God. We are reminded that God is not a man, and that God created humans, male and female, in God’s image. God will not be restricted to any limitations we try to give God, including gender.

I am thankful for these conversations. In a world full of gifs and blogs about seminarians’ frustrations when people only refer to God with masculine pronouns, however, I think there has been an overcorrection. While I believe we need to act upon our convictions that God is indeed not a man, I think we need to find a balance. We need to teach people that God is above gender labels, that it is okay to call God Father or Mother.

In his book The Shack, Paul Young illustrates God’s diversity. On an intuitive notion, Mackenzie goes to the shack where his daughter was murdered to try to make peace with God. While there, he has a dream in which he meets the Trinity in forms much unexpected: Jesus the Middle-Eastern carpenter, Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) the whimsical Asian girl, and Papa (God) the large black woman. Surprised, Mackenzie asks Papa why she chose to be a black woman. God’s response was Mackenzie did not have a good father figure as a boy and resented the title “father”. For Papa to relate to Mackenzie, she had to be something he was more comfortable with: a woman.

When I read this book, I was ecstatic. This book demonstrates the kind of mindfulness we are taught in seminary. God can be whatever that person needs to feel connected to God. So, whether God is a man or a black woman named Papa, it does not matter. Either, or any, portrayal of God helps individuals grow closer to God.

While I think it is important for Christians to recognize and be comfortable with the truth that God is outside the limits of gender, we need to take this conversation one step farther. We cannot stop at, “It’s ok to call God He or She,” or, “Just call God ‘God’ to avoid any hullabaloo”. To serve better others and to recognize better the vastness of God in our own lives, we need to teach one more thing: redemption.

I identify with Mackenzie. As someone who did not have a good father and had no father during some of the most formative years of my life, I understand Mackenzie’s disdain for the word “father”. For the longest time, that word rolled off my lips like poison every time I spoke it. How could I use that word to describe my holy, loving God? This, I know, is the story of many other wounded souls.

As I grew older, I continued to use the term “father” for God. Some may read this and think, “Poor girl! If only she knew it was okay to call God ‘Mother’ it would have saved her so much heartache!” I knew intuitively that God is not a man, but I didn’t know what else to call God. As I continued to call God “Father,” God began a healing process that only He could instigate. Much more quickly than I would have on my own, I came to peace with the term “father”. God became the Father I did not have and the fact that I still have a Father restored a normalcy and balance my life lacked. It was only after that process of redemption I could start trusting men and forgiving my dad. God redeemed the “F” word for me.

Papa redeemed the “F” word for Mackenzie, too. During his vision, Mackenzie was able to forgive his father for the pain in his life. After that moment of reconciliation, Papa became a man to Mackenzie, an example of what a father should be.

So how should we encourage people to talk about God? Tell them God’s not a man. Please, for heaven’s sake, tell them God’s not white. Tell them it is okay to call God He or She. Most importantly, tell them there is redemption in calling God Mother or Father. Remind them that our God is the God of healing. He will heal any wounds associated with whatever title you are afraid to call Him, even the “F” word.

Young, Paul Wm. The Shack. Newberry Park: Windblown Media, 2007.

………………..

Kali is a first year M.Div student in the Global Christianity track at McAfee, a tutor, and an anti-trafficking volunteer for a local ministry. In her spare time, Kali likes to read, play clarinet, and watch Friends reruns.

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Travel as Pilgrimage: Dwelling in the Mystery

Photo by David Garber

An excerpt from Sharlyn Menard’s project, entitled: Travel as Pilgrimage

 

“Leaving my comfortable home to go thousands of miles away and immerse myself in a culture vastly different from my own, I asked myself an important question. Why travel to distant lands unfamiliar and filled with unknowns? Where is the logic in it? Why not read or watch a film about the place to learn its history? After all, how different can it be?

The untraveled road, however, beckoned me to venture its mysteries and explore its surprises in person. To risk real change and experience otherness is to be a pilgrim on a journey, open to the possibilities presented along the way. Traveling with the Mercer Mission Immersion group to India confronted and expanded my heart and mind as I learned as much about myself as I learned about the culture.”

For a reflection project, Sharlyn composed a digital journal that seamlessly weaves photos, psalms, and original poems together based on various stages of  pilgrimage as she experienced it in India. pilgrimage. In Stage 3 of the pilgrimage, which is titled, “Gratitude” Sharlyn quotes the Buddha saying, “You cannot travel the path until you have become the path.”

A Song of Ascents

Happy are all who fear the Lord, who follow His ways.

You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors; you shall be happy and you shall prosper.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons, like olive saplings around your table.

So shall the man who fears the Lord be blessed.

May the Lord bless you from Zion;

may you share the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life, and live to see your children’s children.

May all be will with Israel!

Psalm 128

Dwelling in the Mystery

Responding to Psalm 128

There is pleasure in solely being in God’s creation

Celebrating the simple beauties of being alive.

So the pilgrim trusting in God’s provision spends her day

Learning to see the essence of this place

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, continuing along the path.

Our lives are filled with many moments, large and small.

Discovering the beauty in small details

Gives us a new perspective on grace over merit…

Intuition morphs into an awakening of where we need to be next in our life.

Our Divine blessing, in turn, leads us to be a blessing to the world.

You can view the whole pilgrimage poetry journal here.

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Temple Gates

Photo by Kelsey Stillwell

A poem by Alyssa Aldape

They’re dead
They’re not divine
They’re not alive they’re just cement and plaster with lead paint.
I believed it because
The unfamiliarity of idol worship is familiar and safe.
At a distance.
Behind their temple gates.

They’re blue and have elephant heads and multiple limbs
God doesn’t need those things
They have it all wrong
We should pray for them and their souls.
Pray that God saves them.

I feel at home around the idols.
They are dead I’ve always known this.
It’s never phased me.

“You must remove your shoes in this holy place.”
It’s not strange- I do this all the time.
Except this time is different.

The marble is just as hot
The hum of holy chants and smell of cheap incense
Loud and pungent as usual.

But then we turn the corner.
To see the room of sacrifice.
The blood of a sacrifice paints the white marble
In hopes of healing and redemption.

My feet just touched the blood.
How gross and barbaric.
But then I can’t help but hum
“Nothing but the blood of goat- um Jesus…”

The  blood of a goat/lamb- not so different.
The God in the Hebrew Bible required atonement.
Required a sacrifice.
This isn’t that different anymore.
The unfamiliar becomes familiar

People lying on the hot marble shout for food and a drink of water!
Worshippers scurry pass
With eyes tightly shut in “meditation.”
In hopes of no eye contact.
Why doesn’t anyone help them?
But then I realize this isn’t so different
From the places of worship in America.

No, the people may not always lay on the church steps and cry out
But we ignore the cries and close our eyes tight in prayer
Pleading to the God of social justice
Yet we plead and rarely act.

It’s not so different.
The mystery hiding behind the temple gates all these years.
I finally see it and what I see is not satanic or wrong.
What I see is something familiar.

Now the unfamiliar is familiar
No longer at a distance or hidden behind rickety gates.
Their images don’t look dead to me anymore.

 

Poem inspired by a McAfee Mission Immersion trip to India in Spring 2014.

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This Mysterious Search for God

A Poem By Rebecca White

The scent of curry and the noise of chatter in the air,

The men straightly sitting on the left, facing the altar,

The women robed in saris and Western wear on the right,

The children, kneeling in front,

All watching and waiting.

 

If they can just worship,

by singing familiar tunes in unfamiliar tongues,

by preaching through patient pauses, making room for the translator’s skill,

by dancing vibrantly before and for God.

 

If they can just worship,

God will see them.

 

They yearn to meet God, to know God, to be a part of God’s Kingdom.

 

If only they can worship,

in this lively search for God.

 

The feel of the warm air blowing flags of many colors,

Many people moving quietly, sitting silently,

Dogs meandering through garden pathways,

Chipmunks scurrying across grass and stones,

Monks moving in postures of prayer, up and down, kneeling, lying, standing.

 

If they can just pray,

in silence and in solitude,

in kneeling rows of colorful robes,

in motion, sweat dripping from their faces.

 

If they can just pray,

the Buddha will grant them peace.

 

They long for calm and focus, for themselves and for all the world’s people.

 

If only they can pray,

in this tranquil search for God.

 

The thick heat, sweat on skin and hanging in the air,

Crowds pushing inward, tighter, closer,

Loud voices talking, crying, shouting!

All are eager, watchful, urgent in their pressing,

They must get inside, they must get a peek!

 

If they can just offer a sacrifice,

the bright red of freshly spilt goat’s blood,

the cooling freshness of a coconut’s milk,

the brightness of the spring blossoms.

 

If they can just offer a sacrifice,

Kali will help them.

 

They cry for, long for, must have help, for themselves, for family, for country.

 

If only they can offer a sacrifice,

in this frantic search for God.

 

The feel of a ceiling fan against dewy skin,

The whisper of a mosquito net,

The smell of freshly cut mangoes mingling with the stench of sewage,

The sound of laughter on a bumpy bus ride.

They need comfort.

 

If they can just find God,

in the face and heart of a Christian Indian guide,

in the unseeing eyes of an orphaned toddler,

in the kindness of strangers, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, and Christian,

in the hearts and voices of fellow travelers sharing stories, sharing faith, sharing life.

 

If they can just find God here,

they will feel at home, they will be alright.

 

They long for rest, for the familiar, for something Christ-like.

And, because they looked for God,

through lively worship,

in the tranquil prayer,

among the frantic sacrifice,

within themselves and each other,

 

They found the Presence,

in this beautiful, mysterious search for God.

prayer

I Can Do More: A Lament

August 2014 is a bad month. People are angry. Humans are dying. Cultures are dividing.

These are the talking points we have to discuss:  Depression is a disease. Ukraine is in turmoil. ISIS just beheaded an American journalist. Refugee children are detained at the U.S. border. Airlines stopped their Liberian flights. Ferguson, MO feels more like 1960s Birmingham. Thousands of Palestinians have limited food and water. Police aren’t soldiers. Entire planes go missing. Gay Christians still aren’t accepted. Suicide is all too common. Race is still a divide.

Lately I’ve stood in the pulpit thinking about who we are and what we’re doing, and I hear God saying,

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)

In other words, I’m standing in the pulpit wondering, “Is God satisfied with our worship?” Then I think, “How could God be? I’m not satisfied with it.”

I’m not satisfied with the space I’ve created for parishioners to lean close to the Divine in a month that’s brought so much death, so much separation, so much destruction and pain. I’m not satisfied with my response (or lack thereof) to Robin Williams, Ukraine, ISIS, Malaysia, Refugee children, Ebola, Ferguson, Gaza, Gay Marriage or Racial Profiling.

My response has been yet another solemn assembly, yet another noisy song that does little to alleviate the brokenness we all feel. It’s just a business-as-usual worship service.

It’s like I believe God honors loyalty over anything else, so I keep showing up each Sunday thinking God will be pleased with me.  But who am I kidding? Worship should make others feel the rolling waters of justice and the righteousness of an ever-flowing stream.

Yet our worship is similar to the ancient Israelites’, and our lack of intentionality incubates the world’s brokenness even more.

Worship must be better. It must be built around the things that matter. It must listen to the spirit of God in the midst of the brokenness. It must move us to action. But how?

Rachel Held Evans said in a recent Sojourners blog that we should 1) Lament 2) Listen and Learn 3) Loose the chains of injustice. This is a good start. Our worship needs to grieve the plight of the world. Our worship needs to create space for the spirit to move. Our worship needs to address the craziness in the world.

My soul can’t facilitate another worship service that turns a blind eye to the pains and sufferings in the world. My soul can’t pretend that God’s anything more than frustrated with how I’ve worshiped. My soul can’t read another blog or see another news story and compartmentalize it as if it were a Netflix Original Series, gripping but insignificant to my daily routine.

So I offer this blog as a lament. My Lord and my God, I’m sorry. I can do more. We can do more. You need us doing more.

This article was originally published for ABP/RH Blog.

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Fumbling the Bread of Life

By Brett Younger

When you go to a new place you hope that the new people will think you are smarter than you are—or at least smarter than the people at the old place think you are.  Moving is a chance to leave behind every time you dropped something you needed to hold on to, tripped over your shoestrings, or forgot what you were supposed to remember.

Carol and I recently began serving as interim ministers at Santiago Community Church in Santiago, Chile, more than 4,000 miles from any of our old places.  This international, interdenominational congregation is made up of gracious Christians who have never been to a Baptist church—or even wanted to!

I went to worship the first Sunday hoping that our new congregation will think that I am smarter than I really am.  I was concerned about the details of the Lord’s Supper in this Anglican/Presbyterian/Methodist/just-about-everything-but-Baptist church.  After the sermon (which they keep telling me is shorter in Chile) the minister walks to the front, receives the offering plates, holds up the money, says a prayer, calls for the passing of the peace, walks to the table, leads the Great Thanksgiving, recites the words of institution, eats the bread, drinks the wine that is not Welch’s, moves along the railing sharing the bread, circles the choir, along the rail, and around the choir several more times.  I did almost none of this when I was pastor of Mother Neff Baptist Church in Moody, Texas.

The service is going as planned.  I receive the offering (pesos weigh more than you think) and the congregation willingly passes the peace.  But when it comes time to share the bread, I walk towards the railing, stumble just a little, and fumble several pieces of the body of Christ.  If this was a Roman Catholic congregation I would have been on the next plane back to Georgia.

I kneel to pick up the bread of life and hide those pieces under my thumb.  I stand and say, “This is the body of Christ,” and hear the sacred response, “Your shoe is untied.”  This is not what I expect, but it is accurate and explains why communion wafers have hit the floor.  I kneel on the other side of the choir to tie my shoe, a skill that most master as a child.

Then I remember that I was supposed to take communion first.  I am now the loser with his shoe untied who dropped the bread and took communion at the wrong time.  I wanted them to think of me as the kind of minister who keeps his shoes tied, holds on to the body of Christ, and takes communion at the right time, but that is not going to happen.

Most of us want the people at church to think we are better than we are.  We would like to be admired, but communion is for people who are not always impressive.  The Lord’s Supper does not depend on us doing it perfectly, because communion is about the forgiveness God gives in the bread of life and cup of grace.  One of the requirements for coming to the table is admitting that we are not as smart as we wish.  We are part of the church because we are imperfect.

Christ’s table is for those who need a place to go when they do something wrong.  We tell a seemingly insignificant lie that threatens to poison everything.  We speak a careless word that haunts us.  We betray someone we love.  We wish our mistakes would fade away, but they keep showing up to remind us that we are not all we hope to be.

We need the church because we need a place to go when we feel empty.  We bend under the weight of unfulfilling routines.  The glories of motherhood give way to baby-related chores that must be repeated with nauseating monotony.  The subject we loved in college becomes a dull job we must keep to pay the bills.  The retirement we looked forward to for twenty years shows up five years too late to be enjoyed the way a fifty-year-old imagines retirement.

The hope of the Christian faith is not that we will get it right, but that God loves us in spite of our foolish ways.  The gospel is not “Be good, kind, and friendly.”  The gospel is not “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  The gospel is “We fumble the bread of life, and God loves us anyway.”

You and I need the Lord’s Supper because sometimes we trip.  We drop things.  We forget what we should have remembered.  We need a place where we can join with others who, like us, need God’s grace.

This blog was originally written for and published by Baptists Today.

time

Holy Time. Sacred Space.

There are moments in life . . . moments that are weightier than others; they sit in the forefront of our minds carrying wonder.

Infused with meaning, they’re the 3rd-and-short-Todd-Gurley-breaks-loose-for-a-fourth quarter touchdown kind of moments. They’re the gold medal rounds, the first kiss, the announcement that you’re having a baby boy, and the doctor declaring your cancer free. These moments are the engine, the life force that keeps us getting up and moving every morning.

Although marked in time, these moments seem to transcend it altogether. Their memory, their energy is felt . . . far beyond.

The Greeks had a word for this, kairos. Chronos meant the passing of time, but kairos, well that’s altogether different.

L.L. Cool J defines kairos the best in his movie, Deep Blue Sea, “Touch a hot pan, a second feels like an hour. Wrap your arms around the one you love, an hour feels like a second.”

Dr. Loyd Allen picked up on this same sentiment four years ago when he married Noelle and me.  He told us we had all the time in the world but no memories yet. Eventually, though, we’d get to a point when all we had were memories and very little time. He said, “In-between those memories, fill your time with love.”

Kairos moments are memories filled with love.

And also pain. There are other moments in life that sting, that carry with it truckloads of anger and regret. These moments rip the ground right out from beneath our feet. To the point we feel we can’t even stand.

Dr. Walker-Barnes’ diagnosed with cancer. Dr. Gushee’s mother just passed away. You have a miscarriage. Your husband loses his job. Police officers shoot and kill innocent, unarmed black boys. ISIS traps thousands on top of a mountain with no food or water. Refugee children are imprisoned at our borders.

These moments are weighty too, but in a different way. They carry grief, anger, and despair. They’re not life-giving at all. They destroy our hope and they breed fear.

I guess that’s why a few years ago when we hosted Walter Brueggemann he said, “That which unites all humans isn’t love, its pain.”

And Qohelet shares this same sentiment in Ecclesiastes 3 saying life’s rhythm is the balancing of both sides of this kairos divide.

There are times that we are born and then die,
When we plant and then uproot,
When we kill and heal,
tear down and build,
weep and laugh,
mourn and dance,
love and hate,

For every season . . . there is a time. For every season there is a place. And we’re always somewhere on both continuums.

So get comfortable with it. Or pay attention to the fact that you’re uncomfortable with it. But at least name it. Because it’s real. And it’s in front of all of us. We experience the good with the bad. Mountaintop moments as well as valleys. And we can’t control it. We can hardly predict it.

Time unfolds as it will. Life happens.

And we’re just hanging in the balance stuck in the middle of it.

Literally. We’re stuck in the middle of it. As ministers, our place is on both sides of the kairos divide. We’re helping and holding, hoping and healing, praying and waiting, partying and grieving, worshiping and attending.

Our place is to help others see the joy that comes in the morning . . . and to sit with them as they wrestle with the despair that lurks at night. Our place is to provide space for others to feel and experience the Divine . . . and feel safe enough to rise from the ashes of pain. Our place is in the pulpit declaring God’s word. . . and at Hospice whispering words of hope. Our place is in the baptismal waters . . . and the court room at someone’s trial.

For the kairos divide is strong enough to transform someone trapped in sin to feeling the living waters of God’s grace. It’s also able, though, to send loving people, like Robin Williams, into depression and even death.

And there you are. Stuck in the middle. Helping others deal with life and find their way.

I know a recovering addict. He called me the other day and cussed me out. Top down, just ripped me with his language. I shouted over the phone, “You’ve called the wrong number!” There’s a pregnant pause. He quietly asks, “Who is this?” I reply, “It’s Pastor Barrett!” The next thing I hear is, “Shit!” and then he hangs up.

I also know a retired school teacher who’s developing Parkinson’s. She shakes all the time. She pretends it’s not there and gives excuses when her Sunday school class asks about it; she just says its a reaction to her new medication and the doctors say it will go away. She so badly wants to keep her best face in front of her peers. Honestly, she’s not ready to admit what time’s doing to her body.

I know a third person who trumps every sentence you say. Literally. He’s a one-upper. I don’t think he knows he does it; it’s just somewhere deep within his psyche. It’s pretty hilarious. On my worst days I’ll set him up just to see what he’ll say and then secretly laugh about it.

And the truth is, all three of these people come to church looking for sacred space and holy time. All three of them bring the good and the bad and look to me as pastor hoping that I will help them decipher God’s hope for them. They’re hoping I can help them experience something holy.

The world needs ministers translating God’s power, analyzing life’s movements, and listening to the spirit of the living God . . . because life happens, we get out of rhythm, and we need help finding our way.

As ministers . . . our place is in the joy and in the pain. In both places, we experience sacred space and holy time. We don’t always have to see it coming nor do we need to know what to say. Most of the time, it’s best to not say anything at all. But your presence in the good and the bad of people’s lives, is a holy calling.  There’s no excuse for not recognizing it.

Recently, I performed a wedding for a couple in my church community. I didn’t want to do it at first. Weddings take up a lot of your time. And I could already get the sense after meeting with this couple for premarital counseling that it might not be the most detailed of all weddings. With fifteen minutes to go before the ceremony began, it all fell apart . . . the groomsman missed their cue because they were hovering Zaxby’s chicken fingers in a Sunday school room. The videographer decided to do monologues with the bridesmaids and they couldn’t get the mic to work. It was storming and the grandmother was still in the car in the parking lot because she didn’t want to mess up her hair.

But when it finally came time for the vows, there I was, standing in that space . . . ready to experience something holy.

One month ago this week, my wife’s last remaining grandparent passed away. Retired pastor and veteran, he lived to 89 and died of congestive heart failure. In the midst of our own grieving, our own feelings of failure for not making it to his bedside in time, and the agony of knowing he didn’t get to see his great-grandchild one last time, in the midst of all of that, I watched my wife compassionately offer support and council to her parents, siblings and aunt. She was there helping others express grief, shed tears, and sit comfortably with death.

And that’s Qohelet’s message for us today.

He’s reminding us about the nuances of life and how our job is to help people interpret it. We help open people’s eyes to the fact that God’s not causing the cancer or wars or drought or anger. God’s not intentionally destroying just so God can rebuild. God’s not throwing stones just to gather them up. God’s not hating us, injuring us, setting us back or dividing our lands; rather, life is just unfolding. Time is just passing. Plants are being uprooted and then more are being planted. So don’t blame God. Qohelet doesn’t. We shouldn’t. It’s just the rhythm of life.

In other words, God’s not the evil dictator waiting for us to fail. God’s not the manipulative architect designing flaws in the system to test our faith; rather, God’s alongside us helping us experience the holy in the midst of the mundane.

For in the midst of the yin and the yang, the good and the bad, the timely and the unforeseen, sits the presence of God. It’s all around us. And the world needs our help to see it.

When I think about the ancient Israelites, I see a group of people struggling with finding the same rhythm as us. But I also see them systematically doing something about it.

Their laws were built around the notion of Sabbath. Their blood, sweat, and tears went in to building and maintaining a Temple. The idea wasn’t lost on them that if they are to manage a healthy rhythm of life, then they’re in need of holy time and sacred space.

And the idea can’t be lost on us either. If we’re going to help others experience kairos moments, we need to position ourselves to receive them too.

So pay attention when you go to concerts, the mall, the movies, and even church.  Pay attention when you go to ball games, class, family’s houses for lunch and the beach for vacation.  Pay attention when you’re at a cabin in the mountains, a favorite restaurant to eat and in a favorite chair to read.

It’s in these places we find God. It’s in these moments that time is more kairos than not. It’s in these moments we can help others find peace.

I don’t have a tattoo (how’s that for a transition?), but if I did I know what it would be. Have you ever heard of the 3rd century mathematician, Archimedes? He once said: “If you give me a lever and a place to stand, I’ll move the world.”

I’d get that depicted on my body somewhere. It captures something of who I want to be and what I want to be reminded of. It reminds me of my own need for holy time and sacred space.

We all have God-given gifts that can affect change, do good, create beauty, make a difference in the world. That’s our lever. But we also need a solid place to stand. A place not riddled on the fault lines of fear, but rather on the sure shores of God’s grace. A place that we can dig our feet into and use our gifts to make a difference in the world.

That’s the image I’d want on my body. For a long time I used to think McAfee was that place to stand. I was and am still so proud and grateful to work at McAfee. But I used to give it the credit for being my place to stand. It made sense. I’m rooted here. I have a voice. I can affect change.

But the more I think about this image and my own need for kairos moments, the more I realize McAfee’s not the ground in which I stand, it’s the lever that moves the world. It’s the tool.

The place where I stand is something else. Something deeper, something more. It’s the resolute faith that God is still moving and loving and healing in this world. It’s the belief we can find God in both time and space. That’s where I stand. That’s my solid ground.

And I’ll keep using levers like McAfee and the church and blogs and nonprofits to make sure those around me know what God’s up to in this world. I’ll keep using levers to help God create beauty, love kindness and share sacred space. That’s where I stand. That’s where Qohelet is too.

May we be people who stand firmly in both time and space. May we use our gifts to help others find God in the rhythms of life. It’s what God’s calling us to do.

—-

This sermon was oringinally written for and preached at McAfee School of Theology’s chapel service on September 2, 2014.

Missing Gwen

Gwen and PamBy Pam Durso

It has now been a year since that moment on August, 27, 2013 when I learned that Gwen had died. She was my friend. She was my pastor. She was my Panera Bread lunch date, my fellow dreamer, my encourager. And I have missed her, am missing her still.

Over the past year I have gone several times to the cemetery to “visit” her—oh, I know she isn’t there. But my heart is drawn there. In the oddly mysteriousness that is grieving, I have discovered that being in the cemetery brings me comfort. There I have felt free to talk to her, to update her on our church, to share with her about the happenings in my life, and to tell her how much I miss her.

The last Saturday of June—after our Baptist Women in Ministry gathering and all of the events of General Assembly, I found myself driving to the cemetery. I hadn’t been to visit in a while, not since her grave marker had been put in place, and I was eager to see it and to “talk” to her.

I parked where I always park—and walked toward the place where her grave is. But I didn’t see her marker. I walked up and down the row—looking for it. It was nowhere to be found. I moved to the nearby rows. It was not there either. I searched the entire section. I walked to the back section, examining each grave marker, looking for her name. Not there either. Not anywhere. I knew she wasn’t up in the front section, but I went there anyway, searching for her, paying careful attention to the newest grave markers. But I couldn’t find Gwen.

And that was when I started talking to her, “Okay, Gwen, where are you? I can’t find you. Where have you gone? I know, I know where you should be. But you aren’t there. Where are you!?”

When I stopped for a moment, I heard myself saying those words, and I realized that I finally was saying out loud what I had been feeling all year. My heart has called out to her in these hard days of grieving—wanting to know where she is, where she has gone. My faith offers me assurance that she is with God, but my heart still hasn’t figured out what that means. My heart still cries out—wanting her to be here with me.

The next day at church I told my story to her husband, Charles, explaining how I had looked and looked for Gwen but couldn’t find her. He assured me that I had been right about the location. Gwen was where she was supposed to be. But the grave marker had had a mistake on it and had been removed in order to make the correction.

I now know for certain “where” Gwen is in the cemetery, but day-by-day I am learning, my heart is slowly learning, that my friend, Gwen Brown, is with the God she loved, the God she served. Gwen is in a place where she is loved, a place where she is healed and whole.

And I am here—still missing her.

—–

Pam Durso is executive director, Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. This blog was originally published at bwim.info and can be accessed here.

nash

Dr. Nash reflects after three weeks in India

 

By Dr. Rob Nash

One very meaningful moment occurred on a day trip outside Hyderabad when the group visited a church led by Pastor Paul.  The pastor had been trained at Bethel Ministry Training Center and, in fact, it was there that he learned to read.  The entire group was moved by Pastor Paul’s ability to read scripture and by his obvious excitement at having such an opportunity.  We shared together, sang songs, and then prayed for Pastor Paul, his church, and his family.  We also shared a wonderful meal of fruit and rice.

From Hyderabad, we moved on to the sacred city of Bodhgaya, the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment in the sixth century BCE.  Our class was able to meet just a few feet away from the Bodhi tree that marks the actual site.  The group talked at length about the Buddha’s life and about the influence that he had upon India as he wandered about north India and shared the Four Noble Truths and the Noble 8-fold Path that had transformed his life and perspective.  Each of the major Buddhist nations of the world has built temples in the city and we were able to visit a number of them, including the Taiwanese and Bhutanese temples.

The group spent five days in Kolkata during some of the hottest days on record in India.  Two days emerged as real highlights, including the one we spent at the Kali Kalighat Temple and the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity and the day we spent at Serampore seeing Serampore College. The visit to the Kali Kalighat Temple was quite sobering as we walked barefoot through the blood of the goats that had been sacrificed to the goddess that day and as we then tried to push through a group of desperate worshippers who had come to seek the blessing of the goddess.  It was quite obvious to all of us that the faithful were hoping for just a glimpse of the goddess in order to gain her favor and that they were not happy about a group of Americans attempting to see the goddess out of nothing more than curiosity.

We then moved on to the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity where we found ourselves sitting by the tomb of Mother Teresa and contemplating her life and work among the poor of Kolkata.  The day gave us much to think about as we considered the power of the goddess Kali as it was contrasted with the humble life and work of Mother Teresa.

On the next day, we worked together with other volunteers at two sites run by the Sisters of Charity, one a nursing home and the other an orphanage.  Again, this was a real highlight of the trip.  Half the group went to the nursing home where we made beds, washed clothes, and shaved, massaged and offered pedicures and manicures to the elderly.  This was truly an intimate experience of meeting the physical needs of elderly and poverty-stricken Indian men and women.  We also prepared lunch, served the meal, and cleaned up the facility afterward.  The other half of the group worked with orphans at the motherhouse.

Our final day in Kolkata was spent in Serampore where we visited Serampore College and studied the life and legacies of William and Dorothy Carey, among the earliest of Protestant missionaries in the eighteenth century.  Two students made presentations on the lives of the Careys and then we spent some time discussing the legacy of eighteenth and nineteenth century missionaries, a legacy best represented in the huge columns of the Carey home and of the main building of the college and in the college’s reading room in the library which seemed largely modeled after the reading room of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.  We also talked at length about the challenges faced by these early pioneers in mission service and about their contributions to the translation of scripture into local dialects.

From Kolkata, we moved on to Pune and to Mumbai and through several days of visits to Hindu temples and Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu caves.  From a historical perspective, this was one of the most interesting parts of the trip as these caves have existed since the sixth and seventh centuries CE.  The existence of caves from all three religions allowed for the opportunity to seal in the minds of students the markings of the various gods and goddesses of Hinduism, the various images of the Buddha, and the various thirtankaras of the Jain tradition.

We ended the trip in Mumbai with a visit to a slum ministry in a very challenging area of the city that is flooded twice each day with the ocean tide.  It presented us with an opportunity to hear about how this particular ministry sustains itself and, particularly, about how it partners with various churches and groups in the US to accomplish its ministry.

I offer a number of reflections here about the trip and its influence upon students and faculty alike:

  1. It afforded our students the opportunity to observe a wide range of ministries in India and to consider such concepts as assets-based community development, sustainability, and the cultural challenges of communicating the gospel in a Hindu context.  What do we need to take into account as we engage in mission and ministry in India in particular but also in any context?
  2. It assisted students toward the realization that all religion that is grounded in a desire to improve the lives of people is good.  Religion is nothing more or less than the desire to make sense of our existence by giving meaning and purpose to life.  For this reason, we should never fear persons of another religion; rather, we should embrace them and enter into caring relationships with them.
  3. It offered students an opportunity to lead worship in a context that required a translator and some cross-cultural sensitivity in language and communication.  Two women students were able to preach, an experience which was new both for them and for the congregation of Indian Christians who listened to them.  In addition, students were able to reflect on the nature of worship in such a context and about what makes for good worship given the realities of cultural and linguistic barriers.
  4. It enabled students to move beyond the general fear of otherness and difference that all too often hinders the ability of the church in any context, but especially in the context of the early twenty-first century when the US is becoming increasingly diverse.  Ministry students who participated in this visit to India will have no trouble engaging Hindu, Buddhist and Jain persons in relationships and in talking at length with them about life and faith.
  5. It reminded students that our own Christian perspective on God is limited in scope and that we have much to learn from the beliefs and practices of other religions.  Students were constantly making connections between Christian theology and the belief systems of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.  Many mentioned that their own perspective on God had been challenged by what they had seen and heard.
  6. Finally, it prepared our students to lead such immersion experiences themselves in ways that can take full advantage of the gift-sets of layperson in their congregations and that can look toward healthy sorts of engagements and partnerships in international contexts.  We were able to talk through the nature of such partnerships and the importance of clearly defined goals and strategies, including exit strategies.  I am convinced that the future of global mission engagement is dependent upon these proper motivations and connections in order to transform communities and change lives.

It was a privilege to lead the trip.  I am grateful for the opportunity and look forward to other mission immersion experiences in the coming years.  I am also grateful for the good work of Dr. David Garber who was a tremendous help throughout the immersion experience and whose observations and teaching ability ensured that students received its fullest benefit.

 

Stepping Out from Behind the Lens

By Rachel Freeny

Everyone loves a good story, and stories play an important role in our culture. They have the power to fill us with hope, expose societal weaknesses and start movements. More than that, stories connect us to each other and remind us of our shared human experience.

“You look at how much story is woven into the Bible, three fourths of it is narrative, but even just who we are as humans. We love movies, we’re drawn to stories,” Joe Murray says. “So many of the cultures of the world are drawn to story. There’s a lot of power in just telling stories.”

When Atlanta-based humanitarian photographer Joe Murray was in college, he was inspired to learn photography by multiple summers spent living in National Parks. “I realized what I loved more than the mountains was the pictures of the mountains, so I started reading a lot and doing a lot with that,” he says.

Through the years, he honed his skills as a landscape photographer and eventually branched out into portraits. His work as a humanitarian photographer and took him all over the world, but in 2009 a month long trip to North India changed his and his family’s lives.

Murray was also impacted by attitudes toward Muslims. “Coming back to America, and this wasn’t new to me, [I saw] how many stereotypes and biases people had, particularly about Muslims because of 9/11 and because of other things,” he says.

“So I came back and I started thinking, I want to start using my photography to tell visual stories about Muslims and break down stereotypes, in many ways try to humanize them.”

Most of the stories told about Muslims in America, Murray says, are filtered through the major media networks, which tend to only tell one side of the story. “Most Muslims are mechanics, they’re teachers, they have kids. In many ways they’re just like us,” he says. “So I think there’s a major need on a grassroots level to tell stories that the mainstream media’s never going to tell.”

In order for Murray to be able to tell the other side of the story, he felt he needed to invest more deeply in the Muslim community in India. “One of the things that I have found with photography is that to really get beyond what most people will see or experience or be able to take great images of, you’ve got to put down roots,” Murray says. “Once people know and love and trust you, they begin to open up their lives, and the depths of the images and the stories really begin to emerge.”

There is an art and an ethic to telling visually compelling stories that are true to the subject without exploiting him or her, and Murray is aware of these dangers. “With portraits I want to, as best as possible, tell stories that highlight the innate beauty, worth and dignity of people, and [for the photos] not to come off as something that makes people feel sorry for them,” he says. “Because in India, honestly the poverty is so immense that if you wanted to you could easily shoot those kinds of images. It’s not hard to find, but it doesn’t do any justice to [the people].”

The growing popularity and accessibility of digital cameras means visual storytelling is no longer limited to professional humanitarian photographers. Whether you are on a mission or volunteer trip or vacation, there is still a responsibility and ethic for how and when you take photos.

If we are not careful, we will spend more time looking at people through a viewfinder than engaging in conversation and looking them in the eye. “You want to have that exotic image and the kids are so cute and honestly at the most basic level it becomes a selfish pursuit,” Murray says. “It’s more about you and your desire to have the images for Facebook or whatever than it is about the reality that this person in front of you is still a person.”

Murray encourages professionals and amateurs alike to check their motives for taking the photo and get to know people. “Greet them, ask their name, ask them how they’re doing,” he says. “Just acknowledge them as a person.”

At the end of the day, it comes down to treating them like people and not projects. Sometimes that means knowing when to put the camera down and be completely present in the moment.

When it comes to the role of storytelling in kingdom work, Murray encourages artists to keep telling stories through whatever medium the Lord has gifted them in.

“There’s a lot of people who disqualify themselves [from ministry] because [they think] ‘I don’t have a seminary degree’ or ‘I’m not a gifted orator,’” he says. “I think God uses people that just don’t give up, they’re teachable they’re correctable but do whatever it takes and that brings with it a whole set of skills.”

From artists, to farmers, to fishermen, “the places that movement has happened, real movement, is among ordinary people.”

To learn more about Joe Murray and view his work visit TheVisualAdvocate.

On a Scale of 1 to 9, I’m a 5

Several weeks ago I participated in a session on the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a personality test similar to that of Myers Briggs, except it is more “spiritual.” This ancient method dates back to over four thousand years. However, the symbol above ages only twenty-five years. Those who took Greek know that the word ennea means nine. According to Dictionary.com, Enneagram is “a system of spiritual psychology based on an ancient Sufi typology of nine personality types or primary roles with the recognition of one’s type tantamount to a spiritual awakening “

Its purpose is for self-awareness and to determine what motivates your actions. From an early age, our personality serves as an armor that we use to protect ourselves from pain. However, this armor is not who we really are. Through the Enneagram we are able to find our core. While the goal of most modern personality tests are to create labels for diagnosing, the Enneagram is a study of the personality pattern so that we can release the pattern and not become limited by it. According to Enneagram specialist David Daniels, “it gives us a map to understand ourselves and others.” Deborah Ooten follows up by saying that it not only shows you yourself and others but it “provides you the tool of what to do afterward.” Jerry Wagner clarifies that we all look at the world through a lens. Yet, many times we forget that how we see the world is not how others see it. Through the Enneagram we are able to see with “fresh eyes.”

To see a detailed chart of the attributes associated with each type, click here.

For more information, visit the Enneagram Institute or you can join the community on Facebook.

………..

Decatur, Georgia native, Myron Krys (“Chris”) Florence received his Master of Arts in Interactive Media from Savannah College of Art and Design. Being a recording artist, speaker, author, and the CEO of MeddleMind Design; a graphic, web design and online services company; it is his ultimate vision to equip others to believe in themselves, their dreams and their God. He is in his second semester at McAfee on the Congregational track.

Soundboard

From Volunteer to Vocation

By Myron Krys

Throughout my life I volunteered at my church in one capacity or another; most times in more than one area simultaneously. This ranged from singing on the worship team and acting in church plays to teaching the 5th grade and 9th grade small groups. While I was very involved and spent many hours a week at the church, I was still a volunteer. There was less pressure on me to carry out a set task. Though I was very consistent, if something happened and I could not be there, I just told the respective leader and went on with what I had to do with little to no concern about who filled in for me or accomplished the task. They (the powers that be) were merely grateful for my willingness to serve.

However, all of this changed about a month ago. In talking with one of my mentor-pastors, he told me that his church needed a designer and I came to mind. After much prayer, I accepted his offer to be the Visual Media Director. While I knew this was a great shift, I did not realize how much. Being on staff at a ministry comes with various challenges and a whole new way of thinking.

Your business is your ministry

During office hours, you still have to be mindful that your ministry is business and your business is ministry. I heard one gospel artist say that ministry happens on stage; business happens behind the scenes. While many loathe the thought of identifying church and business together, the truth is, you must take care of business behind the scenes in order to do effective ministry in front of it. Yet, even still, you should make every effort to treat everyone with the love of Christ in every situation, especially in challenging ones.

There is a false notion by some that ministry is all glamorous. Because everyone is presumably “saved” and working for the Lord then there are never any problems. The staff sits around singing “Kumbaya” all day without a care in the world. It is always a peaceful, stress-free environment. This is not so. Anywhere people are, there will be some type of conflict. This conflict comes on varying levels of intensity; from your idea being turned down by the senior pastor to heated words between you and a co-worker.

My church is considered a mega-church. However, even with all its staff and pastors, everyone has to pitch in and even do things outside of their area of expertise. For instance, the Worship Pastor might have to help carry that cross on the stage. The secretary might have to get off the phones and help the Mission’s Pastor take food to the homeless. It is a team effort and you must be willing to do whatever it takes to help the team shine, even if it is not in your job description.

Like every job that I know and have ever worked, you will be over-worked and under-paid. But, hopefully, it is something that you love doing so it won’t seem like work, even though you just worked five hours overtime for free. It is all work and it is all ministry.

The pastor is the visionary, not you

What the pastor says goes. I have personally seen where people try to usurp the pastor. No matter what the structure of the church, the senior pastor is the set leader of the church; whether elected, salaried, or voluntary. You will not like nor understand everything that the pastor says and does. Yet, it is the pastor who will have to give an account to God for how he or she managed or mismanaged the souls of the church.

Needless to say, especially as of late, there are time when the pastor may do something that is legally or spiritually unethically. These times will require going to a high governing body. However, these times should be the exception not the rule. But, in normal circumstances, the pastor should be the final say-so. One friend told me that the church body should only have one head. Anything with more than one head is a monster. We definitely don’t need any monsters in the church. Let’s save those for the SyFy channel.

You see the inner trappings of the ministry

The theme song of an old television show sang, “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life…” The fact is, ministry is hard work. When the lay-member enters worship on Sunday, they see the finished product. For some who have never been backstage, it is easy to just sit in worship and never think, “who actually put that cross there on the stage? I wonder how heavy it is.” They can obliviously sit back and “enjoy the show” while less than a few yards away the AV team might be running around crazy trying to figure out why the mics aren’t working properly and there is a leak in the bathroom and someone needs to get it stopped ASAP.

We won’t even go into seeing the true personality and character of the leadership from day to day. We will just say that, this can serve as a challenge as well, or shall I say, an opportunity for growth.

You are given “a key” (more responsibility)

You are the go-to person. If you have a problem, you have to figure it out. Depending on the structure of the ministry, you may have someone you directly report to outside of the senior pastor. However, on Sunday morning during worship, if you are a ministry leader, you will have to make the tough decisions in the moment and let the cards fall where they may. The senior pastor does not have time to tackle your problem while preparing his or herself mentally and spiritually to deliver a word from God. You were placed in a position to do a job. Thus, you have to take ownership and do what you feel is best in the moment. Yes, there will be mistakes made. But, that is a part of the process.

Your ministering takes place at home

While others are enjoying the worship experience on Sunday, you are working to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Thus, you do not get to sit “carefree” in the presence of God on Sunday. Even in ministry that happens within the service; the musicians, singers, preachers, ushers, etc are constantly thinking about where they are going next and what they need to do to get ready vocally and mentally. Thus, this requires that they have their devotion some time from Monday through Saturday.

As a leader in ministry, this alone time with God is crucial. Without it, you can only give out of your own limited resources. When we do this, we get overwhelmed and burnt out very quickly. Regular prayer, worship, Bible reading, and even fasting enables us to tap into the endless Reservoir of Life. To be effective in ministry, we must stay tapped in.

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Decatur, Georgia native, Myron Krys (“Chris”) Florence received his Master of Arts in Interactive Media from Savannah College of Art and Design. Being a recording artist, speaker, author, and the CEO of MeddleMind Design; a graphic, web design and online services company; it is his ultimate vision to equip others to believe in themselves, their dreams and their God. He is in his second semester at McAfee on the Congregational track.

rfreeny

For Your Consideration: Summer Reading

By Rachel Freeny

Spring may be a little slow in getting here this year, but before you know it, summer will be upon us. Summer is a beautiful season in the South, hot as blazes and sticky, but still beautiful. Life moves a little slower, fruit tastes a little sweeter and going for a swim is good enough hygiene most days.

For most students summer is synonymous with reading for fun, with nary a syllabus in sight. All those books you meant to read or want to read are finally fair game. As you get started on your summer reading list, I’d like to throw out a few last-minute contenders. These four women changed my life, and if you give them a chance, they just might change yours.

1. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

When she was just eighteen-years-old, Katie Davis left everything she knew behind to move to Uganda. In this incredible book, which shares the title of her blog, Davis shares her story of answering God’s call, adopting thirteen little girls and what she has learned about faith and mission thus far. At twenty-two, she has encountered more than most people twice her age. Her honesty and insight will break your heart, fill you with joy and make you reconsider what surrender really means.

2. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Reading a book by Anne Lamott is often like reading a letter from an old friend. Her familiar tone draws you in and her beautiful, if sometimes unconventional, way of writing about life and faith will make it difficult for you to put this book down.

3. Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

Niequist is another author whose honesty endears her to you from the very first page. Her first memoir, Cold Tangerines, will awaken your senses and make you more observant to the threads of the sacred in the everyday. In this memoir, Niequist explores heartbreak and change and finding the beauty in the pain.

4. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

This is not a book you rush through but a book you savor as you read each page. Taylor’s style will play with your imagination as she introduces you to new ways of engaging with God. These new spiritual disciplines include everything from walking barefoot, to saying ‘no’, to paying attention. And really, what could be better than walking barefoot in summer?
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Rachel Freeny is a recent graduate of Samford University with a degree in Journalism/Mass Communication. Originally from Nashville, she is a first year student on the Global Christianity track at McAfee. Rachel is excited to be a part of the Tableaux team because she loves to tell stories that matter. When she’s not studying, she enjoys exploring and eating her way through the South.

Food for Atlanta

By Myron Krys

20 percent of people living in Georgia do not know where their next meal is coming from. 1 in every 4 children in Georgia live within these households. The USDA calls it “food insecurity” and defines it as the lack of access to adequate food resulting from the lack of money and other resources. This basic necessity and the lack thereof is so often taken for granted by the “haves” while it is a harsh everyday reality for the “have nots.” When you are hungry, nothing else matters. No child or adult can function at their maximum capacity without proper nutrition.

That is why Atlanta Community Food Bank came on the scene. Since 1979, ACFB has made it their personal mission to combat this ever increasing epidemic. With the aid of over 1,000 volunteers and over 100 staff members, ACFB fights hunger not only through food delivery but by engaging, empowering and educating communities. They offer a wide range of opportunities for someone to get involved. The seven projects that they work on include:

  • Atlanta Prosperity Campaign

  • Atlanta’s Table

  • Community Gardens

  • Hunger 101

  • Hunger Walk/Run

  • Kids In Need

  • Product Rescue Center

ACFB provides a well run, highly organized, friendly environment for anyone with a desire to serve the communities of greater metro Atlanta. Volunteers:

 Sort and pack food boxes

  • Help at a garden

  • Assist at an event

 For more information on the Atlanta Community Food Bank and their projects, contact them atinfo@acfb.org or call 404.892.9822.

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Decatur, Georgia native, Myron Krys (“Chris”) Florence received his Master of Arts in Interactive Media from Savannah College of Art and Design. Being a recording artist, speaker, author, and the CEO of MeddleMind Design; a graphic, web design and online services company; it is his ultimate vision to equip others to believe in themselves, their dreams and their God. He is in his second semester at McAfee on the Congregational track.

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