A Pastoral Care Response to Those Dying with AIDS

By Kate Riney

“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”

-Matthew 5:4

Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died worldwide from AIDS-related causes[1] and at present there are 1 million people in the U.S. living with HIV, both diagnosed and undetected. [2] And while funeral home discrimination is illegal, many families and friends affected by AIDS are refused full or fair end of life care concerning their loved one.[3] The tensions brought on by moral conflict over homosexuality, strained family relationships, and the stress of grief can be a lot to face, but these should never deter ministers from fulfilling their calling to offer pastoral care and conduct funeral rites at end of life to all persons.[4]

Believing that God is punishing the U.S.’ sodomy by killing its soldiers, Westboro Baptist Church is notorious for the picketing of military funerals. The most relevant instance of this consummated into a national court case. The family of Matthew Snyder sued WBC in 2007, alleging “invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. A jury awarded the family $2.9 million in compensatory damages plus $8 million in punitive damages, which were later reduced to $5 million.” [5] However, the church appealed the case in 2008, and in a vote of 8 to 1, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling, siding with the church’s allegations that its First Amendment rights were violated.[6] Thus, once and for all, the ruling clearly demonstrates that the law favors free speech over privacy rights. The question for Christians, is how would Jesus respond to such an ethical challenge?

The right to life or “sacredness of life” encompasses not only physical sustainment and quality of life upon the Earth, but also reverence and celebration of life as the gift of God, i.e. true spirituality. Thus, all persons, regardless of race, creed, religion, or moral stature should be given proper burials, a blessing and send-off from this world that memorializes their individual life and celebrates Life. If we claim to follow a norm of sacred respect and guardianship of life, we must do so in matters of death as well.

Violence to life can be done both actively and passively. Murder is active; the protests of funerals by Kansas fundamentalists is active; but even the refusal of recognizing a person’s life and their friends’ and families’ need to grieve and them send them off, while passive, is a violent act. It does damage to the dignity and value of the person based on a perception of their sinfulness. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, delivers this transforming initiative to his followers: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your friend and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love even your enemies and pray for them. Be like your Father in heaven who gives gifts and provision to saints and sinners alike” (Mt 5: 43-48, Paraphrase mine) —or as Kingdom Ethics puts it, “be all-embracing.”[7] And later he says this, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give, you will receive, measure for measure. Address your own sin, before concerning yourself with others’” (Mt 7:1-5, Paraphrase mine).

Fundamentalists argue that AIDS is a punishment inflicted by God upon homosexuals for their sin. If such a judgment is true, then shouldn’t we consider infertility, miscarriage, and even cancer to be punishments for sexual sin as well? Jesus repudiated the notion of physical suffering as a direct result of personal sin (Jn 9:1-3).[8] It also contradicts the common evangelical belief in substitutionary atonement. Clearly Jesus’ suffering and brutal punishment was not a result of his sin; rather it is historically interpreted as the result of and response to our sin as a people.

When commending someone into God’s hands, we are not the divine judge. Our responsibility is to care for the loved ones left behind; to lead the celebration of Life, the process of grieving; and leave retribution and reward to God. God is supreme in life and death, taking responsibility for our being. Romans 14 says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (vv. 7-9). Scholar and gay rights activist, J. Michael Clark says,

We can […] learn to impose meaning upon tragedy, to reject theologically unreasonable explanations of suffering, and to reconceptualize God as a compassionate presence in suffering, alongside those in pain or on the margins, as well as the ultimate source of empowerment for appropriate response. Discovering this divine empowerment enables us to forgive God, the cosmos, ourselves, and one another. We are empowered to care for (and not avoid) those who are suffering and thereby to contribute actively as pastors to the healing of the psycho-spiritual pain which AIDS brings and to the development of deepened interrelationships and safer sexual behavior.[9]

It can also be said that we miss out on an evangelistic opportunity when we disregard the call to give pastoral care where it is needed. Attending the bedside of someone who is dying and supporting the family through their confusion and grief is part of the pastoral calling. It is a grave duty that we should find honorable. Dismissing such opportunities is a rejection of what God has called us to as ministers and as followers of Christ.

Scholar, Byron McCane, notes that death rituals are some of the most deeply symbolic of cultural values since death brings about reflection on the meaning of life and evaluation of experiences.[10] While memorial and funeral services are of upmost importance to us today, Jews in Jesus’ time valued burial rites. Due to Jesus’ conviction as a criminal, the Roman authorities would traditionally have prevented Jesus from being buried in a family tomb as this was a place of honor, however, Joseph of Arimathea took great care to place Jesus’ body within his own family tomb.[11] In those days, honorable burial required immediate placement in a tomb, (often anointing with spices and oils), and mourning.[12] Jesus’ followers testified to the dignity and importance of their fellow Jew, teacher, and friend, caring for his body in death and mourning the loss of his life even in the face of his conviction as a criminal and heretic (Mt 27:57, Jn 19:38). We have the opportunity to do the same for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Finally, we are called to care for “the least of these” (Mt 25:31-46). Whatever we do for a fellow person, Christ counts as if we did for him. A refusal to comfort the grieving and dying is a refusal to come to Christ’s aid. No one should die alone. We endure immeasurable suffering in this world, but as Christians, we do not suffer alone. As far back as Israelite captivity in Exodus, God’s people has bonded together and shared in one another’s suffering as a people. Thus the attitude of a Christian should be, as Paul says, to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15).

Treating our brothers and sisters suffering from AIDS as if they are Christ means giving them and their loved ones proper pastoral care, withholding judgment, and celebrating life through performing a memorial service and burial rites. Clark says, “As we help a dying friend to maintain self-esteem by realizing the tremendous value of his/her life, and as we enable ourselves and others to retain the goodness of that life, however foreshortened, and its effects (over and above the effects of death) in our own continued, future-ward living, thusly do we contribute to redeeming the tragedy of AIDS-death.”[13] Thus, protection of end of life rights become for Christians and ministers a co-redeeming activity with God, turning all that is against life, back towards it.

 

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Kate is the managing editor for Tableaux and an anti-trafficking advocate. She is a third-year MDiv student at McAfee in the nonprofit dual-degree track. In her spare time, Kate loves cooking meals for friends, taking in the outdoors and drinking good joe.

 

[1] “Worldwide HIV & AIDS Statistics,” AVERT, December 1, 2012 (accessed November 3, 2014).

[2] “U.S. Statistics HIV/AIDS,” AIDS.gov, June 6, 2012 (accessed November 3, 2014).

[3] Jane Gross, “Funerals for AIDS Victims: Searching for Sensitivity,” The New York Times, February 12, 1987 (accessed November 3, 2014).

[4] Note: Not all homosexuals experiencing death from illness are patients with AIDS and neither are all AIDS patients homosexual or intravenous drug users. This distinction is crucial, though for the purposes of this paper, I will focus mainly on the right of homosexuals to pastoral care and funeral rites at end of life.

[5] Bill Mears, “Anti-Gay Church’s Right to Protest at Military Funerals Is Upheld,” CNN, March 2, 2011 (accessed November 3, 2014).

[6] Lindsay Network, “Five Incendiary Westboro Baptist Church Funeral Protests,” USA Today, March 21, 2014 (accessed November 3, 2014).

[7] Glen Harold Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2003), 341.

[8] J. Michael Clark, “AIDS, Death, and God: Gay Liberational Theology and the Problems of Suffering,” Journal of Pastoral Counseling 21, no. 1 (1986): 41.

[9] Ibid., 40.

[10] Byron McCane, Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus, Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003, 98.

[11] Craig Evans and N. T. Wright, “The Silence of Burial,” In Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, 44, 68.

[12] Byron McCane, Roll Back the Stone, 97.

[13] J. Michael Clark, “AIDS, Death, and God,” 52-53.

Light is Around the Corner

By Tiffany Pickett

A few months ago I was really struggling with depression.  My mom has progressively gotten more ill the past three years; stress from school and other personal issues has caused me to deal with depression from time to time.  A few months ago I had a severe episode with depression and in my darkness I decided to write about how I was feeling.  I hope my words can maybe give a voice to someone who feels voiceless, and shine a light on another’s time of darkness. 

Sometimes the darkness of depression creeps back in when I least expect it.  Life swirls around me carefree and bright when the edges of black start to distort my clear and happy view.  I haven’t always struggled with depression or self deprecating thoughts or feelings of hopelessness.

This hasn’t always been a fight I have battled, but it is now.

In my experience it hits when I least expect it.  Like any good enemy it strikes when my defenses are down, when my shield fails to protect me.  At my darkest moments I feel completely and utterly alone.  This darkness seems to know exactly when to come back around.  In some ways I push people away and I don’t realize it’s happening.  Depression can ambush me when my community wears thin and isn’t so tightly knit.  I find excuses to stop hanging out, to isolate myself with indifference and feel confidence in my solidarity with solitude.   Sometimes the shadows appear when I feel useless and unneeded.  You would be surprised how important it can be to feel needed.

These feelings so intensely tell me that my friends purposely avoid me and that they just tolerate me to begin with.  My family would be better off without me and there is no need to burden them with my insignificant problems.   So with these badges of despair I curl into a ball of emotion unsure of when to move, breathe, or what to think.

Sobs rack my body as I search for a silver lining, just a ray of that beautiful sunshine I so love.  I fear rejection above all else during these times.  Rejection by my friends, parents, that what I’m feeling, this darkness that has found me again, isn’t really that important.  I feel this unwavering sense that I need to be heard, to be understood, but it’s like I’m standing behind sound-proof glass with no way to break through.

With so many papers due, reading assignments to complete, and quizzes to study for there seems to be little to no time for mental health days.  The assignments go on whether or not you feel like you are even capable in that moment.  During days of depression it feels like I am constantly treading water just to stay afloat in the mountain of assignments, and work responsibilities before even addressing my mental health.   The thing is–I’m not just in graduate school. I am a seminarian.  I am attending an academic institution to pursue my calling from God to live a life of ministry.  Shouldn’t that mean I’m exempt from feelings of inadequacy, aloneness, and depression?  Absolutely not.

In this dark season I see God’s spirit at work in my life, but that doesn’t change that I am depressed.  It doesn’t mean that I am not as close to God as I once was or that my relationship with the Creator has back slid or waned.  It means that I have a mental health issue and that is perfectly okay.  In my battle with depression I have learned to accept how I feel, take ownership of my issues and believe that it doesn’t make me weak.  Being in conversation about depression and facing issues head-on only strengthens you.

Being a Christian and struggling with depression or other mental health issues means you shouldn’t hide or keep your issues hidden; at this time in life is when you need the community, compassion and love of the Church more than ever.  So if you feel like no one cares, no one is listening or what you are feeling is just too much, I promise you that someone cares, someone will listen and your feelings are valued.  I care, I will listen and I value you.  God cares, God is listening and God, above all, values you. In this darkness, light is around the corner.  In this pit of despair, a ladder of hope will be let down for you.  And remember you are loved by the Creator God.  You are loved indeed.

 

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Tiffany Pickett is a third-year student at McAfee School of Theology.

Put Your Hands Up and Surrender Your Schedule

By Rachel Freeny

The Israelites are a frustrating bunch. They experience incredible deliverance and provision, yet they still manage to wander. If God leaves them alone for one second, they they freak out, run off and worship a golden calf. They constantly turn from their deliverer to a graven image.

Every time they fall back into the same bad habits, I want to yell at the Israelites, “Are you kidding me? You get bread falling from the sky and a pillar of fire to lead you, and you still worship idols?” To borrow from Seth Meyers on SNL, “Really, Israel? Really?”

As those reading the story thousands of years later, we can easily get frustrated with Israel because we can see the whole story. The problem is we have idols too. Our idol may not be shaped like a golden calf but that doesn’t mean we don’t worship one.

Sometimes our idol looks like a calendar.

I’ll be the first to admit that empty calendar pages make me nervous. They either tell me I don’t have enough friends or that I’m lazy. It makes sense considering the high value we place on busyness in America.

We have our days scheduled down to the minute, between jobs and schoolwork and social commitments. The fear of unscheduled time comes from an unspoken narrative that we are what we do. We are not enough unless we are constantly on the move.

We are no longer allowed to be just one thing, and the pressure is on to do it all and do it all well. At first, we can usually handle it. But over time we get exhausted from being spread so thin. We hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that we can’t meet.

Busyness is one of our culture’s status symbols, but worshipping our calendars sets us up for failure. We lose any notion of grace because we forget that God didn’t design us to live this way. God commands a Sabbath rest for a reason.

“Enough” isn’t something we can strive for, it’s a gift given to us by the salvation we received from Christ. We were made new, meaning we don’t live for culture’s standard of worth.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” -1 Peter 2:9

We are enough because we are chosen to proclaim God’s glory and not our own.

The other side of worshipping our schedules is a false sense of control. If we can control our calendars, we can control our lives. We are in charge.

As followers of Jesus, we surrender control of our lives to God. Living in complete surrender, hands wide open, means putting down the pen and leaving room for grace. It means taking life one day at a time, kneeling before the cross and asking God to remind us God is with us.

It means loosening our grip on the things we want to control so desperately⎯our careers, our relationships, our schedules⎯and instead choosing to offer them up to God each day.

Surrender doesn’t mean living life passively but being open to the idea that our version of being in control isn’t always the most fulfilling or Christ-honoring way of living. It’s intentionally leaving room in our schedules for grace when the unexpected happens.

Sometimes we miss God moments because we don’t have room for them in our schedules. Let us not forget that “the human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (Proverbs 16:9 NRSV).

Just as there was grace for Israel, there is grace for us. Christ has set us free. Let’s use that freedom for God’s glory, surrendering our schedules one day at a time.

 

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Rachel Freeny is a graduate of Samford University with a degree in Journalism/Mass Communication. Originally from Nashville, she is a second 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.

Keeping Our Eyes Open

By Barrett Owen

Be strong and bold . . . for it is God who goes ahead of you.

– Moses to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:6

I love Moses’ phrase, “God has gone ahead of you.” Rob Bell talks about it in his latest book, What we Talk about When we Talk about God. Bell (and Moses) is arguing that God is simultaneously in the present and in the future pulling us into a better tomorrow.

The Greeks had a word for this: telos. It means God’s dragging, enticing, and luring us into the Great Unknown.

Ministers must be people who believe God has gone ahead of us. That’s the deep, sacred work of vocational ministry. We listen and discern, hope and hold on, pray and believe that God is in what we’re doing, and we can be not afraid or dismayed for God is gone ahead of us.

I’m a NEEDTOBREATHE fan. In their song Keep Your Eyes Open, the chorus says, “If you never leave home, if you never let go, you’ll never make it to the Great Unknown . . . so keep your eyes open . . .”

We ministers must be people who keep our eyes open. We stand on the precipice of what Diana Butler Bass calls the Great Spiritual Awakening, and we’re the ones people look to in order to see it, to interpret it. So keep your eyes open.

Or you’ll miss it.  You’ll miss what God is doing in and around your community. You’ll miss how God is translating life’s moments for a better tomorrow.

People show up at church every Sunday looking for a better tomorrow. They believe God is ahead of them, but they can’t see where or how to get there. They need help deciphering the Divine. That’s our job.

People need ministers translating God’s power, analyzing life’s movements, and listening to the spirit of the living God. When we believe God has gone ahead of us, then we’re on the right road to helping these people experience a better tomorrow.

And despite reasons not to be, we pastors must remain hopeful, for the story we tell is that we worship and serve a God who isn’t done with us yet. There’s more to come, more to the story, more to see. There are new beginnings to experience. We just have to look up on the horizon and believe that as we go, God is ahead of us preparing the way.

If and when we do this, we give people eyes to see the spirit of the living God. We give them eyes to see injustices flying all around. We give them eyes to see despair in the midst of fear, brokenness in the midst of insecurity, and shame in the midst of regret.

That’s the message of the gospel. That’s God’s hope for humankind. That’s the definition of metanoia. That’s the whole issue with forgiveness, and that’s good news worth sharing. If we want to see God, then we need to start by looking ahead.

Here’s to believing God’s not done with us yet.

Here’s to helping others see God.

Here’s to a better tomorrow!

——

This article was originally written for and published by Baptist News Global and used by permission.

Border Crossers

In May, 15 theology students and two professors took a trip to India, visiting multiple religious sites over two and a half weeks. The visits included various Hindu and Buddhist temples, a Muslim shrine and Christian churches. The leader of the trip, Dr. Rob Nash, and a student participant, Bryan Kidd, reflect on their experience.

Kidd: We experienced the unfamiliar. This was different from any experience I’ve had; I didn’t even have anything to compare it to. Stepping into the first temple in Hyderabad, it was unfamiliar, uncomfortable—just different. I became surprised at how quickly those temple experiences became familiar and not as challenging. Even though they were still kind of edgy, I didn’t put up a wall every time I went in and was asked to take my shoes off or be faced with different images or rituals. I was okay entering into those spaces and becoming a part of it, not just a viewer.

Nash: It’s interesting to me that you identify how it became familiar quickly. As I’ve gone to temples in India and in America, I forget how strange the experience is for people. What was the strangest experience for you?

Bryan KiddK: The Kali temple in Kolkata…the amount of chaos, the money being exchanged outside, the vendors, the [goat] sacrifice with the blood scattered on the stones, and the fight that we witnessed…seeing all of that and not being able to define what was going on because it wasn’t my context was strange. I’ve tried to think back about that experience, but it’s hard because it’s still uneasy to process.

N: I have to confess, that was even challenging for me. I led us in, and as we were pushing up toward the place where Kali [the deity] resides, I thought we might need to back out because I was unsure of how safe we were, but then you’re already halfway in so what are you going to do? You come out on the other side.

K: I’m glad that you didn’t make that choice. I think because it was so out of my comfort zone and I survived, I can go back and be alright. After those experiences, I still have a lot of the same beliefs. It didn’t automatically change me or cause me to make a different decision. I can experience those things and be okay with who I am, but still learn.

N: That’s one hope for the trip, that you become a guide across religions and cultures for the church. In a day in which we have a shrinking globe we really need to model that kind of comfort level. Did you sense anything familiar becoming unfamiliar to you?

K: I grew up in a Southern Christian culture where we think we’ve got it all figured out, we know what is holy, what is God, what is sacred. But going into these experiences that were so unfamiliar to me and experiencing something that is holy kind of breaks apart my definitions of what is holy or divine or sacred. I’m even struggling with that now; not trying to put the pieces back together, but being okay with the pieces where they are.

Buddhist TempleN: I’m always reminded of that human hunger for the divine. In a sense, it complicates my Christianity in that people who grow up in another tradition are going to find meaning and purpose out of the tradition that shapes their life. Like you mentioned—growing up, that’s all you know, and growing up, that’s all they know—so suddenly Christianity becomes for me something a little more unfamiliar that it was before. You know, in a secularized society like we live in, we sometimes neglect or forget the depth of that hunger for the divine. In our culture, you can get away with not even thinking about God for long periods of time. Then you go into a context like India, where the sacred sort of infuses life in many ways with the festivals and temples and the attention to the holy. It reminds me of the depth of that hunger and our need as ministers to pay attention to it. Were there any people who served as good teachers for you?

K: Another student on the trip, Alyssa Aldape, was generous in recognizing my ignorance within that culture and being willing to walk me through my silly questions. Her knowledge of the culture and practical wisdom were invaluable to me.

N: We learn in community. That kind of intense communal learning experience can’t be recreated without going together and experiencing together. You learn about being human. You learn about each other and you learn from each other in ways you wouldn’t otherwise.

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Read other articles from the Fall Issue of Tableaux.

Living in the Economy of God

Unjust compensation is an ethical issue facing us at every socioeconomic rung today, even in nonprofit and religious organizations. The income gap in the U.S. narrowed following the Great Depression and continued to do so into the 1970s, but since then it has widened. In a ten-year period, beginning in 1979, after-tax income for the top 1 percent of households grew 275 percent, while for the bottom fifth it rose only 18 percent. By 2013, the federal government found that the poorer half of U.S. households held 1 percent of the total nation’s wealth, while the wealthiest 5 percent held 63 percent.[1] While all income must be received graciously and stewarded generously, we also have a duty as Christians to engage in business ethics when it comes to meting out compensation packages.

In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus tells the crowd gathered at the mount that where their treasure is, their hearts will be also (v. 21). Jesus is reminding us of a very simple truth: what we invest in is what we value. When the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Herodians gang up to trick Jesus into betraying his allegiances, they use economic ethics (Mt 22:15-22, Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26). Asked the question, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus points to a denarius, with the face of the Roman Emperor imprinted on it. He replies, “Whose likeness, whose image is this?” The leaders respond resoundingly, “Caesar’s [of course].” Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s;” his second commandment forms the crux, or transforming initiative of the teaching, “give to God what is God’s.”

The reality is that we are far more concerned with Caesar’s kingdom than God’s. But in all infinite wisdom, the Creator formed us in the image of God. We are better than the portrait on a minted coin; we are living, breathing, speaking, active beings who have the Spirit of God poured into us. Our purpose is to live for God and advance the Kingdom’s reign on Earth. When we live for these immaterial riches, God is revealed in creation and we live off of God’s economy. This scripture is about the source of our identity and the constant human temptation to confuse our worth and purpose with our earthly treasure. Whose image are we bearing by the way we handle finances?

So what does it say about our values when we invest our money in individuals and corporations who hoard wealth and—in some cases—promote harmful and unethical business practices? Or what does it mean that our athletes and entertainers make multi-millions while our social workers, teachers, firefighters, and police officers who save lives make a pittance? A 2013 federal study found that the community and social services sector has one of the lowest paid average annual salaries ($44,710), dropping far below the averages of almost every other industry and lower than the national average ($46,440). Of these, religious workers are some of the lowest paid, making $33,520 ($16.11/hour). The average annual pay for healthcare assistants is $28,300—this is who takes care of our elderly, the mentally ill, the physically and mentally handicapped, and dying.

So should we value and compensate workers based on the skillfulness of their labor alone? This is the ethic that tries to justify exorbitant compensation of our nation’s CEOs. The top paid corporate executive in the U.S. makes over $141.9 million annually[2] and the average CEO at big U.S. companies makes between 204 and 357 times the average worker at the same company.[3] Companies like Walmart, Target, Walt Disney, Starbucks, Chipotle, Nike, and JC Penney make more than 600 times their average worker, including their other executives.[4] Data from The Nonprofit Times and Charity Navigator corroborate that the average nonprofit leader makes less than $120,000, compared to the $9.7 million median income for leaders of S&P 500 companies.[5]

In order to provide just compensation, one must take seriously a person’s skill and performance, but through the eyes of truth and love. Thus, human resource managers and board members need to determine compensation packages with the needs as well as the work ethic, experience, and performance of the employee in mind. Mott and Sider write that, “Justice demands that every person or family has access to the productive resources (land, money, knowledge) so they have the opportunity to earn a generous sufficiency of material necessities and be dignified, participating member of their community.”[6] Given that God’s universal destination of goods to be shared equitably among humankind, every household should have equal access and means to earn and maintain a stable life.

The complexity of this issue is what often deters us from engaging it: there is no one compensation package that fits all. Some individuals have more serious health needs, more dependents, higher education cost and debt, greater job responsibility or stress, etc. Thus, the federal government can hardly be expected to be the sole regulator of ethical compensation. But as individuals and as Christian leaders we can shape the ethical approach to compensation determination. Individuals should be cared for in the way they are paid, both in cash and benefits, with investment toward retirement, rest from their work, and provision for healthcare and well being. Performance should be only one determinant of compensation; workers should be given performance evaluations based on clear, measurable and agreed upon objectives and goals and given feedback and coaching to allow them ample opportunity for success (for guides on performance evaluations see the notes).[7] Personal need should be another factor in compensation; organizations need to show the values of love, justice, and worth of human life and dignity, when determining what is fair pay. Fair pay should not be the least amount acceptable for a service as determined by the government. Organizations should research data and compare salary figures across the field and geographic region. All attempts to close the earning gap between genders and races should be pursued. For profit and nonprofit executive boards alike need to be more diligent and just to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities to the public and the organization by setting less excessive and more responsible compensation packages for top executives.[8]

Christians today can live a Kingdom economic ethic by lobbying for caps on executive compensation and tax reform that prevents corporations from getting exorbitant tax breaks. We can also educate and advocate for ourselves and other workers’ rights. Some of us will even need to become board members who can provide ethical oversight to organizations navigating these turbulent financial waters. It all starts by living for God’s economy, serving the Lord rather than capital, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

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Kate is the managing editor for Tableaux and an anti-trafficking advocate. She is a third-year MDiv student at McAfee in the nonprofit dual-degree track. In her spare time, Kate loves cooking meals for friends, taking in the outdoors and drinking good joe.

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[1] Esmè Deprez. “Income Inequality.” BloombergView.com.

[2] “2014 Equilar Top 200 Highest Paid CEO Rankings.” Equilar.

[3] Smith, Elliot, and Phil Kuntz. “Disclosed: The Pay Gap Between CEOs and Employees.” Bloomberg Business Week. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-02/disclosed-the-pay-gap-between-ceos-and-employees (accessed October 20, 2014). Note: companies complain that Bloomberg’s average is skewed due to their inclusion of deferred compensation including benefits, retirement, and stock options, however, the AFL-CIO’s average does not include these non-cash benefits and actually reports higher disparate ratios

[4] Bloomberg. “Top CEO Pay Ratios.” Bloomberg.com.

[5] “2014 Nonprofit Salary And Benefits: Operating Budget And CEO Pay.” The NonProfit Times.

“2014 Charity CEO Compensation Study.” Charity Navigator.

[6] Glen Stassen and David Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 421.

[7] Simone Joyaux. “Performance Appraisal Process for the CEO.” Joyaux Associates.

Vincent Hyman. “Evaluating the Executive Director.” First Nonprofit Foundation.

[8] “Executive Compensation Policies.” National Council for Nonprofits.

Blood, Sweat, and Shears

By Brett Younger

This is no place for a shampoo. No gels. No mousse. No hairspray. No blow dryers. Just real razors and serious scissors.

I got this from Google translate: Yo no hablo mucho español. Quiero un corte de pelo. Yo quiero que se vea como el mismo. No corte mas. (I do not speak much Spanish. I want a haircut. I want it to look about the same. Don’t cut much.)

But apparently I inadvertently said, Yo no hablo mucho español. Quiero un corte de pelo. Quiero ver como un niño de nueve años de edad. Piensa Beaver Cleaver. Por favor, use tijeras oxidadas. También me gustaría que ocupe algodón con alcohol para que me arda la cara como un fuego. (I do not speak much Spanish. I want a haircut. I want to look like a nine-year-old boy. Think Beaver Cleaver. Please use rusty scissors. I would also like for you to use cotton balls to dab on alcohol that burns like fire.)

We were the only two people in the barber shop—which makes sense now—so I decided to practice my Spanish.

Me: ¿Cuántos años un barbero? (How many years a barber?)

Barber: Long, meandering, incomprehensible to me me five minute answer that ended with cincuenta anos.

Me: Cincuenta anos. Muy bien. ¿Vive en Santiago toda su vida? I had been working on “Have you lived in Santiago all your life?” for the last four minutes of his answer.

Barber: No. Yo vivía en el norte. This was followed by an extensive, circuitous response that I did not understand at all.

Me: Si. El norte. ¿Tiene una familia? I had been waiting with “Do you have a family?” for some time.

The Barber: No. No familia. Then he spent a significant amount of time explaining why. I’m not sure what he said. As best I could make out he was married when he lived up north. They moved to Santiago or she may have left him to come to Santiago. They split up or he killed her. I realize how that sounds, but I thought I heard a wistful Yo la maté. I recognize that he could have just as easily been talking about a bush (mata) or check mate in a chess match (mate). Perhaps I missed him telling me about his time as a matador. He was talking pretty fast.

If this were a movie the big confession would make sense. Maybe he’s been carrying around this horrible truth for cincuenta anos. He’s never told anyone. Then this gringo with a severely limited vocabulary wanders in. My barber realizes he can say anything and I won’t have a clue what’s going on.

Even if by some unlikely accident I hear “I killed her” and by some bigger fluke I tell la policia, who would take my word over his—especially since I clearly don’t understand 90% of his words?

He could say, El americano tonto me malentendio. Lo que dije fue, mi vida ha estado vacía desde que ella murió. Ella era mi todo. (The silly American misunderstood. What I said was, my life has been empty since she died. She was my everything.)

I would believe him.

After he either confessed to a terrible crime or told me how much he missed his wife we didn’t talk much more, but he seemed lighter, relieved.

Which makes me wonder again if he really did confess something. Maybe during the final, protracted response I missed him saying, “I got married when I was nineteen. She was kind and, in a curious sort of way, quite beautiful, but I wanted to be successful so I went to work early and stayed late. I watched every penny, so she went without a lot of things she should have had. We stopped really talking. After a while we might as well have been speaking different languages. She hung in there a long time, but after a while she got tired of living alone. I should have been a better husband. She died a few years ago. I went to the funeral and sat in the back. No one recognized me.”

I may go back in a month and tell my new barber about how I could be a better husband. I can be stingy. I don’t say what’s most important. I don’t listen as carefully I should. Confessing could be good for my soul, too.

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This article was originally published on Brett’s blog, Peculiar Preacher and is used by permission.

Changing of Seasons at McAfee

By Kate Riney

Walking into school the other day, I felt it. That first drop in temperature and humidity that makes us remember what Autumn feels like after months of 80+ temperatures and 100% Georgia humidity. The wind was rustling the leaves in the trees, who weren’t yet ready to turn crimson or sienna and fall down, but clung for dear life to their branches. It wasn’t a pumpkin spice latte or a corn maze or an invitation to a halloween party that made me stop in my tracks and celebrate the changing of the seasons. It was nature.

Nature, as if she was calling to me, wrapped her arms around in me in a divine hug, making me warm inside and sending shivers down my spine all at the same time. Nature ran her hands through my hair with a playful laugh and tossed it over my shoulder as if she had just finished counting each strand. And I could swear that God was in it all, surrounding me with her presence and glory and gentleness. Whispering to me of the coming changes she’s preparing me for. Preparing us for.

The changing of the seasons means different things for different people. And I’m not just talking about the four calendar seasons. A “season” can mean a new stage of the inner life, the advent or loss of something real and dear, or simply new circumstances or scenery. Oftentimes, we only become aware of these seasons when all three of these meanings converge for us and our life becomes a sea of newness, change, uncertainty, risk, growth, healing, and promise. But it’s important to take note of whatever season you’re in and what you’re moving into as God often has profound ways of getting our attention through an interruption in the routine.

I’m going through a complex seasonal change as I quickly approach graduation from McAfee in December. There’s jobs to apply for and relationships to hold close and people and places I prepare to miss as I consider the possibility of moving to a new state. But in the mean-time, while all of that is being sorted out on it’s own, I have the here and now, which is it’s own season.

Have you ever read a really fantastic book and reached the last chapter only to wish that chapter would never end so that you could keep enjoying the fantastic plot and characters forever? That’s a very good metaphor for how I feel about this season of life. It is overwhelmingly fantastic, and yet it’s being over-shadowed by the bitter-sweetness of the unknown future and the fear of loss that the season to come may bring. I don’t want the book to end; even if there is another one next in the series yet to be published.

McAfee is in a similar change of seasons with our beloved founding Dean, R. Alan Culpepper ending his tenure of twenty years. And while the school is constantly in flux with new students entering and students graduating every semester, this change feels monumental and sad, to let go a man who has meant so much to this community and to wait and wonder as to who could possibly fill his shoes.

And then there’s also a sense that the community itself is changing.

When I first began at McAfee just two years ago I couldn’t quite put a description on the culture and spiritual life of the community. I could have told you it was active and hopeful, but things were just beginning to take shape. Student groups were just fledgling organizations trying to understand their purpose and express their identity. Individuals weren’t sure yet how to be fully inclusive of their fellow brothers and sisters, even if they wanted to be. Professors were trying to understand and mediate the racial dynamics of the classroom. And there was a restless energy, a rejection of complacency, and a yearning to create a theological school that embodies Christ in all endeavors.

Today, that vision is transpiring. New students are entering the halls, nervous, but excited and ready to contribute to their seminary community. Faculty finds new methods of pedagogy that meet the needs of the diverse student body, while challenging our accepted practices and encouraging our theological imagination. Student leadership teams are united in mission and leading the body in spiritual formation, faithful worship, and genuine service.

Reflecting on how far we’ve come as a community in just a few short years, gives me hope and confidence for the seasons of change I’m facing in my own life. It also reassures me that whatever happens here in these hallowed halls, over time, the results will be astounding. Through every season, we just have to center our thoughts, actions, and postures on God, who will be faithful to bear fruit in its proper time. Meanwhile, we can rest in God’s presence in every autumn wind and each new day.

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Kate is the managing editor for Tableaux and an anti-trafficking advocate. She is a third-year MDiv student at McAfee in the nonprofit dual-degree track. In her spare time, Kate loves cooking meals for friends, taking in the outdoors and drinking good joe.

A Story About Going On

By Jordan Yeager

I encourage anyone who wants to practice transcendence to take up ultrarunning.

I don’t have the right words to explain exactly what happens out there on the trail. First my mind stops its linear thoughts and instead starts to swirl around in circles. Tree. Rock. Jump over. The song stuck in my head. Person ahead of me is slowing down. My knee hurts. The wind. I hear the river. The swirling goes on and time doesn’t pass in a normal way. After 4 or 5 hours of running, there are less thoughts and more feelings. More noticing. It is no longer “I need to eat exactly 90 calories of carbohydrates at mile 24,” but “I’m hungry.” And I start to feel pain all over and somehow am completely happy at the same time.

I remember seeing a white fuzzy caterpillar around 6 hours in. He was on a rock I jumped on and I made sure not to hurt him. Caterpillar. I can’t remember the last time I noticed a white caterpillar. I don’t remember anything else from that few miles of the trail. I guess it’s because in order to finish well, you learn you must be settled in the moment, blocking out nearly everything except the next step. Your mind doesn’t hold on to the context of the situation, you just notice. And you move.

Scott Jurek says, “The ultra distance leaves you alone with your thoughts to an excruciating extent. Whatever song you have in your head had better be a good one. Whatever story you are telling yourself had better be a story about going on. There is no room for negativity. The reason most people quit has nothing to do with their body.”

A story about going on. Counting down the miles is against the rules. Counting down the hours creates despair. You just go.

At 7 hours I thought it might be impossible for me to finish, because it was all straight uphill/rock or straight down, and my legs felt disconnected from my head. Impossible, maybe, but I’m going to do it anyway. Pain is temporary. No feeling has ever been permanent. What is permanent? Beauty. The soul. Determination and will. The other people on the trail. Completing something impossibly hard with other people beside me, cheering each other on.

You also start to realize, and I think this is part of the secret, that there is no enemy. The trail is not your enemy. The terrain is not your enemy. Your body is not your enemy, or the distance, or the hours. There is no enemy to blame for your pain; pain is part of the story and it belongs and it’s okay and there will be an end. Until you know this you will fight against it all, and in the end it’s your own journey you sabotage.

All I did yesterday was run and eat and rest a little. These are simple activities, common as grass. But they are also the most profound, little windows to my soul if I allow myself to notice. I noticed what made me the most truly happy was being swallowed in nature, the breeze filling my lungs – being connected to the world in its most basic form. And the feeling of being supported and cheered on by my closest friends and family, who didn’t leave me to fend for myself, and who were always going to be waiting at the finish line no matter what happened in the middle. That is a picture of heaven to me. For now there’s lots of frenzy, a little calm, a little joy and movement and pain and despair, but then you cross a finish line and it turns out there was never an enemy, just redemption along with the people who stand beside you.

 

…………………………………….

This article was originally posted on Jordan’s blog, Idle and Blessed, on October 5, 2014 and is used by permission.

God is not Godot

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord

More than watchmen wait for the morning

More than watchmen wait for the morning

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

By Rachel Freeny

Waiting is hard, especially when it seems like you are waiting for something or someone who will never come. Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, is the story of someone who never comes. The two main characters, Vladamir and Estragon, waste their lives waiting in vain hope that today will be the day Godot finally arrives.

Sometimes waiting for God feels a lot like waiting for Godot. Your soul longs for the Lord, to hear God’s voice, to taste the sweetness of redemption, to know the embrace of unfailing love. You make your desires known to God, crying out with all that is within you.

Then comes the waiting.

You incline your ear towards heaven, but all you hear is silence. You turn your eyes upon Jesus, but all you see is empty space. Timidly, you tap the mic and wonder aloud, “is this thing on?”

Waiting never looks the same. Sometimes waiting is simply sitting in God’s presence. “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still? Who has time to be still? With to-do lists that never seem to end, when is there time to wait?

Stop and wait. When faced with fear of the unknown that lies before you, be still. Watch and be amazed as God works out the impossible. Our flailing and desperate attempts to set things right through our own means will only make the mess worse. Stillness brings with it a new perspective, allowing us to see God working in ways we would otherwise have missed.

Sometimes waiting is more like walking, one foot in front of the other, trusting you’ll find your footing eventually. Even when the details are fuzzy and the answers unclear, we can know that walking in the path of the Lord’s glory is always the surest way to go.

Most of the time waiting looks like trust. Trusting that the promises God made in scripture weren’t a joke. Trusting that God is there even when you can’t feel, hear, or see God.

There’s nothing wrong with waiting. It’s a part of life and the life of faith. Waiting is a sweet reminder of the tension that we live in: the already and the not yet. We have hope as we wait because God will not abandon us in our waiting. God hears our cries and draws near to us in good times and in bad (Ps. 34:17-18).

On nights when sleep eludes us and our troubles close in around us, on days when the next step is unsure, we have this hope⎯that God who began a good work in us will not abandon God’s children. Though the waiting seems interminable, we hold tightly to this truth: God is not Godot.

…………………………………….

Rachel Freeny is a graduate of Samford University with a degree in Journalism/Mass Communication. Originally from Nashville, she is a second 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.

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