God Doesn’t Need Us

By Rachel Freeny

The worn notebook balanced precariously on my knees as my pen raced across the page. My hand moved as quickly as possible, desperately trying to catch every word coming from the pastor’s mouth. My ears strained to catch his voice above the noise of rickshaws and neighbors filtering in through the window.

When God speaks, you work extra hard not to miss a word. God was speaking through this Indian pastor sitting directly across from me, arms crossed and resting on his rounded stomach.

“If the Christian people aren’t doing, God will turn to other people because they are His too. They just don’t know it,” Pastor Singh* said. “God uses all types of people.”

We were talking about the different groups that do humanitarian work in his neighborhood. Pastor Singh’s church is small, and they do what they can to minister to the slum where the church is located. They are not the only ones meeting needs of the community, which suffers from hunger and illness, among other things.

While Pastor Singh sees the church as God’s primary avenue for reaching out to the community, he acknowledges that often the church fails to answer God’s call to care for the poor and marginalized.

“God gives [these tasks] to the church first,” he said, “But [Christians] are saying, ‘Oh I do not have money, I do not have this, I do not have that.’ God says, ‘I have lots of money. I will provide, you just do.'”

When the church makes excuses and ignores God calling to care for others, God finds other ways to care for God’s people. Pastor Singh reminded me of Mordecai in the book of Esther.

Esther was young Jewish woman who married the Persian king, Xerxes. When Haman, the king’s right-hand man, got the king to decree that all Jews be put to death, Esther was tasked with convincing the king not to do so.

When her first attempts are unsuccessful, Mordecai urges her to keep trying, saying,”if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter” (Esther 4:14a).

Mordecai had faith that God’s love for God’s people was so big that God would stop at nothing to rescue them. Pastor Singh believed this too.

God doesn’t have to use the church to carry out God’s work in the world. God doesn’t need Christians to show God’s people they are loved. God chooses to do so. God chooses to use the church, and we should take seriously this divine calling.

We take God’s calling seriously when we participate in peacemaking efforts instead of war. We take it seriously when we advocate for restorative justice instead of the death penalty. We take it seriously when we work to end poverty or racism or human trafficking. We take it seriously when we love our families and friends with all of our hearts.

God chooses to use the church, but God does not limit God’s work to the church. God’s love for every human God created is bigger than our failure to act and our limited resources.

Let us mourn the times we fail to take God’s calling seriously, but let us rejoice in bigness of God’s rescuing and redeeming love. It’s never too late to grab hold of grace and live into the works of love that God empowers each of us to do. Let’s not miss our chance to be a part of God’s kingdom work here on earth.

*Names changed for security reasons

When Mercy Gets Messy

By Rachel Freeny

I’ve had Kelly on my mind a lot the past few weeks, and I’m not the only one. Her story is incredible, and the events surrounding her scheduled execution are a picture of the body of Christ at its best. Thousands of people came together across the country to protest and pray for merciful justice that would give life instead of death.

Kelly Gissendaner was supposed to die, but she didn’t. Complications with the lethal drug concoction forced officials to halt her execution for the second time in the space of a week. Protestors have lobbied for her execution to be cancelled altogether, and now we wait for the Supreme Court to decide her fate.

Protesting on Kelly’s behalf is easy for me because she is a changed woman. While in prison, she took part in a theology training program, sought redemption and forgiveness, and became an incredible force for good in her prison.

Kelly touched the lives of the people who taught her, those who were in prison with her, and the thousands of us who never met her. Through God’s grace, she now enjoys a restored relationship with her children, the ones who have the most cause to hate her or want her dead.

Kelly’s is a story we all like to hear. She changed teams and is now on the side of good. Surely this Kelly, a different Kelly from the Kelly who murdered her husband, deserves to live. Out of every murderer on death row, surely this repentant one deserves a second chance.

But what if this story was different? What if Kelly wasn’t repentant? What then? Would we still cry out for mercy for her?

Mercy is messy. There’s no getting around it. As followers of Jesus, we believe that Christ died for all people that all people may live. No one is beyond redemption. Many a preacher has espoused this gospel truth from the pulpit, but in supporting the death penalty we, as Christians, say it isn’t actually true. When we support execution, we declare that the person strapped to the table is a lost cause.

If we truly believe that no one is beyond hope, then we must abolish the death penalty not just for the Kelly’s on death row but for countless others awaiting execution. We do this knowing full well they may never say they are sorry.

We fight for their precious lives knowing their stories may never look like Kelly’s, but we still want them to have a chance to live a different, redeemed story.

In Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen reminds us that “followers of Jesus are not people who seek retaliation by taking life for life, but instead they seek ways of deliverance from such vicious cycles of adding more killing to killing.” Stassen invokes Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies, a teaching that is as difficult as it is noble.

Fighting to end the death penalty requires us to get messy and deal with the more difficult questions within ourselves. I, for one, get exhausted just thinking about all of the time, energy, and emotion that goes into speaking out for what we believe to be right. I am intimidated by the amount of personal investment that goes into caring enough about someone’s life to fight for it. Especially when it involves wading into the middle of a polarizing issue.

Then I remember how many times Jesus entered into the messiness of life and called us to follow in his footsteps. He took up for the woman about to be stoned for adultery, knowing her guilt but seeing a precious daughter worthy of a second chance. Redemption is for everyone, and redeemed people seek redemption in every aspect of life. Even the messy and complicated ones. 

Learning Ministry

By Rachel Freeny

We have a favorite quote around here at McAfee, one that serves as an unofficial motto. Professors say it at preview conference, we use it as a prayer and a rallying cry. We like it so much we printed it on the backs of royal blue t-shirts.

When Jesse Mercer first uttered “Lord, save us from an ignorant ministry,” I wonder if he knew how important his words would be for the hundreds of students that would one day study at a little seminary in Atlanta?

These words have been important for me in my seminary journey thus far, though their meaning changes with each semester. As a curious college senior who stumbled into preview day, those words confirmed my call and desire to go to seminary.

As a first semester student, they became a goal to pursue as I waded through hours of class and endless assignments. My second semester, Mercer’s quote was an unofficial commission as I boarded a plane to spend the summer in South Asia.

It wasn’t until this second year of seminary that Mercer’s words took on a life outside of the classroom. I figured avoiding an ignorant ministry meant learning all there was to know about ministry and theology from books and brilliant professors. I assumed the more internships and part-time jobs I got, the better to learn how to do ministry.

Then in the space of eight months I watched as multiple things in my life outside of school fell apart. A beloved family member’s tragic death. A loss of personal denominational identity. Losing sight of my once sure calling.  A break up.

As I raged against whatever forces in the universe were conspiring to bring about so much pain, I learned more to save me from an ignorant ministry than any book had taught me. For the first time in my life, I let the people closest to me see the messiest parts of what I was going through. I learned how to be ministered to, which for someone who is usually on the ministering end of things was a powerful experience.

My community of family and friends surrounded me and let me have more questions than answers. No one tried to fix me. One dear friend showed me the power of presence by lovingly answering the phone and letting me sob, when I had no words left.

Another friend encouraged me, “let yourself be broken. It’s okay to be broken.” As an image conscious perfectionist, I initially reeled against those words. But she gave me permission to be broken and didn’t walk away when I was. Other friends made plans and filled my calendar. They made me laugh and let me cry.  Every note, call, prayer, and text over the last few months showed me Jesus in ways I had only heard about secondhand.

Maybe today you find yourself in a similar position. You came to seminary expecting your education and experience to go one way, but nothing is as you expected. Rejoice! Because this is exactly how seminary is supposed to go. Every experience in and out of the classroom is an opportunity for God to shape us for God’s work in the world. We learn how to listen, how to speak, how to ask for help and how to give it.

Frederick Buechner says it best when he reminds us: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

All moments are key moments, opening our eyes to the depths of God’s heart and what it means to live as a redeemed people. All moments are key moments, even when we don’t expect them.

I knew seminary would prepare me to be a better minister, but I thought that everything I needed to know could be found in a book or through an internship. I never expected that my most influential ministerial education would come from being ministered to. That I would learn how to serve and love broken people by being broken myself. That God would save me from an ignorant ministry by redeeming the pain that opened my eyes.

I Am a Man

By Bryan Kidd

I like to wear mustard colored pants.

I like nice shoes.

I have a large collection of scarves (I only wear about half of them).

My belts have to match my shoes.

I love my brown jacket. I have a lot of jackets. I actually enjoy getting dressed up in a suit.

I enjoy wearing cowboy boots.

I look good in glasses (you can guess which pairs are real).

I like my new gold bracelet from Forever 21.

I like to run, but I don’t do it enough. I only go to the gym if a friend goes with me.

I played one year of tee-ball when I was five. I haven’t played an organized sport since. I really actually don’t like sports. I can barely throw a football, and I have never played a game of golf.

I had my hunting license when I was a teenager, but I have never gone hunting (and I’ve still not decided if I would ever want to).

There are a lot of things that I do that would be labeled as “feminine.”

I enjoy crafting.

I plan weddings.

I like to put thought and effort into dressing nice and looking presentable.

I had a science teacher in high school once who called me out in class and used me as an example as a feminine male. It didn’t bother me at the time, because I thought I knew what she meant, but the more I thought about it, the less I am ok with the term “feminine male.”

To say that I am a “feminine male” is saying I am a “different” type of male than what is perceived as the “normal” male. If I was a normal male than there would be no need for the word “feminine” to be used to describe me.

The opposite of a “feminine male” is a “masculine male.” What does that even mean? The Urban dictionary partly defines masculine as no signs “of emotion, no flamboyance, no hugging or even looking at other men, must be interested in sports and physical/violent activity.”[1]

So if I’m understanding correctly, in order to be a “real” man, you must love playing and watching football, enjoy wrestling (because that is violent), and never ever are you allowed to cry.

I have a female friend who fits this description pretty well. Does that make her a “masculine male?”

When did the color pink become exclusively appropriate for girls only, and blue the defining color for boys? I like blue alright, but I enjoy green and orange a whole lot more! I don’t like sports because I think they are pretty boring; however, when I apply myself I am fairly athletic. I enjoy sewing and building things with my hands, while another guy may find these activities mind-numbing.

I have a problem with the term “feminine male” because by using it, you are putting me into a category of what you think a “feminine male” is. You are telling me that my actions are more like the actions of a girl than a guy. This is impossible because I biologically, being a male, cannot physically do “female” things. My actions are strictly male because I am a male.

I’m offended by being called a “feminine male” not because I fear being associated with anything “girly,” but because I am, and deserve to be called, male. I am a man whether I wear flowered print shoes or work boots. I am a man whether I work with children or I am a senior pastor. I am a man whether I decide to cry or I hold back my tears.

I have the power to name myself, and I choose to remove the labels that have been placed on me by other people. I am not feminine. I am not weak. I am not less-than because I don’t have a powerful presence.

I am Bryan.

I am good enough (though I can be better).

I am powerful.

I am a man.

[1] http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=masculine

Leaving Fred Craddock’s Funeral

I was early to Fred Craddock’s funeral. Cherry Log Christian Church is less than two hours from Atlanta, but a trip to Appalachia seems farther so I gave myself way too much time. I had been told to eat at the Pink Pig barbecue restaurant, but it’s only open Thursday to Sunday. I had, however, brought an autographed book to read as we waited for the service to begin.Craddock Stories is a collection of Fred’s greatest hits. Preaching aficionados identify the stories with a phrase, “the church voted 234-2,” “playing hide and seek,” “the lady in the grocery store who thinks he’s hitting on her,” “poor as Job’s turkey” and “Jesus winning the Georgia football game.”

Fred Craddock changed preaching. He grew up with preachers who filled sanctuaries with three points, multiple subpoints and a poem to encapsulate the boredom. These preachers told us what they were going to tell us, told us, and then recapped what they had told us without noticing that we stopped listening after the first summary. Fred realized that what keeps most of us from living for Jesus is not a lack of information. He invited preachers to stop teaching the lessons of Scripture and start telling the stories of faith. These stories, he argued, do not illustrate the point, because they are the point.

When he was 20 Craddock went to hear Albert Schweitzer. His plan was to criticize Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus, but before he had a chance Schweitzer invited him to go with him to help the dying in Africa. Fred said, “I learned, again, what it means to be Christian and had hopes that I could be that someday.”

Craddock’s first pastorate was near Oak Ridge, Tenn. When the little town boomed the church voted not to follow Fred’s recommendation that they reach out to the new residents. Years later, after telling his wife that painful story, they went to see the little church. They were surprised to find the parking lot full. A great big sign said, “Barbecue, all you can eat.” Fred said to Nettie, “It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be here.”

When Craddock was a young pastor, one church told him he had an emergency fund with $100 in it. He could give the money to anybody who is in need that is not the result of “laziness, drunkenness or poor management.” Fred asked, “What else is there?” He figured they still have the money.

Fred told some stories you wish you had not heard. He was teaching at Phillips Theological Seminary when a woman brought her dying brother to be healed. Craddock said, “I can pray for him, but I do not have the gift of healing.” She responded, “Then what in the world do you do?” Fred said, “What I did that afternoon was study, stare at my books and try to forget what she said.”

A woman a few pews in front of me had come to the funeral with the same book of stories and the same idea. It is easier to cry before the service begins, because no one is paying attention.

We sang “Soon we’ll reach the shining river.” Fred’s daughter Laura spoke with deep affection of waiting with dread for her father to mention her in a sermon. “O God, what is he going to say?” His son John, who is much bigger than Fred, said he liked it when his father called him “a block off the old chip.”

We heard Paul’s promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Tom Long preached, imagining Loyd Bentsen saying, “I served with Fred Craddock. I knew Fred Craddock. Fred Craddock was a friend of mine. You are no Fred Craddock.” But Tom made us think about Fred and the God who holds us all. We closed the beautiful, modest service with an Appalachian folk hymn, “And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on.”

Fred Craddock wrote, “When I was in my late teens, I wanted to be a preacher. When I was in my late twenties, I wanted to be a good preacher. Now that I am older, I want more than anything else to be a Christian. To live simply, to love generously, to speak truthfully, to serve faithfully, and to leave everything else to God.”

I left Fred Craddock’s funeral wanting to be a Christian.

——

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

Photo: Vimeo/Peachtree Christian Church

The Itawamba County Times: The Only Newspaper in the World That Cares Anything about Itawamba County!

If I had to choose between The New York Times and The Itawamba County Times, I would pick my parents’ weekly newspaper.  Before we visit Mantachie, Mississippi, my mother starts saving The Times.  If I am there on a Wednesday, we have a quiet competition to see who will get the ICT out of the mailbox.

The New York Times consistently fails to report stories The Itawamba County Times covers.  The ICT does a superior job with births, birthdays, school awards, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirements, church news, and local mischief.

The NYT is not as good with high school basketball.  In the ICT, Sam Farris wrote about the buzzer beater in the Mantachie Lady Mustangs’ thrilling 56-55 over the Mooreville Troopers.  (Full disclosure: my cousin Jan’s husband Jeff is mayor of Mantachie.)

Wagster caught the pass in stride and took three dribbles and in an act of heroism had the presence of mind not to go try for a layup but to stop, pull up, and take the three.  The ball left the junior forward’s hand and in mid-trip the horn sounded throughout the building, but all eyes were on the ball that was seemingly hanging in the air.  Wagster’s shot fell and the roof nearly blew off of the Mustang Corral.  Players were jumping up and down, fans were cheering, and one very proud mother was beaming with pride as tears of joy fell at what her daughter had just done.

Anna’s mom cried again when she cut out the story for the scrapbook.

Mrs. Sumner’s “Charleston Place News” keeps readers informed on the goings on at the assisted living residence.  Jo Ann writes, “The main problem with most at our facility is one of the residents referred to as Mr. Arthur.”  I assume she means arthritis.  If there actually is a Mr. Arthur I hope no one reads her column to him.

Mrs. Dobbs writes the “Mantachie Talker,” which shares the good deeds of citizens like the group from Tombigbee Baptist Church “bringing two months of wood for my fireplace” and Eddy “picking up my medicine at Walmart.”  Edna has been through a lot.  She suggests, “Use a different caregiver after each stroke so as not to overdo one child.”  Maybe she needs to use a different doctor to keep her from having another stroke.

In a small town paper your classified ads cannot lie.  Under “House for Rent” the description is, “House is very nice.”  Bobby knows that if he writes “Exceptional house with exquisite master bedroom overlooking lake” his friends will laugh at him.

The “Church Page” lists the starting times for Sunday school, worship, and Wednesday night services for 123 congregations—64 of which are Baptist—along with a devotional and Bible Trivia.

The winning entries in the Annual Coloring Contest are printed in full color. Madi Daugherty of Fulton won the four and under category.  Her work is suspiciously good for a four-year-old.

Terry Allen and Brandon Isbell were arrested for breaking in to Gum Church of Christ.  They allegedly took sound equipment, heaters, televisions, a coffee pot, and toilet paper.  If they had realized it would be listed in the paper they might have skipped that last item.

The ICT’s “Law Enforcement Reports” are addictive even to an outsider.  Each entry is a chapter title in a mystery—though you need someone from Itawamba to tell you the stories behind these entries:

These three, for instance, leave questions unanswered: “Suspicious activity, Hwy. 178 West,” “Disturbance, Sunset Dr.” “Scam, Shiloh Rd.”

This could be an embarrassing 911 call to make:

“Vehicle stuck in field, Dobbs Rd.”

Should this be against the law?

“Contributing to a minor, Ryan Rd.”

What does this mean?

“Secure landing zone, Sandy Springs Rd.”

You might think this could be cleared up before the police arrive: “Livestock in the road, Estes Morrow Rd.”

You hope this call was from a police officer’s spouse:  “Request to speak with officer, Van Buren Rd.”

Big city newspapers are landing on fewer driveways each day, but the press is thriving in small towns.  While the daily papers are closing up shop, 8,000 weekly newspapers are going strong.  23,434 people live in Itawamba County.  The ICT has 28,685 readers.

Sandra Newton, the office manager, says the difference between her paper and the big daily newspapers is that, “We know the people we’re writing about.”  Weekly newspapers are part of the community they serve.  They tell the stories of people whose stories are not going to be told anywhere else.  The ICT proclaims, “Your story is our story.”

Churches should remember this.  People love to predict that mega churches will soon swallow up small local churches, but rather than compete to have the biggest, most entertaining church, local churches should tell the story of the people who live next door.  The church is there to care for those who are not going to be cared for anywhere else.  Our churches need to say, “Your story is our story.”

—–

This article was originally published by Baptists Today and used by persmission.

Your Guide to Ethical Gifting This Christmas

This Christmas, I wanted to do something a little different when it came to gift giving. I wanted to give gifts that changed lives or empowered the makers. I wanted to support small businesses and fair-trade, slave-free organizations.

As I researched my options, the sheer number of companies and organizations to choose from overwhelmed me. This gift guide is meant to make things easier on you by offering a few suggestions in one handy list.

Here are 10 incredible ways to give ethical gifts this year:

Happy Giving!

 

  1. Compassion International  Give everything from bicycles and goats to healthcare and school supplies to children and families in Compassion’s sponsorship programs. Consider sponsoring a child while you’re at it!
  1. Land of a Thousand Hills  Give the coffee lover (or seminary student) in your life the gift of delicious, ethically sourced coffee. Land of a Thousand Hills exists to stimulate economic growth in Rwanda through fair-wage, fair-trade coffee farms.
  1. International Justice Mission  Each gift makes a difference in the fight against human trafficking. Gifts range from meeting survivor’s medical needs to supporting legal aid and aftercare programs for survivors.
  1. Noonday Collection Noonday offers a variety of beautiful jewelry, handbags and scarves made by artisans in Africa, Central America, and India. Artisans are paid fair wages and ensured safe working conditions, and child labor is prohibited.
  1. Kiva  Microloans help alleviate poverty by allowing borrowers to start or grow their small businesses. Through Kiva, choose an international borrower, give them a loan, get progress reports as their business grows, get repaid, start again!
  1. Refugee Beads  This Atlanta-based jewelry company supports the local refugee women who make each piece by hand.
  1. Thistle Farms  Through your purchase of candles, soaps, teas, and more, you support women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction.
  1. The Home T  Show your state pride and support Multiple Sclerosis research by purchasing one of these t-shirts.
  1. Sevenly  Sevenly offers clothing for a cause, donating $7 of each purchase to the cause of the week.
  1. Amazon Smile  Let’s be honest, we’re all going to buy something from Amazon at some point, so why not give back in the process? Choose a charity to support, and Amazon Smile donates a portion of each purchase you make to your charity of choice.

 

…………………………………….

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.

Wild Horses

By Brett Younger

Photo by Neil Walbaum

I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. -Revelation 6:8

I picture us sitting on the veranda sipping whatever passes for lemonade in Chile.  We are planning a peaceful day at the Walbaums’ farm an hour west of Santiago.  Then Paul asks a question that changes the picture, “Would you like to go horseback riding?”

“Sure,” we say without thinking, before Paul explains, “In the spring”—which has just arrived in Chile—“the horses are not as calm.”

I am not someone about whom others think, “I bet he rides horses.”  My favorite horse movie is the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races.  I root against the Dallas Cowboys.  I enjoy playing horse only when it involves a basketball.

I try to get in the mood by singing Gene Autry’s Back in the Saddle Again until I realize Gene has fallen off his horse.  I switch to the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses, also a questionable choice.

I last rode a horse when I was twelve.  My grandfather told everyone Old Lady was 50, which we assumed meant horse years, but now I think she might have been 50.  When she really got moving Old Lady could go two or three miles an hour.  It was like riding a bag of concrete.

Since it’s been a while since I rode a thousand pound animal, I decide to prepare.  I consider watching Blazing Saddles, but go with “How to Ride a Horse” on YouTube.  I learn that sitting up straight is a big deal, as is forming a straight line from my elbow to the horse’s mouth, leaning forward going uphill, and communicating with my heels.  This is helpful information, but the “emergency dismount” looks like jumping from a speeding car.

I do not want a horse named Tornado.  A cool horse racing name like maythehorsebewithu sounds appealing, but Sausage Roll would be less likely to cause injury.

Horses are mentioned 189 times in the Bible—a lot compared to preachers (8), deacons (8) and pastors (1).

In Job 39:19, God asks, “Do you give the horse its might?  Do you clothe its neck with mane?”  (The answer is no.)

In 1 Kings 22:4, Jehoshaphat says, “I am as you are; my people are your people, my horses are your horses.”   (This should be read at weddings.)

In Revelation 19, Christ rides a white horse out of heaven. This is yet another way I am not good at following Christ.

Paul gives me Juanito, who I call Juan Grande, Secretariat, and Pegasus when no one else can hear.

Carol’s horse, “the white one,” doesn’t have the ring that “Black Beauty” does, but she gets along fine with her horse with no name (though Carol was secretly hoping for a unicorn).

I think about climbing on when no one is looking, but realize as I stand beside Little John that my attempts to reach the saddle without help will end badly.

As the real cowboy adjusts the stirrups to fit my short legs, another rider comments, “That poor horse.”  She is, I want to believe, expressing concern about the tightness of the saddle, but it sounds like a comment on my weight.

I am instructed not to hold the reins like the woman in the video, and am asked, “Why are you keeping your arms straight?”  Everything in the video is now suspect, except that the how to ride a horse lady’s helmet would prevent brain damage and the boater I am wearing will not.

My one trick pony’s trick is to not worry about his rider’s desires.  What I try to communicate with my heels is “I do not want to fall off.”  I cannot remember the Spanish word for “Whoa.”

I channel the horse whisperer to work out a deal with Juanito.  He can go wherever he chooses if he does not throw me to the ground.

I feel comfortable until we go up a hill (Juanito speeds up as I forget to lean forward), down (Juanito doesn’t care for down), or along the embankment of a reservoir (which is narrow enough to make me think about Pharaoh’s horses in the Red Sea).

When I get off my horse it looks like an emergency dismount.  Apparently I am supposed to take my foot out of the stirrup first.

When my feet are back on solid ground, I almost shout “Beer for My Horses!” but I’m not sure how big Toby Keith is in South America.

I walk fine the next day, but when I sit down I remember that I have ridden a horse.

Psalm 20:7 warns, “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord.”

I am in no danger of taking pride in horses.

 

………………………………………

Brett Younger is Professor of Preaching at McAfee School of Theology and is on sabbatical in Chile.

Pondering Anew

By Rachel Freeny

It’s been years since I’ve been excited about Advent. Most people get giddy like children to indulge in all things Christmas. Decorating cookies, stringing up lights, hanging ornaments on the tree, wrapping gifts for loved ones, tacky Christmas sweater parties, and watching Elf for the millionth time.

I enjoy these things well enough, but somewhere in the midst of finals and tacky sweater parties and last minute gift shopping, I lost any sense of the awe of this season.

I looked for the Holy and couldn’t find it.

This year, by the grace of God, is different. Just the mention of Advent sends shivers up my spine. The season feels holy and hopeful and full of joy, but it comes at the end of a tough year.

2014 has been a difficult year for our world and our nation. We’ve seen international medical and humanitarian crises, racial injustice, and the tragic demise of several well-known public figures.

Difficulties haven’t been limited to news headlines, and hardly any of us have remained unaffected by some sort of personal or family tragedy this year.

Out of the midst of our darkness, we see the light shine brighter. As we approach this Advent season, we need hope more than ever. We are hungry for comfort, for joy and for peace.

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ, our Savior…O tidings of comfort and joy.”

We have comfort because our sin and sorrows are not permanent. We have joy because we have a glorious Savior who redeems all that is broken.

The coming Christ makes a way for us to commune with God and know unspeakable peace. Christ invites us into this holiest of communions. We are not left to play a game of hide-and-seek, though at times it may feel like it.

You and I are blessed because we are invited. We don’t have to sheepishly invite ourselves for fear of missing out.

Christ stands and says, “Come. Come to me, you who are weary, hungry, thirsty. Come to me and I will give you rest. I will give you what you need.” (Matt. 11:28, John 6:35)

This season of Advent, Christ invites us to ponder anew the hope that was born with him in that manger. He invites us to anticipate anew his coming and his redemption and renewal of all things.

The earth is truly groaning for this hope. May we find it afresh in the coming weeks.

…………………………………….

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.

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.

 

…………………………………………………

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.

……………………

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

My Canterbury Tale

By Brett Younger

The caption under this photo could be “Who doesn’t belong?”  I am the one photobombing these very nice archbishops, bishops, and priests.  I am the one who is not Anglican, the one from North America, and one of only two—the Archbishop of Canterbury being the other—who does not speak Spanish.  I am the answer to the question “Where’s Waldo?”

We assembled bright lights, television cameras, lots of candles (even for Anglicans), three dozen robes, at least that many medallions, and a few pointy hats for a visit from the principal leader of the Church of England, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  Our congregation, Santiago Community Church, polished the silver and pulled out our wedding outfits for Rev. Justin Welby, the 105th in a line that goes back more than 1400 years to Augustine of Canterbury.  The diocesan bishop of Southern Argentina exclaimed, “What a show!”

I felt like I was at someone else’s family reunion.  Because we are in Chile, there was more kissing than at most Baptist gatherings.  I confess that in my unsophisticated moments “Archbishop of Canterbury” still sounds like a medieval version of the “Sultan of Swing.”

During lunch, which began at 2:00 because these people are not from the United States, each of six tables had the chance to ask one question.  The questions were offered by bishops and priests—ministerial professionals—which means they were long and meant to reveal the intelligence of the questioner.  They were also in Spanish—a language in which I am not fluidez –but here is a translated abridged version of the questions and the Archbishop’s answers:

Where are we on the ordination of women?

The Archbishop pointed out that women’s ordination is less controversial than ten years ago, “The church will continue to make progress, even as we care for those congregations with different ideas.”

How do we improve the reputation of our denomination?

The hope is that the Anglican Church will be known as a home for Christians who disagree but work together: “We can be a church that gathers in the love of Christ.”

What is going to happen concerning gay marriage?

He quoted statistics concerning gay marriage in England—85% of adults are in favor—and said, “Those with a more conservative viewpoint are seen as mean-spirited and not at all like Christ.  We must proceed, whatever our opinions, in a Christlike manner.”

How can we be more evangelistic while being true to who we are?

Rev. Welby suggested that the decline of the Church of England is not without precedent.  On Easter Sunday 1800, in St. Paul’s Cathedral, the heart of the Church of England, can you guess how many people received Holy Communion?  Six.  He admitted, “We did some excellent church planting in the 19th century.  Not so much since then.”

How do we care for ministers’ families?

Caroline, Justin’s wife, answered this one:  “When Justin was ordained, I insisted that he be home from 5:00-7:00 six nights a week.  During this time no one in the family—we had six children—was allowed television, a computer, or a telephone.  That’s helped.”

How do we respond to the changing culture?

The Archbishop said, “We have been in worse places.  Our history of war and sexual violence is at least as disturbing as our present situation.  The church’s job is to introduce a broken world to God, to be priests doing Christ’s work, to speak the words of God to the ways of the world.  Stanley Hauerwas says, ‘The church should live in a way that makes no sense if God does not exist.’”

The conversation sounded vaguely familiar.  Those six questions could have been addressed to any denominational leader in the United States.  How would it be different for Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians?  We are facing the same questions.  We are struggling for the same answers.

Carol and I got to spend an hour in the manse talking with Justin and Caroline. We talked about our families and what foods we miss when we are in Chile, but mostly we talked about the future of the church because we knew they needed the perspective of two Baptists from Georgia.

I would have guessed that the senior bishop of the Church of England would be consumed with institutional success, but he sounded like the kind of servant leader Christ needs when he said, “As we talk about the church, we need to make sure that we do not hear ourselves, but hear the cries of the poor and the war-torn.”

I started out feeling lucky for the opportunity to photobomb someone else’s family reunion and meet the Archbishop of Canterbury.  I ended up feeling blessed by the hope that comes from meeting other family members who are giving their lives to Christ’s church.

 

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Dr. Brett Younger is the Professor for Preaching at McAfee School of Theology and is currently on sabbatical in Chile, serving as an interim pastor and going on adventures with his wife, Carol.

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