On the Other Side of the Paper

By Kelsey Stillwell (written last year during her study abroad experience)

It was in my first weekly visit that I found myself surrounded by eyes, multiple sets of eyes that were scanning every detail of my face and body.  Trapped in the middle of this circle, motionless, and vulnerable.  The focused face of artists, with their attention on me was intimidating.  Sitting in the center of the room, I was on the opposite side of the paper than I was used to.  I was now their new subject, sitting in a pose that became uncomfortable in a matter of minutes.  Trying not to move, and stare at one spot. Modeling is hard.

I didn’t know many of their names, much less their stories.  But they were kind, polite, and welcoming to a new visitor.  They sensed my discomfort and often asked if I needed a break, or to stretch.  I was not uncomfortable with where I was; I was uncomfortable with the attention, the stillness, and the vulnerability. In a few hours, I would leave, take off my badge, get my phone and ID from the guards, and walk out the door beyond the walls that kept them in.  Volunteering in a prison carries with it dimensions that are hard to imagine.

Each week their welcome becomes warmer out of gratitude for a dedicated visitor.  The paintings on the walls are constantly changing; the artists do not.  I accompany my mentor, Tina Bailey, who leads a dance class and drawing class and help how I can, most often by modeling.  A western face with a button nose poses a different and challenging composition.  I have slowly gotten to know the participants of the art program.  It is a program that was started by Myuran, an incredible artist and leader, sentenced with the death penalty. Their dedication to the program allows their use of canvas, brushes, and paints, and a studio to work in.  It gives them a chance to improve their art, a place to be creative and expressive, and a community. It is a more creative and therapeutic community than the rest of the prison has to offer.  Some lose their minds; some become even more addicted to drugs, but this group chooses art.  A program to find leadership and responsibility in, and to learn.

For many, their days are spent confined in their cells, a choice they have made for themselves.  This art program, however, offers a different option, one of dignity and responsibility.   My involvement in the art and dance class is just a small part of what it has to offer.  Studios include space and resources for silver workshop, screen-printing, computer graphics, sewing, and handicraft.  Each of these practices has devoted artists, and relies on volunteers to come teach.  The experts, who only come once or twice when paid, leave only a piece of their skill set; it is the time, attention, and relationships of regular volunteers that matter the most.

IMG_2382Listening to Tina and being a part of her painting class, I have learned lessons in art and relationships.  Offering guidance and small suggestions, Tina does not ever try to change the style that each artists uses, though some are much more attractive than others.  The opportunity to learn how to solve problems for themselves is a skill that will be more useful in the world when they leave the prison than their ability to paint.  This hour and a half class once a week is approached with the hope that practicing and challenging how they draw and paint will also hold value that will be beneficial for them beyond their paintbrush, outside these walls.  When they intentionally choose to be a part of something positive in prison, their chances of adjusting in the real world increase.  Seeing this positive work in a prison in the form of art is something I am grateful to have gotten a glimpse of.  I continue to go with Tina, and it is usually the highlight of my week.  I look forward to what more there is in store for this program.

The modeling experience has changed drastically in the few weeks since I first began.  My face fills their sketchbooks, their improvement over the time is evident.  Still quiet hours of modeling don’t feel as uncomfortable anymore. We laugh when my face itches beyond what I can bear.  The serious ones let me know when I have moved too much.  I now know many of their names, where they are from, and what they miss most about home and freedom.

Nick shares surfing stories and laughs at the thought of me attempting to learn.  He shows me the basics on the surfboards that Mosen has made himself in the courtyard.  Ann talks about what it is like in her homeland of Thailand, and her favorite foods.   Ali asks for advice in photoshop, but ends up teaching me the art of t-shirt design, as he shares his original designs that bleed raw emotions of life in prison onto the fabric.  I do not mind sitting still to model for this class, but it is the moments in between, getting to know the artists, that mean the most to me.  Hearing stories from those with whom I am able to communicate, and simply watching them work when the language barrier is too great.

Their welcoming smiles, hugs and constant gratitude make me wonder what it is that I am offering that they could be thankful for.  I am just there to assist the teacher, and most of the times do not even feel like I am doing that.  I just sit, in the middle of the circle, as motionless as possible in an uncomfortable position, trying my best to be a decent model.   It is a different type of trust, to allow someone to draw what they see you to be.  This trust has slowly become more effortless for me, and allows them the confidence to be proud of what they create.  I like to think that my few moments frozen and vulnerable are able to offer them a chance to escape.  Give them a few moments of freedom to create, explore, and learn.  Maybe not, but I hope so because all I have to offer is a new face to draw.  That and a smile, a prayer, relationship, dignity, and a voice to their story.

——-

While studying in Bali, Indonesia for a semester, I assisted Tina Bailey with her volunteer work with the art program in Kerobokan prison in Denpasar.  The art program was started by Myuran Sukumaran in 2009 as a small painting project.  It has grown into a multi faceted program that allows prisoners a place to study art.  If you would like to know more about what Tina Bailey does with the program or ways you can help you may contact her at tenka@me.com

Please take the time to learn more about Myuron’s story at www.mercycampaign.org .  Since the writing of this article, the need for advocacy as increased. Myuron’s plea for clemency has been rejected by the president; and unless something changes, he could be executed within this month.  This site has a petition out requesting the president to reexamine Myuron’s case with hopes to reduce it to a life sentence because of the positive influence and life changes he has made.

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.

Life. Death. Birth.

By J. Barrett Owen

Two years ago I went on a forestry tour. I hated it. It was cold, damp, and painfully forgettable – until the end.

The forester came out of his professorial role and said, “The reason why forests show longevity is because they produce that which is needed to survive. The dying leaves sustain the trees.”

He didn’t say it, but it’s as if I heard him say, “Death is a natural a part of the cycle that springs forth life. If your church wants to thrive, it must hold in harmony life, death, and birth. Without this cycle, the ecosystem dies.”

Within my church community, we’ve experienced a lot of death. Each funeral changed us, forever. In light of these deaths (and the good word from the forester), we prepare a Blue Christmas Service each year to focus on the fallen trees of our church community, to name and grieve our pain together.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, we’re pausing to honor the lives of the people who won’t be joining us for Christmas dinner. We’re naming our frustrations (and regrets) to God.

None of us (at least in my church) have enough holiday cheer to mask life’s pain. We’re all grieving something while trying to find room for the joy of Jesus. So instead of faking it, we’re taking time to name and offer our pain to God.

This single act of worship brings together the same tension found in the forest. It allows us to grow closer to our Creator by honoring the passing of what was while still anticipating the birth of something new.

So, this Christmas, I hope everyone finds the time and space to experience life’s cycles. Deaths occur. Leaves fall. Traditions die. Naming these deaths matters. And in the midst of doing so, something new is born.

If our churches can be more like forests (community of believers) sharing leaves (burdens, talents, dreams, hopes, money, regrets, gifts, energy, time, and loves), then we’ll learn to appreciate, even more, just how game-changing the Incarnation is. We’ll understand the magnitude of Jesus stepping into our dying and decaying world offering the newness of life. We’ll have the eyes to see that through birth; we’re gifted the joy that makes our souls complete.

Life. Death. Birth.

—–

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

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.

 

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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.

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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.

……………………

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.

 

————————

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.

Take My Life

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

-Hymn by Frances R. Havergal

I really struggle with wanting stuff. I guess that’s called greed right? I’ve had this “ideal” life pictured in my head for many years now, the one where I dress cute everyday, proudly sport my piercings and tattoos, go running and hiking with my dog, and throw all my camping gear into the back of my SUV… Well I now have a closet that is–quite literally–overflowing, a hipster tattoo, a lovable dog that I never go running with, and an SUV that has yet to carry a tent or sleeping bag.

And now that all these wishes have been fulfilled, what is next on my shopping list? Oh yes, a house. I long for a place that I can call home, to invest in, paint, perk up, and design to be “just right” for this Goldilocks. I want an actual dining room table where I can serve a group a meal, and a big enough kitchen where I can cook and bake for more than one. I want space for my art supplies so I can really commit to my craft and I want room for a family to grow into. I want to have enough living room seating for a movie night and small group Bible-study and worship. I want, I want, I want…

It’s not that my desires are totally unChristian; they’re at least functionally noble. It’s not like I covet my friend’s husband, or a set of jet skis, or a personal chef. On the surface, my dissatisfied longing even seems God-pleasing. I believe God loves it when we choose to root ourselves in a community and invest; open our homes to cook and welcome people; or create art and families. The problem is that these motivations are my cover. They’re the insurance policy I use with God to get what I want… “Please God, if you just give me the desires of my heart, I’ll give them back to you!”

But I never do.

My apartment that I moved into almost a year ago has never once entertained a small group of friends in it. While I continue to buy art supplies, I can’t remember the last time I practiced or created anything. I’m undedicated in the way I treat my body, both denying it exercise and healthy nutrition. I’m undisciplined in the way I spend my money, spending it like I have it and using it on selfish, temporal things. The things I promise to God, I selfishly take back as my own and in my hands they are worthless.

I’m so afraid that I won’t get what I want in life, but I’m even more afraid that I will.

Because as I reap undeserved gift after gift… I’m overcome more and more by guilt, not grace. If I can’t manage or steward what I already have, how will I be able to handle more? The Bible is clear, I won’t be able to (Lk 16:1-13). If I want God’s true riches: peace, wholeness, love, and joy, then I must learn how to be fixated on God and not material things, however noble their purpose. By consecrating my life to God, I hope to be an instrument tuned to God and the rhythms of his grace.

Now, what I’m about to say shouldn’t be taken as a three-step process to consecration, because that’s not what it is and that’s not how spiritual formation works. However, in the spirit of vulnerability, I’m letting you in on the process I’m endeavoring in order to present my life as a holy sacrifice to God:

  1. It starts with my time. I’m giving up TV because that’s the biggest waste of my time and also the best way for me to distract myself from the real things that need attention, namely God, and his purposes for me. It’s about putting myself in a posture of surrender. For you, this could be fasting from something else or re-purposing an activity or item in your life. Ask God to show you what excuses he wants you to give up.
  2. I’m planting myself firmly in community. And not just the kind of community that has awesome movie nights and knows the best margaritas in town, but the kind of community who will call me out on my junk and be living examples back to me of true dedication to Christ. I keep trying to do this by myself. It’s not working (go figure). If you want loving help facing your crap and you’re willing to lovingly help me to see and take on mine, come find me, let’s be friends.
  3. Every day. Every single day, I’m going to confess to God what I desire, and pray that he conform those desires to his. I’m praying that in the process of being honest and self-disciplined, I will be freed from my discontentment. I’m going to read Romans 12 and try be faithful in all that God has already given me. And I’m going to beg God not to give me anything else–no matter how much I want it–unless it serves God’s purposes.

Lord, consecrate us to you. Take our moments and our days, our dining room tables, our classrooms, our families, our crafts, and our words. Take us and we will be, ever, only, all for Thee [1]. Amen.

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[1] Adapted from the hymn, “Take My Life and Let it Be” by Frances R. Havergal, 1874.

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.

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.

 

………………………………………………

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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