Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Change We Make | Third Sunday in Lent

"It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. He said to the dove sellers, 'Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.'"John 2:13‭-‬16 CEB

If ever anyone wondered what they would have done during the Civil Rights Era in the United States, they should have their answer by now.

There were a lot of protests during the presidency of Donald Trump. Early in his term one of my extended relatives, a conservative, posted on Facebook in response to a video of one of the protests, "Don't these people have jobs?" Her derision was clear, and clearly driven by her political perspective. Never mind that the man was a monster, or that people often have vacation days that they can use. The matter of justice involved was invisible and irrelevant to her. It's as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said in 1968:

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change."

Everything he said about the 1960s is true of the 2020s. There are people in the United States and the world at large who are adamant about not only maintaining the status quo, but also making life worse for others and better for themselves. Having, at this point, a Democratic president does not mean that we can go back to sleep. Although the global pandemic has restricted our ability to march, we still have a moral obligation to agitate by every means available for a better world. 

Perhaps, though, we doubt ourselves. Not collectively, but individually. I often wonder how much difference my small efforts make in the world. Dorothy Day answered that by telling us, "Don't worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth." We know that cops murdering black people is evil. It should be evident that lgbtq+ folks should not be discriminated against in society.  We are witnesses to the dramatic harm being done to the natural world because of our indifference and unwillingness to change our ways. We hear the women speaking of their pain and fury in being denigrated and exploited. All these injustices and more are the truth that the status quo lies to us about. 

People had been doing business in the temple square for years. They likely would have picked it back up again right after Jesus left. That didn't change, and yet this action attributed to him has been spoken of for centuries. It might look like we're trying to empty a river with a teaspoon, and perhaps we are. Yet, if enough people see our example, perhaps a canal can be dug to water the thirsty land, and bring flourishing to everywhere it reaches.

Friday, March 5, 2021

What Would Full Communion Mean for Disciples and Lutherans?

Rev. Bob Cornwall, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) tweeted recently about his involvement in ecumenical dialogue between his denomination and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That definitely caught my attention, given the different backgrounds of the two groups, particularly because he spoke of it as 'full communion.'


That talk of 'full communion' had me confused, because both denominations already practice open communion, and the ELCA and many CCDOC congregations recognize each other's baptisms. My mind went to ordained ministry, given that the United Church of Christ and the CCDOC already have an arrangement in place along these lines. At the same time, I tend to think that the theological gulf is a little wider between the two now in question, at least enough to make me think that for the minister of one to serve in another some extra education about history, polity, and theology would be in order. This isn't a point lost on Rev. Cornwall either, who recognizes the challenge in his blog post on the subject of this dialogue.

I am embarking on a journey of discovery. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has entered a season of discernment as to how we might pursue full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. I will be participating fully in this conversation as co-chair of this bilateral dialog (I have an ELCA co-chair). The Disciples are a non-creedal/covenant community while the ELCA is a confessional community. So how do we achieve some form of full communion with this difference before us (and this is not the only difference between the two, but for this posting, it’s the one I want to consider)? So what should we do about creeds when we enter bilateral conversations as a non-creedal community with one that treasures them? Remember it’s not just the Disciples who must struggle with this question. The ELCA must also struggle with it.

 He's not exaggerating on the ELCA as a confessional communion. Their Book of Concord, which the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) also recognizes, runs to a very meaty 774 pages in the most recent English translation. The CCDOC, on the other hand, was founded in the early 1800s on the rejection of creeds. And yet, they too have a confession. 

As members of the Christian Church,
We confess that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of the living God,
and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
                            – The Preamble to The Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

At the same time, given that these are two very progressive denominations, I have to think that quite a bit can be worked around. I don't see the contemporary ELCA getting hung up on their confessions as tests of faith. In practical terms, and Rev. Cornwall indicated in his tweet, shared ministries could be a useful focus. The CCDOC and the UCC have their Global Ministries together as one organization, and it isn't hard for me to imagine the CCDOC regions and ELCA synods putting some of their resources together as well. I focus on the regional level because it seems the most likely area of cooperation, in things such as youth ministry, camps, and perhaps relief work along with other areas of concern. At the national level some work could certainly be done as well, but without knowing more about the two denominations organizationally I don't care to speculate further.

As denominations continue to recede in membership and finances, they're going to have to find ways to keep going that don't follow the older ways that allowed for separation of resources. If it were boom times for organized Christianity as a whole in the US, the story would be different. To be clear, while there are certainly very large and influential mega churches in this country, overall religious organizations are losing ground. This has for decades been especially true of progressive churches. By putting ministries together they can pool their money and continue to provide ministry resources to their members and their communities. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Global Methodist Church is in Formation


The conservative group splitting from the United Methodist Church has chosen a name, created a logo, and built a website. They're calling it the Global Methodist Church, and this development comes not long after the UMC announced that their General Conference will be delayed to August 29 through September 6, 2022, at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minnesota. This is shaping up to be a historic conference, as the delegates will be deciding on whether to proceed with the Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation proposal. 

Under the aforementioned Protocol, a new 'traditionalist' Methodist denomination would receive $25 million over the next four years. Further, parishes and annual conferences would have the option of joining the new entity without forfeiting their property. If they take no action, they will remain in the UMC by default. This entire situation has come about after years of internal conflict over how the Bible is viewed and interpreted, and has come to a head specifically because of a push on the part of evangelical and traditionalist United Methodists to strengthen bans on the ordination and marriage of lgbtq folks. 

While the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the text that systematizes the doctrine and legislation of the denomination, already contains such bans, they are widely ignored. A generation or more of United Methodists argue that they were welcomed through baptism and confirmation into the church, being raised in its midst, and should not be cast out or put in second class status because of who they are. The traditionalists argue that the Book of Discipline and the Bible should not be ignored on this matter.

When I was in college I got to know some people at a United Methodist parish quite well. They were part of the renewal movement that led to the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. What baffled me as an outsider was how often they would complain about lgbtq inclusion based solely on what the Book of Discipline says. Even now it puzzles me, given how homophobic parts of the Bible are. There's more than enough material there to sling at lgbtq folks.

Speaking of the WCA, I'm surprised that this isn't simply being reorganized as a denomination. I'd fully expected them to keep using that name, but clearly that's not the case. Take a look at this promotional video for their conference this year. It appears the theme is 'Go Global,' and now we know that this is a tie-in to the name of their new denomination.

Although at the end they reassure the viewer that safety protocols will be in place due to COVID-19, that comes along with imagery of people gathered closely and joining hands. It's hard to see how this won't be a super-spreader event. It seems certain that they don't want to lose momentum, something that can happen without in-person gatherings. The Global Methodists are clear on their website that even if the delegates don't support the proposal in 2022, they'll proceed anyway with the denomination.

The Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation anticipates new expressions of Methodism emerging from The United Methodist Church. Alternatively, if it becomes apparent that the leading bishops, centrists, and progressives who covenanted to support the Protocol no longer do so, then the council will consider bringing the new church into existence without delay. 

All this is happening at a challenging time financially for the UMC

Ten general agencies rely on church giving for their funding. For those agencies, the total planned expenditures for 2021 is $136.5 million, a reduction from $159.4 million in 2020. That’s a 14.3% decrease. There is a wide variance in the amount of cuts at each agency, and some with deep reserve funds are making up part of the difference themselves.

The Episcopal Fund, which supports UMC Bishops, is hard up for cash already, with the Council of Bishops recommending that delegates not elect any new bishops until 2024. This is getting pushback, with some arguing that they believe the Spirit is leading people into the episcopacy and that by not electing them, the church is failing to cooperate with God. Practically speaking, I don't see how such idealism will put money in the coffers to pay the new bishops, though I suppose I'd be told that they trust God to provide. 

The GMC's site is worth a look for the curious. Scroll to the bottom of any page for links to draft editions of their new Book of Doctrines and Disciplines, available in five languages. They also have links to their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts in the footer. 

One positive point, if any is to be found in all this, is that despite their lgbtq stance, the new denomination will reportedly continue to have women in ministry. 

How 'Global' this new denomination will be remains to be seen. While it's certain that the UMC in Africa and elsewhere is quite a bit more conservative than in North America, there is also a monetary factor to take into consideration. The UMC does considerable work in other countries, providing relief and assistance, as well as subsidizing local ministries. I wonder if the GMC would be able to do so in the short- to mid-term, and I'm not familiar enough with the Protocol to know whether it will permit dual-affiliation. 

This continues to be an interesting, albeit glacially slow, development in the world of Protestant Christianity. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Supporting Unitarian Universalist Relief Efforts

The following was taken from a recent Faithify Crowdfunding News email. Here is how Faithify describes its aims, in case you're unfamiliar:

Faithify’s purpose is to:
  • Inspire a culture of innovation that extends the reach of UU values
  • Lower the walls between existing congregations
  • Ignite ministries in new venues, formats, and communities
  • Bridge geographic and generational borders using 21st century technologies
  • Help passionate individuals invest directly in ministries that excite them
  • Help ministry innovators reach a passionate public
Below, Halcyon Westall, the project manager for Faithify.org, explains the role of the UUA Disaster Relief Fund, and highlights the fact that relief efforts are also available to support on the Faithify platform. This Unitarian Universalist crowdfunding platform has a lot of very worthy projects needing funding, so I encourage everyone to take a look. Also, if your UU-affiliated ministry has a worthwhile project that needs funds, you can investigate how to get on Faithify at their website. 


Do you know about the UUA Disaster Relief Fund? This resource is available to all Unitarian Universalist Association congregations to apply for grants for their buildings, their members, their communities and neighbors impacted by a natural disaster.

As you may know, recent winter storms in the United States South were devastating. Thousands of people are still without clean water to drink, are faced with repairs to their homes from ice damage, and face unfathomable utilities bills.

I am proud to serve on the team who helps administer this relief money. The applications for grants are coming in and the need is great. Several grants have already gone out from the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to congregations in Texas who are helping their communities recover.

This same fund, the DRF, helped communities impacted last year by wildfires in California and Oregon, the derecho in Iowa, and COVID related aid in all regions of the UUA. The need has been great, and the DRF has been able to supply practical relief in desperate times.

If you are in a community impacted by natural disaster, your congregation can apply for a UUA DRF grant. If you are right now safe, living with secure water, heat, and power, and have the resources to spare, please consider giving to the UUA Disaster Relief Fund.

Remember that Faithify also has a category of campaigns for UU disaster relief projects that may not meet the UUA DRF criteria. The "All-or-Nothing" goal is removed for this category of project.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Virtual Pulpit Supply via LGBTQ+ Alliance – AllianceQ

Of particular interest to congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance – AllianceQ is offering Virtual Pulpit Supply following the lectionary every 4th Sunday. In pandemic times when so many congregations are online-only, this seems like a great way to fill virtual pulpits and advance the mission the of this group. While I haven't seen a similar offering yet in Unitarian Universalist circles, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. If I find something along those lines I'll certainly share it here. What follows is taken directly from their website as of the day of this post, so be sure to check it out directly if you're reading this later on. 


Every 4th Sunday

AllianceQ offers Virtual Pulpit Supply with pre-recorded sermons on the lectionary text every fourth Sunday of the month. Build these sermons into your worship planning, educational offerings and programs!

Available for download one week in advance, you will be provided with a scripture reading, sermon, and sending forth. Messages are relevant for worship, Bible study, small groups and workshopping. Archived on our website, you can download and incorporate VPS recordings for use on alternate Sundays or in a variety of contexts.

In ministry alongside the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance – AllianceQ is eager to connect with more congregations and individuals through worship and learning. VPS allows us to connect no matter the distance, and you get the opportunity to receive a good word. In 2021, you’ll find VPS archives here. (Link available soon.)

How does it work?

VPS is offered once a month for the lectionary text assigned to the fourth Sunday of each month. To sign up, fill out this VPS request form. By 5 p.m. ET on the Monday before the assigned date, you will receive an email with a link to download a video containing the scripture reading, sermon, and sending forth. While drawing from the lectionary texts, you are welcome and encouraged to download VPS materials at another time in the month if it works better for your ministry.

How much does it cost?

There is no cost to download the VPS materials. However, to sustain this ministry, we ask that you consider making a donation to AllianceQ. You can support the Virtual Pulpit Supply project and donate here.

You may also mail a check to: Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance, P.O. Box 44400, Indianapolis, IN 46244 with the memo “VPS.”

Who are the preachers?

Each month will feature an LGBTQ+ Disciples minister or seminarian. Preachers are active members of AllianceQ and/or Disciples Justice Ministries. Identifying as queer or an ally, each preacher brings a unique perspective for engaging and responding to the scripture. Bios will highlight the preacher’s background and context.

Sign up. Get the word. Download. Share the word.

Fill out this VPS request form.

Virtual Pulpit Supply highlights

Preaching February 28: Rev. Erin Wathen

Sign up to receive the download, available February 22.

Sermon text: Mark 8:31-38

Sermon title: Part of the Neighborhood

Sermon themes: Interconnectedness, denying self, economy of interdependence

About Rev. Erin Wathen (she/her): Erin joined the staff of Week of Compassion after 15 years of congregational ministry, having served churches in the Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas City Regions; and serving in multiple Regional and General Church leadership roles.

A graduate of Transylvania University and Lexington Theological Seminary, she recently earned a post-graduate certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from Rockhurst University. In addition to working for Week of Compassion, Erin is also a writer and has published two books–one of which was a Publisher’s Weekly Book of the Year in 2018.

In her 2016 Patheos article “Get Off the Fence: Why ‘We Welcome Everyone’ Isn’t Enough,” Rev. Erin Wathen writes:

“We have to say it, because ‘come on in, it’ll be fine,’ does not cut it for marginalized communities that have been hurt by the church, repeatedly and systemically.”

​Erin lives in Louisville, KY with her family where they enjoy music, the outdoors, and just generally being in the Bluegrass state again.

Preaching March 28: Elijah Burton

Sign up to receive the download, available March 22.

Sermon texts: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16

Sermon title: Available Soon

Sermon themes: Available Soon

About Elijah Burton (he/him): Elijah is a seminary student at Phillips Theological Seminary, and he works as a Bookkeeper and Office Manager for an Episcopal Church. Eli and his family are members at First Christian Church of Lansing where he is a Deacon, sings in the choir and is a member of the General Board. Eli and his wife Jessica are raising two kids, Lu who is non-binary and Alexis, and they are foster parents.

As a self-identified queer transman, Eli says he knows the struggle of finding an accepting and affirming church home. “I bounced between churches for years, all of which stated they were ‘open and affirming,’ but fell short of affirming me as I am. When I found the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and subsequently AllianceQ, I knew I had a found a place that was open, accepting and working to affirm me as a child of God.”

Eli was elected for the AllianceQ Council in October 2020 and serves as Treasurer.
Last month, January 24: Rev. Luther Young

Sign up to receive the download, available immediately.

Sermon text: Mark 1:14-20

Sermon title: Keep it Moving

Sermon themes: repentance, justice, calling, faith and works, gifts, inclusion

About Rev. Luther Young (he/him): Rev. Luther Young, Jr., is an artist, public theologian, and social justice advocate who focuses on racial equity and LGBTQ+ inclusion. Luther is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School and a current Ph.D. candidate in sociology at The Ohio State University. His current research investigates the causes and effects of homophobia in predominantly black churches.
Coming Up

Schedule of preachers to be updated monthly. If you want or need pulpit supply on any other Sunday, please be in touch.


Contact AllianceQ Executive Director + Minister Rev. Melissa Guthrie Loy
.
Words of Gratitude

We are thankful for the inspiration and resourcing from More Light Presbyterians. More Light launched Virtual Pulpit Supply in late 2020. AllianceQ continues to be in collaboration with queer church leaders, especially at the intersection of race, gender and sexuality.

We extend deep gratitude for the time and gifts of our preachers with appreciation for your openness to our voices and ministry together.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ruination or Salvation | Second Sunday in Lent


A re-envisioning of the enduring principles of Mark 8:31-38

That which is basest within seeks to destroy what is best. Yet, when all hope seems lost, hope will be reborn. 

The loyalty of friends may compel them to speak for commitment without sacrifice.

Devilish ideas dressed as kindness must be confronted and rejected head-on. The big picture of what matters most should guide us forward.

If we want to take the paths that make for peace, it will demand everything.

Trying to take shortcuts to spare ourselves loss will be our ruination, and embracing the struggle will be our salvation.

Conquering the world but losing ourselves in the process won't accomplish anything. What's worth more than a human life?

If upholding human rights and testifying to beloved community is too embarrassing now, how much more shameful when a day of reckoning comes and you had no part in the birth of a new age?

Friday, February 26, 2021

Virtual General Assembly 2021

The items below are from two e-newsletters: the monthly from the Central East Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the latest update on the 2021 UUA General Assembly. At the bottom I've also included a graph with the result of a poll regarding thoughts about GA in 2022.

Just announced - Rev. Dr. Natalie Fenimore, minister for Lifespan Religious Education at the UU Congregation of Shelter Rock in Manhasset, NY, will be the preacher for the 2021 Service of the Living Tradition. The service will take place on Thursday, June 24 at 7 pm ET.If you haven't registered for Virtual GA 2021 already, there is no better time than right now! Registered attendees are among the first to hear program announcements, such as the Ware Lecturer and featured speakers, and only registered attendees will have access to the NEW! GA app (coming soon). So register early to join online discussions, familiarize yourself with the GA schedule, and find your place in our community of communities. Cost is $200 and financial aid and volunteer positions to help defray the cost are available. Registration and details at the UUA GA Website.




The Accessibility and Inclusion Team assists registered attendees of Virtual General Assembly with questions or concerns around accessibility, disability, equity, and social justice that are inherent in producing large-scale annual conferences. Team members will work in conjunction with volunteers providing Accessibility Services to GA participants.


The 2021 co-leads for this team are Patty Cameron and Mary Beth Spencer.

Patty Cameron has coordinated Accessibility Services at GA for more than 15 years. Now that we're virtual, and likely to keep a robust virtual presence in the future, accessibility has expanded to serve a wider audience of participants who wouldn't be able to attend GA in person. Patty is a member of the Winchester Unitarian Society. 








Mary Beth Spencer has been volunteering for a number of years under Patty's amazing direction with Accessibility Services at GA. In our ever-changing world, they are thrilled to be able to help serve an ever-increasing part of our denomination. Mary Beth attends Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek, California. 


Apply to be a GA Volunteer







We are excited to announce that the 2021 Youth and YA@GA staff teams have been hired by the UUA. Look forward to public introductions from the teams in early March! The youth and young adult leaders will be training in the spring in emergent facilitation, hoping to help craft spaces for young UUs that are responsive, engaging, and fun!


New this year: Financial aid for General Assembly will be distributed via self-selection. If you need to take advantage of sliding scale pricing, please use one of the cost reduction options available during registration. Additional funding from the Office of Lifespan Faith Engagement for UU young people will be advertised in early April.


Register Now!


NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS: 2021 GA MUSIC COORDINATOR


The GA Music Coordinator provides music leadership, general oversight, coordination, communication, and support for all aspects of music production during Virtual General Assembly.


We will also consider the possibility of dividing the scope of the GA Music Coordinator's duties among 2 or 3 candidates.


Music Coordinator Job Description (PDF)


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society Announces a Call for Papers on Polish Brethren

Ruins of the Polish Brethren congregation, Peczelice, photo: Paweł Małecki/AG
Sharing the item below to give it a signal boost. I'm considering submitting a paper for it myself, but haven't decided. Click here for the original post

On behalf of the Socinus Endowment Fund, the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society is pleased to announce a 2021 contest for scholarly papers that address some aspect of the history and influence of the Polish Brethren—their theology, ecclesiology, social ethics, or organizational history and the relevance of their ideas for modern Unitarian Universalist thought and practice.

The contest is open inclusively to students and established scholars, clergy and laypeople, academics and independent scholars.

Papers should be roughly 4000-7500 words in length, including footnotes, draw on primary sources, be organized around a clear thesis, and adhere to rigorous scholarly style and standards. Papers should be submitted in Word.docx format and sent by email attachment to Dan McKanan, at dmckanan@hds.harvard.edu.

For the purpose of “blind” evaluation, the author’s name and contact information should be submitted separately from the body of the paper itself.

A prize of $500 will be awarded to the writer of the best qualifying submission.

Deadline and Questions

Deadline for submissions is November 1, 2021.
Questions may be directed to Jay Atkinson: jayatk40@gmail.com.

Please Distribute

You are encouraged to forward this message to anyone in your various UU congregations who you think might be interested in submitting an entry.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Straightforward Pathway | First Sunday in Lent

via Wikipedia
"Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost."The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri : Inferno

Life rarely seems to go the way anyone expects it will. 

This question came up recently on my Twitter feed: "What would your occupation be if you had followed your childhood dreams?" That got me to thinking, and I responded 'mad scientist,' further clarifying that when I was 7 the 'mad' part was an essential component. If you asked me only three years later, I would have enthusiastically told you of how I wanted to be an archaeologist. I hadn't seen 'Indiana Jones.' Rather, my dad had a subscription to National Geographic, and I was enthralled with the idea of systematically working through the soil in a region and cataloging finds. Another three years later the answer would have been 'forester,' and for a long time before leaving the Catholic church I had a suspicion I'd be a priest. 

When I was 18 I was sitting in the Pastor's office at the Presbyterian parish I had joined (PCUSA), anxiously working up the nerve to tell him that I felt called to ministry. In retrospect I'm almost certain that he was expecting me to come out of the closet. In any event, through changes in denominational affiliation that led eventually to the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, this sense of calling came with me. It was magnified and focused when I went to Brazil as a mission intern at age 21. 

To make a long story short, I was a missionary and minister before spending a number of years transitioning into project management. Now I carry out that profession while studying for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. What ever happened to my dreams of science, whether in a laboratory, archaeological dig, or forest?

High school graduation is an odd thing to me. It's a necessary turning of the page; it's a milestone that signifies a great transition in life to adulthood. And yet, there is so much optimism about it that comes to little or nothing. Few of us ended up living up to our dreams, although some of us are still trying. We graduated, and either went to college or entered the workforce. Well, there are also those who went to prison. Along the way, life happened. One classmate got pregnant in college and dropped out, another died in a terrible auto accident, and another went into the military and became more disciplined that I ever imagined he could be. 

It's not at all uncommon for a person to reach their middle years and ask themselves, "What happened?"

The angst of young adulthood is something I remember very well. Within my evangelical circles of friends in college I would often hear questions about what God's will for someone's life was. I was one to ask it as much as anyone. When I encountered Brazil, that's what set the path for me. For others, it was something else. I wonder how many never really found their thing, and instead just carried on day by day. 

For me, the discovery of a purpose that would give meaning to my life gave me a massive psychological high. It was accompanied as well by a strong sense of homesickness for a country that had never yet been my home. Life felt more 'real' that ever, with emotions running high in all directions depending on how I sensed I was doing in working toward my goal. There were times of testing, and decisions to be made. 

The thing is, the experience of a dramatic, life-changing moment in time is fairly simple to understand. The commitments made following on that also seem clear and direct. Where I found the trouble for myself in living up to those dreams was not in the big, obvious events, but rather in the quiet decisions, the mild concessions, and the opting for a shortcut or two. 

As the ship of life moves ahead, through calm or stormy seas, we have have a hand on the rudder. It's a small thing to turn such a great ship, and yet if we don't constantly course-correct and stand vigilant with eyes on the stars to navigate, we can go way off course. Sometimes, that might just be okay. Imagine being so focused on getting to your pre-set destination that you never see the much-to-be-preferred island paradise just off starboard a little ways. 

Perhaps on the way to your dream you meet someone, and you realign your life around them, and they around you. You can find happiness there. What if you discover that however much medicine appealed to you as a child, you can absolutely lose yourself in software development? Or maybe you wanted to be a famous musician, but instead you're now an accountant who loves her job and plays music for events every so often with some friends. 

Alternatively, maybe you've come midway upon the journey of your life, and you wonder how you ended so far from where you dreamed.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."—Mark 1:9-15 NRSV

In the reading from Mark this week something dramatic happened in the life of Jesus, at his baptism, and 'immediately' he was taken out to the wilderness and tempted. Misleading desires could have turned him off on the wrong course, but we're told he overcame them all. This is often held up as an example of resisting devilish misdirection, and I don't disagree with that usage. I do, however, think it's not the entire story.

Read any of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and you'll find a Jesus who can be moved to anger or tears. He can rejoice and show courage, and he can also be made to feel very weary indeed. This is a better picture of life, as I see it. We have turning points and start out well, pushing through the resistance, only to find ourselves being faced with the dreariness of daily life. In his essay entitled 'Experience,' Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "The years teach much which the days never know." In those ordinary days that tyrannize our existence, much can be accomplished or lost. It's only in looking back that we can see how far we have come, whether on or off-course. 

Fortunately, we can make corrections. If we're not satisfied with where we've come to, we can act within the bounds of our covenants with others and the limitations of our resources to take a different turn. But it's not just one turn. It's many. And we have to keep making them, each and every day.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Book of Acts Tells Christians How to Be More Inclusive

In a course entitled 'Critical New Testament' that I'm taking in seminary we recently covered Luke and Acts. I was struck by how the writer of these texts was concerned more with theology than historical accuracy. His aim was ultimately theological. In particular, I see two primary and interrelated theological themes at work: fulfillment of scripture, and ever-widening inclusion. This is less evident in Luke, but plainly obvious in Acts. The earliest believers in Jesus didn't have the luxury of quiet reflection about the full implications of their faith. Instead, as the message about Jesus and the kingdom of God went out, the issues were forced on them directly. One of the keenest points was that of inclusion, and it's instructive to see how Luke portrayed them as managing the seismic shifts required of their worldviews. 

Acts has Jesus telling us the following prior to his ascension: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In this we find the basic literary skeleton of the book. The message first disturbed the peace of Jerusalem, then all of Judea and Samaria, and then on to the rest of the known world. It seemed big news that both Palestinian Jews and Hellenistic Jews in the Diaspora were included, and then that the Samaritans could be part of the movement, but when Gentiles started coming in a great deal of rethinking had to take place. 

We find in the sermon of Peter on the day of Pentecost one of many references found throughout the book to fulfilled scripture. “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:15-16). Fulfillment of scripture is a very big deal in Luke-Acts, and it seems clear that the writer saw this as a primary means for reinterpreting established Jewish beliefs to make sense of so much change in ways that people could find satisfying. In Luke the fulfilment had to do with Jesus, while in Acts it can be Jesus but also the Christian community itself fulfilling the words of the prophets.

Luke has a different perspective. We have already seen that some of Luke’s predecessors and contemporaries (e.g., Mark and Matthew) claimed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. In the book of Acts, Luke takes this view a step further. The entire Christian movement after Jesus is a fulfillment of scripture as well (Ehrman 325).

Luke-Acts is an account of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of the early church told as the fulfillment of prophecy (Talbert 1982, 234-40). What is being actualized in the various prophecies' fulfillment is the plan of God that stands behind the events narrated (Talbert xv).

Repeatedly in Acts we find God (or ‘the Spirit’) taking the lead in expanding the reach of the gospel. In 2:39 Peter says that this promise is to those listening at the time, to their children, “and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” In 2:47 it was ‘the Lord’ who added people to the church each day. The Samaritans receive the message and in 8:14-15 the apostles go to them simple to confirm it with the laying on of hands to “receive the Holy Spirit.” The apostle Peter explained to the church in Jerusalem, as related in 11:15-19, the conversion of Cornelius’ household by saying it was done on God’s own initiative, and “who was I that I could withstand God?”

Acts 15, which recounts the events of a council in Jerusalem intended to determine the religious requirements for Gentile converts, gives us an end-to-end view of the theological methodology of the early church in adapting to new circumstances. 

In verses 1-5 the traditionalists make their case for circumcision and keeping the law of Moses. 

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.

In 6-12 Peter, Paul, and Barnabas tell of witnessing the conversion of Gentiles, complete with the reception of the Spirit. 

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

In 13-21 James then caps it off by quoting the Septuagint rendering of Amos 9:11-12 that ‘refers to God’s act of restoration of all peoples, Jews and Gentiles” (Levine 229). 

After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, 

After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will set it up,
that the rest of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.’ 

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.”

It is extremely important to note that it was the Septuagint that James quoted here. The Hebrew would have had it that the nations were possessed by the restored Israel, not that the Gentiles would seek out the Lord. It would be odd for James to be quoting the Septuagint, I suspect, so this could be a later reworking of events to align better with the argument the writer is making in Luke and Acts. Namely, that all humanity is to be included. 

A challenge was raised, events on the ground were heard out, and a theological explanation from established canon was cited to make sense of it, resulting in a policy. This is the method that the writer of Luke-Acts presents to readers for handling dramatic change in the church. An analog I could find today would be the inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ+ folks. Rather than keep arguing from the scriptures why they are to be excluded, following what we find in Acts the Christians of our time could be observing that there are very vibrantly believing LGBTQ+ people, look to the scriptures to make sense of how it is that they are included as equals, and move on. 

Acts is a work of theology first and foremost. The narrative is driven by the need to make sense of Christian beliefs and practices through received scripture interpreted via the lens of faith in Jesus as the Christ. The implications of what it has to tells the Christian church are farther reaching than I think most give it credit. 

References


Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Marc Zvi Brettler. The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Talbert, Charles H. Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2018.

The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. New York, NY: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1952.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

QAnon's Ongoing Disappointment

It's really something to watch the cognitive dissonance of the Trump traitors go into meltdown. Some of them are arguing that it was 'antifa' behind the seditious violence of January 6, even in the face of videos of well-known white nationalists circulating along with their insistence that it was really them.

How do any of these people manage to hold a single coherent thought? I'd think that with that much internal chaos even going to the bathroom without shitting themselves would be a struggle.

When Jesus of Nazareth died, grief and cognitive dissonance combined for his disciples to reinterpret what had happened. Christianity was the result. That's the same principle at work with QAnon today.

On January 6, 2021 'the Storm' foretold in QAnon beliefs didn't go down as expected. It's very early days but the cognitive dissonance and struggle to understand is apparent among them and other right-wingers.

QAnon has a strongly apocalyptic perspective, and yesterday was supposed to be a turning point called 'the Storm.' Based on history, what will happen now is that some will become disillusioned and 'fall away,' while others will reinterpret the event to be the *beginning* of a series of events culminating in the takeover of government by Trump, and the execution of the elite they believe are running international pedofilia rings. 

A tamer example from US history would be 'the Great Disappointment' that spawned the 7th Day Adventists and other such groups. When Jesus didn't return on October 2, 1844 the most committed followed of William Miller reinterpret what didn't happen and the Seventh-day Adventist Church was eventually spawned, along with other smaller sects with similar beliefs about the 'soon return' of Jesus.

I don't think this is anywhere near the end for them. More likely there will be a solidification into more organization with new narratives to make sense of recent events. Even after Biden is sworn in as president I'm convinced that true believers will remain and reorganize, after an initial period of shock, confusion, and falling away.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Disciples News for December 2020

Perhaps it's an odd way to close out the year here, but there were some items from the December 2020 Disciples News that I thought worth sharing.

The first item is that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a new way to gather reporting for their Yearbook. This tradition of publishing an annual book of reports from denominational agencies, regions, and congregations goes back to before the restructure that made the group a formal denomination in the traditional sense. Previously they had been a collection of churches gathered around common points of theology, but without a national or regional ministry structure. The Yearbook was an essential part of keeping everyone connected, and it continues to benefit the denomination today. Obviously it isn't the only denomination to keep records, but this holds a special place in that faith tradition. I hope the new system, likely named after Alexander Campbell, helps keep the practice going.

Next up is a piece I'm taking directly from the email newsletter. It's important to know that this opportunity is open to people who are not members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as well.

Disciples Peace Fellowship accepting intern applications

Disciples Peace Fellowship is now accepting applications for our 2021 Peace Interns! This 12-week, paid internship allows young adults to live out the Gospel imperative for peace and justice by working with camps and conferences, partnering with Disciples Justice ministries, teaming up with ecumenical and interfaith peace movements, and advocating for peace for justice. 
 
Information about this life-changing summer internship, the application process and all online application materials can be found at DisciplesPeace.org/Apply All applications and references must be completed and submitted by Jan. 31, 2021. 
 
If you have any questions about the internship or the application process, please do not hesitate to contact DPF's Mission Director, Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, at MissionDirector@DisciplesPeace.org.


Finally, there's word the print journal 'Discipliana' is transitioning into an online format as the 'Journal of Discipliana.' With the cost of printing and shipping, it makes sense to me that they'd go this direction.

Journal of Discipliana to launch next month

Disciples of Christ Historical Society announces the launch in January 2021 of the Journal of Discipliana, an online only, open access, peer-reviewed journal for original scholarship that explores issues related to all aspects of thought and religious life and practice within the historical or contemporary Stone-Campbell Movement.

The Journal of Discipliana continues the legacy of the quarterly print periodical Discipliana, which suspended publication in 2014. Manuscripts may be submitted in Microsoft Word to Dr.Marc Toulouse at journalofdiscipliana@discipleshistory.org .

How this journal compares and contrasts with the Stone-Campbell Journal is something I intend to find out. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Treasured Words | Christmas Day 2020


"But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart."
Luke 2:19 NRSV 

The family farm I was raised on had belonged to my great-grandparents on the Smith side of the family. My parents also owned another farm in the country where my great-great grandparents (Gonnerman) had settled not long after moving from Germany in the 1800s. Every Sunday and many 'Holy Days of Obligation' I was in the same Roman Catholic church building for mass that my Bone and Schwarzweller ancestors had attended for 5 generations. All that and more of our family history took place over the span of between 100 and 200 years in the same rural Missouri county. I was steeped in it, and heard the stories from my grandmothers, great aunts, and parents. When my own children came along I was far from that place, and there was no way the kids would absorb it almost by osmosis as I had. So, I passed the stories I remembered along to them, as best as I could remember, and added in my own. It mattered to me that they had an idea of who and where they came from, even if the stories are half-remembered and likely to fade away much further in another generation. 

The stories we carry with us, whether our own or those told to us, can shape the course of our lives. We reflect on them, drawing lessons and heeding their warnings. Like Mary, we often treasure the words others have spoken to us and those which we have read. We turn them over and over, and with the handling the edges are smooth and they are polished. Without realizing it we misremember and embellish, frequently in response to the needs of the present moment. Sometimes in speaking with my mother I've realized that an event that looked one way to me appeared very different to her, at least in memory. It could be that one of us is more 'right' about the true events than the other, or that we're both living with our own interpretations. 

What matters is what those stories do for us or to us. A harmful story we tell ourselves, such as those that convince us we are failures or unworthy, can go from past events to self-realizing prophecies. A childhood trauma, a youthful betrayal, a setback in our college years or early careers can haunt us or help us, depending on how we handle it. The words of ancient texts, like the Bible, can perpetuate negative stereotypes, misogyny, racism, nationalism, and systemic violence. They can also breathe new life into us, inspire the formation of communities devoted to fostering human flourishing, and cast a vision for a better, brighter, more inclusive and affirming future. With both personal memories and passages of scripture, which path is taken depends on which words we treasure most.

Jesus is said to have told his disciples that where their treasure is, so would be their hearts. What words are we treasuring today? Words that help, or words that hurt? Stories that lift us up, or that drive us down into despair. It isn't always easy to shift our focus, and there isn't always a silver lining to every thing. And yet if we are to have hope we must have faith in that which is best. Spend some time today, if you would, bringing to mind and treasuring at least one story that brings you joy which you have heard or lived yourself. Then, try again tomorrow with another one. Let those stories soak into your soul, and see if with time you don't notice a difference.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Sowing Light | Christmas Eve 2020

"Light is planted like seed for the righteous person; joy too for those whose heart is right."Psalm 97:11 Common English Bible

There is a lovely juniper tree in the front lawn of the place I grew up in rural northeast Missouri. Better known as 'red cedar,' this type of tree is quite common across the eastern and midwestern United States. When I was a child there were many such trees in the field just across the road from the house, having been seeded naturally from the old tree in our yard. Every late November before I was 11 or 12 my older brothers and I would cross the road and select the greenest tree of the best proportions to be our Christmas tree. Now anytime I smell cedar I can't help but be taken back to that time. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I learned that in cities and elsewhere it is spruce, pine, and fir trees that find their way into homes.

It was a simple matter for our cedar tree to sow all those seeds. It simply produced them and nature took its course. This is so with plants found in the wild generally. Meanwhile, if we want to have a good crop of corn, soybeans, or wheat, we have to sow the seed with a great deal of intentionality and effort. If corn has grown one year in a field but not the next, naturally there will be some 'volunteer' plants growing from seed that was left behind, but they are the tiniest of fractions of what had been there the year prior. It is only by planning, planting, and tending that farmers gather a harvest every year. 

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has it in error that '[l]ight dawns for the righteous' in this passage. I'm not sure why the translators made this choice, where the text actually has light identified with seed and not the dawn. The dawn just happens, more certainly even than seed is dispersed in the wild. Here, though, the seed is sown or planted. This is a matter of intention. Whatever the passage was originally intended to mean, we can draw from this the simple observation that before planting there must be intent leading to action, and then between germination,and harvest is a wait. Even just waiting a couple of weeks for germination can seem like forever to a gardener watching for new life. 

We could wait around hoping that things will get better, and that 'light' with be sown in our lives and in the world. Or else we can take action. With each day we can make a resolution to do what we can to make way for a little more light to grow in the world. We can't expect to work miracles or solve thorny interpersonal or systemic issues overnight. Instead, we make small choices about our lives and our interactions that can be liberatory, oppressive, or simply routine. Every so often over the course of that past 20+ years of adulthood people have told me how something I said or did really helped them. More often than not it seemed like a small thing to me at the time, if I even remembered it now. When such seeds sprout we can feel surprised by what grows from it, but the fact that it was a small good that became a greater good should not.

What constitutes a 'liberatory act'? Honestly, this is really difficult to define. It could be something small, like putting bird food out in the winter as an expression of our commitment to the 'interconnected web.' Maybe it's dropping someone a line who we haven't heard from for a while, or who is going through a tough time. In that we respect and affirm the inherent worth of each person. Voting is participation in the democratic process, a means by which the collective will is expressed. Perhaps it's working through our place in white supremacist culture, or advocating for immigration reform that renews the promise of America. 

In the days ahead, pay attention to what goes on, and find something, however great or truly very small, to do to bring liberation into the world. It's okay if this is difficult at first. Through trial and error, day after day, we can learn to recognize the needs of the world, and do our part to plant seeds of light. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Winter Solstice 2020

"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." — Genesis 8:22 NRSV

In Norse mythology the winter solstice is when the wheel of the world is at its lowest point. In this liminal time of the year the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest, but also the gods are closer. All but the evergreen trees had the appearance of death, and yet in the midst of this was a celebration, because even in the literal darkest of days there is hope of light. 

The seasons circle relentlessly, driven by the position and movement of the earth in relation to the sun. Growing up in Missouri I had four distinct seasons to count on, and I couldn't imagine living somewhere without a leaf-laden fall or a frosty winter. Then when I lived in Brazil I learned that it's not just a single uninterrupted climate there either. In Uberlandia, in the high savanna, I could count on July to give us a week where temperatures could drop into the upper 40s, and that August would be windy. In December going into January there was more rain than usual, and I even planted a garden one year on Christmas Day. 

As with the seasons, so with our lives. We are not exactly as we were yesterday, and tomorrow we will not be entirely the same as today. Taking it further, what seemed most urgent to us 10 or 20 years ago is old news now, if it is even remembered. Any time I feel that I'm too nostalgic for the past, I try to remind myself of the very real worries I had at the time, without trivializing them based on the improved perspective I have now.  

What presses on you most right now, and how do you think it might look to you in 10 or 20 years, assuming such time is available? You might at that time see that you were a survivor, and admire your strength. You might feel compassion for your past self, understanding how terrible things were. It's hard to say, but for a certainty this phase of your life will have passed. Perhaps you can put yourself in that mode of future perspective, look at yourself now, and find some compassion and admiration to carry you along. 

The wheel is turned to the lowest point, but from here on the cycle takes us back up again into the light. That is one of the few guarantees this world gives us, a promise kept year after year.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Holy Child | Fourth Sunday of Advent

"The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God." 
Luke 1:35 NRSV

A man once told me that when his first child was born, he felt no connection to her and, looking at her in the hospital, felt as though he was seeing an alien. That probably came down to lack of preparation, as he was still a teenager at the time. For me, it was an instant connection. In an instant I wanted only to hold and protect him. The only weirdness I felt was the uncanny feeling of seeing someone with a family resemblance there with me in Brazil. There was something profoundly holy in the connection I felt with him, just as there already was with his sister, my adoptive daughter.

When the angel Gabriel told Mary to expect a son, in keeping with many ancient myths it was to happen without a biological father. He said, 'therefore the child to be born will be holy.' Anyone who has had a child knows, however, that regardless of the parentage, every child to be born is 'holy.' The sacredness is found in the extension of the human family, the renewal of a lineage, and the incredible potential of each new life. The presence or absence of a father, the social status of the parents, and the other surrounding circumstances pale in light of new life. 

Too often children are born into situations that are far from ideal. An abusive home or extreme poverty comes first to mind, but in any case this world has never really been 'child-safe.' And so we do the best we can to shelter children, whether our own or those fate has brought into our lives via other paths. As a society we make and enforce laws to attempt to make things right for the little ones, and as families we extend love and care. Deep down we know that all children, of whatever race and whatever ability, are special. The hard-hearted find it easy to think carelessly about children in difficult settings, like war zones or drought-stricken areas, up until they see a face. In those eyes all but the worst of us see an innocence and vulnerability that we instinctively are drawn to defend.

No angelic visitation nor celestial sign is required for life to be holy and good. It is what we make it, and children come to us as a gift however they arrive. Perhaps your childhood wasn't very good. Childhood trauma should not be, and if that's a path you've walked, know that you are worthy of so much better. It could be that you are a single parent doing your best to provide. Know that your loving presence alone is most of the battle. Maybe you've never had children and never intend to have any. That's perfectly valid as well, and neither adds to nor takes away from who you are. Those without children but working for a better world are doing it for the new generations. 

Whatever your reality, you were born a holy child, and you are a gift to this world.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Repairing the Devastation | Third Sunday of Advent

About a week ago, Middle Collegiate Church lost its physical home to a 6-alarm blaze. It took 8 hours to extinguish the fire, and the 128 year old building was left completely gutted. My first encounter with Middle Church was through Pub Theology. Within a year of moving back to the United States from Brazil in 2015, have ascended out of theism in late 2013, I was missing not so much the deity as the context of Christianity. Jim Keat was on the ministerial staff of Middle Church at that time, and he was running a Pub Theology group in a bar near the sanctuary. After work, once a month, I joined that little merry band of mildly inebriated lay theologians. That served as a point of entry to some visits now and then to Middle Church, including for their annual Revolutionary Love conference. In 2018 my teenage son and I marched with them in the Pride Parade. Such lovely people. The destruction of their beloved meeting place has been on my mind as I've reflected on the readings for the third Sunday of Advent.

"They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations." — Isaiah 61:4 NRSV

There were settlements in the area where modern-day Jerusalem stands as early as 3000 BCE. Despite famine, disease, and countless wars over the many centuries, human habitation of this place has been essentially continuous. Every time destruction came to the city, people rebuilt on top of the old. As a result Jerusalem is regularly giving up secrets to archaeologists. You practically can't put a spade in the ground without hitting history. There's a tenacity revealed in this long history that I think reveals how much this place has always meant to people. They found worth in the location, the history, and perhaps also the idea of Jerusalem. In this I think there could be a lesson for us today.

The Lenape Native Americans held Manhattan and environs for unknown generations before Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano became the first documented European to visit the area that would become New York City in 1524. It was primarily the Munsee branch of the Lenape present at that time, part of the Algonquian ethnic and linguistic family. They hunted, fished, and gathered in the area, benefited by the presence of about 150 species of edible wild plants, abundant wildlife, oysters, and fishing, and also engaged in agriculture, raising such plants as squash, maize, and beans. There's evidence of human habitation in the area goes back around 9000 years, and it's not known how long the Lenape were in the region before European colonizers arrived.

While the area was mapped for the Europeans with Henry Hudson's arrival in 1609, it wasn't until 1624 that a permanent European settlement was established by the Dutch on Governors Island. A year later Fort Amsterdam was built on what was then the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Counting from then, that makes for about 395 years of European settlement in New York. 

When I started working in New York over a decade ago I was struck by the diversity of architecture, and by how people inhabit the spaces built in times past.  The city is history layered on history, and while fixed settlement here doesn't date back as far as it does in Jerusalem, it's not uncommon for construction workers to uncover some history. 

Workers digging near New York’s iconic Washington Square Park have uncovered two burial chambers. The crypts house coffins and human bones thought to be about 200 years old.

So far the team has identified more than a dozen coffins in the vaults, which could have been part of the burial grounds of one of two now-defunct Presbyterian churches, according to archaeologist Alyssa Loorya, owner of Chrysalis, the company tasked with investigating the site. 
(Powell, 2015) 

There's one even more intriguing in recent history.

On the afternoon of Oct. 4, 2011, a backhoe dug into an excavation pit in Elmhurst, Queens, and struck iron. Construction workers assumed they had hit a pipe. But when the claws of the backhoe emerged from the ground, it was dragging a body clothed in a white gown and knee-high socks.

Scott Warnasch, then a New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner forensic archaeologist, initially viewed the finding as a recent homicide. “It was recorded as a crime scene,” Warnasch, 52, told The Post. “A buried body on an abandoned lot sounds pretty straightforward.”

It turned out to be anything but. The almost perfectly preserved body was actually that of a woman born decades before the Civil War. She had been buried in what was once the grounds of a church founded in 1830 by the first generation of free African-Americans. (Kaplan, 2018)

What's true of our cities is true of many other areas of human life. The United States was founded by white colonizers who engaged in genocide and ethnocide, relying significantly on the labor of enslaved people. It is easy and convenient for white folks to say 'we should let the past be the past,' but not so simple when we are still living within the systems of oppression that were constructed long before we were born. In fact, this way of living is so ingrained that those privileged by it originally can't see it until it's been thoroughly explained to them. 

It isn't ghosts from the past that haunt us. It's the systems the long-dead built and which have been maintained through generations that cause so much harm. Society as a whole suffers, while the harm is counted in human lives wasted through violence and exploitation. It's nakedly visible in the existing criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. 

Bringing this even closer, we each inhabit the reality of to whom and where we were born, where we were raised, our race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and more. Even in matters where we can change, like our religion, there are often consequences through the rejection experienced in families for such a move. I was fortunate to have a mother who believed in me, and trusted that I needed to make my own decisions in life. This is so often not the case. 

Several years ago I was chatting with a childhood friend, catching up on old times. Our conversation turned to the difficulties faced growing up. My friend's home life was quite troubled, and now he has a beautiful family of his own. He talked about learning from his experiences, unpacking the trauma (my summary of his words), and moving forward. I simply observed that we seem to spend a good part of our adult lives trying to sort out what happened when we were kids.  

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals (officially known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs). It's now five years on, and we have more work than ever to do. These goals have the power to create a better world by 2030, by ending poverty, fighting inequality and addressing the urgency of climate change. Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone. (The Global Goals)

Those goals and the proposed timeline look mighty optimistic, and frankly unrealistic, to me. And yet if we don't set goals and timebox ourselves, how will we ever build urgency to make the changes needed? Right now people are living in squalid poverty, and I'll emphasize here that it's almost never truly and solely 'their fault.' Quality education and appropriate healthcare are beyond the reach of people from Somalia to the United States of America. Climate change is already destroying livelihoods and spurring migration, which leads to conflicts over resources and stokes the flames of nationalism. All over the world, in places like Eritrea, Papua New Guinea, and Flint, Michigan, obtaining safe drinking water is not easily accomplished. We can and must do better with this world that we have inherited.

Certainly progress has been made. There's no way that over 7 billion people could have been kept alive on this planet with the agricultural methods, technology, and logistics of pre-20th century times. We understand germ theory, have developed vaccines, and manage to move food and other resources around the world. The basic capacity is there, but we lack the collective will to put our know-how into practice. Ideologies divide us, including those that call for us to look only to our own interests, and which demand more of under-resourced people than ever was asked of us. 

This whole world is a work in progress, attempting to heal from the past, live in the present, and build for the future. Like an individual sorting out a troubled childhood, we as a species are hindered by old traumas, and bounded by lingering prejudices that keep us from seeking our very best. We build on the bones and ruins of the past, like one of our cities, and we are shocked when what we have held sacred is burned by the catastrophes of life. We must carry on, having faith that the progress made can be extended. Clearing out the still-smoldering cinders of our losses, we can join hands and hearts to repair the devastation of many generations.



References: 

Kaplan, M. (2018, October 03). Secret identity of 150-year-old body found in NYC revealed. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://nypost.com/2018/09/29/secret-identity-of-150-year-old-body-found-in-nyc-revealed/

Powell, D. (2015, November 06). Construction Workers Find 200-Year-Old Bodies Buried Just a Few Feet Below Greenwich Village. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/new-york-bones-two-centuries-old-found-manhattan-work-crew-180957183/

The Global Goals. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2020, from https://www.globalgoals.org/