Northeastern Seminary Blog

Prayerful Reading

Posted on Mon, Nov 23, 2015 @ 10:58 AM

ASR_Icons.jpgI arrived Friday night. It was the perfect opportunity to relax, meet the retreat presenter, and mingle with seminary friends. Between the fellowship and worship time together the tone was set for the rich sense of community that permeated our retreat.We talked about doubt, "a subtle weapon in the hands of the evil one," and about woundedness—how it perpetuates a sense of being unloved and unworthy of love. These are not subjects that one would ordinarily call “awesome” and yet, for me, it was. The pace, time for reflection, and sharing worked together to create a spiritually enriching experience.

By understanding more about icons as holy writings that were created by people who have fasted, prayed, and felt directed by God to create them, I was open to using them in prayer to access deeper meaning and message. And through a prayerful “reading” an icon of Jesus rising from the tomb I experienced a powerful sense of God's loving presence and gained insights that were a godsend:

  1. Doubt is a weapon which can be counteracted by recognizing the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice and love for us.
  2. We are all wounded, often unintentionally, by the circumstances of our life journey and our relationships. It can be difficult to identify the source of that wounding and its impact on our life. However, there is no question that it molds and shapes our attitudes and behaviors.
  3. I have unwittingly contributed to the wounding of others. By acknowledging and accepting that fact, I can extend compassion, forgiveness, and love toward others. I'm also free to extend those same graces to myself, and this way I participate in aiding my own healing process and perhaps the healing of others as well.
  4. An important benefit to identifying my own woundedness is that it enables me to let go of blame and bitterness toward those who have wounded me and frees me to be more receptive to love and free to give love. I am more able to obey Jesus.

I have come to love the opportunity to be part of the annual retreat experience built into each program at Northeastern Seminary. What a blessing.

Angela Richardson (MATSJ) is an associate minister at New Bethel CME Church in Rochester, N.Y.

Tags: prayer, reflection

Surrendering My Brokenness at the Table

Posted on Wed, Nov 18, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

Two icons were projected on the wall. The first depicted the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sitting at a table. When asked where I was in the icon as the viewer I discovered I was sitting at the edge of the table in the foreground—not only welcome at the table with the Trinity, but already sitting there. The second icon was “The Harrowing of Hell.” It showed Jesus Christ after he was crucified and descended into hell. I was told that “harrowing” was taking a long tool and plunging it into the soil to bring the nutrients to the top, a powerful metaphor for Jesus’ message to the lost souls: “this is not what you were made to be, come with me.”

This was the second time I attended the All-Seminary Retreat as a Northeastern Seminary student. I appreciated the opportunity to travel for reflection, away from the demands of school, work, and church business; but also, to see the faces of people who appeared as images on the video-conferencing screen at the Albany satellite site, or with whom I’ve communicated only through email. I valued this opportunity to shake hands, have friendly conversations, to worship, and just be in the presence of the seminary community.

The presenter was Dr. Damien Zynda, a spiritual director, who focused much on personal brokenness and darkness, and emphasized this as the intersection where Jesus wants to meet us. She explained, these unpleasant, painful, and discouraging times are the place where our conversion into the fullness of Christianity happens. She used as an example, the late Bishop Oscar Romero, and his conversion from an obsessive legalist and “work-a-holic,” into a Gospel-centered disciple focused on justice. She had shared the icons that opened my spirit to grace.

During the time of extended silent reflection we were instructed to find a quiet place to reflect. We were invited to explore the rooms and nooks off the “zig-zagging” corridors lined with paintings of priests, saints, bishops, and religious figures inside the retreat center; or spend time in the glass-walled chapel, that placed a believer sitting in a pew into a perspective of being both inside the building, and in-touch with the tidy and natural surroundings outside; or, to roam outside and discover the grounds of Notre Dame Retreat House overlooking Canandaigua Lake.

I chose to go outside and walk though the labyrinth on the hillside, maintained throughout brush, bushes, and trees; the path of which, was coarsely mowed glass; with the lake forever on the horizon out of the corner of my eye. I made two discoveries in the labyrinth that spoke to the messages I had received from Dr. Zynda.            

I began to notice the berries of the different bushes and shrubs. I wondered, in this season of late fall, why these berries would not have been eaten by the birds in preparation for winter. Upon reflection, it occurred to me that winter birds would have to eat in the months to come. I recalled scripture, “therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”(Matt. 6:25-27 NIV).

Walking outdoors in the fall, the season that highlights the beauty of decay, and in contemplation of winter, the time of seasonal death, I realized the brokenness I identified in me, the brokenness that I hold onto with a tight grip, is a brokenness I can lay on the table with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Throughout my life, God has provided sustenance to me in the winter of my brokenness, just as He has provided for his winter birds. If I met Jesus in the darkness of my brokenness and surrendered it to Him, I could wait expectantly for spring. But not just another spring in nature’s cycle, a new spring which my brokenness prevented me from experiencing all along.     

Then I saw a small shrub adorned in its fall colors. It was beautiful in the bright reds, oranges, and yellows. This small bush stood in its glory before the harshness of an impending upstate winter. It reminded me of Joseph and his multicolored coat. Little did the young Joseph know that the blessing as the favored son was the fall of his life, and that his own brothers would strip him of his fall colors and throw him into a long winter of servitude and imprisonment.

The favor of his father, Jacob, failed Joseph; his youth failed him; and his good looks failed him; but, God did not fail him. When Joseph was enslaved by Potiphar, the scripture said, “the Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered” (Gen. 39:2); when Joseph was in prison, the scripture said, “the Lord was with him” (Gen. 39:21); and when the Pharaoh asked Joseph to interpret the his dream, Joseph said, “I cannot do it … but God will give Pharaoh the answer” (Gen. 41:16).  

Joseph did not harrow himself out of hell; it was God who was able to release him from his darkness. Once in the light again, he was not the Jacob-favored son in possession of a fine coat, but a God-favored son possessing the foresight to administer an entire nation.

I have been blessed by this retreat. I have identified the brokenness and the darkness that holds me back from a fuller relationship with Christ, as well as my brothers and sisters around me. Meeting Christ at this intersection to bring me through the winter into a new spring will be my conversion from believer to disciple.  

Richard Moran, Jr. (M.Div.) is a member of Bethel AME Church in Schenectady. N.Y. and is a candidate-on-trial for ministry with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Tags: Test1,Test1,Test1,Test1

God’s Transformative Gift

Posted on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 @ 11:30 AM

I cannot tell you exactly what happened within me during the spiritual retreat at Northeastern Seminary, but it did. More proof, I suppose, that transformation comes as a pure gift. Sometimes it comes at unsuspecting moments, sometimes after years of waiting and hoping. Perhaps it was the silent space made available for honest admission to God; an invitation to realize, in blunt honesty, my buried desires. Perhaps it was the community which, once again, welcomed me back with open arms. Maybe it was the content of the retreat itself given by a presenter whom I admire. I suspect each of these were facilitative, preparing a space within me to receive the gift of God for which I have been postured. While it is true I no longer live local, this occasion was worth the nearly five-hour long journey. It felt akin to pilgrimage. Indeed, I was a pilgrim in a mobile prayer-space hoping if I showed up, God would, too.

My desire came as unhindered intimacy and union with God. Along with this desire came an awareness of my unfreedom; a brick wall of “ontic evil.” Imagine knowing that freedom and a call to follow Christ lay beyond this wall with a simultaneous recognition of personal inability and insurmountable fear to move beyond it. How paralyzing. This is the universal human struggle. As ministerial leaders, both representative and lay, we invite the people of God to engage in active transformation as participants with Christ on the journey toward wholeness as we become fully human. Our inward looking is a catalyst by which we learn to love God and love our neighbor.

On my way home I was mostly silent as I processed the experience. Finally, I spoke. First, I surrendered my attachments, asking God to pry them from my death-grip, if necessary. I felt a sense that I had been forfeiting the good things of God; holding onto old wineskins when new ones were both desired and given. Then I said, “I am going to say something.” Pause. Tears. Courage rising. “I feel full but empty; inspired but incompetent.” I repeated this several times until petitions and supplications flowed freely from my heart. How many of us live within this paradox without opportunity to acknowledge the both-and of our human experience? 

Holy Spirit, help us to continue looking in. May we find the beauty of the self and the love of Christ intertwined. May our desires reveal the heart of God and cause us to love deeply with fierce vulnerability and courage. 

Faith Ware (MA-Theological Studies) is from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania and is a student of spiritual formation and direction at Evangelical Seminary in Meyerstown, Penn. 

Tags: Test1,Test1,Test1,Test1

Being Military Friendly is Just the Order of the Day

Posted on Wed, Nov 11, 2015 @ 01:33 PM

This article military-chaplain-prayer-178747-edited.jpgwas originally published in the November 2013 issue of Northeastern Seminary’s ResOund Newsletter.

It is affirming to be named to the list of the 2013 Military Friendly Schools®, a list that honors the top 15 percent of colleges and universities in the country that “deliver the best experience for military students.” It is great to be recognized for “leading practices in recruitment and retention of students with military experience” and for “programs and policies for student support on campus, academic accreditation, credit policies, flexibility, and other services to those who served.” But we have to admit it. We have not singled out military students and provided them with special services. This is just how we treat all our students.

However, when we talked to a few students who have served or are serving in the military we found that Northeastern Seminary can be quite “friendly” and compatible with their ministries.

What impact has your military service had on your calling to ministry?

Levi: I didn’t feel the call to ministry until I entered the Army. As a logistics officer I worked alongside outstanding chaplains and each time I saw them meet the need of a soldier something stirred in me—I felt I was called to that work as well.

Pedro: My military service helped me to develop a servant mentality and to have global vision of the kingdom of God.

Kenny: My ministry helps those who serve our nation smoothly transition back to civilian life.

Seth: As the primary duty of leadership, soldier care is very important. There’s very little time for it and chaplains are in the best position to circulate, talk to soldiers, and get to know them. My first year at Northeastern has grown me as a leader of soldiers and increased my attentiveness to their ongoing care.

Weldon: The military chaplaincy helped to broaden my ecumenism and tolerance for persons of other faith traditions. I gained a special ability to minister to all races, generations, ranks, and individual troops as well as their families.

How do the ideals that characterize the military shape your ministry?

Levi: The Army values leadership, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. It seems to me that those are values any minister should seek to uphold.

Pedro: The U.S. Marine Corps helped me to believe in teamwork, fellowship, and the betterment of others; this has produced a better understanding for establishing the kingdom of God here on earth.

Kenny: The military emphasizes knowing procedure and protocol. Applying that same value to the call of God you get a clear picture of how important it is to get a strong theological background for ministry.

Seth: The foundation of virtues and moral behavior in the U.S. Army complement my participation in ministry.

Weldon: I am a well-rounded pastor through the extensive training and through sharpening my administrative skills in the Chief of Air Forces Chaplain Services office at the Pentagon.

Why should those who have served or are serving in the military attend Northeastern Seminary?

Levi: The work is rigorous and takes time but that time is at the discretion of the student. Professors strive to work with each student’s situation and they push you to shape your own theological base.

Pedro: Northeastern is for people who want to get a broader view of the kingdom of God and who want to understand the historical essence of the Christian faith. This exposure allows students to be stretched, producing better engagement in their own traditions.

Kenny: The theological mission is strong. It is flexible for working adults, and the professors are understanding.

Seth: The Seminary’s programs are extremely relevant to the story in which we find ourselves—deeply rooted and faithfully responsive is exactly what the world needs.

Weldon: I have added to my pastoral skills and have grown spiritually. Northeastern is for those who welcome a supportive academic community while developing a bond with students and faculty. 

And what do these students suggest for making next year’s list of Military Friendly Schools®?

Pedro: Stay relevant with the times we live in so students can be effective in their own settings.

Seth: Offer a veteran-oriented counseling session for planning and benefits review.

Weldon & Kenny: Facilitate a forum for members of the military to share experiences and perspectives.

About Northeastern Seminary
Since opening its doors in 1998, Northeastern Seminary on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College has continued to grow in prominence as a significant resource for the church community in upstate New York. Northeastern Seminary is an independent, multidenominational seminary in its approach to theological education, leading to an academically and professionally accredited Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Theological Studies/Theology and Social Justice/Transformational Leadership, or Doctor of Ministry degree. The student body is comprised of more than 30 different Christian faith traditions represented among 148 students and 420 graduates ministering around the nation and world. For more information, visit or call 1-800-777-4792.

About Military Friendly® Schools
The Military Friendly® Schools designation process includes extensive research and a data-driven survey of schools nationwide approved for Post-9/11 GI Bill funding. The school survey, methodology, criteria and weightings are developed with the assistance of an independent Academic Advisory Board comprised of educators from schools across the country. The survey is administered for free and open to all post-secondary schools who wish to participate. Criteria for consideration can be found on their website,, and a complete list of schools can be found through our Schools Matchmaker tool on

Tags: military chaplain, call to ministry, why seminary, seminary alumni

A Glitch in God’s Intentions?

Posted on Wed, Nov 11, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

It was three years ago that my sister delivered her first child. The birth produced many tears, dreams for the future, and much excitement as the family came together to provide this child an atmosphere through which he would be able to learn, grow, and develop into his own person. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years as we patiently watched him learn how to crawl, walk, and graduate to baby food. Books were read, games were played, and inaudible responses of love and thankfulness were received with joy. It wasn’t until recently that we realized that he wasn’t speaking real words. At three years he was still making noises and crying in order to communicate his needs.

The process of uncovering his disability was arduous and slow. Along the way my sister confided that she felt a special anointing from God through the gift of her disabled son. She believes that she was uniquely equipped to advocate for him and love him unconditionally. While my sister received her son as a gift, in spite of his differences, the family questioned what had caused the disability. Was it smoking, poor eating habits, or some unknown biological factor? Unbeknownst to her, my sister possesses the insight that if spoken can guide the church toward full inclusion of the disabled. She recognized the vulnerable nature of humanity, and the necessity of advocacy.

As children we are conditioned to believe that success or flourishing in life is solely dependent upon ourselves. If only we chose the highest paying professions, retain and consume as much education as possible, and climb up the ladder of success would we be considered successful and self-sufficient. This vision of success is the fruit of what Thomas Reynolds names the cult of normalcy—the set of rituals that condition our society to define what is and isn’t considered normal, and therefore good or bad. The cult of normalcy is birthed within a community or society structured through mutual exchanges of consumption and production.[1] Naturally then, what is considered normal, valuable and good are those conditions that support the system of consumption and production. Devalued, abnormal and adverse are those conditions that do not contribute to the sustenance of this system. Fueled by the cult of normalcy, conformity and conditioning produce a homogeneous effect within the community, and demarcated are those who either refuse to consent to or are incapable of conformity. Those with disabling conditions such as physical impairments, mental illnesses, or skin diseases are considered abnormal. Such abnormalities are deemed undesirable, creating an atmosphere of isolation, exile and degradation.

Responses to abnormalities, or disabilities vary yet contribute to much of the suffering of those with disabilities, persons forced into exile, to the margins of the community, because the inability to conform to what is deemed normal and good. To our shame, this lurks within the walls of the Church. Reynolds explores the responses of the Church to those with disabling conditions and discovers that a theology of disability must stem from the very nature of God’s character and action through redemption history, specifically that of Creation, Incarnation and Resurrection. Much of what has driven the Church to conclude that those with disabilities are incomplete, abandoned by God, is based upon the question of suffering and evil. Those with disabilities, because their ability to function in society is different than those of the majority, are considered to be suffering because God’s intention must be that functionality is normative when it is homogeneous. The Church and the rest of society has deemed that disabilities must be a glitch in God’s intention at Creation because those with disabilities are believed to be unable to contribute in the economies of exchange. The Church and society have been misguided by the fallacy of the cult of normalcy. 

In order to counter the cult of normalcy with a theology of personhood that is inclusive of those with disabling conditions, Reynolds discusses how personhood is defined. Our conception of the definition is rooted in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. True personhood is commonly understood as the deep rootedness of the qualities of equality, freedom, independence, and reason in our being. Reynolds describes why these qualities promote but also work against the flourishing of our true personhood, revealing the negative implications of our ideals. While he acknowledges the empowerment of those once oppressed and marginalized by the fruit of the ideal of equality, he also balances our comprehension of equality. In order for equality to exist, a common denominator between all involved must be sought. This common denominator in turn devalues differences and produces a homogeneity that is not conducive to embracing differences. Thus, equality can serve to further the cult of normalcy, namely creating another construct to further the marginalization of those who didn’t fit into the majority. Reynolds’ criticism of independency is based upon the communal nature of human beings. We are not self-sufficient individuals. We are dependent creatures. Development of self occurs within an interrelated web of relationships. Reason is used as a form of privilege that builds itself into a form of domination and oppression, thus enabling marginalization of those with different mental functions.

A new anthropology of personhood challenges the existing definition, welcoming disability into its very core. Reynolds’ declaration is that humanity shares vulnerability as a trait that produces human flourishing, as opposed to the belief that success is based upon individual ladder climbing. Therefore, because all of humanity shares a condition of mutual vulnerability as an essential aspect of true personhood, Reynolds paves the way for the inclusion of those with disabling conditions to move away from the margins. Reynolds counters the traditional notion of personhood by declaring that it is not independence that leads to flourishing, it is not domination that leads to security. True flourishing is sustained and birthed in relationships of mutual vulnerability, interdependence and compassion. True personhood is based on the imago Dei. Humanity at its core is vulnerable, creative, relational and available.

That human flourishing is dependent upon mutually vulnerable, interdependent, and compassion-filled relationships is counter to what our society has been conditioned to believe. Reynolds backs up his claim by discovering that it was and is God’s intention to create diverse, different, interdependent, and vulnerable beings, and that it is declared “very good” by Godself.  In fact, all of the Creation is vulnerable and dependent upon God for survival and flourishing. God exists in a relationship of mutually interdependent beings within the Trinity, who participate wholly in every act of Godself.

Human beings, created in the likeness of God are therefore themselves mutually interdependent beings who exist in relationships of mutuality and vulnerability. In fact, the push for inclusion of those with disabling conditions into the realm of what is considered normal is due to the fact that God’s first act was one of hospitality. God chose to bring Creation into God’s own presence and therefore, in Reynolds’ words, “God makes room for something other than God, actively disposing the divine self to relationship with difference.” Given God’s nature of hospitality all of humanity, in God’s likeness, should also possess a hospitable posture towards those who are different, whether it is due to disabilities, sex, or religion.

God’s definitive action toward the embracing of differences, diversity and disabilities within Creation is in the Incarnation. Jesus Christ embraces all of humanity by remaining in solidarity with those on the margins, the oppressed and poor. It is through Jesus’ radical actions that true hospitality is revealed; God welcoming and embracing the differences that make up the human experience. The life of Jesus Christ, inclusive of all his actions pertaining to redemptive history and ministry, reveals God’s concern for those on the margins, at whose exclusion disrupts the embracing and mutual interdependence of all of humanity.

Reynolds, along with Nancy Eiesland, relates that it is evidenced through the reappearance of Jesus to the disciples, before his ascension, that God’s very nature now includes disability. Jesus’ hands, feet and side were still pierced. If Reynolds and Eiesland are correct then the nature of humanity is at its core vulnerable and that disease and affliction aren’t necessarily a distortion of God’s creative intentions.[2] In fact, disease and affliction are the necessary byproducts of the fruit of vulnerability, for vulnerability creates an atmosphere where true flourishing can take place, while at the same time permit undesirable consequences. The Incarnation also affirms bodily existence as good, not something to escape. Not only was humanity created as embodied creatures, but through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ the line between humanity and divinity blur as Jesus takes humanity into the very nature of Godself.

The analysis of the different theological perspectives that direct our perceptions about disability reflect a more wholistic understanding of God’s intentions throughout redemption history. Moreover, it pushes us toward inclusion of the differently-abled in our definition of true personhood, thus broadening the scope of inclusion for all. For, as per God’s intention, humanity finds unity in its diversity.

This entry is the final post in a blog series that features the work of students from the Disability Awareness course offered at Northeastern Seminary during the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Barbara Isaman-Bushart (MDiv/MSW, ‘08), this course focuses on the diverse needs of individuals living with disabilities, with an emphasis on how to improve awareness, accessibility, and inclusion within the local church. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.

Hope Schwartz is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary. She attends Hess Road Wesleyan Church in Newfane, N.Y. 

[1] Reynolds, Thomas E.,  Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality . Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008. ISBN # 978-1-58743-177-7

 [2] Eiesland, Nancy and Saliers, Don E., eds.  Human Disability and the Service of God:  Reassessing Religious Practice.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1998. ISBN # 0-687-27316-1 

Tags: Test1,Test1,Test1,Test1

Vulnerability Re-Imagined

Posted on Wed, Nov 04, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

The truth is, we are all deeply vulnerable down to the core of our beings. We may be strong, yet not as strong as someone else. We may be intelligent, but awkward with our hands. We may be lonely, anxious, over weight, or not as good looking as some others. We must all come to a place of acknowledging our vulnerability, and the awkwardness we feel in the presence of others and of God. But the challenge of ubiquitous human vulnerability can be turned to hope for the future of our society if we as Christians are willing to live into this particular truth of our shared humanity. Our very differences and imperfections have potential to bind us together, through hospitality, in God’s kingdom as agents of God’s loving grace.

In his book, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, Thomas E. Reynolds places the stigma of disability within the framework of human vulnerability. The meaning and power of disability is not as obvious as we might think, as it is driven by context and social norms. It is important to understand that the root of any disability rests in the soil of our vulnerability. Out of this vulnerability grows a host of societal coping mechanisms by which we control one another.

Reynolds’ theology of disability, then, is infused with an understanding of how vulnerability was present at the beginning of God’s creation, and is ongoing in God’s plan of redemption. God does not place a yoke upon his creatures that God does not share in equal or greater portion.

What stands in the way of humanity embracing its vulnerability? Reynolds calls it the “cult of normalcy,” a reaction to either personal or corporate vulnerability. It is a protective mechanism to maintain comfort, security, or the status quo. Society at every level embraces this cult of normalcy, thinking it will thrive best when vulnerability is hidden or eradicated.

Reynolds addresses the church’s culpability in this cult of normalcy in a discussion of the imago Dei. It is not difficult to imagine that anyone who does not conform to norms established by the Church could be accused of as not conforming to the image of God, and should therefore be shunned, or otherwise denied some degree of fellowship in the Church. Reynolds’ idea of imago Dei as “imitatio Dei” challenges the idea that being “in God’s image” implies that we are “perfect” in some human projection of “godly” standards. Rather, we should obtain perfection in our conformity to the loving nature and work of God, who embraces the weak, the disabled, the poor, and the marginalized. Thus, the “imitatio” interpretation acts as a reminder that we, like our God, should love broadly and tenderly, assuring that God’s love is cast horizontally to the entire world, not just vertically between God and a few of God’s “chosen servants.” Reynolds sees that wholeness is not the absence of vulnerability or disability, but something that is only found as we live with one another in the truth of our weakness, our need, and our vulnerability. This way of living celebrates our unity and our “welcome” with both our creator and one another. 

What might it look like for the church of Jesus Christ to take up the call to “be perfect” as God is perfect? It might look like a church that prioritizes people over form and appearances. Television and radio broadcasts of services may seem like a good evangelization tool to some, but the demands for a “good performance” can deny a congregation the joy of simply being themselves with one another each week. I recall my father, an Episcopal priest who never passed over a teachable moment. More than once we watched him step down from the pulpit, walk down into the pews, and pick up a fussy child right in the middle of a sermon. He smiled and said, “Aren’t we blessed to have children with us?” With these words he silenced the angry thoughts of those who were annoyed that someone would bring their baby into a service, and at the same time he blessed the child and her family who needed to know how welcome they were, and how important it was for them to be in the service.

Imagine how much more we would reflect God’s image if, like Jesuit priest Fr. Greg Boyle, we saw our moments of interconnection with other imperfect people as holy moments of “kinship.” Imagine how much more we would reflect the image of God if we carried what Reynolds calls “God’s Welcome” with us into every conversation, and every human interaction at churches, in our homes, and in our day to day lives.

This blog series features the work of students from the Disability Awareness course offered at Northeastern Seminary during the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Barbara Isaman-Bushart (MDiv/MSW, ‘08), this course focuses on the diverse needs of individuals living with disabilities, with an emphasis on how to improve awareness, accessibility, and inclusion within the local church. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.

Michael Brown is pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary.
He attends Church of the Holy Trinity and works as a librarian for Marcellus Central School District in Marcellus, N.Y.

Tags: disability awareness in ministry, equipping for ministry, ministry

Cultivating Ministries that Learn From Individuals Living with Disabilities

Posted on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

Living with a disability is a reality for nearly 20 percent of the American population, affecting two of every seven families, and though eight of 10 people with disabilities state that they consider faith to be an important part of their lives, they also report they are very unlikely to attend religious services

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and still houses of faith are often much less accessible than secular organizations. Addressing accessibility calls for more than architectural accommodations such as ramps, elevators or lifts, though these are very crucial; awareness, open attitudes, and flexibility in practice are also key to breaking down barriers for people with disabilities as they seek faith communities in which to worship and grow in faith.

The goal is not to create ministries “for” but an openness to learn “from” individuals living with disabilities and to grow in reciprocal relationships that would truly represent full incorporation into the Body of Christ. The gifts of full inclusion are diverse and rich: exposure to fresh ways of seeing, hearing, and expressing God’s character and active presence in the world; a witness that human vulnerability is accepted in Christ’s Church and that all human life is infused with God-given dignity and value; and the much-needed gift to slow the pace of ministry and recognize the Holy Spirit’s work among the people of God—ALL the people of God.

This blog series features the work of students from the Disability Awareness course offered at Northeastern Seminary during the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by adjunct professor Barbara Isaman-Bushart (MDiv/MSW, ‘08), this course focuses on the diverse needs of individuals living with disabilities, with an emphasis on how to improve awareness, accessibility, and inclusion within the local church. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.

Barbara Isaman-Bushart has worked in the Greater Rochester area as social worker dedicated to disability advocacy for many years. She is also a part-time faculty member of SUNY Empire State College and a member of the pastoral team at Community of the Savior in Rochester, N.Y.

Tags: disability awareness in ministry, equipping for ministry, seminary alumni, ministry

In Context, In Israel: Explore, Learn, Grow

Posted on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 @ 10:00 AM

Holy_Land_Trip_20162Imagine standing on the Mount of Olives or walking around the ruins of Jericho. Envision yourself sitting on the ancient steps to the Temple, wading through the dark waters of Hezekiah’s tunnel, standing atop Mt. Nebo (Jordan), and surveying the land of Israel as Moses did in ancient days. Consider what it would be like to swim in the Dead Sea and get refreshed in the streams of En Gedi where David fled from (and encountered) Saul; or to view the wilderness of Maktesh Ramon and walk the Judean wilderness. That is only a fraction of what I experienced in the Holy Land and what has been built into the Northeastern Seminary study tour in Israel coming up in July 2016. My Bible study and devotions have never been the same and messages from the pulpit have come alive whether preaching or listening to others.   

Ever since my first trip to Israel in 1997 I found ways to return again and again—now four times. In a recent trip I studied at Jerusalem University College (JUC), the premiere location to study in Israel. Early in the morning I would wake up and sit on the Old City walls for personal devotions or walk through the Old City before the shops opened and the tourists invaded. With every trip, I found blessing and further confidence and understanding in my study of God’s word. 

It’s an investment but the experience is unforgettable:

■ Bible in hand, the field becomes your classroom

■ Some of the best scholars on Ancient Israel are the instructors

■ There is no “licensed” canned instruction—JUC is the only Christian organization allowed by the Israeli government to provide direct “tours” and education in the land

■ Jewish and Christian perspectives offer insight

■ Traditional vs. biblical and archaeological evidence provide the real story!

■ College/Seminary/continuing education credits can be earned

This is not a trip comprised of the basics. When you get to study the biblical text from the places it unfolded the learning goes deep. You see and hear the sounds of the Old City and walk through the city gates. You walk where Jesus and his disciples walked. You stand where Goliath confronted Israel. You cross the Sea of Galilee by boat and come to understand the historical and geographical settings of the Bible.

God is not more present in Israel … but the context of his word is. Immersing yourself in the wonder of the land of the Bible comes with a warning!  You will want to return, again and again.

Chris Kelley (M.Div. ‘07) is a national instructor with Walk Thru the Bible, has led medical mission trips to Africa, and has provided interim pastor support to a number of area churches. He travels extensively around the world as founder of Be a Berean Ministries and as vice president of ANKOM Technology.

Northeastern Seminary in partnership with Jerusalem University College Institute of Holy Land Studies and Be a Berean will be hosting a Holy Land Study Tour July 1—July 17, 2016. To learn more about this study tour and how to register by visiting the Northeastern Seminary website at

Tags: Holy Land

Holy Land 2016: Musing on a Theology of Place

Posted on Wed, Aug 26, 2015 @ 10:00 AM

Holy_Land_Trip_2016There are many advantages of making a journey to the Holy Land. An on-location-immersion in the history and geography of the biblical narrative makes the Bible come alive in a fresh way. The stories are no longer distant, flat, or abstract. The stories of the Bible become multi-dimensional and packed with new insight. Having the opportunity to see the sights Jesus saw, walk the streets he walked, and breathe the air he breathed can transform the way we think about the extraordinary measures God took to invest in humanity.

But there’s more: Going to the Holy Land can be dangerously disruptive to the way one worships God. It has the potential to transform one’s practice of worship by renewing one’s sense of place. Philip Sheldrake points to this potential transformation when he reminds us that “the concept of place refers not simply to a geographical location but to a dialectical relationship between environment and human narrative. Place is a space that has the capacity to be remembered and to evoke what is most precious” (Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity, 1).

In the Holy Land, whether following the wanderings of the Hebrew people, the footsteps of Jesus, or the journeys of the Apostle Paul, one cannot help but come face-to-face with the multiple connections between place, memory, and our identity as human beings. And this, in turn, can be a powerful force in shaping the way we think about the vocation of guiding the people of God in worship. Immersion in the Holy Land—as holy ground and holy place—challenges my thinking and practice of worship. That is, a theology of place takes seriously the incarnational, historical, and spatial aspects of worship. A trip to the Holy Land is a forceful reminder that our faith is not merely, or even primarily, a collection of religious affirmations. The Bible is not a book of systematic theology that dispenses theoretical truth. Rather, it is the story of the eternal God’s intersection with the temporal, historical, embodied world of space, place, geography, and culture. The story of the Scriptures pulsates with God’s unflagging determination to engage creation with self-giving grace. From God’s walking in the cool of the garden with the first humans to the burning bush, Mt. Sinai, and the Exodus; from the symbolic actions of the prophets, the birth of Jesus, and the anticipation of a new heaven and a new earth—the story of the Bible is a story of engagement, embodiment, and incarnation.

The implications for worship are vast. If these things are true then authentic worship cannot merely involve the impartation of some information—even if it’s true and good. Rather, worship will involve remembering God’s great acts in the past in ways that make them present in our own place and time. Authentic worship will take seriously the people, place, and culture of the worshipers—precisely because it is in the very nature of God to be known in and through the things of place, time, and history. Authentic worship will involve the fully embodied participation of the worshipers in action, proclamation, and response. Authentic worship will incarnate the very presence of God in a particular geographical place, an actual physical space, among flesh and blood people. It will resist any expression of worship that is merely cognitive, ideological, or even spiritual.

So, going to the Holy Land is dangerous business. It may completely change the way you do church.




Doug Cullum, vice president and dean, visited the Holy Land in summer 2012 in preparation for the trip he will lead for Northeastern Seminary from July 1—July 17, 2016. To learn more about this study tour of the Holy Land and how to register visit the Northeastern Seminary website at

Tags: Holy Land

Violence Against Women: Theological Reflection and Response

Posted on Wed, Aug 19, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

Gerhardt-bookcoverDr. Elizabeth Gerhardt addresses the historical, cultural, religious, and political context of global violence against women in her recently published book “The Cross and Gendercide.” Through the lens of theology she proposes how the Church can work together in raising awareness and aid in ending crimes towards women and girls. This passage was taken from Chapter 6, “Creative Theological Reflection and Activism.”

Following a discussion or lecture on theological foundations for addressing violence against women and girls, I am frequently asked the following: “What do we do now? What are some activities and programs our church can implement to end the violence?” I am tempted to list “things to do.” And in fact, there are many actions that aid in reducing local and global violence against women. In this chapter I describe a few of these actions that make a difference in the lives of women and girls. However, the objective of this book is to encourage the church to engage in broad theological reflection and to do the difficult work of examining Bonhoeffer’s two questions to the church: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What is the role of the church in the world today? Every generation needs to wrestle with these questions and, while rooted in the confession of faith, be shaped by the living Christ at work in the world. In terms of the work of ending violence against women and girls these questions will lead to other questions, some of which were posed in chapter one: What are the nature and roots of the violence? How is the violence that these women and girls experienced a symptom of larger cultural, spiritual and economic conditions in our churches and society? How do we respond as a whole church community? What do Scripture and our confession of faith teach us regarding an approach toward violence and peacemaking? What concepts, language and orientation does our theology offer to help us shape a cohesive, powerful response to violence? How is violence in our local community related to the violence against women and girls experienced globally? Should we define this as a confessional, broad issue needing a multifaceted approach rather than defining this merely as a moral issue that is worthy only of being relegated to a small group of interested community members? How does our confession of faith lead us to be actively involved in resisting institutional violence and promote social policies?

Theologians of the cross will respond to the evil of gendercide by naming it as a sin and renouncing all forms of violence against women and girls as opposed to the Christian confession of faith and Scripture. Discipleship means following Christ not programs. From this perspective, the whole of the church needs to engage in living out hope-filled lives in service to our neighbors. Therefore, the following discussion on church and individual activities that help reduce violence against women and girls offers only partial remedies and should not be viewed as the church’s starting point. The beginning of the work to end the violence, oppression and marginalization of women and girls is for the church to be the church! Confess Christ and follow Christ into the world. Resistance to religious, political and social policies that obstruct the gospel and lives of millions of women and girls begins in prayer, and in humility. There is a steep cost to being church. The true church renounces the illusion of power, identification with political ideologies, prideful self-righteous claims on church strategies for instituting a Christian society, efforts on raising church attendance and being culturally relevant, substituting ethics for doctrine and the confession of faith, and being a comfortable self-serving institution. Our confession of faith reminds us who God is and challenges us to move beyond confession to activism.

From a perspective of the cross, the whole of the church can engage in a myriad of efforts to counter gendercide, some of which include consciousness raising; a prophetic call to end violence; support of political, social and religious efforts to end violence against women and girls; aid to victims; and political resistance to systematic institutional supports of ongoing violence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s three approaches of the church to the state (as descried in the previous chapter) offer a helpful framework for considering the response of the church today in relation to gendercide. The following are some possible ways of engaging in the work to end violence. However, through theological reflection and prayer, individual church communities, denominations and churches working on an interdenominational level can decide creatively on a multifaceted approach for a whole church response. The incarnational response allows for churches to frame their response creatively in partnership with non-Christian religious organizations, secular organizations and individual experts in the field of violence against women.

Gerhardt-headshotElizabeth Gerhardt (Th.D., Boston University) is professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary and adjunct professor in the department of religion and humanities at Roberts Wesleyan College, in Rochester, N.Y.

This entry is the final post in a blog series that focus on experiences, understanding, and responses to violence against women, as part of an online course offered by Northeastern Seminary beginning in the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt, this course addresses the problem of violence against women from a Christian theological perspective. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here

Tags: domestic violence, church's response to violence, violence against women