Northeastern Seminary Blog

Shalom Challenged—A Path Forward

Posted on Thu, Feb 25, 2016 @ 12:00 PM

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Part Three

We live in a society where a disproportionate number of African Americans are impacted by high unemployment, poor health, violence, and low graduation rates.[1]  Their interest in, and knowledge of, Christian theology can sometimes take a low priority simply because of the need to survive day-to-day.

The struggles for economic opportunity of black congregations were once led by the black church. Our messages and interaction must be constant going forth; not just when evil shocks our community. We must also be willing to be rejected by the very ones that we reach out to help.

This means offering love as an alternative to selfishness and hatred, and a common bonding with humanity instead of tribalism and dominion.

So what can be done?

Individually. If we haven’t, we need to get ourselves together—do right instead of wrong. Ask God for help. But, if you are not willing to obey the law—you will and should suffer the consequences.

Family. Proverbs 4:3-4 stresses that parents are given to children to impart wisdom. Out of their own seasoning, struggles, and sufferings, parents can offer experience and insight that will help the next generation get started on the right course. Strong, tight-knit, faithful, and loving families is our desire for society. So goes the family, so goes the neighborhood, so goes the society.

Church

If the church is to be credible as it communicates the message of good news of the reign of God, it must demonstrate the values of the kingdom, including humility, honesty, integrity, purity of life, justice and compassion.[2]

In addition to teaching, the fact remains that our children are living in a world which is drastically different from the one we grew up in. Not only has technology changed, but cultural and religious pluralism is a way of life and will become much more pervasive in the future. As we teach our children and local congregations our beliefs about salvation and Jesus as Lord, we must prepare them to be loving in their approach to interacting with others who may be of a different religious persuasion or even an unbeliever. The challenge for us is to develop a missional hermeneutic that is both personal and cosmic in its appeal. It has been done in the past.

The founders of early-twentieth-century pastoral care did, in relation to science and its emerging professions and institutions, exactly that which is now called for in relation to new bodies of knowledge and institutions. The founders of pastoral care went into communities, the hospitals, and other institutions, where they had neither acceptance nor a place at the table, learned by experience what they needed to know, and brought their unique perspectives into the fluidity of the situation.[3]

Community. As people of faith, it is our responsibility to remind society that God’s original purpose for the world will ultimately be fulfilled even as God gives us freedom to operate in a world where we sometimes bring more harm than good. Our world is filled with ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity, yet we as Christians must navigate through the pluralism and convey the message of love and hope. Andrew Lester describes this hope:

Used theologically, the word hope describes a person’s trusting anticipation of the future based on an understanding of a God who is trustworthy and who calls us into an open-ended future. This God keeps promises of deliverance, liberation, and salvation.[4]

Surely there are some who will rely on prosperity as a means to a happy world, but in the absence of foundational love for God and genuine love and concern for our neighbors, our local communities, nation, and world will always be fractious, compelled to preserve self-interests, and ultimately unwilling to strive for what is best for humanity. My reflection is meant to offer an alternative to this type of thinking at a local level.

Practical and Spiritual Perspectives

  • Discipline within the home – Discipline is more than punishment. It also involves explain the “why” of a certain thing. Toddlers learn very early “why” they should not touch a stove. We must not only talk to our children but listen to them as well. It may help us to prevent some future problems.
  • Caring concerned parents – Collaborating with churches and community organizations.
  • Sound financial management principles – Health and life insurance—we need to learn to manage our money!
  • Value the need for education – School and life—including common sense.
  • Foster a sense of community – We are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keepers.

Path Forward

There is urgency in developing our congregation and community because of the deterioration in the religious experience, witness, and desire to live healthy, holy lives for God. The church of our grandparents, although very limited in formal education, nonetheless was rooted and grounded in spiritual formation and cared about community. They lived out the creed of being “my brother’s keeper” and sacrificed much to move the black church and black community to a clearer vision and hope for the future, especially during the Civil Rights era. Carlyle Fielding Stewart makes a sobering observation,

Churches that don’t grow, that die slow and sudden deaths, have usually closed their doors to the community in some form or another. In fact, in urban areas where crime and poverty are rampant and churches have declined in membership, doors have been shut out of fear. Many of the mainline denominations in predominately black urban environments have not grown because they have failed to develop outreach programs which address the real needs of community residents.[5]

As a part of our church culture and core values, we have no choice but to cultivate the kind of members who will make our congregation more effective at ministry and foster improvement within the community. There are six core values[6] which we must adhere to:

  1. Choice: We must offer a choice to everyone that God’s way is the best way. We do so with the intent that lives can truly be transformed through the Gospel message and the care of the church.
  2. Urgency: Too many of our people have become disillusioned and dismissive in believing that God does provide grace. The longer it takes for us to reach them the more devastating the problems will become.
  3. Education: We must take both personal and communal responsibility to religiously and socially educate our parishioners and community members about the stakes that are at hand.
  4. Relationships: The only way to improve lives is to stress the importance of relationships with God and with each other. We cannot win individually if the entire community is deteriorating.
  5. Commitment/Responsibility: God expects each of us to do our part and to persevere in the midst of difficulties.
  6. Honesty/Objective Performance Feedback: Everyone needs to know the truth and objectively participate in continuous improvement and personal renewal.

  • There are no silver bullets. Our problems did not appear overnight; they are not going to be solved overnight. In fact, if someone had already figured out the solution, we wouldn’t be wrestling with this today.
  • Get involved—individually and collectively.
  • We must maintain faith, hope, and believe that there is a brighter day ahead. The future is indeed in God’s hands.
  • Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve ….. Joshua 24:14-15 (NRSV)

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the regions beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. [Or as is the case of modern society, greed or corruption, or violence, or hatred, or drugs & alcohol abuse, or immorality, or anything else that goes against the will of God.] But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

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Anthony Bonds (D.Min. ‘13) serves as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rochester, N.Y. His doctoral research investigated an andragogical approach to developing and nurturing urban Back leadership.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 p.5.

[2] Eddie Gibbs, LeadershipNext: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 40.

[3] Pamela D. Couture, Seeing Children, Seeing God: A Practical Theology of Children and Poverty (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 125.

[4] Andrew D. Lester, Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 62.

[5] Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III, African American Church Growth (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 120.

[6] http:www.employee-training-programs.com/shop/Inscape-Publishing-Dimensions-of-Leadership (accessed March 6, 2012).

 

Tags: D.Min., reflection, seminary alumni

Shalom Challenged—A Head-on View

Posted on Thu, Feb 18, 2016 @ 12:00 PM

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Part Two

The struggles for economic opportunity of black congregations were once led by the black church through marches, voter registration drives to elect public officials who are sensitive to the needs of the black community, and embracing of urban black entrepreneurship. The voices of protest are still there when there are clear and blatant signs of racism and discrimination, police brutality, and horrific crimes, yet most voices are confined to the four walls of the congregation. Thus, "without public expression beyond the confines of the sacred space round the altar, religion can lose its savor and become irrelevant."[1] Our messages and interaction must be constant going forth; not just when evil shocks our community. We must also be willing to be rejected by the very ones that we reach out to help—because it is a fact of nature that you cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped!

  • Sin (which is transgression against God’s law) is at the heart of societal deterioration. It is the refusal to give God the glory that is His and the willingness to pursue our own way with a disregard for anything different than our selfishness. It was sin that caused the first biblical account of murder and God’s Word states, “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life.” We never fully understand the nature of sin because it is a force that defies common sense and decency. At its most mature level, sin manifests itself in a kind of evil and cruelty that rips at the very essence of our souls. A society that dismisses sin is a society headed for destruction.

  • Selfishness and Greed. While the world order suggests that economics and science are the answers to all of our ills, the contemporary church must offer an alternative to the relentless pursuit of riches and power. Scripture, (Revelation 18), reminds us of the arrogance that comes with earthly power and the significant impact that this power has on everyone, sometimes even believers. In the end, it is a false power and a superficial sense of control, since only God is omnipotent. God’s justice will prevail and it is incumbent upon the local and worldwide church to offer the gospel message as one in which the reign of God prevails. When we are attempting to develop individuals within the black church, there must be a common understanding that our society will not be what it should be outside of God. In the past, empires have come and gone, yet God is still the sovereign ruler of the cosmos and acts to bring redemption and restoration to this world. This fact must be clear to believers who are challenged by the appearance of powerful, dominant evil forces and empires.

This means offering love as an alternative to selfishness and hatred, and a common bonding with humanity instead of tribalism and dominion. We have witnessed in the past decade how easily voracity can corrupt and almost destroy our world economy, therefore the message of moderation and a concern for others, as well as for the earth itself, must be understood and proclaimed as loudly as possible. It calls for shared sacrifice by everyone:

  • Sacrifice. Few things are harder for us mortals than giving up something we would rather keep. Thus, the more people are willing to give up for others, the greater the likelihood that we will celebrate them in our mythology of virtue.[2]

  • Pursuit of everything but God. Apparently it is possible to commit ourselves to things that are utterly opposed to God, and then expect God to bless us in our pursuit of those things! The worst thing that could happen would be for Him to bless us in those things and cause us to be ensnared in our worthless gods instead of being liberated to find genuine goodness in the living God.

We may not bow down to images of wood and stone, but if we allow anything else to take the place of God, then we are practicing idolatry. God may take away the thing that we hold so dear in order to redirect our attention and affection to where they belong—on Him.

  • Breakdown in family structure. As modern-day society is quickly discovering, there is no substitute for a solid, stable home life. Where parents are absent, negligent, or abusive, children will probably not learn to cope with the world in a healthy way. Babies are not born monsters, but a combination of dysfunctional families, unsafe and uncaring environments, and the absence of any godly supervision can produce monsters who will destroy without any remorse.

  • Disregard for life itself. Something has gone awfully wrong when our young men are bent on killing others for stupid reasons. God is the giver and sustainer of life itself; we are not. Therefore we should never take what we cannot give—it is not ours. The murder of Abel is a sobering fact for all of us that our families and society are made up of sinners who frequently reveal the dark side of their character.

  • As in the biblical account, we have raised up a generation who don’t know God. (Judges 2:10) Within the American culture there are subcultures which exist and the church not only needs to be aware of them but be willing to listen and converse with them in a meaningful dialogue. If we do not begin to speak their language and understand their apprehensions about God, salvation, and the church, we are allowing a generation to spiritually deteriorate. We have an obligation to help them grow as believers and independent thinkers while respecting their culture. This does not mean turning a blind eye to evil, it means engaging instead of dismissing or ignoring. We can’t force anyone to accept our beliefs, values, or faith. But if they are willing to talk we should too.

  • Whose fault is it? Everyone’s. There is enough blame to go around, yet most of us in society have not intentionally tried to promote evil. But when we refuse to be a part of the solution, we are, by default, a part of the problem. None of us can change the world, but change can begin with us, our family, and our friends. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. That’s how it is with God’s love—we need to pass it on.

See part three in this three-part series for a discussion of a path forward in a corrective and redemptive direction.

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Anthony Bonds (D.Min. ‘13) serves as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rochester, N.Y. His doctoral research investigated an andragogical approach to developing and nurturing urban Back leadership.

[1] Paris, African American Religion and Public Life, 490.

[2] Stephen L. Carter, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (New York: HarperPerennial, 1998), 103.

Tags: D.Min., reflection, seminary alumni

Shalom Challenged—What Happened to the Redemptive Struggle?

Posted on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 @ 12:00 PM

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Part One

We live in a society where a disproportionate number of African Americans are impacted by high unemployment, poor health, violence, and low graduation rates.[1]  Their interest in, and knowledge of, Christian theology can sometimes take a low priority simply because of the need to survive day-to-day. Over the past 10-20 years, an acceleration of heinous crimes, immoral, unethical and shameful behavior, a disdain for common decency, and a rejection of God has weighed heavily on everyone’s faith.

However, we must attempt to connect and integrate the need for a solid biblical and theological foundation for people to operate effectively in a pluralistic society where there are challenges to Christian beliefs. In addition, the prevailing culture of our times has an effect on church congregations and competes with biblical principles in which shalom (God’s peace) is required. Furthermore, there are many issues and challenges that members of black churches face, such as crime (in the form of murder, child abuse, assault, rape), health issues, and social challenges that weigh on their capacity to remain steadfast to their faith and believe in the relevancy of Christian principles within society.

Viewing the kind of violence, nonsense, evil, and disregard for life and family (not only in the Rochester community, but throughout the United States and around the world) has truly become discouraging. We don’t know what tragedy will strike next—it’s like trying to predict where lightning will strike. In the twinkling of an eye, our lives could change—turning the sunshine in our lives to tears of pain.

In the midst of poverty and economic deprivation within the African American community, there still are many blacks who have achieved success and middle class status. However, there does not seem to be much solidarity around the problems of abject poverty and its impact on the black community as there once was.[2] Upward mobility has allowed the black middle class to move out of the inner city into the suburbs. Meanwhile black churches within the city are comprised of struggling families within a short distance from the church and a few middle class members who commute on Sunday and go back to their comfort within the suburbs. In addition, one might argue that middle class black churches are not as active in pursuing economic equality, peace, and social issues as they were in the 1950's and 1960's to the extent that there appears to be some complacency.

Consequently, a growing spirit of greed, belligerency, individualism, and callousness is threatening to replace the spirit of redemptive struggle for the well-being of the race and nation. If certain trends persist, might not the African American churches lose their souls and alienate themselves from their ancestors.[3]

We hear people saying, “nothing is being done”; yet there are individuals, congregations, agencies, and organizations who are trying to help solve the problems that plague our community. But, all of these efforts seem to be in vain.

See part two in this three-part series for a discussion of how we got to this point of frustration.

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Anthony Bonds (D.Min. ‘13) serves as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Rochester, N.Y. His doctoral research investigated an andragogical approach to developing and nurturing urban Back leadership.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 p.5.

[2] Peter J. Paris, "African American Religion and Public Life: An Assessment," Cross Currents 58, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 489.

[3] Ibid., 490.

Tags: D.Min., reflection, seminary alumni

Meditation on a Theme from Wesley and St. Paul

Posted on Fri, Dec 25, 2015 @ 03:35 PM

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From the great halls of splendor

He stepped into the night,

To make Himself our mender

In our pain and in our plight.

 

                        He descended from the highest height

                        Of joy to know our woes;

                        He relinquished all His power to fight

                        With weakness all our foes.

 

The King of kings became a slave

To know us in our need,

Quit filling all creation save

The space within a seed.

 

                        His scepter and His staff and rod

                        Were laid aside with grace,

                        Yet still the glory of our God

                        Shone in His human face:

 

His person, essence, who He is

(The Hand within the Glove)

God found in fashion as a Man,

Emptied of all but Love.

 

Thomas Worth (M.Div. ‘03, D.Min. '07) is pastor of Community Covenant Church in Manlius, N.Y. and also serves as program site coordinator for Northeastern Seminary’s class site in Syracuse.

Tags: Test1,Test1,Test1,Test1

Mary’s Expectation

Posted on Thu, Dec 24, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

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I miss my mother –

standing close to her

to light the Sabbath candles,

the smell of her warm challah bread

mingled with the scents

of her freshly bathed body next to mine

as we pray together and joyfully enter the sacred night.

 

I never dreamed of delivering my babe away from home –

away from her

in a city with its noises even after dark

so little holy quiet in this place

squatting in smelly borrowed room

the kindness of innkeeper’s wife nearby

brought tears to me beyond the pain of birthing.

 

Now with newborn in my arms –

fresh eyes open and slowly focus on mine

hold me

then close in trust and rest

and for one brief moment

Love’s nearness undoes me and

I hear the noisy night whisper “Holy.”

 

—Rebecca Letterman, M.Div.‘08

      associate professor of spiritual formation

 

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

A Voice Crying

Posted on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 @ 03:55 PM

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As it is written in the book of Isaiah, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Luke 3:4

I have lived in Brooklyn for the past 20 years. One thing I have discovered about the city of New York is that there is a lot of noise. There are voices talking ceaselessly over thousands of radio and TV stations, sirens from ambulances, fire trucks, etc., and now and then one recognizes the unmistakable sounds of gunshots. Noise, as well as voices is everywhere clamoring for a hearing, but not having the answer to the needs of the world.

In this verse we hear it said of John the forerunner to the promised Messiah: "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Luke 3:4). John the Baptist has been described as a courier of the King, but he did not work for an earthly monarch. He was the advance man for Jesus. John was the immediate forerunner of the Messiah, opening up the way for the coming Christ. The Gospels tell us he was "a man sent from God" (John 1:6). He was very much of that prophetic tradition, cast in the mold of the greatest of them; in fact he was the last of their line. John didn’t call attention to himself; it was his mission as well as his message that mattered.

John was seriously proclaiming his message. He had good news in the words he quoted from Isaiah, "all mankind will see God’s salvation" (Luke 3:6). But it wasn’t good in the sense of being comfortable for the people. John was in the same prophetic tradition of Amos bringing news of terror: "Flee from the coming wrath … every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:7, 9). Why was John’s message so stern and why the language so uncompromising? He had to shake the people out of the false confidence which they firmly believed was their security, both as a nation and as individuals. They had grown up with the assumption that since they were the descendants of Abraham, and therefore members of the chosen race, they were already in a right relationship with God. This false security had to be broken down before they could come into a right relationship with God.

So John issued a call to repentance.

The people had to recognize that they had to abandon their pride of self-sufficiency, lineage, and false security. They had to turn away from evil ways and come to God as sinners needing forgiveness. When John saw Jesus coming toward him he introduced him to the crowd, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Jesus was the way back to God through faith in his sacrifice as the Lamb of God. Sin had to be dealt with and Jesus the sinless one had taken it on himself and dealt with it once and for all. Today, Advent reminds us that he came for this purpose.

I wonder as we are in the season of Advent now: who is that voice in the wilderness calling men and women to repentance? Who declares to those who need to hear that God is not pleased with the current climate of gun violence? Have we become so numb to violence that we have accepted it as the norm? If so, God help us! Why are there not churches, groups, people of good will, and people who are tired of the violence, coming together to unite against this evil? Why aren’t we all having a march chanting “Enough is enough?” I think we as a nation have become the murder capital of the world. No well-meaning citizen thinks this is a record of which to be proud. God is looking for people who, like the prophet John, are willing to make some noise, speak truth to power, and be a voice for God in all areas of life despite the consequences of such an approach. That, I believe, is the need of the hour; It is to call our nation back to God in repentance.

It is unconscionable that at this time of Advent, this time of peace and goodwill toward all, there are some who refuse to embrace all of scripture. Jesus called us as Christians, to “love your enemies, and pray for them who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Many people hear the voice of God and yet seem to fall away. They do not think that this applies to some religious groups. They have become so possessed with fear and paranoia. In the time of John, it was the life one lived, not lineage that was God’s standard of measurement! So, calling ourselves Christians is not enough. We must as John declared “bring fruits worthy of repentance.”

John’s message wasn’t a cheap gospel. Repenting, being baptized, and then remaining the same as you were before wasn’t sufficient. Real repentance had as much to do with the future as with the past. It included the sincere resolve to amend our ways and renounce old evil. Luke records how specific groups of people asked John how this life of repentance applied to them. His answers were clear and forthright. The message of the Gospel had to work its way through all of life’s experiences. In other words, it’s not only for Sunday but for all of the other days of the week as well.

The wealthy and powerful were told to be open-hearted and kind. God can’t be pleased if the well-off don’t help those who have too little.

May God who is rich in mercy, bless and keep you all at this time of Advent, and may his peace be with you now and forever. Have a Christ-filled Christmas, A happy Kwanzaa and a prosperous new year.

Edward Jenkins Sr. (M.Div. ‘13) is the pastor of Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

It’s Time for a Messiah

Posted on Mon, Dec 21, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

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In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.  And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”

Luke 3:1-6 NIV

We find here John preaching the coming of the Messiah at a very interesting time in history with the intersection of politics and religion. The message is clear, it is time for a Messiah.

Politically, Tiberius Ceasar, Pontius Pilate, and the three Tetrarchs were not nice people. A number of negative adjectives could probably accurately describe their individual character and policies, leaving the people searching for guidance. It was time for a Messiah.

On the church government side there were two persons serving as high priest when God intended that there should only be one high priest at a time. This tells us that the church at the time lost focus and operated with a spirit of division. It was time for a Messiah.

Fast forward to today and it is once again time for a Messiah. As I look at the world, I see a time when politicians misuse their power and the church misunderstands its purpose. Descent people are struggling to find a decent place to live, work and raise a family. Church is not a priority, yet our currency declares that it’s in God we trust. Are we truly one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for “all.” It's time for a Messiah.

Today as then, the message is the same; "Every valley", valleys of hopelessness and despair, "will be filled”—filled with hope and joy. "Every Mountain," mountains of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, "will be made low.” “The crooked …” [crooks] “shall become straight” (straightened out). "The rough places," places where people have had a hard time, "will become smooth." People won't struggle always. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed. “And all people will see God’s salvation.”

Now more than ever, it’s time for a Messiah. It’s time for the expectant one. It’s time for the one who was born to us. It’s time for the one who was given to us. It’s time for the one who can shoulder the government. It’s time for the one who is, was, and shall always be, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. It’s time for The Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God and the reason for the season.

Charles Wesley said it best, “Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”

Craig W. Douglass (MA, MSW '12) is ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church where he serves as presiding elder for the Western New York Conference. He also serves as a mobility counselor at Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), a non-profit that works to ensure that all people in Western New York have fair and equal access to housing in their desired community.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

Altering Expectations

Posted on Thu, Dec 17, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

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As you know, Advent is a time of expectation of Christmas and all that it means to us. I know I expect a certain feeling—a sense of joy and peace to be the result of my celebrations and reflections. When I reflect on the thousands of years leading up to Christ’s birth, I am grateful to have been born after the Incarnation, rather than before it. I think of how difficult and painful it must have been for the people of God to wait day in, day out, generation after generation to be rescued from the oppression they faced. I contemplate what a beautiful and powerful thing it is that God himself would break into our broken history and redeem the world through his great sacrifice.

However, we also know that Christ’s coming was not what anyone expected. A poor baby, whose conception was by all appearances scandalous, and whose birth was surrounded by animals. With 2000 years of hindsight and Scripture to tell us the story, we can forget that to most people (with the exception of those who received special messages from the Lord), Jesus’ birth definitely did not meet their expectations and did not immediately bring them joy and peace. They struggled to believe. They struggled to understand how this could possibly be God’s plan.

To be honest, I am sympathetic this Advent with the people of Israel in their struggle to believe. I have been burdened by the weight of the brokenness of the world we live in and by what feels like increased violence in our cities and in those around the globe. I have been disappointed by the way that my ministry has not been what I expected. I have been discouraged when there was low attendance at our youth program and when attendance dropped off altogether and when it feels like no matter how much I give of myself it is not enough. I struggle to believe that this could be God’s best for me. Didn’t he call me to this? Didn’t he promise to work all things for my good? Why is it so hard? This isn’t what I expected in ministry. I tell myself that this can’t be the way that God works.

And yet, it is precisely the way that God works and is working. He is teaching me that his ways are not my ways. His time is not my time. I am learning that perhaps it is my expectations that are damaging my relationship with him. Instead of waiting in wonder and anticipation to watch as he unfolds the story according to his plan, I am disappointed and angry and bitter when he doesn’t do things according to my plans. As I reflect on the birth of Christ this Advent season, my prayer is that the Lord would change my expectations. May I watch and wait and listen as He comes into the world and into my life in ways I could never have expected, but that are far better than I could have hoped.

Mary Cooper (MATL ’15) serves at 441 Ministries, a re-neighboring ministry comprised of a meal program, nutrition/cooking classes, Bible studies, a weekly kids club, and Narcotics Anonymous out of Grace Church in Rochester, N.Y.

Tags: Test1,Test1,Test1,Test1

Welcome to Wonder

Posted on Mon, Dec 14, 2015 @ 12:03 PM

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Every Advent season, I carefully reflect on the nature of God’s coming among us. It’s a time of remembering, of reviewing the surprising ways that God has broken into our world and into our individual lives. Advent is about God getting involved against all human odds.      

Consider the shepherds of Luke 2. The angelic announcement of Christ’s birth provides a clue to the nature of God’s shocking advent love. Shepherds were considered unclean by the religious leadership, and yet, the Messiah’s very first public viewing is to them of all people!  What unexpected Advent wonder! And what a sign of things to come!

Now consider the choice of Mary who was from a backward little village, a spot on the map of Judea, a peasant of lowly stock, and a girl- perhaps only 15 years old. Who would have thought of it but God? Yet this is the stuff of Advent. Indeed, I believe if Jesus were to be born in 2015 it might be somewhere like the troubled lower east side of Buffalo, or Ferguson, Missouri, or Kabul, Afghanistan. But then again, God is unfolding an Advent-charged future into which no life needed ever again be insignificant.

I am a son of an East Side Buffalo couple, born in the Depression. Who was I, born into a family marked with deep heartache and pain, to be discovered by the grace of God? As a boy, deeply wounded by it all, I would stare in despair for hours, days on end, year after year, out of my upstairs window into the darkness.  

Then into this life God came. After years of rage and drugs and isolation, God sought me out. It was Advent time—unexpected, uninvited, and in the middle of a football game! There I was, 22 years old, waiting to return the kickoff from the other team. I was standing beside Greg—the two of us in the end zone. I hadn’t seen him for about a year. (The last time was at a drinking party, where he’d told me about the latest house he had robbed.) Then it came- out of the blue: “Bob I’ve got good news!” “Huh?” “I’ve met Jesus Christ as my Savior.” It was Advent time! God took the initiative and entered this obscure young man’s life. Just like that—smashing into my life like a defensive tackle. (Maybe “smashing” is a little strong, for God never forces his way.) Jesus came as a baby among us. Yet come he did, and come he does! God has gotten involved in our world, and things will never be the same.

Another Advent encounter was on an unlikely day in California. It was in the early 1980’s when I was attending seminary. We were financially broke—borrowing five bucks here and begging five bucks there. On top of this, we had had two unexpected pregnancies and were facing monstrous debt. I was dragging myself back to our small apartment after another grueling day of rigorous study about God who seemed absent in our struggles. Then, suddenly, there she was, headed toward me down the street—a person from my college days in New York—Lois, a friend of an acquaintance. She was now living in Southern California, married to a doctor. As we chatted, I told her my basic story—without the bad stuff—but she seemed unsatisfied. “What else, Bob?” she asked. “How are you doing now?” So I told her. We were down, both emotionally and financially. I was questioning my call to the ministry. We were at our lowest depth—with two young children, no money, and skyrocketing debt. Feeling uncomfortable in sharing more with this relative stranger, I politely closed the conversation. Then, three days later, an envelope arrived in the mail with a check for $1,000. The accompanying note simply said that Lois and her husband would like us to have this!

Welcome to wonder—wonder that keeps meeting us with unexpected gifts of grace in our hour of need! Welcome to the God of Advent. Welcome to the God of shepherds and peasant girls. Welcome to the God of former drug-heads and house burglars. Welcome to Advent, where we have stumbled upon a manger, though it was all planned from God’s side of things. Behold he comes! Behold, it’s Advent time!

Bob Tice (D.Min. ‘12) is lead pastor at River Rock Church, a multicultural church in the inner city of Buffalo, N.Y. He teaches Theology of the City at Northeastern Seminary. This blog post was adapted from an article in Pulpit Digest, 1998.

Tags: reflection, advent, seminary alumni

Emmanuel ... Again

Posted on Mon, Dec 07, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

Emmanuel_..._Again.jpg

And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectations of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.  Luke 21:25-28.

Looking at all of the chaos and destruction occurring in the world today, my mind turned to the second coming of the Lord. I began to wonder if we are at that point of the Lord’s return. The subtleness of the enemy’s hand is becoming more profound. I see the enemy’s influence throughout the world and even in my community more than ever before. I see people getting shot and killed in a drive-by shooting after a basketball game at our neighborhood Boys and Girls Club. I see youth in our schools being lost to the streets with seemingly no hope left because of frustrations with their broken family life and school system. I see people down the block from where I live walking the streets like zombies as a result of being addicted to heroin and other laced drugs, policemen fearing reprimand for doing their job, youth behaviors impacting teachers’ jobs as opposed to teachers’ influences affecting students’ futures. I see right being wrong and wrong being right. I began to wonder, have I done all that I could do to bring light to the things going on in my community? What can I do? How can I impact my community in preparation for the Lord’s coming? During this season leading up to Christmas I am wondering when that glorious day will come; when will the Lord finally come? I find myself pondering, if we, his people, are living as though now is the time. Are we really ready?  

Vandell Boykin (M.Div. ‘12) serves in many ministries in Rochester, N.Y. and currently attends New Life Fellowship pastored by Northeastern alum Reginald McGill.  

Tags: Test1,Test1,Test1,Test1