Journal of Education Beyond the Walls
Volume 12 Johnson • Fleming • Lewis • Tamez Mendez Clawson •McKibben Dana • Liu • Williams
Journal of Education Beyond the Walls 2015
Volume 12 Editor: Melissa Wiginton Production: Gracia Rich, Randal Whittington Communitas: Journal of Education Beyond the Walls is published annually by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. e-mail: email@example.com
Web site: austinseminary.edu/communitas
Entered as non-profit class bulk mail at Austin, Texas, under Permit No. 2473. POSTMASTER: Address service requested. Send to Communitas, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. Printing runs are limited. When available, additional copies may be obtained for $2 per copy. Permission to copy articles from Communitas: Journal of Education Beyond the Walls for educational purposes may be given by the editor upon receipt of a written request. COVER ART: “Flash Flood,” by Joella Jean Mahoney; from Rush to Meaning Series, 48"x48," oil on canvas © 1998. “My paintings honor the earth,” says Mahoney. “Their emotional and intellectual content carries the experience of place, not just a picture of it.” Find more of Ms. Mahoney’s work here: http://www.joellajeanmahoney.com/
Communitas is a term anthropologist Victor Turner uses to describe the temporary but intense community that develops among pilgrims for the duration of the journey (remember the pilgrims of the Canterbury Tales). For us in the church, it might describe the community we develop with the successive churches we serve, the community of cohorts of the College of Pastoral Leaders, or the small groups of learners through Education Beyond the Walls who gather to study together for a brief period of time. Turner also employs the concept of liminality to describe that pilgrim experience of leaving the domain of the familiar to travel and to experience new potentialities and powers that lie afield. We leave home, travel light, expose ourselves both to the unknowns in the world of the horizon and the unknowns within our own souls, now freed to be heard in the silence of the road. The learners and leaders we serve leave their ministry settings momentarily to hear the experiences of colleagues and the wisdom of teachers and to contemplate the ministries seeking to emerge from their own souls. So we are pilgrims beyond familiar boundaries, our experience shaped by communitas and liminalities.
Contents Introduction: Theodore J. Wardlaw . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 From the Editor: Melissa Wiginton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
The Art of Story
The Journey of Spiritual Memoir . . . . . . . . Donna Johnson
The Wholeness I Knew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jenny Fleming
Love Hurts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Deborah Lewis
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor
Reaching the Next Generation: Ministry to Culturally and Ethnically Diverse Youth and Young Adults . . . . . . . Elizabeth Tamez Mendez
Nomads & Nones: What the Church Can Learn from the â€œSpiritual but not Religiousâ€? . . . . . . . . . . . . Mike Clawson
Likes, Links, and Follows: Spirituality in the Smartphone Age . . . . . . . . . . . . MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Emerging Theological Voices Destructive Proclamations and Radicalized Responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gerald Liu
Spirit and Power Within: Overcoming the Fear of Death . . . . . . . . . . . . Jay Williams
s always, this issue of Communitas is a snapshot. It is thus an incomplete thing, the preservation of just a moment, more an image than an exhaustive narrative. It is a snapshot that creates an impression more than covering every inch of what has come out of the Office of Education Beyond the Walls in Academic Year 2014-2015. To have provided much more than a snapshot, by the way, would have been impossible. Our conversation beyond the walls, after all, is a many-splendored thing that covers many topics, moods, anxieties, and dreams. So, unapologetically, we present this snapshot. And we believe you will enjoy it, be blessed by it, maybe even be changed by it. Donna Johnson’s piece, which traces a dotted line from her own version of hopscotch to an encounter with Alan Watts and then Thomas Merton, traces itself all the way, finally (dare I say finally?), to an encounter with us. Don’t try to read it with your brow furrowed; just experience it. Jenny Fleming’s piece makes me think about how, even at an early age, we catch ourselves editing ourselves when it comes to something we could say that might be too associated with testimony. So, so often, we don’t say it at all. We just nurture our spiritual selves in different ways— like childhood memories of the night-time sanctuary of a station wagon while on a family trip; looking out the windows and, in Fleming’s words, “wondering what was beyond those stars—and what was beyond that.” Deborah Lewis’ storytelling piece made my eyes moisten at the dear and poignant sibling story she tells. Don’t miss it. Elizabeth Tamez Mendez gives us encouraging and practical pointers as to how to reach out to “the church of the future,” to put it quaintly. Psssst: you there … try to imagine that church as “the church of the present.” This will make more urgent your outreach, and you may find such a project more doable, less frightening. Mike Clawson addresses similar themes in his treatment of the SBNR (“spiritual but not religious”), and in so doing appropriately complexifies what is meant by the term “nones.” MaryAnn McKibben Dana bends the boundaries of “community” by teaching us troglodytes in the audience about the spirituality of the digital age. So does Deborah Lewis in her delightful piece, “Love Your Neighbor.” Gerald Liu’s brilliant and provocative piece offers surprising—maybe even disturbing—glimpses of proclamation in our smaller world filled with competing faith claims. And Jay Williams, in a piece which could not be timelier in the wake of the martyrdom of nine Christians in Charleston, offers us powerful reassurance that “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” This snapshot demands your attention. Make time for each article, each genre, each redemptive syllable.
Theodore J. Wardlaw President and Professor of Homiletics
From the Editor
section of Waller Creek divides Austin Seminary’s upper and lower campus. If you have been here, you know that the creek bed indeed looks very “Austin”—native rocks, palmettos, palm trees, crepe myrtle, live oak trees, exposed roots, weeds, with a few chunks of concrete and a little steel rebar to keep us urban. What has long been missing is water. Sometimes moisture puddles up to remind us of the creek bed’s true calling, but, in general, imagination provides the creek itself. Rodrigo Rosales tends to it almost, it seems, as an artifact. Then it floods. Swooshing trees limbs, rushing water, staccato pelts. In what seems like an instant, water rises to take its place in our creek bed and spreads over our footbridge. Boundaries mean nothing to the rain and our freed creek. It fills our ground to overflowing. The rain stops as capriciously as it started. The water recedes weirdly fast. Rodrigo removes beer bottles, fast food bags, general debris, and a chair. Pretty soon our creek is back to normal, resting and waiting for the next flash flood. On the upper side of our creek this year, Austin Seminary extended theological education to more than 1000 people beyond the students in our degree programs. Most of them came to campus for Education Beyond the Walls, MidWinters, or the Heyer, Settles, or Hesed Lectures. Some of them earned Certificates in Ministry through on-line learning. We also began live streaming presentations on the Web this year to reach people beyond our twelve acres. On top of that, faculty, staff, and students taught and preached in churches and led workshops far beyond what we can measure. Theological education flows all over from this place. With this journal of Education Beyond the Walls, we aim to extend it even further. We have not presented here an article from each of the events offered this past year. Rather, we have selected a sample of the insights and new knowledge generated by the teachers of the 2014-15 season of Education Beyond the Walls, including our new Wesley Connection. I hope that you find something here that slakes your thirst, fills your cup, floods your imagination, leads you by still waters, washes away the cobwebs, saturates your mind, and swoops you outside your usual bounds toward the Living Water.
Melissa Wiginton Vice President for Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Seminary
Communitas “Women Writing: The Journey of Spiritual Memoir” We shape our narratives differently over time; our tellings fed by varieties of memory, experience, perspective, and purpose. The “Women Writing” workshop taught writing as a practice for shifting our narratives to make peace with our stories.
The Journey of Spiritual Memoir Donna Johnson
here was a period in early childhood, a brief period, when I spent most of each day outside alone. I passed the time playing a solitary version of hopscotch because I didn’t understand how the game was really played. I scratched panoramas into the dirt with a stick and constructed long rambling internal narratives to which I added new chapters when I tired of the old. These pursuits absorbed me, and while I was aware of my aloneness, I don’t remember feeling lonely. Still, there were times when the responsibility of the made-up world exhausted me. On those days, my attention turned to the world around me. I observed rain, clouds, insects, birds, and airborne tufts discharged from cottonwood trees with the fierce and singular intensity of one unhampered by the constraints of time. Sometimes when I watched long enough, the consciousness I identified as myself seemed to fall away. The curtain that separated observer from observed lifted and for a second or two there was no me, no it. A sense of expansiveness rushed in. For a moment, seconds really, I was free of the burden of self. Just as I became aware of the sensation, the curtain fell. I was again a discrete entity, bounded by skin and senses, aware of my
Donna Johnson is the author of Holy Ghost Girl (Gotham, 2011). Her memoir took top honors in the “spirituality” category at the New York Books for a Better Life Awards and won the Mayborn Creative Nonfiction prize.
The Art of Story: The Journey of Spiritual Memoir separateness. I had no framework with which to understand or even consider what was happening. I was raised by adherents of the old time religion whose contact with the spiritual realm ran to the literal. God stood so close to them they felt his breath, and when he spoke, it was always in an audible voice. My own experience resided just below the level of articulated consciousness. It was huge and formless, and yet it barely registered. There are writers who view their profession as a calling, much like the priesthood. Words function as sacrament and we believe if we use the right ones at the right time, we will arrive at the Truth. Memoirists in particular fall prey to this conceit. Because our stories are “true,” many of us make the mistake of thinking the truth is the story. But what if the truth of a story resides in fumbling toward some kind of limited understanding, even more than in the recounting of events? What if the events are merely a means to an end? Toward the beginning of Nabokov’s genius work Speak, Memory, he writes, “Neither in environment nor in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark.” Nabokov understood as perhaps no other memoirist has that it’s the mystery of existence writers track and that all existence is mystery. This seems obvious territory for spiritual memoirists. Yet, we, too, embalm our experiences in the telling, writing toward conventional wisdom, toward what we already know, what we believe, have always believed to be true. We put black on white (as Hemingway once described writing) and then wonder at the thinness of what is on the page. Many would-be memoirists have lived with their stories for a long time before committing them to the page. They’ve recounted the events of their lives to friends, therapists, and pastors. There is something about the telling and retelling of events that can reduce the most transcendent experience to anecdote. When we come to the page, we have to forget all the ways in which we’ve come to understand our stories and begin the exploration anew. Our emphasis must be to write toward the unknown if we wish to approach “the truth.” To twist Hemingway, we may learn along the way that the unarticulated white space around our black marks stands for the mystery we have been trying to get at all along, and our writing is no more than a way to conjure that mystery into the foreground. We must forget what we know to find what we know. Sound familiar? In this way writing shares common ground with spiritual practice. If I were reading instead of writing this piece, I might wonder at this point how one gets at the unknown, when it’s almost impossible to capture in words what is right in front of us. There are techniques that can be taught and learned. I hesitate to point this out, because I am not talking about mere strategies to win over readers, but a means to a deeper, better kind of knowing, dependent on the facts of our experience to be sure, but having to do also with how we’ve integrated that experience and what it means. In What is the What, the fictionalized autobiography of one of the Sudanese
Communitas Lost Boys, the writer Dave Eggers recounts the story of Valentino, a young man who leaves Sudan to make a new life in the United States. Valentino is a man of faith who questions the power and nature of God in light of the atrocities he witnesses in his country of origin and again in the violence he encounters in America. He refuses pat, easy answers and false consolation, and finds the meaning of his life not in what he knows but in all that does not know. This not knowing seems a position of faith and true humility, and it gets at the truth of experience. Who after all can claim with any veracity to understand the mind of God? As writers we acknowledge the limitations of our understanding on the page, we try not to fill in the gaps. The gaps are important in memoir, especially spiritual memoir. There is a falseness in knowing, a surety that diminishes the mystery of faith and God and existence. In terms of my own experience, the one with which I began this piece, those meta-moments that originated in my childhood—call them … no-self … awareness … Prayer—continued into early adulthood. Perhaps, in part, because I had no story to wrap around them. That changed in my teens and early twenties when I began to read Alan Watts and Christian writers like Thomas Merton. These thinkers had been influenced by mystics from the East and the West, and their emphasis on interconnectedness caught my attention. I began to try to analyze my own experiences. A strange thing happened as I read and pondered; these moments of experience I was trying to understand became fewer, and by the time I reached my midtwenties, they had stopped. Their occurrence over the years probably adds up to no more than five minutes of my life. Five minutes. I want to know what those minutes mean. I want to share that meaning with you. Yet each time I try to sum up or define my experience, it slips through my fingers even as I type the words. I can only tell you that in the wild mind of a child, the eternal may be found one second at a time. But is this what happened or is this the story of what happened? The truth is, I don’t know. What I know is this experience stamped me with its mystery and began to shape me over time into a vessel whose final form is yet to be determined.v
The Art of Story: The Journey of Spiritual Memoir “Women Writing: The Journey of Spiritual Memoir” When viewed through the lens of judgment or over-identification, the stories we tell about who we are and what shapes us can keep us stuck. In a community of women talking, praying, resting, and writing, personal narratives began to break open. The women present began to externalize their stories and experience a deeper compassion for themselves and those who have loved and failed them.
The Wholeness I Knew Jenny Fleming
n my world in Austin today, I’m self-conscious explaining why I can’t make a Sunday morning workout or why I’m going to pick up my kid from a Saturdaynight sleepover at 9:30 a.m. Regular church attendance feels a bit fringe. My timing is off, because when I was growing up near Air Force bases in the 80s, my family was odd for not going to church. If anyone asked about my religion, I had a good answer. “Well, my mom grew up Catholic and my dad grew up Mormon, so they cancelled each other out and that makes us nothing.” It was an oversimplification, but I liked the way it sounded. I liked the way it cast our no-religion as the result of an abundant spiritual heritage. I worried that I was missing out on something. When I was young, books gave me a handle on every puzzling thing, and I flipped back over pages where characters went to church or talked about God until they were more finger-stained than the rest. Reading, I joined Laura and Mary Ingalls and Almonzo Wilder as they observed the Sabbath in the late 19th century. We all had to be very quiet on the Lord’s day. I didn’t know Madeline L’Engle and C.S. Lewis were Christian, but I
Jenny Fleming lives in Austin, Texas with her son, daughter, husband, and dog. She became a book dealer because she really loves books. Then she realized she doesn’t just want to buy and sell books, she wants to write one. She is in the process of writing a memoir. Jenny has been nurtured by the spiritual abundance at University United Methodist Church since 1999. She attended the “Women Writing” workshop. 7
Communitas knew their stories laid out a complete system of the universe, of good and evil, and I found them very satisfying. I was also attentive to friends when they talked about what they did at church, trying to fill in the blanks about what exactly went on there. Mysterious acronyms and special words intrigued me. CCD. VBS. Minister. Parish. Sacrament. My parents both had an uneasy relationship with the religion of their youth. Although all my dad’s relatives were Mormon, his mother was the rare apostate in the small town of Ogden, Utah. When he was a baby she divorced his father and caused a scandal that took her right out of the bosom of the Latter Day Saints. And though my mom’s mother dutifully followed through on her premarital promise and made sure her daughters participated in the sacraments of the Catholic Church, in the end we were all most influenced by her dad’s extreme skepticism. To my grandfather, things worthy of time and attention were things that could be seen and touched, bought and sold. He set foot in no church, leaving the ineffable for fools. So as my parents slipped through the hands of both the Mormons and the Catholics, our family religion defaulted to my grandfather’s religion, the one most compelling and American. It could be called Superiority and Self-Reliance. The tenants were simple. Be good. Achieve. Love your family. Don’t waste time with things that don’t make sense. I knew that church was for people who weren’t as smart as us, but I had a secret fascination with the black and white photo of my mother with her First Communion class. I focused on what I coveted, her frilly white dress and her white patent leather Mary Janes, but my mother always pointed out the spooked look on her face. “I was terrified of the nuns,” she said. Still, it looked like she was doing something important, dressed up with a whole group of solemn eight-year-olds, and I felt the lack of both the shoes and the sense of occasion. My dad’s relatives sent us genealogical information in leather binders with the Salt Lake City temple embossed in gold on the cover. I poured over the pictures from the 1800s, registering some offense in my ancestors’ expressions as they grimly met my curious gaze. My mom explained that people back then didn’t smile for pictures. It wasn’t just the frowning mouths, though. The light blue irises that I loved on my dad did not show up well in the old black and white photos and the eyes looked positively creepy when you could only see the small hard dots of the pupils. The genealogy books detailed complex family trees, with multiple wives and scores of children. I thought it was interesting, but I knew that to the relatives who did all this research it really mattered. If I went to church maybe I would know why. Maybe it would matter to me. In fifth grade, I let it slip to my mom. “I wish we went to church.” “Oh really?” is all she said then. Later, she and my dad waylaid me. Somehow, they were sitting at the dining room table together and I passed by alone; surely a setup. Overly casual, my dad said, “Mommy said you wished we went to church, and
The Art of Story: The Journey of Spiritual Memoir we wanted to talk to you about it. Can you say why?” I wish I had answered that I longed for church because I wondered about the universe and God and my place in it, and that I needed ritual and community to approach these basic human questions. I wish I understood that my parents’ unease was due to their own ambivalent feelings about religion. At the time, I just sensed the tension, and I didn’t even start to search inside myself for an answer. I just wanted to shut it down. “Well, it’s because my friends go to church. So I want to go, too.” Hearing such a shallow and developmentally sound reason, my parents looked relieved. They asked no follow-up questions. I was impressed that I had been able to take control of the conversation, but a little sad and puzzled at my untrue answer. Perhaps I couldn’t talk about it with my parents because I didn’t want to disrupt the spiritual community that I did have, which was actually the two of them and my sister. It wasn’t insignificant, the wholeness I knew when the four of us were together. Our family station wagon could be a place of deep peace. On long driving trips, when the sun eased down, my mom folded down the back seats and made a bedtime nest. I loved to snuggle there with my sister, the bickering deterrence line we had drawn in the daytime between our seats now forgotten. Willie Nelson crooned from the eight-track, and my parents were in their proper places next to each other, pilot and navigator, lit up by the dashboard lights. They knew where we were going and everybody I loved was in a steel container within arm’s reach. Bedtimes at home I was often scared of something nameless that floated outside my bedroom window, but in the sanctuary of the station wagon I wasn’t scared at all. I could get very quiet inside and look right out of the vast back window at the stars. I could fall asleep wondering what was beyond those stars—and what was beyond that. v
Communitas “The Power and Practice of Personal Storytelling” The wise Jesuit Anthony de Mello tell us, “The master gave his teaching in parables and stories, which his disciples listened to with pleasure—and occasional frustration, for they longed for something deeper. The master was unmoved. To all their objections he would say, “You have yet to understand that the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.” (One Minute Wisdom, NY: Doubleday, 1986, p. 23.) A gathered community of pastors—most recipients of grants from the College of Pastoral Leaders—explored the distance between a human being and Truth with the guidance of Mark Yaconelli of “The Hearth.” They learned how to make a path for themselves but also how to create a near-sacramental space for others to do the same. The learning culminated with a night of storytelling in public at Austin’s beloved Threadgill’s restaurant. The theme was “Love Hurts.”
Love Hurts Deborah Lewis
ot yet in school, my little brother waited for me after school each day, pestering my mother so he’d know when it was time to walk up to the corner and keep a lookout. I can’t remember all the days he must have done this or what we talked about on the way home. I only remember the day he stopped. I was with two friends and spotted him from blocks away. David had climbed onto the fire hydrant at the corner of our street to get a better view of my approach. He was waving his arms and hollering, “Deborah! Deborah!”
Deborah Lewis, an elder in the United Methodist Church who serves at the Wesley
Foundation at the University of Virginia, is a member of the Wholly Writers CPL cohort. She has an essay in the recently published, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor and blogs at deborahlewis.net. She is also a potter, Washington Nationals fan, and snow day enthusiast.
The Art of Story: The Power and Practice of Personal Storytelling The girls I was walking with were both big sisters, too, and one of them had seven siblings. Still, somehow my first-grade self became suddenly invested in “cool” and decided this wasn’t it. When we reached the corner, I stepped close to him and whispered fiercely, “Don’t ever wait for me again.” He never did. He knows I tear up when I remember this. He knows if I could take it back I would. He tells me it doesn’t have the hold on him that it does on me. David lives four states away now and I see him once a year. It’s not enough. But on the phone last month when I worried our lives might go too far off in different directions, he cut me off and said, as if it’s obvious, “A lot of things come and go but siblings are like gravity.” v
Communitas “Crossing the Border: Ministry with Culturally and Ethnically Diverse Youth” By 2018, half the children under 18 years of age will be “minorities”; 26% will be Hispanic. This culturally and ethnically diverse group of young people brings a new set of needs and opportunities for ministry. The Reverend Elizabeth Tamez Mendez offers an expansive conceptualization of ministry that takes into account the core needs of youth in a practical theology that is integral and holistic. This essay is available in Spanish here: AustinSeminary.edu/elministerio
Reaching the Next Generation:
Ministry to Culturally and Ethnically Diverse Youth and Young Adults
Elizabeth Tamez Mendez
ou might read the title and be tempted to turn the page, thinking your congregation or community is not culturally or ethnically diverse or that your calling in ministry is not to youth. Consider this before you stop: Demographic projections point to a future that paints a different picture from the present. Youth are at the forefront of demographic changes, and churches need to consider this reality as a moment for us to seize! We have a unique opportunity to contribute to the healthy development and thriving of youth, while walking alongside them toward an encounter with Christ. All aspects of life, including religion, are being reshaped and redefined with new racial, ethnic, and age demographic characteristics. By the year 2043, racial
Elizabeth Tamez Mendez is founder and executive director of Nueva Generaciøon3. She is adjunct professor of youth ministry at Baptist University of the Américas. Tamez Mendez integrates into ministry her unique perspective from worldwide experience and studies in urban youth ministry, theology, leadership, architecture, art, and business. She is currently writing her PhD dissertation on adolescent leadership development within a Hispanic church context. 12
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Crossing the Border and ethnic “minorities” will comprise the majority of the population, leaving behind historic demographic hegemony. Currently, “minorities” comprise over half of the population under five years of age, with Hispanics accounting for 25%. By 2018, half the children under 18 years of age will be “minorities,” with 26% being Hispanic.1 As these changes unfold, American religion encounters new needs and new opportunities in a generation of ethnically and culturally diverse youth. For many groups in the rising demographic,2 religion, church, and spirituality play a central role in life. The congregation is deemed as extended family and is a central source of social support and development. Immigrant families in particular need additional support through the taxing experience of uprooting and restarting life in a new place where social, political, cultural, and linguistic dynamics are very different.3 Our churches have a unique opportunity to serve, particularly the younger generation, as they adjust to life between two cultures and form their identities. However, the unique values and needs of “minorities” make it necessary to recognize that some current approaches and strategies to serve ethnic and cultural majority youth are not relevant or effective in connecting with diverse youth. This recognition calls for an expansive conceptualization of ministry, shifting our focus from retention strategies (keeping youth in the church) to developmental strategies (nurturing the individual). By revisiting our practical theology, incorporating youth development principles, and integrating simple ministry ideas, we can construct an approach to ministry that is integral, holistic, and one that better serves the needs of diverse youth.
An Expansive Conceptualization Ministry is not easy, and working with youth seems particularly demanding. Among other things, it requires energy, creativity, a keen ability to connect, and knowledge of the latest trends! In this challenging environment, how can a leader think about incorporating changes? One first simple step is to expand the theological concepts that inform our practice. First, Genesis 1:27-28 and 49:1-28 provide a view of our ministerial work as an act of “multiplication” and “forming” of others.4 Scripture reveals the divine design of pouring the blessing of spiritual legacy from generation to generation. We do this through our authentic example, mentoring efforts, and involvement in the lives of youth. Second, Jesus’s own journey into maturity recognizes the human development process as entailing body, mind, and soul (Luke 2:52). When a congregation provides for the whole young person, it becomes more than a place for activities or attendance. It becomes a community where youth anchor identity, have deep roots, and find opportunities to contribute. Third, Jesus’s own ministry addressed the spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and other needs. (e.g. Mark 2:1-12; John 9). Through serving a person in as many aspects as possible, we are able to reach a greater connection and make a lasting
Communitas impact. The more youth connect, the less probability they will disengage as they grow up and encounter competing responsibilities and interests. These practical theology concepts free us to know that ministry effectiveness in reaching and serving youth does not depend on budgets, programs, curriculum, or style of worship, but rather on the ability to connect with them in a meaningful manner.5
Connecting with their Core Needsâ€”Identity Formation
In understanding and tending to the developmental needs of youth, we find a pathway for ministerial practices to connect with them at a deeper level. Youth have six core needs: sense of security (psychological and emotional support), sense of connection (physical and social), desire to learn (cognitive), identity (self, ethnic, sexual, etc.), meaning (depth, direction in life, contribution, and empowerment), and spiritual growth (transcendence, convictions, values).6 Youth who receive more support from adults in these six core areas are more likely to report that being religious or spiritual is important to them (79%). They are also more likely to engage with religious programs or events (87%). However, on average, youth surveyed only receive nurturing and support in about half of these areas.7 For youth, relationships (family, peers, mentors) and social contexts (school, church, work, media) are critical. Relationships form the hubs for gaining life directives and cues to form their self-concept. When we deem youth development as integral to our mission, the central questions become, How can I pour into you? How can I show my commitment and love to you? How can I model to you my faithwalk in a lasting and meaningful way? How can I empower you to soar and reach your potential as a person? This is what young people are craving, and these needs are met through simple acts. Ministry helps youth thrive as persons, gives them opportunities for making important contributions to their community, and develops their faith convictions. When ministering to culturally and ethnically diverse youth, we need to know that the most salient of the six core needs is the ongoing negotiation of identity.8 They are in a constant process of self-discovery and answering the questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? Where is my place in my family, school, friends, community, church? As adolescents, they navigate between learning what makes one unique and the craving to â€œfit in,â€? feel accepted, and be part of the group.9 Having answers to their identity and societal roles are a pivotal aspect of their healthy development and sense of self. Youth from diverse cultural and ethnic families face an additional challenge. They must navigate growing up in a family and community that provide a cultural, ethnic, and linguistic inheritance which is now merging with the mainstream culture. Youth experience constant tension between the pressures to conform to the dominant culture and keeping their heritage culture and values. For example, mainstream culture and worldview emphasizes personal focus and individualism while their root culture highlights the family working as one unit and making collective
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Crossing the Border efforts. How are youth to negotiate these approaches, expectations, and roles on their own? In addition, the messages and cues diverse youth receive from society are often not encouraging, reaffirming, inclusive, and empowering. If you take time to listen to the stories and experiences of diverse youth, you will often find a sense of hurt, alienation, discrimination, not fitting in, and demeaning self-image. At this intersection our churches can become places of social and spiritual capital for our youth. Their unique needs and points of tension are not typically addressed in other social contexts (e.g. academic support, career coaching). When their core needs are addressed in our ministries, the redemptive work of Christ connects with them—they are able to see the depth of His work and message in every area of life. The church can provide a community where they are accepted, loved, fit in, are held in high regard, where their cultural and ethnic background is valued, and where they are intentionally given space to contribute actively.10 We model for them that their identity is rooted in their culture and in Christ and that we are reconciled with God and each other (2 Cor. 5:18). We can help them understand that faith develops not solely as a result of spiritual practices, but also comes through the lived experience of everyday life—a holistic process and experience. Following the pathway marked by the core needs of ethnically and culturally diverse youth, we find a way to accompany them in their journey toward defining who they are, their direction in life, and their faith convictions. As one participant in the Hispanic Ministries Network at Austin Seminary conference said after discussing these dynamics, “This sounds like a congregation where we are all ‘youth ministers’! Everyone has a role to play and a way to contribute.”
Practical Ideas The following ministry strategies connect concept to practice by nurturing the six core developmental needs, with a special focus on identity formation. Here, we approach ministry from an integral and holistic perspective that reaches the body, mind, and spirit, thereby serving youth spiritually, emotionally, socially, culturally, and mentally.11 1. Spiritual Modeling • Strengthen and honor intergenerational relationships by organizing meetings where both adults and youth share personal stories (testimonies) of life and faith.12 • Make the process interactive by including food, rituals, and key locations that inspire learning. • Share one-on-one with personal stories about how we put our faith in action and ways we sensed God’s presence as we grow in feeling an interpersonal connection. 2. Building Stronger Bonds • Encourage adults to take a couple of youth along with them to do simple things
• • • • •
such as running errands. This creates space for conversations and mentoring. Attend their special events at school to show support. Ask members of the congregation to choose a youth’s name and commit to praying. Organize service projects (in and out of church), creating intergenerational work teams. Engage youth in serving as mentors to younger kids. Include activities where families can interact vs. individualistic activities where youth are always segregated from adults in the congregation.
3. Serving Their Needs • Learn what are some of the social needs of youth in your congregation. Find ways to serve them. Are they in need of help with homework? Job mentoring? College entrance coaching? • Take time as a congregation to celebrate and affirm important life stages and milestones: Beginning of school year, major tests, graduations, quinceañeras, new job, etc. 4. Uplifting Their Cultural Identity and Strengths • Recognize the advantages of living in “the hyphen” (between two cultures).13 • Aim for a ministry where the congregation seeks to navigate and negotiate in a healthy manner the reality of diverging cultural/linguistic expressions and preferences that can arise between adults and youth (ministry of interconnectedness). There is not a formula for achieving this, as each congregation is unique. However, mutual understanding and respect is foundational. • Draw on the wealth of knowledge and special skills that youth growing up between two cultures bring to our congregations: • They create a bridge toward understanding and better serving “the other culture” within the congregation and out in the community. • They learn to think from multiple perspectives (cultural translators). • They have the ability to negotiate multiple identities of faith, ethnicity, and culture. • They tend to have a broader worldview and openness to other groups. 5. Mobilizing Active Contributors • Welcome and include youth as vital part of the congregation, create a sense of ownership and full contribution. Youth have a desire to play an important role and be fully included—not just, “my parent’s church.” • Shift the cultural perspective we have on youth. Deem youth as full members of the congregation, not as “kids” who will engage in the future when they reach adulthood. • Create ways for active participation and collaboration vs. passive observance, such as helping with media needs, reading Scripture during worship, assisting
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Crossing the Border
in logistics, mentoring them to teach a Bible class, etc. Youth have much to teach us as adults. Show your willingness to listen and observe. Provide opportunities to grow and exercise their leadership abilities (public speaking, leading groups, serving the community, etc.) by asking them to oversee small projects like organizing the next recreational event.
Conclusion As the opportunity and need to serve culturally and ethnically diverse youth increases, an expansive conceptualization of ministry allows us to connect with them in a deeper manner. By taking into account the core needs of youth and moving within a framework of practical theology that is integral and holistic, our congregations can contribute toward the healthy development and thriving of our youth, while walking alongside them toward experiencing an encounter with Christ. You can adopt simple ministerial techniques that do not require extensive training, tools, budgets, or planning but enable us to help meet their core developmental needs. Then youth are free to open up to hear, embrace, and appropriate the spiritual life. You will be ready to accompany youth as they grow and live out their convictions. v NOTES 1. William H. Frey, Brookings Institution Analysis of US Census Bureau population projections report released December 12, 2012, based on 2010 US Census. 2. David Sikkink and Edwin I. Hernández (Eds.), Religion Matters: Predicting Schooling Success (Institute for Latino Studies and research partners in our community of interest, 2003). 3. Juan Martinez, Walk With the People: Latino ministry in the United States (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008). 4. M. Sydney Park, Soong-Chan Rah, and Al Tizon, (Eds.), Honoring the Generations: Learning with Asian North American Congregations (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2012). 5. Programs, curriculum, styles, and budgets have their valuable place in ministry. The point here is that these need to take a secondary place in our ministerial focus and efforts. The central focus being on creating deep connections with youth and tending to their core needs. We also need to consider that many of the answers we currently receive from programs and curricula are not quite fitting for the new culturally and ethnically diverse dynamics and realities we are facing. The answers are not yet fully at our fingertips, we are co-creating these as we navigate the process and gain insight in the mist of the diverse settings we are encountering. 6. Michael Nakkula and Eric Toshalis, Understanding Youth: Adolescent Development for Educators (Cambridge, MA: Hardvard Education Press, 2006). 7. Search Institute. Survey study in 2003 of almost 150,000 young people in grades 6-12 throughout the United States. 8. Paul Smokowski and Martica Bacallao, Becoming Bicultural: Risk, Resilience, and Latino Youth (New York: NYU Press, 2011). 9. Understanding Youth 10. G.A. Seefeldt and E.C. Roehlkepartain, Tapping the Potential: Discovering Congregations’ Role in Building Assets in Youth (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 2005).
Communitas 11. Jolene Roehlkepartain and J. Conway, Get on Board! Presentations and Activities for Introducing Asset Building in Congregations (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 2007). 12. Armida Belmonte-Stephens and Greg Jao, “Nurturing the Next Generation,” Common Ground Journal, 12(1), 2015, 75-82.
Recommended Reading Baker, D. G. (ed.). Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World. Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2010. Dunn, R.R., and M.H. Senter III. Reaching a Generation for Christ: A Comprehensive Guide to Youth Ministry. Chapter 18: “How do we minister to youth in ethnic communities?” Chicago: Moody Press, 1997. Tetz, M., and G.L. Hopkins. We Can Keep Them in the Church: How to Love our Children so They Won’t Leave. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2004. Johnson-Mondragón, K. (ed.). Pathways of Hope and Faith Among Hispanic Teens: Pastoral Reflections and Strategies Inspired by the National Study of Youth and Religion. Stockton, CA: Instituto Fe y Vida, 2007. Lee, J., and M. Zhou, (eds.). Asian American Youth: Culture, Identity and Ethnicity. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Nomads & Nones “Nomads & Nones: What the Church can Learn from the ‘Spiritual but not Religious’” Roughly twenty-four million Americans self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.” More than a few religious people find this concerning if not threatening. Michael Clawson invites a different perspective and uncovers important insights and valuable critiques this growing demographic has to offer the church today.
Nomads & Nones:
What the Church Can Learn from the “Spiritual but not Religious” Mike Clawson
everal months ago I led workshop participants in a word-association game with the terms religion and spirituality. Words like “rules,” “dogmas,” “traditionalism,” “judgment,” and “control” were quickly shouted out in association with religion. Spirituality evoked words like “vitality,” “personal experience,” “interconnectedness,” “life-giving,” and “wholeness.” The people gathered in this workshop were not “spiritual but not religious” types. They were seminarians, pastors, and professors of religion. Even among the religious, it seems, religion has a bad rap. Despite the positive associations with spirituality, religious practitioners can tend toward defensive and condescending attitudes toward spiritual but not religious (SBNR) people. One popular author, not pulling any punches, critiqued the SBNR as boring, unoriginal, self-centered, narcissistic, and lacking in depth.1 Defenders of religiosity rightly point out that an SBNR approach risks merely mimicking the kind of consumeristic individualism that currently plagues our society.
Mike Clawson (MATS’10) Clawson is a PhD candidate and Teaching Fellow in religion
at Baylor University, where he studies the contemporary Emerging Church Movement. An Austin Seminary graduate, he has been an active participant in the Emerging Movement for over a decade as a cohort leader, emerging church planter, and Emergent Village Cohorts Coordinator. Originally from the upper Midwest, Clawson currently resides in Austin, Texas, with his two young children.
Communitas In the rush to defend religion, I wonder if we have paused long enough to listen. By simply assuming that everything SBNR people have to say is “unoriginal,” are we missing out on the truths they have to offer—truths that, if my workshop responses are any indication, resonate with many religious folks themselves? The exodus of Americans from organized religion is a growing phenomenon. The number of people who claim no religious affiliation, the so-called “Nones,” has doubled over the past several decades, from roughly 10% of the American population in 1990 to around 20% in 2012. These Nones are not all atheists; two-thirds still believe in God. The vast majority say they pray, at least occasionally. And some 37% of them, roughly 24 million Americans, self-identify as “spiritual but not religious.”2 These SBNR individuals are spiritual nomads. They claim no institutional religious affiliation and yet continue actively to seek out meaningful spiritual experiences. They may even show up in a religious community on occasion, illustrating that for the SBNR, oppositions like “religion” versus “spirituality” are more rhetorical devices than hard and fast categories.3 By “religion,” they, much like my workshop attendees, primarily mean institutional religion, which they associate with prescribed dogmas, moral checklists, and external controls on the personal lives of individuals. “Spiritual,” on the other hand, designates lively, self-directed, and personally meaningful experiences of faith, transcendence, inwardness, or interconnectedness. While such a distinction may not be entirely fair or accurate (scholars, for instance, tend to include both personal practices and institutional expressions within the overarching category of religion), the challenge is to hear what the SBNR are looking for and not finding in institutionalized religion. A number of studies have been published in recent years looking at the actual beliefs and values of the SBNR.4 Of course they display much diversity, but the broad scope reveals several common characteristics: The SBNR reject religious exclusivism and instead embrace truth, beauty, and goodness wherever they find it. Turned off by religious dogmatism, and having experienced the reality of pluralism first hand, SBNRs are unwilling to limit themselves to only one tradition. They instead take a syncretic approach to spirituality, borrowing ideas and practices from multiple sources. Some criticize this cafeteria-style spirituality as merely a symptom of our culture’s narcissistic consumerism. SBNRs ask why they should not remain open to wisdom and spiritually helpful, life-giving practices wherever they may be found. To do otherwise would be to deny their own experiences of reality, to ignore the valuable things they have already found in diverse places. Too often that is exactly what the church seems to be asking them to do. For Christians, this open perspective can be an important reminder that, while we believe that truth was uniquely revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, we do not have to claim that the Christian religion has the exclusive corner on truth. Just as the Apostle Paul was able to affirm the value he found in Athenian religious practices in his discourse on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16ff.), so might Christians be able to follow the example of the SBNR to discover truth, beauty, and goodness in other
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Nomads & Nones faiths as well. While many mainline clergy participate in fruitful interfaith conversations, the SBNR phenomenon brings this sort of cross-pollination down to the grassroots level of personal practice. Congregations may find this widespread openness toward multiple spiritualties to be a source of revitalization. Those who create space to learn from the diverse insights and practices brought to them by the SBNR may have more success at drawing and retaining such individuals. The SBNR seek to experience the transcendent in the ordinary experiences of life—through nature, art, music, and relationships. In our harried and hurried world of twenty-first century technology, we often need a reminder to stop for a moment, look up from our smartphones, and be awed by the beauty around us. Perhaps this is why SBNRs find the Buddhist practice of mindfulness especially appealing. In short, the SBNR are looking for ways to be more fully awake, aware, and alive. In this they may resonate with the words of Jesus, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full!” (John 10:10). The SBNR do not find such moments at church. They report experiencing church involvement as “life-draining” rather than life-giving: demanding of time, energy, and money without offering much of spiritual value in return.5 In the words of one SBNR man, “My life is full without church; it seems kind of irrelevant. They don’t care about my questions … doubt, life, making the world a better place. They seem interested in things that don’t really matter. Church is disconnected from real life.”6 Yet people continue to be drawn both to Charismatic churches, which excel at leading people into emotionally intense and outwardly exuberant experiences of worship and wonder, and to more traditional churches that are reclaiming and reshaping ancient and contemplative practices of liturgy and spiritual reflection. These kinds of churches, along with the SBNR, share the common realization that people want more than abstract knowledge of the divine, the transcendent, and the sacred. They want to experience the wonder of it for themselves. The SBNR in particular have grasped that such experiences do not only (or even typically) occur in the context of corporate worship. Churches that want to learn from and reach out to the SBNR would do well to expand the ways people experience God in their lives, rather than restricting them. The SBNR emphasize the freedom and responsibility of individuals for shaping their own spiritual paths. Spirituality prescribed or controlled by others feels inauthentic. The wisdom of others, including religious institutions and authorities, will be heard and respected, but the SBNR believe that real spiritual growth only truly begins when people are in touch with their own inward reality and are honest with themselves about what is genuinely helpful and what is not. Too often they have seen religious people go through the motions of a seemingly dead ritualism or deny their own inner truth in order to conform to an externally determined set of expectations. For people trapped by such inauthenticity, the move beyond externally dictated religion can feel liberating and life-giving. Of course, rituals need not be practiced in a deadening way nor is submitting to
Communitas others’ spiritual wisdom a vice. Nevertheless, Christian leaders need to listen closely when people say they are not finding encouragement or permission to be selfaware, authentic, or honest about their spiritual experiences within the church. Protestant churches can look to the Reformers themselves as exemplars of personal responsibility and freedom of conscience in questioning ecclesiastical authorities and received traditions. Can we imagine churches that offer their historic traditions as gifts (not prescriptions) to all while still remaining open to the free exploration of other meaningful and life-giving beliefs and practices? In offering those gifts, can we trust the Spirit of God within individuals to guide them into the paths they need to go, without our attempts to control or manipulate the outcomes? The SBNR believe in the innate goodness of humanity, leading to an attitude of universal compassion. SBNR move from an external to an internal locus of authority based on the belief that people are basically good; that is, in common SBNR terminology, that we all have that spark of divinity within us. Consequently, SBNR folks are also slow to judge any actions as good or bad, instead erring on the side of empathy and compassion. One’s destructive, hurtful, or unhealthy behavior is rarely attributed to evil intentions, but rather assumed to be the result of poor choices coming out of personal woundedness. Their motto, in this regard, is the variously attributed internet meme, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.” The SBNR message of compassion and affirmation of human goodness reminds those Christian traditions that sometimes overemphasize sinful depravity that the imago dei—the divine spark—is, nevertheless, still more fundamental to human identity. It also sounds a note of hope for those who feel discouraged and disillusioned by the continued suffering and injustice in the world. In emphasizing the innate desire for goodness within every human being, the SBNR, not unlike Augustine, help us see that even the worst evils are the result of taking a wrong turn in the attempt to fulfill some good, God-given desire. SNBR’s recognition of the common human desire to be good and do good provides hope that goodness, in our lives and in the world, might still be possible yet—with the help of that divine spark of grace that is still at work within all of us. All of these characteristics of the SBNR contain insights that we in the church need to hear. Ultimately, just stopping to listen—letting go of any need to argue or defend—is the best starting practice. Sit down with your SBNR family, friends, and neighbors, and ask them about their own faith journeys, about where they find meaning and value, about why they have turned away from institutional religion, and how they would like to see the church grow, change, and improve. You may be surprised what you learn. v NOTES 1. Lillian Daniel, When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough (New York: Jericho Books, 2013), 3-17. Jonathan Merritt, “Why Christians Need The Church: An interview with Lillian Daniel,” On
Continued on page 27 22
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Links, Likes, and Follows “Links, Likes, and Follows: Spirituality in the Smartphone Age” The Internet age is out of its infancy. Smartphones are here to stay; Google Glass is on the horizon. The potential for connection in the digital age is powerful and inspiring. And the need for intentionality and thoughtfulness about our consumption of technology is just as strong. The Reverend MaryAnn McKibben Dana offers a discussion of digital culture from a spiritual perspective, informed in part by her time with a group of Christian educators gathered at Austin Seminary.
Links, Likes, and Follows: Spirituality in the Smartphone Age
MaryAnn McKibben Dana
he news was bad: a friend had experienced the worst nightmare a parent can suffer. The message went out via Facebook to a small group of close friends, with a note in closing: Please share this with others who might want to know. Over the next several days, more and more friends and loved ones joined the thread. In Facebook parlance, they were “added to the conversation,” but it felt like a physical gathering. As the names appeared on the screen, it was as if people were entering the grieving room, in trickles and in waves, to surround the devastated friend with their love and prayers. There was a palpable feeling of community. It was even—dare I say it?—worshipful. Several weeks later, I found myself in a long line at the grocery store. I did what many people do in the margins of one’s day: I fiddled with my phone. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw a young child, the daughter of a friend, newly bald from chemotherapy for leukemia treatment. I reeled. Tears sprang to my eyes, right there next to the racks of gum and candy and Us magazine. I wish I hadn’t seen this right now, I thought, trying to compose myself. I wasn’t prepared. I wish I’d been in
MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer, pastor, and speaker living in Virginia. She
is author of Sabbath in the Suburbs, and her forthcoming book is Spirituality for the Smartphone Age. Her writing has appeared in TIME.com, The Washington Post, Religion Dispatches, Journal for Preachers, and The Christian Century, in a monthly column for Presbyterians Today, and at https://theblueroomblog.org
Communitas a place to brace myself for it. We live in the tension between these two kinds of online experiences. The potential for connection in the digital age is powerful and inspiring. And the need for intentionality and thoughtfulness about our consumption of technology is just as strong. With the swipe of a thumb or the click of a button, we can participate in the joys and heartbreaks of loved ones scattered all over the globe. It’s a precious gift … and a recipe for overwhelm. A few years ago, Microsoft trumpeted its Office365 products with an ad campaign that seems unintentionally chilling now: “Office workers want technology to help them get things done anywhere, sunrise to sunset.” Do we? Most people I know recoil at such an encroachment on private time, even as we willingly (or grudgingly) participate in it. The same ad reported that 47% of workers reported working while on vacation. The New York Times reported some time ago that highend vacation resorts are now advertising their lack of connectivity—the better to cater to a strung-out, hyper-connected clientele that yearns to unplug. To paraphrase the fine print at the bottom of liquor ads, we must learn to consume responsibly. But how? A number of resources have sought to answer that question with some success. In 2008 Nicholas Carr offered us the now-legendary article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” detailing the ways our incessant clicking erodes attention span and our ability to think deeply. He followed up the article with a book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Other books have echoed Carr’s concerns, but from different angles; William Powers and Sherry Turkle provide more measured critiques in Hamlet’s Blackberry and Alone Together, respectively; but like Carr, they focus primarily on psychology and sociology. What’s lacking now is a discussion of digital culture from a spiritual perspective. What does an incarnational community look like when we can feel deep emotional connections to people we’ve never even shared physical space with? How do we understand issues of authenticity and even sin in an era of Instagram filters and curated online personas? As we navigate our “new normal,” the church has not been an effective, thoughtful voice at the table. Unfortunately, the church is not well equipped to address these questions. Our engagement with technology often falls into one of two extremes. On one side of the spectrum, we see technology as a panacea, even a “savior”: a church creates a Facebook page and encourages people to tweet during worship so we can seem “relevant” and attract digital natives to our pews. More often, however, we react in the opposite direction, looking skeptically at what is new, tut-tutting social networks and other online interactions as shallow and dehumanizing. We risk looking out of touch when we adopt such a posture. As Bess Weatherby, a writer based in New York, puts it: “I have no qualms thinking of the things [God] made—the star, the ever-burning flames, the rainbow. What is troubling are the things we made and he touched—the tables he overturned, the sandals he washed, the nails a Roman citizen pounded into his palms. It’s simpler
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Links, Likes, and Follows to assert God would not work through an iPad, rather than acknowledge he once wrote laws on a tablet. The former costs us nothing to believe; the latter demands a response.” So what will our response be? We need a nuanced and thoughtful middle ground between “tech will save us” and “tech will destroy us.” We need a theology for our digital culture that is embodied yet connective, realistic yet hopeful, and most of all, helpful to people trying to navigate this world we now occupy. I am constantly amazed at how the Internet allows people to find one another, no matter how specific the hobby, interest, or need. Whether you seek support for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, like a relative of mine, or you want to pick apart the latest episode of Jane the Virgin, you will find a community at the ready online. At the same time, cyber-bullying and trollish comments provide abundant evidence that the Calvinists really were on to something with the idea of total depravity. How do we understand being God’s beloved children in the midst of these extremes? In an age when we can Google all manner of questions—when we have access to a library of information that would have made Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Aquinas swoon—how do we cultivate a sense of mystery? With so much knowledge at our fingertips, how do we understand the idea of an omniscient God whose ways are not our ways? Thanks to the Internet, it’s now easier than ever to connect with causes we believe in, to raise our voices to elected leaders and our fellow citizens at the press of a button. Technically speaking, we don’t need the church in order to do mission, charity, and justice. What does this mean for the body of Christ? What does a church community provide missionally that cannot be replicated in other ways? These and other questions have been animating me for the last few years as I work on a book and workshops around the topic “Spirituality in the Smartphone Age.” I was grateful for the input and thoughtfulness of a group of church educators who gathered with me in October at Austin Seminary to work with this material. Here are a few observations that came out of that time.
We’re Still Finding Our Way … And We Need Guidance As Sherry Turkle put it in a recent interview, “Just because we grew up with the Internet, we think the Internet is all grown up.” Yes, smartphones and tablets are tools, just as hammers and eggbeaters are tools. But tools have unique “affordances,” which means they call us to use them in specific ways. A doorknob invites us to twist and push or pull. Binoculars ask us to hold them to our eyes and peer through. Twitter and Facebook, by contrast, nag us to engage them continuously—to keep refreshing the feed, to keep reading and clicking—because there’s always something new to read or discover. Social networks prey on our fear of missing out. FOMO may be a new acronym, but the phenomenon is deeply ingrained in our spiritual selves. We are explorers, easily bored, with an insatiable curiosity and drive toward novelty. (Can we see the eating of the fruit in Genesis 3 as driven in part by a sense of FOMO?)
Communitas As part of my work on the spiritual dimensions of the digital age, I put together a survey about people’s online habits. While not scientific, the results were illuminating. Half of respondents reported spending three hours online per day, with 43% spending more than that. Their motivations for being online were pretty consistent, with most people saying it was a way to connect with family and friends and to be entertained and informed. But more than a third admitted they spent time online out of a sense of habit. A third felt their use of social media and the Internet had negatively affected their attention spans, and a majority admitted, “I’m on these sites more than I should be or would like to be. I find it hard to disengage.” As we seek to embody the abundant life that Jesus promised, how can the church foster conversation around this discontent? Are there spiritual disciplines that may help us find our way?
Boundaries are Important My previous book explored Sabbath-keeping as a vital practice in our modern world. Themes of Sabbath weave into discussions of technology as well. In her book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle talks about sacred spaces—places where we intentionally silence our gadgets to focus on the people around us. She suggests the dinner table and the school carpool line as essential places to be physically present and free of electronic distraction. Where are our other sacred spaces? The church should be equipping individuals and families for these conversations. There’s evidence that the mere presence of a cell phone can degrade the quality of conversation, even when that phone is not actively being used. And frequent cell phone use has been correlated with more selfish behavior in at least one study. How do we help people engage these topics and set appropriate boundaries? Congregations might support and promote the Day of Unplugging, an initiative each March in which people turn off their screens for 24 hours in order to connect with neighbors, pursue hobbies, and rest. (It’s worth noting that the Day of Unplugging is the brainchild of a group of Jewish artists. Religious communities have a stake in this conversation and rich resources to offer.)
The Dynamics of Curation In my survey, a healthy majority of respondents said they thought carefully about what they posted to social media, considering how they were portraying themselves to the world. This is not bad in itself—we’ve all heard the cautionary tales about people’s online interactions dogging them in college admissions, job applications, and beyond. Even posts tagged “private” have a way of leaking out. It’s healthy to consider what we share, how, and with whom. But if there’s a major disconnect between a person’s happy, perfect online persona and the messy reality, that’s a spiritual issue. At its best, religious communities can be places where we acknowledge the imperfections of our lives and strive for authenticity—although many a pastor has watched a sick or grieving person disappear from church because “everyone has it all together except me.” We’re not always good at
Practices of Knowing our Neighbor: Links, Likes, and Follows practicing what we preach. One of the most animated conversations with the Austin Seminary group last fall came after watching two videos—one a carefully choreographed marriage proposal, the other a clip of a military mom returning from deployment and surprising her pre-teen son at his basketball game. What compels some people to film their most emotionally redolent moments for the world to see? How do such videos blur the lines between public and private? How do they preserve the dignity of the person being surprised—or do they? At their best, these videos expand the boundaries of one’s “community”—we feel a part of a warm, powerful experience as we watch a young man propose to his beloved in a creative, heartfelt way, or as we watch a child reunite with a parent home from military deployment. How can religious communities appreciate the joy of such moments while offering helpful critique? The tools and technologies are changing all the time—and faster than we ever thought possible—but regardless of the latest gadget, the chatter and connectedness of the digital age is our new reality. Meanwhile, marketers are bent on convincing us that we need the latest gadget. The flow of information continually beckons us to dive in and stay submerged. The church can and must be a voice in this conversation. v
Nomads and Nones Continued from page 22
Faith & Culture (blog), Religion News Service, August 13, 2013, http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews. com/2013/08/13/answering-the-spiritual-but-religious-an-interview-with-lillian-daniel/. 2. Pew Research Center, “’Nones’ on the Rise,” Religion & Public Life website, October 9, 2012, http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/. 3. Some 15% of people who do declare a religious affiliation still choose describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” according to the Pew research cited above. 4. Some of the most helpful studies include Courtney Bender, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the Religious Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Paul Heelas & Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality (Maldan, MA: Blackwell, 2005); Linda Mercadante, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual But Not Religious (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). 5. Belief Without Borders, 163-64.
6. Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 40.
Love Your Neighbor
he golf pro is getting work done at Starbucks. It’s been raining for three days in this southern resort town known for temperate winters. Today it’s 45 degrees. Eyes bracketed by crow’s feet, set wide in his winter-sunburned face, squint at his laptop between calls rescheduling three days’ worth of cancelled lessons. The sloppy twentysomethings sharing the long table with center electrical outlets have doughy faces, new laptops, and Vitamin water. Occasionally one speaks gibberish about list views, headers, and tap events, and one of the others yanks out his earbuds. It’s mostly the curly haired boy and he’s loud, like he’s trying to get all three to take out their earbuds, like he wants to impress anyone who can hear. The golf pro has old-school Sony earphones, bigger than a Kindle, the kind you can’t stuff in your pocket. I didn’t bring mine. I relish the relative silence, waiting for my friend. We’re in town for a conference. Coffee and conversation before the long day, campus ministers without nametags. So it’s not like we’re wearing signs or anything, but five minutes into our conversation, the pierced boy sipping Frappuccino at the next table suddenly starts talking, wants to explain his single earpiece to us. “I’m deaf in the other ear. That’s what happens when you fall asleep next to an amp. There was a bunch of feedback when they cranked it up. The doctor said if it’d started full blast I’d have 100% loss in that ear. But it’s 85%. Some stupid number like that.” So we listen.
Deborah Lewis is a member of Wholly Writers, a cohort of the College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Seminary. See her other story on pages 10-11.
Emerging Theological Voices: The Wesley Connection Emerging Methodist Voices The Wesley Connection at Austin Seminary brought two scholar/pastors from the Methodist tradition into the theological conversation on campus. One is a professor who also serves as a pastor and one is a pastor who is writing his doctoral dissertation. Each invited us into his work-in-progress. We entered worlds of theological meaning-making to wrestle with tough, hard-to-hear questions that press on us from public life: How does the violence of war our country practices “preach”? How do we excavate the experience of recent and renowned violent deaths to uncover the fear beneath—and follow with the Spirit through the Cross to justice? Dr. Gerald Liu and The Reverend Jay Williams gave the two inaugural lecturers in the Emerging Methodist Voices event offered through the Wesley Connection.
Destructive Proclamations and Radicalized Responses Gerald Liu
n the Catskill Mountains of New York in 1952, US composer John Cage debuted a piece of music called “4'33"” [four thirty-three] at an amphitheater that still exists to this day, Maverick Hall. Cage did not perform his work. In fact no one really did, at least not how we might expect. A pianist named David Tudor sat down at a piano on the stage. Tudor set his stopwatch to four minutes and thirty-three seconds. He opened the keyboard and closed the lid. He turned the pages of the score. He adjusted the bench upon which he was sitting. But he never played a note. Leaves rustled. Insects buzzed. Raindrops pattered. The crowd thought they were participating in a practical joke. They whispered and even jeered at the event. Yet the “silent” piece was making a monumental artistic argument—that music happens all around. Cage wanted to show that the sounds of the world are constantly
Gerald Liu is the son of Buddhist immigrants from Taiwan. He is an ordained elder in the
Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently lives in New York where he serves as minister-in-residence at Church of the Village in Greenwich Village. He teaches preaching and worship at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey.
Communitas providing music to be heard. Four thirty-three was not silent or without music. It was a musical withdrawal that provoked attention to the limitless melodies provided by nature. I want to suggest that theological proclamation—like the limitless music framed by the duration of 4'33"—happens all around us. By theological proclamation, I mean articulations about who God is and what God does and who we are and what we do in God. I have not left the remaining pages blank in order to make my point. Neither have I written a sermon manuscript with instructions for the preacher to “preach without using words so that we can hear the homilies delivered by the natural world.” Rather I want to exemplify what I mean by directing our attention to how public theological proclamation occurs in the context of the United States and beyond it, especially with respect to the long history of violence that has shaped who we are as a nation and how we have been received by the rest of the world. US national identity has been established and secured by unending violence. The American Revolutionary War declared our independence. The American Civil War unified a loose federation of states. The last century of warfare groomed the country into a global superpower: 1914-18 WWI, 1939-45 WWII, 1950-53 Korean conflict, 1959-73 Vietnam, 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, 2001 War in Afghanistan, 2003 Iraq War, and 2001–present War on Terror. Warfare has been elemental to the inception and maturation of the United States not only as a land but also as a people. We have become who we are by repeatedly breaking the commandment, “Do not kill.” Yet ironically, we have transgressed that divine mandate in the name of God. From era to era the shedding of blood has been a constant form of American public theological proclamation. In the 1636-37 Pequot War, Puritan colonies banded together to overtake the Pequot warriors. Subsequent documents like the 1691 Charter of Massachusetts Bay hoped to “win the Indians Natives of the Country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Saviour of Mankinde [sic] and the Christian Faith.” In the 18th century, The Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North-America swore against the British Crown and “before God and the world” that they would rather “die freemen rather than to live slaves.” After the descendants of some of those freemen lost their lives defending and opposing slavery, Lincoln promised on November 19, 1863, in an address at Gettysburg “that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Yet Lincoln’s new vision of democracy would in the next century lead to the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Paul Tibbets, the brigadier who dropped the bomb named “Little Boy” from the B29 Enola Gay, said before his death at the age of 92 that he never lost a night of sleep because he was only trying to do the best job he could. Father John A. Siemes, a US citizen and professor of modern philosophy at Tokyo’s Catholic University, experienced the apocalyptic day as it unfolded and wrote an eyewitness account. His reflection closes by insinuating that the strategy of total war had sanctioned
Emerging Theological Voices: The Wesley Connection a transgression beyond comprehension—“Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good that might result?” Even when God is not summoned to legitimate the wide elimination of peoples and cultures, the violence of the United States cannot escape from being framed with theological articulation. Because US violence finds inspiration in the language of God, and presumes theological stances of sovereignty in its use of force, the violence we practice preaches. Therefore, it warrants close theological investigation. Especially for US Christians, any reluctance to examine theologically and directly the violence that shapes American civic identity and global diplomacy forgets two confounding teachings of Jesus. One is a commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; the second of the greatest commandments). The other sounds like an impossible skill to learn: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-5). Acknowledging acts of state and global violence with Christian sympathy or protesting them with calls for peace do not suffice. The teachings from Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us demand meticulous acts of mercy including acts of solidarity and outcry. But the teachings of Jesus also implore Christians to do more than stand with the victims and express outrage at their casualties. We must examine how it is that we have come to love selves formed by an evolution of US violence that shows no signs of decelerating in the new millennium. I will not dare to answer exactly how we go about doing that except to recommend theological scrutiny as a means of figuring out what we should do. We begin by pondering how our acts of extreme violence have enabled us to become who we are, or, rather, how we have been permitted to become who we are in spite of those sins, and how historical, present day, and future proliferation of violence amounts to theological proclamation. Then, we begin to cultivate dispositions open to what “loving our neighbors as ourselves” and “loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us” entail. We admit that our military campaigns define the platitude on our currency that “in God we trust.” Then, we can with more political sophistication interpret and practice the commandment to love others as ourselves. When we can recognize that the very land in which we practice our faith is secured by defying the essential beliefs of Christianity, then we can imagine and inhabit the impossible task of loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. This kind of theological introspection is crucial because today’s enemies of the United States also call upon God to inspire their attacks. They are like us. And if we know how to love ourselves then we should have no trouble extending the same mercy to them. Consider the opening invocation, “In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate … In the name of God, of myself, and of my family … I pray to you God to forgive me from all my sins, to allow me to glorify you in every possible
Communitas way.” The words at face value might describe our own sense of spiritual vocation. They are translated from Arabic instructions recovered from the luggage of Mohammed Atta. Atta’s deeds showcase unfaltering faith, though a deeply flawed and vicious one. Atta, the only one of his group trained to fly a jet, boarded American Airlines Flight 11, scheduled from Boston to Los Angeles, with Abdul Aziz al Omari, Satam al Suqami, Wail al Shehri, and Waleed al Shehri. This is the same flight where emergency phone calls were made from flight attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney. This is the same flight that struck the North Tower at 8:46:40 a.m., killing eightyone passengers, nine flight attendants, two pilots, and an unknown number of people in the World Trade Center. In all, almost 3,000 people from ninety countries and 415 first responders died on September 11, 2001. Each of the victims deserves to be individually named. Yet I want to bring our attention to the perpetrators. What I want to stress, in conversation with the analysis of the instructions by historian Bruce Lincoln found in Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11th (University of Chicago Press, 2003), is how the motives of the 9/11 terrorists were intensely and profoundly religious. Lincoln helps his readers see how sincere piety drives the viciousness of the 9/11 hijackers. They were proceeding with theological motivations, and the result is a theological proclamation of unbelievable scale. Later, the set of instructions, which reads more like a manual of prayer, states “[b]less your body with some verses of the Qur’an [done by reading verses into one’s hands and then rubbing the hands over whatever is to be blessed], the luggage clothes, the knife, your personal effects, your ID, passport, and all your papers.” They and the material content of their mission require consecration from sacred text. Their victims would be sacrificial offerings to God, “[c]heck your weapon before you leave and long before you leave. (You must make your knife sharp and must not discomfort your animal during the slaughter.)” For Atta and the other terrorists, their actions transcended ethics. They performed a sacred duty of unimaginable proportion. In actuality, the United States had seen something like this before. One might call to mind Pearl Harbor, but for Lincoln, the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, were more like Hiroshima. Tuesday, September 11, 2001, “was a spectacular event where sign and use value came together and displayed power that was not only overwhelming and decisive, but unprecedented and incomparable. They wanted us to surrender and refashion our culture after that of the victors” (18). His parallel sounds sensational. But the connection that Lincoln sees brings us back to the difficult recollection that we once annihilated an entire city with a bombing that displayed a national conviction that we were above the law of God. We engaged in spiritual evil that Father Siemes could scarcely comprehend. If we choose to take that despicable memory seriously, perhaps it will motivate us to see that the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists who have followed their lead—the Tsarnaev brothers, members of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab—are enemies whom Jesus has
Emerging Theological Voices: The Wesley Connection called us to love just as we have loved our violent selves. Those terrorists are persecutors for whom the Christ has directed us to pray just as we ought to pray for our sinful selves. Living into the teachings of Jesus means scrupulous studying of their horrific acts and not simply filtering our understanding of that viciousness through news agencies. Yes, we should theologically interpret the footage of the twin towers from fourteen years ago and also study today’s broadcasts of barbarism in order to devise counter insurgencies of love, mercy, and hope. The extremist violence of today not only communicates political fury. It proclaims religious belief. People of faith must attend to what is being said with recognition of how much mercy has been extended over time to all of us so that we can radicalize redemptive engagement with “them.” v
Spirit and the Power Within: Overcoming the Fear of Death
Jay Williams “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” —2 Timothy 1:7 “There are some things worse than death.” —Howard Thurman
omething did not feel right in my gut. When rookie cop Peter Liang was indicted for the death of Akai Gurley, many rejoiced. After a series of failed indictments of police officers that killed black people, many felt that justice was served—finally. After months of rally cries that “Black Lives Matter” and protest questions, “What do we want? Justice. When do we when it? Now!” the tide seemingly had changed. On the evening of February 10, 2015, many breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Brooklyn district attorney filed manslaughter charges against Liang. I could not yet breathe. Although I had rallied and preached against police brutality, I realized in the dead of winter that justice was not enough. My spirit remained unsettled, the deep fire inside still raged on that bitter cold evening. Not out of anger, but in sadness: the cop’s conviction will not bring back the brother lost on that fateful November night. Sadder still because, I, too, had been lulled into believing that so-called justice was the real demand. Something greater than justice, however, is needed to balance these scales. Gurley lay dead in his home, and scores of other black people were in the
Jay Williams is lead pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Boston, a progressive faith community with a 200-year history and commitment to Christian love, justice, and service. An eclectic multicultural church worshipping in the Africana celebration tradition, Union is the UMC’s first traditionally black church to become reconciling and radically welcoming to queer folk. Jay is also a PhD candidate in religion at Harvard. He lives out his ministry at the intersection of the church and academy, deeply committed to empowerment, social change, and liberation. 34
Emerging Theological Voices: The Wesley Connection streets, because Liang had been scared. Already on edge, patrolling with his finger on the trigger, Liang panicked when startled by the presence of Gurley. “It was so dark. I was so scared,” confessed Liang.1 He was afraid of Gurley’s dark body, in a dark stairwell, on a dark night. If we are ever to truly address the injustice of Gurley’s slaying, then first we must excavate what is buried below: fear. Unless we uproot the xenophobic fear of the darkened other, there can be no true justice. Not until we can see the other as equals—and not threats—will our spirits feel calm. Racial bias, police brutality, and mass incarceration are spiritual problems. These social ills challenge our common humanity, upending our basic connection to one another. They deny Spirit. And these symptomatic maladies expose an underlying condition: we are fundamentally disconnected people. As a result, the dominance of fear and decay of spirit inevitably become death dealing. In Jesus and the Disinherited that great sage Howard Thurman reveals the relationship between fear and societal injustice. Fear along with deception and hatred are age-old survival mechanisms of those living under the constant threat of violence. Thurman maintains that, however efficacious in the short term, these tactics self-implode in the long run. While Thurman centers on the disinherited, his wisdom remains transcendent, speaking to the heart of our nation’s present problem. The logic of fear, Thurman argues, can only be neutralized by the power of love. Far from weak sentimentality, this love enacts justice through radical transformation of our social fabric.2
Afraid of the Dark “I feared for my life” is the classic refrain sung all-too-often by police officers that gun down black folk in the street.3 Only now, as a society, are we beginning to interrogate the legitimacy of such “justifiable uses of force.” Viral videos of killed black bodies finally are forcing us to look again at the so-called menace to society.4 When barely pubescent boys are mistaken for adults, and adults viewed as predators, much has gone terribly awry.5 Increasingly, the perception of black people as monsters, boogeymen, predators, and villains is being substituted for reasonable fear.6 And, at long last someone is asking: What—or better yet, who—are we afraid of? Because it seems that someone is afraid of the dark. The patterned deaths of unarmed African Americans bring to light a systemic fear of blackness. And protest cries of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” dramatize the lengths to which some must go not to be deemed an imminent threat. As a society, we are afraid of “we who are dark.” The black body too often strikes fear in the soul of non-black folk.7 Socialized racial bias8 challenges the basic truth that Black Lives Matter.9 Such fear constructs a social reality in which African Americans are segregated out of the collective, their very humanity called into question. When black folk are not seen as meriting life—when they literally are not seen at all10—it is that much easier to kill their already-dead bodies.11 The spectrality of invisible people walk the earth.
Communitas Specter of Fear Fear surrounds us. Haunts us. Seduces us, even. Thurman expresses that “fear is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited.”12 Ironically, this is why I could not rejoice with Liang’s indictment. Something inside me ached. Tragically, we who are dark understand fear. Far from pitying Liang, however, we must take a closer look at the architecture of fear that contributed to Gurley’s death. Racialized bias manifested in prejudice finds root in the universality of fear. Because of these biases, Liang’s “accidental discharge” was no accident at all. Such incidents are becoming far too prevalent—far too predictable. Though angered by the profoundly tragic loss of life and enraged by systems that placed Liang in vertical patrol of an unlit public housing project stairway, I know Liang’s punishment is a resolution that does not solve the problem. Justice must run deeper than this eye-for-an-eye circularity. If, in fact, Liang fired accidentally and without malice, what actually is gained in his punishment? Perhaps society does not take Gurley’s death in vain, or mistake Liang’s punishment for justice, if we look more deeply under fear’s lid. Gurley’s fear-caused fatality must haunt us. Those in pursuit of justice have to dissect “the anatomy of the issues facing them … [and] recognize fear, deception, hatred, each for what it is.”13 Although Thurman’s interrogation focuses on the disinherited, the conclusion has broader implication: fear is not a sustainable way of being for anyone. Our society cannot rely on a law enforcement system predicated on the self-destructive outlook of fear. And most certainly officers that are afraid of the dark—of dark women and men—cannot patrol the places where dark people live. Because fear inevitably leads to death. We desperately need a detour away from this dead-end logic. Those motivated by the story and love-ethic of Jesus, however, will appreciate the difficulty of finding an alternative route, a “more excellent way.”14 Indeed the lifespan of Jesus—from incarnation to resurrection—itself is marked by fear. The biblical witness of Jesus’s birth and his life after death is circumscribed on both sides by fear. On the one hand, there is an invitation to “fear not” by angels and Jesus himself. Yet, on the other hand, there remains the dogged persistence of fear.15 Despite the summons, the witnesses to new life and resurrection power still shudder. “Sometimes it causes me to tremble.”16 Fear lingers, even in resurrection, just as the cross follows Jesus out of the tomb. Although we remain Easter people, the “terrible beauty of the cross” captivates our theological imagination.17 The concealed account in Peter’s gospel bears witness: Early in the morning, when the sabbath dawned, there came a crowd from Jerusalem and the country round about to see the sepulchre that had been sealed. Now in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were keeping guard, there rang out in a loud voice in heaven; and they saw the heavens opened and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw nigh to the sepulchre. That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started of itself to roll and give way to the
Emerging Theological Voices: The Wesley Connection side, and the sepulchre was opened, and both the young men entered in. When now those soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders— for they also were there to assist at the watch. And whilst they were relating what they had seen, they saw again three men come out from the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them, and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led of them by the hand overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, “Hast thou preached to them that sleep?” and from the cross there was heard the answer, “Yea.”18 The cross follows the resurrected Jesus out of the tomb—and it has voice! Peter’s gospel suggests to us that the Resurrection is not simply the triumph over death, as if death now disappears. Indeed the ghostly Jesus is followed by—haunted by— the very instrument of his death. The scripture offers an all-but-subtle and muchneeded reminder that the voice of dead, and the means of death, still speaks from the grave.
Holy Ghost Stories The spirit of fear and death still haunts the resurrected life. It is not easily exorcised. And it should not be. So, too, must the fear-induced slaying of Akai Gurley trouble our longing for a better day. The sight of the cross—the site of unjust crucifixion—forces us to face this intersection. The elimination of “stop and frisk” and vertical patrols, while essential, does not eliminate fear as an underlying cause of police misconduct. We must delve deeper into the crisscrossing issues at play. We cannot be satisfied with piecemeal answers or systems of retribution. Instead we need an entirely different system—always remembering “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.”19 This new approach does not take root in how uncommon we are, but rather in the radical relationality of Jesus’s love-ethic. The arc of Jesus and the Disinherited tends toward this prophetic witness. When one views the self as a “child of God,” fear begins to subside, says Thurman. Deception gives way to sincerity because the individual starts to act always as being seen by God. And the child of God, perpetually in communion with God, cannot hate another human being. Instead the other is always approached also as a child of God, perpetually in relation to the self, equally deserving of respect and care, because a common Spirit runs through us all. Love, according to Thurman, becomes manifest in this courage, honesty, and neighborliness. This love is exceedingly tough, anything but a romanticized pipe dream. It is the ideal that incarnates and “executes” true justice. The spirit of fear, then, gives way to another Spirit borne at the intersection of the cross. The spirit of the cross is the Holy Ghost of God’s incarnate love, crucified yet lingering and alive.20 The haunting of a life unjustly lost meets the pursuit of justice. A pneumatology of the cross convergences with the theory of intersectionality. Pioneered by Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins, among others, the
Communitas term “intersectionality” contends that forms of social oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia, classism) are related and connected.21 Confronting these intersectional oppressions demands not only acknowledgement of shared origins of these societal ills, but also coalition-building and simultaneously addressing wrongs experienced by disparate subgroups. “For the privileged and underprivileged alike, if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful dedication and discipline, [this one] can live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son [or daughter] of God.”22 Because these ills are spiritual maladies, our intersectional response begins the process of spiritual healing. Those who seek justice, then, must speak the language of Spirit. “God has not given us the spirit of fear.” Humanity finds itself most at home in this vernacular, because in our souls we deeply yearn for connection to one another. Spirit-talk undermines the far-too-frequently polarized conversation on race and police brutality, because it assumes the fundamental oneness of humanity. To be sure, Spirit, like love, is exceedingly difficult to define. We approach them both indirectly, often by analogy and metaphors. Still, we know it when we feel it. And we feel when something is wrong—and when it is right. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.”23 Spirit is the power within us that changes the world around us. At Pentecost, Spirit is poured out on all people, undermining the fear of difference. And this Spirit flows out of the experience of injustice and grace borne of the cross. Such is the resonance of Pentecost: a relational vision of newness that learns from and overcomes the fear of death. In a world full of death and dying, surely we need more love and more Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life.”24 By listening to the sound of a new wind blowing, we might yet be called to something that looks and feels like justice. v NOTES 1. J. David Goodman, “In Brooklyn, 2 Young Men, a Dark Stairwell and a Gunshot,” New York Times, November 23, 2104. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/nyregion/police-tactic-scrutinizedafter-accidental-shooting.html?_r=0. See also the attribution of fear in Darren Wilson’s slaying of Michael Brown: Michael Schmidt et al, “Police Officer in Ferguson Is Said to Recount a Struggle, New York Times, October 17, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/18/us/ferguson-case-officer-is-said-tocite-struggle.html?_r=0 2. See also Paul Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analyses and Ethical Applications (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954) and Reinhold Niebuhr, Love and Justice: Selections from the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Niebuhr, ed. D.B. Robertson (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1957). 3. See Michael Wines and Frances Robles, “Key Factor in Police Shootings: ‘Reasonable Fear,’” New York Times, August 22, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/us/ferguson-mo-key-factor-in-police-shootings-reasonable-fear.html. See also, Seth Wessler, “In Ferguson, Fear Is Common Denominator for Police, Protesters,” NBC News, November 24, 2014. http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plainsight/ferguson-fear-common-denominator-police-protesters-n255096. 4. The correlation of racial bias, psychology of fear, perceptions of safety, and policing is well documented. For example, see Katheryn Russell-Brown’s The Color of Crime: Racial Hoaxes, White Fear, Black
Emerging Theological Voices: The Wesley Connection Protectionism, Police Harassment and Other Macroaggressions (New York: New York University Press, 1998), particularly chapter six, “Racial Hoaxes”; Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York: Back Bay Books, 2005), especially chapter six, “Seven Seconds in the Bronx: The Delicate Art of Mind Reading”; and Norm Stamper’s Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing (New York: Nation Books, 2005), especially chapter eight, “Why White Cops Kill Black Men” and chapter nine, “Racism in the Ranks.” See also B. Keith Payne’s “Prejudice and Perception: The Role of Automatic and Controlled Processes in Misperceiving a Weapon,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81, no. 2 (2001): 181-192. Payne et al, “Best laid plans: Effects of goals on accessibility bias and cognitive control in race-based misperceptions of weapons,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 38 (2002): 384-396. 5. Phillip Goff et al, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 106, no. 4 (2014): 526–545. See also Emile M. Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006) and Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York, Vintage Books, 1992). 6. Speaking of racial bias instead of racism, though it exists, adds a dimension of texture to the discussion of police misconduct. See “When It Comes to Police Brutality, Fear is also a Factor,” U.S. News and World Report, December 5, 2014. http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2014/12/05/when-it-comes-to-police-brutality-fear-is-also-a-factor. 7. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art” in The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader, ed. Eric Sundquist (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 325-328, and The Souls of Black Folk, 1903 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). See also Tommie Shelby’s, We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2005) and Shamoon Zamir’s Dark Voices: W.E.B. Du Bois and American Thought, 1888-1903 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995). 8. Joshua Correll et al, “The Police Officer’s Dilemma: Using Ethnicity to Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83, no. 6 (2002): 1314-1329. 9. Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement,” The Feminist Wire, October 7, 2014. http://thefeministwire.com/2014/10/blacklivesmatter-2/.
10. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: Random House, 1952).
11. J. Kameron Carter, “Race and the Experience of Death: Theologically Reappraising American Evangelicalism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology, ed. Timothy Larson and Daniel J. Treier (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007): 177-198.
12. Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, 1949 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976): 36.
13. Ibid. 108.
14. 1 Corinthians 12:31, New Revised Standard Version (National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America, 1989).
15. Luke 1:26-38; 24:1-11, 36-43 (NRSV).
16. “Were You There?” African-American spiritual, Traditional.
17. Niebuhr, “The Terrible Beauty of the Cross,” The Christian Century (March 21, 1929) 386-88.
18. “The Gospel of Peter” in New Testament Apocrypha, Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991): 216-227. 19. Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (Berkley: Crossing Press, 1984): 110-113. 20. For christologies that help shape my approach to Spirit, see Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), C.S. Song’s Jesus, The Crucified People (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), and James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011). And for pneumatologies, see Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988); Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997); and Mayra Rivera “Ghostly Encounters: Spirits, Memory, and the Holy Ghost” in Planetary Loves: Spivak, Postcoloniality, and Theology, ed. Stephen Moore and Mayra Rivera (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011).
Communitas 21. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review (1991): 1241-1299. Patricia Hill Collins, “It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Nation,” Hypatia 13, no. 3: 62-82. 22. Thurman 109. Although prophetic in many areas, Thurman did not use gender inclusive language. 23. Acts 2:1-2. ESV: Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2007). Emphasis added. 24. The Nicene Creed, as printed in The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989).
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