Four Reasons Why People Attend Church: Socialization & Transformation in Today’s Church Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Brody Rike

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47  (NIV.)

        The description above of the first “church” in the Book of Acts is one that has often become a Biblical standard for what a church today should look like, what it should be doing, how the people of the church should be treating each other, and most importantly what the Lord should be doing in their midst. The good news is that what we read above is still happening in some churches in America. The bad news is that something else is also happening in many churches across our nation.

        The purpose of this study will be to explain how two very different things can be happening to different people in American churches. These two different things are socialization and transformation. To understand these two concepts and their relevance to the church today we will look to James Loder and Kenda Creasy Dean. We will explain the four primary reasons people attend American churches today and how there is a significant difference between initiatives that are produced from socialization and initiatives that are produced after transformation. Finally, we will conclude with a brief proposal of a way forward for the Church of Jesus Christ in America.

Socialization

        Socialization can simply be defined as, “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” [1] Kenda Dean in her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Teenagers is Telling the American Church, explains how this idea of socialization has significantly infested today’s church. She calls this form of “socialized faith,” Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are:

  1.      A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  2.      God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3.      The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4.      God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
  5.      Good people go to heaven when they die.[2]

This MTD that Dean speaks of is a socialized form of the Christian faith that fits nicely into our American culture. James Loder states that socialization systems (such as MTD) are often achievement based.[3] This concept of achievement also fits well into our culture, as many feel as if being a part of a church community is often a symbol of “having it all together,” or “having high values and priorities.” Many rural American cultures still view church life from these perspectives.

Transformation

Transformation will serve as the term used to describe the contrast to socialization. In his book, The Transforming Moment, James Loder defines transformation as:

whenever within a given frame of reference or experience, hidden orders of coherence and meaning emerge to replace or alter the axioms of the given frame and reorder its elements accordingly.[4]

Loder also describes transformation as occurring in five phases: conflict, interlude for scanning, insight, release and openness, and verification.[5] He explains how this process takes place within one’s understanding of the lived world, the self, the void and the holy.[6] To summarize Loder’s work on transformation concisely: those who have been transformed or are being transformed are those who have had some form of encounter in their life (a five- phase process listed above) where they have allowed their voids (areas where they are incomplete) to be filled by the holy (the Holy Spirit or the presence of God). Transformation means that there has been and is continuing to be spiritual growth in someone’s life, where they continue to live empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The Paradox of Today’s Christian Education

        Now that we have defined socialization and transformation from Dean and Loder’s perspectives, we can state the paradox of Christian education that is in most of our American churches. This paradox is that in most churches, there is nothing wrong with the message that is being preached or the substance that is being taught. There are many today that would disagree with this statement and state that the primary problem is that the Gospel is not being preached and taught today the way that it used to be, or that we have watered down the message of the Gospel to make it more palpable. This is certainly happening, and we will mention it at the conclusion of this study, but this is not the crux of the problem.

The Gospel is still being preached in old ways and new creative ways and the Holy Spirit is still available for everyone to respond. The paradox is that while the most powerful, transforming, life-changing message is being preached and taught, most “Christians,” in our culture are choosing not to respond to it, while continuing to be an active part of church life. The paradox is that most of what we see in churches today is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or patterns of socialization. This is the negative side of this paradox, but the positive side is that a few are still transforming. In many churches, the transformed are coexisting with the socialized. This is where the point of conflict in this study lies – this coexistence between the transformed and the socialized does not remain in moderation in church life. One of the two dynamics will be in progression, either a church will be moving in the direction of a more socialized culture, or transformed people will begin to empower and disciple other transformed people to bring about authentic spiritual growth in the life of a church. Kenda Dean describes this tension with parasitology stating that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a symbiote (the weaker of two organisms) that is drawing life from the transformed in the church, eventually weakening the culture to something that is mostly socialized.[7]

To understand how this coexistence can take place, we will now identify the four primary reasons why people attend church. All but one of these reasons will include how one can be socialized and attend for this reason, and how one can be transformed and attend for the same reason, yet have a completely different perspective on their purpose in the congregation.

 

This blog post is part one of a three-part series based on a paper written for Russell Haitch’s Educating in the Spirit class during the fall of 2016. Part two will be published on Thursday, February 2.

 

brBrody Rike is Pastor of West Alexandria Church of the Brethren in West Alexandria, Ohio, where he has served the last four years. Brody is a current MA student at Bethany Theological Seminary and holds a BA in Biblical Studies. At 36 years-old his ministry experience includes ministerial roles as a senior pastor and youth pastor with the Assemblies of God. Brody also has experience working in Christian education as a Bible Teacher, Athletic Director and Principal. He is happily married and a father of three, who remains active in his community, coaching varsity basketball and coordinating ministry programs in local public schools.

 

[1] “Socialization – Definition of Socialization in English | Oxford Dictionaries,” Oxford Dictionaries | English, accessed November 26, 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/socialization.

[2] Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 14.

[3] James E. Loder, The Transforming Moment, Second (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1989), 166.

[4] Ibid., 229.

[5] Ibid., 36–40.

[6] Ibid., 67–91.

[7] Dean, Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, 13.

Photo Credits: Lisa Notes

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Post-Election Conversations – Guest Blogger, Anita Hooley Yoder

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Four days after this year’s election—one of the most contentious in our nation’s history—I traveled with a group of college students to a social justice conference in Washington D.C.
I went to the conference in my role as a campus minister at a small Catholic college, where I had started working a few months earlier. As an Anabaptist-Mennonite, I was just beginning to find my place in the job, working mostly with students from Catholic and non-denominational Christian backgrounds.

At the conference, we gathered in a large room with about 1,800 others, mostly high school and college students from Jesuit institutions. (Jesuits tend to be on the progressive edge of Catholicism.) The evening featured many speakers, and almost every one of them—from the young emcees to the wizened keynote speakers—prefaced their comments with a lament about the election results. “We’re all feeling angry and fearful and despairing,” they said.
Except we weren’t.

As the evening unfolded, my co-worker and I realized that at least half of the students in our group had voted for Trump. I’ll confess that I couldn’t fully comprehend why they had made this choice. Or why they would make this choice and also sign up to come to a social justice conference.

I should say that social justice conferences are kind of my thing. The topics, the tone, the very vocabulary of this conference were all fairly comfortable for me.

But then there were my students, crying in the hallway. Frustrated at one more reference to the election that assumed everyone in the room felt the same way. Pained that a conference about mercy and inclusion didn’t seem to include them.

I don’t think the pain and frustration they felt are comparable to the fear experienced by undocumented immigrants, LGBTQIA+ folks, and African Americans, who are uncertain about what the new administration will mean for their very being in this country. But pain and frustration were felt by my group of students at the conference. Their feelings were real.

By the second day of the conference, I found myself hearing the speakers with my students’ ears. I cringed at each new mention of the election. (“You’ll notice I’m wearing black today,” the final speaker said in her introduction, signaling her perspective to the group.)

One of the few speakers who made little mention of the election was Father Greg Boyle. Fr. Boyle has spent thirty years working with gang members in Los Angeles. “Imagine a circle of compassion,” he said. “Then imagine no one outside that circle.”

No one. Not the person shot by a gang member. Not the gang member who did the shooting. Not the Black Lives Matter activist, and not the college student who is upset by those black voices. Not the Trump supporter, or the Hillary supporter, or the Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or Evan McMullin supporter—all of whom, I discovered, we had in one van on our trip to D.C.
Imagine all of us in a circle together.

Some days it’s not hard for me to imagine that because it kind of happens in our office. The Campus Ministry Office (or “CMO,” as it’s affectionately calleNotre-dame-colleged), is a welcoming space with orange and blue painted walls, old couches reminiscent of a church youth room, and posters of MLK, Mother Teresa, and U2. There are always snacks on the table; the fridge is always stocked with drinks. Students come before class, after class, sometimes during class, for a little break, a little juice, a little (or sometimes a lot of) conversation.1

Thanks largely to the skills of my boss, who has a much longer history doing this sort of thing than I do, our office is a space of compassion for most people who enter it. I don’t always agree with the opinions people express when they are there. I am sometimes baffled by the comments students make and the choices they embody.

But I am learning to see us in a circle of compassion together, mostly because they’ve shown such compassion to me.

While many students at my school aren’t Catholic, none of them, as far as I know, is a Mennonite. The school took a risk by hiring me as one of just two campus ministry staff members. A lot of our student leaders are Catholic, and if they’ve been confused or annoyed by working with a non-Catholic minister, I haven’t felt it. They participate in service projects I organize, eagerly registered for a spring break trip I’m leading, and sometimes even ask me what I think about a particular topic.

I do feel like an outsider sometimes. I don’t partake in the Eucharist, even though I attend our Sunday night Mass almost every week. I don’t share some of the Catholic assumptions about moral issues, or reverence for particular saints, or familiarity with liturgical language. I am young and married and female in a tradition that reserves its highest positions for older celibate men.
But most of the time, I feel solidly within the circle. And maybe because of my brief excursions outside the circle, I am constantly on the lookout for people who may also feel on the fringes and am constantly thinking about ways to bring them in.

At the end of the conference in D.C., one student reflected that, if nothing else, she at least experienced what it felt like to be in the minority, to feel excluded. This experience wasn’t a familiar feeling for her, and she understood that it was part of what others at the conference had been so concerned with addressing. Admittedly, having a minority opinion at a conference is not comparable to living as part of an oppressed minority group. But I sensed in this student an openness that surprised me, a willingness to make something meaningful out of what had been a difficult situation for her. And I’ve seen that openness continue in conversations we’ve had since.

9781611744347In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle writes,

God, I guess, is more expansive than every image we think rhymes with God. How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have.2

((photo credit: Book Depository)) Every time I think I have a handle on who God is, what God wants, God’s definitive view on one thing or another, God expands my idea of God.

I am working on imagining a circle of compassion with no one outside that circle. Not the conservative student, not the liberal professor, not the senior who is struggling, not the sophomore who thinks she knows it all. Not the Catholic or the Mennonite or the atheist comes with me to volunteer at the nursing home. No one outside.

Fortunately, I get to practice drawing that kind of circle almost every day.

 

me croppedAnita Hooley Yoder works as Campus Ministry Coordinator at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. She and her husband live in the Cleveland area and attend Friendship Mennonite Church. Her book on Mennonite women’s organizations is forthcoming from Herald Press in summer 2017.

  1. photo credit: Brockway Properties []
  2. Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York: Free Press, 2010), 190. []
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Holy Week – Guest Blogger, Evan Underbrink

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On Sunday, I fast from having it all together.
On Monday, I fast from being too productive.
On Tuesday, I fast from right and wrong.
On Wednesday, I fast from closing doors.
On Thursday, I fast from self-mastery.
On Friday, I fast from trying.
On Saturday, I feast on empty places.
On Sunday, I look at this list, scratch it out.
and

 

On Sunday, I fast from being serious.
On Monday, I fast from temples.
On Tuesday, I fast from answers.
On Wednesday, I fast from solitude.
On Thursday, I fast from temperance.
On Friday, I fast from staring at clocks in conversation.
On Saturday, I feast on sleepless nights.
On Sunday, I crumple the list, throw it
and

 

On Sunday, I fast from silence.
On Monday, I fast from consuming.
On Tuesday, I fast from indicative statements.
On Wednesday, I fast from the reasonableness of Faith.
On Thursday, I fast from being in control.
On Friday, I fast from life.
On Saturday, I feast on Silence.
On Sunday, I tear up the list,
and start again.

Evan is a is publimg_04772ished short story author and student of Theopoetics at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana. Evan‘s editor has told him that he has to write a more human bio than he first submitted. This has turned out to be a daunting prospect, as writing about himself in the third person seems a rather artificial act, leading to inevitable self-calumny. Evan feels in this moment as if he is doing the equivalent of standing in front of a mirror, that most sacred of contemporary artifices, and attempting to describe himself in writing to someone with very little point of reference. Dürer’s “Rhinoceros” comes to this mind. Therefore, Evan would like it known that he is most certainly not a rhinoceros.

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Permaculture Recap – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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The Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA) met in Portland, Oregon on October 13-15 for its 5th annual conference. All seminaries that are participants of the consortium, from the American East Coast to a couple from Australia, and a handful of undergraduate colleges were in attensbp1dance. The theme of the conference was, Permaculture: Developing a Creation Care Culture in Christian Higher Ed, and the program consisted mostly of plenary speakers and breakout sessions among regional and theological cohorts. It’s a rare occurrence to see denominations like Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, and peace churches agree to talk about any common interest. However, all attendants came to discuss the need for developing creation care principles and actions through our respective Christians institutions.

Assistant Professor Nate Inglis and three students (Chibuzo Petty, Elizabeth Ullery-Swenson, and I) represented Bethany Theological Seminary. Regarding the conference, Elizabeth shared:

In the midst of an early seasonal deluge, we were reminded that the challenges facing our global climate are dire and demand a response. During our time together we talked about our Biblical responsibility to care for all God’s people and all of God’s creation. The wide range of theological backgrounds made for challenging conversations, but I believe that everyone left with a sense of urgent purpose and direction. Personally, I came away with new Biblical grounded ways to find common ground across theological difference regarding our responsibility to care for God’s creation.

sbp2

I appreciated the spectrum of Christian traditions that were in attendance and was stimulated by the opportunity to network with faculty and students from other schools that were also passionate about caring for God’s earth. Daniel Brunner, professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, presented the opening plenary on Friday morning about Luther’s theology of the cross and how it pertains to ecological justice. Chibuzo most appreciated the discussion of the Book of Job:

We’re all familiar with the basic buffet of creation care verses. Hearing we would be exploring Job as a creation narrative certainly peaked my interest. Kathryn Schifferdecker, professor at Luther Seminary, spoke about her book on the subject Out of the Whirlwind. Her reimagining of eco-theology within the context of suffering and divine justice in Job was creative. She provided attendees with a much needed reminder of how radically non-anthropocentric God’s creation is.

On one afternoon, I attended a breakout session with representatives from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. There we discussed a common heritage on our traditions with small-scale agriculture and the challenges that a range of theological perspectives within our denominations presents in promoting creation care ministries. Overall, I found the SSA conference an instructive and encouraging experience.

A complete list of schools represented can be found here: http://seminaryalliance.org/partner-schools/.

Each of the members of Bethany’s SSA delegation will be speaking at Bethany Theological Seminary’s Presidential Forum and Youth and Young Adult Event, March 16-19, 2017: God’s Green Earth—A Call to Care and Witness. SAVE THE DATE!

Jonathan SJPS_Tweed_Ride14tauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary where he is finishing his MA with a concentration in theological studies.

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Confronting a Dangerous World – Guest Blogger, Clyde Netzley Fry

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This post originally appeared in the “Peace Advocate News,” a newsletter prepared as part of the Peace and Reconciliation ministry of the Northern Ohio District of the Church of the Brethren. 

Confronting a Dangerous World and Protecting Democracy

Clyde C. Fry, Mansfield, Ohio

1) The Warning

On January 17, 1961, Dwight David Eisenhower, five star general, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WW-2, and 34th president of the United States, gave his farewell presidential address to the public. Instead of the “sentimental and valedictory” address that was expected, he gave the nation a stern and serious warning. This is what he said:

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry.  American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.  Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a larger arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence–economic, political, even spiritual–is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development.  Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” ((Eisenhower, by Paul Johnson, Viking Press, 2014, page 121.))

The next day (January 18, 1961) Eisenhower held a press conference in which he made an “impassioned attack on the way military values were replacing the bedrock civil values of American society” and the risks to our liberty and fiscal security that this change would bring. ((Ibid, page 120.)) Eisenhower worried that our “military strength, and imprudent leadership, could lead the country into interventions all over the world, encouraged by the arms lobby and the military chiefs who were its puppets, and the result would be an over extension of resources and economic ruin.” ((Ibid, page 120.))

2) The Problem

The problem that Eisenhower raises is very simple and very dangerous to peace and a democratic way of life. The manufacture of armaments provides employment and taxes for many of our families and communities. But, like any manufacturing enterprise the products produced must have markets that need and will consume them. Without market need and consumption, the industry, with its jobs, income, and taxes will be lost. Like all manufacturing the greater the consumer need the more the industries connected to that consumption will grow and proliferate. Today, every state in our nation has important economic ties to our growing armament industry and its share of the GNP (we are the largest armaments exporter in the world). The armaments that we produce must be used somewhere by somebody making the need for armed conflict itself a vested interest. William Hartung, weapons industry analyst pointed out, “If there’s one thing we should have learned over the past 13 years of war, it’s that war is good business for those in the business of war.”

3) The Giant

The Pentagon employs 3 million people, 800,000 more than the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. 70 percent of the value of the federal government’s $1.8 trillion in property, land and equipment belongs to the Pentagon. The Army alone uses more than twice as much building space as all the offices in New York City. The Pentagon and the Veterans Administration together constitute the nation’s largest healthcare provider serving 9.6 million people and holds more than 80 percent of the federal government’s inventories, including $6.8 billion of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable stuff (some of the excess is being funneled into local police departments, which some argue, is contributing to the “military mind-set and policing tactics” that are so controversial today). ((David Gilson, Journalist, a Senior Editor, Mother Jones, Sources: Congressional Research Service, House Budget Committee, Government Accountability Office.))

4) The Necessity

Violent conflict is necessary to keep the armament industry alive! Someone has to use up all that stuff so that we can continue to produce it. Either we must go out and fight somebody “to keep America safe” or we have to sell the stuff to somebody else who is willing to use it in one of their conflicts. The result is that we abuse the sovereignty of other nations by clandestine shenanigans or outright public interference and make “terrorist lists” that keep the public stirred up, afraid, and thus willing to support the big bucks and spilled blood to maintain the system. Because of this need for violence the use of diplomacy and negotiation are suspect or rejected all together (the current negotiations with Iran are a good example; do we need to keep our hostile view of Iran to justify a high Pentagon budget and middle-eastern arms sales alive?  Is that why political lackeys in the congress are so anxious to put a possible treaty down even before the details have been settled?). To quote Eisenhower once again: “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a larger arms industry is new in the American experience.  The total influence–economic, political, even spiritual–is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.  We recognize the imperative need for this development.  Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.  Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”  Is our belief in and economic need for the use of violence in national and international affairs turning our declydemocracy into a hypocrisy or worse? 

Clyde C. Netzley Fry is a retired pastor in Northern Ohio District. He has served as a mediator in congregational and community disputes and participated in national and international conferences on various peace related issues. He has written numerous essays on peace topics, the first of which was a brief historical sketch “Whatever Happened to Non- Violence?”

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Discerning the Mind of Christ: Neither Progressive Nor Conservative

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At a not so recent Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren I was sure the delegates had made the wrong decision. And I made as much clear in the last days through several meetings a small action during the closing worship. To be honest, I was a bit proud in taking a stand. I knew what we should have done, and I believed we had gone the wrong way. 

In the months after that conference my pride waned a bit. I had to submit my annual paperwork for my license to the ministry and I began thinking about what it meant to disagree with a position of the wider church. 

Over a decade later, I found myself writing these words in the middle of our polity regarding congregational ethics. “The prayerful conclusion not to support a denominational position or program should be a matter of anguish, not competitiveness or superiority.”

Unfortunately, I often experience disagreements within the church as a matter of competition for power and an assertion of superiority. And often the lines are drawn between what some might call progressive and conservative cultures.

But I have this weird notion that when the church gathers to ask questions about the faithful response to our times, the wisdom of the whole church informs our approach. So when I disagree with what the wider communion has said, my first task is not so much to chastise but to ask myself what I am missing. What part of Christian discipleship have I overlooked in my prideful positioning? 

In the years since that conference I have found myself wondering a lot more. I wonder, when I enter a community of progressives, what part of the gospel they are lifting to my attention. And the same is true when I am with conservatives. In this posture towards others, I find myself assuming above all else that the people I am with are sisters and brothers seeking to follow Jesus above all else. Sometimes that assumption is harder to maintain, but I find myself listening differently when I remind myself of our shared commitment to Jesus.

So, then, what I have learned from our conservative and progressive communities?

From progressives I am often reminded that love and grace are the root of the Good News. In order to witness to the wider world, I must act from a posture of grace.

From conservatives I am reminded that grace is the catalyst for transformation. As I have heard said in many places, we are welcomed into the community with the understanding that we will be changed by the Gospel of love and grace. Come as you are are and leave as you never were.

Progressives have taught me that the church witnesses to the ways of God in the world, and we are to act in ways that build up the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

Conservatives have reminded me that this building of the Kingdom of God is not my own doing but something God is doing in and around me. 

Progressives have taught me the world is a fallen place, where war and systems of oppression diminish the Image of God in everyone.

Conservatives have taught me that systems do not change on their own, and that as Christians we are to work on our own inner heart as much as we work for justice in the world. In other words, righteousness and justice are two sides of the same coin, and often the most prophetic thing to do is to tend to our own holiness.

Progressives have often reminded me that there are many roads to faithfulness. Each of us seeks after God in our own ways, and just because one’s path is not my own does not mean that they are wrong and I am right. 

Conservatives have taught me that truth is real and not relative. While we may all be on different paths there is still a need to discern if we are indeed heading in the same direction.

Progressives have taught me to value the experiences of others. In listening to the testimony of others I learn to see more fully the ways God is at work around and in us.

Conservatives have reminded me that deception is a real part of our fallen nature, and that in listening to others I must also test the spirit in which a testimony is given. Part of that testing includes speaking from my own vantage point, articulating truth biblically as well as experientially. 

Though the Brethren are not a creedal form of Christianity, I think the greatest reminder of balance has come through the Nicene Creed. In the last section the words are both plain and convicting. “We believe… in one holy catholic and apostolic church…” It is that tension between being one and being holy that gets me every time. How is that we can be both one— work from a place of unity— while at the same time hold up the holiness explicit in following Jesus. We are inherently mixed in our holiness, or as the followers of Wesley remind us, we are growing in our holiness. Put another way, holiness makes clear there are boundaries that often make unity a difficult endeavor. In the practice of “seeking the mind of Christ” I think the Brethren have worked out a way to attend to both boundaries and unity, one-ness and holiness. I am just not convinced that our current models of doing so have actually produced the fruit we seek. 

We have simply become too proud of our positions and too often confuse discernment with coercion. We assume that our processes are about setting one another straight, and that one must win the argument in order for truth to be proclaimed. 

Since that conference long ago I have come back to the words of Thomas Merton. Just because I think I am following the will of God does not actually mean that I am doing so. But I believe that the desire to please God does in fact please God, and I pray that I (we) have that desire in all that I (we) do.

I need my brothers and sisters to help me see when I am following Jesus and when I have strayed. And when I disagree with my community of faith, my first task is not to chastise others and set the record straight but is to ask if I am working from my desire to please God or if I simply desire to be right. More often than not, I am afraid I want to be right.

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Beauty in Our Works – Guest Blogger, Melissa Schlecht

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I am a Theatre Design and Technology major. Often, people have no idea what my major involves, so I will explain. Technical theatre includes many different concentrations such as lighting, sound, props, costume, set construction/design, and stage management. This major is very hands on and I am learning how to design and construct vital pieces for the shows Otterbein University produces. It is important that I can see the beauty in the art that I design and construct to better express the theme of a show. My perspective of beauty has been greatly influenced by the creations that God has made.mbltb

I find that it is easier to see the beauty in my surroundings because I am a follower of Christ and I have so much appreciation for God’s creations. I tend to see beauty in the world around me and in the art that I create, as well as the art of my peers. Though my assignments may be challenging at times, I find that they are simpler to complete when I strive to reflect God’s beauty. When I see what God has created, I see the beauty and perfection in it. When I see an amazing sunset, I want to be able to paint it and make it as perfect as what I see before my eyes. Every day God’s creations encourage me to strive to create art that reflects such beauty.

When it comes to my artwork, I feel like I often see God in it. I have created paintings, costumes, and props that I never thought I had the talent to do so. I have seen the art work of others and admired the beauty it has brought to the stage. Everyone I work with has their own special talent, which I believe is a gift from God. Romans 12:6 says “In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.” If God has blessed us with a talent, shouldn’t we be using it to the best of our ability? There is not a doubt in my mind that God has blessed each and every one of us with our own unique talents and skills. Whether we acknowledge that or not on a daily basis, we can see it in our finished products. I see this when a show opens and all the aspects of it have come together on the stage to complement each other and paint a picture of beauty for the audience to see.

As Brethren, simplicity is one of our core values we believe in. I believe that being simple is quite important, especially when it comes to our material and earthly possessions. I think that we should use what we possess and not have so much that it is wasteful. Simplicity comes into play quite often when I am working in the theatre. We try to use only what we need in order to complete a job in a safe and successful way. Simplicity helps us cut back on waste and save money for other aspects of a show we are producing. Simplicity is a good value to have whether you are using it in the workplace or in your church.

While simplicity is an important value to have, I believe the church has become too comfortable in it. Ministry has become something that we have made simple. I believe ministry shouldn’t be simple; it should be bold and take us out of our comfort zone. Often in the world of theatre, we are asked to step out of our comfort zone; whether it is to take on a leadership position or to create a significant piece for a show. Churches need to be willing to be bold and step out in their faith to reach others. The disciples are amazing examples because they got up and left everything they knew to follow Jesus and preach his teachings. Matthew 4:19 says “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Shouldn’t we strive to do the same? We should spend less time focusing on how others perceive us, and more time on pointing them in the direction of Christ. If we are afraid to step out in our faith, how are we to further the kingdom of God?

For more information about Otterbein University’s department of Theatre and Dance go to http://www.otterbein.edu/public/Academics/Departments/TheatreDance.aspx

12074962_949684358410810_941416719407777194_nMelissa Schlecht is a sophomore at Otterbein University pursuing a degree in Theatre Design and Technology with a concentration in Costume Design and Construction and a minor in Film Studies. An active member of the Potsdam COB (when she’s home), she recently helped lead Potsdam’s Youth Theatre Camp this past summer. She hopes to bring her heart for God and his Kingdom to the world of theatre and film.

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Reflections on Rooted and Grounded at AMBS – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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Are human beings given free dominion of the land, or does God care what we do with the creation? Participants explored these and other profound questions at the Rooted and Ground conference held at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Six students, from Bethany Seminary and Earlham School of Religion, and two Bethany professors attended the creation care conference from Thursday, October 1 through Saturday, October 3rd.
Around 140 participants brought a range of ecumenical perspectives to address a variety of environmental concerns. Activities at the three-day conference included presentations, worship services, and immersion experiences. From the assorted presentations and conversations, participants envisioned a variety of Christian responses to the ecological crisis.

The bulk of conference events centered on a multitude of presentations. Several papers and workshops focused on biblical, theological, and ethical principles in relation to creation care and social justice. Nate Inglis, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Bethany Seminary, presented “Conversion to the Community of Creation: Bridging Anabaptist Theological Anthropology and Ecology” on Thursday afternoon. Scott Holland, Professor of Theology & Culture at Bethany Seminary, and Bethany MA student Kristy Shellenberger presented a workshop about theopoetics and creation care on Friday morning.

Presentations also featured practical suggestions that care for the land and local communities. Farmers described their methods of organic production. At the urban level, pastors shared how gardens were employed in liturgical practices and served the food needs of marginalized communities. “As demographics continue to shift in this country, it is important that the Church adapt and be equipped to minister in these new realities,” remarks Shayne Petty. He continues, “It is crucial that we expand the conversation about eco-theology to include the voices of those, demographically, not typically associated with agriculture. It can be incredibly empowering for persons of color, most of whom, especially Blacks, living in urban areas to be given theological language to reflect upon the beauty of God’s creation in the city.”

Worship services employed rich liturgical themes of creation’s praise to God through hymns and responsive readings. Three keynote speakers presented thought-provoking messages for conference attendees. 2015-10-02 12.14.53

Wilma Bailey, Professor Emerita of Hebrew and Aramaic studies at Christian Theological Seminary, spoke at the Thursday night worship service. She explored various Hebrew terms found in the creation accounts of Genesis 1-3. Bailey also reflected on the wildness of creation. Lions and other predators caution us humans that we are not as fully in control of nature as we like to assert.

Our Friday night speaker provided even more profound reflection. Sylvia Keesmat, an organic farmer and adjunct professor at Toronto School of Theology, interpreted from the Letter to the Romans, particularly between chapters 1, 8, and 12. She claimed that the apostle Paul expressed profound grief over the Roman imperial occupation – an occupation that degraded both social and ecological health – and explored how that grief still pervades in our present global crisis. “It was humbling,” notes Katie Cummings, “to lament together our shortcomings and to confess our idolatry.” Keesmat also professed an inspiring hope, following Paul’s message, that God’s love for all creation will prevail and includes faithful acts of earth care.

Ched Myers, biblical scholar and activist theologian, spoke as keynote for Saturday morning worship. He explained the principles of “watershed discipleship,” a recent model of Christian community formed by natural bio-regions and local economies. It recognizes the sacredness of the land in providing not only for human needs, but also for all processes that God created to sustain life.

Before the conference began, participants selected between options for immersion experiences scheduled on Friday afternoon. Four Bethany Seminary participants, myself included, went on the “Trail of Death” tour near Plymouth, Indiana. A Potawatomi tribe once inhabited two sites around the Twin Lakes area until they were expelled in September 1838 by military force. For the next three months, the tribe marched west under oppressive conditions. The survivors settled in Oklahoma territory in November. As we walked between sites, I took time to reflect on the plight of the Potawatomi tribe and what true reconciliation with American Indian communities would look like. We then made a brief tour of the Indian exhibit at the Fulton County museum and headed back to AMBS.

The Rooted & Grounded conference reminds us that the whole creation knows God as Creator and is eagerly waiting for God’s people to return to this understanding. Oscar Lugusa Malande, a student at the Earlham School Religion, states this insight well: “At this conference, it occurred to me that the revelation of children of God is being fulfilled. [For a long time] the creation has been groaning for this revelation.” Compelled by this humbling truth, Christians must allow God’s priorities to inform our role in becoming responsible stewards for the health of the land, of our communi2015-10-03 11.07.40ties, and of other living creatures.

For more background information about activities and speakers, go to the Rooted and Grounded conference website: https://www.ambs.edu/news-events/Rooted-and-Grounded.cfm

 

 

 

JPS_Tweed_Ride14Jonathan Stauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary and beginning his second year in the Master of Arts program with a concentration in theological studies.

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Becoming Ecologically Aware – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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By Jonathan Stauffer

Several experiences in the natural world heightened my self-awareness and spirituality. These experiences began as a child living in the country and continue into my adult life. I once took for granted the value of Earth, but these experiences built the case for greater appreciation and protection of God’s creation.

I grew up on a family farm and had many outdoor experiences through work and play. One of my jobs during the summer was to pull weeds out of the corn fields. I fed calves as a part of our dairy operations as a year-round job. Each of these tasks gave me a sense of what living things need to grow, which I attribute as an early ecological awareness. I also had time to play on the farm. I pulled off the heads of dandelions and climbed trees. On clear nights, I beheld a multitude of stars. Looking back, these childhood memories often contained moments of wonder.

By my high school years, however, my attitude had changed. I underestimated the value of outdoor experiences, and I did not see farming as an appealing profession. My interests focused on science, and I wanted to become an engineer. I studied physical sciences as an undergraduate at Manchester where I learned about universal laws of nature as they pertain to energy and matter. I also realized concerns arising from pollution and climate change that I felt needed solutions. But looking back, my efforts to understand the crisis focused more on human interests than the broader issues of ecology.

A profound change to my ecological awareness came about 7 years ago. I agreed to teach nature classes at a Brethren youth camp with my friend, Randall Westfall. Randall introduced me to wilderness awareness skills. I learned practices for how to walk quietly, listen intently, and observe carefully in whatever place I walked. These practices added a greater definition to my vocabulary of the natural world and invoked my childhood wonder once again. I also received joy from teaching the youth some of these same wilderness techniques because I saw their own spiritual and intellectual growth develop at camp. From these experiences, I have a continued interest to serve in outdoor ministry and learn about the local place that I reside.

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I believe that wilderness skills are practice that contributes to human wholeness. Over time, I studied field guides to develop further knowledge of plants and animals. I learned about the ecology in my region. I no longer saw trees as green tops and brown trunks, but distinguished them by their leaves and bark. I memorized the features of several common medicinal plants and a few common bird songs. In this way, my awareness of biodiversity within creation increased, which is a natural order that God allows humans to comprehend.

Of course, there are also natural hazards that humans must heed. Caution towards the wilderness is not just for our own protection, but also serves to protect the rest of creation. We are reminded that God established creation a long time before humans came on the scene. As powerful as human knowledge has become, we are still limited in understanding the processes of the wild. Natural hazards provide a wisdom that humbles and sets ecological boundaries.

We must remember that humans are not detached from the creation. I believe wholeness (Shalom) includes turning to sustainable farming practices as well as developing renewable energy technology alongside ecological conservation. In order to best enable these changes we need to increase our understanding of the ecological processes that benefit our daily lives and pattern our build environments after them. Failure to do so will harm all creatures, including humanity.

Today, I view creation not only as a means through which God provides our food and fiber, but also as places for renewal and revelation. From this understanding of creation, I am grateful for the sacred intent that the Creator gives through nature. Such an understanding fosters simple living by assessing what are truly basic needs and what are empty desires. In fact, I question the accelerated pace of technology over the last fifty years, and wonder whether there are limits to its perceived benefits. I now am concerned about wholeness for both human and non-human inhabitants of the planet Earth.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to care for God’s Earth. Reading the Bible enhances our ecological imagination in addition to faith formation. Beyond the account of creation in Genesis, poems and wisdom teachings in the Old Testament relate to nature (Psalm 104 and Job 38-39). In the New Testament, the parables of Jesus employ nature as analogies for the kingdom of heaven (e.g. Matthew 13). Human interests are deeply intertwined with other creatures and the land, and God intended creation to be this relational. The Creator establishes these relationships to keep us in communion with all living things and the Divine.

As Brethren, we have traditions of simple living and covenant relationship, lifestyles that foster wholeness and aid in restoring the planet. Let us enjoy the God-given benefits of creation while also relieving the pain that we and other humans impose on it. Failure to act will be a missed opportunity in witnessing to the abundant living that Christ modeled for us.

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Jonathan Stauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. He is currently a student at Bethany Theological Seminary and beginning his second year in the Master of Arts program with a concentration in theological studies.

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Stop Serving!

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This video from Homeboy Industries came across my Facebook timeline the other day. If you don’t know about this amazing ministry in Los Angeles started by Father Greg Boyle, you can check out their website.

In his thought of the day, he dropped this fantastic quote. “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service to those one the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”

At some point we need to drop all this talk about service. For Brethren, I am probably nearing the line of outright heresy, but hear me out.

For the early Brethren, the idea that we care for one another was not based in the language of service, but in mutual aid. Sure, this made sense in the days of our more sectarian past. We did care for our sisters and brothers of faith. It wasn’t until the 20th century that this core idea shifted into the language of service. In my more generous moments, I can see how this shift in terminology helped the Brethren claim a role within the world. Talking about service in essence broke us out of the me and us view of care for others.

However, we must come to terms with how the language of service continues to separate us from others. Basically, those who “serve others” are often working from a significant position of privilege. Whether it is economic or social privilege, those who can take time off for service projects locally or around the country do so because they can. While we rightly acknowledge that those who have privilege should use it to care for others in need, the very idea that we serve them has an overtone of condescension. We literally come out of our privileged social location so that we can minister to “those in the margins.”

An interesting thing happens, however, as people go on service trips. Inevitably, they return with a bit of cognitive dissonance. I hear it most often expressed like this: “I went there to offer something to them, but they gave me so much.” In the midst of the relationship building with those whom we “serve” the lines between those in need and those from privilege blur, and uncomfortably so. Here we are, the ones who are to care for others and we find ourselves ministered to.

This is why we must finally let go of the service interpretation of feet washing. Put another way, washing feet is NOT about serving others. In John’s account, Jesus does name the roll he takes as a servant, but that is only half the story. When Peter chastises him for doing what is not appropriate for teacher, the conversation turns to washing, and alludes to baptism. “If I don’t wash your feet,” Jesus says, “then you have no part with me.” Brash as always, Peter responded that if that is the case, then he should be completely washed. “You have bathed,” Jesus said, “and are thus clean except for the feet.”

This exchange with Peter is a clear reference to baptism, sin, and grace. And when Jesus says that we are to do this for one another, he highlights the priestly role we offer one another. There is no privileged place since all must wash and be washed. All must confess to one another and all must receive grace from others.

This is why I think people are so put off by washing feet. Some say that it is the idea of feet alone that turns people off. However, when we talk about “serving others with the basin and towel,” it is much easier to kneel down and wash another person’s dirty feet. It is when we must receive the grace of having our feet washed that we get weirded out. In the language of service, it is always better to give than to receive.

This is why we don’t know what to do with the gifts we receive when we are on a service trip. It is why we feel so guilty about coming away with so much more than we actually give.

If we can finally recover the mutuality of feet washing I think we can finally move towards what Father Boyle called “kinship with those on the margins.” We can go out from our houses of privilege and finally enter the cycle of grace upon grace where we finally see Jesus in one another.

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