Contributors to our blogs are faculty, alumni, and students of Seminary of the Southwest sharing their reflections from the context of a community of faith. We hope you enjoy reading, and we invite your comments.
Slate Magazine dubbed 2014 “The Year of Outrage,”1 and I’m inclined to agree.
We were outraged when a London block installed anti-homeless spikes, and when Khloé Kardashian wore a Native American headdress.2 We were outraged when we read the Senate’s torture report outlining CIA practices of systematic prisoner abuse and we were outraged when we read about Lena Dunham’s childhood sexual experimentation.3 We were outraged by Bill Cosby; we were outraged by gentrification and income inequality; we were outraged by Ferguson; we were outraged by the Austin based “Strange Fruit PR” firm who foolishly chose a name that echoed a 1930’s Billie Holiday song about lynchings. We were outraged by Fox News and/or by Jon Stewart’s satire of Fox News. We were outraged by Rolling Stone’s UVA rape story, then we were outraged to find out that they got their facts wrong. We were outraged that iTunes gave away U2’s new album for free without asking us. And by “we” in all of these examples I mean something like “social media” or “the internet”—“the internet” construed as a kind of corporate consciousness and increasingly a corporate conscience.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” - John 15:12-13 NRSV
“Do you have time to talk? I would like to discuss something that is really important to me.” The stomach drops. Instinctively, you expect a difficult conversation --the “difficult” conversation with a friend.
The United States needs such a conversation. We need an honest, heart-wrenching conversation about race in America, and yet, it is the very conversation that we Americans run away from the most. It seems there is no way to have a true dialogue, a true sharing of experiences between members of different races in this country.
If you secretly (or not so secretly) enjoy Ash Wednesday as much as I do, you’re probably very familiar with its central chorus: Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. But have you ever given the logic of this line any thought? If so, you may have realized that it makes no sense at all—which is exactly what makes it so compelling.
For starters, check out the verb tenses: You are dust, and to dust you shall return. This admixture of present and future tense confounds our understanding of both time and identity. If we are something—dust, Girl Scouts, conspiracy theorists, vegetarians—how can we “return” to being that thing? We already are it. We don’t need to circle back to it in the future.
I was blessed to have had the opportunity to attend the 28th Annual Multicultural Alliance Sharing Our Faith Traditions (SOFT) Retreat at Lake Texoma, Jan. 5-8, 2015, with nearly 40 other seminarians and faculty from eleven Muslim, Jewish, and Christian seminaries...from California, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Texas. We spent our waking hours sharing and listening to each other’s faith stories of struggle, joy, and yes...G-d/Allah/God. Three scholars, a Baptist Pastor, an Imam, and a Rabbi, shared with us parts of their own faith stories. We broke into small discussion groups following each lecture and each worship service - a low liturgical Christian service, a Muslim sermon followed by Muslim prayers in Arabic, and a Jewish service in Hebrew, all led by seminarians from their respective faith traditions.
Last week the African American Presidents and Deans of Theological Schools in the United States posted “An Open Letter to Presidents and Deans of Theological Schools in the United States” in the Huffington Post. In it they wrote,
We invite our colleagues—presidents, deans and leaders of all divinity and theological schools—to arise from the embers of silence and speak up and speak out as the prophet of old, ‘let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream’ (Amos 5:24). We encourage you to endorse this statement by responding in your own particular context to our theological call to action with curricular programs, public forums, teach-ins, calls to your congressional leaders, writing op-ed pieces, and more.
In the well-known biblical passage quoted above, Amos reminded the people of Israel, and reminds us, that there is no status that places one above the demands of justice. Amos challenged Israel’s belief that divine election allowed them an assurance of divine favor over against their sinful, pagan neighbors who were going to feel God’s wrath on the “day of the Lord.”
The dirt of Laredo is caked on my boots, a dingy and grey chalk that bears the complexities of the lives of immigrants in this Texas border town, a matter of miles from Mexico.
During Encuentro this January, my classmates and I met two families at Christ Church in Laredo. They are separated from their extended families in Central America or Mexico. They, like many immigrant families on the border, face poverty, often finding only low-paying jobs. They fled the violence and injustice of their homelands, though they are not secure in the US; those who are undocumented – even if they are attempting to get paperwork approved – live in fear of the Border Patrol, deportation and state-sanctioned detention facilities.
“I have a dream.” The influence of these words by Martin Luther King, Jr was on full display Thursday night, January 15, at the 10th annual MLK Oratory Competition held at the George Washington Carver Museum. The room buzzed with excitement as it filled with parents and community members brimming with hope and expectation of what the young writers were going to say. The crowd slowly inched into the room with a dissipating hope of actually finding a seat. With standing room only, seventeen elementary school students, from different parts of Austin, competed in the competition as part of the annual MLK celebration presented by the Austin Area Heritage Council. In a five-minute speech, each speaker was to answer the question, “What message of hope do you think Dr. King would have for the world today?”
During the first week of January, I participated in the annual Interfaith Seminary Retreat sponsored by the Multicultural Alliance of Texas. This event brings together students from Christian seminaries in Texas with Jewish and Muslim seminarians from Los Angeles and Baltimore for the purpose of deeper learning and awareness of one another’s traditions. The focus of this retreat was the role of story telling. Stories were used not just to explain the various traditions represented but as a way of engaging one another in small groups and individually. The act of telling stories is a powerful way of humanizing those who might seem different from us. It allows us both to see what is distinctive about each of our journeys but also what are the commonalities that bind us together.
Today is Epiphany, when we celebrate Christ’s arrival among us, and revelation as the Savior of all. He came as a ‘mere’ child. Because of the recent visit of a young African choir, I am thinking today of the youngest and most vulnerable among us and the music they create.
There is a long tradition in the West of children’s choirs. Attached to cathedrals, colleges and universities across Europe, choir schools taught boys to read, write and especially to sing music for the liturgy. The levels of musical achievement were quite astonishing.
At a seminar on planned giving recently, I heard an estate planning attorney say something that tends to be at the heart of the challenges we all face in terms of creating or updating our wills.
His comment was, “Getting your will together is usually at the bottom of everyone’s to-do list.”