Community

Reformation Then and Now - Dismantling Walls Today

Ruins of the Berlin Wall remain today. Photo via aldorado/shutterstock.

Just over fifty-three years ago, a huge wall was built, a mighty fortress – a wall around East Berlin, a wall to keep out and a wall to keep in. This wall isolated people and forcefully molded them into a single, straight, dreary one-dimensional way of living. The wall represented an oppressive system without cracks, without breaks, without life.

Almost 500 years ago, a monk by the name of Martin Luther felt the pressures of another oppressive system, one in which a person was never sure of God or God’s mercy, one in which a person could even pay to climb the stairway to heaven quicker and easier. In many aspects, the church itself had become a fortress, dictating who was in and who was out.  

Every system, every culture, every community risks succumbing to the temptation of shutting borders and protecting an identity. We are quickly seduced into the illusion of absolute control and power. Brick by brick, wall by wall, suspicion by suspicion, power is built, oppression takes hold. We construct an identity, a security, a world. We construct our own way to heaven. (Or is it to a ghetto?)

Who or what can defeat and break the walls, the towers, the fortresses we construct? Who or what can overcome oppression in the land? Where do we turn when creation shakes and societies are in an uproar?

Full-Body Repentance

THE CRY OF the church to the world should be “Forgive us.”

At a time when the American church struggles with finding its place in the world and struggles with asserting its identity, could the church be known as the community that models confession, repentance, and the seeking of forgiveness? At this moment in history, the American church is often ridiculed or portrayed as unforgiving and ungracious. Could the church offer a counter-narrative, not of defensiveness or derision but of an authentic confession and genuine reconciliation? By examining seven different areas where the church has committed sin, we ask the church to consider the spiritual power and the theological integrity of a church that seeks forgiveness for those sins.

Our scriptures testify to the necessity of confession. Confession is central to the Christian faith. The importance of confession arises from the Christian view of sin. Sin is a reality and must be taken seriously. Evangelicals consistently begin our gospel presentation with the centrality of sin to the human experience. American evangelicals often assert that the beginning of the work of God’s forgiveness is the recognition of our need for God because of human sinfulness.

It is antithetical to the gospel when we do not confess all forms of sin—both individual and corporate. The reason evangelicals can claim to be followers of Jesus is because there has been an acknowledgement of sin and the seeking of God’s grace through Jesus Christ that leads to the forgiveness of sin.

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Why Multigenerational House Sharing May Be the Wave of the Future

Is the 'nuclear family' giving way to multigenerational housing? Photo via arka38/shutterstock.

For one year, my wife and I are living 2,700 miles apart.

She lives in a one-bedroom apartment here, south of San Francisco. Each weekday she walks two blocks to the home of our middle son and his wife, where she cares for their 9-month-old son.

“Granny nanny” is what they call this phenomenon. Once maternity and paternity leaves expire, grandparents across the country are moving close to their adult children, maybe into their homes, to provide child care so both parents can pursue their careers.

A six-hour plane ride away, I am back in our Manhattan apartment, where our youngest son, age 23, is living at home until he lands a job in the worst job-finding environment since the Great Depression.

Our oldest son, meanwhile, is adapting his country house to become a multigenerational household next year, when my wife returns east. I have already had a taste of caring for their 8-month-old daughter, and it is wonderful.

It seems we have joined a growing trend toward sharing living space: three generations (grandparents, parents and children) or two generations (parents and adult children).

The Key to Real Community: Tear Down that Firewall

Community gathered around online security. Image via Rawpixel/shutterstock.com
Community gathered around online security. Image courtesy Rawpixel/shutterstock.com

Yesterday morning at 5:30 I woke up to a disconcerting email:

Suspicious Sign-In Prevented. Please check your Google activity immediately.

In my half-asleep bleariness, I clicked the link and filled in my password.

Then I realized I'd been scammed.

"Recognize" was spelt "recognise" — and the account email was from Googlemail.com, not Google.com. Otherwise, the email was identical to those I'd gotten from Google in the past.

The next two hours were spent frantically re-securing my life. Changing passwords, adding two-step verification, application passwords.

I suddenly realized how much of my life was online. My Facebook page was a chronicle of my wedding, my jobs, my son's first 2 years of life.

Most people my age are the same way. Sometimes it's easier online.

The first people to find out about my pregnancy three years ago, besides my husband, were members of an online birth month group at WhattoExpect.com. Weeks before we told family or close friends, we shared intimate details about morning sickness, headaches, and faint lines on pregnancy tests.

Why do we do this? Somewhere, all of us, in Fantasy Football groups and pregnancy groups and dog lover groups and gluten-free groups: we're longing for Real Community.

Why the Body of Christ is Not White

An isolated white feather. Image courtesy EMprize/shutterstock.com.
An isolated white feather. Image courtesy EMprize/shutterstock.com.

Editor's Note: The following transcript is from a homily given in Christ Chapel at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. As part of the “From Segregation to Integration through Conversation” faith and learning series, the text for the day was 1 Corinthians 12:14-26.   

The color of my skin is white. I am Caucasian. I am white, from head to toe, in case you had not noticed. It is quite possible that you had not noticed, because in case you have not noticed, most days in this place, most all of us have skin that is white. And as those of us that experience winters in Minnesota know better than most, in the midst of a “white out” it is difficult to notice anything that is not white.

While there are some special days with some special circumstances and some special exceptions, we in this place tend to be white people surrounded with other white people. Because the fact of the matter is that most white people in most places tend to have social circles that are mostly filled with other white people.  

As was recently reported by the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2013 American Values survey, when respondents were asked to identity as many as seven people with whom they had discussed important matters in the six months prior to the survey, the results revealed just how segregated white social circles actually are. As reported by the study, the social circles of white people in the United States are 91 percent white. In addition, the analysis also showed that over 75 percent of white people reported exclusively white social circles, without any minority presence whatsoever.

All together, the Public Religion Research Institute showed the sociological fact that, even in an increasingly diverse multi-cultural nation, birds in the United States with white feathers — such as my own — continue to flock together. In other words, contrary to the common cliché often given in response to these difficult topics, when it comes to white American people, the facts reveal that "some of our best friends" simply are not black.

Orienting to New Horizons

"Living the Word" reflections for September 2014 can be found here. -- The Editors

THE PROBLEM WITH Christianity today is not that Christians lack faith in God. The problem is that Christians believe they “know” and “understand” God completely. In a world overflowing with information, we hardly acknowledge the importance of God’s unknowability. Yet a conception of God that doesn’t recognize the unknowable keeps us in an uncritical banality, which in turn leads us to follow orders without questioning, to play it safe, and to go along with mass opinion.

For Christians, conversion is required. Theologian Bernard J. F. Lonergan defines conversion not simply as an acceptance of a new belief system, but rather as “a radical shift from an old horizon to a new horizon.” Religious conversion, in particular, is to “fall in love with God.” Thus, to convert is to deny the conventional, habitual belief and knowledge system, and to discover a new reality in which one becomes open and vulnerable to challenges. Conversion is not a solitary experience. It is a prolonged dialogue that constantly transforms one’s horizon and motivates us to wonder, appreciate, and raise more questions.

The texts for the next four weeks invite us to a conversion experience. They are reminders that conversion starts with abandoning any sense of security based on doctrines, dogmas, rituals, and systems of belief—precisely because God’s love never allows us to find comfort in human constructions.

Min-Ah Cho is assistant professor of theology and spirituality at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn.

[ October 5 ]
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
Unearned Privilege

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To Spiritually Thrive, We Must First Spiritually Survive (And Help Others Do the Same)

MJTH / Shutterstock.com
MJTH / Shutterstock.com

Theology doesn’t save us from spiritual burnout — people do.

No matter how convincing our doctrines and beliefs may be, they’re ultimately empty and unsatisfying if there’s no human relationship personifying them.

Throughout our faith journeys we’ll be faced with moments of suffering, hopelessness, and sheer desperation — sometimes lasting for what seems like forever. We’ll want to give up — sometimes we will.

These hardships can devolve into isolation, bitterness, and ultimately transform what was once a healthy spirituality and turn it into a total rejection of God. Within Christian culture we label this as “burnout,” but in reality it’s more of a “falling out.”

Not only do we have a falling out with God, but we also disassociate ourselves from other believers and those closest to us. When we feel hurt, betrayed, or abandoned by people we assume God is to blame, causing us to doubt God’s love for us — even questioning God’s very existence.

Many quit faith not because of a newfound disbelief in God, but because of broken and unhealthy human relationships — people are the main reason we give up on God.

Human Trafficking: Community Is Essential

Kev Draws / Shutterstock.com
Kev Draws / Shutterstock.com

Diedrich Boenhoeffer wrote about it. Pastors preach about it. Churches strive for it.

Community.

It is a concept that has had a long history in the American church. It can come in many forms. Bringing a meal to a stressed out new mother. A church ice cream social. Youth group. Singles ministry.

But what does community look like when working on a social issue?

For human trafficking, that community comes in the form of partnerships. The 2000 federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) originally addressed human trafficking by creating the three 'Ps': prevention, protection, and prosecution. But after implementation occurred, the anti-trafficking community realized there was something missing. Thus, in 2008, the fourth 'P' —partnership — was added.

Fallout in the Neighborhood When a Catholic School Closes

Photo courtesy of University of Notre Dame
Garnett and Brinig’s book. Photo courtesy of University of Notre Dame

What happens to a community when a Roman Catholic school closes its doors?

That’s the question Nicole Stelle Garnett and Margaret F. Brinig, two Notre Dame law professors, pondered as they studied closures in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

There were 7,000 Catholic schools in the U.S. in 2010, down from 13,000 in 1960, according to the National Catholic Education Association. The decline, rooted in the migration of parishioners to the suburbs and the secularization of Catholic culture, has been dubbed the “closure crisis” within the church.

Religion News Service asked Garnett about what she and Brinig found in their investigation, which resulted in their new book: Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools’ Importance in Urban America.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Church Has Left the Building

Federico Rostagno / Shutterstock.com
Federico Rostagno / Shutterstock.com

Last year I spoke at a missional church conference in Southern California. The guy who spoke before me asked every one of these missional pastors do a simple exercise.

“Turn to the person sitting next to you,” he said, “and tell them the names of your neighbors on every side of your house (or apartment) and share one story about their lives.”

The room went abuzz.

After a few minutes the speaker called the audience back and asked: “How many of you could share the names and stories of each of your neighbors on every side of your house?” No one raised their hands.

The speaker asked how many could share the names and stories of a few of their neighbors. Only about three people in an audience of about 200 raised their hands. This was a missional conference.

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