Day: April 8, 2018

CENTER FOR CONGREGATIONAL ETHICS

BillTillman

(Editor’s Note: Bill Tillman previously held the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary. He also previously was Director of Theological Education for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Tillman shares information about his Center for Congregational Ethics.)

By BILL TILLMAN
Coordinator, Center for Congregational Ethics

The formation of the Center for Congregational Ethics is the fruition of an idea I’ve had over most of the 30 years I spent doing classroom work in graduate theological education.

I’ve received questions as to why a center with this name. The queries come out of assumptions that the ingredients of congregational ethics have been part of theological education all along.

Ironically, the assumptions are misplaced. A longterm review of theological education institutions will reveal a decreasing emphasis on what can be labeled as applied theology.

Certainly, there are courses in spiritual formation, missions, evangelism, theological and biblical ethics; but most of these, if they exist in curricula, lack practical, functional ingredients. The courses tend to be delivered more as theoretical concepts. A classroom can be a stimulating but also a sterile context. Emphases toward how congregational decision making, conflict mediation, and Christian character development, which are a major part of congregational life, often are lacking. These dynamics fall at the heart of congregational life; and it does not take a long-tenured congregational leader to realize how much a part of one’s job involves these matters.

So, over the decades myriads of theological education students have moved into ministerial positions without the skills of being able to identify the kinds of conundrums that face them in the rapidly changing cultural paradigms confronting them. They likely will fail at finding interdisciplinary ways toward developing not only strategies and tactics toward “equipping the saints” on how congregations should be addressing both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Then, there are those congregational leaders who have not been able to participate in formal theological education. Their strategies and tactics are usually limited to those resources which they can obtain online, from following self-proclaimed “church leaders,” often trying to implement techniques and programs developed for congregations quite unlike their own.

The Center for Congregational Ethics is a resource for Christian ethics education in local churches and an attempt at addressing these aforementioned deficiencies. Through the Center, workshops are produced dealing with developing civility among congregants, identifying ethical challenges in culture, and education toward Christian character development and implementation.

Daily reflections on readings from the Revised Common Lectionary are posted on the Center’s FaceBook page. Contributors to these reflections live across the United States and in several international locations. They are asked to reflect on the readings of a given calendar day and move beyond a traditional devotional style; rather, they are requested to interpret the passages accurately but always have a call to action and suggestions for living out the passages in one’s own cultural context. Once per week there is a series called “The Right, The Good, The Happy,” posted. This series forms an oped approach to social issue questions which have particular relevance to congregational life.

I invite you to get acquainted with the Center’s FaceBook offerings. You will discover compositions from skilled writers, theological thinkers, and applicators of Scripture to life who will  provide you encouragement to apply your own theology every day.

Bill Tillman is the Coordinator for the Center for Congregational Ethics. He served Baptist institutions for over 40 years, 30 of which were spent teaching Christian Ethics. 

GOOD ADVICE IN ‘JUST THREE WORDS’

 (Editor’s Note: Glenn Dromgoole is graciously sharing a series of “Just Three Words” from his book, More Civility, Please. A new segment will be posted each week for 10 weeks. The entire book can be purchased at Texas Star Trading Company.)

Most good advice can be expressed in

Just Three Words

By Glenn Dromgoole
From More Civility, Please

Tell the truth

Always be yourself.

Be on time.

Give your best.

Spend time alone.

Go with God.

Keep it simple.

Read more books.

Love your community.

Fall in love.

Keep your promises.

Find your way.

GlennDromgoole

Glenn Dromgoole

RESURRECTION GIFTS FROM JESUS

By LARRY BAKER

The man looked at me and said, “That was the most disillusioning experience I have ever had!” I could hear the pain in his voice and see the draining impact in his posture. The man across the table from me had taken a damaging blow in the rib cage of his soul.

LarryBaker

Larry Baker

I listened as he talked. “My adversaries had unleashed their most destructive energy on me. I felt abandoned. People had claimed to be my friends, but when the chips were down and the battle was on, they were AWOL. I kept asking myself, “Where are they?” Then he repeated his refrain: “That was the most disillusioning experience I have ever had!”

Jesus would have understood. Three years earlier he had chosen a dozen to make his journey with him. He had invested himself in them; had given personal attention to their needs and questions; had declared the good news of the gospel in their presence; had changed the lives of men and women before their eyes; and had worked his mighty works for them to see.

Then they made the final trek to Jerusalem. One betrayed him. Another denied him. The eleven, without exception, ran.

When we meet Jesus’ disciples near the end of John’s Gospel, they have scurried like frightened animals into the room where Jesus had shared Passover with them, had washed their feet, and had given the gift of the Memorial Meal.

Now: They have slammed and locked the door. They have shuttered the windows and drawn the curtains. When they speak, they whisper. Every creak of the floor and the voice drifting in from the streets tightens the muscles in their backs and marches new fear into their emotions. They are afraid of everything on the other side of those doors. Afraid of the world outside. Afraid of their uncertain future. Maybe, simply afraid of living.

It may not be hard for us to imagine ourselves in that room. Many lock themselves in and lock the world out when threatened or wounded or grieving. Many shutter themselves behind some grief they cannot let go, because of some pain they keep alive, some anger they fuel, some grudge they nurse, or some failure that embarrasses and haunts them. Those folk know how to block out the compassionate attention of friends and draw the drapes against the dawn. They know how to make the room of their life a tomb.

What would you have done if you had been Jesus? How would you have responded? Like my friend, with disappointment and disillusionment? Would we have responded with self-pity, feeling sorry for ourselves, thinking “It’s not fair what they’ve done to me?” With fiery anger, wanting to lash out and give them a piece of our mind? With a desire to retaliate and “get even?” With scathing criticism for their lack of character and courage? We might declare forcefully, “I will wash my hands of them.” Understandable responses, perhaps.

But Jesus responded differently. Take a look at John 20. Jesus lavishes gifts upon the men who had abandoned him. Part of the wonder of the scene is the timing. Jesus bestows the gifts, not in the moment of Simon Peter’s great confession, but after the disciples had refused to believe the report he was alive. Jesus bestows the gifts, not in the afterglow of the mysterious transfiguration, but in the aftermath of the disciples’ refusal to believe Mary Magdalene’s account. No. In the face of disappointing actions and reactions by his disciples, Jesus gives priceless gifts.

We might call them “resurrection gifts.” For Jesus, they are gifts given in the face of great disappointment. For the disciples, they are gifts received in spite of great failure. For us, they are unexpected gifts that equip us to live through and beyond dark hours and broken hearts and strengthen us for godly service.

Jesus’ first followers thought they were keeping enemies out, but they were locking themselves in. But the one who could not be kept in a rock tomb could not be kept out by a locked door. One of the great resurrection hymns has us sing:

Christ is risen, Christ is living, dry your tears, be unafraid!
Death and darkness could not hold Him, nor the tomb in which He lay.
Death has lost its old dominion, let the world rejoice and shout!
Christ, the firstborn of the living, gives us life and leads us out.

Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University. 

A REMINDER: EASTER ISN’T OVER

By JIM McDONALD

God created everything and then us so we could live and prosper and give Him pleasure.  We failed by disobeying Him.  Ultimately due to our sin, He made Christmas and Good Friday, which provided a new avenue for us to draw near to Him through Jesus.

JimMcDonald

Jim McDonald

Then Jesus rose from death’s grip so everyone throughout history could know His abounding love and be saved for life outside of time in eternity.  Everyone will live forever someplace. We get to decide if that will be in paradise or in the place of punishment. Since the word now is used in the King James version of the Bible 1,373 times, it may be an indication that the time for our choice is always now. Remember, Jesus said, “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.

If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on His throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:20-21 NIV.)  Christians have a mandate to speak God’s word so everyone can hear the gospel.  Let’s exit our congregations and witness as we ought so the world may know.

Jim McDonald is a member of Wylie United Methodist Church and the Abilene Association of Congregations. 

THREE ‘C’ WORDS BATTLE THE BIG ‘C’

By DANNY MINTON

You wake up one morning with a pain that doesn’t seem to go away. You’re feeling tired all the time and act like all your energy has gone out the window. You make an appointment with the doctor who doesn’t know what is wrong either so he orders some blood work and an x-ray. The x-ray and blood tests don’t look like he wants, so he decides to order a CT scan or MRI.

Danny Minton

Danny Minton

A week goes by, and you still feel bad but finally get the tests run. Another week or two passes and the doctor has you come in for a consult. As you sit in the exam room waiting for the doctor, a myriad of things pass through your mind. What could it be? Why am I so tired? The doctor enters the room, thumbs through your chart and with a sincere, grim look uses the one word you dreaded to hear. It’s the scary “C” word. With sad but sincere voice, “You have cancer.”

For a few moments, you hear nothing else. Question after question races through your thought process. Am I going to die!? Is it treatable? Will I have to have radiation? Will I need to take chemo? What stage is it? You are too shocked to cry, at least not yet. You have to let it sink in. Cancer, you of all people have this heartbreaking disease. Now, what do you do? You feel alone and abandoned.

There’s probably not a person reading this who has not had an encounter with that “C” word either personally or with someone close to us. Nearly every week I hear of someone I know who faced a diagnosis of some form of the disease. I’ve had friends survive only to have a recurrence. I’ve had friends and relatives pass away from the disease. I see those every week that I pray for as they fight the “C” word. It’s sad and depressing to see people suffer both physically and emotionally. The question is “What can we do for them?”

The answer is in some other “C” words. They are not as devastating as the big “C.” They are all uplifting and can be used to make the big “C” bearable. Those “C” words are Caring, Comfort, and Compassion. Someone taking the time to share these three “C’s” is helping those struggling with cancer and any other disease.

First people need to know we care. When illness strikes people feel so alone. They struggle with the “Why Me” feeling and don’t realize all the others going through the same thing they are embracing. When we show them that we care, we are telling people, “You are not alone. I am here to take this journey with you.” They don’t need words as much as just knowing that you are there for them and that you care about them.

Through our caring, we can give comfort. Comfort is what we can give to people to help them handle what they are experiencing. Holding a hand, giving a hug or giving words of encouragement all help those who are hurting. Being around a calm feeling in the room, knowing that they can share their heart and struggles with you adds a little bit of comfort knowing again that you are there for them and that you aren’t going anywhere.

The third “C” is compassion. Jesus reached out and touched the leper; he wept for Mary and Martha, he looked with compassion with the woman at his feet. He showed compassion wherever he went. Compassion is a way of feeling with people not just for them. It means you understand why they get angry or feel hurt and abandoned. Compassion is crying with them. Compassion is laughing with them. Compassion is understanding the hurt and pain.

I have no idea why we have the big “C” in this world. Why a disease like this even exists is beyond my knowledge. However, I do know why the other three “C’s” exist. God knows that when someone is suffering from the dreaded “C” word that they can make it through the trials if those around them practice care, comfort, and compassion.

Oh yes, there is also another “C” word that holds us all together. Christ. It is Jesus Christ who truly cares for us and what we are going through in the struggles of this life. His very being was one that practiced the three “C’s” everywhere he walked. It was because of his putting these into action that people drew near to him. When we practice care, comfort, and compassion, we are in a sense being ambassadors for Christ the one who practiced these more than anyone else.

_____________________

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11:28-29

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

JESS TURNS UGLY HISTORY INTO POETRY

Jess 109 cprd

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess was guest speaker for the Lawrence Clayton Poets and Writers Speaker Series April 6 at Hardin-Simmons University. Photos courtesy of Larry Fink

By LORETTA FULTON

A Pulitzer Prize winning poet didn’t experience the discrimination against African-Americans that his parents did and can only imagine what freed slaves experienced at the end of the Civil War.

But what an imagination. Tyehimba Jess, who won the Pulitzer for poetry in 2017, was guest speaker April 6 for the Lawrence Clayton Poets and Writers Speaker Series, presented by the McIntyre-West Endowment of the Hardin-Simmons University Academic Foundation. More appropriately, he was guest artist, performer, and “preacher,” as several people said they felt like they had been to church after hearing him.

Jess would appreciate that comment because he said his poetry has a spiritual theme and the voices of people he wrote about came from spiritual, blues, and gospel music.

“That is where the American soundtrack comes from,” he said.

Tyehimba Jess recites his poetry at Hardin-Simmons University for the Lawrence Clayton Poets & Writers Speaker Series. At bottom right, he visits with HSU Assistant Professor of Theology Kelvin Kelley. Photos courtesy of Larry Fink

During the days of slavery, families would gather in their cabins and sing. Music was a gift from God that no one could take away. And, their voice was the only thing they owned, Jess said. Everything else, including family members, was owned by the slave owner. But not their music.

“It was the only real literature they owned,” Jess said.

Jess, a Detroit native, lives in New York, where he is an associate professor of English at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York system. His award-winning collection is titled, “Olio,” which means a hodge-podge collection. But it also refers to the middle part of a minstrel show, which is the setting for many of the historical figures that Jess brought to life in Olio.

White people wearing blackface demeaned blacks through their cartoonish, oafish portrayals. Some all-black groups also performed under the direction of white people.
After slaves were freed, some of them continued to perform because they could make money that way,  and Jess sympathetically portrayed them in his poetry.

While the minstrel shows lampooned black people, Jess sought to develop their character through his ingenious poetry. He used the “weapon” of his words to defend the people who were demeaned.

“Poetry is the martial art of literature,” Jess said. “You’re doing the most with the least.”

Besides the beauty of the words in Jess’ Olio poems, the unusual style of some of them creates an added dimension. Some are written in a form called crown of sonnets. The sonnets are linked to each other by repeating the final line of one as the first line of the next. The last line of the last poem is the same as the first line of the first poem, creating a circle or “crown.”

Hearing Jess perform those was magical. He accelerated, decelerated, raised and lower his voice as he read, almost singing the lines. His performance created spontaneous applause from the large gathering of students, faculty and community guests who almost filled the multipurpose room of the Johnson Building during Jess’ evening presentation.

Jess earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago and a master of fine arts degree from New York University. He got the first degree in a field that he believed would pay the bills, unlike poetry.

“I went without paying bills for a long time,” he said.

The poet in Jess went dormant while he earned his bachelor’s degree, but it awoke again. Humanity is the better for that reawakening. His poetry adds a face and a soul to the people who were dehumanized in their time. Thankfully, Jess realized he wasn’t cut out for public policy. Instead, after earning that degree, he realized exactly what he was.

“I am an artist,” he said, “and that’s what I’m going to live for.”