Managing Theological Diversity: A Survey of Clergy Preparedness

Penrose TrinityThe Paradoxy Center for Incarnational Christianity and The Public Conversations Project are seeking the help of newly ordained clergy, congregational leaders, and diocesan deployment authorities in assessing the extent of an emerging educational need for aspiring and recently ordained clergy: How to deal with congregational conflict arising from theological differences. 

In the course of our work at The Paradoxy Center and The Public Conversations Project, we are regularly called upon to help church leadership manage divisions arising from theological differences. And we have noted that in many cases, if parish leaders had known how to recognize, prevent and transform emerging conflict, and how to harness theological differences as congregational strengths, these differences might not have become divisive.

If we are correct, and the need is a deep and broad as we suspect, our two organizations plan to work together to create and deliver learning experiences that will help aspiring and recently ordained clergy deal more effectively with theological diversity.

If you share our interest in determining the need for education and training in managing theological differences and transforming emerging conflict into healthy diversity, please take a few minutes to complete one of the online surveys below, selecting the survey option that best matches your role in the Episcopal community:

And please feel free to report this announcement on your own website or blog, or forward it to potentially interested colleagues.

Thank you!

1930s Advice for the 21st Century Church

By Wendy Dackson, PhD

back-of-church-sunday

The Church exists, first and foremost, to be the fellowship of those who worship God in Christ.  It is, therefore, in this earth, the representation of the life of Heaven.  Of course, it is easy for anyone who stands outside to look at us and say, “In that case we don’t much want to go to heaven.”  Well, that is our own fault and not the fault of the call which the Church has received.

(William Temple, The Church and its Teaching Today, the William Belden Noble Lectures at the Memorial Church, Harvard University, December 17-19, 1935, boldface are the author’s own)

If people who are seeking a deeper connection to what is divine and eternal, and do not see a reflection of higher values in the Church, who is to blame?  William Temple, Archbishop of York at the time this lecture was delivered (and thus a senior figure in an established church that still had some reason to believe that it had a moral and spiritual authority over the nation), hit the nail on the had–not just for his own time, but for decades into the future.  The Christian message is still excellent, it was in 1935, and it remains so now (although I do think that people engage it differently, emphasizing different aspects than we did almost 80 years ago).  But if it is not presented well, or by the life of the assembly, most importantly in their interactions with each other and the world outside of the time set aside for communal worship, then those outside the church have every right to say this is not where they will find the spiritual nurture and community they seek.

And who is to blameContinue reading

Stay humble, stay humble, stay humble, stay humble…

By The Rev. Curtis Farr

Pentecost 23C: Luke 18:9-14

3002738501_4d38d6121f

A Pharisee and a tax collector walk into a temple. The Pharisee prays a prayer of thanksgiving that he is not a thief, rogue, adulterer, or tax collector, and that he fasts and tithes. The tax collector stands further back, looks down, and asked for mercy; he calls himself a sinner. Which of them will be exalted? The one who humbles himself, obviously, Jesus says.

Do you know how quickly I just categorized myself as being like the tax collector? What about you? Are you humble, or are you a bit self-righteous? And in God’s view are we determined humble or self-righteous in comparison to others or by some predetermined rubric of self-righteousness?

I could name for you a couple of people in particular who come to mind when I read this passage and start thinking about self-righteousness. This tendency to point to other people’s bad qualities is self-righteous in itself. It is, after all, what the Pharisee does in the temple; in his prayer he points to all of those bad people, instead of approaching God with honest concerns about how he can lead the life he’s called to lead.

Such comparisons are symptoms of self-righteousness. When we point to other people and call them names, accusing them of being this or that, aren’t we just revealing how much we think of ourselves? Some people seem to be quite good at this—I can be, sometimes—they see themselves as the righteous underdogs trying to knock the sinners off of their pedestals for the sake of justice or moral progress. But in knocking others down, don’t they also bring themselves and their causes down with them?

To be exalted is to be happy, whole, and held in high regard; how can one be exalted while tearing away at another?

This is pertinent to everyone, and the minute we start to think something to the extent of, “so-and-so should really read this and get knocked down a peg or two,” that is the moment we begin to act as the Pharisee. Don’t worry about everyone else—it’s a fool’s game.

In the words of my mentor, friend, and colleague The Rev. Dr. Tom Warne, “Stay humble, stay humble, stay humble, stay humble, stay humble, stay humble, stay humble.” It’s a simple mantra, I’ll grant you, but it’s so important because the moment we think ourselves better than others, we close off avenues for love and reconciliation.

The Rev. Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday. His personal blog is entitled Bowing to Mystery, on which he posts sermons, articles, pictures, videos, etc.

Into the Fire is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.

Head-On Collision

By The Rev. Curtis Farr

Pentecost 21C: Genesis 32:22-31

3720590508_dc70b58c57The same night that Jacob learned that his brother Esau was coming for revenge, he took his two wives, Rachel and Leah, (who happened to be his cousins), his two women servant/slaves/baby-mamas, Zilpah and Bilhah, and his gaggle of children and crossed a river. Somehow Jacob got away from the family and found himself alone…typical…and a man wrestled with him until the morning. The man could not conquer Jacob, so he knocked his hip socket out of joint (do you smell what The Rock is cooking?). Still Jacob held on and demanded to be blessed by the man. The man asked him his name and told him that he would now go by “Israel,” which means God strives or strives with God. Jacob named that place Peniel, which means Face of God, and he limped his way back to his family.

Besides teaching us about traditional, biblical marriage, and describing all-night, homoerotic wrestling matches, what is this piece of Jacob’s struggles telling us about God and our struggles?

Do you remember what Jacob had done those many years ago to his older brother Esau? He tricked Esau out of his inheritance and received their father, Isaac’s blessing (which was meant for Esau, the eldest son). Jacob, like his mother Rebekah, is a classic trickster. And like most tricksters, Jacob eventually finds himself trapped by circumstances of his own construction. In this case, he knows he’s done his brother wrong, and not Esau is coming at him with his armies.

Jacob finds himself at a crossroads: he can keep running from his brother their troubled past, or he can confront Esau face to face, accept that there may be consequences, and hope for eventual reconciliation.

We are spectators and often participants of a great many wrestling matches—with other people and within ourselves. As republicans and democrats in Congress wrestle with how to continue to do their jobs despite the efforts of the other group, theologically liberal Christians struggle with how to be Christians who remain estranged from more conservative Christians (and vice versa) after a decade long battle over human sexuality and many other older battles over any issue you could imagine (and some you probably couldn’t if you tried).

We constantly find ourselves at crossroads, choosing between following the flow of traffic, yielding to others, stopping, or even driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

What will it take for us to confront our enemies…our brothers and sisters…face to face, accept that there may be consequences, and boldly step toward reconciliation?

The Rev. Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday.

Into the Fire is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.

A Mistake Made Holy?

Image

The Church to which we belong is a mistake made holy.

Christianity as a religion was never meant to exist:

created by fallen humanity out of our need certainty, security, and control,
yet through which God has undeniably managed from time to time
to create in us the opposite qualities of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Christianity is a paradox:

an organism that became an organization,
yet somehow retains a beating Heart;

a movement that became an institution,
yet somehow cannot contain its Yearning to follow;

a Way that became an end,
yet somehow stumbles into new Beginnings.

Can’t We All Get Along: Local Governments, Faith Communities, Land Use, & Property Taxes

ImageAn OpEd by Sabir Rahman & Ken Howard, Co-Chairs, Religious Land Use Working Group,  Montgomery County Executive’s Faith Advisory Council

In the last several weeks, a number of articles have appeared in the Washington Post and other venues, reporting or commenting on the conflict between the local government and church leaders in Prince William County:  a controversy which is rapidly growing from a local to a statewide problem, and may serve a cautionary tale about a growing trend in church-state relationships nationwide. Well-meaning local officials, facing financial shortfalls and seeking to continue funding for essential services, are turning to their tax departments to identify new streams of revenue. Tax officials, in turn, are looking for quick and easy ways to provide this income. To them the problem and the solution are simple and obvious:

  • The problem:  growing faith communities are taking properties off the tax roles.
  • The solution:  declare as taxable portions of faith community’s properties not exclusively used for religious purposes. 

Problem solved!  Or is it?

Unfortunately, this is the kind of difficult problem to which H. L. Mencken was referring when he said, “For every complex problem there is a clear and simple answer…clear, simple, and wrong.”

Or in this case, unconstitutional.  Continue reading

Thank the nice Savior

By The Rev. Curtis Farr

Pentecost 21C: Luke 17:11-19

Jesus is healing again. This time he heals ten lepers in a village somewhere outside of Jerusalem. They ask for mercy, he sends them to the priests, they are made clean, and they go on with their lives. One of them turns back, praises God, prostrates at Jesus’ feet and thanks him. Jesus, confused, asks why out of ten only one came back to thank him. He makes note of the fact that the one who did thank him is a foreigner—a Samaritan (boooooo!). Jesus tells the Samaritan to get up and go; his faith has made him well.

But I thought that when Jesus sent the ten to the priests they were made clean. Isn’t being made clean and being made well the same thing? And wasn’t it Jesus who did the heavy lifting, not the lepers? Are the other nine suddenly going to find themselves infected again?

8075836361_3186a3e9f9Turns out, there is a difference not only in the English, but in the Greek. The word, “καθαρίζω” (katharizó), is applied to the ten after they see the priests. The word, “σῴζω” (sózó), is applied to the Samaritan when Jesus sends him on his way. “Katharizó” refers to cleansing, probably ceremonially in this priestly context; Sózó refers to salvation or healing. Something different seems to have happened for the Samaritan; some remaining questions are as follows: Continue reading

The Grand Theft Auto of The Bible

By The Rev. Curtis Farr

Pentecost 20C: Psalm 137

We’re looking at psalms two weeks in a row. Psalm 137 is most often quoted by antitheists or those critical of the use of scripture by religious people and institutions. Verse 9 in particular draws a great deal of attention:

“Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”

“Blessed” is often substituted for “happy” in other popular translations of this lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. If we approach the Bible as God’s Guidebook to Holiness and take every bit as a literal and truthful statement directed at our particular culture and personal circumstances, it seems like this says that if we bash our enemies’ children against rocks, we’ll be blessed or happy.

It just makes your heart warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it? Continue reading