Thursday, March 08, 2018

Small Sips Bought Schwarma in Bulk

Death of a theological giant. One of the most prominent theological thinkers of the United Church of Christ, Gabe Fackre, died this past month:
Fackre, who spent 25 years on the faculty at the ANTS before his retirement in 1996, was steeped in ecumenism. He was ordained in the Evangelical and Reformed (E&R) Church, and continued serving when the E&R Church joined the Congregational Christian Churches to create the new United Church of Christ.  
"Gabe Fackre was UCC in ways that few of us in the church have experienced. Raised as a Baptist, shaped by the intellectual rigor of the University of Chicago Divinity School, he joined the E&R Church in 1950, inspired by the witness of Reinhold Niebuhr," said Barbara Brown Zikmund, retired UCC seminary administrator and historian of American religion. "When the UCC was born in 1957 his theological horizons expanded. First as a pastor, and then as a professor in two very different seminaries rooted in German Reformed and New England Congregationalism, he thought, wrote and prayed for the UCC. He was a 'churchman,' not just a professor."
I only have one of his books, but there is no doubt how much of a mark he left on the denomination in his encouragement to think about not only the social aspects and impacts of various issues, but to name their theological underpinning as well. The UCC was more enriched by his presence.

Secrecy causes suffering. Carolyn Ali shares her story of the day her husband admitted that he has depression and his insistence that they keep it between themselves. This secret only compounds the problem until they finally realize they need to open up to others:
Today, my husband is no longer depressed. He is open about his history of mental illness and he has challenged the stigma himself. He recognizes the impact the silence had on each of us individually as well as together, and he supports me in speaking out.  
If I could go back to that fall morning in our kitchen, I would tell my husband this: “I know what you’re going through feels unbearable. It breaks my heart. I so desperately want to make things better. But we can’t keep this between us. We need as much support as possible to get the help you need. You are not alone.”  
And then, I wouldn’t have been so alone either.
It's been my experience several times over that when one tries to keep something like this to themselves, it only makes things worse. The more support and advice and care that you seek from others, the less burden you have to carry on your own and the less physical, emotional, and spiritual toll it takes on you. There are so many resources and willing people to help you if you or someone you love is battling mental illness. Please don't try to do it alone.

Seriously, why are we so terrible? The first person to publically accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse was Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who crossed paths with him when he was the team doctor for the national team. Before going public, she sought support from many places to which many naturally would turn in such cases. One of the worst, by her account, was her church:
Denhollander first went public with her accusations in The Indianapolis Star in September 2016. At the time, she and her husband were attending a church in Louisville, Kentucky. She claimed the church was “directly” involved in supporting a local pastor who had been accused of covering up child sex abuse. When Denhollander spoke up on behalf of survivors, it caused a rift between her and the leaders of her church. She said some elders even used her personal story of sexual abuse as a weapon against her, claiming that the assault had clouded her judgment as an advocate.  
In the interview with Christianity Today, Denhollander made it clear that she feels the problem is bigger than one individual congregation. She believes the American evangelical church as a whole has to work much harder to appropriately respond to abuse allegations from survivors.  
“The only reason I am able to have the support of these leaders now is because I am speaking out against an organization not within their community,” Denhollander said. “Had I been so unfortunate so as to have been victimized by someone in their community ... I would be massively shunned. That’s the reality.”
The article includes some analysis as to why churches are so often the worst places to find such help. Some of it is theological, with platitudes replacing real counsel or dangerous patriarchal views blaming the victim. So often, churches add to suffering rather than ease it because they're just so bad at taking such things seriously, choosing instead to gloss over it with spiritual fuzziness that isn't healthy or wise. And then people like Carolyn Ali and her husband have less possibilities of support and see no choice to but to go it alone.

Faith seeking understanding, indeed. Nowadays in my denomination and many others, "multiple paths" to authorized ministry is a hot topic. One of the main questions that arises during such discussions is whether someone should be required to complete a seminary degree, or whether they can receive that education and training in other ways. Kyle Roberts shares thoughts from a professor who points out why a seminary education still has great and lasting value, especially today:
What is sad and frustrating is that our social existence and public dialogue is replete with religious ignorance and misunderstanding. Most people don’t understand the history of their own tradition, or the complexities of their own scriptures, much less that history and scriptures of other traditions. We take principled stands on issues without understanding where those principles come from or how they are grounded or whether they are sound. We blindly accept the authority of our chosen religious authorities, but lack the ability to investigate the issues for ourselves. We classify people according to race, age, class, and creed, and then shift the blame to convenient scapegoats, justified in our own sense of moral superiority. We lack the ability to engage with a foreign other, anyone who feels at all threatening to my religious sense of the world.
The post goes on to make the case for why seminaries are still critical for such deepening of understanding one's own traditions, as well as others'. The problem, however, is in how seminaries share what they teach to large swaths of the population rather than those preparing for ministry and/or those who have the time and finances to take classes, which the author eventually acknowledges. It is true, however, that a significant cause for many of the conflicts our country is currently experiencing stems from a lack of religious literacy and awareness. And at least in the short term, the responsibility for changing that falls to clergy and other religious leaders.

But seeing as how at least some clergy and religious leaders have helped cause this problem to begin with, it's gonna be a slog.

That's a lot of schwarma. Recently, Marvel gathered as many principal players from its 10 years' worth of movies as they could for a "class photo shoot." They also filmed a brief video about the experience. I'm sure it was cool for them, but also to see all these people who have contributed to this cinematic journey that I've been enjoying so much was awesome for me, too.

Misc. Dante's nine circles of hell reimagined for linguistic transgressions. A long Vox piece on the compounding issues that cause people to become homeless. Jan Edmiston on how sentimentality can weigh people down. Congrats also to Jan as she prepares for her new position. R. Scott Colglazer on what your minister wants you to know.

(Image via PxHere)