How to Become Your True Self

by Bella DePaulo Ph.D., Harvard | According the “self-concordance theory,” the most important thing we can do to become our true self is to pursue the goals that are right for us.

When those of us who are single at heart try to explain that to other people, we are sometimes put on the defensive. How can we possibly choose to live single? The whole idea of being single at heart, as I define it, is that for some people, living single is the way they live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful life. But how do you know what way of living is right for you?

The question of how to become your true self and live most authentically is one that pertains to every aspect of our lives, not just our choices about marital status or relationship status or parental status. All of our goals and aspirations, from the biggest and broadest to the smallest and least significant, are part of the calculus of living a good life.

According the “self-concordance theory,” the most important thing we can do to become our true self is to pursue the goals that are right for us. If we choose wrong – if we pursue goals that do not reflect who we really are, what we care about, and what we are good at – then even if we achieve those goals, we are not going to feel happy or fulfilled.

In a recent issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review, Kennon Sheldon reviewed the social science research relevant to the question of how we choose goals that best serve our quest to become our true self. Here’s what I see as some of the implications of the research.

When you set a goal or make a plan, how do you feel about it?

  1. Do you feel ambivalent about it?
  2. Do you find that you just can’t get yourself to follow through?
  3. Do you disparage your own goals or plans when you are talking to other people?
  4. Do you feel pressured by other people to pursue the goals you chose or the plans you made?
  5. Do you feel constrained to pursue particular goals (for example, getting a law degree instead of a degree in English literature because you think you will need the better salary that a law degree might bring)?
  6. Do you worry that if you do not pursue a particular goal or plan, you will feel guilty?

Or do you feel entirely differently?

  1. Do you really enjoy pursuing your goals or plans?
  2. Do you identify with what you are doing? Does it seem like what you are doing reflects who you really are?
  3. Do you find what you are doing interesting? Meaningful?
  4. Is it challenging in a way you appreciate?
  5. If you are doing something in some sense because you have to (for example, you are doing your job because it pays), do you sometimes find that it is so engaging that even if you didn’t need the money, you might want to do it anyway?
  6. Are you more attuned to your own feelings of growth and self-improvement than to other people’s evaluations of how you are doing?

If the second set of feelings describes you more accurately than the first set, then you are probably doing a good job of becoming your true self.

Are you the kind of person who springs into action immediately or do you take time to pay attention to how you are feeling? Sheldon believes that this “trait mindfulness” is important. It is defined as “the general disposition to be attentive to one’s feelings, desires, sensations, and emotions – to simply observe one’s reactions and emotions rather than being pulled immediately into action or reaction.” Research suggests that people who are more mindful in this way are more likely to pursue goals that are consistent with who they really are.

Similarly, people who “follow their gut” rather than trying to be overly rational may also do better at choosing the goals and plans that are right for them.

Are you surrounded by people who make it easy to be your true self?

Self-concordance theory is mostly about you and not about other people. But the people around you can be important in making it easier for you to become your best self rather than standing in your way.

In the workplace, you are doing well if you have a boss who tries to see your perspective, who tries to give you choices, and who provides meaningful rationales for any advice that is offered.

That’s true in sports, too. In studies of athletes at all different levels, researchers have found that leadership style matters more at the highest levels: “Having a supportive coach may be especially important for elite-level athletes, so that they can remain in touch with their original motivation to compete.”

In our everyday lives, some of us are fortunate enough to have friends or relatives who know us better than we know ourselves, and have our best interests in mind. They might know before we do when we are pursuing a goal that is never going to make us happy. If we are super lucky, they will know how to tell us that in a way we can hear.


Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard, 1979) is a social psychologist and the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After (St. Martin’s Press) and How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century (Atria), and other books. Atlantic magazine described Dr. DePaulo as “America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience.” Her TEDx talk is “What no one ever told you about people who are single.”

 

Author of Living Single.In the spirit of the book, Singled Out, Living Single is a myth-busting, consciousness-raising, totally unapologetic take on single life. At this blog, we discuss just about everything about single life — except dating!
Bella DePaulo’s website


Religious Liberty in Contemporary Evangelical Social Ethics: An Assessment and Framework for Socio-political Challenges

by Andrew T. Walker | Christian reflection on religious liberty is as old as Christianity itself. But unless it is rehearsed and given fresh expression and articulation in new contexts, it can fall by the wayside. Marx was believed to have said, “Take away a people’s roots, and they can easily be moved.

Evangelical public theology often lacks a systematic, theologically grounded social ethic concerning religious liberty. The resulting impasse is one where religious liberty lacks distinctly evangelical contours. Modern and contemporary religious liberty discussions have been ceded, almost exclusively, to political and legal philosophy. At the same time, religious liberty is a foundational principle for evangelical public theology because it addresses issues of how evangelicals enter the public square as a religious people. Additionally, a doctrine of religious liberty is vital for establishing the relationship between the church and state in society. Theological warrant is needed to establish a doctrine of religious liberty on evangelical grounds, and, correspondingly, the lack of consensus or framework around religious liberty jeopardizes the possibility of developing a truly evangelical understanding of religious liberty for public theology.

On a cold, rainy Friday night in October 2017, my wife and I and a few friends from church gathered for a night of worship sponsored by a Christian worship organization that works with local Christian artists in our town

At the end of the evening, the individual emceeing the night closed with an impassioned prayer wherein he expressed gratitude to God for the liberty to join together with other believers to worship Christ without fear of government harassment. There was palpable gratitude for the freedom to worship in this man’s voice.

This gathering did not have to be registered with the government, which is tragically the case in other countries. We entered and left in peace without even a hint of fear of whether we would be “exposed” as Christians. Upon leaving, I knew I would be free to utilize social media and share of the event’s details without fear of that post facing censorship. Moreover, that weekend, I would be free to go to church and hear a sermon on why Christians should seek to influence their culture, whether related to the sanctity of life, racial reconciliation, or any other issue of ethical controversy in the culture. While I am accustomed to sermons and prayers where gratitude to worship freely is often expressed, writing this dissertation while hearing a prayer to God giving him praise for religious liberty struck me anew; and it dawned on me that this dissertation was not just a rote academic exercise.

Something pivotal about my existence as a Christian, and my participation in a local body, is bound up with the liberty to live faithfully in accord with God’s call on my life, and my family’s life. Religious liberty is not the gospel. That night, however, I was reminded that my experience of the gospel assumes a freedom I so often ignore and at worst, neglect gratitude. Religious liberty fans the flames of personal holiness and proclamation. It gives breath to the life of a local congregation gathering together every Sunday to declare that Jesus Christ is king.

I was reminded and convicted that night of how trite, routine, and assumed religious liberty is in my own mind—that as an American, I know nothing other than 212 religious liberty. That is one of the challenges to religious liberty in an American context— that Americans grow so accustomed to it that they may not recognize when its pillars are slowly corroding.

Christian reflection on religious liberty is as old as Christianity itself. But unless it is rehearsed and given fresh expression and articulation in new contexts, it can fall by the wayside. Marx was believed to have said, “Take away a people’s roots, and they can easily be moved.” This report has been an exercise is exposing the roots of freedom found in Christianity. Christians need presented with arguments for the defense of their own liberty, but also the liberty of others—for securing the liberty of others ensures the security of our own. This need for ethical apologetics is true of every age.

At this writing, religious liberty in America is entering a new age beset with challenges and opposition that call into question a once sacred consensus. By grounding religious liberty in the horizons of eschatology, anthropology, and soteriology, my hope is that this contribution to the field of Christian social ethics can be but one resource helping to usher in a new era of Christian preoccupation with religious liberty.

May the Christian church return to its first love, a primal strength—a fortitude that turns the other cheek and confidently, under pressure, insist that no worldly scheme can push back the onward advance of Christ’s invasion—for Christianity needs neither the state nor the culture for its truthfulness and efficacy. The liberty Christians seek and the liberty Christians use is a liberty to seek a city that is not yet, and to allow those in the church’s midst to join it in the promise of its coming.

Any claim or pursuit of religious liberty must always be pointed back toward its telos: The advancement of God’s kingdom. In the spirit of our missionary faith, let each of us, like the Apostle Paul, go about “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).

Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Research and Senior Fellow in Christian Ethics at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination’s entity tasked with equipping Christians and local churches to address ethical issues facing society and the church. In his role, he researches, speaks, and writes about the intersection of Christian ethics, public policy, and the church’s social witness. This is a summary of his dissertation presented to the Faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree, Doctor of Philosophy back in May 2018



How Now Shall We Live?

by Regis Nicoll | Despite the fashionable heroism of embracing the absurdity of our existence, we have an irrepressible sense that there are objective standards of right and wrong, that justice should prevail, and that our choices matter for something supremely significant. (image: James Chan from Pixabay)

From days of old, mankind has wrestled with the question of ethics. In ancient Israel, after fifty years of Babylonian captivity had all but erased God’s providence and law from memory, the Jewish community wondered aloud: “How now shall we live?”

The very question presupposes a standard and a purpose. Even the early Greeks, influenced by Plato and Aristotle, believed in a purpose-driven ethic—a universal ideal of “goodness” that could be known and toward which all men should strive.

But that all changed in the seventeenth century when René Descartes became the father of modern philosophy. Descartes introduced a method of systematic doubt that became the springboard to the radical skepticism of later thinkers. Pivotal was the influence of David Hume. Hume constructed a wrecking ball of skepticism that, among other things, reduced to rubble the notion of a universal moral standard.

Although it took a while to finish the job, once complete all that remained after the demolition was the dust cloud of relativism. During the last century, no one darkened that cloud more than the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.

A Paralyzing Gospel
In post-WWII France, Sartre spoke to the anguish of his countrymen who were reeling in despair in the aftermath of the German occupation. Promoting the gospel of personal responsibility and choice, Sartre helped turn the mood of the nation from fatalism to optimism. But while autonomy and free choice can be liberating, it can also be paralyzing—as one young man realized after seeking Sartre’s advice.

During the war, a French student, agonizing over whether to join the resistance movement or stay home with his mother who was totally dependent on him, asked Sartre what he should do. Sartre’s answer: “You’re free, choose!”

I can imagine a choked “Huh?” from the young man as those pearls of wisdom rolled off the tongue of the famed philosopher—and a head-down, hands-in-pockets amble back home, as he strained for some moral scale with which to weigh his choices.

Thanks to Sartre and his sophistic forbears, classifications of “right” and “wrong” have been blurred if not obliterated, leaving us, like that French student, to wonder what it means to be moral.

Engaging a “Bright”
A while back, I discussed this very issue with a fellow named Bob. Bob is a rising star in the Brights Movement—a network of free thinkers who embrace a worldview “free of supernatural and mystical elements.” Notable luminaries in the movement include the likes of Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett.

Our dialog began after Bob read an article I wrote critical of the moral “wholesomeness”—a term the Brights fondly use to describe their worldview—of philosophical naturalism.

In response, Bob denied the need for God to determine what is “good” or “bad,” asserting that ethics are based on common human concepts. He characterized Christian morality as “easy”—a “follow-these-rules-to-be-good” excuse to avoid thinking deeply about real-world ethical questions. He went on to ask whether I thought that biblical morality was moral only because God deemed it so.

My response went something like this:
Bob, you said that the moral capital of law is based on human concepts of justice, peace, and harmony. But that really doesn’t help, does it? If law derives from nothing higher than what has evolved in our collective psyche, then law is law, not because it’s right, but because it’s law—a contrivance of the ruling class. Some cultures care for widows, while others place them on the husband’s funeral pyre. Without a standard that transcends such “human concepts,” who’s to say which should be legal or illegal, not to mention moral or immoral?

While you dismiss Christians for their “cookie-cutter” approach to morality, you admit to struggling with “being a good, ethical person” because, for you, the real answers are difficult to find. You ask, “Is the only reason that it is wrong to steal, murder, or rape because God said it was wrong?

Sadly, I suspect that if you took a poll of professed Christians, some would answer, “Yes.” Yet, Christian morality does not originate from God’s commands; it derives from his ontology (i.e., his nature, who he is). In accordance with his ontology, God created a world of order, intelligibility, and beauty governed by laws that include physical and moral dimensions. Simply stated, morality is aligning ourselves with those principles so that we can experience all the goodness for which we were created. In essence, morality is a purpose-driven set of operating instructions necessary for human flourishing.

It is the same for any engineering product, like a car. Cars are precision-made to provide owners the benefits of efficient and reliable transportation. But to enjoy those benefits, an owner must operate his vehicle within the bounds of its design, and maintain it according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Failure to do so guarantees poor performance and shortened life. It is no less true for us.

Take sexual morality. While God has said that sex outside of marriage is wrong, it is not wrong because he said so; it is wrong because it conflicts with our design. Fifty years after the Sexual Revolution, witness the burgeoning rates of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, single parent homes, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases with all of the concomitant problems of abuse, poverty, and emotional trauma. By disregarding our design, Freudianism defaulted on its promissory note of self-fulfillment through free sexual expression, despite more social acceptance and education than at any time in history.

Still, the Christian must ask himself, “Why be good?” If all he cares about is avoiding negative consequences, he might just as well adopt the hedonistic aim of “maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain” or the utilitarian “greatest good for the greatest number.” However, neither conforms to the Christian ethic.

You suggest that Christian morality is “an excuse not to think more deeply about ethics”—an easy way out, as it were. No one who has actually read and grasped Jesus’s hard sayings could seriously think that.

A cursory read of his Sermon on the Mount will dispel any misgivings that Christianity is easy. In a series of “You have heard it said … but I tell you,” Jesus raises the bar of morality to breathtaking heights. Even the Golden Rule of “love neighbor as self” fades to a penumbra with the dizzying directive: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He concludes his discourse with the Herculean challenge: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”—a standard that even Mother Theresa would not have claimed. All of this is bad news for those who take Jesus at his word. It forces us to ask what that “looks like” and whether there’s any good news in his message.

Jesus answers the first part of that question in the Gospel of John: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

To a non-Christian, this may sound like nothing more than doing good things for each other. But for the Christian who believes that Jesus answered the second part of that question with the Cross, our duty is nothing short of staggering. Out of gratitude for what Christ did for us, we should be willing to do likewise for all, including the “least and the last.”

Little wonder that G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.

We do good not because the Bible says so, or out of fear of consequence, or for a utilitarian end—though, sadly, some Christians are motivated by those very reasons. We do good out of love for God who not only created all persons in his image, but humbled himself so that all could have community with him. For Christians, the Word made Flesh is the standard of ethics and morality that informs our Western concepts of right action, justice, equality, and human dignity.

I went on to explain that deep inside we all know this. Despite the fashionable heroism of embracing the absurdity of our existence, we have an irrepressible sense that there are objective standards of right and wrong, that justice should prevail, and that our choices matter for something supremely significant. It’s a truth that even Jean Paul Sartre, who shaped the thought of a generation with his God-denying philosophy, could not extinguish.

Shortly before his death, in the spring of 1980, Sartre made a startling disclosure: “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here: and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.”

It appears that the dying philosopher had an illuminating encounter with a real Bright—“the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9).

Regis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. His new book is titled Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.



The Reality of Robots in Everyday Life

As part of one of the panels run by NESTA during the creation of the Longitude Prize, and, more recently, as a contributor to the BBC Horizon documentary on the prize, I have been asked a lot about how robots, particularly ‘autonomous robots’, will change our lives in the future (Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay).

Autonomous robots are those which are able to make decisions for themselves, as opposed to more traditional industrial robots which have to have their every move pre-programmed by a human expert. The decisions made by autonomous robots are currently quite simple – mostly related to how to move, or where to move to – but these will increase in complexity as our understanding of the use of artificial intelligence (AI) on robots in the real world increases.

Predicting the future, particularly where science and technology is involved, is a difficult task, but some clear trends emerged during the Longitude discussions. Under the ‘Paralysis’ topic, the use of exoskeletons to provide mobility and strength was a prominent idea. Exoskeletons are simply robots you wear. They may not look like a traditional robot, but they have all the necessary parts (sensors, actuators and the ability to be programmed to automate a task) to be considered one. Future exoskeletons will also be more autonomous, able to anticipate situations and prepare responses in advance.

Under the ‘Dementia’ Longitude Prize topic, we discussed the use of autonomous robots to support people with dementia living in their homes for longer. This is just one aspect of the more general theme of using robots for assisting ageing people to live independently for longer, improving their quality of life, and reducing their impact on health services. Such robots may do anything from providing reminders and connecting residents to remote loved ones and carers, to monitoring how, where and when people move around their house (looking out for falls or abnormal behavior). A much longer-term aim is for robots to provide physical assistance, either with movement (standing up, walking) or with household tasks such as cooking and cleaning. Sadly the science and engineering, both in AI and the ability to build and control suitable robot bodies for such a range of tasks, is still many tens of years away at least.

Away from the Longitude Prize areas, we will see autonomous robots – and related technology – appear in many aspects of our lives. This may be in forms that we easily understand as robots today (e.g. machines that clean floors, carry pallets in warehouses or monitor oil pipelines) or as elements within other systems (e.g. driver assistance aids, surgical support tools, or prostheses). The most important thing to understand is that robot technology won’t appear as fully formed humanoid robots with human-like intelligence capable of doing anything. This, particularly the intelligence part, is a science fiction dream we’re not even close to being able to describe as a well-formed problem, let alone create solutions for. Instead, robot technology will emerge through special-purpose tools which will allow us to increase the quality of our lives in many aspects, whether it’s caring for our loved ones, or making our businesses more productive.

Dr Nick Hawes is Senior Lecturer in Intelligent Robotics in the School of Computer Science. (You can also follow him on Twitter – @hawesie.)

 



Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg has been criticized for neglecting the role of free African-Americans in Colonial life, in addition to those who were slaves. When it first opened in the 1930s, Colonial Williamsburg had segregated dormitories for its reenactors. African Americans filled historical roles as servants, rather than free people as in the present day. In a segregated state, Colonial Williamsburg allowed the entry of blacks, but Williamsburg-area hotels denied them accommodation, and state law forbade blacks from eating with whites in such public facilities as the restored taverns and from shopping in nearby stores. (image: Wikipedia)

Colonial Williamsburg is the home of the living-history museum and private foundation presenting part of the historic district in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, United States. The Colonial Williamsburg is the best place for you to immerse yourself in America’s history. You can start off by visiting the Colonial Williamsburg area where surviving colonial structures have been restored as close as possible to their 18th-century appearance, with traces of later buildings and improvements removed. Many of the missing colonial structures were reconstructed on their original sites beginning in the 1930s. Animals, gardens, and dependencies (such as kitchens, smokehouses, and privies) add to the environment. Some buildings and most gardens are open to tourists, the exceptions being buildings serving as residences for Colonial Williamsburg employees, large donors, the occasional city official, and sometimes College of William & Mary associates.

Costumed employees work and dress as people did in the era, sometimes using colonial grammar and diction (although not colonial accents). Prominent buildings include the Raleigh Tavern, the Capitol, the Governor’s Palace (all reconstructed), as well as the Courthouse, the George Wythe House, the Peyton Randolph House, the Magazine, and independently owned and functioning Bruton Parish Church (all originals). Colonial Williamsburg’s portion of the Historic Area begins east of the College of William & Mary’s College Yard.

The College of William & Mary, the Courthouse, and the Eastern Lunatic Asylum (now Eastern State Hospital) provide a buck of the jobs for town of Williamsburg. Colonial-era buildings were by turns modified, modernized, protected, neglected, or destroyed. Development that accompanied construction of a World War I gun cotton plant at nearby Peniman and the coming of the automobile blighted the community, but the town never lost its appeal to tourists. By the early 20th century, many older structures were in poor condition, no longer in use, or were occupied by squatters.

The Visitor Center near the Colonial Parkway features a short movie, Williamsburg: the Story of a Patriot, which debuted in 1957. Visitors may park at the Visitor’s Center, as automobiles are restricted from the restored area. Wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus service is provided to stops around the perimeter of the Historic District of Williamsburg, as well as Jamestown and Yorktown, during the peak summer season.

And that’s only the beginning! You can take your Williamsburg Vacation to the next level by adding some adventure and outdoor activities. Williamsburg, VA happens to have the most beautiful theme park in the world, Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Once you are done uncovering all the thrilling rides and adventure at Busch Gardens, you can cross over to experience the fun at Virginia’s largest Water Park, Water Country USA.

Getting There
Historic Williamsburg is a wonderful time in American history and there is no better way to get there if you’re flying than through Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport which is 25–30 minutes driving distance away. Williamsburg is midway between two larger commercial airports, Richmond International Airport and Norfolk International Airport, each about an hour’s distance away.

Colonial Williamsburg operates its own fleet of buses with stops close to attractions in the Historic Area, although no motor vehicles operate during the day on Duke of Gloucester Street (to maintain the colonial-era atmosphere). At night, all the historic area streets are open to automobiles

Where To Stay
There are several Hotels in the area offering incredible incredible discount like the Westgate Historic Williamsburg Resort located at 1324 Richmond Road Williamsburg, VA 23185. You can reach them via this link or call them at 1-800-735-1906.

Where to Eat
Here are selections of places to eat in Colonial Williamsburg.

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern

Reservations: opentable.com
4.6 (276) · $$$ · Southern
101 S Waller St
Closes ⋅ 8PM
Washington dined in the original of this faithfully recreated tavern now serving fine Southern fare.

King’s Arms Tavern

Reservations: opentable.com
4.5 (607) · $$$ · Southern
416 E Duke of Gloucester St
Closed ⋅ Opens 11:30AM Thu
18th-century Colonial reproduction offering hearty American specialties from servers in costume.
Josiah Chowning’s Tavern
Phone: (800) 447-8679
4.4 (793) · $$ · American
109 E Duke of Gloucester St
Reconstructed 1766 tavern set in a white Colonial house with faithful furnishings & a Southern menu.

Fat Canary

Reservations: opentable.com
4.7 (178) · $$$ · New American
410 W Duke of Gloucester St
Refined, green-walled bistro serving upscale American fare & wines, with a cheese shop & patio.

A Chef’s Kitchen

Phone: (757) 564-8500
4.8 (58) · $$$$ · American
501 Prince George St
Closed ⋅ Opens 10AM Wed
Chef John Gonzales combines cooking classes with intimate multi-course meals & wine pairings.


Cultural Assimilation Has Corrupted the Church in America

by Jason Surmiller | In some ways it is difficult to blame the bishops for their current stance. Their political power conveyed a sense of respectability. In decades past, they could promote their policies, notably through the Democratic Party which became a conduit to support and further the goals of the bishops, such as the building up of unions across the Northeast and Midwest. (image: Carlisle Indian School, Carlisle, Pa. Class in English or penmanship from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)

To start the year off, the New York state legislature passed the most regressive anti-life law in the history of the U.S. Its governor, Andrew Cuomo, a self-proclaimed Catholic, supported and shepherded the legislation and gleefully proclaimed its enactment. Furthermore, many in the legislature enthusiastically applauded when the law was enacted. Unhappily, many of those people call themselves Catholic. As horribly sad as this situation is, what makes it infinitely more heartbreaking is that the bishops have been relatively silent on the matter. Cardinal Dolan has now spoken about the situation after being challenged, but he apparently has no real plan to confront public officials who support the law. For example, he has refused to ex-communicate the Governor or even entertain the idea that Cuomo is a public heretic despite Cuomo publicly denying the Church’s teaching on abortion.

To be fair to the cardinal, major political figures who support abortion have rarely been censured. For instance, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House from California and the leader of the Democratic party, is still considered a Catholic in good standing both in San Francisco and Washington D.C. If Dolan did censure or excommunicate Cuomo, he would blaze a new trail in relations between the Catholic Church and the state. This would require an awesome amount of courage because, in large part, he cannot expect the support of his brother bishops. In fact, some would probably openly oppose him and even denounce him. There are examples of strong church leaders like Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who stated that U.S. Senator Dick Durbin should not receive communion; yet Paprocki and a few others are the exception. This begs the question: why aren’t the bishops speaking out and trying to bring politicians, like Cuomo, back to the fold? To venture a guess, it is because they do not want to lose the standing in American public life that they have gained over the last century and a half.

The formation of the Catholic bishops’ political mindset began in the late 1800s with Archbishop John Ireland of Minneapolis and his goal to Americanize the Church. He, along with many of his brother bishops, hoped to strip the parish churches of their ethnic identity and persuade their followers to become fully American. The bishops realized that until this happened, Protestant America would look at Catholics as immigrant outsiders, best barred from the country. In order to assuage the Protestants, the bishops knew they needed to develop American Catholics by breaking the ties between the new arrivals and Europe. Also, the Church had to come out in full force supporting American ideas such as freedom of speech and religion.

In time, the bishops were successful in becoming more American, championing American political values, and largely ending the phenomenon of ethnic parishes. In many ways the average Catholic looked like a Protestant. Along with Catholics emulating Protestants, a continuing wave of Catholics immigrating to the U.S. allowed the Church to develop real political power through the ballot box. Unfortunately, during the rise of the Church in the second half of the twentieth century, it did not seem to be concerned with the teachings of Christ. This, in part, led the Church to cover up the sex abuse crimes of its priests. With these crimes finally coming to the surface along with more and more Catholics leaving the Church in part due to disruptions following Vatican II, the bishops have experienced a precipitous loss of political power. Apparently, in response to this, the bishops have decided to quiet their voices and have refused to oppose publics officials as a way to restore some of that long-lost authority.

In some ways it is difficult to blame the bishops for their current stance. Their political power conveyed a sense of respectability. In decades past, they could promote their policies, notably through the Democratic Party which became a conduit to support and further the goals of the bishops, such as the building up of unions across the Northeast and Midwest. Yet, the bishops’ reach did not stop at the political realm. Culturally and socially they were able to set up committees to censor movies and support blue laws. Popularly, people from across the country tuned in to watch Archbishop Fulton Sheen give lectures about the Faith; he even won an Emmy. It was not uncommon to have a priest or saint as the protagonist in a major motion picture like “A Man for All Seasons.” The strongest manifestation of the Church’s influence was that even Protestant politicians came calling for the Catholic vote.

This authority, however, only works when Catholics remain faithful and look to their bishops for direction in religious and secular matters. Unfortunately, Catholics have stopped coming to Church. By and large, the Catholic laity have refused to listen to the bishops in recent years largely because of the scandals. Additionally, the Church has had a hard time keeping people in the pews. News stories come out on a weekly basis reporting on the Church’s massive loss of parishioners. As of today, the Church is scrambling to understand why and implementing evangelization efforts that are not likely to work. In light of this, Church leaders are searching for new ways to maintain their influence in America. Unfortunately, the path the bishops have chosen to influence Catholic politicians—who for all intents and purposes have rejected Catholic moral teaching—is to placate them. Secularly, this makes sense. If you want a place at the table, you cannot publicly bash politicians and throw them out of the Church. If the bishops do, they will lose their place.

The problem for at least the last twenty years, if not longer, is that the Republicans and Democrats have not been listening to the Church. At best, politicians pay lip service to the bishops’ concerns and then work for groups that can actually get them elected. Ironically enough, the bishops excommunicating politicians would most likely have no real effect on political realities. Politicians would then be able to go to their voters claiming they had stood up to the regressive, out-of-step Church. Little if anything would positively happen. Yet, an important goal of publicly calling out politicians would be served: the Faith of the Church would be loudly proclaimed, and no one, Catholic or otherwise, would be confused about the Truth. Additionally, albeit unlikely, a politician might be reconverted to the truth as a result of the bishop’s action.

It is not just the scandals that have destroyed the credibility of the Church (as bad as they are on their own), but it is now politically homeless. First, the Democratic Party has simply rejected much of what the Church holds dear. It has made abortion a non-negotiable plank of their party and supports social issues which have always been opposed by the Church. Sadly enough, the Democratic Party has recently further distanced itself from the Church. Last year, Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono questioned a judicial nominee’s membership in the Knights of Columbus, implying Knights should not sit on the federal bench. While the Republican Party is, at least ostensibly, pro-life, its economic and immigration policies are not supported by many bishops—although the party itself has not been uniformly in agreement on these matters and such policies are a prudential question open for debate among Catholics. It is no small wonder that in the past few elections the Catholic vote has effectively split between the two parties. What appears to be the most telling sign is that both parties are only making half-hearted attempts to win the Catholic vote. This is most likely because they realize there is no longer a unified Catholic voting block. This is largely true because the bishops no longer influence their people and fewer and fewer Catholics even go to Church.

Despite the gravity of the abortion issue, the Catholic bishops of New York and a great majority of bishops around the U.S. refuse to meaningfully speak out against the different heresies making inroads into the Church. The bishops fear that if they taught more forcefully they would lose their standing in American public life. Perhaps, in the back of their minds, they believe repudiating the political gains made over the past 150 years will revive the charge that Catholics do not fit in. Yet, by doing this, the bishops would finally let go of the pretense that Catholicism has real political power. Only a short time ago, a politician had little hope of winning in New York, Chicago, or Detroit without the support of the local archdiocese, but those days are gone. However, this may not be a bad thing. Catholic entanglement with political power has distracted the Church from its true mission to win souls for Christ and build up the Kingdom. By refocusing on their primary duty, the bishops would better meet the spiritual needs of the faithful while attracting new adherents. A clear and confident religious message will invariably grow the Church and eventually have a salutary effect on civic life and culture—all without compromising any principles.

In the end, the whole point—for the bishops and the whole Church—is to gain more souls for Christ whether or not it means losing respectability in elite circles. To deny people the truth is a hateful thing, and to allow people to languish in error and refuse to offer them a way to salvation is the same as condemning them to hell. The bishops need to remember that their concerns should not only be for earthly things but primarily for heavenly rewards. In the end, it does not profit the bishops to gain worldly acclaim while so many under their care are losing their souls.

Jason SurmillerJason Surmiller recently graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a Ph.D. in Humanities, History of Ideas. He is a faculty member of Ursuline Academy of Dallas and an adjunct instructor at Brookhaven College. His first book, European Fascism and the Catholic Church in America: Power and the Priesthood in World War, from IB Tauris is coming out in March 2020.



Technicolor: Inspiring Your Church to Embrace Multicultural Ministry

by Joel Kurz | By the year 2050, the United States will no longer have a majority ethnic group. The nation’s population will be majority-minority. This future nationwide reality has already been a present reality in several cities, including many in the urban south, for nearly a decade. In a 2011 State of the City Address, the mayor of pastor and author Mark Hearn’s city said there were fifty-seven languages spoken at the local high school.

Title: Technicolor: Inspiring Your Church to Embrace Multicultural Ministry.
Author: Mark Hearn
ISBN-13: 978-1433691737
ISBN-10: 1433691736
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2017
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Mark Hearn accepted the call to pastor First Baptist Church in Duluth, GA, and quickly discovered his new community was the one of most diverse counties in the United States. His immediate neighbors hailed from India, Korea, and Zimbabwe.

His new church, however, was almost entirely white. Over the next few years, Hearn led his church to reach the many ethnic groups surrounding them. His new surroundings reminded him of the movie “Wizard of Oz” as Dorothy awakes in Oz and the movie changes from a black-and-white film to a technicolor film––at which point Dorothy exclaims, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The story of this transition is retold in Hearn’s new book, Technicolor.

A Changing America
For Hearn, Dorothy’s phrase could just as easily describe a changing America and its explosion of diversity. The author points out that according to the International Mission Board, there are 11,695 people groups in the United States. This isn’t something to fear, Hearn says, but rather is an opportunity to reach the nations.

Many monolithic churches find themselves in changing neighborhoods; unfortunately, some are content to remain monolithic. Appealing to Matthew 28:18-20, Hearn argues that Christians are called to make disciples of all nations; therefore, Christians must be willing to transition churches from mono-cultural to cross-cultural communities. Churches must seek to reach the many different ethnicities and language groups surrounding them.

First Baptist of Duluth’s Story
For Hearn’s First Baptist Church, the transition came with a mixture of enthusiasm and difficulty. After he discovered that 57 different language groups resided in Duluth (Gwinnett County has the 25th largest undocumented immigrant population), he knew things had to change.

Fueled by the Great Commission, Hearn wanted his new church to become a welcoming home for all. The transition began with a creative sermon series and tirelessly progressed from there. Hearn even learned Spanish and, one Sunday, surprised his congregation by preaching an entire sermon in Spanish. Since then, motivated by the language-inclusive school system, First Baptist has begun a translation ministry that merges various language groups into one gathering. The church currently translates each service into three different languages with live professional translators.

First Baptist has also formally recognized each country represented through their membership by placing that particular country’s flag in the sanctuary; currently, 26 flags hang in their auditorium.

The congregation also utilizes mission trips to build familiarity with their neighbors’ home countries. “Celebration days” from around the world have been added into the church calendar—including Indian Independence Day, Three Kings Day, and the Chinese/Korean New Year. Hearn writes, “These events have galvanized the entire congregation into a genuine cross-cultural team that is ready and willing to invite people of all ethnicities to ‘my church’” (116).

Strong in the Celebration of Diversity
Technicolor achieves its purpose in that it inspires transition toward a multi-cultural church. Filled with examples of lives changed from around the world, First Baptist is indeed a unique congregation that’s experienced a remarkable shift.

As a result, Technicolor has a number of strengths. First, Hearn is clear that the book is a motivation, not a model. I appreciate his humility when he states that the book is “not intended for emulation but for inspiration” (4).

Second, the primary thrust behind Hearn’s passion is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s clear that their new multi-cultural community is something “Jesus has accomplished . . . on our behalf” (42). Hearn knows: the call for cross-cultural and multi-ethnic churches is a call to look more like the body of Christ, which we already are. In other words, it’s not dependent on us but is a gift from God. Hearn writes, “We have one thing in common: our faith” (37).

Third, Hearn presents basic ecclesiology as the primary method of creating this cross-cultural family, namely baptism into the local church. It’s not about creating a group of cross-cultural friends, Hearn argues, but developing a sense of spiritual community through baptism.

Fourth, Hearn makes a strong case for partnership in the work. First Baptist partners with the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and Mosaix in creating a cross-cultural missions awareness.

Lastly, Hearn’s resilience in the midst of backlash and negativity is encouraging. He knew where he wanted to go and was convinced that it was right in spite of the hostility.

Limited in Scope
While the book is strong in inspiring the reader toward diversity, Technicolor is somewhat limited in scope. First Baptist Church’s diversity is primarily international. Debunking the fear of the foreigner, this is a wonderful picture of Gospel ministry. Yet, as a result of the international focus, the book doesn’t address other racial issues. Hearn is silent on the African American struggle and on issues of white superiority. Churches who are trying to bring together white and black communities may still be inspired by Hearn’s story, yet discover this book simply has a different purpose.

Second, smaller churches who don’t have the ability to provide professional translation services may be discouraged and unsure of next steps. Language-based church plants are subtly discouraged in favor of live-translated services. That’s unfortunate, because planting language-specific churches is always a viable choice. The question never occurs to Hearn if translation is even a wise idea. Yes, you can translate services, but can you translate life together for the congregation all week? If not, has church become a once-a-week service?

Third, the transition at First Baptist seems very senior pastor-driven. While it worked for First Baptist, this approach could be devastating in other contexts and churches. I could see a pastor moving too quickly or too strong and splitting his church due to his good intentions.

Conclusion
I thank God for Mark Hearn and the work at First Baptist Church in Duluth. Hearn’s desire for evangelism and commitment to the gospel is evident throughout. While there are a few weaknesses, this book offers a unique and much-needed contribution to American evangelicalism, especially as demographics change. I pray many churches will experience the kind of explosive diversity that’s recently been experienced and celebrated at First Baptist Church in Duluth, GA.

Joel KurzJoel Kurz is the lead pastor of The Garden Church in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find him on Twitter at @joelkurz.



What is Lent?

Lent is traditionally described as lasting for 40 days, in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, before beginning his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan. (image, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (Jésus tenté dans le désert), James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum)

Lent this year started on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 and ends on Saturday, April 20th 2019. In short, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. It always lasts for 40 days, mirroring the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. It can also be seen to mirror the 40 hours that Jesus spent in the tomb prior to his resurrection. This event is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.

During Lent many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain foods, habits or luxuries – for example sweets, alcohol, smoking – for its duration (the money saved is often then donated to charity). This is done both as a form of penitence and as a spiritual tool to tame the body and ‘sharpen the spirit’ for prayer, reflection and contemplation in preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Purple is the color most associated with Lent – during this period purple church vestments (altar cloths and the priests’ liturgical garments) are used. The purple is symbolic in two ways: it is the traditional color of mourning (recalling Jesus’ death) and also symbolic of royalty (celebrating Christ’s coming as King).

The Gloria in excelsis Deo, which is usually sung on Sundays at Mass (or Communion) of the Roman and Anglican rites, is omitted on the Sundays of Lent, but continues in use on during special solemn celebrations like on Maundy Thursday. The Lutheran Divine Service, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Churches, and the Presbyterian service of worship associate the Alleluia are omitted entirely during Lent in the canonical hours and outside the liturgy.

The sixth Sunday in Lent, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter. Holy Week and the season of Lent, depending on denomination and local custom, end with Easter Vigil at sundown on Holy Saturday or on the morning of Easter Sunday. It is custom for some churches to hold sunrise services which include open air celebrations in some places.



Improving Our Ability to See Risk Using Visual Literacy

by Doug Pontsler | Visual literacy is all about what you see, what it means, and what you do about it. Visual literacy has been taught in art education for years and provides a methodology for close looking. By recognizing that we are often influenced by our expectations of what we will see, our history in seeing things in the past, and a natural bias to pay attention to some things and not others we often look, but don’t see. (Image by geralt on Pixabay)

Every day, we ask our people to perform various tasks as part of our safety processes that require “seeing.” These tasks may be conducting a hazard hunt, completing a risk assessment, or performing an observation. Every day, we train our people to be proficient in the things that they do. It may be classroom training, on-line training, or on-the-job training. So, when was the last time any of us received training on how to see? If you are like most, never.

Sighted people are accustomed to seeing because they have been doing so their entire lives. We have confidence that when we look at something, we see what is there. However, what if that isn’t as true as we believe it to be? Is it possible that while we may look at something, we might not actually be seeing everything that we could be seeing? And what if there was a way to improve our ability to see the things that are right in front of us?

Visual literacy is all about what you see, what it means, and what you do about it. Visual literacy has been taught in art education for years and provides a methodology for close looking. By recognizing that we are often influenced by our expectations of what we will see, our history in seeing things in the past, and a natural bias to pay attention to some things and not others we often look, but don’t see. It’s why we often fail to see a potential problem even though we have walked by it a hundred times until it’s too late. Or that we are so familiar with our surroundings that we can no longer see the forest for the trees. The result is that incidents themselves begin to inform us of the things we should be seeing and fixing.

Think about the number of hazard hunts that have been conducted in work areas only to miss the hazard that results in the next incident. Think about the design for safety review that was just completed on a new piece of equipment, but still an incident occurs. Think about the pre-job risk assessment that was completed ahead of the task, but still missed an important hazard that wasn’t identified. It is one thing to know about the hazards to look for, but another to see them.

Created by the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), COVE: Center of Visual Expertise (COVE) is focused on leveraging the lessons taught in art education to improve our safety processes by improving our ability to see what is in front of us. Methodologies exist in visual literacy and processes developed by TMA and COVE to teach individuals how to move past “looking” to “seeing,” and leading to a more complete interpretation of the environment we are dealing with. We can then control, if not eliminate, the hazards that are in front us, and not wait to let an incident inform us that they exist.

Companies are now learning how visual literacy can improve their ability to execute critical safety processes, and are integrating visual literacy into their training agendas. As one recent participant in a visual literacy workshop commented, “You will never see things the same anymore.”

Doug Pontsler is the chairman and managing director at CO VE: Center of Visual Expertise. www.covectr.com. He is vice president of operations sustainability and environmental, health and safety for Owens Corning before joining COVE. In this leadership role, his role was expanded in 2011 to include responsibility for foundational compliance and sustainability operations performance. Pontsler serves as a member of the National Safety Council Board of Directors and is chairman of the National Safety Council Campbell Institute.



The Grass Is Not Always Greener in the East

by Casey Chalk | Guroian is hopeful, but realistic, regarding an East-West union, noting that “sin of the collective and habitual sort is stubborn and not easily overcome. Nationalistic and particularistic proclivities, the desire to cling to power, and false pride and defensiveness can at any moment, and over the long haul, overwhelm all the good reasons for Orthodox Churches to accept the pope’s fraternal invitation.”

Anyone familiar with Orthodox convert (from Catholicism!) Rod Dreher knows that there is much common cultural and political ground between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Guroian affirms this reality when he writes, “North American culture is awash in a feckless brew of expressive individualism, moral relativism, and godless utilitarianism that does grave damage to the human spirit and most certainly challenges the church to reassert its mission to claim this world for God.” Guroian argues that culture lives and dies based on its union with and dependence on the Incarnation and the liturgy. Indeed, man’s creation of culture is analogical to God’s creative work, especially given man being made in God’s image and then given the supernatural life through baptism and having it enhanced throughhis access to the other sacraments. Thus as Western culture becomes increasingly untethered from these (and God, more generally), so it dies, because it is incapable of accurately reflecting God’s work in the world. “Postmodernity is not a new culture. It is the rotting corpse of a thoroughly desacralized Christendom or, alternatively, the empty shell of the Christian cult inhabited by alien ideologies,” he writes.

Guroian takes up this sacramental and liturgical vision in just about every subject in the book. In his chapter on Constantine and the creation of Christendom he explains the Justinian symphonia, or deep alliance between the Church and the State. In contrast to Western conceptions of church-state relations as two competing institutional powers, the Orthodox “vision of Christendom” interprets the Church not as a competing institutional power, but as a liturgical and sacramental presence. Indeed, he uses the hypostatic union of Christ as a rebuttal against a strict separation of church and state. While the West speaks of church and state, the East speaks of church and the world. He recognizes this last as problematic, as it tends to perceive the instruments of the state as “ligaments of the kingdom of God.” Again, in his writing on ethics, Guroian argues that “Orthodox ethics are grounded in liturgy and how the liturgy lends a powerful, transformative, and eschatological vision to Orthodox ethics.” Participation in the Eucharist is the means by which the Church becomes “God’s eschatological polity in the world.” Liturgy is also central to this contrast between Western and Eastern conceptions of marriage: unlike Catholic definitions of marriage that emphasize its contractual and covenantal nature, the Orthodox emphasize its liturgical and healing character, undoing the enmity between the sexes that began at the Fall.

Guroian writes of more significant differences when he gets to Catholic distinctions between symbol and reality and nature and grace, particularly as it relates to the Eucharist. He writes of a Western tendency towards a “dangerous distinction and separation between symbol and reality,” and a “nature and grace” dualism that represents a “radical discontinuity” which the East “finds unacceptable.” This represents nothing less than a “fall” from the Nicene conception of the relationship between nature and grace. Perhaps this contrast might best be described as an Orthodox sacramental and mystical “realism” versus a Catholic metaphysical rationalism and intellectualism, born out of a scholastic tradition that emphasizes propositional understandings of truth and faith. This tends towards eviscerating the true spiritual, divine power of God’s work in the world, says Guroian. Yet much of his critique is not so much against official Catholic doctrine per se, as impressions of it mediated through certain early theological manuals or the writings of modern theologians, and then interpreted by Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann. Indeed, Guroian provides no evidence to substantiate his claims regarding a supposed radical split between nature and grace in Catholic theology. Moreover, if the complaint is with scholasticism, this tradition is not unique to the West—the writings of Maximus the Confessor, John Damascene, and Leontius of Byzantium all contain scholastic elements.

Of course, what would an Orthodox-Catholic discussion be without reference to the papacy? Guroian cites another Orthodox scholar who “discovered no conclusive proof in Scripture or in early Church history for the bishop of Rome’s claim to supreme headship over all Christians.” For example, Christ’s famous declaration in Matthew 16 regarding petra (rock) cannot “refer back reflexively” to Petros (Peter), though no evidence is offered to substantiate this. While willing to acknowledge a contemporary need for a universal ecclesial leadership similar to that of the pope, he calls for a “reformulation of papal primacy” to the oft-heard paradigm of primus inter pares (“first among equals”). Guroian calls on Rome to maintain a primacy of ministry and service, not magisterial authority. He urges popes to use language and take actions that demonstrate more humility, and offer more parity, towards their Eastern episcopal brethren. I see little harm in gestures of comity and humility, especially in days of aggressive secularism, when Catholics and Orthodox should look to historical examples of cooperation, instead of conflict, for ecumenical inspiration.

Guroian is hopeful, but realistic, regarding an East-West union, noting that “sin of the collective and habitual sort is stubborn and not easily overcome. Nationalistic and particularistic proclivities, the desire to cling to power, and false pride and defensiveness can at any moment, and over the long haul, overwhelm all the good reasons for Orthodox Churches to accept the pope’s fraternal invitation.” Indeed, elsewhere he is quite honest about what he terms “the Orthodox escape into ethnic separatism and sectarian spiritualism.” He explains:

The Orthodox are guilty of a comparable sin of dividing the one body of Christ into exclusivist national and ethnic enclaves that they will not let go of even when the opportunity arises, as it has in America…. The bitter pill that the Orthodox must swallow is that they have been complicit in the reduction and separation of the undivided church of which they accuse others.

This has often taken the form of what is called phyletism, or the establishment of national churches that refuse members of other nationalities from liturgical participation and are only administered by ministers from that nationality.

These issues—Roman primacy and Orthodox divisiveness—represent two sides of the same coin that I would present to any Catholic considering leaving for Orthodoxy because of Rome’s contemporary crises. The Catholic Church, unlike her Eastern brethren, possesses a principle of unity that has been essential to her guidance and preservation through the centuries. Surely, she has sometimes been poorly led by the papacy. Yet this principle has enabled the Church to weather precisely the problem that has plagued Orthodoxy—ethnic and national conflicts. Attempts at such “Catholic nationalism” (e.g., Gallicanism or the Polish Catholic Church) have failed, and what remains of these movements reflects only dying branches severed from the source. Furthermore, contrary to Orthodox arguments, there is plentiful historical evidence for Rome’s primacy, not only ministerially, but magisterially.

Finally, God himself has given us reason to believe in the Catholic conception of Roman magisterial authority through the continued availability of motives of credibility. Though some of these are not unique to Catholicism (e.g., miracles recorded in historical Scriptural documents or the testimony of the early Church), others are. No Christian institution has holier saints. No institution has been able, against all odds, to maintain her level of visible unity, nor continued to grow in numbers and holiness. Yes, it’s undoubtedly true, our Church is currently suffering a tremendous crisis, one that is doing terrible harm to her witness to the world. Yet our Church continues to possess the identity, tools, and inner potency to overcome them, as Christ has proven to us generation after generation. It would be foolhardy to leave her now, even for a Church containing all the beauty, truth, and spiritual power of the Orthodox.

Casey Chalk is a graduate student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College.



Why Do We Celebrate Transfiguration Sunday?

by Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum | The transfiguration of Jesus is when Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant in glory upon a mountain, (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36, 2 Peter 1:16–18). Jesus and three of his apostles, Peter, James, John, go to a mountain (the Mount of Transfiguration) to pray. On the mountain, Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light (Image by CCXpistiavos on Pixabay).

Many denominations in North America schedule the observance of the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent. Celebration of the Transfiguration began in the eastern church in the late fourth century. The feast is celebrated on Aug. 6. This was the date of the dedication of the first church built on Mount Tabor, which is traditionally considered to be the “high mountain” of the Transfiguration. Others locate the Transfiguration on Mount Hermon or the Mount of Olives. Celebration of the feast was not common in the western church until the ninth century. It was declared a universal feast of the western church by Pope Callistus III in 1457. The feast was first included in the English Prayer Book as a black letter day in the 1561 revision of the calendar of the church year. It was included as a red letter day with proper collect and readings in the American Prayer Book of 1892. Its inclusion reflects the efforts of William Reed Huntington, who wrote the BCP collect for the Transfiguration.

This collect prays, “O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the king in his beauty. . . .” (BCP, p. 243). The Transfiguration is listed among the holy days of the church year as a Feast of our Lord. Other provinces of the Anglican Communion followed the lead of the Episcopal Church in celebrating the Transfiguration as a major feast. The Transfiguration gospel is used on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in all three years of the BCP eucharistic lectionary. As an Epiphany story, the Transfiguration provides one of the most distinctive and dramatic showings of Jesus’ divinity.

We celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory “before the passion” so that we may “be strengthened to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness.” The focus of the Lenten season is renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross and rediscovery of the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin and our daily adherence to Christ. At Easter, which reveals the fullness of Christ’s glory (foreshadowed in the Transfiguration), Christians give themselves anew to the gospel at the Easter Vigil where they share the dying and rising of Christ.

In the biblical context, the synoptic gospels narrate the Transfiguration as a bridge between Jesus’ public ministry and his passion. From the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem and the cross.

Feast that celebrates Jesus’ radical change of appearance while in the presence of Peter, James, and John, on a high mountain (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). The Gospel of Matthew records that “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” At this moment Moses and Elijah appeared, and they were talking with Jesus. Peter, misunderstanding the meaning of this manifestation, offered to “make three booths” for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. A bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud stated, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples fell on their faces in awe, but Jesus encouraged them to arise and “have no fear.” They saw only Jesus. This event is alluded to in 2 Pt 1:16-18, which records that “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” and “we were with him on the holy mountain.” The Transfiguration revealed Christ’s glory prior to the crucifixion, and it anticipated his resurrection and ascension. It may have given strength and comfort to his disciples in the difficult times that followed. It also prefigures the glorification of human nature in Christ.

Donald Armentrout is a professor emeritus of church history and historical theology, the Charles Quintard Professor of Dogmatic Theology, and director of the Advanced Degrees Program at the University of the South School of Theology. Robert Slocum is the rector of Trinity Church in Danville, KY and the author of many books, including The Theology of William Porcher Dubose and Prophet of Justice, Prophet of Life: Essays on William Stringfellow.

Robert Boak Slocum is distinguished lecturer in the department of philosophy and religious studies at St. Catharine College in Kentucky. He has served as president of the Society of Anglican and Lutheran Theologians and is on the editorial board of the Anglican Theological Review. He also co-wrote An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church with Donald S. Armentrout for Morehouse Publishing.



Southern Baptist official resigns, cites ‘unfair’ critiques of decision to end inquiries

by Robert Downen | Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear speaks to the denomination’s executive committee Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. Just days after a newspaper investigation revealed hundreds of sexual abuse cases by Southern Baptist ministers and lay leaders over the past two decades, Greear spoke about plans to address the problem.

Alford’s resignation is the latest in a series of headline-grabbing events over the Southern Baptist Convention’s handling of sexual abuses. The newspapers found at least 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers had been accused or convicted of sex crimes or misconduct since 1998. (image: Mark Humphrey, STF / Associated Press)

A Southern Baptist Executive Committee official on Friday resigned, citing “controversy and angst” over his former committee’s recent decision to end inquiries into multiple churches over their handling of sexual abuse.

Ken Alford oversaw the bylaws committee that last Saturday announced it would end most of the 10 church investigations recommended by President J.D. Greear days earlier. Greear had made the recommendations after an investigation by the Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News that found more than 700 people had reported being sexually abused by Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers in the last two decades.

Six of those churches were in Texas, including three in Houston. The decision was met with swift backlash from survivors of sexual assault, many of whom said they were never contacted by SBC officials, as well as some prominent SBC pastors and figures.

In his resignation letter to the Executive Committee, which was obtained by the Chronicle, Alford wrote that “while condemning the report of our workgroup was unfair, I believe that it was understandable, especially coming from victims of sexual abuse and their advocates.”

“It was unfair in the sense that individuals accused us of ‘conducting a hasty investigation and quickly clearing six churches’ without interviewing victims, victim advocates, or other authorities,” he wrote.

But, he wrote, it was also unfair of Greear to ask the committee to do something that Alford said it was neither equipped nor intended to do.

“What should be obvious is that the task of conducting extensive investigations of churches is an assignment far beyond the capability of our small Bylaws Workgroup,” Alford wrote. “Beyond that fact, however, is the reality that neither the Bylaws Workgroup nor the Executive Committee has any investigative authority given to it by the SBC.”

The workgroup, he added, “conducted NO investigation, because we were not authorized to do so, and we did not ‘clear’ any churches, because that determination was not a part of our responsibility.

A spokesman for Greear declined comment Saturday night because Greear was about to lead services at his church in North Carolina.

Christa Brown, who for decades has called on the SBC to address sexual abuse, previously described the decision by Alford’s committee as a “Saturday night massacre of hope” for victims.

She said Alford’s resignation is further proof that the SBC should allow third parties to investigate sexual abuses.

“What’s ‘unfair’ is for any SBC insider group to presume to investigate the SBC’s own affiliated churches, ” she wrote in a text. “And that’s an unfairness that harms children, both now and in the future.”

Alford, who once resigned from a major SBC entity because of an affair he had, also said he understood why the incident – which he described Friday as a “moral failure” – raised questions about his ability to lead the group.

“Let me settle that question: I am NOT worthy!” Alford wrote. “I am not worthy of chairing that group, nor am I worthy of serving on the Executive Committee. Honestly, I am not worthy of serving as a pastor or of being married to the wonderful woman that I am.”

Alford’s resignation is the latest in a series of headline-grabbing events over the Southern Baptist Convention’s handling of sexual abuses. The newspapers found at least 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers had been accused or convicted of sex crimes or misconduct since 1998.

SBC leaders said they were outraged by the report’s findings, calling the acts “evil” and vowing to examine how the SBC can better handle the sexual abuses that victims and advocates have for years warned were at a crisis level.

One leading SBC figure has since apologized for his previous support of a church and popular religious leader at the center of a massive sex abuse scandal.

Alford’s resignation appears to be the first related to the series.

Days after the series concluded, Greear called for investigations into 10 SBC churches, including Houston’s Second Baptist Church, which the newspapers reported had been accused of mishandling multiple abuses by a youth group leader and contract worker, both of whom were later convicted.

Second Baptist has denied those allegations.

Unlike the Catholic Church, Greear does not have broad powers to implement any kind of sweeping reforms. The Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 member churches subscribe to the idea that each congregation is autonomous and self-governing, and thus don’t answer to any central figure or hierarchy.

That idea, called local church autonomy, has allowed sexual predators to sometimes move from church to church, the newspapers found.

Benjamin Cole, who runs the Baptist Blogger website, said Saturday that Alford’s resignation  “does not begin to address the systemic failure” of the SBC’s responses to the ongoing and public sexual abuse crisis it has faced since the investigation published.

“The convention does not merely need a change in leadership, it needs a change of culture,” Cole wrote in a text message.

Robert Downen covers general assignment and breaking news stories for the Houston Chronicle’s metro desk. Prior to that, he worked as a business reporter in Albany, New York, and as the managing editor of a group of six newspapers in Illinois. He is a 2014 graduate of Eastern Illinois University. You can reach Robert via @RobDownenChron



Do Christians Need to Speak in Tongues?

by Christianity.net.au | Don’t get me wrong, tongues are still a gift from God and still good, but the exact problem the Christians in Corinth had was that they played a game of one-up-manship based on who had the better gift, and who followed the ‘better’ Apostle – and that’s why Paul hammers them in I Cor 3:1 as “mere infants in Christ”.  Don’t let whether you speak in tongues or not shake your confidence in Christ! (image, Pixabay)

 

I am wondering about ‘speaking in tongues’. A friend of mine has just given me a book called ‘Heaven is so Real’ by a woman called Choo Nam. In this book, she claims Jesus has taken her to heaven many times and she tells the reader that Jesus tells her she must pray in tongues. Are we Christians who don’t speak in tongues missing something or are we not good enough Christians for God to give us tongues to use? I have found many mentions of speaking in tongues in the Bible and just am quite confused about the whole thing. – Anonymous

Regarding speaking in tongues, the Bible never tells us that we must speak in tongues.  A good passage is 1 Cor 12:27-31:

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[a]? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire the greater gifts”.

The obvious answer to his rhetorical question (in bold) “No, of course they don’t!”.  This idea is picked up earlier in 1 Cor 12:7-11, where different gifts are given to different people as the Spirit determines.  This is a really clear answer from the Bible (yay!), the Bible doesn’t tell us that we must speak in tongues.

Which brings us to the second part of your question about whether Christians who speak in tongues are some how superior to those who don’t, or whether we’re missing something.  Back in the first passage the last verse says that we are to “eagerly desire the greater gifts” (V31).  But V28 tells us that they are more like the gifts of apostleship (which you and I aren’t!), prophecy, teaching etc…  In fact, tongues are last on the list!  The gift of administration is even above tongues in this ordered list.  Sometimes it’s easy to over-emphasise tongues because they look impressive, when really God values other things more highly.

Don’t get me wrong, tongues are still a gift from God and still good, but the exact problem the Christians in Corinth had was that they played a game of one-up-manship based on who had the better gift, and who followed the ‘better’ Apostle – and that’s why Paul hammers them in 3:1 as “mere infants in Christ”.  Don’t let whether you speak in tongues or not shake your confidence in Christ!

Finally, I think it’d be really good to be encouraged by what Christianity is all about.  Have a read of this:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in CHRIST”.  (Eph 1:3)

If you have Christ, you have it all!!  That’s worth remembering I think.

Christianity.net.au is an Anglican Media Sydney production, started in 2005. Sydneyanglicans.net is the official website of the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church and a division of Anglican Media Sydney. Click here to learn more about Anglican Media Sydney.



10 Questions to Ask Your Teens

by Jason Matthews | When it comes to your relationship with God, what’s more important to you—how you feel about Him or what you know about Him and Why? We need to ask our teens questions about God and religion to find out what’s really going on in their heads…and what they ultimately believe in their hearts.

It’s spring time, which means that another school year of youth ministry is about to wrap up. For some of us that just means a shift to summer program, and we’re already starting to think about things like camps and mission trips. For others, it may mean a total shut down of our programmed events and we’re already starting to think about slower days and just hanging out with students. Either way, now is a good time to look back and evaluate the “success” of your ministry this school year.

Youth ministry “success” can be measured in different ways. Numbers certainly matter, so we track and measure things like attendance and professions of faith and how many students are signed up to go on the mission trip. But, numbers don’t always tell us the whole story…and without the whole story, it’s hard to truly evaluate if your ministry year was a “success” or not. If we really want to know how we’re doing (and how our ministries are doing with raising the next generation of Jesus followers), we need to ask bigger questions, ones that can’t be measured on a spreadsheet. We need to ask them questions about God and religion to find out what’s really going on in their heads…and what they ultimately believe in their hearts.

So, recently, I asked my students to anonymously respond to ten questions. And, I’m finding that their answers are all over the map. From the typical “Sunday School” answer to answers full of “Christianese.” From answers that reflect a solid, Biblical understanding of what it means to be a Christian to ones that reflect the moral therapeutic deism that is so prevalent among students today. But, at least I know what my students actually believe…and that helps me in two ways. It helps me look back on the school year and evaluate the “success” of our ministry in making disciples. And, it helps me look ahead to the next school year and start thinking about what our students need the most to grow in their faith.

If you want to dig a little deeper into how “successful” your ministry is in raising up the next generation of Jesus followers, you might consider asking them these ten questions:

  1. What does it mean to be a Christian?
  2. What do you see as “Christianity” today? How would you describe it?
  3. What turns unchurched people off from Christianity?
  4. What turns churched people off from Christianity?
  5. What is the role of the Christian in the world today? Why are we here?
  6. What is the role of the Bible in today’s world? What’s its purpose?
  7. Why do you go to church? What’s the purpose of the church today?
  8. What do you value the most about your relationship with God? Why?
  9. Do you believe people are born mostly good or mostly bad? Why?
  10. When it comes to your relationship with God, what’s more important to you—how you feel about Him or what you know about Him? Why?

Those are my ten. What other questions are you asking your students right now to find out what they believe?

Jason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington State, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years.  When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest.  He also loves to network with other youth workers.  You can connect with Jason on Facebook, Twitter @PJMATTHEWS77, and Instagram (@wearethebreak) where he’ll often post on life and youth ministry.



The Monks Save European Civilization

by Jesus Christ Savior | Pope Gregory the Great, as a leader and defender of the Holy Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, ensured that the Church would endure and grow during those difficult times, when much change was taking place in the Roman Empire and beyond (Image, Pope St. Gregory the Great 540-604).

The Monastic Orders have been a premium influence on the formation of Christian culture. For not only have they been islands of asceticism and holiness that have served as ideals to a secular world, but also they have provided many if not most of the religious leaders within each historic age, especially during times of renewal and reform. The word monos is the Greek word for one or alone. Monasticism began in the East and spread throughout Europe and saved European civilization.

The practice of leaving the ambitions of daily life and retreating to the solitude of the desert was seen throughout Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, St. John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) an early example.

The father of Christian monasticism was St. Antony of the Desert (251-356), the first of the Desert Fathers. Antony of Egypt took to heart the words of Christ to the rich young man, ” Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). He headed across the Nile to a mountain near Pispir to live a life of solitude, prayer, and poverty . Soon many gathered around him to imitate his life, living as hermits in nearby caves in the mountain, and in 305 he emerged from solitude to teach his followers the way of the ascetic. He then moved further into the desert by Mount Kolzim near the Red Sea, where a second group of hermits gathered and later formed a monastery. He lived there for 45 years until his death in 356.

St. Maron (350-410), a contemporary of St. John Chrysostom, was a monk in the fourth century who left Antioch for the Orontes River to lead a life of holiness and prayer. As he was given the gift of healing, his life of solitude was short-lived, and soon he had many followers that adopted his monastic way. Following the death of St. Maron in 410, his disciples built a monastery in his memory, which would form the nucleus of the Eastern Catholic Maronite Church of Lebanon.

The fall of the Roman Empire to the barbarian invasions left European civilization in disarray, for the social structure under one ruler in Rome was destroyed. The preservation of culture and the conversion of the barbarians to Christianity was left to an unlikely group: the monastics of Europe. Their missionary efforts converted one tribe after another, so that eventually all of Europe was united in the worship of the one Christian God.

St. Patrick as Apostle to Ireland founded the monastery of Armagh in 444 and other monasteries throughout Ireland. As the social unit in Ireland and much of Europe at the time was the tribe in the countryside, the monastery was the center of Church life and learning. The Irish monks that followed him converted much of northern Europe. The lasting legacy of the Irish monks has been the present-day form of confession. In early times, penance was in public and severe, often lasting for years, such that Baptism was generally postponed until one’s deathbed. The Irish monks began private confession and allowed one to repeat confession as necessary.

The monk St. Benedict (480-547) was born in Nursia of nobility but chose a life of solitude in Subiaco outside of Rome. Soon he moved nearby to build a monastery at Monte Cassino in 529 and there wrote the Rule of Benedict. Monte Cassino placed all of the monks in one monastery under an abbot. The guiding principle for the monastery was ora et labora, or pray and work. The monastery provided adequate food and a place to sleep and served as a center of conversion and learning. Known for its moderation, Monte Cassino and Benedict’s rule became the standard for monasteries throughout Europe and the pattern for Western civilization.

The first monk to become Pope was St. Gregory the Great (540-604). Born to Roman nobility, Gregory at first pursued a political career and became Prefect of Rome. However he gave up position and wealth and retreated to his home to lead a monastic life. He was recalled to Rome and soon was elected Pope in 590 and served until his death in 604. A man of great energy, he is known for four historic achievements. His theological and spiritual writings shaped the thought of the Middle Ages; he made the Pope the de facto ruler of central Italy; his charisma strengthened the Papacy in the West; and he was dedicated to the conversion of England to Christianity. Gregory sent the monk Augustine to England in 597. The conversion of King Aethelbert of Kent led St. Augustine to be named the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon English Benedictine monks were being sent to convert the rest of Europe, such as the English monk Winfrid, better known as St. Boniface, who served from 723-739 as the Apostle to Germany.

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.