Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bullying: An Unacceptable Reality

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last week, a study published from Clemson University showed that one in six school children have experienced bullying. Many respondents felt that teachers had done little or nothing to stop it. The study also showed that as children get older, they are more inclined to engage in bullying. In the wake of the teen suicides of Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and others because of anti-gay bullying, I think it is important to reflect on what our children might be subjected to in our schools and become part of the solution.

In the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, teens have started a chapter of the Interfaith Youth Core and chose bullying months ago as the single issue on which they wanted to act. Many of these children told their stories at a C.H.A.N.G.E. assembly in April comprised of 54 faith communities and neighborhood associations. I was shocked by what these children had experienced. One Jewish girl told a story about swastikas being drawn on her desk and money being thrown at her feet, and a Jewish boy said a group of guys asked him why he was at “their school,” saying, “I thought you all died during the Holocaust.” A Muslim boy told a story about being called a “terror baby,” while a Catholic boy shared that he and his friends were called “gay” during the accusations of sexual misconduct among some priests. One Latino Christian described his fear of succeeding in class, saying that the gangs would bully him for being a nerd if they knew how smart he was. From sexual harassment to racial discrimination, it was truly heart wrenching to hear the stories of our youth. In a group of Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Unitarian youth, every single child had, at the very least, witnessed some form of bullying or discrimination in their school.

According to a report compiled by the US Department of Justice from worldwide studies, Australian researchers discovered that children who were victims of weekly bullying “experienced poorer health, more frequently contemplated suicide, and suffered from depression, social dysfunction, anxiety, and insomnia.” When they grew up, they had an increased likelihood of having children who would be subjected to bullying (pg 12). It’s a problem that has long-lasting effects.

So, what can and should we do? First, we need to become more educated about what our children face in their schools (check links below to start). Second, find out what you can do to stand with those who are bullied. To show immediate support, many celebrities, political figures, and regular folks like you and me have been making short videos and posting them to YouTube to say that “it gets better,” both as you get older and as time progresses and views change about gender, race, and sexuality. Parents can work to be more engaged in the schools, listening to their children and reading between the lines. Teachers can respond and stop the bullying when it starts. Churches and their members can mentor schools and students, and be safe havens for children and teens who are being bullied and contemplating suicide.

Each of us is a child of God, made in God’s image and deserving of love and respect. Gen 1:27-31 states, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.” We can and should show our children that their lives are precious, and that their potential is great. Jesus tells us not to be “a stumbling block before one of these little ones” and to “become humble like this child” in order to be “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (NRSV, Matthew 18). Let us commit to love, stand with, and speak out for these children in Jesus’ example. That these kids can’t see tomorrow for all the pain of today is a tragedy we shouldn’t be willing to let continue.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Bullying Initiative: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/

The National Center for Bullying Prevention:

Stomp Out Bullying:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Proof of Faith

by Rev. Jack Darida

A recent poll demonstrates public confusion concerning President Barack Obama’s faith. President Obama consistently professes to be a Christian. However, poll numbers demonstrate a change in public perception. In 2009, 11 percent of the public believed the President was Muslim. This year that number increased to 18 percent. Why is this? Maybe it is because these people do not like his positions and refuse to embrace his Christian profession. The White House claims there is a concerted effort to distort the President’s faith. I choose not to get into the middle of this controversy. If the President professes faith in Christ, I take him at his word. Nevertheless, the confusion over President Obama’s faith brings up a significant question. If people who know you were polled, how many would question your Christianity?

How do you tell whether someone is a Christian? Jesus told His disciples that the world would know they were His followers by their love. Love is the quintessential mark of the Christian. If you are a loving person, your friends might recognize you as a Christian.

Another acid test for Christianity is your belief system. If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, and live your life according to its principles, your friends might recognize you as a Christian. True Christians are serious about living out their faith. Doctrine is not dry and meaningless. Doctrine comes alive through the life of the believer in Christ.

Followers of Christ also have a habit of talking about Him. Christian speech is salty, sometimes causing unbelievers to take notice. When you are in a loving relationship with someone who means everything to you, you can’t help but include him in your conversations.

What about the church? While attending church does not guarantee you are a believer in Christ, the committed believer in Christ will be committed to His body. A couple of years ago, the Barna research group discovered that over half of professing Christians in the United States do not attend church. Dan Kimball reflects this in the title of his book about a new generation of believers: “They Like Jesus but Not the Church.” In spite of the trend, it is important for believers in Jesus Christ to worship, fellowship, learn, grow, and experience life together. The majority of the New Testament applies to a community and loses its force when directed only to the individual. Observable Christians actively plug themselves in to Christ’s body, the church. Perhaps consistent video clips of President Obama leading his family to church for worship would lay any questions to rest.

Someone once asked the question, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Christ-like love, living what you believe, salty speech, and a commitment to church togetherness would all stand up nicely in the court of public opinion.

Jack Darida is the pastor of Quaker Gap Baptist Church in King, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Messenger.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baptimergent - A snapshot of a new century of faith

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Baptimergent: Baptist Stories from the Emergent Frontier is a compilation of essays published by Smyth and Helwys and edited by Zach Roberts. The 13 authors are a mix of new and established Baptist leaders who identify themselves as Emergent Baptists. These Baptists value a new way of practicing faith which has the following characteristics: reconciliation over ideological fighting; reclaiming ancient spiritual practices; a strong desire to follow Jesus in newer and deeper ways; a commitment to Baptist principles; and an open mind in following Jesus and encountering others.

The diversity of writing styles and perspectives among the essayists is refreshing. For those who want to delve into a more theological approach, Tripp Fuller encourages us to rethink our concept of power within Christianity in the opening essay, The Time Is Now, The Place Is Near. His piece reads like a deep theological work, mulled and mused over many a long night of discussions with friends, and ends with a call for the church to renew its commitment to the gospel and the hope found in God, identified as Abba by Christ.

For a great piece on the difference between Generation Y and The Greatest Generation, read Wanda Kidd’s Give Us Ears to Hear. The essay challenges us to “create opportunities for conversation across generational experiences for storytelling and name recognition.” She notes, “Community is a bankrupt concept if the exchanging of ideas, dreams, hopes, and promise is held only within one segment of the people” (62).

Those who want to learn more about ancient spiritual practices like lectio divina and walking the labyrinth will want to read Cathy Payne Anderson’s 21st Century Ancient Practices to discover how she integrates those elements into her life.

The piece that resonated most with me was Christina Whitehouse-Suggs’ Making Space at the Table. Her piece courageously recounts her navigation of complicated ministry situations outside the church and in diverse settings—which is familiar territory for many Generation X and Y ministers. Her triumphs and failures, which exude a conversational honesty, read like a guidebook for a new minister or Christian. She concludes that we must always err on the side of Christ-like grace and continue to make “space at the table” for all (87).

All the essays included in the book are well chosen and address some of the major problems or issues I see facing the church, our culture, and our faith in the coming century. A familiar theme for many of the authors seems to be growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist church and realizing at some point that the God of exclusion preached from the pulpit was at odds with the God of love they knew in their hearts or saw exhibited in the actions of another.

Based on my own similar experience and that of many others in my generation, I believe this book will resonate with many who are devoted to the Baptist principles of the priesthood of all believers, church autonomy, religious freedom, and the centrality of Scripture. As Tim Conder notes in the closing, these same Baptists are seeking new ways to practice their faith relationally against the individualism, consumerism, and nationalism that can plague our culture. And for those who are firmly rooted in the traditional Baptist liturgy and practices of the last century, this book would be a great resource to begin dialogue with other generations and encourage the true listening community. As Wanda Kidd states, “We are called to hear and respond to those who surround us, and it is a mighty calling” (67). Amen.

Baptimergent: Baptist Stories from the Emergent Frontier is available from Smyth and Helwys Press. For more information, visit their website: http://www.helwys.com/books/baptimergent.html

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lesson from a Tree

by Dr. Roger Gilbert

Last night, our grandchildren, Jessie and Jacob, spent the night with us. Bedtime is a story time, so I told them to each pick out a book and I would read to them. Jessie, who is eight, said she wanted to do the reading from her book. So, while I read to Jacob, Jessie read to Deidra.

The book Jacob chose is a long-time favorite, The Giving Tree. It is the story of a boy and a tree. When the boy was little, he loved to climb the tree, swing on the branches, and eat the apples. Both the boy and the tree were happy. But, as the boy grew up, he had other interests. He wanted money. That, he said, would make him happy. So, the tree suggested he pick the apples and sell them so he would have money. The story states that when the tree gave the apples, "The tree was happy."

Some time later, the boy, now a young adult, came back. The tree was delighted, but the boy was not interested in climbing or swinging. He wanted to build a house. The tree gave him her limbs so that the boy would be happy. But, again, the story says that when the tree gave the limbs, "The tree was happy."

A long time went by before the boy came back again. This time, the boy, now obviously a middle aged man, wanted to build a boat so he could sail away. The tree told him that he could cut down its trunk, make a boat, and sail away to be happy. So, the boy cut down the trunk of the tree, made a boat, and sailed away. The story says, "The tree was happy. But not really."

The next time the boy came back, he is obviously a very old, tired man. The tree is sad that she has nothing else to give. Perhaps that is why the giving of the trunk left her not really happy. The boy, now an old man, states that he is too old and tired to do much of anything. He just needs a place to sit down. Suddenly, the tree has an idea. She straightens up as best a stump can straighten. A stump makes a good place to sit. So, the boy, now the old man, sits down. The story ends, "And the tree was happy."

The message of the children’s book is profoundly true. Over and over again it is the giving tree that is happy. In the first part of the story when both the boy and the tree are enjoying their mutual give and take, they both are happy. But after that period, not once does it say that the boy is happy. It is always, "And the tree was happy."

Ben Gill in his book, The Joy of Giving, says in the opening paragraph:

"My life has been spent helping people to learn the gift of giving. After twenty-five years in this pursuit, I come now to tell you that one fact has become increasingly clear: the happiest people on earth are the people who have learned the joy of giving."

Much of our world is obsessed with the pursuit of temporary happiness, missing the basic truth that genuine, lasting joy is the product of giving, not getting. Giving is not limited to contributions of money, but rather is a lifestyle that encompasses one’s whole personality. It is a lifestyle perfectly exemplified in Jesus Christ. It is the product of the Spirit of Christ functioning as the Lord within us.

May the grace of Christ produce the joy of Christ within each of us.

Roger Gilbert is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, "The Announcer."