Monday, July 25, 2011

Reflection on Cutting Edge Relationship Tools

by Dr. David Rayburn

One of the ways that God loves each of God's children (and we all are God’s children, even those who do not believe) is by giving good gifts. Those gifts include making the sun to shine and the rain to come on the good and the bad alike. People that are atheists who are gardeners have wonderful gardens. There are thousands of ways God gives good gifts to us all. These gifts often include world-shaping ideas. It has not been only Christians who have come up with brilliant and universally helpful inventions or made vitally important discoveries. People from every philosophy, theology, ideology, and nation have provided these things.

What saddens me, however, is that I am encountering with greater frequency people having experiences and developing practices, especially when it comes to human relationships and interactions, outside of the church that they should be getting from the church. I am learning about people-skill tools, wisdom and discernment tools, and conflict resolution tools that are being created and developed by non-Christians outside the church. These should come from inside the church because of the way that we should be loving one another.

Why is it that the perception of so many about the church is that it is a place of disharmony, dissension, and mean-spirited fighting? Why are we not on the forefront of showing people what love, unity, and edification mean? But more important than these questions is the one that asks, “How can we become a place that is on the forefront of love, unity, and education?”

David Rayburn is that pastor of First Baptist Church of Black Mountain, and this article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Builder.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How Do You Want to Be Remembered? by Dr. Steve Bolton

I engaged in an interesting, if not uncomfortable, forum this week. A group of Baptist ministers and educators, who range in age from their forties and seventies, discussed and rather candidly shared their thoughts on the question, “How do you want to be remembered?” Someone shared that Norman Wiggins, who was President of Campbell College for decades and led it to become Campbell University, had asked that only one thing be inscribed on his tombstone — “United States Marine.”
Of course, most dedicated, sincere Christians would aspire to be remembered with something similar to that well-known motto of the United States Marine Corp, “Semper Fidelis” (“Faithful Forever”). A visit to any cemetery proves that most people would like to be remembered for the good they did and the best that they were. I read that a novelist researching a book about life in a certain New England town visited the local cemetery as part of his investigations. The writer noted with interest that nearly every tombstone from that era bore a final epitaph. Unfailingly, these were words of praise for the departed with references such as “kind, generous, upstanding, loving and faithful” appearing again and again. This prompted the researcher to ask, “I wonder where they buried the sinners?”
As I listened to the thoughtful reflections and tried to engage in some sort of meaningful reductionism regarding my own time and life, I realized how complex, selective, fascinating and often faulty is the human memory. As Robert Burns once yearned for “the gift to see ourselves as others see us,” perhaps it would be more interesting, if not humbling, to know how “others might remember us.” I suspect it is more productive for Christians to focus on things to remember than on how one might want to be remembered. The greater danger is forgetting rather than being forgotten. In a world that is quick to declare its accomplishments and takes far too much for granted, how easily one forgets life is largely grace and gift, granted, inherited, passed down by sacrifices and service of others. In a world where freedoms and rights are asserted, too many forget the importance of quietly fulfilling one’s responsibilities. In a society that is passionate about self, it is convenient to discount the call of Christ to love God and others first. The importance of a clear and good Christian memory is revealed in a memorial to a 19th century soldier in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. It reads:
To Charles George Gordon –
Who always and everywhere
Gave his strength to the weak,
His substance to the poor,
His sympathy to the suffering,
And his heart to God.

Steve Bolton retired at the end of June as the pastor of Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Forecaster.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ecumenism Means You, Too - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Ecumenism Means You, Too by Steve Harmon is a book written for lay Christians to briefly explain the history, importance, and need to revive the ecumenical movement. Harmon uses the lyrics of the Irish rock band U2 as the chapter headings and backdrop for this book on interdenominational work. As one of the most famous rock bands in the world, U2 also embraces Christian symbolism in their music, as well as themes like unity, peace and social justice. Because they grew up in the religiously fragmented country of Ireland during the bloody clashes between Catholics and Protestants, their music prophetically calls for unity among division. In this spirit of common understanding among those who understand U2’s music, Harmon discusses the need to renew the ecumenical movement.

Harmon compares the necessity of the unity of the church to the unity of the Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity are one because they indwell in one another. In turn, God dwells in us and makes us one people in God. Harmon is careful to affirm the distinct nature of denominations, while explaining that these differences are human. Therefore, we must be willing to work together while respecting our different traditions. Harmon notes that young people do not think in denominational terms, attending many different kinds of churches and being reluctant to settle into one tradition. A strong ecumenical movement would affirm their interest in different traditions, while encouraging them to find one nurturing community. While Harmon is speaking to all Christians, his focuses on younger generations who might be the next leaders in the ecumenical movement.

Harmon notes that interdenominational work has stalled in recent years due to the slow nature of the work, a reaction to papal statements about the church, conflict within some denominations, as well as other factors (35). He devotes a chapter to discussing what ordinary Christian can do to revive this movement that was so active earlier in the 20th century, including prayer, being rooted in one denomination while learning about other, learning about church history and the ecumenical movement, and engaging in social justice work with other Christians. At the end, he includes an annotated bibliography for those who may be interested in learning more.

This book would be great for a Sunday School or book club to read and discuss chapter by chapter, and then decide how they want to act. Maybe your church would like to partner with a church from a different tradition for prayer and community work. Maybe you can learn from one another about the origins of your denomination, and in so, grow in appreciation of both your own tradition, and your neighboring church!

If you’d like to learn more and order the book, check it out here:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Different Kind of Baptist

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Recently, I attended the 20th annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Tampa and stayed in a hotel which was full of two groups: CBF Baptists and participants in a worldwide ballroom dancing championship. Elevator rides bordered on the comedic: reserved Baptists in their polos and khakis standing shoulder to shoulder with dancers wearing long, feathery dresses and elaborate headpieces who kissed one another on the cheek and excitedly recounted their performances. The contrast between the two groups could not have been more drastic. However, members of these two groups mingled jovially in the lobby, and some Baptists even made it to a few of their competitions.

I was fortunate enough to overhear one conversation in the lobby, as a female dancer recounted a conversation with a CBF minister to her male dance partner:

“…and he said this group was a different kind of Baptist. He said that this group was more accepting and open and not like what I’d heard before with all that fire and brimstone. I told him I was spiritual but not religious. And then he shared his fascination with Christian mystics. I didn’t even know there were any! And he tells me that his church has done studies on the history of mystics and spirituality. I never heard of Baptists being into spirituality! And then, do you know what he told me? He said that he had two female ministers on staff, and one of them was a lesbian. Can you believe it? This kind of church would accept people like you and me! So he gave me his church’s website and contact information so I could access their resources on spirituality and learn more about them. I think I’m going to check it out and give him a call…”

This woman was beginning to overcome past rejection from interactions with unhealthy churches to the point where she could speak redemptively about the witness of this unnamed CBF minister. Sometimes, I struggle with calling myself a Baptist. That name has a lot of baggage that conjures up images of exclusion. In the last few years of working with CBF of North Carolina, I’ve been able to find pride in a Baptist identity that comes from engaging with more moderate and progressive churches who adhere to founding Baptist principles like soul freedom, the separation of church and state, and the autonomy of the local church. For me, this conversation between two dancers evoked not only a sense of pride in claiming the name “Baptist,” but also a feeling of immense hope for the next chapter of CBF life. May the next twenty years be filled with conversations of welcome, hope, and mission that exhibit the love of Christ being extended to all people.