Understanding Racism

In order to understand racism today, we need to review the history as it has lead us to this point. Below you will find a few helpful links and other resources to help individuals who want to educated themselves and who are leading others. Be sure you listen to the podcast as well for more thoughts and information.

Mary Turner was mentioned in the podcast. Be sure you take time to learn about her as well as other African Americans whose lives have been taken senselessly.

The year 1619 was referenced. This is the year that the first enslaved Africans were brought to North America. Here is a resource to learn more.

Another important point made in the podcast is around the theology of Imago Dei, made in the image of God.  It is hard to understand racism if as Christians we believe that EVERYONE is made in the image of God. This is a great way to begin a small group talk on the subject of racism.

We also talk of the merger that happened in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church. You can find out more information here and see the impact that had on the church and on the black communities.

A couple of resources to understand the United Methodist Church’s stand on racism can be found through our Social Principles.

There are six questions that are helpful to guide your conversation:

  1. Who have you talked to/shared this information with?
  2. How have you stepped out of your “comfort zone” to hear from/learn from the affected demographic?
  3. What have you read or learned to increase your knowledge of the subject? What does the Bible say?
  4. How have you invested (time and money) in addressing this issue/topic?
  5. Have you identified policy (in the UMC and in government) that needs to change and considered impact and history?
  6. What do you need to repent of?

Podcast: 

Practically_Honest_Resisting_Racism_Part_1

Revelation

People have been obsessed with the end times pretty much since Jesus left this earth. Every generation has thought they were living in the “end times,” including this very moment. This blog/podcast addresses this topic head-on. Take a listen and dive a little deeper with us. 

Scripture Readings:

  • Revelation 7:9-12
  • Revelation 14:14-20
  • Revelation 17:1-6
  • Revelation 21:1-4

Teaching Points:

  • The book of Revelation belongs to the literary genre of apocalypse. It was a known genre at this time and is not the only example we have of apocalyptic writing.
  • Revelation was controversial even as the biblical canon was being developed. It was one of the last books to be accepted into the bible and some parts of the Eastern Christian Church still do not accept it.
  • Eschatology is a big word for the way we think about the “end times” or the end of life as we know it. The book of Revelation has been used to frame Christian eschatology (or expectations about how this world will end). However, understood as a work of the apocalyptic genre, it may not be reasonable to read it as predictive of the future. Rather, it tells a story about how people imagined a future in which God finally cleaned up the world and punished those who had caused them so much suffering.
  • A big chunk of Revelation tells a rather wacky story about beasts, trumpets, scrolls, angels, plagues, death and destruction on a massive scale. There is also a large portion that is quite beautiful in its description of a hoped-for future in which all nations and peoples join together in worship (ie. Rev. 7).

Discussion Questions:

  • Can you think of ideas you have about the “end times” or things you have heard that might come from the book of Revelation? (mark of the beast, 666, rapture, 1000 year tribulation, etc) How do you respond to those ideas?
  • Revelation 14 describes a scene in which a figure like the Son of Man swings his sickle and “reaps the harvest” of the earth such that the blood runs as high as a horse’s bridle for a distance of 200 miles. This is death on a massive scale, arguably at the hand of Jesus… or a figure who is reminiscent of Jesus. What do we make of this?
  • Revelation 17 talks about the “great whore” named Babylon. Can you theorize as to who or what this metaphor might have meant to people at the time Revelation was written? Does that give us any clues as to the meaning or significance of the book in general?
  • Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture, often read at funerals. How does that contrast with some of the earlier passages in our reading for this podcast, and what do we make of that contrast?
  • There is interesting food for discussion about the way we use scripture out of context sometimes. For example, a famous worship song of the 1990’s borrows text from Revelation 7. Does it change the meaning of a worship song to recognize that it comes from such a difficult and controversial part of scripture?
  • There was a book series called “Left Behind” that was popular in the early 2000’s. (There were also movies of the same title.) The series presented some very literal renderings of ideas that are presented in Revelation. The central tenet of the book was that, at some point, all the “genuine” Christians in the world will be raptured (taken up/away to somewhere else), and everyone else will be “left behind” to deal with tribulation. Is this thinking helpful or harmful? Why?
  • How does our eschatology shape the way we live and make decisions? Is there any danger in an eschatology that believes God will eventually come and “fix” everything for us? Is there any other way to imagine a hopeful eschatological future?

Podcast

Practically_Honest_Bible_Series_Ep_32

Image by annamaria anderson from Pixabay

Your Church Matters

This is a summary and response to Chapter 3 of Reggie Joiner’s book, “A New Kind of Leader.” This chapter takes a look at why your church matters to children and youth ministries.

The first point that the reader has to address in this chapter is, “Why does your church matter?” It is interesting that he says on page 49 that your church is a place, a physical location where people gather. In the recent weeks, we have learned that the “church” isn’t just a building. We have proved that, while we enjoy the community felt when we are physically in the same location, the church is exists outside a building as well.

“Church” is how/where you experience community, family and acceptance. It’s important to be sure you are creating a culture of acceptance for children and teens. This culture happens in the space where you gather in the church building, in homes where you hold small groups, and out in your community when you encounter kids.

I really appreciate this quote on page 52, “Youth can’t make relationships happen. You can only create environments that make it easier for relationships to happen.” Leaders and congregation members need to know names of the kids and what their interests are. These things will allow kids to know they are loved and have a place to belong. This includes the kids in your church and the community.

Kids need a leader who will improve the environment of their church. How can you personally take responsibility to improve your church in very practically ways? Think about how someone new feels walking into your church, especially someone who has never gone to church before. A few thoughts that Joiner shares in his book:

  • Use more convicting words on your church sign
  • Offer unlimited donuts for every child
  • Have a bear mascot to stand in the street and point one of those twirling signs at your church

I would add:

  • Make sure you have children’s activity bags for worship
  • Ask them to be a part of worship, including ready scripture or sharing about their camp or VBS experiences
  • Send birthday cards
  • Pray for them

Paul’s Missionary Journeys

This week we are talking about Paul and one “side” of the Pauline story. This also introduces some of the attributes of the early church (communal, house churches, etc) and controversies that developed early on.

Scripture Readings: Acts 2:1-21 (Luke-Acts’ Pentecost story)

Acts 9:1-9 (Paul’s conversion, per the author of Luke-Acts)

Teaching Points:

  • The same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke authors the book of Acts. We might think of Acts as a continuation of the story of Jesus as begun in Luke. As such, there is a cohesive writing style and some consistent themes throughout. We refer to this as Luke-Acts.
  • Acts has two key structural principles.
    • The movement from Jerusalem, core location for the Jews, to Rome, core location for the Gentile world.
    • The roles of Peter and Paul –  Peter deals with the Jewish Christian church; Paul embraces the mission to the Gentiles
  • Thus, the first half (or so) of the book focuses on Peter’s work and the early church (including Paul’s conversion), and the second half of the book focuses on Paul and his missionary work.
  • There are three missionary journeys described in Acts (ch.13-14, 16-20), although a few people assert a possible fourth journey or sometimes the voyage to Rome (ch.27-28) is included as a fourth trip.
  • Acts presents a very different picture of the early church than is presented in Pauline writing. For example, Acts presents a very harmonious church and a peaceful relationship between Peter and Paul. Paul’s own (earlier) writings signal discord in early faith communities and significant disagreement between Peter and Paul.

Discussion Questions:

  • We could spend—and people have spent—an enormous amount of time trying to understand and detail Paul’s various missionary journeys and the development of the early Christian church. Undoubtedly, we have some of it correct and some of it totally wrong. What do we make of this account of Peter and Paul, their relationship, and their movements that is so very different from what Paul describes himself? What are the overarching themes and principles that we might draw out of such complex stories and narratives?
  • What might have motivated the author of Luke-Acts to present a cohesive-looking vision of the early church?
  • Acts presents a communal picture of the early church, in which every shares what they have and gives large sums of money (even selling off property) to support the mission. What do we make of this?

Podcast:

New Life, New Hope

We are talking about the new church and what the followers of Christ were going through after his death. It’s interesting to take a look at bodily resurrection, ways to understand and interpret Jesus’ various appearances and the words he shares with followers post-resurrection.

General Background:

  • We are coming into the home stretch with our podcast series! These final podcasts address some of the remaining “hot button” questions that we know young people ask and also address (as best we can) the remaining parts of the bible that we have not yet talked about.
  • Since these podcasts cover broader swaths of scripture, we’ll try to focus in on a few passages here and there as representative of the genre we are discussing.

Scripture Readings:

Luke 24:13-35

John 20:19-31

Teaching Points:

  • We want to remain cognizant of the time frame in which these stories were written. The Gospels were written between about 70-110 CE, or 2-3 generations after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • Luke, in particular, was probably written around 90 CE. John was the last gospel written, sometime after 100 CE.
  • It’s important to remember that the authors were writing down parts of the historical memory of Jesus, not necessarily eyewitness accounts that were meant to be taken literally.

Discussion Questions:

  • We sometimes gloss over the sadness and despair that Jesus’ followers experienced after his death. But they didn’t know how the story was going to end. How do you think they were feeling? What do you they were talking about?
  • How might this be helpful for us to remember in our own walk of faith?
  • How does remembering the sadness of the community around Jesus help to frame the Emmaus story? What jumps out in this narrative and what is the author trying to tell us about Jesus?
  • Luke commonly tells stories about Jesus in lengthy parables. There has been some assertion that the Walk to Emmaus is, in fact, one of those parables. Does this change our understanding of the story?
  • The idea of a bodily resurrection is one of the theological assertions with which some people struggle. How important is it to believe that Jesus’ physical body was reanimated? Are there other ways to understand resurrection that are equally helpful and valid?
  • The story of Thomas’ encounter with Jesus in the upper room is often preached as a story about doubt/belief. What do we do with our own doubt? How does Jesus respond to it?
  • This might be a neat place to talk about the various Greek words that we translate “faith.” (assensus, fidelitas, fiducia, visio)

Podcast

Losing a Savior and Gaining a Future

During this Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter, nothing is the same as before. We can not prepare to gathering in one building for Easter services, or plan Easter dinner with extended family. But we can still celebrate. It may take digging a little deeper this year to search for the blessings, but they are still there. Please take a few minutes to listen to the podcast and challenge yourself to look at the Easter story in a new way.

Scripture Reading: John 18:28-38

Book recommendation: “The Last Week”

https://www.cokesbury.com/9780060872601-The-Last-Week?cid=6663109565&aid=79443367579&keyword=895352700411%3A%3Apla-895352700411&kid=895352700411&gclid=Cj0KCQjwybD0BRDyARIsACyS8msfCg2i0srr7yhAf-jUzfNdtZjUomZuT2J1iSjqoIkwHzTYehMbj6IaAhLlEALw_wcB

Discussion Questions:

  • Theologians assert that this exchange between Jesus and Pilate is a profound statement about non-violence. (It helps to know that other men claimed to be the Messiah and usually tried to prove it through efforts to overthrow the Roman government through violence.) What do you think?
  • Much ink has been spilled over verse 38, in which Pilate asks, “What is truth?” What do you imagine he was thinking when he asked that question?
  • The story of Good Friday raises some tough questions for us as Christians.
    • Do you believe that it was impossible for God to forgive humanity without the death of a sinless person? Why might that story have made sense to Jewish communities? Is it harder for us to understand now?
    • What is atonement theology? Is that the only way to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection?
  • The Easter story is central to the Christian faith, and it is not uncommon for Christians to assert that belief in a bodily resurrection is “the” non-negotiable element of being Christian. At the same time, many young people wrestle with the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection from the dead. What do you think about it?
  • Are there other ways of understanding resurrection that might be equally valid?

Podcast:

Sheep & Goats: Heaven, Hell, Judgement

We spend a lot of time as humans wondering and talking about afterlife. There have been movies and books created to offer renditions of what things may be like after our time on earth is done. But what does the Bible say? What do you think? Take some time to listen to the podcast and read some scripture, and see what conclusions you draw.

Scripture Readings: Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31

Discussion Questions:

  • The afterlife is a matter that concerns and interests Christians and, frankly, most people in general. Why do we suppose that is? How important is the idea of the afterlife to people’s understanding of Christianity?
  • What does the passage from Matthew seem to suggest about the afterlife? Is that Jesus’ central concern?
  • There are many images of hell, most of them from literature and other non-biblical sources. Regardless of how we envision it, what do we do with the idea of eternal punishment? How does that square with God’s character?
  • Similarly, most visual renderings of heaven come from non-biblical sources, and scripture does not paint a single, uniform picture of heaven. What are some of the ways that people define and understand heaven?
  • Is it possible that, through God’s grace, everyone will ultimately end up in heaven? Why or why not?
  • The parable of Luke paints a picture of the afterlife in which there is clearly a positive place (with Abraham), a negative place (Hades), and interaction between those realms and the mortal world. Is this meant to be taken literally? Does the author of Luke share Matthew’s view on how these outcomes will be determined?
  • Does this parable from Luke suggest anything surprising about who will receive blessing and who will receive condemnation and for what reason?

Podcast:

Ash Wednesday: Confession, Shame and Repentance

Today is a holiday in the church. One that not every Christian, especially protestants, observe. It may be one that seems a bit different, even a little odd. And even if we understand it, we may not know the history. This blog and podcast should help you as you reflect today, preparing for the Lenten season.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21

Teaching Points:

  • History of Ash Wednesday
    • The liturgical use of ashes originated in the Old Testament times.  Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality, and penance.  For instance, in the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes, 485-464 BCE) of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1).  Job repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6).  Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel wrote, “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).  These Old Testament examples evidence both a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.
    • The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons.  Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must “live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes.”  Eusebius (260-340), the famous early Church historian, recounted in his The History of the Church how an apostate named Natalis came to Pope Zephyrinus clothed in sackcloth and ashes begging forgiveness.  Also during this time, for those who were required to do public penance, the priest sprinkled ashes on the head of the person leaving confession.
    • In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes.  The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.”  After the sprinkling, the priest asked, “Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?”  To which the dying person replied, “I am content.”  In all of these examples, the symbolism of mourning, mortality, and penance is clear.
    • Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent.  The ritual for the “Day of Ashes” is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary which dates at least to the 8th century.  Since the Middle Ages, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.
  • Traditionally, the palm branches from Palm Sunday of the previous year are used to create the ashes.  This is intended to suggest that even the jubilant crowds on Palm Sunday were ultimately at least partly complicit in Jesus’ death. While the literal truth of that is questionable, the fact remains that even the most faithful Christian still sins and falls short.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21

‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 ‘Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

   hallowed be your name.

   Your kingdom come.

   Your will be done,

     on earth as it is in heaven.

   Give us this day our daily bread.

   And forgive us our debts,

     as we also have forgiven our debtors.

   And do not bring us to the time of trial,

     but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Discussion Questions:

  • When you attend an Ash Wednesday service (or when you have in the past), what is the tone or mood of the service? What are some memorable moments in the Ash Wednesday liturgy?
  • Mourning, mortality and penance are not exactly concepts we discuss every day.
    • What do we make of this idea of mourning for our sins?
    • Is there value in remembering our own mortality from time to time?
    • What is the purpose of penance? Is that a helpful concept for us?
  • Many folks eliminate a food or habit during Lent. Others try to adopt a spiritual practice (or discipline) during that time. What is the purpose of that exercise? Why might we choose to make such a change during Lent?
  • In the Catholic tradition, confession is offered to a priest. In the book of James, it is suggested that we should confess our sins to one another. Many churches have a moment of confession in their service, and it is a part of the United Methodist communion liturgy. What is the purpose of confession, and does it help anything?
  • We generally think of shame as being a negative thing, but the idea of shame is sometimes associated with Ash Wednesday. Is that helpful? Is there a better way of naming it?
  • What is repentance? How does it relate to all these other things (confession, shame, penance, etc)?
  • How might this passage from Matthew help to orient us for the season of Lent?

Resources: “Heidegger and a Hippo” https://www.amazon.com/Heidegger-Hippo-Through-Those-Pearly/dp/0143118250/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=hitiger+and+a+hippo+walk+into+the+perly+gates&qid=1582732064&sr=8-1-fkmr0

Luke: A Story for Everyone

The Gospel of Luke was written for ALL people. As we look at the parables and stories shared, we see that no matter who you are, Jew, Gentile, poor, man, woman, child, diseased and ill, Jesus came with a message for EVERYONE. This message is still very relevant to us today.

Scripture Reading: Luke 6:17-26, Luke 10:25-37, Luke 15:11-32

Teaching Points:

  • First of all, I need to fess up that I am NOT an expert on Acts, so we’re going to be heavy on Luke and weaker on Acts. However, we are treating these two books together because they share a common author.
  • Luke is written to a Greek-speaking audience, most likely educated. Though he was most likely well-to-do himself, the text shows consideration for those who are manual laborers (“workers”), which is notable.
  • Luke dates from 80-110 CE, and there is reason to believe it was still being edited well into the 2nd century.
  • While we sometimes think of Luke as more “earthy” in focus (we’ll discuss this later), his command of Greek is still more refined that what we see in Mark. He also omits some lengthy passages that either show the disciples in an overly negative light and/or make Jesus seem too “magical”.
  • Luke-Acts does not claim a particular author. For a long time, it was believed that Luke (gospel author) was the same Luke who was a companion to Paul (mentioned in some of Paul’s letters). However, scholars point out many contradictions between the Luke-Acts account of Paul’s activities and that given by Paul himself in his own writings. They also point out that Luke-Acts does not accurately reflect Paul’s theology. For that reason, authorship (from an academic standpoint) is unknown.
  • In our last two podcasts, we discussed that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke. Luke is the longest of the four gospels and introduces the most original material, but he still draws heavily from both Mark and from the Q source. (Incidentally, Luke-Acts makes up over a quarter of the New Testament!)

Discussion Questions:

  • One suggested scripture reading for this podcast is Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” this author’s version of what we call the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s gospel. Other than the assignation of different venue, it is interesting to compare the two for content. What is notable about Luke’s version when compared to Matthew’s version? What might this tell us about Luke’s perspective and his authorial intent?
  • In a previous podcast, we also talked about Luke’s birth narrative and compared it to Matthew. Do we see any trends in the themes Luke emphasizes compared to those Matthew draws out?
  • The other two recommended readings for today are two parables that are told only in the gospel according to Luke? Is it surprising that these bedrock stories (The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son) appear in only one gospel? What does it say about Luke’s understanding of Jesus that he includes these stories?
  • As time allows, we can draw out some neat themes in both The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son.

Podcast:

Matthew: A Gospel for the Jewish Community

This gospel is the first in the new testament but is actually written a generation after Mark. Remember, these stories were not written down in journals while the disciples were with Jesus. The stories were shared verbally for a couple of generations before they were actually written. Take a listen to this podcast to find out some more interesting truths about this book of the Bible.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-20, Matthew 11:7-19, Matthew 13

Teaching Points:

  • The gospel of Matthew was written in a formal, polished Greek that would have been used in synagogues at the time Matthew was writing. This helps us understand his identity and his audience.
  • Matthew probably dates from 80-90CE. A few scholars suggest as early as 70CE and a few as late as 110CE.
  • As with Mark, the author of Matthew is unknown and the name was likely assigned for symbolic reasons. The author of Matthew may have been someone named Matthew (we don’t know), but it was almost certainly not the apostle of the same name. (It would have been the wrong time frame, just for starters.)
  • In our last podcast, we shared that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke. This is affirmed by the fact that about 91% of Mark’s content shows up in Matthew (600 of 661 verses). [Note: There is probably a tendency amongst literal readers of scripture to use this similarity as an argument for both gospel authors having been present and rendered Jesus’ words verbatim. We may want to decide if we want to address that or not.]
  • It might be helpful to suggest the idea that gospel writers were more compilers and editors (storytellers, in a sense) than they were creators of original material. This makes sense when we consider the time frame and that stories had been being passed down for some time. Matthew draws on at least three sources: Mark, material that is common to Luke (“Q”), and material unique to his community and tradition.
  • The Christian community to which Matthew belonged was still part of the larger Jewish community, but to some degree, they were beginning to be cut off from their Jewish roots. Recall that the Jesus movement began as a movement WITHIN Judaism and only later became a distinct religion. There was undoubtedly conflict between Matthew’s community and other Jewish communities as they began to diverge in their understanding of Jesus.
  • The gospel of Matthew has its own unique attributes: for example, it identifies Jesus as the “new Moses” (liberator) by telling the story of his family’s flight to Egypt (unique to this gospel). It doesn’t bother to explain Jewish traditions, since its audience was Jewish themselves. It includes a birth narrative that expresses a particular view of Jesus’ kingship.

Discussion Questions:

  • Plagiarism is a HUGE issue in schools these days. What is the difference between just copying someone else’s story and using it as a source to tell your own story? What are some examples in our world? Song remix, updated movie, etc.
  • How do we understand the fact that Matthew was using the Gospel of Mark as source material? Is that surprising? Unsettling?
  • One source calls Matthew a “creative reinterpretation” of Mark’s gospel. What do you think about that?
  • Matthew stresses the divinity of Jesus, often by making small changes to the narrative. Why do we suppose this was important to
  • Matthew at the time he was writing? Can we identify how this is a little different than Mark? Is it ok that one gospel writer might stress Jesus’ divinity a little more while another might focus more on his humanity? How might this be helpful for us as readers of scripture?
  • Matthew often uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (29 times!) because of a Jewish tradition of not speaking (or writing) the name of God. How might this change our understanding of passages that appear to be referring to heaven but actually refer to the “kingdom of God”? [See, for example, the passages in Matthew 11 and 13.]

Podcast: