Welcoming the stranger = Amy Butler

By Amy Butler

It’s a pretty commonly accepted biblical mandate that we welcome the stranger. As we’ve witnessed in the news of late, in our better moments we people of faith can manage to cross wide valleys of opinion to agree on that sentiment. It occurred to me recently, however, that we make these determinations around occasional issues, and most frequently from the position of establishment — we’re rarely the strangers. We can be good about quoting Scripture, but I wonder if a change of perspective would make us even more vigilant about radical welcome.

What does it feel like to be a stranger? After my first week in a brand new city, I began to remember what, honestly, has not been a common experience for me. And, while acknowledging that my experience of being a stranger has very little desperation associated with it, this brush with being new has reminded me just a bit of what it might feel like to really be a stranger in a strange land.

The first thing I experienced in force was anonymity. While navigating the world with no recognition from the folks around you can be freeing, there’s also something a bit unmooring about it. When nobody trains their eyes on you with recognition, it’s easy to feel a bit adrift. The freedom to fly beneath the radar comes at the price of irrelevance. And I remembered: we all need to be recognized, to fill a role in the lives of those around us.

Being a stranger also comes with a strong discomfort. Nothing feels quite normal; everything is brand new. As soon as the excitement of the brand new passes, however, a nostalgia for the familiar rises to the surface. It’s not that the familiar was especially better but the territory was navigable. As feeling uncomfortable has been a constant companion in these days, I remembered: we all long for familiarity and comfort.

And this experience of constant newness brings to mind the built-in sense of incompetence that comes with being a stranger. Need to get across town? Milk for your cereal? A doctor? These are all puzzles of varying degrees, at first presenting a challenge but shortly growing tedious. As these experiences fill each day, the constant feeling of incompetence humbles, then wears down the spirit. Reminder: competence and value go hand in hand in our society; it’s discouraging to live with a steep learning curve.

With the incompetence of newness, the stranger finds himself in constant need of help. Asking for help isn’t always the most comfortable exercise, and living life as a constant receiver can be frustrating. To learn the art of accepting help can be a challenge for those of us who are accustomed to being on the other end of the equation.

I’ve noticed and tried to mark something especially valuable in the experience of the stranger. Strangers see the world around them with new eyes. In that little window of time before anonymity becomes familiarity, discomfort relaxes into ease, incompetence develops skill, constant receipt gives way to opportunities for generous welcome to others, the stranger can see her world with a clarity familiarity does not afford.

And that gift of new eyes may be worth the pain of newness. Once everything starts to feel a little more normal and I’m the one giving out advice on subway routes, I hope I can remember what I saw when I was the stranger. With that memory, perhaps a stranger’s perspective can more powerfully inform the way I navigate my comfortable world.

And welcoming the stranger might become, not an issue-specific anomaly, but rather a regular Christian practice.

Reflections on Racism – Dr. Molly Marshall

Trinitarian Soundings

Posted: 30 Aug 2014 03:10 PM PDTI have been hesitant to write about the events in Ferguson, MO, over the past couple of weeks because of fear of insensitive or simplistic response to this human tragedy.  I have feared that one more ponderous white voice, which hardly can plumb the depths of black umbrage in the face of white privilege, would not be helpful.  I am, at heart, an academic, who tends to prolong thinking at the expense of action.  Keeping silent, however, gives the impression of lack of care or negligence in the face of ongoing racism in our neighboring city, St. Louis, or our own Kansas City, which has its own racial dividing lines.  I cannot fathom the despair of black parents who do all they can to prepare their children for the disparity in educational, financial, and social dimensions of 2014 American life.I am a child of the pre-segregation South/Southwest, albeit Oklahoma did not fit neatly into the protracted civil rights journey of Alabama and Mississippi, and other states of the Deep South.  Yet, the bigotry of Jim Crow shaped my educational experience, also.  We had two high schools in my hometown of Muskogee—Central High School and Manual Training—the former white, the latter black.  Even the name of the black high school indicated a prejudice about academic promise.

I remember when my home church took a vote on whether to admit black members of the congregation.  It was not a placid business meeting in the late 60’s, and I wondered about the ferocity of the argument.  It seemed at odds with our understanding of the Gospel, yet parochial tradition retained a strong voice. The stain of racism has blemished many a Baptist church, my own included.  Hence, it would be only fair to describe myself as a “recovering racist.”

ey might be one.” Yet, we cannot spiritualize the real acts of violence that are based in racial prejudice.Central strives to be a school that “flattens” educational privilege.  This means that we are intentional about whom we will scholarship and how we will build diverse cohorts.  We are learning that white churches and black churches and immigrant churches need one another to live into the dream of Jesus’ prayer—“that th

Several of Central’s alums have been close to the bloodstained drama unfolding in Ferguson.  Ministering in neighboring communities, they have drawn near to the need for pastoral care, thoughtful interpretation of what they have observed on the ground, and relevant advocacy for justice. The Director of Social Media for Central, Francisco Miguel Litardo, felt drawn to be present to the critical events in Ferguson, especially the ways in which pastoral care has been offered to the suffering.  I give thanks for his presence and willingness to provide images of what has been transpiring.

Central is aware that we are still viewed as a “white” institution, even thought we are not majority white.  While that is our historic identity, the presence of many others, all a part of the family of God, is transforming us toward the goal of racial equity.  For this, we are grateful.

            Molly T. Marshall Dr. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She has spoken twice at the Hamrick Lectureship at Fist Baptist Church of Charleston, SC.

Why You Need to Listen to Others’ Perspectives – Ethicsdaily.com

Mitch Randall

Why You Need to Listen to Others' Perspectives | Mitch Randall, Judgment, Empathy, Listening

More than anything these days, we need more listening and understanding and less biased and unfiltered opinions, Randall writes. (Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, my dad listened to talk radio on KRMG.

On occasion, when I was not staring out the window dreaming of hitting three home runs in a World Series game, I would tune into the talking voice blaring from the speakers of my dad’s 1966 Mustang.

There was one particular voice I enjoyed much more than others: Paul Harvey, who taught me every story had a backstory and a surprise, if only we were patient enough to listen for it.

He told of kings, presidents, authors, missionaries and many other famous people who had influenced the world.

As he closed each segment, he would end it with his signature catchphrase, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

One of my mentors, Roger Olson, professor of Christian theology and ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary, wrote an interesting article recently about selective memory in religious history books.

He pointed out that many history books exclude “the rest of the story” when it comes to historical figures.

We baptize history in many cases, retelling it to suit our desired arguments. History, like life, is a messy endeavor doomed to be misjudged if not assessed from many different vantage points.

Even when it comes to life, we often forget there is a “rest of the story.” We like to jump to conclusions, render skewed judgments and voice opinions before truly knowing the full measure of a person or his or her story.

We have turned into a culture that does not take time to listen, ingest or walk around in someone else’s shoes.

We often jump ahead of ourselves to render the credibility of someone’s situation based upon our own preconceived ideas and limited knowledge about the circumstances.

The disciples asked Jesus one time, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

Their question reveals the cultural and religious bias the disciples possessed.

They believed the man’s predicament was brought about by his own personal sin or the sins of his parents.

Jesus tells them they misjudged the situation and the man. In other words, they did not know the rest of the story.

In a world where people have unique and personal narratives that demonstrate the worst and best of humanity, we would be wise to listen before we jump to conclusions.

We would do well to research and discover all perspectives before drawing conclusions based upon selective knowledge.

Or, as Harvey used to say, “Now that we know the rest of the story,” maybe we can be understanding and empathetic to others’ circumstances.

We will not always agree, but maybe we can speak with a little less venom. More than anything these days, we need more listening and understanding and less biased and unfiltered opinions.

Before we speak, before we judge, let’s make sure to get “the rest of the story.”

Mitch Randall is pastor of NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma. A version of this article first appeared on NorthHaven’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @rmitchrandall.

Your Stories Cower My Satans

In an effort to broaden its message the Church of England has banished mention of the devil from the vows parents take when their children are baptized.  Far removed from the hideous,  red, horned, sulphur reeking image of Christian history, the satans that devil me are extremely shadowy and phantom-like. They are not quite fully formed but are filmy skittish creatures that bob in and out of consciousness. They are more unnerving than scary.

Just as in the Bible my satans have names that testify to their character:  I’m not Sure, What If, You’re not Good Enough,  No One Will Like That, and You’re too Old. These attack at vulnerable moments such as when a new creative idea or when plans of a new adventure are just beneath the surface. They rise up to spoil the view of a beautiful moment when the world is shivering with newness and promise. They drag me back to experience the ravages of failure and uncertainty. They tell me that no sane person could possibility believe in God after looking at the mayhem described in the morning newspaper.

I wish my devils were horrible looking creatures with pitchforks, flaming eyes, horns, and long scaly tails. I could confront them head on and extinguish them or at least give them a fight to the death. My satans are too clever for that sort of role-playing. They are able to form themselves into beguiling forms of doubt, uneasiness and paralysis. They whisper, “Who do you think you are to try such a stunt?  No one will listen to you. Don’t be silly. Why should you stick your neck out? Who cares anyway? You will only feel betrayed. Aren’t You Tired of Being Ridiculed?”

These enemies posing as friends have been around long enough now for me to recognize them and what they are about. They are skillful at disappearing and then reappearing at the most crucial times.  I cannot wait them out. They gain strength from the shortest hesitation. They manage to worm their way into the tiniest crack. They are not only tenacious but they are relentless. These devils sap my energy and enthusiasm. They caution, “Wait. Let someone else step forward. Why do you want to become involved? You have done enough. People will understand if you walk away.”

Conquering these devils is far more difficult than removing the offending words from a vow. What the serpent unleashed in the Garden of Eden is doubt. Doubt is insidious. It lurks and shows itself at the slightest hesitation.

I remind myself and my tormentors that I was not created to be fearful. My creator crafted me to walk boldly into each day and face each moment as it presents itself. With God I never have to face my fears alone. My wife has a favorite scripture verse that she has taught me. “But perfect love casts out fear.” I do not know what is coming around the bend, but I know that I can handle this moment. If I keep my focus on the present not wishing for the future or living in the past, I can walk through it.

When my faith grows weak, I lean into the faith of brothers and sisters who hold me up in my weakness.  Their faith strengthens me and grows my faith. We need to hear each other”s stories. We need to hear that others have walked these dark alleys and have emerged stronger. Communities of faith are designed to help us strengthen one another.  Scripture tells us, “That two are better than one…. If either of them falls down, one can help the other stand up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV) Rev. Amy Butler says,’There’s significant power in sharing our stories with each other. When we have the courage to name the pain we carry, we find out that soon enough that we are not alone. And knowing that we’re not alone often uncovers enough courage to take the next step in a painful situation.”

We Are not Alone – Amy Butler


We are not alone

There’s significant power in having the courage to name the pain we carry.

By Amy Butler

You know, I’ve always thought that one of the principle practices of a good pastor is connecting people. But I’ve now come to believe that one of the principle practices of being a good human being is connecting people. Because the worst thing about walking through a hard time is feeling that you are all alone.

The truth is that we need to share our stories. In fact, without that sharing, it’s doubtful we can ever become the beloved community Jesus envisioned.

These days I’m enjoying some weeks of sabbatical before I get back in the pulpit. This means various things, including increased use of sunscreen and long-neglected closet organizing projects finally marked off the list.

This also means I get to go to church. I mean, I get to choose anywhere I want to worship, slip in the back of the sanctuary and sit in the pew.

The other day I was sitting in worship in a small New England congregation where public prayer is a custom. The pastor got up during the prayer time and invited folks in the congregation to name their prayer requests out loud. The call for requests was broken up into three categories: prayers for the world, prayers for others, prayers for ourselves.

This week there was plenty to say when the pastor asked for prayers for the world: another Malaysian airliner down, continued bombing in the Gaza Strip, escalating gun violence in major American cities. Prayers for others was similarly populated: brother Joe; home recovering from back surgery; Aunt Marjorie, mourning the death of her cat; the local library fundraiser coming up in a few days.

Curiously, when the pastor got to prayers for ourselves, the entire congregation sat in silence.

Not one person stood up to say they were grieving a loss, living through a painful time in their marriage, worried about money, wondering if God exists.

Thoughts tumbled one over one another in my own mind: I’m worried about coordinating an upcoming move; I’m grieving the death of my brother; I’m anxious about beginning a new job; I miss my kids; I feel so much sadness and hopelessness when I watch the news and I want to be able to talk to my friends and colleagues of other faiths about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine, but I don’t know how.

As I sat in the silence I wondered if I was the only one grieving or scared or sad.

But I know I wasn’t. I looked around at all the shiny faces in those pews and I knew I couldn’t be the only one. Still, presenting a perfect façade to the world around us, as so many of us do, seemed to be the accepted standard of the community that morning. I did not speak up.

I thought of this experience in church just the other day when I finally had the opportunity to introduce two friends of mine whom I am sure should have been friends with each other long before they’d ever met me. The reason? They shared a story — pain-filled life experiences that shaped them both into the incredible people I know them to be.

I’d tried for awhile to connect them, but I’d heard a lot of hesitation. “It’s too hard to tell my story,” one of them said. “I’m ashamed,” the other one told me.

But when my friends finally met each other and shared their stories, here’s what they told me: “She understood me.” “I finally realized I am not alone.” “Wow, it’s not just me who lived through this.” “I felt God was here.” “I made a new friend.”

I knew it!

There’s significant power in sharing our stories with each other. When we have the courage to name the pain we carry, we find out soon enough that we are not alone. And knowing we’re not alone often uncovers enough courage to take the next step in a painful situation.

If the church can be anything these days, don’t you think it should certainly be a place where those kinds of connections happen?

I do.

After all, we claim to follow the One who showed up, told his story and shared life with others who learned to tell theirs. And look how that kind of community changed the world.

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