First Sunday of Advent: Led in Paths of Light

By Susan Gillies

1stAdventlemurAdvent is a time for spiritual preparation. In Advent we use candles as symbols of the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. We put lights on the Christmas tree, we even line the outside edges of our houses with lights. But instead of a deeply joy-filled attitude of love, the season too often becomes a time of frantic, overdone Christmas-mania.

In Romans 13 we are instructed to care for each other. We are told to wake up from our sleep. “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” (Romans 13:12b-14). The Message ends the passage with “Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

This passage starts OK. It’s easy enough for most of us to turn our noses down at even the idea of drunkenness, debauchery, and licentiousness. But then it has to go on and mention quarrelling and jealousy. Oh, oh. A church I love dearly was nearly shredded to pieces a year ago by quarrelling and jealousy. And it isn’t the only church that has experienced this. Some of us spend more time judging than we do loving. We often ignore the sin in which we are engaged while condemning others. I wish we’d stop getting so angry with people who wish us “Season’s Greetings.” Respond with “Merry Christmas!” with a smile.

We are called to walk in the light. What would it mean if we gave serious thought to moving toward the light of Christ by living like Christ in these days of preparation? What if we set aside any frantic competition of the season? What if we simply operated in a spirit of love, preparing the way of the Lord? There is an old song with this refrain: “How beautiful to walk in the steps of the Savior, Stepping in the light, stepping in the light, How beautiful to walk in the steps of the Savior, Led in paths of light.” I think the idea is captured in words from one of the verses: “Walking in footsteps of gentle forbearance, Footsteps of faithfulness, mercy, and love.” This is the way of Advent.

susanpic23Dr. Susan Gillies serves as interim general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA.

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UN Sustainable Development Goals: Goal #5 Gender Equality

By Sandra Hasenauer

e_sdg-goals_icons-individual-rgb-05We’ve addressed United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in previous blog posts; this week we’re highlighting SDG #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

The empowerment of women and girls is key to a multitude of issues such as peace-making, economic development, and health and nutrition. Although there have been improvements in the state of women and girls in many areas—girls’ access to education, rates of child marriage, fewer maternal deaths—there is still a long way to go. This is why the targets of SDG #5 begin with ending “all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere,” and continue on to address eliminating all forms of violence, ending harmful practices such as child marriages and female genital mutilation, recognizing the value of unpaid care and domestic work, ensuring full political participation and participation in decision-making at all levels, ensuring access to health care, addressing rights to land ownership and property as well as other economic resources, enabling use of technology, and developing legislation to ensure gender equality.

Although practices such as child marriages and women’s right to vote can feel “over there” to us living in the United States, we cannot get complacent about our own situations. The 2015 reports of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicate that “the status of women in the area of poverty and opportunity has worsened in the majority of states (29) in the last decade.” 43% of single mothers live in poverty compared to less than 24% of single fathers. In another section of the report, it points out that Millennial women (aged 25-34) are more likely than men of the same age range to have bachelor’s degrees or higher, but at the same time are much more likely than their male counterparts to live in poverty. Violence against women still includes alarmingly high statistics and to complicate matters, only 15 states and D.C. have employment rights laws for victims of domestic violence (the right to leave work to seek services and legal aid, for example, or protect victims from employment discrimination), and in most states, victims of domestic violence are not “eligible to receive unemployment benefits if they leave their jobs without ‘good cause,’” such as needing to escape a violent partner. The good news here is that as of July 2014, 32 states and D.C. have now defined ‘good cause’ in such a way that it can include family violence.

abwm_logo_eng_72           American Baptist Women’s Ministries has a history of empowering women and girls from the very moment of our inception as an organization. We continue that engagement today as we read news headlines and attend to our communities and see where women and girls are…and are not…being encouraged and empowered. How can we help every women have the opportunity to support her family? How can we help women and children to feel safe in abwm_logo_esp_72their own homes? How can we help girls feel safe in their schools and secure in their futures?

God calls us to this day, to this hour: “to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and mantel of praise instead of a faint spirit,” (Isaiah 61:3, NRSV).

(For other posts in this series, click on “Sustainable Development Goals” in the category list to the right.)

headshot higherresRev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of AB Women’s Ministries.

UN Sustainable Development Goals: Goal #4 Quality Education

By Sandra Hasenauer

SDGs_poster_new1School isn’t just about grades. It’s about economic empowerment, delaying marriage and childbirth for girls (which also has an effect on economic empowerment as well as maternal and infant health), and building entire communities. Is it any wonder education is so important?

And yet, significant percentages of girls are still absent from schools the world over. Frankly, significant percentages of children–female and male–are absent from schools, but girls are far more likely to be kept out of school than boys in many parts of the world. Girls are often kept home to help mothers with meals, childcare of younger siblings, and other household duties. Girls stay home due to their menstrual cycles and lack of adequate supplies, missing days out of every month and putting them far behind their male counterparts. Girls are often married very young, and kept out of school to attend to their husbands’ households. Girls are not seen as worth the expense of education. There’s myriad reasons, all with the same end result: Girls are not in school and are therefore most likely trapped in a generational cycle of poverty.

Those of us living in the U.S. or any Western country may feel self-congratulatory. “Well, we don’t have that problem–our girls are in school!” we may say. And, of course, we’d mostly be right. In fact, recent statistics have shown that in many ways, girls are doing marginally better than boys in U.S. schools. That is, they’re doing better until you look at the statistics of teen pregnancies. When a girl gets pregnant, she’s far more likely to drop out of school, subsequently having fewer future employment prospects, higher risk for health and nutrition issues for both her and her child, and we begin to see the cycle of poverty kick into gear again. Happily, statistics for teen pregnancy have been dropping in recent years, although they’re still too high. Additionally, girls are often subject to sexual harrassment and bullying that can keep them underperforming; boys experience the same thing. Addressing sexual harrassment and bullying helps all students.

How can we help? Globally, we can be involved in advocacy efforts and support organizations working on equitable access to education and improving education standards the world over. Spread the word, pay attention, pray for all children’s access to education–especially girls where they experience inequality.

2014-07-26-19-35-45In the U.S., we can continue to encourage girls in their leadership development and navigating life’s challenges. Mentoring, developing girls’ ministries in your faith community, encouraging girls to have leadership in your women’s and congregational ministries–all of these things support girls’ education and girls’ development.

We can also launch or volunteer with organizations supporting teen moms–help them stay in school or get their GEDs, learn good parenting skills and important nutrition and health practices for themselves and their children, feel like they have a future.

And we can pray. Add girls’ education to your prayer list on a regular basis, because we know prayer transforms the world.

headshot higherresRev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. 

American Baptist Women’s Ministries has posted information on our website about the SDGs and has ideas or other resources available to help you think through how you or your faith community could work on these issues locally as well as globally.