First Sunday of Lent: What Will Be the Cost-Benefit Ratio of Your Lenten Sacrifice?

By Rev. Dr. Frances Bryant-Lowery

This is the first in a series of Lenten posts. Be sure you’re subscribed to the blog to receive all the posts as they’re scheduled.

Long, John St. John. The Temptation in the Wilderness, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54299 [retrieved March 3, 2017].

Long, John St. John. The Temptation in the Wilderness, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54299 [retrieved March 3, 2017].

1 John 2:16  (Amp)

It feels like we’re suddenly in the season of Lent! I say “suddenly” because it seems as if time has truly begun to “fly!” It seems like just a few days ago that we were exchanging gifts and enjoying family gatherings and the traditional food-fare of that festive season during which we celebrate the birth of the Christ-Child. Yet, now we find ourselves in the Season of Lent!

As you probably already know, Lent this year began Wednesday, March 1st, and ends Thursday, April 13th, on Maundy Thursday. It is a forty-six (46) day period beginning Ash Wednesday; a season set aside for reflecting and preparing one’s self before the joyous Easter celebration. This period of self-reflection and personal preparation began in the 4th century. It is actually a 40-day period (Sundays are excluded because they are considered to be mini-Easter celebrations of the Resurrection) for Christians, replicating the 40 days Jesus withdrew and spent fasting in the wilderness, where he was tempted by our arch-enemy, Satan. It was in the wilderness that the Son of God prepared for his call to serve; his call to a sacrificial ministry.

As followers of Christ, sinners saved by grace, we are invited by Christian tradition “to a time of repentance, fasting and preparation,” according to the United Methodist Church article, “What is Lent and Why Does it Last 40 Days?” During this time of reflection and self-examination, many of us choose something to fast or give up–a personal sacrifice, if you will, until Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

In Luke 4:1-13, we find the scriptural account of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, which followed his baptism by his cousin John the Baptizer. Jesus fasted for 40 days and when he encountered the enemy Satan, he was hungry. The Enemy, wanting to have control over Christ, tried to tempt him in three different areas. In 1 John 2:16 (Amplified Bible), the writer describes the three areas, which actually comprise our human make-up, as “…the lust of the flesh (craving for sensual gratification) and the lust of the eyes (greedy longings of the mind) and the pride of life (assurance in one’s own resources or in the stability of earthly things) – these do not come from the Father but are from the world (itself).”

Jesus rejected the tempter’s attempts to entice him with what already belonged to Christ by virtue of his relationship to God! Jesus’ response to God’s call to service led to a costly sacrifice.

What will you do to observe the season of Lent this year? What sacrifice will you make? What will you give up? What will you “pass” on?  Many of us have chosen a fast “from” things we felt (or were convicted of) that we indulged in: sugar, chocolate, caffeine, desserts, television, or other pleasurable behaviors. My friend Edith loved imported gourmet dark chocolates. She refrained from this sweet indulgence. She “passed” on them during Lent. But how many of us have ever considered a fast “to”…? How about you?  What about a fast “to” spend time with or to look for a way to be a blessing to the least, the lost, the lonely, the sick, the afflicted? Jesus fasted and made a personal sacrifice to prepare himself for ministry, for his special calling, for his personal sacrifice of comfort and ease in order to make a difference in the lives of others…to do for humanity that which we could not do for ourselves. The cost was enormous, but the benefits for followers of Christ are out of this world!

Suggested resources for Lent:

frances-bryant-loweryRev. Dr. Frances Bryant Lowery serves as national coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls, American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

 

A Healing Balm–Domestic Violence

By Rev. Dr. Suzanne Walls Kershaw

20121213091340_FileNamePondering, pondering, pondering—what thought would I share that would empower and equip women to live their lives and reach out to others in need? This reflection guided me towards the words within my Doctor of Ministry dissertation that resonate as deeply today as when they were first written. Although domestic violence affects both women and men, given both the social and political climate within our country today the lives of women have been further marginalized and thus the humanity of each one of us—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, life experiences, or gifting—provides us with a place which we can embrace as “common ground.”

“The emerging church, as defined by Kimball, is the Spirit of God; kingdom-minded disciples of Jesus being radical and exhibiting love and faith because it’s all about Jesus. These issues of which we are speaking are not new, but their presence is impacting our lives and communities in a most devastating and disturbing way. More often than not, within our congregations and communities people are suffering both directly and indirectly from these social issues, yet the church remains silent! How can we strengthen and revive anything, anyone, or any situation if we are disengaged?

“The Missio Dei is more than the Body of Christ (believers) walking in their place of comfort and familiarity; it is that place of humility that Jesus travelled and walked daily during his earthly ministry. It is that place of touching lives when others have prescribed that they are unclean, or the lowest of the low, or hopeless beyond hope.

“The Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA); which is one (1) of the thirty-three (33) regions within the ABCUSA, adopted a domestic violence adaptive challenge, which developed into a catalyst for creating learning communities for the purpose of educating churches and communities concerning the issue of domestic violence; it is creating space for empowerment. Discernment through prayer was the genesis of this ministry, which is serving as a conduit for information and training for our PBA congregations through partnerships with congregations that have domestic violence programs and counselors.

“The shame and fear associated with domestic violence has made it challenging to reach and minister to those in need of care, support, and love. This ministry of the PBA provides its congregations and community with basic information that is available both online and as written resource information.”[1]

Our challenge is to educate ourselves, develop or partner with other domestic violence ministries and reach out to others in our church and community to be a healing balm to those who have been victimized through domestic violence. Here are some suggestions for starting your ministry:

  • Pray for God’s guidance (refer to church protocol regarding new ministries)
  • Identify domestic violence agencies, organizations and creditable on-line resources
  • Invite a representative to speak with your ministry about domestic violence
  • Continue in prayer
  • Share your vision with the pastor and leadership of your congregation

[1] Suzanne H. Walls Kershaw, 2016. Evangelism and Mission to Women Through the Strengthening and Revitalization of the Existing American Baptist Women’s Ministries (ABWM) of the Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA). D.Min. dissertation, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

suzanne-kershawRev. Dr. Suzanne H. Walls Kershaw is president of AB Women’s Ministries of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, and received her Doctor of Ministry degree from Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA, in May, 2016.

Being Upstanders

By Barbara Anderson

img_0021“Human Trafficking is a form of modern slavery—a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world. And no matter where you live, chances are it’s happening nearby. From the girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop, to the man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom.” (Polaris Project)

Ten years ago, I had never heard the term “human trafficking,” nor understood what it was and the magnitude to which it effected women, children, and men around the world and right here in my own community. In 2015, an estimated 1 out of 5 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex-trafficking victims. According to the Polaris Project, it is estimated that human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. The darkness and violence continues to grow and, at times, seems hopeless.

As women of faith, we have not been bystanders to this situation. We have raised our voices in advocacy to our lawmakers, raised funds for programs supporting women survivors, and brought awareness to our communities. As faithful women, we have come together and God has heard our prayers. Although we may not be able to see it, we are making a difference in the lives of exploited women and girls. We are shining a light on the darkness. We, as a friend of mine would say, are “Upstanders.” We are women sharing God’s love and making a difference in our communities. We may not see the progress but change is happening. The media is now shining their light on this issue, lawmakers are shining their light through prosecuting traffickers, and organizations are shining their light in offering assistance through homes and services to women survivors. I have led an organization, “All Hands In,” for the past six years as we have worked to establish a presence in the Greater Boston area to support women survivors. Although we are not quite ready to begin our residence program, we are now serving women survivors, one-on-one. We are sponsoring survivor retreats and, in 2017, launching our social enterprise, employing women in our natural soap business and rolling store program.

Women of faith do not sit in the pews: we are “action in the pews” on Sundays and every day. We are not bystanders but upstanders. Let us continue to stand up for exploited and trafficked women in our communities and around the world. Upstanders, unite!

IMG_7110Barbara Anderson is president of “All Hands In,” a ministry organization sponsored by Trinity Baptist Church of East Arlington, MA, addressing the issue of human trafficking. Barbara is a former national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information about All Hands In, click here.

Are you feeling called by God to learn more about the critical issue of sex trafficking?  The International Christian Alliance on Prostitution is holding a conference at the Green Lake Conference Center, Green Lake, Wisconsin, May 21-26, 2017. Click here for information.

The Gender Fishbowl

By Lee McKenna

Editor’s note: Lee McKenna is minister and a Conflict Transformation specialist. Lee, who lives on a farm in Ontario, travels around the world—South Sudan, Uganda, Northern India and the Philippines, to name a few—training people to be peacemakers in areas where there is great conflict. Lee leads people, who have little hope, into re-imagining themselves and their lives, largely by means of what she calls “peace games.” She refers to one of these activities as “The Gender Fishbowl.” The following is a description of what happens during one of these games.

gender-fishbowl1

Above: Lee McKenna (inner circle, just left of center) leads a Gender Fishbowl activity during a Conflict Transformation training in Nagaland, in Northeast India. Photo courtesy of Lee McKenna. Used by permission.

Typically, one of the ways by which we raise issues of gender is a “fishbowl.” This consists of two concentric circles of chairs with women in conversation in the middle and men on the outside listening.

We ask two questions. The first is, “What is the ideal woman in your culture?” A sigh moves across the tight knees-to-knees circle of women. The men lean in. It doesn’t matter whether the question is being posed in Toronto or Timbuktu, San Francisco or Santo Domingo, Manhattan or Manila. Women say some variation of the same thing.  The rule of men is the common narrative, with local distinctives.

In South Sudan, they say,

Girls are not for educating—what for? Our role is to bring cows into the marriage, to have babies, to fetch water, grind millet, tend the livestock, till the gardens. You don’t need an education for that! We are to stay home, keep quiet. Men beat us and we’re supposed to be grateful; when the next wife arrives, we are polite. Our work begins even before we are big enough to tie our baby brother or sister on our backs—and carry water on our heads and hoe the sorghum.

Bought and sold for cows, lots of cows, into polygamous arrangements, their genitals mutilated at puberty (to “keep them from wandering”), women are little more than slaves. The illiteracy rate of women in South Sudan is second only to Afghanistan.

We ask the second question. “Is this okay with you?” This time the sigh is more like a groan. The men are getting restless; they’re not sure what to do with what they are hearing. They’re figuring out that they are eavesdropping on a conversation that would otherwise not be held within their hearing.

We have no say. Decisions about our village, about our lives, are made without us having anything to say. My work never ends. He is in the village common, drinking tea and talking. The boys are playing football amongst the eucalyptus trees; the girls are washing clothes, stoking fires, stirring pots.

We play other games throughout the course of a training, designed to help participants to understand the dynamics of their culture. They will unpack emotions that surround the horrors they have experienced. They will come to understand the “other” through these exercises.

The Gender Fishbowl is one of the most profound of the games. By the end of a training like this, through their conversations with one another, both men and women understand this fact: Any society that marginalises half its population sentences itself to permanent underdevelopment and a permanent warrior culture.

With the sound turned off, it might look like silly games. But what it turns out to be is the rending and mending of the heart and soul in the service of peace.  “Aren’t we all tired of war?” they want to know. “Can we trust peace negotiation processes that are played out against all-male displays of militarised prowess? Where are the points of intervention in the cycle of violence?” But also they want to know what can be modelled in a place of exile, right here and now—in new ways of being with one another. They want to know how to intervene in conflict before it turns into violence.

At the end of the training in Uganda, the joy—the jumping, laughing joy—is startling in its exuberance. Sudanese in exile from their homes in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile state celebrate alongside their Ugandan hosts, who are now friends. It is only the beginning. They will take their certificates to hang on the walls of their modest shelters to remind them of their commitment to peace, and to help them share these concepts with others.

In Sudan, we began a two-week training, this time with all Christian participants living in Internally Displaced Persons camps, with a worship service gathered around the carved wooden image of a kneeling, pregnant, praying, weeping woman as the symbol of gestating wisdom awaiting the labouring of birth.

This is, indeed, symbolic of what occurs during these trainings. We wrestle repeatedly with the Bible and its mixed messages of redemptive violence and radical peaceseeking. Trained as trainers, they will return to their temporary homes to train others, multiplying the experience, building peace from the family level to the government level.

—The article above is reprinted with permission from the Seeds of Hope publication Hunger News & Hope, Volume 16 Number 3, Summer 2016. For more information about Seeds of Hope, go to www.seedspublishers.org. For more about Lee McKenna’s work, go to www.partera.ca.

A Promise for Peace

By Virginia Holmstrom

Peaceable Kingdom, a woodcut by Rick Beerhorst

Peaceable Kingdom, a woodcut by Rick Beerhorst

The imagery of “the peaceful kingdom” in Isaiah 11:1-9 has not been lost on me in the divisive discourse that drowned civility during our nation’s presidential election. The Old Testament scripture passage from Isaiah 11 is often preached during the Advent season in anticipation of the arrival of a ruler favored and blessed by God:  Jesus, who is of the human lineage of Jesse and the divine Son of God whose spirit will reside in him:  a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. He will govern with righteousness, justice, fairness, and faithfulness. In short, Isaiah’s message long ago offered a troubled world Hope for a transformed and healed world.

The words that begin the 11th chapter of Isaiah are almost like an inaugural address that speaks of hope and redemption for all creation. It foretells the inauguration of a peaceful reign governed by the prince of peace. In this “peaceful kingdom” the wolf lives side by side with the lamb and does not devour it. The leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, the toddler-child and the snake do not intimidate or fear one another. The vulnerable and the powerful live in harmony. The “created” protects God’s creation. Creation reveals the Creator; the knowledge of God fills the earth.

These images from the Isaiah 11:1-9 inaugural address will be on my heart when on January 20 the world tunes in to listen to our nation’s newly-elected president’s inaugural address.

The inaugural address in Isaiah compels me to get serious about working toward the transformation of the world. It calls for my commitment: I will seek to be transformed in my devotion to Christ through the renewing of my spirit. I will seek to be God’s transformation agent within the communities where I live and worship and work and play. I will pray for the grace to see and love and care for others with the grace that God has shown to me. I will pursue peace. I will help to heal our wounded earth.

In American Baptist Women’s Ministries, we’ve been reflecting on what it means to be in relationship as “Beloved Community” and how we shall help facilitate being such a community with God’s help. Beloved Community is lived out through relationships of mutual respect, active listening, standing up with and for each other, loving and encouraging and empowering one another. God’s “peaceful kingdom” and “Beloved Community” are meant to be experienced by all of God’s people. Won’t you join me in this transformation work? God, open in us the gates of your kingdom.

Virginia Holmstrom 2012 smVirginia Holmstrom serves as the executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Christmas Sunday: Shadows and Light

By Sandra Hasenauer

Christmas Lights by Ryan Padilla, Creative Commons Permissions

Christmas Lights by Ryan Padilla, Creative Commons Permissions

Isaiah 9:2: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

Luke 2:9-13 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

It’s Christmas! And it’s Sunday! What a wonderful concurrence of worshipful events! Both days celebrate an end to anticipation and a beginning of a new life with Christ. Both give us the opportunity to give thanks for the gift of reconciliation, mercy, and grace that we are given through the infant born and the man crucified and raised again.

But it’s important to remember that this in-breaking of lightness into darkness (to use biblical terms) doesn’t mean God is only present in the light. No, indeed. Our very hope in Christ comes from the fact that we are able to trust God in the shadow as much as we trust God in the light. We are able to give over our worrisome circumstances, our troublesome situations, our fears, disappointments, and all of those other things shadowing our hearts and minds over to God, because we have the promise of the baby born. The Luke passage reminds us that the glory of the Lord comes in the midst of fear–that we are assured God’s presence will ultimately bring justice, comfort, and peace.

There is a lot to be worried about in the United States and in Puerto Rico right now–civil difficulties, economic fears, walls rather than bridges, harsh rhetoric, anger, separation. But our God is Immanuel–God with us–the divine come as a human baby, vulnerable and born to a vulnerable people. Immanuel–God with us–who walked on human feet and wore human clothing and spent every waking moment with humans, knowing what it means to be hurt, to be disappointed, to be living in this world. Immanuel–God with us–calling us and walking with us in both shadow and light.

The light brings us hope, but the shadow brings us a call to be partners with God in building Beloved Community in our world. We feel God’s calling in our hearts, alongside the outpouring of grace and mercy we need to heed that call.

This isn’t a traditional Christmas carol, but it sums up our hope in Christmas day.

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

Fourth Sunday of Advent: In Her Shoes

By Deborah Malavé Díaz

4thAdventVickyvSIn Puerto Rico it feels like we celebrate the longest Christmas in the world. Throughout my childhood, every Christmas morning my kid sister would wake me up several times during the night to see if Santa had already left the presents and gifts for us. By the time I was nine years old, I already knew the truth about Santa but for my kid sister Santa was as real and as good as ice cream.

It was 1975 and by Christmas my sister, a very precocious five-year-old, was very excited about the gifts we were just about to receive. She woke me up every hour on the hour to see if Santa had left our presents, until finally, around five o’clock a.m., there they were… our presents. She eagerly opened her gift and it was an educational, colorful, cute plush owl, from the campaign “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” Woodsy the Owl came with zippers, bottoms, laces, snap bottoms, and hooks to help children learn how to dress themselves.

She looked at it and hugged it and started crying. As she cried hugging her owl she said “Mi buhito, yo no quiero mi buhito,” which means: “My little owl, I don’t want my little owl.”

I didn’t want to be in her shoes. She kept crying louder and louder, and it woke up my mom. She came and took us back to our bedroom and, consoling her, explained that probably Santa made a mistake; it was very possible that he was on his way back with her gift and Mom asked my sister to go back to sleep and wait. My sister looked at her in horror and, still crying, told my mom: “Don’t you understand?!!! By now Santa should be by New York and for sure will not come back to Puerto Rico just for me!!!”…silence. As I looked at my mom’s face, I didn’t want to be in her shoes either. I lay by my sister’s side on her bed as she cried herself to sleep. Later, that morning she got a cool projector and whole bunch of gifts that I’m sure were meant for my cousins. I can’t remember what I got that 1975’s Christmas. But what I’ll never forget is the whole “owl scene” and my sister in despair because for sure Santa would not come back just for her.

In this time of Advent, as we are expectant for the coming of Jesus, I find myself wondering whose shoes are we in? Are they the shoes of the little girl in despair thinking that no one will come back just for her? Or are they the shoes of the mother, without the proper words or simply speechless amidst hopelessness? Or are they they shoes, maybe, of the older sister, watching it all happen and feeling just a little relief?

Psalm 80:3 says, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” These are the shoes I want all of us in. Let’s wear the shoes of knowing that Jesus came to restore us and will come back for us; the shoes of knowing that in our hopelessness he will save us. Let’s be in the shoes of bringing unto others the shine of God’s salvation.

Deborah Malave DiazDeborah Malave Diaz is national coordinator of Events for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.