You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Theology’ category.
At the Disciples’ upcoming General Assembly in Indianapolis, Jason will share his advice on writing theologically for a broad audience during a resource group on Theology and Writing, on Friday, July 31 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.
Rebecca Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor, spoke with Jason Byassee in June.
RW: So you’re leading a General Assembly resource group on theology and writing. What will you cover?
JB: I’ll encourage pastors and others to think about themselves as writers. It’s not hard [at least for pastors] because every pastor is already writing sermons. But I want to encourage them to think about having a more expansive audience.
Many pastors write for their church newsletters. I suggest that they do this with as much care as they take with their sermons; and from there, to consider writing for a broader audience — religious publications and secular settings.
This has been made easier because of the Internet, but it’s harder than ever to make any money at it. So…there’s not necessarily a reward for this type of writing. It has to be seen as part of a pastoral lifestyle.
The question isn’t whether a pastor is going to be a writer…it’s the kind of care that they’re going to take in writing. And not only every pastor, but every Christian. Writing is a way of transforming feeling into thought.
RW: How does this type of writing fit into the pastor’s role?
JB: I’m convinced that this kind of broader writing changes the way a congregation views its pastor. I remember when my own pastor started publishing. Suddenly he had a new authority — I listened to him with a different set of ears.
Some may think, if you do that kind of broader writing, it takes away from the local parish. It may do that in the short run, but in the long run, it changes the way people listen.
RW: What sources from the Christian tradition do you draw on to make your case for pastor-as-writer?
JB: I really love some of the sources from the ancient church, about learning how to discern Christ in surprising places, and learning how to pay attention to Jesus in strange forms. I draw on a number of ancient and modern sources — from Simone Weil and Annie Dillard, to Augustine and the Desert Fathers.
RW: So what are some of the obstacles to writing that pastors face?
JB: There’s something every writer has to get over — the discipline of clearing space to write regularly. Because as important as it is, it isn’t urgent. Nobody is saying “You have to get this to me by Thursday.” So you have to clear space for it, even though nobody can see what you‘re doing. Later they may see the value, but maybe not right away.
And then there’s the mystification of the publishing process. I want them to know that people on ‘that side of the curtain’ are always looking for newer and better writers. And pastors are involved in things we editors can’t see. They’re involved in day-to-day things that we want to honor.
The tasks that go along with being a pastor contribute to being a writer. For example, noticing is a kind of pastoral activity. Noticing is also a crucial writing activity. I’m fascinated by the overlap.
Also, being a writer is not just about publishing your sermons. Often sermons don’t translate well to print. There are ambiguities [in sermons]…it can be done, but it has to be done with real care.
RW: How did you become interested in helping pastors to develop as writers?
JB: I was doing doctoral work, and I was frustrated. I wasn’t sure if I dropped dead that anyone would notice. I couldn’t figure out how I was helping anyone.
Then I became a local pastor. I was pastoring a rural church in North Carolina with about 80 people in it. And I knew that whatever else I might do during the week, I had done something on Sunday that mattered.
So I had this desire to be in between academia and pastoral work. At the Christian Century, I could pay attention to what was going on in the academy, but I could also pay attention on behalf of pastors.
RW: How did you end up working at the Christian Century?
JB: I was at a conference and the editor of the Century told me he was having a hard time getting people to write about movies. So I started there, and then the job came up [as assistant editor] and they hired me. Even when I was writing for them from the parish, I would never have thought it would become a job. Yet, I worked for the Century from 2004 to 2008, and I’m still a contributing editor there.
RW: So why did you move on to what you’re doing now?
JB: What led me back to Duke? While at the Century, I was adjunct teaching. I was thinking about how the academy is good at saying, “Here’s something new that you weren’t already thinking about,”…and asking critical questions about it. I did a lot of thinking about the distance between the academy and the parish.
And at the Century, I reviewed other people’s stuff. In a sense, I passed grades on it. [Christian writer] Andy Crouch, in his book Culture Making, says Christians shouldn’t be just evaluating other people’s creative works, they should be creating their own.
So I’m back at Duke, and I get to teach the kind of writing that I do. Really, there’s not a big emphasis on this kind of writing in most places in theological education. And Duke is the place that taught me to care about this stuff… [professors and writers] Lauren Winner, David Steinmetz, and Greg Jones are now my colleagues.
I also have a minor administrative post called special assistant to the dean. In an informal role, I am advising students and faculty on how to publish more broadly.
And I’m editing this new website at the Divinity School. We call it a publication — Faith and Leadership magazine.
RW: What was the first thing you ever wrote that was published?
JB: It was a piece on Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, published in the Christian Century back in 2003.
RW: What are you working on now?
JB: I have a book coming out next year. It’s about the theology of the small church, and Abingdon is the publisher. It’s partly theology, and partly rooted in the pastoral experiences I had in the small church. It’s tentatively called The Gift of the Small Church.
RW: Any advice for writers?
JB: You’ve got to read what you want to write. There’s a famous writing book — Reading Like a Writer. There’s a great deal of overlap between reading and the writing life.
RW: So what are you reading?
JB: I’ve spent some time lately with a book by Christine Pohl — Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. And there’s a new book by David Hart, called Atheist Delusions. And Dana Robert’s Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion.
I’ve also been reading a novel called Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, about a mission hospital in Ethiopia. It’s about a family’s life serving in this place.
RW: Do you have a favorite writer?
JB: Flannery O’Connor is probably my favorite author, from the 20th century. Augustine is the great one for all time.
Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own is another good one.
I like paying attention to people who are sort of writing not on their home field — theological writers who are writing in some other vein. For example, David Steinmetz writes editorials in places like USA Today.
You may have seen reports of a Kentucky pastor who has invited his congregations to bring their guns to church for a combined gun rights/Independence Day celebration. Blogger and pastor Greg Howell shares his thoughts on the subject of God and guns in a post titled “Second Amendment or Sixth Commandment?”
The Creme Anglaise blog has several great, short posts this week. I agreed with her thoughts on good and bad shopping trips, but also appreciated the post on Some Tardy Articles about the Death of George Tiller.
East Dallas Christian Church is kicking off a 4-week sermon series this Sunday. The subject: Being People of Hope in Times of Fear. Blogger Nathan Hill, minister of church life at EDCC, frames it by asking, “Are we consumers of fear? And is this what Jesus calls us to be?” Read more here.
Christian Piatt asks, Can you be both an atheist and a Christian? Before you dismiss his question with a remark about foxholes, consider what he has to say. Then read Danny Bradfield’s post on Field of Dandelions, “Encounter with Jesus.” It contains this imagined exchange:
Jesus: “You could offer me a glass of water … or a beer.”
Danny: “Um, yeah. Okay. I’ll get you some water, we don’t have any beer.”
Jesus: “Look again.”
Kory Wilcoxson’s Thoughts on God…and other stuff blog (and Kory himself) are beginning a three-month sabbatical, but he posted his pre-sabbatical sermon on Honoring the Sabbath. Kory does a wonderful job of helping his congregation (and anyone reading it) understand the difference between a sabbatical and a vacation, setting it in the context of biblical Sabbath-keeping as renewal and worship.
Speaking of taking time off, the NewsMuse blog will not be updated next week, with the exception of our guest blog on Social Monday. This week’s guest blogger is Bob Cornwall, who writes Ponderings on a Faith Journey. Check out his post today on Remembering D-Day, then come back here on Monday for his thoughts on how to maintain a great blog (hint: Bob blogs every day.)
Have a great week!
By Lois Ann Lorentzen
In the days just before Easter, the Mexican government bulldozed nearly forty shrines to La Santisima Muerte (Holy Death) along the US/Mexico border. The shrines, according to the military, formed an integral part of the “narco-culture” that the government is determined to wipe out. Does devotion to Santa Muerte reflect the “death cult of the drug lords,” as a US military intelligence website suggests?
The chosen saint of the marginalized,Santa Muerte holds a globe in one hand and a pendulum in the other. She wears a robe covering her arms down to her wrists; there her fingers are exposed as bone. Over her skeletal head rests a halo. Santisima Muerte, a symbolic representation of death blended with Catholic characteristics, surfaced in Mexico’s religious landscape to much popular acclaim. Very little is known about the Holy Death’s origins; her followers and scholars promote divergent theories. Some claim that she first appeared to a healer in Veracruz in the 19th century, and ordered him to create a cult. Others claim that the strong cult of death practiced among the ancient Mexicas merged with Catholicism in the form of Santa Muerte. Other devotees claim that Holy Death came from Yoruba traditions brought by African slaves to the Caribbean and passed to Mexico through Cuban Santería, Haitian Voodou, or Brazilian Palo Mayombe; these religions merged with Christian practices to create Santa Muerte. Other Mexican scholars insist that Holy Death’s origins can be traced back to medieval Europe; she is an archetype of death commonly seen in religious art. Most scholars do agree however, that Santa Muerte should not be confused with the more well known Day of the Dead. Although Holy Death may be venerated on that day, as Kevin Freese points out, she “appears to be a distinct phenomenon emerging from a separate tradition.”
Devotion has grown dramatically since 1965; Santa Muerte boasts nearly five million followers in Mexico. Santa Muerte is particularly popular among drug traffickers, police officers, gang members, prison inmates, and sex workers; in short, those who live close to death. She also has a following among some artists, intellectuals, politicians, and actors. Her largest social base, however, is among the most marginalized sectors. Her principal sanctuary is found in the barrio, Tepito, among the poorest and most dangerous sectors of Mexico City. Her popularity among migrants has also skyrocketed. In markets in Tijuana and other border towns, artifacts related to Santa Muerte outnumber those for the Virgin of Guadalupe. Thousands of shrines to Santa Muerte are found throughout Mexico, but they are especially concentrated along the northern border.
The rapid growth of the movement over the last decades has led to conflict between devotees of Holy Death, the official Roman Catholic Church, and the Mexican government. Archbishop David Romo Guillen, founder of the Mexico-US Apostolic Traditional Catholic Church, created the Sanctuary of Holy Death in Mexico City in 2002, and registered the church as a religious organization in 2003. The archbishop promotes condom use for men and women and the doors of the church are open to gays, lesbians, transvestites, and transgendered. Priests are allowed to marry, women can become ordained, and divorce is not censured.
These practices, in addition to the worship of Holy Death herself, place the church in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church – and, increasingly, to the government. In April 2005, the government revoked the church’s status as a religious organization. Now the government is making the claim that worship of Santa Muerte is a threat to national security. The government is partially right, although not because of alleged links to drug traffickers. The author of a military intelligence website devoted to Santa Muerte concluded that as long as exclusion, isolation, and political despair characterize life for the marginalized in Mexico, we can expect that the cult of Santa Muerte will prosper. Most devotees feel that both the government and the church have failed them. Thus, they turn to folk saints such as Santa Muerte, who does not judge but reflects the excluded – in other words, much of Mexico. The political despair characteristic of much of Mexico’s population poses more of a threat to national security than a small border shrine visited by poor and working class people and migrants. Some of La Santa Muerte’s devotees do indeed happen to be drug lords, but she is also the patron saint of the dispossessed, acquainted with death as they are.
Kevin Freese. “The Death Cult of the Drug Lords: Mexico’s patron of crime, criminals and the dispossessed.” fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/Santa-Muerte/santa-muerte.htm –
Cymene Howe, Susanna Zayarsky, and Lois Lorentzen. “Devotional Crossings: Transgender Sex Workers, Santisima Muerte and Spiritual Solidarity in Guadalajara and San Francisco” in Lois Ann Lorentzen, Joaquin Gonzalez, Kevin Chun, Hien Duc Do, Eds. Religion at the Corner of Bliss and Nirvana; the intersection of faith, politics and identity in new migrant communities. Duke University Press, forthcoming.
Lois Ann Lorentzen is Chair of the Theology and Religious Studies Department and Director of the Center for Latino Studies in the Americas at the University of San Francisco.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Noticed Kory Wilcoxson posted a review of the book “The Year of Living Biblically” on his Thoughts on God and Other Stuff blog. Kory’s description: The author, A.J. Jacobs, tried to follow the Bible literally for one year. No haircuts, a full, bushy beard, dietary restrictions, observance of all the religious holidays. He even followed the command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Here’s more from Kory, about Jacobs’ book:
His initial approach to this endeavor was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Jacobs, a self-proclaimed agnostic, is never disrespectful or mocking, but he starts out with a healthy skepticism about this revered and authoritative book.
But over the course of the year, as he spends more time studying and following the scriptures, Jacobs gradually begins to see the benefit of living a religious existence. At one point Jacobs found himself saying little prayers of “thank you” throughout the course of the day. He admits he’s not sure to whom he was praying, but he remarked this shift in his outlook changed him as a person.
Will visit more Disciples blogs tomorrow to see what you all are up to. Now, it’s off to Applebee’s. Wonder if I’ll see Jesus there?