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Not long ago, I posted my interview with Disciples theologian and author Rita Nakashima Brock, founder of Faith Voices for the Common Good and a member of the Axis of Friendship — a coalition of individuals and groups reaching out in solidarity with the people of Iran.

With the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the U.N. this week and the ongoing concerns about its nuclear aims, the spotlight is once again on Iran, as it has been off and on since the highly-contested elections of this summer.

On Wednesday,  Brock and fellow Axis of Friendship member Amir Soltani had an opinion piece, “An Empty Roar from the Lion of Islam,” published as an op-ed in The Boston Globe.

In another article, published the same day on the Dog Canyon blog, Brock asks “What has Christianity to do with Iran?” and answers “A lot, it turns out.”   Her article there, “Iran and our Axis of Friendship,” is a fascinating look at the role of Persia (now Iran) in the world at the time of Jesus’ birth.

What are your thoughts on Iran, and on Ahmadinejad’s visit and speech?

I’m in Grand Rapids, Mich. for the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I’ll be here for the whole Synod, which officially opens Friday and ends June 30. On Thursday I spent the day covering a pre-Synod consultation on immigration.

The event included great speakers, immigrants who shared their stories, and community organizers including keynote speaker Norma Chavez-Peterson of Justice Overcoming Boundaries and Baldemar Velasquez, known for his work with FLOC, organizing farm laborers.

But the best quote of the day came from Dave Ostendorf, who said that liberal Christians tend to be “resolutionary” instead of “revolutionary.” He and others called for people of faith to go beyond passing resolutions and having church meetings to actually taking ministry outside of church walls and into the community to get things done, engaging systems and structures to get at the root causes of social problems.

One thing I appreciated about the day’s event is that those in attendance seem to understand the intricacies of justice work. They talked about the unintended consequences of the efforts of well-meaning Christians; they distinguish between feel-good, drive-by charity work and actually listening to, honoring, and empowering people who are oppressed so that they can shape their own futures with dignity. Those are nuances that you sometimes don’t hear when it comes to church mission and outreach.

In light of Ostendorf’s remark, I couldn’t help but think about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In about a month, the General Assembly will vote on whether to stop being a “resolutionary’ church. The idea is to replace sometimes-controversial Sense-of-the-Assembly resolutions (and a couple of other types of resolutions) with a dialogue process: Calls for Action.

But if we stop being “resolutionary,” we’re still far from revolutionary, and sometimes, a revolution — a turning-upside-down of things — is in order. While resolutions should not be  confused with actions,  I wonder if now we’ll fall into the trap of mistaking conversation for action. To be fair, the Calls for Action open a better space for dialogue than the 12, 24, or in a few cases, 48 minutes of floor debate. But at the end of the day, will anyone urge us to take it a step further?

How, as church, can we Disciples go from resolutionary to revolutionary, instead of going from resolutionary to…a bunch of nice Christians who can proudly say that we all get along? I hope we can find a way.

It’s been a long week with much to blog about. Not surprisingly, the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, tops the list of blogged-about topics. While some argue that the church ought to get out of the civil marriage business, Bill McConnell wrote (actually last week) that it’s the state that ought to butt out.  Steve Kindle, of the Open Hearts, Affirming Pages blog, posted several items this week. And Danny Bradfield, over at Field of Dandelions, mentions it in this Pentecost-related post.

Photo: ptrktn (Creative Commons license)

Photo: ptrktn (Creative Commons license)

In a tangentially related post, The Prophet Joel asks whether the “Open & Affirming” designation adopted by some LGBT-friendly churches puts politics before Christ. His post before that one is good Friday afternoon reading: Television Characters Who Are Seminary Drop-Outs.

We also began the week with Memorial Day, when we remember those who have lost their lives serving our country and protecting our freedoms. Charlie Cochran blogs about God and fireworks. And Pastor Bob Cornwall shares A Prayer for Memorial Day on his Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog.

I also missed a great post last week, from the Field of Dandelions blog: “Beer, Revisited.” I won’t try to explain. Just read it.

Shortest post of the week: found on the Ageing Xperience blog.

My favorite post this week comes from Keith McAlliley who writes the Blogging from Bridgeport blog. Keith calls us to really give some hard thought to what we mean, as Christians, when we talk (obsessively, sometimes) about the need for building “community” in our churches. Do we just want social time? A support group? Or is it about something else altogether? Read what he has to say, and share what you think with him.

Got a blog post you’d like us to feature next Friday? Don’t be shy. Email us: news AT disciplesworld DOT com. Have a great weekend.

By Peter Heltzel & Matthew Rosen

Hosting the recent Mobilization to End Poverty, April 26-29, in Washington D.C., Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics and founder of Sojourners, convened religious leaders from around the country to make sure President Obama and Congress take action to dramatically reduce poverty domestically and abroad. In the spirit of King’s “Poor People’s Campaign,” the Mobilization to End Poverty represents one of the largest and most diverse anti-poverty groups that continue to advocate with Congress to protect priorities within the President’s budget that assist low-income individuals and poor communities.

But what made this gathering of prophetic advocates historic was the government’s active outreach to the religious communities and constructive dialogue about how we can work together to bring about justice for all of God’s children.

Click here to read the full post

Disciples of Christ minister Steve Kindle

Disciples of Christ minister Steve Kindle

If you’re ever reporting on gay marriage, Steve Kindle is someone you’d want to interview. Kindle (a Disciples of Christ minister, and a straight man) is a vocal advocate for gay marriage and other lgbt issues. DisciplesWorld wrote about him when he appeared in Daniel Karslake’s 2007 Sundance film on Christianity and homosexuality, “For the Bible Tells Me So”, and we interviewed him again after California voters passed Proposition 8 last November.

Like most people who have an opinion on the subject, Kindle took note when Carrie Prejean, Miss California, voiced her opposition to gay marriage.  But what really got him going wasn’t the subsequent revelation that she had posed for revealing photos. It was her association with the National Organization for Marriage (the same folks who brought you the thunder-and-lightning ad campaign called “The Gathering Storm”)

Kindle methodically takes on the NOM’s Q&A format — their “talking points” approach to getting people riled up about the supposed threat  of gay marriage. He describes the NOM’s effort this way: “I have never discovered a more ill-informed, logic challenged, subject changing, straw man creating attempt at defending a position since the efforts of the holocaust deniers.” And then he sets out to take them apart.

Each day for about the past week, Kindle has taken on one point from the NOM and systematically debunked it. You have to admire the sheer bulldog-like quality of his approach. The guy knows what he’s talking about, and he’s not going to let go.

Vacant storefronts along one of the main streets in Wilmington, Ohio.

Vacant storefronts along one of the main streets in Wilmington, Ohio. (Click photo to view a slideshow of images from Wilmington.) Photo: DisciplesWorld

The Jan/Feb issue of DisciplesWorld comes out this week. I wrote the Lean Times column for this issue, about the town of Wilmington, Ohio. DHL Express just pulled out of Wilmington, leaving about 8,000 people in the town and surrounding counties unemployed. The town only has about 12,000 people. About one in three households have a family member who worked for DHL or related businesses at it’s Airpark.

While I was in town working on the article, CBS’ 60 Minutes was also there. Their segment on Wilmington aired last Sunday, Jan. 25. You can watch it or read the transcript here.

While 60 Minutes did an excellent job (they don’t need me to tell them that!) and they more than drove home the point that this small town (and others like it) are facing really tough times, they left out any mention of what I think is the most interesting and hope-inspiring angle. Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert, two young guys who grew up there, returned after college and are organizing an effort to make Wilmington the nation’s first Green Enterprise Zone. They’ve formed an organization called ENERGIZE Clinton County. Read more about them in the Daily Kos blog entry, What 60 Minutes Didn’t Tell You About Wilmington, Ohio.

I’ve talked with Taylor and Mark, read their proposals, and I think they have great (and practical) ideas. People are getting behind them. You can help, even if you don’t live anywhere near Wilmington. As they point out in my DisciplesWorld piece, Wilmington could become sort of a test lab for green technology and business, and for ideas and programs. The town has a huge number of people who are willing to learn and ready to work.

If the Obama administration doesn’t recognize this opportunity [and you can help by writing to them and to the Ohio Senators like Sherrod Brown who can get things done] then shame on them. Hopefully they’ll invest in Wilmington (different from a handout or a bailout) and show us how it can be done.

Rebecca Bowman Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor

Rebecca Bowman Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor

Wow, what a week it’s been. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had more than its 15 minutes of fame, with General Minister and President Sharon Watkins preaching a challenging and solid sermon during the presidential inaugural prayer service.

With our editor and publisher, Verity Jones, there in D.C. for some of the festivities, we decided to amp up our social media efforts.  We’re fairly new to Twitter, but tried to tweet there (spotty cell phone service and freezing cold hands made this difficult for Verity on Tuesday). We learned how to upload photos to our Facebook page (Verity’s got 3 albums up, and Wanda Bryant Wills of Communications Ministries graciously allowed us to post photos she took there also) and of the importance of having a back up camera battery (Yep, I’ve been there and done that too). We wrote articles and posted them on our website, linked, and blogged (scroll down for some great updates from Verity). Now we’ll step back and debrief on it, see what worked and what didn’t.

Meanwhile, we’re introducing a new feature: Social Friday. We’ll use Friday’s blog entry to lift up something happening in the world of social media, share what others (Disciples, church folks, or really, anyone) are doing, what’s new, what’s interesting. Ideas are welcome, as are guest bloggers, so if you’re interested or want to tip us off about something cool, email me at news@disciplesworld.com.

Since we’re just introducing the feature today, I’m going to take the easy way out and link to something cool that was shared this week (thanks Jeff Gill): The 5 Stages of Twitter Acceptance. This comes from Rohit Bhargava, a contributer to the SocialMediaToday blog.

“What’s Twitter?” you ask. Technically, it’s called microblogging. You create an account with a profile and a photo (like Facebook), and then you start posting stuff – what you’re doing at the moment (again, like the status updates in FB), links to interesting items you’ve found on the web, things like that. The catch: your post must be 140 characters or less. (the Tiny Url website has become my best friend for link-shortening).

There’s another component to Twitter, sort of like friending on Facebook – people can “follow” you (meaning that they receive your updates on their Home page in Twitter), and you can follow other people. Some Twitters have thousands of followers, others have just a handful, and that’s ok.

Once you get going (again, this goes back to the 5 Stages) you start playing around with @replies (public posts that are directed at another Twitterer with whom you have a follower-following relationship). You can also “retweet” other people’s posts – this is one way information gets spread around. And you can send a direct message (private email) to people you know.

What I’ve learned (and so as not to be pretending to be too hip for the room here, I’m at about stage 3 of the 5 stages) is mostly that you just have to get on there and play around. Look at what other people are posting, how they format it, what they share. Watch the “public” timeline (the conglomeration of everything that’s being posted, starting with the most recent posts — you can opt out of having your posts appear here but you can still view it). Find a few people you know, check out who they follow. Most people don’t require approval for you to follow them on Twitter (unlike Facebook, although you can exercise this option in Twitter). So if you’ve been hearing about Twitter, my advice (as a Twitter novice moving up through the Stages) is to get on there, play around, and see what happens. And here’s an excellent article from PBS’ website that explains the Twitter phenomenon and will have you tweeting in no time.

So come and follow us on Twitter. Learn from our mistakes, and evolve with us. And send us your ideas for the next Social Friday blog entry.

Tanya J. Tyler

Tanya J. Tyler

Tanya J. Tyler is a Disciples of Christ pastor in Kentucky. She works for the Lexington Herald Leader and is a contributing writer for DisciplesWorld. She is part of the Bluegrass Moms blog, and took a bus trip to DC for the inauguration.

Among the sights and sounds: an unexpectedly moving trip to the Vietnam War Memorial, the crowded Metro, high-fiving strangers, almost throwing up on a woman’s fur coat (not a PETA statement), and conversations about super powers and port-a-potties.

Tyler concludes:

I have waited so long for this day … I don’t want it to be over. And if we listen to our new president’s message and get out and work together to make this country everything it can and should be, it won’t be over. Ever.

Read her full blog entry here.

Another interesting article on Disciples’ General Minister and President Sharon Watkins’ sermon during the inaugural prayer service on January 21, from the Yale Daily News. Watkins graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1984.

Here’s an excerpt from the article titled “Watkins breaks glass ceiling with sermon,” by Derek Tam:

Longtime friends and former colleagues of Watkins said her sermon accurately reflected her open-mindedness and ability to include people from all walks of life.

“Of course I was a little bit biased, but as a critic of sermons she did an especially outstanding job,” said Dennis Smith, a professor at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Okla., where Watkins received her Doctor of Ministry degree.

Toward the end of the article, Tam includes an interesting observation from Serene Jones, who taught at Yale Divinity School until recently, when she became president of Union Theology Seminary in New York.

Yale Divinity School also included a link to this blog on its home page (link title: Inaugural blog by Verity Jones ’95 M.Div).

Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, will be in Washington D.C. covering Barack Obama's inauguration

Verity Jones

From Verity Jones, DisciplesWorld editor and publisher, who was at the inaugural prayer service yesterday:

I sat in the south transept balcony with other members of the press for Wednesday’s Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at which the Disciples General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins preached.  I had a grand view.  I’ve already written extensively about Watkins’ sermon.  You can read all about her profound and important message for the President and the nation’s leaders in my special report on www.disciplesworld.com.  You can read the sermon itself online.

What doesn’t get said in the news story is how fabulous Waktins looked, how confidently she carried herself, how proud she made this Disciple feel about being a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) today. Her message was delivered pitch-perfect, a brilliant balance between her down-home Midwestern way of communicating and her gift for articulating a strong prophetic message for the people.  Watkins took the crowd immediately with that off the cuff remark about how nice the sermon’s salutation, “Mr. President,” sounded. Unafraid of the positive and warm response, she continued, “Let’s try this one on, Madame First Lady.” The delighted congregation applauded. Those of you who tuned in know what I’m talking about.

Interesting moments that may not have been on camera: The Clintons entered through the north transept of the Cathedral about 20 minutes before the service started.  All of the religious dignitaries were seated in the north transept, and the Clintons worked that crowd, like they always do, even shaking the hand of Rick Lowery, Sharon Watkins’ husband, before finding their seats. I had a nice view of that interchange, by the way.  Very touching.

Another: In worship services, apparently, the president and the vice president are not announced and no “hail to the chief” is played.  So… the Bidens, then the Obamas just kind of wandered in through the north transept just before the service began.  They were purposeful, no crowd working for these guys until after the service.  But still, it was almost like they were just arriving for church.  I liked that.

And another: Michelle Obama is very impressive. She did not hesitate to initiate the hand clapping during the congregational singing of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The other five on her row – her husband, the Bidens, and the Clintons sang, but no hand-clapping. Hands properly folded in lap for those guys. And when she noticed they weren’t clapping, she didn’t stop. She is her own person and I think she will teach us all, women and men, children and adults, people of all colors, races, and backgrounds, a thing or two about the power of confidence.

Oh, and I wonder what her flat black shoes sparked in the fashion media. I tell you, if I danced at 10 balls in high heels all night like she did Tuesday, I’d be wearing house slippers the next day. Flat shoes were just right.

I suppose because this was church (even if worship with the president in a cavernous cathedral is not much like the kind of worship I usually engage), but I suppose that because this was church, I was even more moved today by these historic happenings than I was yesterday at the swearing-in ceremony. That a word from the church was heard today by this man and this administration at this memorable and remarkable moment, somehow filled me with peace for the day, and hope for the future. It was extraordinary, really.

Or it could’ve been that on Tuesday I was just much too cold to produce any tears of emotion!  But today, they flowed like a mighty river and ever flowing stream (a phrase we’ve heard so much this week, too much I wonder?).

A technical note:  I am no photographer and I know it, though I do try for the sake of DisciplesWorld. My camera was not working today. We had already made a plan that DisciplesWorld would use Associated Press photos of the service for our news report because I didn’t think I would have a good enough seat to see. But then I did, and I didn’t get photos of this amazing event.  I’m bummed, really disappointed. Anyway … AP photos and those taken by Wanda Bryant Wills of the Disciples’ Communication Ministries AFTER the service ended will be added to our story and Facebook page when they are available.

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