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Black Lives Matter! #3

By William R. Freeman (M.Div.’01)

Dyllan Storm Roof, the young white man who murdered nine Black Christians at Mother Emmanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015 in Charleston, SC after being allowed into a weekly Bible study, was finally found guilty, and on January 10, 2017 was sentenced to death.  However, the real story is how did this young man become so full of hate for Black people that he planned and traveled to this particular historic Black church, in this particular city, to kill nine innocent people in prayer with their eyes closed?

Newspaper reports tell us that Mr. Roof is the product of a racist, self-serving minority in this country who can’t come to grips with the fact that America, no matter how hard they try to stop it, is on its way to  becoming a very multi-racial society.  And, some people, especially certain young white men, who read racist publications, share racists thoughts and ideas on social media, and hangout with persons of similar beliefs, become radicalized; and although most of them don’t go to the same extreme as Mr. Roof; obviously he did.

It has been reported that, at his trial, Mr. Roof chose to represent himself   because he did not want his upbringing, his background, his associations, his family and friends to become targets of public scrutiny.  Now, as a minister of the Gospel, I don’t believe he was born with this deep hatred.  Therefore, the question becomes, where did this hatred and racism come from?  I believe the answer is from parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, school mates, teachers, friends and nowadays, as I said above, social media.

Lastly, we are all influenced by these same contacts, because as I like to say, “The Devil Is Busy!”  Satan is always trying to get his “hooks” into any vulnerable body; some succumb, some don’t.  Dyllan Storm Roof succumbed!  We who are Believers know the only way to defeat that battle is to call on Jesus!  To paraphrase 2 Chronicles 20:15, “The Battle is not ‘ours’ it’s The Lord’s.”  Amen!!

Doing Good Works!

By Helen Beset Byrd (M. Div.’07)

Jesus Christ, our savior, was a master teacher.  He used examples from the culture and experiences of his learners.  In the absence of instructional technology, Paul and all the disciples mentored others and sent them to disparate places to take the message of Jesus Christ to others.  A Greek named Titus was one of Paul’s mentees.  He was sent to the Island of Crete to supervise a large ministry.  Paul wrote Titus telling him to help the followers learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs among the people, so that they would be fruitful.

Both the Old and New Testament describe the determinant traits of good works and fruitfulness.  John the Baptist advised that true repentance produces a generous heart.  When believers are penitent and remorseful, we turn away from sins and with grateful hearts, generously give to God.  Their gifts are not given reluctantly nor of necessity.  Luke tells us that, “God loves a cheerful giver” (Luke 3:11).  Everything we have belongs to God.  We give because we love God.  In Luke 21:1-4, the disciple tells of seeing rich people giving their gifts and a poor widow who put in two small copper coins.  He said the poor widow put in more than all of them because the rich people gave out of their abundance, but the widow gave out of her poverty putting in all she had to live on.

Whatever we have, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are charged to give and help our poor brothers and sisters.  Moses told the people of Israel that they were children of the Lord, and, if anyone among them in the community which God is giving them, is in need, they should not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward the needy person(s).  Nehemiah advised the people to send portions of their plenteous food to the poor people who have none.  And he encouraged them saying, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

With a generous heart, kindly give to Union so that students whose resources are limited will not be denied the opportunity to prepare to become transformative educators and ministers doing good works that build the twenty-first century church.  Please go to the Seminary website, or send a check, and give to the Annual Fund or the Capital Campaign before the 2016 – 2017 fiscal year ends on June 30th!  Write “BAA” after your name to give online; or write “BAA” on the memo line of your check to help the seminary track responses.  Whatever you can give, like the poor widow, will be a blessing for future students and a blessing for you.

Gems for the Journey – God Sees Us, Do We See God? 2 Kings 6:6-17

By  Veronica Thomas (M.Div.’07)

In our text today we see the prophet Elisha, the successor to Elijah, as God’s prophet doing what God ordained him to do: forewarn. In response to his call, Elisha was “forwarning” the King of Israel of the plans of the King of Syria. Despite Israel’s spiritual sins, the Lord was always with them.  The Syrian King thought someone in his cabinet was relaying vital information to the King of Israel, so he called his cabinet together to confront them; but was informed that Elisha, the prophet in Israel, was forwarning the King of Israel of their plans.

It seems that with this information, the King of Syria should have been convicted in his heart for his misdeeds, but he was not.  Man’s ability to resist God is simply amazing!  In his stupidity the King of Syria sends his army to capture Elisha who is cool, calm and collected.  His servant is alarmed because of the multitude of the Syrian army – not Elisha.  Here, the Holy Spirit is telling us not to be dismayed by that which appears on the surface. The believer is not to walk “after the flesh; but rather after the spirit” as we are reminded in Romans 8.  Elisha asks God to open his servant’s eyes. The Holy Spirit allows things to happen so that you and I may understand, by faith, that we are surrounded by His presence even though we cannot see Him with our natural eye. What an encouragement!

In this passage, we are given a glimpse into the Spirit world of righteousness.  Elisha’s prayer, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see” (2 Kings 6:17a), is one of the most comforting in all scripture. However great the dangers that surround us, we too are guarded by the power of our God.

Elisha’s servant was no longer afraid when he saw God’s mighty heavenly army. Faith reveals that God is doing more for his people than we can ever realize through sight alone. When we face difficulties, such as the actions of ungodly individuals, that seem insurmountable; remember that spiritual resources are there even if we can’t see them. Look with eyes of faith and let God do the rest.  If we don’t see God working in our lives, the problem may be our spiritual eyesight’ not God’s power. God sees us; do we see God?  Pray as the Gospel Clefs sing; “Father, open our eyes that we may see.” Let us close by responding to the Word of God, “Amen.  So be it!”

“Holding Down My Corner”

By Angela S. Duncan (M.Div. ’03)

2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he (Jesus) was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:2-5 (NRSV)

In 2000, my final call to seminary came during a very tumultuous time in my life.  I say “final” only because a decade earlier I had received my initial call, but chose then not to follow it.  Instead, I would continue consulting for an international healthcare IT company. My consulting assignments began with new installations and gradually transitioned into working with customers experiencing crisis situations. Their computer systems were crashing and burning, or otherwise in deep systems trouble.  My company would ask me why I had so often been successful in handling these tough cases. I would answer, “It’s about the people. If you ask people what’s wrong, and then listen intently, usually they will point you in the right direction.” In one of my final assignments, the project manager blurted out that his daughter suffered from bipolar disorder, and that he had reached his wit’s end about how to cope with the illness and the damage it was causing the whole family. This family was experiencing a systems failure. Thereafter, I found that I was able to leverage my approach to solving IT systems dilemmas into empathic support for the people directly and emotionally impacted by systemic human dilemmas too.

Fast-forward to: seminary, pastoral care, ethics and hospital chaplaincy within an urban academic medical center.   Here, I am able to leverage supportive emotional and spiritual care for people who are “crashing and burning” in crises, but, sadly in too many cases, within the context of also witnessing health inequities, treatment disparities, and a widespread lack of adequate healthcare access. Very quickly my ethical challenge became this: How does one harmoniously co-exist with a vast and resistant system, while simultaneously agitating for positive change? This is a challenge I continue to confront, and a change I continue to pursue, to this very day.

When Jesus called his disciples, they were already doing the work. Jesus just changed the nature of their work.  The gospels show us how Jesus called men and woman, as Dr. Katie G. Cannon says, “to do the work our souls must have.” God’s great succession plan involves the calling of disciples from the work we are already doing, to receiving the on-the-job training we most certainly will get, as we follow and continue the work of Jesus.

And so, like every disciple who has come before, my whole life has prepared me for the work that God is calling me to today.  My time in seminary helped to prepare me for doing this work more effectively.  My mother routinely admonishes her children to, “Hold Down Your Corner!”  She says, “Always make sure you are doing your part to make this world a better place.”

Like the quartet who held the four corners of the pallet of the paralyzed man as he was lowered into the hands of Jesus, I continually strive to Hold Down My Corner!

Patterning God’s extravagant generosity

By Helen Bessent Byrd (M.Div. ‘07)

There were simple things of life that many people take for granted that some did not enjoy years ago – like having your mail delivered to your door. As a child living on our farm, we did not have mailboxes at our door. Our mail was placed in our mailbox on another road two miles away. Some families who lived on our farm did not have mailboxes at all. They received mail in our box. It was sent “in care of” my parents. The people trusted my parents to be stewards of their mail and to give it to them. The mail or package coming to a steward is marked c/o, meaning “in care of.” Stewardship is being entrusted with or taking care of someone else’s possessions. The steward has responsibility and accountability for oversight of OPP (Other People’s Property). Early on, stewardship came to mean tithing or the donation of time, talents, and treasures.

The prophet Haggai wrote to a little community of struggling, disappointed, and dispirited people whose dream was fading as they teetered on the brink of extinction. Haggai expressed a vision to make them have purpose knowing that God would work among them once more (Haggai 2:7-9). He reminded them that God was the steward of all they needed and desired. Haggai quotes God who was unequivocal and emphatic in saying “The silver is mine. The gold is mine” (Haggai 2:8). God is the creator and master of the treasury of all currency, the splendor of all material possessions, the joys of all intangible blessings. They were to put the sage’s saying to work: “If you can conceive it, you can believe it and if you can believe it, you can achieve it.” With references to the traditions of the past, the prophet sought to impress upon the people that God was at work again among them who were to be stewards of others. The people followed the teaching of Haggai and his prophecy came to pass.

The generosity of God, our Master, provides for us a pattern for our response to God and our practice with each other. As we endure the challenge of envisioning and carrying out the ministry and mission to which God has called us, remember we are “in care of” an awesome God who promised, “I will fill this house with glory.” Just as God was extravagantly generous to the little Jewish community in Haggai’s time, we are in His care and He will show extravagant generosity to us. Realizing the merit of stewardship and the value of giving, know that God fully expects us to show extravagant generosity in caring for others through support of our seminary investing in the transformation of students who are called by God to give their lives for spiritual transformation of our national and global society.

Life cannot grind to a halt during troubled times

By Veronica Martin Thomas (M.Div. ’07)

The prophet Jeremiah’s letter to the people of Jerusalem who had been carried away captive to Babylon is recorded in Jeremiah 29:4-9.  He assures them that he wrote in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Jeremiah was but the scribe. It would be comfortable to them in their captivity to hear that God is the Lord of hosts, able to help and deliver them, and he is the God of Israel still in covenant with his people.

If God caused them to be carried away captives, they might be sure that he neither did them any wrong nor meant them any harm. If they live in the fear of God, what should hinder them but they may live comfortably in Babylon? They did not worry themselves with fears of intolerable hardships in their captivity. God directed them to seek the good of the country where they were captives to pray for it, to endeavor to promote it.

This prohibited them from attempting anything against the public peace while they were subjects to the King of Babylon. They lived quiet and peaceable lives under the King of Babylon, in all godliness and honesty, not plotting to shake off his yoke, but patiently leaving it to God in due time to work deliverance for them. They were instructed by God to settle down, lead constructive lives and try to be on good terms with the authorities. They were not to rebel or instigate revolt but just settle down and be law-abiding citizens.

As it was with Judah, so be it with us, believers, be assured God has a hand in every outcome of our lives. We must do as Jeremiah instructed Judah to move ahead with our lives and to pray whether times are good or times are bad. Life cannot grind to a halt during troubled times. In an unpleasant or distressing situation, we must adjust and keep moving. When we enter times of trouble or sudden change, we must pray diligently and move ahead, doing whatever we can rather than giving up because of fear and uncertainty.

In all conditions of life, it is our wisdom and duty to make the best of what God has provided for us.  If the earth be the Lord’s, then wherever a child of God goes he does not go off his Father’s ground. God knows the plans he has for us…Trust in the Lord and not our current situation.  Let us respond to the Word of God.  “Amen, so be it.”

Moving into our third 30s: older & aging adult ministry

By Ronald Hopkins (D. Min. ‘09)

Several years ago I took a continuing education course on “Older and Aging Adults” – the persons who attend and financially support most of our churches regardless of denomination. The pastor teaching the course, The Rev. Dr. Richard H. Gentzler, former Director of the Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries of the United Methodist Church, was retiring from the ministry after this course. I was intrigued with the subject matter and his presentation.

At that time I was in my 11th year of serving the same congregation and began to realize that a new calling and opportunity was staring me in the face. My present congregation’s average age was 73, counting children and young adults 30 and above. As I was completing the course, my heart told me, perhaps, I needed to learn more; so I inquired of the staff at Union Presbyterian Seminary if this was something the Presbyterian Church was also doing, and was introduced to the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network (POAMN).  In talking with Marilyn Johns, I was informed that POAMN was having its annual meeting in Missouri, and, if interested, I should attend where I could learn more.

I decided to go and there I met a lot of very interesting people, including former UPSem faculty: professors Henry Simmons and Jean Cooley, just to name a few.  I was informed of the process to become certified and immediately took the required course work over a three-year period. I am now preparing for my capstone project to complete the final step of becoming certified as a facilitator of Older and Aging Adult Ministry.

If anyone is interested, I recommend you get in touch with your respective judicatory to see if your denomination has a program similar to those of the Presbyterian, United Methodist, Mennonite or Episcopal Church. Also, if you see me around campus, and are interested in this program, please let me know how I can help.

Book explores transgenerational trauma from chattel slavery

By Veronica Thomas & Helen Bessent Byrd

Dr. Paula Owens Parker (M.Div..‘94), Adjunct Assistant Professor of Spiritual Formation at Union Presbyterian Seminary, has authored a book which aids professionals who seek to explore cultural variance and examine trauma and resilience in families across generations.

An ordained Presbyterian minister with numerous experiences as a spiritual director, retreat leader and healing prayer minister, Dr. Parker was the founder and former executive director of the Daughters of Zelophehad, Inc, an ecumenical Christian transitional housing program for women in crisis and their children and is the Senior Program Developer of Roots Matter LLC. The author notes that “Roots Matter” recognizes the impact of transgenerational trauma as a result of chattel slavery on the African-American church community. It emphasizes the importance of discovering the silent stories—those that were overlooked and ignored; unearthing the secret stories—those that were intentionally covered up; and being attentive to the reverberations of the severed stories of slavery and how they influence the family story and family members.

Via literature reviews, the book investigates the historical, psychological, sociological, and theological issues around historical pain and trauma and analyzes the ramifications of transgenerational trauma in the Jewish, Armenian, and Native American communities as well as the African American community. Further, it proposes the use of the genogram, a graphic representation of a family tree that goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to analyze hereditary patterns and physical, spiritual, behavioral, and psychological factors that punctuate relationships and family history. The genogram reveals patterns of trauma and resilience by recording significant dates, losses, achievements, values, and beliefs. Examples of biblical and contemporary families are used to illustrate the concepts of family systems and the transmission of generational patterns of connections, actions, and conduct.

A leader’s guide outlines a six-week curriculum and culminating ceremony of intercessory prayer for the healing of identified trauma and acknowledged strengths, abilities, and talents. Interrupting the transference of generational trauma through mourning, forgiveness, and prayers for healing accelerates the transference of generational resilience. Through celebration and blessing, the fortitude, courage, and determination in the family story move current and future generations toward healing and wholeness. This excellent resource, “Roots Matter, “prunes the family tree of trauma, silent, secret, and severed stories that stunt the growth of the family. Tending to family roots and fertilizing them with the recognition of the resilience, achievements, gifts, and talents of the ancestors create a healthier environment for future generations to flourish.

Going the Second Mile in Love

Rev. Dr. Helen Bessent Byrd, BAA Treasurer

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus imparts interpretations of Scripture to clarify misunderstandings of the teachings of the Old Testament emphasizing the value of withholding anger.  In Matthew 5:41, Jesus teaches: “And if anyone forces (requires or compels) you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”  In other words, rather than retaliating, we are told to respond by giving even more than is being required of us.  With a liberal heart, give freely to bless others.

Discussing love in this sermon, Jesus said to his followers: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven’” (Matt. 5:43-44).  As Jesus advised the church in Philippi, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).   Jesus is promoting behavior that evinces love, fosters unity and is more exemplary of the mind of Christ.

Jesus is teaching that Christian kindness should supplant straightforward tit-for-tat retribution and selfishness.  It is okay to give way and give away to others.  We should not practice greed (hoarding and refusing to share), the deadly sin which seems to be a contagion in our society today.  Remember the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor (other humankind) as you love yourself (Mark 12:30-31).  So, in addition to our tithes and offerings, we also offer gifts to other non-profit organizations including UPSem.  (See the website for giving opportunities.  When you give, write BAA on the memo line of your check!)  We are to love wholeheartedly and generously.  In love, we go and give the second mile!

Dean Angela Sims Publishes Her Fourth Book

Dr. Sims, who is a researcher, professor, administrator and author serves as Academic Dean, Robert B. and Kathleen Rogers Chair in Church and Society and Associate Professor of Ethics and Black Church Studies at St Paul School of Theology in Overland Park, Kansas.   Her fourth book published last month is entitled, Lynched – The Power of Memory in a Culture of Terror (2016, ISBN: 9781602582668).  Dr. Sims’ areas of expertise include the history and aftermath of lynching as well as womanist theology.  Recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship from Baylor University, Dr. Sims gathered data by interviewing African American elders across the nation.  This book records their memories of lynching cases and the terror and fear promulgated by these acts, provides an examination of the meaning of those memories and records how such experiences shape the religious self-understanding of individuals and communities.

An ordained Baptist minister of the Gospel, Sims has been a consultant, conference speaker and preacher.  She holds membership in several professional and faith based organizations.  Dr. Sims served as assistant project director of a three-year project, Squaring the Womanist Circle” directed by Dr. Katie Cannon with whom she also served as co-organizer of a national conference.