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Advent Devotional

Advent Devotional

Download the 2020 Advent Devotional here.

2020 is a year that we will never forget.  The pandemic has turned our world upside down — we have lost loves ones, lost jobs and businesses, and we have experienced loneliness that has been increasingly difficult to overcome.  The political polarization and brokenness doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  Almost everyone is thinking, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.”

The Advent season can’t come soon enough.

Romans 8:22-23 says, “The whole creation has been groaning together for redemption.”

Advent is where we embrace that groaning for redemption, but we wait with hope. We recognize and lament the brokenness and suffering in this world, but we await the final Advent, where Jesus’ return will make everything right. However, while we wait and long for Jesus to bring justice and peace here on earth, we must recognize that God’s plan of redemption is already underway. He is already restoring and redeeming the world through different means. As a community in this season, we need to think about ways that we can join in on God’s work of redemption in this world.

For many of us, the Christmas season isn’t that celebratory. It’s a reminder of broken relationships or loneliness. We wait for love or marriage without knowing if it will come. We wait for a better job or just a job. Our hope is waning. We wait for healing. We wait for justice. It’s hard to wait if you don’t know when it’s going to end, or if it is going to end. The Christmas season with all of the commercials and expectations can remind us of unfulfilled longings in our hearts.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that, “We simply have to wait and wait. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”

Those of us with heavy hearts can identify with the longing and waiting for Christ to come again to make everything right. As we wait, it can be very easy for us to believe that our suffering is because God abandoned us. However, Advent’s message tells a different story. God becoming man means that we have an incredible resource. Jesus knows what it’s like to experience hunger, injustice, betrayal, rejection, and suffering.

Not only did Jesus suffer to be a resource and comfort to us, He suffered to draw near to us. God descended from heaven so that He could know us. He wants to be in relationship with us. Although we may not know the reason why God allows suffering to continue, we know it isn’t because he doesn’t love or care for us. Jesus was so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to suffer and die for us. Christmas is about God going to great lengths to be with us. The question for us this Advent season is — are we going to draw near to Him?

 We are excited to share this great resource with you to help you draw near to Him.  REUNION has created a daily devotional guide you can use for the entire season of Advent. Use it as a family, use it with a group, or use it on your own.

You can use this devotional to center ourselves around the story of Jesus during this Advent season. It’s available in PDF form and you can download it here . We hope you will join us in using this daily guide to study God’s word and be inspired by stories of people living into this grander story God is telling through Jesus.
Distracted: When the Ground is Holy and We Don’t Even Know it.

Distracted: When the Ground is Holy and We Don’t Even Know it.

Do you ever find yourself trying to find space to pray, and before you realize it, your phone is in your hand, or the TV is on, or you’re on social media?  We’ve said this before at Reunion, but what if we’re distracting ourselves into spiritual oblivion?

In the book of Exodus, we find this story about Moses, an early leader of the Israelite people.   Through some crazy circumstances, he was put in a position of oppressor over his own people.  Eventually he had to flee from Egypt, and he finds himself hiding among a group of people called the Midianites.

He’s out in the field one day, watching over his father-in-law’s sheep, when he notices something…

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

It’s not surprising.  I think most of us would want to see what was happening here, but as I read this story, I keep coming back to this same thought…what if Moses got a text when he saw this bush?  What if he was scrolling Instagram, and never actually noticed the burning bush at all?

I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man here either.  Please don’t hear, “You kids need to get off your phones!”  Hear “It breaks my heart to think about the times I’ve distracted myself out of experiencing God’s presence…and I feel like I might not be the only one.”

I mean, this was a monumental spiritual moment for Moses.  The story goes on to say,

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” 

And it’s easy to see this as a great story, because it is…but we can miss the deeper reality of what is happening here.  The ground didn’t just become holy.  God didn’t just show up when Moses walked over to the bush.  God was always there.  The bush was always burning.  The ground was always holy…Moses just became aware of it.

What if the ground is holy right now…we just aren’t aware of it?  And if that’s true…how do we become aware of it?

How do we open ourselves up to seeing what we might have missed before?  We pursue the presence of God through prayer.  We take time to intentionally look for the presence of God, and then begin to fold those practices into our everyday lives.

Maybe you’re not sure where to start with prayer.  Maybe you just need to set aside time to actually step into the practice of prayer.  Maybe prayer has become routine or ritualistic, and you need something new to breathe life into your prayer life.  Whatever it may be, my hope is that the prayer experience can become that for you.

Over the next few months we are going to create monthly opportunities to create rhythms of prayer together and alone.

The prayer experiences will be 1.5 hours long. The first 30 mins will be guided by a leader and will involve instruction and time of praying together with others. The next 30 mins will be a curriculum guided opportunity for you to pray on your own. We’ll wrap up our time by coming back together to debrief and share. (for a sneak peak of the guided curriculum, click the link below)

These will be in-person, socially distanced, outdoor gatherings. Masks are required and we will adhere to all CDC and local governmental guidelines.

If you’re interested in signing up for our next prayer experience on September 26th at 10:00AM, you can text prayerSOM (if you’re part of the Somerville community), prayerSE (if you’re part of the South End community), or prayerQ (if you’re part of the Quincy community).  

Signing up will allow us to know how many people to expect (so we can maintain CDC guidelines and make sure we allow for social distancing) and make sure we can contact you if anything changes (like weather forcing us to cancel) and you can contact your leader if something happens the day of the experience (like your car not starting).

My hope is that this experience opens our eyes to the importance of sitting in the presence of Christ, it allows us to begin practice of stepping away from our distractions, it helps us commune with Christ, experience Christ, and gives us a way to share our feelings, emotions, and experiences with Christ.

Nathan Caddell
Somerville Location Pastor

Theology Crawl: Environment & Cosmic Christ

Theology Crawl: Environment & Cosmic Christ

Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

This week, we are talking about how Christian approaches to nature have led to the destruction of our environment and how better Christian theology can help us work towards the repair of our environment.

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

ICEBREAKER

  • What is “nature”?

HISTORY: LYNN WHITE, JR. & THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

Lynn White, Jr.’s article “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” published in Science magazine in 1967, argued that mass destruction of nature by humankind is an unintended consequence of religious viewpoints of nature. In particular, the viewpoints related to Christian theology as they were frequently applied, or misapplied, toward dealing with the natural world.The impact of White’s writings on the community of environmentalists, philosophers of technology, and religious scholars concerned with environmental issues was immediate and long-lasting. In the twenty years following the publication of “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” over 200 books and articles used White’s ideas as a focal point. His ideas penetrated the popular press, appearing in TIME, Horizon, and the New York Times, among others. Below is a quote from the article

What did Christianity tell people about their relations with the environment? While many of the world’s mythologies provide stories of creation, Greco-Roman mythology was singularly incoherent in this respect. Like Aristotle, the intellectuals of the ancient West denied that the visible world had a beginning. Indeed, the idea of a beginning was impossible in the framework of their cyclical notion of time. In sharp contrast, Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as nonrepetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all-powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds, and fishes. Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. And, although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image.

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

Historical/Theological Questions

  • What do you think of White’s portrayal of Christian attitudes toward the natural world? Have you seen these sentiments in any of your communities of faith?
  • Is the relationship between humans and the environment described by White how most Christians understand this concept? 
  • Is exploitation of the Earth a uniquely Judeo-Christian concept as White claims?
  • Do you agree with his argument? Why or why not?

Contemporary Questions

  • Take a moment to read the section below (Theological Concept). Answer the following questions:
    • How do you typically think about the process of salvation?
    • How does the act of incarnation relate to non-human aspects of creation? Does it?
    • What does it mean for the “cosmos” to be redeemed/saved by God?
  • How might a cosmic Christology compliment other approaches to Christology? What does it offer? What might it miss?
  • What other resources do Christians have in their theological and Biblical toolkits to address environmental degradation?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: COSMIC CHRIST & TIELHARD DE CHARDIN

Cosmic Christ // a Christological concept which understands Jesus Christ as the origin, beginning and end, or purpose of creation. This understanding tends to stress the ways in which the process of salvation is oriented beyond human persons.

The Christological conception of the “cosmic Christ” can be traced back to the Church’s earliest theologians. Irenaus, in Against Heresies, articulated a theory of salvation in which the entire created order was restored under the headship of Christ. Among modern theologians, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is most well-known as someone who advocates for this position. Below are few quotes from his work which summarize key points of the concept:

  • Christ is Part of the Cosmos – “Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.”
  • God’s Love Extends Through and To Creation – ““Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mystical of cosmic forces. Love is the primal and universal psychic energy. Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution.”
  • Redemption is a Cosmic Event – “Creation, incarnation and redemption are to be seen as no more than three complementary aspects of one and the same process.”
  • Redemption is Ongoing – “Everywhere he (Christ) draws us to him and brings us closer to himself, in a universal movement of convergence toward spirit. It is he alone whom we seek and in whom we move. But if we are to hold him we must take all things to, and even beyond, the utmost limit of their nature and their capacity for progress. Of the cosmic Christ, we may say both that he is and that he is still growing.”

IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

  • But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. // 2 Peter 3:10
  • The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers // Psalm 24:1-2
  • Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” // Genesis 1:26-28
  • A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel. // Proverbs 12:10
  • You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. // Exodus 23:10-11
  • But every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. // James 3:7
  • Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? “If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters // Luke 12:24-28
  • “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. // Romans 8:22-23
  • He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. // Colossians 1:15-17

THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS 

  • Doth not all nature around me praise God? If I were silent, I should be an exception to the universe. Doth not the thunder praise Him as it rolls like drums in the march of the God of armies? Do not the mountains praise Him when the woods upon their summits wave in adoration? Doth not the lightning write His name in letters of fire? Hath not the whole earth a voice? And shall I, can I, silent be?” // Charles Spurgeon
  • The gravity of the ecological situation reveals how deep is the human moral crisis” // Pope John Paul II
  • Climate change is an issue that impels us to think about God’s justice and how we are to echo it in our world. // Rowan Williams
  • We must accept that a number of conservative evangelicals, especially from older generations, will never support significant action on climate change, especially if it means signing a global treaty. // Lisa Vox
  • We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it. // Wendell Berry

RESOURCES

Theology Crawl: Environment & Cosmic Christ

Theology Crawl: Sexuality & Abuse

Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

Happy 100th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment! This week, we are talking about how Christian theology has been used to justify the oppression and abuse of women and how it might help fight the oppression of women.

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

ICEBREAKER

What has the #MeToo movement meant to you?

HISTORY: THE HAMMER OF WITCHES

Religiously inspired violence against women has a long history in Western tradition. The witch craze of the 16th and 17th centuries was a prominent example. During this time, women across the Western world were rounded up, accused of witchcraft and often hung. The sexual dimenions of this abuse are not noted as much, but there is an undeniable sexual subtext that corresponded to medieval, and perhaps contemporary, conceptions of women. The Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches, was written by a catholic clergymen namec Heinrich Kramer in 1486. The book offers guidance on how to identify and catch witches. It also provides insight into how women were perceived by men in the early modern period.

As for the first question, why a greater number of witches is found in the fragile feminine sec than among men… the first reason is, that they are more credulous, and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he rather attacks them… the second reason is, that women are naturally more impressionable, and … the third reason is that they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know.. But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as it is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives … And this is indicated by the etymology of the word; for ‘Femina’ comes from ‘Fe’ and ‘Minus,’ since she is ever weaker to hold and preserve the faith.. To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

Historical/Theological Questions

  • How does the text describe women? What are some of the traits listed? How do women compare to men?
  • How are women sexualized in this text? How is that sexuality connected to witchcraft and faith?
  • How is this statement an expression of patriarchy (i.e. a social system in which power is held by men)?
  • How do you think this conception of women affected their treatment? How might sexual assault of a woman be conceptualized in this framework?
  • What of these views do you see at work in today’s society, if any?
  • Do any of the conceptions of women described above find justification in the Bible? Why or why not? 
  • Do you think there are alternate ways to construct a conception of women/femininity using the Bible? If yes, how so? If not, why?

Contemporary Questions

  • Read the section below titled, “Theological Concept: Texts of Terror.” How have stories of sexual abuse in the Bible impacted you?
  • Does the Bible’s and historical Christianity’s context of patriarchy disqualify them as tools for combating the oppression and abuse of women (i.e. can either of these things help us)?
  • What theological ideas or Biblical passages can help us as we seek to address sexual violence against women?
  • In your view, what perceptions about women and femininity need to be addressed to halt the abuse and oppression of women in our society?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: TEXTS OF TERROR

Phyllis Trible is a biblical scholar who studies the Hebrew Scriptures from a feminst perspective. She highlighted four texts about the abuse of women in the Bible which she called the “texts of terror.” These texts are challenging in that they feature violence against women, but do not explicilty condemn it. Indeed, they seem to treat violence against women as normative. The texts she highlights are:

  • Genesis 16:1-16: Hagar, a female slave, is used, abused, and then rejected by God’s chosen family.
  • Judges 19:1-30: An unnamed concubine is raped by a mob, murdered and then dismembered by her male companion
  • 2 Samuel 13:1-22: The princess Tamar is raped by her half-brother and then discarded and left desolate
  • Judges 11:1-40: Jepthah kills his only daughter due to a foolhardy vow made to God.

 IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

  • As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. // 1 Cor. 14:33-35
  • There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. // Galatians 3:28
  • But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.// 1 Corinthians 11:3
  • Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored. // Titus 2:3-5
  • Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. // Philippians 3:14 

THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS 

  • Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature. // Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The muting of the #MeToos of the Bible is a direct reflection of the culture of silence at work in our congregations. An assumption is woven into our sacred texts: that the experiences of women don’t matter. If religious communities fail to tell stories that reflect the experience of the women of our past, we will inevitably fail to address the sense of entitlement, the assumption of superiority and lust for punishment carried through those stories and inherited by men of the present. // Emily M.D. Scott
  • No wonder male religious leaders so often say that humans were born in sin—because we were born to female creatures. Only by obeying the rules of the patriarchy can we be reborn through men. No wonder priests and ministers in skirts sprinkle imitation birth fluid over our heads, give us new names, and promise rebirth into everlasting life. // Gloria Steinem

RESOURCES

 

Theology Crawl: Environment & Cosmic Christ

Theology Crawl: Truth & Gospel

Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

This week, we are talking about how Christian approaches to truth claims (epistemology) have fueled divisiveness and how to respond to contemporary challenges on the nature of truth.

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

HISTORY: FUNDAMENTALIST-MODERNIST CONTROVERSY

Note: Please read the first question in the section below before reading this section.

This was a major schism that originated in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States of America. At issue were foundational disputes about the role of Christianity, the authority of Scripture, the death, Resurrection, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Two broad factions within Protestantism emerged: Fundamentalists, who insisted upon the timeless validity of each doctrine of Christian Orthodoxy, and Modernists, who advocated a conscious adaptation of religion in response to the new scientific discoveries and the moral pressures of the age.  In 1910, a wealthy Presbyterian layman, Lyman Stewart, the founder of Union Oil, decided to use his wealth to sponsor a series of pamphlets to be entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. Sent out for free to pastors and libraries around the country, the series criticised modern approaches to biblical criticism, science, and philosophy.  // Adapted from Wikipedia

Use the rest of this section to answer questions from the section below:

On Higher Criticism: “The qualifications for the perception of BIblical truth is neither [literary & linguistic] knowledge, but spiritual insight. The primary qualification of the musician is that he be musical; of the artist, that he have the spirit of art. So the merely technical and mechanical and scientific mind is disqualified for the recognition of the spiritual and infinite. Any thoughtful man must be honest and admit that the Bible is to be treated as unique in literature, and, therefore, that the ordinary rules of critical interpretation must fail to interpret it alright.” – Dyson Hague, “A History of Historical Criticism,” The Fundamentals, VI.

On Modern Philosophy: “It follows of necessity that philosophy and divine revelation are utterly irreconcilable. The very existence of philosophy as an occupation for the human mind depends upon the rigid exclusion of every explanation of the universe which is not reached by a speculative process… The pursuit of truth, in order to be philosophical, must be conducted in directions in which truth cannot possibly be found. For the discovery of what philosophers pretend to be seeking would bring their philosophies to an end… Therefore, the moment one receives an explanation of the universe as coming from God who made it, he can have no further use for philosophy.” – Philip Mauro, “Modern Philosophy,” The Fundamentals, VII.

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

Historical Questions

  • Read Dyson Hague’s critique of higher criticism (i.e. a mode of interpreting the bible that utilizes historical and literary lenses) in the section above. Then answer the following questions:
    • What is the foundation of truth for Hague?
    • For him, is biblical truth different from other kinds of truth?
  • Read Philip Mauro’s critique of modern philosophy in the section above. Then answer the following questions:
    • What is the foundation of truth for Mauro?
    • For him, how does one arrive at the truth? Why is philosophy unable to reach truth?
  • What role does authority, if any, play in assessing truth claims? Why or why not?
  • In your opinion, why are things like philosophy and science often pitted against faith?

Theological Questions

  • Read the section below and answer the following questions:
    • Which way of knowing do you find yourself most utilizing? Why?
    • Can Christian truth claims be made in all three ways of knowing? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
    • In your opinion, what way of knowing do most people use on a daily basis when interacting with the world? Why?
  • How would you describe the relationship between the Triune God (Father/Spirit/Son) and truth?
  • How would you describe a Christian’s relationship to truth? What biblical passages come to mind?
  • Can/should Christian truth claims about things like the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, the ascension be treated like other forms of truth claims? Why or why not?

Contemporary Questions

  • Several studies have pointed out that religious people are particularly prone to conspiracy theories. Why do you think this is? What ways of knowing are at play in this trend?
  • Politicians, like President Trump and Vladimir Putin, have been accused of “gaslighting” the public. Gaslighting is defined as a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. Considering this definitions, answer the following questions:
    • Do Christians have a special responsibility to combat gaslighting?
    • What ways of knowing are important for combatting this practice?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: EPISTEMOLOGY & WAYS OF KNOWING*

Epistemology is the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity. Claims of knowledge rest upon “ways of knowing.” Four widely accepted epistemological categories of “ways of knowing” are listed below, along with some of their recognized advantages and disadvantages.

Way of Knowing

Advantages

Disadvantages

Empiricism

Knowledge is grounded in observable facts; claims can be tested repeatedly; proven valuable by science

All phenomena are not always observable; senses can be misleading; interpretation of data sill biased; masks subjectivity

Rationalism

Is not dependent on sensory observation; constrained by logical consistency; a common sense way of knowing

Can be abstract and detached from experience; logica may be flawed; what is “logical” is not always agreed upon

Authority

Utilizes wisdom of traditions; recognizes the value of time-tested methods; can conserve our own effort

Authorities can be wrong; authority is often just a function of popularity not wisdom; difference to authorities can hinder critical judgement

Revelation

Allows us to know things we have no ability to know; allows direct forms of knowledge; can produces affective knowledge

Exists in personal experiences which are inaccessible to others; vulnerable to delusion; hard to translate truth claims; might be masking other ways of knowing

*Adapted from John Ehmann’s Ways of Knowing

IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

  • We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.// 1 John 4:6
  • Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, // Ephesians 6:14
  • The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. // John 1:14
  • For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. // John 1:17
  • Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free // John 8:32
  • But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. // John 16:13
  • All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. // Psalm 119:160

THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS 

  • There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty. // Bart D. Ehrman
  • I think a fundamentalist is somebody who believes something unshakably and isn’t going to change their mind. // Richard Dawkins
  • If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness. // Philip K. Dick
  • A fundamentalist can’t bring himself or herself to negotiate with people who disagree with them because the negotiating process itself is an indication of implied equality. // Jimmy Carter
  • How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. // Carl Sagan
  • Every fundamentalist movement I’ve studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is convinced at some gut, visceral level that secular liberal society wants to wipe out religion. // Karen Armstrong
  • They won’t listen. Do you know why? Because they have certain fixed notions about the past. Any change would be blasphemy in their eyes, even if it were the truth. They don’t want the truth; they want their traditions. // Isaac Asimov

RESOURCES

Theology Crawl: Environment & Cosmic Christ

Theology Crawl: Healthcare & Healing

Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

This week, we are talking about Christian theology of healthcare in its historical and contemporary expressions. We will then explore how Christian theology can help us frame our communal search for better healthcare systems.

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

HISTORY: ChrISTIAN HISTORY AND HEALTHCARE

Note: Please read the first question in the section below before reading this section.

Throughout the history of Christianity, religious groups often took it upon themselves to open up facilities dedicated to caring for the sick and infirm. Within the medieval ages, these groups tended to be monastics who followed the Benedictine order. As some of the only people trained in Latin and Greek (i.e. the lingua franca of the time), monks were also able to read ancient medicinal documents, making them uniquely suited to the healing arts. Some of these monastic groups even went so far as to dedicate themselves to the creation of hospitals above all else; these groups were called “hospitalers.” Here is an excerpt from the rule of St. Benedict that discusses the care for the sick:

Before and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, that they be served in very truth as Christ is served; because He hath said, “I was sick and you visited Me” (Mt 25:36). And “As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt 25:40). But let the sick themselves also consider that they are served for the honor of God, and let them not grieve their brethren who serve them by unnecessary demands. These must, however, be patiently borne with, because from such as these a more bountiful reward is gained. Let the Abbot’s greatest concern, therefore, be that they suffer no neglect.

Later Protestant groups also took up the call to care for the sick through the establishment of hospitals, most notably the Methodists. John Wesley was an amateur physician, and dedicated himself to providing healthcare to the best of his ability to the poor of London. Reflecting on this, he recalled:

At length I thought of a kind of desperate expedient. “I will prepare, and give them [medical care] myself.” For six or seven and twenty years, I had made anatomy and [medical care] the diversion of my leisure hours; though I never properly studied them, unless for a few months when I was going to America, where I imagined I might be of some service to those who had no regular Physician among them. I applied to it again. I took into my assistance an Apothecary, and an experienced Surgeon; resolving, at the same time, not to go out of my depth, but to leave all difficult and complicated cases to such Physicians as the patients should choose. I gave notice of this to the society; telling them, that all who were ill of chronical distempers (for I did not care to venture upon acute) might, if they pleased, come to me at such a time, and I would give them the best advice I could, and the best medicines I had. 

Many Methodists followed in Wesley’s footsteps. The Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, for example, was formed from the merger of a Jewish hospital and a historic, female-run Methodist hospital.

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

Historical / Theological Questions

  • In your experience, what is the relationship between the following:
    • Christianity and healing
    • Christianity and healthcare
  • What concepts (i.e. biblical stories, principles, or theological ideas) fueled historical Christian approaches to healthcare?
  • These historical models of healthcare placed healing within a religious and interpersonal context. Hospitals were independent, religiously-run organizations that were funded by wealthy Christian donors. Doctors and nurses were individuals operating on their own principles. Reflecting on this context, answer the following questions:
    • Are these statements helpful in reflecting on our market-driven healthcare system today? Why or why not?
    • Are these statements helpful in reflecting on the role of government in our healthcare system today? Why or why not?

Contemporary Questions

  • Take a moment to read the below section which features an excerpt by the United Methodist Church on healthcare. Answer the following questions:
    • How is this statement similar to the one’s above? How is it different?
    • The Methodist statement argues that a democracy merges the responsibility to care for our neighbors into the responsibility of the government. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
    • Does entrusting the government to supply healthcare somehow shirk the Christian responsibility to care for our neighbor? Is something lost in removing the personal dimension of previous models of Christian healing ministry?
  • Does it mean to be “healthy” from a Christian perspective? How is it different from biological definition of health?
  • What challenge, if any, does a Christian conception of health bring to our modern approach to healthcare?
  • Supposing that such a thing could exist, what would the hallmarks of a “Christian” healthcare system be?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: UNITED METHODIST CHURCH’S STANCE ON HEALTHCARE

The current social principles of the Methodist Church’ Book of Resolutions explains their commitment to healthcare as follows:

The provision of health care for all without regard to status or ability to pay is portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:24-35) as the duty of every neighbor and thus of every person. In a conversation that began with the question of how one might obtain eternal life, Jesus asserted that one must love God and one’s neighbor. In response to the next question as to who one’s neighbor is, Jesus portrayed a Samaritan, an outsider, who, coming upon a wounded traveler, provided him with health care. Jesus portrayed the duty to provide health care as (1) one that is owed regardless of the merit or ethnicity of the person in need; (2) one that is owed to the limit of one’s economic capacity … and (3) a duty that one neglects at the peril of one’s eternal life. In a democracy, our duty to our neighbor merges with the duties that the Hebrew scriptures assign to government: the prophet Ezekiel denounced the leaders of ancient Israel whose failure of responsible government included failure to provide health care: “you don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost; but instead you use force to rule them with injustice” (Ezekiel 34:4). The United Methodist Church therefore affirms in our Social Principles health care as a basic human right and affirms the duty of government to assure health care for all.

IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

  • You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. // Ezekiel 34:3-5
  • On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” / “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” / He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” / “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” / But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” / In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ // Luke 10:25-35
  • Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven // James 5:14-15
  • See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. // Deuteronomy 32:39
    Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. // Jeremiah 33:6
  • Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. // Isaiah 53:4-5

THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS

  • I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. // Charles Spurgeon
  • The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind. // G.K. Chesterton
  • I believe a government-run healthcare system fails in both compassion and stewardship. Governments don’t have the ability to be compassionate—they only have the power to coerce some people to solve problems for others, either through taxes or penalties. Plus, government-run healthcare takes away people’s stewardship responsibility. The government becomes a parent. And a parent who is not asking a child to be responsible shouldn’t be surprised when that child is irresponsible. // Jeff Myers

RESOURCES

 

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