Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators. http://seminariumblog.org The Elements of Great Teaching Wed, 03 Feb 2016 13:28:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ANNOUNCEMENT: SITE REPAIR UNDERWAY http://seminariumblog.org/uncategorized/announcement-site-repair-underway/ Wed, 03 Feb 2016 13:27:22 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2231 Dear Seminarium users and contributors,

A automated update by WordPress to version 4.4.2 on 2/2/16 has had significant impact on the appearance and functionality of the website.

We are working to repair this and return www.seminariumblog.org back to it's beautiful self. ASAP.

Thank you for your patience.

The post ANNOUNCEMENT: SITE REPAIR UNDERWAY appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Dear Seminarium users and contributors,

A automated update by WordPress to version 4.4.2 on 2/2/16 has had significant impact on the appearance and functionality of the website.

We are working to repair this and return www.seminariumblog.org back to it’s beautiful self. ASAP.

Thank you for your patience.

The post ANNOUNCEMENT: SITE REPAIR UNDERWAY appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Teaching Bible with Tech at #AARSBL15 http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/teaching-bible-with-tech-at-aarsbl15/ Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:32:42 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2207 Whether you’re a veteran scholar or are attending the Society of Biblical Literature for the first time, you may be asking how to narrow your session options....The Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies and Global Education and Research Technology groups are joining up to bring you a program that you won’t want to miss.

The post Teaching Bible with Tech at #AARSBL15 appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Whether you’re a veteran scholar or are attending the Society of Biblical Literature for the first time, treat you may be asking how to narrow your session options. But don’t let the formatting of the program book fool you…

RN1

There are levels to this!

There are sessions where audience members attend. And there are sessions where you come to participate.

The Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies and Global Education and Research Technology groups are joining up to bring you a program that you won’t want to miss.

Come check out best practices in “Teaching the Bible with Technology”: part seminar; part workshop; all fun.

The session features ten, 10-minute presentations showcasing high-impact approaches to exegesis, translation, close reading, language instruction, historical reconstruction, and contextual readings.

RN2
Just a shot from the good times from last year’s ATBS session!

Many from the Seminarium community can tell you about last year’s raucous standing room only event. On account of your enthusiasm, we’re not only allotting ample discussion time, but also inviting you to join the group for a working meal and brainstorming session.

Believe me when I tell you that this is the good kind of professional development.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll get:

  • Oliver Glanz will take you on a tour of SHEBANQ, the 2014 recipient of the Digital Humanities Award, and how he uses it in the exegesis classroom.
  • ATBS favorite Erica Martin is back with techniques for employing open educational resources for helping students with targeted textual study of the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • Jill Hicks-Keeton brings crowd-sourcing to the Close Reading process by using Genius in her Bible and Literature class.
  • What if I were to tell you that you could use Microsoft Word to help students understand how to parse Hebrew verbs? Nicolai Winther-Nielsen shows you how with his prototype, The Verb Cruncher.
  • Tyler J. Griffin returns with examples of how to immerse students in ancient texts through 2D visuals and 3D immersive environments.
  • Matthew Anstey shows how digital pens and tablets can bring a personal touch to Online Hebrew instruction that’ll challenge even those in the brick and mortar classroom.
  • Global education is a buzzword in academe, but C. Jason Borders’ students use Skype to stay in touch with a worldwide activists and experts who are inspired by the biblical texts examined in the course.
  • Qualitative research is not just for the social scientist, Benjamin K. Forrest argues.  His presentation models potential uses of Atlas.Ti, data analysis software that practical theologians can use in understanding complex relationships that comprise people’s social worlds.
  • Sean Boisen presents the Lexham Cultural Ontology, an index students can use to reference over 1100 different cultural concepts and their relevance to passages in biblical literature and beyond.
  • Translation theory has come a long way since the literal v. dynamic treatment.  Bryan Bibb brings undergrads up to speed using a combination of Accordance and free online software tools.

Seminarium folks are our people. We know that when you leave the annual meeting, you want to come away inspired to do better. Come to the session that’ll show you how. Better yet, stick around to share with us what you’re working on and what’s working for you.

We’ll see you in International B (International Level)- Marriott

on 11/21/2015, from 4pm to 6:40pm EST.

  [sociallocker] [/sociallocker]

The post Teaching Bible with Tech at #AARSBL15 appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Digital Media for Ministry: Mapping the Landscape http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/digital-media-for-ministry-mapping-the-landscape/ Fri, 13 Nov 2015 21:47:28 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2200 We think not teaching digital media skills today is like not teaching homiletics or pastoral care....To that end, we are engaged in an asset mapping project to identify and spread the word about digital media for ministry formation opportunities across the theological education landscape.

The post Digital Media for Ministry: Mapping the Landscape appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Are you forming students for culturally savvy ministry in a society shaped by new media? Do you want your students to feel theologically prepared and technically skilled for leading discussions on Facebook, preaching sermons on YouTube, and raising money on Indiegogo? And have you thought about what preparation they’ll need to learn the next generation of tools and platforms?

If so, a growing community of learners wants to hear and learn from you.

Ministers are Hungry

The e-Formation program of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching (CMT) at Virginia Theological Seminary has been awarded a grant from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to connect with other theological educators engaged in digital media training and action research.

We held our first e-Formation Conference as a small pilot learning exchange among about forty friends and colleagues. Three years later, e-Formation 2016 brought together 250 participants in person and online.

At a time when calendars are full and continuing ed budgets are tight, that’s tremendous growth. It tells us that ministers are hungry for training, inspiration, and opportunities to reflect on how technology is changing their work.

Collective Efforts

Our yearly conference is just one component of a network of digital media for ministry training opportunities I have the privilege to lead. Collectively, these efforts comprise the e-Formation Learning Community. Others include

Mapping the Landscape

We think not teaching digital media skills today is like not teaching homiletics or pastoral care. Especially in the past year, we’ve been hearing about more and more colleagues who seem to agree with us. But we think this group is not yet the well connected community of practice that it could be.

To that end, we are engaged in an asset mapping project to identify and spread the word about digital media for ministry formation opportunities across the theological education landscape.

We want to connect with other schools in order to learn from them and, we hope, them from us. We want to help connect colleagues across the country with opportunities for hands-on training at nearby institutions. And we want to invite anyone who’d like to join us to become partners in empowering the growing e-Formation Learning Community.

Our  Most Important Question

Already we have learned a great deal. I just returned from our first big trip, having spoken to leaders at four Midwestern seminaries. Here’s a sampling of their responses to our first and perhaps most important question: In your experience, what digital media ministry skills are most important for ministers and ministry students?

  • “The literacy of the twenty-first century is the ability to learn, to unlearn, and then learn again … For me, enduring understandings about what changes when media is digital rather than analog are important.”
  • “First and foremost, the ability to listen carefully. Secondly, the ability to create, which is intimately bound up with learning.”
  • “The question of if we’re going to use new media has been answered. The question of how, and what that means theologically, has been brushed aside … As we embrace this, how we embrace this matters, just like how we talk about the gospel matters and how we do church matters.”
  • “An awareness of the different genres of social media and how the form and genre affect human life, faith, and community.”

Exciting Times…to Learn from You

If you resonated with any of those or are just intrigued and want to hear more, we hope you’ll follow our work. One of the more fun ways to do that is to follow the Pinterest board that, for now, is serving as our asset map.

If you’re screaming, “but what about _____?!”, we hope you’ll reach out and arrange an interview. We’ll come to you if we can, otherwise we’ll arrange a web conference call.

Our asset-mapping project will culminate in a digital media for ministry symposium for theological educators, to be held immediately after e-Formation 2016 (June 6-8) in Metro Washington (details still TBD). We hope many of the folks we meet will be able to join us.

These are exciting and challenging times to be a theological educator. If training ministers to thrive in them is part of your mission, it’s part of our mission to learn from you.

Photo Credit:DSC_8345-Hot Monitoring” by Dieter R – CC by 2.0

  [sociallocker] [/sociallocker]

 

The post Digital Media for Ministry: Mapping the Landscape appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Pecha Kucha in the Classroom http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtech/pecha-kucha-in-the-classroom/ http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtech/pecha-kucha-in-the-classroom/#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2015 22:41:57 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2192 Classroom presentations often seem like a good idea. After all, why not give students a chance to share their thoughts, engage their classmates in quality conversations, and earn valuable experience? Then it happens. The class falls victim to a well researched, but over-the-top presentation where as much text as possible is squished onto the screen....

The post Pecha Kucha in the Classroom appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Classroom presentations often seem like a good idea. After all, why not give students a chance to share their thoughts, engage their classmates in quality conversations, and earn valuable experience? Then it happens. The class falls victim to a well researched, but over-the-top presentation where as much text as possible is squished onto the screen.

Death by PowerPoint

So many words in tiny font size engulf the screen that everyone feels certain that it will be impossible to read all of them. Of course, everyone is totally wrong. The presenter feels the need to read each and every morsel of text until the class is sure they just can’t take anymore. Then our well-prepared presenter clicks over to the next screen—which is also full of text. And the horrible cycle beings all over again.

Comedian Don McMillan calls this phenomenon “Death by PowerPoint.” He cleverly describes the many pitfalls of PowerPoint, including overused text, poor choice of font size, crazy moving fonts, excessive bullet pointing, distracting animations, and much, much more. The tool that once seemed so helpful now has the potential to kill the classroom experience.

Some may give up on PowerPoint altogether and opt for the Prezi. Others may offer their students tips on ways to more effectively use PowerPoint. I have seen the value of having my students create PowerPoint presentations called Pecha Kuchas. They are extremely effective because they are timed and encourage students to judiciously choose text and images.

Pecha Whatcha?

If you felt lost when you read “Pecha Kucha,” never fear! Pecha Kucha is a Japanese phrase that means “chit chat.” People disagree on the pronunciation of “Pecha Kucha,” but this video claims to settle the debate by offering the pronunciation “Peh-Cha Koo-Cha.”

Pecha Kuchas are PowerPoint presentations that consist of 20 slides. Each slide is timed to appear for only 20 seconds. Therefore the total time for a Pecha Kucha is 6 minutes and 40 seconds. That means that students will have to organize their talks to effectively manage transitions.

The idea for Pecha Kucha arose when two architects wanted to have designers share their ideas. Knowing the tendency of architects be verbose, they came up with the Pecha Kucha strategy. A number of great ideas could be shared by many people in a short amount of time. The constraints actually led to more creativity. Groups throughout the world now participate in Pecha Kucha nights. Pecha Kucha seems like a great assignment for the classroom, but can it really work?

 Pecha Kucha in the Classroom

I have seen Pecha Kucha work well in the classroom. In addition to helping students better manage pictures and text, I find that Pecha Kuchas encourage them to think about a topic in a different way. They have to define their main point and strive to use images that reinforce their idea.

Many of them are initially afraid of the assignment, but almost all of them claim to enjoy the experience. Perhaps that’s because they have to prepare for their Pecha Kucha and practice their timing. They can’t wait until the last minute and throw something together. Pecha Kuchas can actually build confidence and create a better learning experience for the presenter and the audience.

In spite of the horror story I led with, most of my students are actually good presenters. That’s why they need to be challenged in a different way. Pecha Kucha makes students more deliberate about formulating their presentations. Furthermore, the time limit forces them to remove the extraneous points that often survive the editing of many presentations.

Pecha How’d Ya?

So how can an instructor go about incorporating Pecha Kucha in the classroom? First, provide students with an assignment prompt containing enough specificity for focused work as well as the flexibility necessary to foster creativity. Perhaps a Wisdom Literature course could feature a Pecha Kucha that asks students to share the best advice they ever received.

Before giving this assignment, instructors should try their hand at creating a Pecha Kucha in order to demonstrate their best teaching practices. Fortunately, YouTube has several Pecha Kuchas on how to create a Pecha Kucha. This video offers ideas on how to make the most of the experience while this video provides lots of good advice on planning a Pecha Kucha.

After reviewing the format, the presentation needs to be developed. Perhaps the instructor will choose to discuss the wisdom of “Finishing Strong.” This two-word topic offers a number of choices for images. Pictures of finish lines, marathons, and auto racing could be chosen. A picture of Moses staring longingly into the Promised Land could appear on one slide. The next slide could provide a nice contrast by featuring Joshua looking into the Promised Land. The images could be reinforced by facts about why so many pastors quit after only a few years in the ministry.

The Power of Pecha Kucha

Instructors who create their own Pecha Kuchas may discover that they occasionally want to use them to begin class. The short duration of the presentation has the ability to draw students into the subject. The Pecha Kucha introduces the basic topic, serving as a springboard to a more extended presentation or other activity. Pecha Kuchas done by students or instructors could create many opportunities for quality conversations. Of course, keep in mind that the questions must come after the completion of the Pecha Kucha. The time limit prevents interruptions.

The time limit also offers the chance for many students to present their ideas during one class session. Pecha Kucha days could be a welcome relief to students weary of lectures, exams, and papers. Scheduling one or two Pecha Kuchas for a seminar style course could create a much needed change of pace that promotes learning.

I have also seen the value of Pecha Kucha for making longer presentations better. In a Leadership in the Bible course, students were assigned a Pecha Kucha and a longer presentation. The Pecha Kucha experience improved the extended presentations because students became more aware of ways to get the most out of PowerPoint.

Petcha Gotcha!

Finally, the Pecha Kuchas turned out to be a lot of fun. One student even incorporated a Pecha Kucha game into her long presentation. She chose to speak about improvisational leadership, encouraging her fellow seminary students to embrace the power of improv. She had her classmates participate in a game called “Pecha Gotcha!”

She gathered teams of two, gave them a basic theme, and then set the Pecha Kucha in motion. Partners switched back and forth after each slide, describing images they had not previously seen. Their classmates enjoyed watching them struggle to make up things as unexpected images appeared.

Have you got Pecha Kucha? If not, then incorporate it into you lesson plans today! It may be the best 6 minutes and 40 seconds of a student’s semester!

Photo Credit:IMG_3837.JPG” by 準建築人手札網站 ForgemiCC by 2.0

  [sociallocker] [/sociallocker]

 

The post Pecha Kucha in the Classroom appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtech/pecha-kucha-in-the-classroom/feed/ 1
Tracking Social Media Footprints in the Online Class http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtech/tracking-social-media-footprints-in-the-online-class/ http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtech/tracking-social-media-footprints-in-the-online-class/#comments Sat, 03 Oct 2015 12:34:09 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2173 Twitter has taken over the classroom…and you’re to blame! Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. However we cannot escape the reality that we are in a social media era, even in the ivory towers of academia. And, as those who shape the minds of tomorrow’s leaders, we need to embrace the technology revolution.

The post Tracking Social Media Footprints in the Online Class appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Twitter has taken over the classroom…and you’re to blame! Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. However we cannot escape the reality that we are in a social media era, even in the ivory towers of academia. And, as those who shape the minds of tomorrow’s leaders, we need to embrace the technology revolution.

What This Article Is and Is Not About

First, some parameters about this article: This is not a tutorial on Twitter. Michael Hyatt is the best writer around on how to set up and use Twitter effectively. If you are not on Twitter, then I would highly advise you read Hyatt’s beginner’s guide before going any further.

Additionally, my goal here is not to debate whether social media is simply technology to be manipulated or relationships to be developed. While this is certainly an important conversation to have, I will, in this vein, refer you to The Plugged-In Professor edited by Sharmila Ferris and Hilary Wilder or Reynol Junco’s Engaging Students through Social Media. This article is about how to effectively use Twitter as a method of tracking attendance in the online classroom.

To begin this conversation, each of us needs to assess our familiarity and expertise level with social media. This, of course, raises a number of debates, primarily over whether there is such a thing as a “digital native,” “digital immigrant” or “digital alien.” For now, I’m going to refer you to an article that I published last year at WorkingPreacher.org so that we can soldier on with our discussion. I would, however, encourage you to discern where you are with your understanding and application of social media.

Not Sticking To What I Know

Now, you may be wondering where my interest in social media, especially for using it in education came from. I’ve been involved with social media for several years, switching over to Twitter almost exclusively in 2012. In terms of using social media in the classroom, well, my teaching colleague introduced the idea to me in his traditional in-seat courses. He gives participation points for tweeting about his youth ministry courses.

While I was intrigued by this, I wanted to see if this could be applied to the online classroom. For all their pomp and circumstance, online classes are actually quite mundane in terms of what you can and can’t do in them. The discussion forum has become the tried-and-true method of interaction and assessment of student learning. Discussion forums, however, can run the gamut of a single objective-based question that seeks to only assess content-learning to layered conversations based on multiple questions that require engaged dialogue throughout the modular week in order to assess comprehension.

I actually like using discussion forums, and use them exclusively in my practical ministry courses. Yet, I was finding their use difficult to justify in both high-content biblical studies courses and online independent studies. Thus, I experimented with using Twitter in some different courses to see if I could develop a better way of engaging and interacting with students.

Making Social Media Work for Your Classes

Social media posts, especially tweets, fall into one of three categories: thick, thin and throwaway.

  • Thick tweets are designed to engage in conversation and are usually comprised of an external link and an open-ended question, critique or reflective statement. The “retweet” function on Twitter and the “share” function on Facebook are also ways of engaging this way.
  • Thin tweets are designed to share something with the larger social media audience, like an article or quote. While “being generous” is Michael Hyatt’s cardinal social media virtue, these cannot be classified as “thick” because they are more about sharing rather than engaging.
  • Throwaway tweets are designed to update your followers on your day (“status updates”). This is essentially how sites like Facebook and Yik-Yak operate. They are not necessarily bad, however they do little to contribute to the social media community other than to remind each other of our presence.

Now, with all of this on the table, here’s how this (sort of) works. First, establish a hashtag (#) based on your course ID number to track attendance (i.e., #CMY453 for my seminar on small group ministry or #BTH 202 for my spiritual formation course). [Hashtags, while quintessential to Twitter and Instagram, can be used on Facebook.] Require that this be used in every post related to the course or it cannot count towards attendance.

Second, set limits on how many times students should post a week and what types of posts will be accepted for “attendance.” For me, I require a minimum of three posts per week, and I require that at least three of those posts be either “thick” or “thin” posts. In one online preaching course, the students would frequently share sermon videos from popular preachers or articles from online journals like Relevant and Leadership with me. In an online spiritual formation course, several students took pictures of highlighted pages of the textbook and posted them on Instagram.

Third, require students to “tag” you directly in at least one post a week. For example, one of my small group seminar students tagged me in a Vine post of a homeless man barking at another man and asked “What should I do if this happens in my group?” It was certainly funny, yet it also demonstrated learning in that this student realized how unprepared most group leaders feel.

Concerns

Finally, there are some drawbacks to using social media that should be pointed out. First, you cannot always clearly aggregate search results on Twitter, and it is even harder on Facebook and Instagram. Second, you have to be friends with students on Facebook, which can be problematic for faculty. Third, there is the question of whether engaging students on external social media sites can satisfy engagement criteria for online accreditation. This last one is, I think, really an important conversation that we need to have regarding the future of education.

Photo Credit: “Lyme Regis – June 2006 – The Wall – The Eyes Have It!” by Gareth WilliamsCC by 2.0

[sociallocker] [/sociallocker]

The post Tracking Social Media Footprints in the Online Class appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtech/tracking-social-media-footprints-in-the-online-class/feed/ 2
Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics—Part 2 http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/seven-things-i-wish-all-pastors-knew-about-academics-part-2/ http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/seven-things-i-wish-all-pastors-knew-about-academics-part-2/#comments Mon, 21 Sep 2015 11:25:30 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2159 In this second part, I want to focus on the experience and identity of academics in Christian communities. Many of the things that I wish pastors knew about academics speak to the way in which academics might be perceived as threatening to the leadership and power of pastors. Although I am attempting to show that such a notion is misguided, I admit that there is one way in which academics are threatening. . . .

The post Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics—Part 2 appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
In this second part, I want to focus on the experience and identity of academics in Christian communities. Many of the things that I wish pastors knew about academics speak to the way in which academics might be perceived as threatening to the leadership and power of pastors. Although I am attempting to show that such a notion is misguided, I admit that there is one way in which academics are threatening.

We are maximally likely to be able to see through rhetorical emptiness and weak arguments, on the one hand, and ask questions that are not easily dismissed, on the other hand. For those pastors who are more interested in being in charge of their community than they are in seeking God in spirit in truth, then they are right to be wary of academics. Yet, this is precisely why I hope that more academics continue to be active in the life of their local churches.

Last but not Least

Ok, so now for the last three things (of seven—go here for points one-four) I wish pastors knew:

5) Academics have “gifts” too.

Within many churches, one often hears suggestions that all members of the congregation should find ways to use their “gifts” to serve the local church (and more broadly, the kingdom of God). The use of such language is not arbitrary and draws on a variety of biblical inspiration (1 Peter 4:10; Romans 12:6). However, frequently those “gifts” are narrowly circumscribed in ways that exclude academic talents. Despite the fact that each spring many churches celebrate those young women and men who have graduated from high school or college that year, academic training is often seen as something unconnected from the life of the local church.

 This is unfortunate for a variety of reasons. For example, consider that in nearly every sermon some degree of historical and hermeneutic awareness is required regarding the biblical text. It seems odd that a pastor would not reach out to an academic trained in New Testament studies, say, to ensure that the historical claims are accurate. Similarly, although there might be a variety of interpretive options available for a particular biblical passage, philosophers are well trained at thinking through the implications of specific claims. Accordingly, having academic interlocutors should strengthen the sophistication and accuracy of one’s pastoral ministry. Pastors should find ways to allow academics to use their specific gifts rather than suggesting that we need to find ways to develop other gifts that are perceived as more “obviously” related to church life (which usually just means that they are not perceived as threatening to the status and authority of the pastor).

6)  Like most people, academics don’t like being stereotyped.

Christians often protest against the stereotypical ways in which they are presented in popular culture. Similarly, academics don’t like being stereotyped by Christians as simply being liberal atheists who are dangerous to the spiritual life of those who would be swayed by our influence. In the first place, many academics are not liberal either socially or theologically. But, it is true that many are liberal in one or both of these senses. That said, it is entirely possible to be a liberal (socially) and still be quite theologically orthodox (in relation to a specific tradition). Moreover, it is entirely possible to be a liberal in both senses while also rejecting problematic notions of relativism (which is a term often used to dismiss a wide swath of views).

Importantly, even though academics are generally comfortable with ambiguity and recognize that there are often multiple plausible interpretations of the same thing, this does not mean that they think that just “anything goes.” Rarely is this extreme version of relativism held by any academic (regardless of their religious identity). Additionally, rarely (if ever) does an academic understand her task to be the eradication of religious belief and identity. The stereotypical presentation of academics as intentionally desiring to erode religious faith and “traditional” morality is usually a construction generated by Christians themselves out of fear of what they don’t understand. In this regard, the recent film God is NOT dead! stands as a particularly illuminative example of how academics (in this case philosophers—sigh) can be presented as dangerous and threatening rather than as resources in the Christian task of truth seeking. The fact that many youth leaders took their youth groups to see this movie is deeply troubling since those young people are likely to find themselves in college in the near future. Instead of developing young people who are committed to excellence in the life of the mind and in the life of faith, such films and such stereotypes foster suspicion about serious inquiry and reinforce the notion that standing for God will likely mean standing against one’s professors.

Contrary to such problematic stereotypes, many pastors might be illuminated and surprised by both the depth of faith and also the capacity to motivate reflection that the academics in their midst possess. Accordingly, pastors should be held accountable for failing their congregants if they cultivate suspicions rather than finding ways to motivate reflection in a complicated world. (As a side note, I have extended the offer to numerous pastors to speak with their youth groups after they watched this film in order to present to them a different notion of philosophy as a vibrant resource for Christian life. I have yet to be taken up on this offer.)

 7)  Many academics realize that the life of the mind and the life of faith are not at odds.

Despite some academic voices suggesting that serious inquiry requires an abandonment of faith commitments, many reject such a suggestion. Examples in my own faith tradition of Christians doing amazing work in a variety of academic fields can easily be provided. More important than simply showing the possibility of Christian academics, however, is demonstrating the necessity of the life of the mind to the life of faith. Here, both academics and pastors bear responsibility in this task. Encouraging academics to use their specific “gifts” in the context of the local church helps to overcome not only the problematic stereotypes of academics so often found in Christian communities, but it also presents pastors as not intimidated by thinking with academics.

When pastors not only teach about Christian truth, but attempt to put it in practice in a life characterized by humility, generosity, and hospitality, they invite those under their ministry to go and do likewise. Alternatively, when pastors minimize the influence of academic voices because the pastors are problematically worried about dissension, disunity, and distortion of the truth, then it can quickly look as if careful critical thinking is dangerous to Christian life. Pastors should exemplify the importance of thinking well as a Christian and this is something that is more likely to occur when academics are partners in the task.

The Burden of Responsibility

Importantly, the burden of responsibility to cultivate productive relationships between pastors and academics does not rest solely on pastors. Academics also bear responsibility in making such relationships more likely in local churches. Though this might make for a good topic of its own for a future post here at the Seminarium blog, let me simply gesture toward three things that I think specifically Christian academics can do toward this goal.

First, Christian academics need to stop making the academy itself look hostile to Christians. Even if there is some warrant for such a claim (in some specific cases), it is crucial not to overgeneralize this hostility such that it ends up fostering the very stereotypical perception of academics within the churches that serves to minimize academics in the life of those communities.

Second, Christian academics need to be very careful not to overstate their own areas of expertise such that holding a Ph.D. in one discipline therefore qualifies the person to be an expert in all things related to Christian existence and church practice. Humility is crucial for developing appropriate confidence and academics often fail to display such virtues.

Finally, as a way in which humility should pay out in daily life, Christian academics should be better at receiving criticism and questions from non-academics. Questions should not only run in one direction and academics can do much better at fostering a culture of critical inquiry within their churches, rather than simply positioning themselves as the fount of knowledge that is available for the church.

Dialogue can be shut down in a variety of ways, but underlying all of them is a failure to listen well to others. I have been trying to give reasons why pastors should do a better job of listening to academics, but academics can also do a better job of listening to pastors. We are in this together and the church needs all of us.

For Part 1 of this post go here.

For a downloadable PDF of both “Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics” posts go here.

Photo Credit: “The Thinker at the Cleveland Museum of Art” by Erik Drost – CC by 2.0

The post Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics—Part 2 appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/seven-things-i-wish-all-pastors-knew-about-academics-part-2/feed/ 1
Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics—Part 1 http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/seven-things-i-wish-all-pastors-knew-about-academics-part-1/ http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/seven-things-i-wish-all-pastors-knew-about-academics-part-1/#comments Mon, 14 Sep 2015 11:31:40 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2149 In this two-part blog post, I want to offer a short (and quite informal) series of thoughts that I have about what I wish pastors knew about academics as they relate to us in the congregations that they serve....

 

The post Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics—Part 1 appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Recently I gave an invited talk at Villanova University on Christianity and postmodernism. In that talk, I took as a springboard for my reflections the fact that I had recently been encouraged (by my pastor) to leave the non-denominational evangelical church where my family and I had been attending for nearly two years. A video of that talk is available on my personal blog and so I won’t rehash that account or my argument regarding postmodern Christian existence that attends to it. Instead, here in this two-part blog post, I want to offer a short (and quite informal) series of thoughts that I have about what I wish pastors knew about academics as they relate to us in the congregations that they serve.

Christian Identity and the Academy

I do not mean for this essay to be exhaustive and I do not intend for it to be universally applicable. On the one hand, I will largely have in mind pastors in generally evangelical Christian contexts, and on the other hand, I will largely be thinking of academics who find their research to intersect with and raise questions for their Christian identity. Of course there are pastors operating in traditions for whom these thoughts will seem trivial and unnecessary and there are academics whose areas of research simply will not likely raise the sorts of concerns underlying my reflections here.

That said, even if the following reflects no one else’s experience, it does reflect my own and, if the response to my Villanova talk is any indication, I am not the only one hoping that more pastors would incorporate the following realizations into their ministry.

Four (of Seven) Realizations about the Academics Among You

I believe that if more pastors knew these seven things about academics, then fewer academics would feel isolated from their own ecclesial communities.

1)  Academics, as academics, are not pastors—and we are not trying to be.

The ecclesial authority that rests on a pastor is not the same authority that rests on a professor. Though there are likely to be many areas in which the practices of each are similar (study, reflection, writing, speaking, teaching, etc.), the mantle of responsibility and authority is not the same in each case. Just because academics are good at some things does not make us good at everything.

Often confusion and mistrust result from the suspicion that academics are threatening to the office of the pastor. This is unfortunate and rarely grounded in reality. Academics should be threatening to sloppy thinking, falsehood, unjustified assertions, and resistance to critique, but these are all things that pastors should seek to avoid as well. Indeed, if pastors saw academics as resources in the way that they see coaches, business owners, and civic leaders, then the life of the mind and the life of faith might be more commonly integrated in churches.

 2)  Academics generally understand that disagreement does not imply disunity.

A frequently heard claim in Christian communities is that unity is of central importance to the life of the church. Although this claim is biblically based and probably well motivated in most cases, it is important to get clear on what is meant by “unity.” Unity could variously refer to geographical location, ministerial impact, teaching content, theological doctrine, social mission, liturgical style, denominational tradition, etc. In all cases, the context is usually what determines the referent and application of the term. So, in the context of a church that has multi-sites, the emphasis is likely to be on being “unified” in relation to a specific ministerial impact (hence the need for video-links so that the same pastor can be at several places at once, etc.). Or, in the context of a denomination that has recently split over theological issues, “unity” is likely to get developed in relation to theological doctrine. Further, in the context of a denomination that might be global, the importance of unity in relation to teaching content and liturgical style might be what holds the diverse local congregations together as “one” church.

Other examples could no doubt be offered, but the point is that it is not obvious what “unity” means without having the difficult conversations that attend to it. That said, because many pastors are worried that such difficult conversations will lead to “disunity,” appeals to “unity” can often serve as a way of shutting down those voices in a community who might genuinely be interested in thinking more carefully about what the community says about itself. Welcoming critical engagement is what allows for the specific notion of “unity” to be definitive of a specific community in a way that is not merely about self-protective insularity.  Indeed, one of the gifts that academics might contribute to their Christian communities is precisely the ability to help facilitate such engagement in productive ways.

3)  Appeals to “non-negotiables” are often problematic for academics due to a general comfort with ambiguity.

There is extremely little that an academic understands to be “non-negotiable” in the sense of it being “obviously true.” Instead, when things are said to be off the discursive table, as it were, this usually indicates a reinforcement of historical particularity, which is itself a contingent product of a long history of negotiation (for status, identity, power, and influence). This is not to say that academics are opposed to “objective truth,” but simply that objective truth is held as such by individuals who find themselves in situations that demand interpretive awareness, historical understanding, and epistemic humility.

That said, when an academic asks questions about things that are presented as “non-negotiable,” this does not necessarily mean that she rejects the truth of the claim being considered, but probably that she is interested in getting clear not only on what is being claimed, but why it is being claimed in this particular way. Accordingly, most academics admit that multiple interpretations of the same thing are possible and that is ok. That said, there are times when academic expertise is precisely what allows for deciding well between the relevant interpretive options. Given that academics are comfortable with ambiguity, the repeated biblical insistence that we only “seek through a glass darkly” might open spaces for viewing the engagement with academics as a valuable resource for living in light of the continued mystery that attends Christian truth.

4)  Asking critical questions is a primary way in which academics build relationships.

Whatever else academics are, they are readers. Yet, reading is not merely the acquisition of information, but the building of relationships with a diverse set of views, thinkers, texts, and ideas. These relationships are then the fabric out of which an academic weaves her own professional identity, the resources out of which she constructs her own authorship, and the discourse that enables the development of her own voice. In other words, reading is radically relational. Being able to read well while resisting the temptation to be swayed by everything that one reads is crucial if one is not simply going to be an observer of a conversation, but a participant in that conversation. Accordingly, asking critical questions is a sign of taking something seriously and, hence, of wanting further engagement with it. Too often pastors assume that asking such questions is a sign of arrogance or unbelief. Notice, though, that in the first case, the arrogance would seem to rest more at the feet of the one who finds questions to be threatening (“Who are you to question me?”), and in the second case, knowledge would be something so fragile that it can’t recognize its own limits (hence self-criticism would be replaced with self-protection). Importantly, academics are likely to take seriously the biblical passages in which God encourages us to “come reason together” (Isaiah 41:1), and Jesus praises the person who admits that he doesn’t have it all figured out (Mark 9:24).

More to Come

That covers four of the seven things I wish all pastors knew about academics. This two-part blog post is regrettably much too brief to allow me to develop these claims in much detail. However, I hope that it might motivate the sort of thinking that will invite the continued engagement between communities of faith, their leaders, and the academics among them in ways that cultivate trust, rather than the suspicion that leads to exclusion.

In the final three realizations I will move from the more-or-less functional role of academics in faith communities into the spiritual and psychological realities that we encounter.

For Part 2 of this post go here.

For a downloadable PDF of both “Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics” posts go here.

Photo Credit: “2015 Williams Baccalaureate” by Williams College – CC by 2.0

The post Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics—Part 1 appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/seven-things-i-wish-all-pastors-knew-about-academics-part-1/feed/ 6
Teaching the Bible and Race in the USA http://seminariumblog.org/general/semtrends/teaching-the-bible-and-race-in-the-usa/ Wed, 01 Jul 2015 18:09:50 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2116 Last fall at Elizabethtown College, I taught an upper-level seminar entitled the Bible and Race in the USA. Our small class was divided evenly among Caucasian and African American participants.

At the close of the semester, I asked a few students to reflect on their learning experience. With their permission, I’ve edited together their remarks into the collaborative essay below.

The post Teaching the Bible and Race in the USA appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
Preamble – Written June 22, 2015

You’ve probably heard it said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. However, it’s high-time that we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that, by simply teaching more content, the world will become a better place. Knowledge didn’t stop the wake of the terror brought into the sacred community of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In this gut-wrenching moment, there’s little I can bring myself to say. I look at the words below, written by my students last fall, in a post composed months before the events of last week and I struggle to find the optimism that I once had at semester’s end.

Mother Emanuel was the church home of Denmark Vesey, a free black man who worked to organize a massive slave rebellion in South Carolina. The rebellion was prematurely thwarted by enslaved blacks who succumbed to the pressure of their masters. With a planned front of 9,000 slaves, there’s no telling what might have been were the revolt at all successful.

What we do know is that the murder of nine churchgoers took place 193-years to the day following Vesey’s planned revolt  We know that his visit to the church was not the first time white supremacists had attempted to intimidate Mother Emanuel. And we know that all over America—not just South Carolina or the South—we are seeing Civil War banners flying freely, whether in the form of the Confederate flag or in the mortal bullets that persistently require us to ask whether and how black lives matter.

We know these things and what do we have to show for it? In retrospect, my student’s words do remind me that we teachers get fifteen weeks per class to not only impart knowledge, but also to influence what they might do with it. It is in that spirit that I hope you’ll read their thoughts.

Post – Submitted May 17, 2015

I teach a number of courses at the intersection of race and religion. And by the second class period, I will undoubtedly hear some version of C. Herbert Woolston’s children hymn.

 Jesus loves the little children,

All the children of the world,

Red and yellow,

Black and white,

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

To quote a student of mine, … “Can we TBH this for a second?”

To be honest, speaking for Jesus is way above my pay grade, but I’m not above begging for clarification, either. There’s a lot going on in this little ditty.

The song makes no bones about classifying human beings—in this case by color. But what does it mean to say that all mentioned are precious in His sight? Are we really comfortable with the idea of appraising the value of other human beings? From the Three-Fifths Compromise to the need to declare that #BlackLivesMatter, American history suggests this is so, and the good book has played a key role in cataloguing the price.

Nyasha Junior and Seminarium’s Brooke Lester have prodded biblical scholars to discuss this in the classroom. So how might we do this? News headlines suggest that maybe we should just get started and reflect on it later.

Last fall at Elizabethtown College, I taught an upper-level seminar entitled the Bible and Race in the USA. Our small class was divided evenly among Caucasian and African American participants. At the close of the semester, I asked a few students to reflect on their learning experience. With their permission, I’ve edited together their remarks into the collaborative essay below.

♦ ♦ ♦

Religion and race are two very controversial topics when discussed separately, let alone when you discuss their connection. Our course, The Bible and Race in the United States of America, concentrated on this complicated relationship.

Studying primary and secondary sources, like the writings of Vincent Wimbush, opened a window onto the processes that lead to racial and ethnic formations in the US. Through it, we were able to see the Bible’s pivotal role in the identity formation of Native Americans, Asian Americans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Latin@s, and Whites.

The class did not cease to shock and challenge everything that we had been taught before. For instance, the Thanksgiving story, usually depicted as a wonderful event that brought unity between white settlers and this land’s first nations, is also the story of America’s need to justify colonization—not least of which took place in the Christian education passed on in places like the Carlisle Indian School (roughly forty miles from our own campus).

Learning that there are many sides to every story motivated us to continue our search for knowledge outside of class. To map our learning, we incorporated Ann Taves’ discussion of attribution theory, Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s notion of scripturalizing, Michel de Certeau’s theorizing about scriptural economies, and Pierre Bourdieu’s study of discourse. This pushed us to look back over past moments and relate them to current events and what we experience in our everyday lives.

And in our time together, we saw just how race matters in the classroom:

Morgan King
Morgan King

 

In the course of 14 weeks, I’ve had difficult conversations with both people in class and outside of the classroom. I’ve reconsidered the beliefs I have and how my beliefs shape the way I live. And I’ve made connections between the Bible and race in this country that I didn’t even know existed. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but so much can happen and change in such a short timespan if you simply sit down and talk.

 

Tetiena Harley
Tetiena Harley

Before coming into the class, I was at home in Philadelphia watching the news about what had happened to Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO. I thought to myself that I was not going to have many conversations about this topic or others because race can be such a taboo. But as growing scholars these are the stories we should talk about because these are the stories that are currently affecting us. I came to class with my own biases about race and the Bible and was challenged to go beyond what I was looking for.

 

 

Kristin Vines
Kristin Vines

This was one of the first spaces where I was able to discuss the harsh reality that exists in US history and how Americans have used the Bible and other religious influences to support cruel actions.  I think that for many people, America is in a better and more tolerant place than it was when those things happened, so they believe it better not to study them in depth and reopen old wounds. But these problems are not going away any time soon. The news seems to be filled with acts of discrimination that are fueled by issues of race and religion.  

 

Shanise Marshall
Shanise Marshall

 

 

Even though one college course is not enough to fix all of these problems, it gave us the knowledge we need to see the discrepancies that exist in today’s society.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

Time will tell what these students will do about these discrepancies, but the creativity shown in their final research projects offer some great ideas on how we might broach the problematics of race in the biblical studies classroom.

RN_ResearchProj

To learn about what my students taught me in this course, check out my post, “Silence and Real Talk” on the Wabash Center’s Race Matters in the Classroom blog.

Photo Credit: “The steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC” by Spencer Means  – CC by 2.0

  [sociallocker] [/sociallocker]

The post Teaching the Bible and Race in the USA appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
“I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap” http://seminariumblog.org/general/semloci/im-using-my-bible-for-a-roadmap/ Mon, 08 Jun 2015 15:30:46 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2101 The conventional way that introductory biblical studies courses are taught is that one proceeds through, say, the New Testament either canonically (from Matthew to Revelation), or historically (1 Thessalonians to 2 Peter), or some combination of the two. The focus is on information acquisition with the assumption that the Bible’s content is somehow meaningful, especially when placed within its various historical contexts. In other words, we who teach the Bible, along with our students who wish to learn about it, approach the Bible as insiders, taking for granted its inherent value.

The post “I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap” appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
This famous bluegrass song, written by Don Reno in 1950, employs one of the enduring metaphors used with respect to the Bible. It speaks of how the Bible can serve as a guide through life and can offer directions to heaven.

Ancient Texts/Contemporary Issues

Many of the students who enroll in the biblical studies courses I teach at the University of North Dakota share this belief and they are certainly not outliers in today’s cultural landscape. In fact, some of the most obvious examples of this phenomenon occur in U.S. politics, where passages from these ancient texts are regularly employed to argue for and against modern-day policy positions.

One need only recall the way President Barack Obama has evoked Ex 23:9 and Matt 7:5 to support his immigration policies, or point to Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) use of quotations from Gen 1:25 and Rom 8:22 to justify his view that global warming is a hoax.  There was also the highly publicized local instance where Representative Kevin Cramer (R-ND) got into a scripture battle with one of his constituents over his vote to reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In response to Cramer’s vote, a North Dakota citizen posted Matt 25:36-43 on the Representative’s Facebook page. Cramer defended himself by citing 2 Thess 3:10.

Insiders or Outliers

These instances of biblical reception, as well as many other similar examples drawn from additional areas of contemporary culture, have been growing in significance for me as I have begun to reshape my introductory biblical studies courses. Let me explain.

The conventional way that introductory biblical studies courses are taught is that one proceeds through, say, the New Testament either canonically (from Matthew to Revelation), or historically (1 Thessalonians to 2 Peter), or some combination of the two. The focus is on information acquisition with the assumption that the Bible’s content is somehow meaningful, especially when placed within its various historical contexts. In other words, we who teach the Bible, along with our students who wish to learn about it, approach the Bible as insiders, taking for granted its inherent value.

We spend a great deal of time explicating its original and originating contexts, while at the same time introducing internecine conflicts over disparate interpretations, as if either the contexts or the interpretations had any real value outside of a few religious communities for whom these texts are considered scripture.

Reshaping Convention

Perhaps in religiously affiliated colleges and seminaries, or even in some private schools, one might find this approach acceptable, but I have begun to wonder whether such unquestioned privileging of these sectarian texts is acceptable in my teaching context. But what is one to do?

For those who might be in the same teaching situation, allow me to make three initial suggestions:

  1. Stop claiming the Bible is exceptional. The very fact that we offer biblical studies courses in our various curricula tends to reinforce in the minds of students the idea that the Bible in and of itself is an important object of study and it bolsters their belief that the contents of the Bible are authoritative in some way. The introductory course should begin by disabusing students of such ideas and beliefs. One way to do so would be to have students examine the ways that conceptions of biblical authority and biblical exceptionalism have been (and continue to be) used to construct and maintain relationships of power that exist within a variety of cultures.
  2.  Stop promoting the notion of “correct” interpretation. Students often arrive in class believing that there is only one interpretation of a biblical passage that is acceptable, or that all interpretations have equal value. We usually respond to this situation by training students to recognize good, as opposed to bad, interpretations, using whatever list of criteria we have come to favor. This approach, however, tends to support the students’ ideas of biblical authority, extending those ideas to cover specific texts and particular interpretations. Might it not be better for the students’ educational experience if they focused on the interpretations qua interpretations? That is to say, students could forgo evaluative judgments of right or wrong, good or bad, and, instead, learn how to recognize the ways that interpretations (and their rhetorical strategies) function within cultures to normalize and universalize the contingent and the local.
  3. Stop privileging historical origins over contemporary usage. The original and originating contexts of the many writings that make up the Bible are frequently unknown and, if known, often irrelevant to the ways biblical texts are employed in our contemporary world. In fact, by emphasizing the generative contexts of the Bible and their importance to a “correct” interpretation of biblical texts, we once again find ourselves complicit in efforts to maintain and to promote insider understandings of the nature and function of the Bible. Instead of only chasing after ancient contexts, students could spend some of their time learning how to identify the assumptions upon which contemporary public handling of the Bible is built, as well as unmasking the ideology that such usage supports.

These suggestions do not begin to solve the problem I have identified, but I think they do work toward decentering emic approaches to teaching the Bible. They also offer the possibility of making the study of the Bible relevant, even to those for whom biblical texts are not a roadmap for their life.

Photo Credit: “Where The Dust Bowl Began” by davidCC by 2.0

[sociallocker] [/sociallocker]

The post “I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap” appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
James 1:27 and the Training of the Modern Nurse http://seminariumblog.org/general/semloci/james-127-and-the-training-of-the-modern-nurse/ Thu, 14 May 2015 14:02:19 +0000 http://seminariumblog.org/?p=2061 In the increasingly pluralistic campus classroom, one might expect that the primary texts of the world’s religions not to resonate with modern students, especially the career-minded ones. However, I am convinced that these texts—James 1:27 being a case-in-point—continue to have tremendous, and deeply interdisciplinary, value.

The post James 1:27 and the Training of the Modern Nurse appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>
In the increasingly pluralistic campus classroom, one might expect the primary texts of the world’s religions not to resonate with modern students, especially the career-minded ones. However, I am convinced that these texts—James 1:27 being a case-in-point—continue to have tremendous, and deeply interdisciplinary, value.  This semester, I am teaching “Theology of Death and Dying” at the University of St. Francis, an institution founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate in Joliet in 1920. My students are Catholic, Protestant, and—according to one—“pagan.” Several of them have career interests in nursing and gerontology. We’re concluding, therefore, with the work of Sr. Mary Elizabeth O’Brien on servant leadership in nursing and the work of Sr. Helen Prejean on spiritual advisors.

My students are following in the tradition of the women religious who broke into the nursing field during the Civil War and performed sacraments upon request for Christian and non-Christian soldiers. Modern nurses will find that their corporal acts of mercy resonate with the ordained widows tending widows and orphans in Article 9 of the Mennonite Confession at Dordrecht in 1632. Before the ordained widows, contemporary caregivers can look to the Christian institution of the Orphanotropheion and the inspiration figure of Saint Zotikos, priest and orphanotrophos. And, of course, this notion that it is the care of orphans and widows that constitutes the true prize and trophy of a religion can be traced further back still. This is the definition of faith given in James 1:27.

Widows and Orphans in James

While isolating a biblical verse from its context is often a notoriously perilous enterprise, James 1:27 functions as the conclusion to the preceding argument of chapter 1, a transition to the next point of chapter 2, and, quite possibly, a maxim. The verse itself reads:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James expands upon his previous exhortation that each person must fight their own battles against temptations and achieve their own victory over their own passions. Unlike Paul, who sets God in charge of the moral arena in which Christians are tested, James presents a God who waits for people to overcome their corrupting desires in order to award the faithful with a crown of immortality. This discipline involves a proactive gathering in of those on the margins of life, a population with which nurses and social workers routinely work.

For James, those furthest on the margins are not the lepers, the tax-collectors, or those overcome by bandits. Rather, James focuses on the members of society who have dealt with death itself, the widows and orphans who have outlived their loved ones and now must go on as best they can without them. As O’Brien has noted, Jesus’ healing ministry exemplified how to love one’s neighbor. Some of the healing miracles involve a triumph over death, like the cure of the royal official’s son (John 4:46-54). Others, like the cure of the bent-over woman (Luke 13:10-17), remove illness and disability from individual bodies. Jesus must teach his community that suffering is not the product of a sin by the sufferer or his or her parents. Instead, sin points to the fallen, imperfect nature of the world, which can only be restored to its intended glory by God.  Jesus’ role as a physician is a role only God can sustain.  The nurse serves as a modern guide on how to sustain life in the face of the eventual illness and death that await us all.

James as a Guide for the Modern Nurse

In grouping widows and orphans, James privileges the classic example set in Exodus 22:22, where the command “You will not afflict the widow or orphan” invites its refugee audience to reflect on their solidarity with those who have narrowly escaped death themselves. (James’ identification of his audience with the tribes of Israel in dispersion allows him to not need to extend protection to strangers, as does Deut. 10:18.) The words orphanos and chēra do not occur elsewhere in James, and they function here to provide concrete examples of how Christians can be victorious over temptation and yet not become ethically implicated in the corrupt moral economy of the Roman Empire. Like the ancient individual who trains to perfect his or her character and receives the crown of a good and impartial God, the nurse uses his or her skills to provide the support system for those losing their fight with illness and those losing their loved ones.

Part of helping someone is identifying with them. In a hospital, this is achieved by dressing everyone in flimsy fabric, whether scrubs or hospital gowns. Within the wards, nurses have the opportunity to live out James 2, where James quotes the scripture “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The letter decries the divisions in the community caused by the attention given to distinctions of physical appearance, particularly those achieved by means of the display of gold rings and expensive fabrics. For James, love of neighbor implies that one will not care about the jewelry that advertised equestrian rank or the cloth that suggested mercantile success in the Roman Empire. Nurses’ basic scrubs place them closer to the hospital gown of the patient, allowing the nurse to empathize with the patient more naturally than the white coat of the physician that sets the physician apart. Without the status inversion of clowning like Patch Adams, the nurse nonetheless manages to relate to the patient.

As patients and their families encounter illness and death, a nurse must help them navigate their feelings in order to accept certain treatments. Due to the existential nature of nursing, organizations such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommend that nurses receive spiritual training. Nurses are often able to augment the role of the hospital chaplain, particularly in situations in which a patient may not feel comfortable sharing concerns with the chaplain. Male patients with breast cancer may need a male nurse to complement a female hospital chaplain. Female patients with ovarian cancer may wish to speak with a female nurse as well as a male hospital chaplain. Among the training topics for nurses are:

  • Sufficient time to build rapport
  • Fear of imposing spirituality on patients
  • Deference to the role of hospital chaplains

Using the definition of James 1:27, nurses may find a way to maintain a New Testament ethic in a pluralistic and neutral way. Both nurse and patient may define religion as based on a principle of love of neighbor and care within community. The nursing students in my own class supplied examples from Game of Thrones, but James 1:27 can be compared universally in a manner that is helpful to those who need to serve the spiritual needs of Christians, pagans, and atheists alike. The nurse undertakes a spiritual role that complements the hospital chaplain without duplicating or replacing it.

Hospitals, Hospice, and Hospitality

The nurse and the social worker in a theology course have a vocational opportunity to serve as an example of ideal religion. For James, ideal faith presents itself not in the often rote recitation of creeds in contemporary services; rather, true religion is a religion of service to the most vulnerable of human society, putting the “kith” in the phrase “kith and kin.” Whereas many theologians want to privilege the role of Jesus as physician and healer, the nurse and the social worker find a voice in the James’ solicitude for those around the dying and those whose lives have been permanently touched by an encounter with illness. James 1:27 commends itself to those in the health professions and those in social services.

Photo Credit: “Medical/Surgical Operative Photography” by Phalinn OoiCC by 2.0

[sociallocker] [/sociallocker]

The post James 1:27 and the Training of the Modern Nurse appeared first on Seminarium | A blog community created by Religious Studies and Seminary educators..

]]>