Just Launched: Why Suffering? with Ian Markham

We just launched Why Suffering? with Ian Markham For Individuals and For Groups.

Here lies veraIt’s an ancient question: God is entirely powerful. God is good and does not desire suffering. Complex life inevitably involves frequent suffering. How can we reconcile these three truths with one another?

Christianity doesn’t have a pat answer for this question. To some extent, accepting that we may never quite understand suffering is part of faith; we trust God anyway. St. Paul writes that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Trying to comprehend God’s entire plan would require what Ronald Rolheiser describes as “a slimming down of God to fit the size, expectations, and reasoning of the human mind and imagination.” Nevertheless, exploring the question of suffering in the world can help us move toward greater understanding, both of the role of suffering in our lives and of our relationships with God.

In this class, The Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary, discusses possible reasons for suffering and ways to cope with suffering that can help Christians not only endure, but also grow from our experiences with pain. His overall argument rests on the idea that we may never entirely understand why we suffer, but that as Christians, we have the comfort of knowing that our God suffered, just as we do. We know, therefore, that God understands what we feel; that God cares about the pain and suffering of living creatures. We can trust that our suffering is part of a great drama; a story that centers on nothing less than the redemption of the universe, and we can take comfort in that knowledge.

This class is ideal for people who want to understand suffering in the world, or for people experiencing suffering or anxiety. For a preview of this course, please click here.

Image 1: Photograph of a makeshift grave for Vera Smith, a New Orleans citizen who died during Hurricane Katrina.

Image 2: El Greco. La Crucifixión (1597). Public Domain. 

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Announcing Our New, Live Wednesday Night Bible Study Classes

Starting in September, ChurchNext will be offering three live online Wednesday Night Bible Study classes once a week for six weeks. On Wednesday nights, students from all over the world can meet and study online together, led by experts in different fields of biblical study and church history.

This fall, students can choose to take one of the following three Bible study classes:

The Bible and Evangelism with Marcus Halley
Meets Wednesday evenings from 8-9 p.m. EST from Sept. 12-Oct. 17.

m halleyWhat does the Bible say about evangelism? What does the process involve? How can we pursue evangelism respectfully and effectively in our pluralistic society? In this class, the Rev. Marcus Halley, Rector of Saint Paul’s Church on Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis and an author whose work has appeared on Grow Christians, The Logos Project, Lent Madness, Forward Day-by-Day, and Thirty Seconds or Less, explores issues related to evangelism and scripture. The class helps participants discern how to live out our call to spread the good news in the 21st century.

Heretics in Good Company with Scott Gunn and Melody Shobe
Meets Wednesday evenings from 8-9 p.m. EST from Sept. 12-Oct. 17.

scott melody

Was Jesus really God? Is there a difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? Does everyone go to heaven? In this class, the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Forward Movement, and the Rev. Melody Shobe, co-author of Walk In Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices and several other books, will explore questions that are fundamental to Christianity and how the church has answered these questions. Why have some people been considered heretics for the ways in which they have answered these questions? Why does it matter? Explore these questions with Scott and Melody. 

The Bible and Racial Justice with Kelly Brown Douglas
Meets from 8-9 p.m. EST on Sept. 13, Sept. 18, Oct. 10, and Nov. 14

kb douglasThis class explores the racialized history of biblical interpretation in the United States. It  then goes into a scripture-based evaluation of what the 21st-century church in the U.S. must do to build racial reconciliation. What would such a reconciliation look like? How might Christians achieve it? Participants will explore these questions and others with The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, professor, and author of Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.

These classes are ideal for people who are interested in studying these topics with experts, for people who want to use technology to make individual Bible study easier to manage, and for congregations would like to study this material together in groups.

You can take these classes with groups from your church or on your own. Classes run for six weeks starting in September.  They are free to subscribing ChurchNext congregations, dioceses, and to individuals who purchase a $9/month ChurchNext subscription.You will be able to take these classes by computer from anywhere in the world using the Zoom online meeting platform. Students may access class materials and interact online using a ChurchNext online classroom.

 

 

Just Launched: Metro Theology with Chip Graves

In 2012, The Very Rev. Dr. Chip Graves took the position of rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Huntington,West Virginia. Once a thriving town supported by railroad and industrial money, for decades, Huntington’s economy had been suffering a depression. People lost their jobs, and urban flight was followed by urban blight. Once a flagship church in the region, Trinity had experienced declines in membership, energy, and participation.

Trinity’s congregation wanted to bring new life to their church. They also wanted to develop a deeper sense of connection with their local community. The church sought renewal through engaging a formula that Chip calls “metro theology,” which requires those who practice it to embrace the approach of loving God by caring for our neighbors.

Metro theology requires churches to review what resources they have and to look outside and see what their communities need. They then engage in aligning the  resources of the church with the resources of the local community to create a movement that opens the doors of God’s house to those who need it. Churches can do this work through tangible programs, financial assistance, food and fellowship, prayers and worship.The result can be transformation, both of the churches that reach out and of the communities to which the churches minister.

In this class, Chip discusses the four steps of metro theology.  Chip argues that metro theology is one way of being active in the Jesus Movement, “participat[ing] in the resurrection and healing of God’s world” and finding renewal through that process.

This class is ideal for congregations seeking new ways to participate in the Jesus Movement, seeking renewal, or looking for new ways to become involved in their local communities. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Image: Photograph of Huntington, WV skyline. Youngamerican. 14 June 2006. Creative commons.

Missed The Big Class with Bishop Curry? No Worries. You Can Still Take It.

Royal WeddingThe Big Class: From Palace to Public Square — The Way of Love with Michael Curry is over — but your opportunities to take it have only just begun.

This class is now part of our regular library in both For Individuals and For Groups formats. You can add it to your congregation’s online school or buy it on its own.

Students across the world have offered insight about how the church has been given an opportunity to move forward in response to Bishop Curry’s lectures. Here are some student responses to discussion questions in The Big Class:

In response to a question about opportunities that have arisen in recent months to talk about the Jesus Movement with others:

WOW! Finally an answer I can believe in. I am one of those described in the introduction to this lesson who did not want to evangelize. I don’t think it is right to push my beliefs onto others. Bishop Curry’s positive evangelism is something I can get behind. If someone asks or is interested, I am willing to talk about my faith and beliefs as formed by the Episcopal Church, but I rarely start the conversation. Maybe now I can begin the conversation with the words of Bishop Curry.

Also:

The best opportunity is created by people’s positive reactions to [Bishop Curry’s] authentic enthusiasm about the love of God. For once, the media has shown not some crazy, fringe ‘Christians’ but a believer (Bishop Curry) who’s on fire with Christ’s love. This helps mainline folks stop being ashamed of being Christian and helps us have conversations with others that yes, this is who we are and what we believe.

In response to a question about how the church might realize Bishop Curry’s challenge to restore Jesus to the center of our faith communities:

Working in ecumenical and inter-faith groups, we should strive to spend more time with each other getting to know about religions and practices that are alien to us. I live in the most ethnically diverse diocese in the Episcopal church, yet many of our parishes are silos who have little interaction with other Episcopal churches, let alone with other faiths and denominations.

Also:

Our “parish” is outside as well as inside the walls of our church building and the message of the Jesus Movement needs to be offered accordingly.

The responses have gone on and on. In this course, participants have given serious thought to what Bishop Curry had to say in his sermon and in his lectures. Students across the world have responded with energy, intelligence, and creativity. Join them and bring your own thoughts into the worldwide conversation engendered by Bishop Curry’s work.

For a preview of the course, please click here.

 

Just Launched — From Palace to Public Square: The Way of Love with Bishop Michael Curry

Bishop Curry preaching at wedding.jpg

We have just launched our most recent Big Class — and our first course as a ministry of Forward Movement. The course is entitled From Palace to Public Square: The Way of Love with Michael Curry.

Curry Headline 3Bishop Curry’s royal wedding sermon “The Power of Love” garnered much attention from the press and on social media both during and after the wedding. The sermon’s main theme was that love has true power in the world — the love of  a couple getting married; the love of neighbor; the love of God. Bishop Curry preached in the African-American Curry Headline 1tradition, which was new to many of he people who watched the wedding. Both the content and the style of the sermon inspired discussion and provoked passionate responses.

 

Some argued that Bishop Curry’s message was exactly what our world needs to hear.

Some were inspired to see Bishop Curry preach so powerfully in the African-American tradition from the pulpit at a British royal wedding.

Curry Meme 3.png

And some enjoyed trying to interpret reactions from the congregation at a preaching style with which many were unfamiliar.

Bishop Curry’s sermon, in short, drew a great deal of attention and moved many who heard it. In this course, Bishop Curry discusses the experience of preaching at the royal wedding and the content of his sermon. He talks about how he creates sermons and how he used both a specific text from and the structure of The Song of Solomon as the basis for this one. He talks about the type of platform that this response to his “Power of Love” sermon has made available and how he wants the church to use that platform to offer a positive, non-judgmental, loving evangelism. Finally, he discusses the Jesus Movement, how it fits in with the message he wants to offer the world, and its place in the church.

This course is ideal for anyone who is interested in the Jesus movement, respectful evangelism, the royal wedding, or Michael Curry. For a preview of the course, please click here.

Image 1: Image: Bishop Curry preaching at the royal wedding. REUTERS/Owen Humphreys. Used with permission.

Image 2: People watching Bishop Curry preach at the royal wedding on a screen at Windsor. Photo credit: Matthew Davies/Episcopal News Service. Used with permission.

Image 3: @KalenaAnna. (2018, May 19). Tweet text. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/KalenaAnna/status/997805081096…

Image 4: @Coko316. (2018, May 19). Tweet text. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Coko316/status/997804850292248…

Image 5: @JoshChesworth. (2018, May 19). Tweet text. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/JoshChesworth/status/997801217…

Just Launched: Reading the Bible Through the Lens of Conflict with Padraig O Tuama

 

We have just launched Reading the Bible Through the Lens of Conflict with Padraig O Tuama For Individuals and For Groups.

“Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to cope with conflict by peaceful means.” — President Ronald Reagan

“The opposite of war isn’t peace; it’s creation.” Jonathan Larson, who wrote and composed the musical Rent.

What did Ronald Reagan and Jonathan Larson, who wrote the 1996 musical Rent, have in common in terms of the way they understood the world? Very little. But they agreed in seeing the best opposition to violent conflict as a dynamic process rather than a static absence of conflict. Larson argued that creation — artistic creation; intellectual creation; the energy of building something new — is a strong opposition to violence. Reagan — whose administration stared down the Soviet Union with weapons drawn for many years but never fell into open war — saw the process of conflict management as the best alternative to violent interaction.

In this class, Padraig O Tuama defines peace as a process rather than a static condition — one that accommodates both of these approaches to opposing violence. Padraig,  a poet, theologian, and public speaker who founded the Spirituality of Conflict project, wants our culture to embrace conflict, manage it, attend to it, and use it to inspire humanity to move forward. He sees managed conflict as a way to avoid settling into a dreary and/or cowardly acceptance of the status quo.

Padraig asks us to acknowledge conflict as a potential source both of great pain and violence and of great strength and inspiration. He hopes that we will use our readings of the gospels and the ways in which they discuss conflict to explore ways of utilizing conflict in our daily lives to improve the human condition.

This course is ideal for people who are looking for ways to manage conflict in our deeply divided culture. For a preview of this course, click here.

Beginning Today: Our Free Big Class: Stopping Harassment and Creating Cultures of Respect with Gretchen Carlson and Robin Hammeal-Urban

From today through May 28, take our new Big Class: Stopping Harassment and Creating Cultures of Respect with Gretchen Carlson and Robin Hammeal-Urban for free.

Our culture has tended, up until recently, to think of serious sexual harassment as characterizing a bygone era. The television show Mad Men, for example, set in 1960s mad menadvertising firms and including scenes with startlingly blatant sexual harassment, suggest that sexual harassment used to be a serious problem, but also creates a perception of cultural distance between the bad old days and today. If the #MeToo movement has demonstrated anything, however, it has shown that in many twenty-first century professional and social communities, we still accept as a fact of life that powerful people will coerce others into sex and degrade others based on gender.

2016 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on workplace harassment  included the results of a random sample survey that found that 25% of female employees reported having been sexually harassed in the workplace. When the term “sexual harassment” was not used in the question, but unwanted sexual advances by employers were described, 40% of female employees reported having experienced these behaviors. When the question described people’s being treated with hostility in relation to their gender (as opposed to experiencing unwanted sexual advances or sexual touching), that percentage went up to 60. This survey demonstrates, first, that sexual harassment in the American workplace is anything but dead, and second, that many women notice sexually inappropriate and gender-biased behavior in their workplaces but don’t define these behaviors to themselves as sexual harassment. The harassment is happening, but victims don’t always recognize it as such.

Nor does harassment stop in the workplace. The sexual assault charges brought against numerous clergy members  in recent years indicate that churches are no more immune to predatory sexual behavior than anywhere else. It is impossible to deny that sexual harassment remains a serious problem across the board in American culture.

In this class, two women who advocate against sexual harassment join together to show us how to resist it, particularly in our faith communities. In 2016, Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News journalist, brought charges against Roger Ailes after having been dismissed from her job for refusing to have sex with him. Her choice eventually forced Ailes to resign from his position at Fox News (where several other women have spoken out about his having harassed them as well) and opened doors for other women to report their experiences with sexual harassment.  Today, she focuses much of her energy on advocating for gender equality in the workplace.

Robin Hammeal-Urban is Canon for Mission Integrity and Training for the Diocese of Connecticut. She is an attorney who specifically works to train faith communities on ways to build respectful interaction and resist sexual harassment. She also helps the church respond to situations involving sexual misconduct. She has written a book about rebuilding trust in faith communities in the wake of leadership misconduct and has many ideas about how communities of faith in particular can build respectful cultures.

In this course, Gretchen and Robin will educate you about how to define sexual harassment, why it’s important to speak out about it (and why it can be so difficult to do so), ways in which churches and individuals can respond to harassment, and ways to build faith communities that encourage respect. We hope that their guidance helps each of you as we work together to create a culture that truly respects the dignity of every human being.

We hope that you will join students across the world in learning about how to resist sexual harassment. For a preview of the course, please click here.