Real Faith ~ Real World

We believe that in Jesus Christ God has offered the healing balm of salvation to all creation. This salvation is more than simply an event or experience to look forward to in the future. It’s the radical healing of all creation – humans and the entire universe – right now, and in the age to come. This is tremendously good news; and it’s news all Christ followers can proclaim with joy and boldness.

This is the place where we explore what it means to live into that good news – to nurture the real faith within us and connect it tightly to the real world beyond us. I hope you’ll join us on this journey of nurture and connection so that together we might embrace faith more fully, proclaim it more authentically, and share it with greater grace and love.

Guest Post: Rebecca Bratten Weiss ~ Women Are the True Heroes of Star Wars

I went to see The Last Jedi with some immature trepidation, since I’m more emotionally invested in this story than I should be, not being a teenager doing crappy cosplay before I knew cosplay was a thing anymore. For me, you see, the Star Wars epic is not just a story. It’s one of “my” stories—the stories I have carried with me and that helped shape my imagination, my sense of humanity, and my understanding of our relationships to the cosmos.

It wasn’t until grad school that I found out that George Lucas had been inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which the mythographer argues for an archetypal mono-myth: One story to contain them allIt all fit together then. The story was my story not just because I had fallen for it as an impressionable kid who liked to wave sticks around and dress up in cloaks. It was mine because it was made to be inhabited out of preexisting archetypes already familiar to me. The things we fear. The things we desire. Temptation. The hero’s journey.

But the hero’s journey is typically a masculine archetype. I don’t just mean simply that heroes have generally been portrayed as male. Nor even that the journey usually involves a lot of typically masculine accoutrements such as swords and spears. I mean, masculinity is written right into the concept itself. The idea that the hero must kill his father invokes all the terror of the taboo against patricide, but it’s a taboo specific to the son and is connected with themes of paternal inheritance, progenitive power, phallic power. Identity between father and son is part of this—and, in the original trilogy, this is made overt when Luke, after cutting off Vader’s head, sees his own face. At the time his lesson is “do not become your enemy!” But later he will learn the more sinister truth: Insofar as the son is an image of the father, he truly is Vader.

But what about the women?

We’re princesses to be rescued, sorceresses to be conquered, crones to give curses. We might be beneficent maternal figures, hovering on the margins. We might be objects of desire. But rarely do we get to be agents in the hero’s tale. This is not because we can’t inhabit the archetype, but because we’re so rarely allowed to do so.

It’s interesting that through the saga, Princess Leia—herself no less force-powerful than her twin brother—escapes reduction to these tropes. She’s a princess to be rescued only as a side note in her already tragic story, and as soon as she’s rescued she takes charge. Initially an object of desire for two men, this gets creepily subverted when one of the men turns out to be her own brother. When Leia is forced into a sexualized costume and position by Jabba the Hutt, she hates it. After strangling her captor with her own chains—itself a subversion of the erotic—she gets back into sensible clothing as quickly as possible.

Fans love the flirtatious banter between Han and Leia, but realistically their relationship was always doomed. It’s no surprise that in The Force Awakens the tempestuous couple is a couple no more. Han and Leia were never really a good fit. The perception of some complementary equality in their relationship was the result of a sexist idea that any man with attitude is automatically entitled to the woman in the story, even if she’s a princess and political mastermind while he’s just a smuggler out for profit. Their romance blossoms in the empty spaces between the stars, in places of danger, liminal escapes. It could never survive reality.

Many female fans grew even more attached to the character of Leia in a year that saw women standing up against powerful men who would treat us the way Jabba treated his captive. It helped that Carrie Fisher herself was a strong advocate for women’s rights, as well as for the mentally ill, so we could have a sort of double-vision appreciation for two heroes, both the princess in space and the brave, outspoken actress in our world.

And then Fisher died. So going to see The Last Jedi meant going to see not just the next stage in the story, but also a final tribute to “space mom.”

The women who don’t give up

There’s been a lot of complaint about the centrality of the female characters in The Last Jedi from more conservative corners of fandom, as though it were too much, too in-your-face, Hollywood forcing feminism on us. And while I’ll grant that The Last Jedi was in many ways a flawed film, its centering of female characters was not one of its flaws.

If the hero’s journey is primarily a masculine archetype, maybe rebellion is where the women take the lead. In the Star Wars saga, the Rebellion is initially led by a woman, Mon Mothma—who also mentors Princess Leia, who becomes General Organa and in time leads the rebellion herself.

Leia is a survivor. During her life, she has seen her home planet obliterated by a galactic villain who would turn out to be her own father. She’s seen Obi-Wan, her “only hope,” cut down by this same villain. After her son went over to the Dark Side, her brother fell into existential despair and disappeared to live as a hermit and her husband returned to a life of smuggling. And, finally, her son repeated the family pattern of doom by killing his own father.

Perhaps, at this point in her life, a prudent general decides that women are the ones to be trusted. Or maybe Leia has simply created a community of mentorship in which she trains reliable women on every level of the Resistance.

If you want to take issue with this, you have to take issue with the reality that in this saga, the hero’s journey has been individual, tragic, and destructive. Like Greek tragedy. You have to take issue with everything you love about the Star Wars epics.

Finding our places

Watching the story unfold, seeing the faithful women who remain at their posts and who don’t give up, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels with salvation history. It’s not only in a Galaxy Far Far Away that the men flake out while the women hold firm. Think of the gospel narratives of the death of Jesus. The male disciples are driven by the great tragic passions: desire for glory, lust for revenge, fear of dishonor. But these passions drive them to betray Jesus, to deny him, and finally to flee his ignominious execution. The women stay, however. They weep, and they endure.

I don’t think either Star Wars or the gospels are trying to prove that women are somehow morally superior or even that women can’t have “hero’s journeys.” We get female villains in plenty of stories, as well as in real life, because to be a woman is to be human. The Last Jedi gives us this, too—Gwendoline Christie’s ominous Captain Phasma, who I hope will somehow be back for the next installment.

But in both stories, we see that the women have earned a place at the center. In The Last Jedi, the plot gets this right. Women aren’t running things in the Resistance because Hollywood is trying to rub our faces in feminism; rather, they’re running things because it makes logical sense given the backstory and who’s in charge.

Men who object to women taking central roles in the church might want to remember what place the women took in the gospels: at the foot of the cross, present with Christ, at the moment when God himself was pierced and blood and water flowed. For us to be present at the heart of the practice of our faith is not some modern innovation. It’s not artificial or forced, but part of the story’s truth.

We look to the great myths and religious narratives to tell us where we belong and for women, too often we’re left on the margin of the story. The Last Jedi may be simply a popular film—a mediocre one, even—but it taps into the mythic structures that form our sense of ourselves. It points me towards the same assurance I find in the gospel narratives: You have a place. This is where you belong. Right here, at the heart of things.

 

Reprinted from www.uscatholic.org. Rebecca Bratten Weiss is a writer, lecturer, and gardener.

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Our Way of Being in the World

The freedom of the gospel gives us life that is not bound to the narrative of this world but has the ability to transcend it. Fellow Gospel Life blogger Leroy Barber asserted that truth a few weeks ago in the context of his discussion about welcoming back those released from prison – something all Christians are called to do. Following Jesus is indeed about welcoming any and all in need of reconciliation, healing, and restoration.

As I read through Barber’s helpful list of ways to connect, it struck me that underlying all of his suggestions is an assumption of relationship. Loving relationship rightly undergirds everything he recommends. Yet, as we reach out, whether it be to those newly released from prison or others in need of God’s transformative love, I believe it’s fair to ask, "Will they perceive we are reaching out in love? Or will they view us with skepticism? Defensiveness? Caution?"

We live in a culture marked by a dramatic lack of trust, and the Church is not exempt as a target for those feelings of suspicion. As the Body of Christ, we have some restorative work to do as we witness for the kingdom. Barber is spot on with his suggestions about welcoming; and as we engage others in this age of mis- and distrust, we need to become aware of how our “way of being in the world” communicates (or doesn’t) that our motive is love.

I believe there is a posture, a stance, that Christians can take to strengthen their ability to make the gospel known with integrity – a way of being in the world that creates and sustains the trust needed for the long haul work of evangelism.

This way of being in the world both supports and transcends the details of whatever program or ministry we may be involved in at any given time. I like to use the metaphor of embrace to illustrate this posture. I believe it’s a helpful metaphor because it points to the space necessary for the work of the Holy Spirit – to reconcile, transform, heal, restore.

It’s also helpful because it emphasizes the dignity of others and highlights our need to exercise self-control for the sake of the integrity of others. Embrace underlines the importance of mutuality and reciprocity. Although there is always a decidedly personal dimension to Christian faith, it is never an isolated experience.

We are all in this together.

 

This originally appeared at www.gospel-life.net.

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Asylum Seekers, Migrants, and Displaced People: Salvation Army Hosting Global Interactive Summit

“That experience is like a brand between my shoulder blades.”

Salvation Army Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Pho described his trauma as an asylum seeker from Vietnam in vivid terms during the first session of the Global Interactive Summit on Refugees and Displaced Peoples, hosted by the International Social Justice Commission of the Salvation Army. Today he is the National Director for Multicultural Ministries in the Salvation Army in Australia.

Throughout the day (or night, depending on your global location) today, Monday, 29 January, and tomorrow, Tuesday, 30 January, you can view the summit on Facebook on The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission page, where sessions are live-streamed.

The purpose of the virtual gathering is, "to mobilize people of faith to engage with one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our age – refugees and displaced people. The focus of the summit will celebrate what has been achieved and reflect on lessons learned to guide future action."

Other profound speakers joined the summit via video chat from locations like Hong Kong and London while the Director of the Salvation Army Social Justice Commission, Lt. Col. Dean Pallant, chaired the virtual gathering from New York City. Viewers included people from locations like Australia, North America, and the refugee hot spot, the Greek island of Lesbos.

Session One particularly revolved around the topic of "The Theology of Migration and Reception," with a blend of theological, pragmatic, and personal insights from contributors like Dr. Laurelle Smith who works with U.N. committees and NGOs; Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Pho mentioned above; the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, author and vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London; Dr. Russell Rook, partner with Good Faith Partnerships; and Lieutenant-Colonel Wendy Swan, who works in Hong Kong and Macau and recently completed her Ph.D. on a theology of protest.

Continuing 90-minute sessions are available to view live on the Facebook page today, 29 January, and tomorrow, 30 January. Topics include, "Reflecting on Experience," "Working with Governments, Other Faith Groups, and NGOs in Refugee and Migration Situations," "Camp and Community Based Responses," "Church Based Responses," and "Tackling Critical Issues."

Specific times for these sessions can be found here.

Sessions from the global interactive summit will also be archived and made available for viewing later.

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Georgia, England, Costa Rica: World Methodist Evangelism Gatherings

World Methodist Evangelism has been hard at work preparing to meet you on the road during 2018. Our events in the upcoming year promise to be times of connection, equipping, and transformation. Take a look at our upcoming gatherings and see if there's one for you.

Our annual invitational faith sharing conference for North American clergy and clergy spouses of multiple denominations is gathering at St. Simon's Island, Georgia, a historic Wesley location tucked on the Atlantic under towering oaks and rustling Spanish moss. The Order of the Flame evangelism conference welcomes leaders from denominations like the United Methodist Church, the AME Zion church, the Church of the Nazarene, the CME church, the Wesleyan Church, the AME church, the Free Methodist Church, and more.

If you have attended this conference in the past, we welcome you to reconnect with this vibrant community in a time of worship, connection, learning, and vision casting. Denominational leaders are still welcome to nominate clergy members to participate here.

In June, young and emerging leaders in the global Methodist family of faith will gather in beautiful Costa Rica for our Metanoia conference, formally named ICYCE. This gathering of young people from around the world has convened every several years for over 30 years and longstanding relationships have grown and flourished from it. Registrations have already begun to pour in from multiple continents, and we are excited to foster relationships among young Methodists of many denominations from across the globe.

Registration for Metanoia is still open here. We are also continuing to accept sponsorships for Metanoia participants.

The complex dynamics of living missionally in a postmodern, post-Christendom context will be probed and dissected in the beautiful, historic setting of the University of Durham this August in a brand-new gathering called Convergence. Leading thinkers and practitioners will discuss compelling issues like the relationship between science and faith, the monastic and the missional, globalization and migration, and more. This is an open event for clergy and church leaders. Following a time of equipping in Durham, participants are also welcome to engage in a Wesley heritage tour including stops in Epworth, Bristol, and London.

Registration for Convergence is now open and we invite you to learn more here.

Keep up with more World Methodist Evangelism events by following our Facebook page (check your newsfeed settings to make sure you continue to see regular updates from your favorite organizations following recent changes in Facebook algorithms) or our Twitter account.

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Global Methodists in a New Year

January is coming to a close, and whether you've endured sweltering heat in Australia or frigid winds in North America, the days have bridged us from Epiphany a few short weeks ago to Lent on the horizon mid-February.

Have you sensed God stirring up something new in your heart? Are you alert and watchful for what God is orchestrating in this new season? Are you able to place the past year where it belongs - in the past - and look with rash hope for the new things God is making in your midst?

Let's take a few moments to check in on each other as we wait for the Holy Spirit to show us the next steps to take into this new season.

Recently WME Executive Director Dr. Kimberly Reisman and Development Director Bonnie Hollabaugh returned from a trip to India. Read more about her experience of the Taj Mahal here.

Nominations for the World Methodist Peace Award can be made here. Follow the link to learn more about nomination criteria and about recent recipients.

In December, the CME Church celebrated its 147th anniversary with a Founder's Day Celebration.

The World Methodist Council is searching for a part-time Donor Development Officer to collaborate with leaders in meeting the goals of the "Achieving the Vision" Endowment Fund.

On January 21st, the Korean Church of Atlanta held a special community prayer service for peace on the Korean peninsula.

As you sift through your local activities and the global news, as you invest in ministry and note current events, what is the Holy Spirit stirring up in your heart during this season? How will you join the heart of God as God nudges your attention: "See, I am making all things new..."?

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