Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Recommended reading (or viewing): Early Methodist mission photos

For those of you who have not yet seen them, the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH) has a terrific collection of digitalized photographs from Methodist mission work, many of them from the late 19th/early 20th centuries. These photos cover most of the areas of the world in which UMC predecessor bodies were doing mission work. Some are sorted geographically, and some are sorted thematically. The photos are a good resource for both teaching and research.

To access the photos, visit this page of GCAH.

For a fuller article about the photos, read this story from UMNS.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review of Moyoliving.org

Upper Room Ministries, a division of Discipleship Ministries (formerly the General Board of Discipleship) has recently launched a new website called Moyoliving.org. Moyo is designed as an interactive tool for young adults interested in connecting spirituality and social justice.

The main component of Moyo is a series of "guided paths" that incorporate a short video, a written spiritual reflection, and a series of suggested action steps around a central theme. The themes revolve around global social justice issues and associated aspects of spirituality. Currently there are three  themes: "Race & Image of the Divine," "Water & Restoration of Life," and "Disaster & Human Dignity." More themes will be added as the site progresses.

In addition to the guided paths, there are also a series of blog posts categorized under "The Feed." Most of these posts relate to one of the themes as well. There are also a series of "Resources," which appear to be guided spiritual reflections not necessarily related to one of the themes.

Here are some quick take-aways after an initial exploration of Moyoliving.org:

Strengths:
1. Upper Room is to be commended for trying a new format to encourage young people to engage spiritually. Technology is always a risky business, so there's certainly no guarantee that Moyoliving.org will catch on, but that's no excuse to stick to business as usual. Upper Room is trying to adapt to new technology to continue to connect with evolving audiences.
2. The combination of global social issues and spirituality is both potentially a very attractive one to young adults, who are interested in an engaged faith, and a distinctively Wesleyan approach to faith and the world. I think this is a great approach to developing a mission-oriented spirituality.
3. The specific topics Moyo has chosen are important and relevant.

Limitations:
1. Moyo claims it is a "global organization," but it also appears to have been developed with American young adults and the associated challenge of secularization in mind. This dual audience (global and American youth) may prevent Moyo from reaching one or both segments of its audience.
2. The site is a bit busy for my taste, and it is not immediately apparent how one is supposed to interact with it, though that can easily be discovered with a bit of exploring.

Ways in which readers might want to use the site:
1. As a collection of resources for students, mission groups, or others looking to learn about specific justice topics related to mission. While these resources are designed to be used individually, there's really no reason why they couldn't be used by groups as well.
2. By submitting materials. Moyo is looking for submissions, and this can be a good opportunity for UM Professors of Mission and other mission leaders to help shape the conversation and spirituality surrounding justice topics for young United Methodists and others.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Recommended readings on European migration crisis, part 2

Last week, I shared a number of links related to the migration crisis developing as Syrian and other refugees try to enter Europe. This week, as events have continued to unfold, I have additional sources about Methodist responses to this social issue.

Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the GBGM, wrote this piece about the importance of welcoming the stranger, including refugees.

Linda Bloom of UMNS has been filling reports on Methodist responses to the crisis, including this one from Sept. 10 and this one from Sept. 15.

Stefan Schrockenfuchs, the UMC pastor in Wien-Funhaus, wrote this piece about his congregation's experience caring for refugees newly arrived in Germany.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Immigrants in the (mostly white) American UMC

About a month ago, I published a piece about how the American branch of the UMC is one of the whitest denominations in the US and how that is a problem for the UMC as a whole as it tries to restructure itself into a more globally-equitable church. Since then, I've come across a corollary piece of information: the UMC is also one of the American denominations with the lowest percentage of immigrants among its members.

Religion News Service published a chart of religious groups by percentage of immigrants based on 2007 Pew Forum data. It shows the UMC in the US near the very bottom of the list, though in the company of other Methodists and Baptists.

Some people, noting the prevalence of Korean-Americans in the American UMC, might be surprised by the findings. Nevertheless, Korean-American make up a larger percentage of pastors than they do of congregants in the American UMC. There are many Korean-American pastors, not so many Korean-American churches or congregants.

Others might ask about Methodist immigrants from all the many countries in the world where Methodists are found. For a variety of reasons related both to American restrictions on the countries from which we will accept immigrants (not African countries where United Methodists are prevalent) and the percentage of Methodists in the countries from which we will accept immigrants (which is low), we're not getting a lot of already United Methodist immigrants to the US.

Moreover, and more significantly, this statistic points to the failure of the UMC in the US to effectively reach out to immigrant groups that are coming to the US, especially (though not exclusively) Hispanics, the largest immigrant group in recent years. The UMC in the US has been committed to its white, mostly middle-class ways, and that has prevented it from being a welcoming home to immigrants.

This news is disappointed and discomforting for the same reasons that the findings about the whiteness of the American UMC are. The UMC is a global denomination, but few American United Methodists have any experience relating to those from other countries and cultures in their pews. If American United Methodists have no practice doing this in their local congregations and annual conferences, how can they successfully do this in their wider church structures?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Recommended readings on European migration crisis

One of the biggest international news stories of the past week has been the developing crisis of Europe's response to an influx of mostly Syrian refugees fleeing war and devastation in their home country. This story has been slowly developing over the past several years but with new influxes of migrants, the recent deaths of a number of migrants, and a variety of responses by European governments and leaders, the pattern of migration has intensified and produced renewed calls for appropriate European responses.

To help faithful United Methodists understand this issue, UM & Global offers these recommended readings:

A recent UMNS news story about United Methodist responses to the refugee crisis
UMC.org's topic page on Immigration, including excerpts from our Social Principles on immigration
A webpage of Book of Resolutions language about migration
The UMC in Germany's recent statement on refugees and asylum
UM & Global posts by contributors David N. Field and Michael Nausner about migration, especially in the European context
All UM & Global posts on the topics of migration and immigration

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ben Hartley: “They Never Resolved the Chord!”: On Using Art to Teach Mission

This post is written by Dr. Benjamin L. Hartley, Associate Professor of Christian Mission and Director of United Methodist Studies at Palmer Theological Seminary. You can read more of his writings at his personal blog, "Mission and Methodism."

A recent experience at the movies with my musician son, Luke, provides a good – albeit humbling – example of a challenge all professors of mission face. At the end of the film Interstellar, as we watched the credits roll on the screen, my seventeen-year-old son exclaimed – rather loudly – “they never resolved the chord!” “What chord?” I asked. “The one that has been playing for the last ten minutes,” my son remarked somewhat incredulously. I was dumbfounded. I had not heard it. As I walked out of the theatre into the light I had the sneaking suspicion that I was still “in the dark” on at least some dimensions of that film. Luke’s musical awareness and training had given him a different framework or set of interpretive lenses from which to evaluate this movie. They are lenses I don’t share. My musical awareness has never been what his is, and what little I possessed in the past has atrophied from lack of musical muscle-building.

I think all professors of mission struggle to get students to think differently and more deeply about God’s mission. We try to help students to see things which are clearly there, but which are obscured from our students’ view just as the unresolved chord was “hidden” from me in that movie theatre. We use cross-cultural simulation exercises – my favorite is Heelotia – to help reveal the cultural differences in our world and the power of ethnocentrism to unconsciously shape our feelings and behaviors toward others. We tell stories about amazing missionaries in the colonial period to displace attitudes about “missionary villains” which have been formed by less than helpful fictional caricatures of missionaries in a Barbara Kingsolver or James Michener novel. (Graham Greene, Shusako Endo, or Robert Stone provide good alternatives in fiction.)

For a number of years I have been using artwork by Christian artists from outside the West to help me displace some “images of mission” which remain too firmly ensconced in my students’ minds. I do this also to give them new images from which to draw as they craft a theology of mission that works.

My favorite image that my students and I reflect upon at the start of every semester is entitled simply “The Great Commission” by Nalini Jayasuriya, an artist from Sri Lanka who was an artist in residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center some years ago. She passed away one year ago on September 5, 2014.

We not only begin our Christian World Mission course together reflecting on this painting but my students see it every week on my “course banner” in the learning management software my university uses. I ask my students two simple questions about this image (which has been cropped below).


What is the artist trying to say here about the so-called “Great Commission” Scripture text in Matthew? What do you think the artist is trying to say about mission in general? We have never failed to have at least a fifteen minute conversation about this work of art, and almost every year a student will see something in the painting which I have not seen. (Because I’m ready for it this usually results in less embarrassment than my experience in the theatre with my son.) Sometimes I disagree with an interpretation, but that, in itself, is generative for further conversation in class.

Little fireworks of insight emerge in the class like this: “The disciples seem to respond to the “Great Commission” differently. What does this suggest about the church’s different responses to God’s mission?” “People are praying in this painting. How are mission and prayer related to one another? Is there something distinctive about a mission spirituality?” “The Jesus figure – who looks like a woman by the way– is not really looking at the crowd of disciples. Who is Jesus looking at?” Here, in a burst of Trinitarian enthusiasm, I sometimes suggest that Jesus is looking to God the Father and then switch excitedly to Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity for a moment.


Most of my students are Baptists, nondenominational Pentecostals, and Methodists so teaching with icons like this requires some work, but when the icon is viewed and discussed in light of Jayasuriya’s painting it is a bit easier to understand. Questions about the role of the Holy Spirit in mission and the Eucharist also come up as students ponder the dove and chalice in the painting. The vivid red, orange, and yellow colors in this painting provides the opportune moment for us to also interrogate Emil Brunner’s famous quotation: “The church exists by mission just as fire exists by burning.”

Discussing Nalini Jayasuriya’s painting is a beautiful introductory exercise in my class. By the time my class takes a break during our first class session together most students have a sense that mission is far more than strategic decision-making for their local congregation. They also recognize that mission is not so neatly defined as the line-item on their church’s budget spreadsheet labeled “mission” might otherwise suggest. I have Nalini Jayasuriya’s artwork to thank for that, and on this first anniversary of her death I celebrate her life for the life she has helped me to infuse in my teaching.