Now Live –The Big Class: Civil Conversations in Uncivil Times with Ray Suarez

Ray Suarez

The Big Class — Civil Conversations in Uncivil Times: Practicing Our Faith in the Public Square with Ray Suarez is now live. It will be free to anyone who wants to take it through October 26. So far, over a thousand people across the world have signed up for this class. Join them and engage in productive discussion about an issue central to our political and cultural lives.

If you have managed to go through the 2020 election season without vilifying your opponents’ supporters– in your mind, even if not out loud — you’re doing better than many of us. The current political climate suggests that the less rationally and less decently to one another we behave, the more we demonstrate our passion about the issues at hand. The result: the more important an issue is, the less productive work gets done on it — the less the issues at stake even matter in the face of our mutual disgust — and the more bitter and entrenched in our own viewpoints we become.

Theologian Frederick Beuchner once wrote:

Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

Right now, we are a nation of skeletons. That’s why we need this class.

Anger is often appropriate when we see wrongdoing. We aren’t meant to be indifferent in the face of injustice and oppression, and engaging important issues means that we will feel anger, sorrow, and fear. But savoring our rage, using it to fuel hatred for our opponents, carrying it as a badge of honor? Beyond our clear Christian injunction to treat other people with respect, that approach is not a productive use of our energy. It builds nothing and helps nobody.

In this class, renowned journalist Ray Suarez, discusses an approach that does help — one by which we stand for our principles and use our energy to work toward a more just world without tearing each other apart. In lesson one, he talks about how social and political discourse in America descended to its current level. In lesson two, he discusses the scriptural basis for treating one another with civility. In lesson three, he describes methods by which we may avoid villainizing one another and ways to compromise productively on important issues without backing down in the face of injustice or giving in to oppression. In lesson four, students have an opportunity to ask Ray questions. He will answer from time to time over the two weeks the class is offered. In lesson five, Ray talks about about how we can get to the point of living this way.

This course is ideal for Christians looking for ways to be faithful in the midst of contentious politics. Thanks to The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church FoundationTrinity Wall StreetThe CEEP Network, and Forward Movement for making it possible for us to offer this course for free.

 

 

Registration Opens Today for The Big Class: Civil Conversations in Uncivil Times with Ray Suarez

Ray Suarez, instructor for this course.

Today, we are opening registration for our free Big Class: Civil Conversations in Uncivil Times — Practicing Our Faith in the Public Square with Ray Suarez.

In this historically contentious election season, many Christians are looking for ways to bring their faith into their political interactions. Ray Suarez knows a lot about contentious political landscapes. He also knows a great deal about faith. As an award-winning journalist, college instructor, and outspoken Episcopalian, he has written a book on the subject of faith and politics in the United States and offers these four video presentations in this free online class:

  • The Challenge of Civility
  • Scripture and Civility
  • What Civility Might Look Like
  • Getting There

You can register today for this class. The class opens on October 12, and it will remain free to students across the world through October 26. As with most ChurchNext classes, you can take this course at your own pace, at whatever time suits you. It should take less than an hour to complete, and students will have an opportunity to ask the instructor questions.

This course is ideal for Christians looking for ways to be faithful in the midst of contentious politics and is brought to you for free by The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church FoundationTrinity Wall Street, the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal ChurchesForward Movement, and ChurchNext.

Just Launched: Spiritual Truth in an Age of Fake News with Elizabeth Geitz and Rebecca Cotton

We just launched Spiritual Truth in an Age of Fake News with Elizabeth Geitz and Rebecca Cotton For Individuals and For Groups.

The term “fake news” tends to convey different meanings in different contexts. People use it to refer to anything from parody news accounts to half-true “facts” spread on social media to legitimate news that politicians or pundits want to spin as false. It can be hard to identify misinformation because it is designed both to appeal to us and to resemble real news. The more misinformation that appears, the harder it is for people to trust any news sources. It doesn’t help that legitimate news is often presented in ways designed to appeal to emotion so that people will click and subscribe. The constantly-changing ways we consume media can be hard to keep up with, also benefiting scammers.

Reporters with various forms of “fake news” from an 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper.

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that many people are aware that they can’t trust the information they encounter but aren’t sure how to navigate the news media landscape. As a default, people tend to consume the news we want to believe, which leaves the community both ill-informed and set against one another. We retreat into echo chambers, respond skeptically to news that doesn’t suit our narratives, and, increasingly, find ourselves divided from people with whom we disagree. Worst of all, from a Christian point of view, is the spread of biblical misinformation designed to support our biases.

In this class, renowned author Elizabeth Geitz and Rebecca Cotton from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations offer their help in clearing the weeds. They explain what misinformation looks like, why it confuses people, and ways to combat it. They discuss the effects of misinformation on our culture and the reasons that Christians in particular must resist fake news. They also talk about how the misuse of news information, and in particular misinformation about the Bible, has been used for centuries to support cultural inequities. They suggest ways and reasons to resist biblical fake news.

This course is ideal for those seeking tools for discerning truth. For a preview of the course, please click the video below.

Just Launched: Growing Giving in an Online World

We just launched Growing Giving in an Online World For Individuals and For Groups.

As the period of social distancing extends, people are starting to accept that there will be no return to the “normal” we knew before 2020. The world is changing — and the church with it.

What will the church that emerges from this period of strict social distancing look like? How will it have changed? Will we retain the online worship practices that we learned to use during the pandemic? Will we do more socialization or formation work online? How will our ministries, both within the church community and to the wider community change? And how will we fund them?

In this class, Kristine Miller, an internationally recognized consultant on church stewardship, discusses how churches can grow generous congregations — and how they can do it in a world in which both giving and many other other church-based interactions take place online. She talks about ways in which churches are changing during the age of Covid and how their forays into online territory will probably extend beyond the pandemic. She discusses how churches can build healthy relationships with their donors and examines effective ways to ask people to donate in an online context. Her suggestions include using impact stories to show donors how their money builds ministries and ways to use impact stories in online worship and financial appeals. She also suggests ways to measure the effectiveness of the church’s appeals for finances. The final lesson focuses almost entirely on digital stewardship campaigns and how people can run them effectively in the context of online worship.

This course is ideal for anyone who is interested in learning more about managing stewardship as church becomes, increasingly, a digital experience. For a preview of the course, please click below.

Coming in September: This is NOT Sunday School!

Coloring sheets are optional — but fun!

We’re excited to announce a new learning opportunity: This is NOT Sunday School. It starts in September, but you can sign up today.

Even if we can’t physically worship and learn together, we can still draw closer to Jesus Christ — and to one another — by worshiping and learning together online. That’s why we’re working with the Faith@Home team (a collaboration between Forma and Forward Movement) to produce This is NOT Sunday School. This intergenerational learning experience is a perfect tool for families and individuals of all ages.

Free sessions of This is NOT Sunday School will launch weekly starting September 16. You can sign up on the ChurchNext website today. Each week’s session features video teaching by a professional from the Christian formation network, Forma, as well as downloadable lessons, readings, and engagement opportunities for all ages. Instructors include Victoria Hoppes, Roger Hutchison, and Miriam McKenney, and others.

Sessions use Forward Movement’s Exploring the Bible curriculum, which includes many of the most famous stories in the Bible. You can experience the sessions at home or online with a group from your congregation. Each session takes about one hour to complete and can be completed at your convenience.

We  look forward to learning and worshiping with you and your family!

Just Launched: Preparing for Pilgrimage with Sally French

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre-Jerusalem.JPG

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which houses, according to tradition, the sites where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he was buried. It has been one of the most popular Christian pilgrimage destinations for many centuries.

We just launched Preparing for Pilgrimage with Sally French For Individuals and For Groups.

As a culture, we have long valued feeling connected to the people who came before us. Physical proximity to places they lived, their possessions, or their physical remains can provide us with that sense of connection. We visit the graves of loved ones who have died. For centuries, people wore jewelry made of the hair of their parents and grandparents; some people still do. We pass down furniture that people used and homes in which people lived. We tour places where historic people lived to get a sense of what daily life was like for them. Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon, for example, welcomed 872,000 people in 2017, while the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam gets over 1.2 million visitors per year. People want to experience these places because they were part of everyday life for people whom we respect.

 

This impulse for connection is part of what fuels pilgrimage. Pilgrims often travel to places where Jesus walked, where saints are buried, where other Christians have gone before them. But pilgrimage offers more than an ordinary journey to a culturally important place does for several reasons. First, the journey matters as much as the destination. Pilgrimage is a holy journey, prayerful and intentional in itself as well as the means to reach the sacred destination. There’s also sometimes a sense of walking in the footsteps of the Christian travelers who came before us, which offers a connection to fellow pilgrims throughout the church’s history. Second, the connection a pilgrim tries to establish has a strong spiritual element. We try to connect with the living presence of God through pilgrimage to a destination sacred to our faith — perhaps using that sense of connection with the events that took place there or the people buried there, as well as through prayer and contemplation. Third, most pilgrims expect spiritual transformation and growth in response to the journey — for the pilgrimage to open our hearts to God’s working in our lives in new ways.

In this course, veteran pilgrimage leader Sally French teaches us how to plan for and make the most of the pilgrimage experience. She discusses ways to treat the pilgrimage as a sacred journey rather than as tourist travel. She talks about practical difficulties that can come up during the pilgrimage — expectations that people should have going into the experience, for example, and ways to think about logistics so that leaders and participants can appreciate the sacred nature of the pilgrimage. Finally, she discusses ways to respond to the journey and integrate what we learn from it into our day-to-day lives.

This course is ideal for anyone interested in learning more about pilgrimage, either in preparation for one or because they are interested in pilgrimage as a spiritual practice. For a preview of the course, please click on the video below.

Just Launched: Modern-Day Slavery with Richard Lee

Left: Engraving of a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina around 1860.

 

We just launched Modern-Day Slavery with Richard Lee For Individuals and For Groups

Many people think of slavery as a horrific part of history that ended in the nineteenth century. In the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slavery in 1865, so it makes sense that in the U.S., at least, people would associate the end of slavery with the end of legal slavery.

 

Image of Chandramma, who worked as a slave in a silkworm factory in India. Photo credit: International Justice Mission.

Approximately 40 million people in our time, however, live in slavery, including an estimated 403,000 in the U.S. They are provided only with sufficient sustenance and shelter to keep them alive, and they are forced to stay through violence or threats of violence and/or psychological coercion.

Contemporary slavery may be chattel slavery, as trans-Atlantic slavery was — a relationship considered a form of ownership by the person with the upper hand. Far more often, however, it’s based in “loans” that coerce people into working without pay, or perhaps enslavement that is initially disguised as legitimate factory work. The language around it changes. The enslaved people don’t always even recognize their condition as slavery. But they are forced to act for another person’s benefit and intimidated, threatened, forced, or coerced into continuing to work, without remuneration, usually so that other people can make money. That’s slavery1.

In this course, Richard Lee, Director of Church Mobilization at International Justice Ministry, explains what modern-day slavery looks like, how people fall into it, and how to combat it. In his first lesson, Richard introduces modern-day slavery as a worldwide problem. In his second lesson, Richard offers the story of one child’s enslavement in the context of the broader picture of slavery. Richard’s third lesson discusses what the Bible tells us about how to respond to slavery, and his fourth lesson examines the best ways to combat slavery in the modern world.

This course is ideal for those who want to learn about slavery and the Christian call to social justice advocacy.

Just Launched: Redeeming Dementia with Dorothy Linthicum

We just launched Redeeming Dementia with Dorothy Linthicum For Individuals and For Groups.

As a culture, we are afraid of dementia. We rely so heavily on our brains’ functioning as they should that it can feel like everything is lost when our rational functions and memories become inaccessible to us. It’s terrible for family members and friends to watch the people they love apparently disappear into the confusion — like people’s lives are over, though their bodies remain alive.

Even life’s hardest experiences offer chances to learn and grow. People treat dementia differently because it seems like there’s nothing to learn from it. How can you grow from something that diminishes you or a loved one so thoroughly? In this class, Dorothy Linthicum, a teacher, public speaker, workshop leader, and co-author of the book Redeeming Dementia (2018). shows that, just like other difficult experiences, it is possible to find value in dementia — in experiencing it, even if we don’t learn the way we once did, and in watching loved ones experience it.

In this course, Dorothy discusses what dementia is from a scientific standpoint — what happens within the brains of people who experience it. She talks what it means to be human — how, from a Christian perspective in particular, the ability to reason and remember is not what defines our humanity; why our value and our selfhood are more than our brains’ correct functioning. She examines ways in which dementia can offer people unique access to aspects of their spiritual lives that they may never have been able to explore. She argues that they can grow from these spiritual experiences, and we can learn from them. Finally, Dorothy discusses ways in which churches can reach out, both to members with dementia and to their caregivers.

This course is ideal for anyone interested in dementia, older adult ministries, or caregiving. For a preview of the course, please click below.

 

Just Launched — Our Faith, Our Bodies: Toward a Healthy Christian Sexual Ethic

We just launched Our Faith, Our Bodies: Toward a Healthy Christian Sexual Ethic with Heidi Carter For Individuals and For Groups.

Consider the following examples of people experiencing conflicts about their lives in relation to sex, relationships, and gender:

  • A Christian adult who is considering entering into a BDSM lifestyle but isn’t sure whether, or how, to try to engage it in the spirit of Christ.
  • A 20-year-old woman who has taken her Christian beliefs seriously but thinks she many never want to marry who feels no inclination toward a life of celibacy.
  • An agnostic lesbian who is being abused by her partner.
  • A transgender woman who is living an unhappy life as a man because her community is hostile to transgender people.

All of these are examples of people who might want guidance in making their decisions and/or might benefit from the loving, respectful engagement that Christ models and asks of his followers. But would they — even the Christians — find the church’s teachings on sexuality and gender relevant to their decision-making process? Would they — especially if they are not Christian — look to the church for compassion, help, and wisdom?

It seems likely that they would not. What guidance would the Christian man expect to find in the church on how to engage in domination respectfully? What reason would a transgender woman or a lesbian have to trust a priest for support and guidance through a series of difficult choices about treating herself with respect? Our wide-umbrella church has priests who believe very differently from one another about sexuality, and a young woman who wants sex but not marriage might as easily find her sexual needs vilified as understood. When the church falls behind contemporary experience and conversation on important topics, Christians are less likely to consider the church’s guidance when making decisions, while non-Christians are less likely to see the church’s relevance to the culture at all.

Outside the church, many people (with good reason) consider Christianity to be hostile to sex and extremely hostile to non-traditional approaches to expressions of gender and sexuality. The Episcopal Church, though we now embrace people across the gender and sexuality spectrum and celebrate same-sex marriages, still has trouble articulating what a healthy sexual ethic looks like. We’re more likely to talk about what a healthy sexuality does NOT look like — to tell people what they can and cannot do in various relationships — and leave it at that. Indeed, our reluctance to engage the issue proactively makes its own statement about our willingness to engage issues related to gender and sexuality.

In this course, Heidi argues, we must create a sexual ethic that reflects the broader conversations and information that we have today about being sexual in our world. She discusses why a new sexual ethic is necessary, what it might look like, and how to engage and talk about healthy sexual lives in our culture.

This course is perfect for people who want to learn more about sex in a Christian context. For a preview of the course, please click below.

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Just Launched: Going Global with God with Titus Presler

We just launched Going Global with God For Individuals and For Groups.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” Lewis was talking about friendship, but he could have been talking about mission work. In this course, the Rev. Dr. Titus Presler argues that mission work has the potential to bring out valuable and unique aspects of our spiritual lives — to the benefit of ourselves, our missional partners, and the world.

Titus defines mission work as “ministry in the dimension of difference.” Just as there are sides of ourselves that only particular other friends can bring out, there are sides of our spiritual lives and of our world that only the “sending out” of mission work can bring out — encountering unfamiliar cultures and worship communities and experiencing worship brings out new sides of both the companion who journeys forth and the companion who offers hospitality. In this companionship, Titus argues, lies reconciliation that can heal the sin at the heart of of human divisiveness.

Humanity tends to be hostile to the “other.” Titus argues that we reconcile ourselves to one another across the lines of hostility and division every time we mindfully walk together in worship with people who differ from us. In mission work, we reach out to other groups of people precisely because they are different from us. When we worship with them, walk in companionship with them, let new aspects of ourselves and our communities emerge because of our interaction with them, we develop the sides of ourselves as individuals and as communities that Jesus asks from his disciples.

Jesus asks us to open our hearts to strangers and treat others as we wish to be treated. Our history has shown us that we have the capacity for both. In mission work, Titus argues, we reconcile ourselves and our cultures, across time and suspicion and sin, with one another and with God.

This course is ideal for anyone interested in mission work or missional theology. For a preview of the course, please click here.