The Raven Foundation


On Sunday, we launched Suzanne Ross’ class Violence, Myth, and Scripture For Individuals and For Groups. Suzanne, a respected author and lecturer, is co-founder of The Raven Foundation. In its own words, The Raven Foundation’s mission is: “to making religion reasonable, violence unthinkable and peace a possibility by spreading awareness of the transformative power of mimetic theory.”

Mimetic theory is explained beautifully both by Suzanne in the class and by the foundation on its website. The website offers fascinating ideas about how human beings learn what to desire, why conflict arises, and why we often respond to conflict with violence. In particular, it makes arguments about the human tendency to unite against a scapegoat — a target whom the community can blame as the source of its pain. it explains why attacking scapegoats regardless of their involvement in the evil in question feels perfectly reasonable and acceptable to the community — thus leading to much of the world’s violence. For this reason, the foundation is named after the raven — a bird that is as innocent of evil as any other bird, but one that has been blamed for centuries as a harbinger of evil.

The Raven Foundation’s goal is to explain this process and make people aware of our tendency to scapegoat so that we may recognize when we are making others into scapegoats and defuse our impulse to do so. Their website offers many resources in service of their mission: explanations of mimetic desire and scapegoating that include definitions, informational graphics, and videos; discussion of Christianity’s role in defeating the cycle of scapegoating and conflict; resources about mimetic theory; blogs discussing mimetic theory in connection with world events and religious ideas, and much more.

This website offers an interesting perspective on this innate impulse that human beings have — one that is so hard to eradicate — to attack others, especially unknown others. At this time in our culture, in which we are exploring racism and gender divisions and in which anti-Muslim propaganda is flourishing, this organization’s perspective seems particularly useful and relevant. Their website also offers exciting ideas about how God fits into our lives and particularly about why Jesus died on the cross and how that sacrifice was connected to our sins. This website is a unique and fascinating offering to online Christian learning, and it is well worth exploring.

To learn more about the website, click here. To learn more about Suzanne’s class, check out a preview.

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Take Violence, Myth, and Scripture with Suzanne Ross

Suzanne Ross

One wonderful aspect of the week after Christmas is that a lot of people take some time off to relax and contemplate Christmas itself in the wake of all the holiday preparation frenzy that has lead to it. Today, we are launching Violence, Myth and Scripture with Suzanne Ross For Individuals and For Groups. Try taking some down time this week to explore this class, which examines the theme of violence in scripture. The story of Christmas, after all, is about Jesus coming to save a violent world. How Christianity has interpreted, confronted, resisted, indulged, and otherwise dealt with violence is deeply relevant to this church season.

Suzanne Ross is a respected author, blogger, and lecturer. She is co-founder of The Raven Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping human beings resist their own tendency to violence through understanding mimetic theory. In this class, she explores violence in scripture, arguing that the Judeo-Christian religion, when correctly interpreted, confronts violence that is human rather than divine in origin. It reveals a God deeply concerned with the powerless — with the victims of violence — and its central thematic concern is grappling with humanity’s inclination toward self destruction through aggression.

Take some time during this Christmas season to examine the violence that the innocent baby in scriptures was born to confront and resist. To learn more about the class, please check out this preview.

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A merry and peaceful Christmas season to you all!




Just Launched: Re-Inventing Your Church Board with Dan Hotchkiss


Today, we launched Re-Inventing Your Church Board with Dan Hotchkiss For Individuals and For Groups. Dan Hotchkiss worked as a senior consultant at the Alban Institute for many years before he became an independent consultant for congregations in the process of discerning the next steps they need to take to grow and thrive. Now he works alongside some other former Alban Institute consultants with with the Congregational Consulting Group  assisting congregations in matters of leadership, strategic and financial planning, adjusting to size transitions, and with other challenges that churches face today. He also wrote a book on church governance called Governance and Ministry. Basically, if your church is concerned about matters of planning or leadership, Dan is the guy you want.

Dan’s class deals with effective governance. It’s a terrific resource for congregations that want to update or rethink their approach to church management and leadership. In this class, Dan offers some strategic ways of thinking about governing in a church that promote clear communication and guidance between governing boards and the people who do the work of ministry in the church. He suggests ways to conceptualize the work of the board, the delegation of tasks, and effective evaluation of how particular strategies are working as church projects develop. In the process of articulating his ideas, Dan addresses common problems that church governing boards often face and suggests specific responses to them.

Any church or nonprofit organization that is considering a new approach to governance and leadership will benefit from this class. To learn more about it, please enjoy this preview.


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Launching Today: Introducing Islam with Mustapha Elturk


Today, we launch Introducing Islam with Mustapha Elturk For Individuals and For Groups. You probably need to take this class.

The U.S. today is abuzz with debate about Muslims. Most of the conversations are driven by politicians with political agendas, networks with economic agendas, and our ancient, seductive enemies, fear and anger. Some Christians, called by God to welcome strangers in one of our favorite biblical passages, advocate for turning homeless war refugees away because they might be Muslims.  Others work to support the refugees. A major candidate for the U.S. Presidency calls for a ban on any Muslims entering the U.S., and important Christian leaders make speeches supporting him. To their credit, other Christians firmly denounce him.

Amidst all of the people earnestly debating Islam in the U.S., how many of them understand the historic or contemporary differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims? How many of them can identify the five pillars of Islamic faith or know why Muslims fast during Ramadan? We are earnestly arguing about a religion of which most of us have little understanding. Our ignorance renders our debates less effective and makes us easier to manipulate.

Arm yourself, not against Muslims, but against ignorance, blind fear, and knee-jerk reactions. Imam Mustapha Elturk is a teacher, an author, and Imam of the Islamic Organization of North America. Learn from him some of the basic principles of Islam: what Muslims believe about God and their most essential principles for interacting with the world. Use Introducing Islam with Mustapha Elturk as a jumping-off point for understanding what Muslims believe, and then go out and learn more.

It is incumbent upon today’s American Christians to understand Islam. Our debates on this subject are essential in defining for ourselves and for non-Christians what it means to be an American Christian today.

Find out more about this class through this preview.

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Holy Hardware During Advent

advent wreath

Last Sunday, we launched Holy Hardware with Deon Johnson For Individuals and For Groups.  In this class, the Rev. Johnson offers guidance on the holy items and sacred spaces within churches — on what makes them holy to us and on why and how we use these items and spaces. In keeping with the Rev. Johnson’s class, it seems appropriate to discuss holy hardware in churches specific to Advent. What sacred materials do we use during Advent, and what significance do they hold?

Purple is the liturgical color we use for vestments and hangings in the church during Advent. The color purple represents royalty: we await the coming of our king. Purple is also a color associated with penitence; it is the liturgical color of Lent as well. We use the color of penitence because, as John the Baptist exhorts us to do, we repent of our sins in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Just as we clean our house to welcome a guest, we clean our spiritual house to welcome the coming of our great Guest.

Another piece of Holy Hardware commonly used in churches (and in homes) during Advent is the Advent wreath. Typically, this wreath is round and covered with greens, but as long as four candles can be lit around it, it can be made of almost anything.

We light one new candle on the Advent wreath each Sunday of Advent. Three of the candles are purple, in keeping with the liturgical season. One is rose colored, hearkening back to a time when people’s penitential disciplines during Advent were more stringent than those we typically use today. On the third Sunday of Advent, churches read Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, Rejoice!” The third Sunday was known, therefore, as gaudete Sunday (Latin for “rejoice”), and the liturgical color, as well as the penitential restrictions, were lightened for the day. The center candle, of course, is white, representing Jesus, and burns with the other four candles once the waiting is over, during the twelve days of Christmas.

Other churches have other traditions specific to their congregations. My church, for example, the Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, traditionally moves the three wise men from the nativity scene to different places around the nave during Advent to represent their (and our) journey to find Jesus.  Whatever traditions your church has, we hope that you have a holy and blessed Advent celebrating them with your congregation as we wait together for the coming of our Lord.

To learn more about Holy Hardware with Deon Johnson, please enjoy this preview.

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Just Launched: Holy Hardware with Deon Johnson


Corporal? Tabernacle? Paten? Presence Light? If your response to these terms is the say, “The corporal did what?” or “I’ve heard that term, but…” then consider taking our new class, Holy Hardware with Deon Johnson For Individuals and For Groups. In this class, the Rev. Johnson, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, Michigan and contributor to liturgical development for the national church, discusses the meaning and purpose of the sacred objects that we use in liturgy.

The Episcopal liturgy is rich with symbolism and what the poet George Herbert called “the beauty of holiness.” While one certainly can appreciate the liturgy without necessarily being aware of the layers of meaning that we have ascribed to the sacred materials and spaces in the church, the experience becomes richer once we consider the symbolic role of the font, the holy water, the altar, and once we think about how we interact with the sacred bread and wine.

The Rev. Johnson discusses these and other church spaces and materials in this class, and he also discusses the act of making something sacred, of setting it apart and treating it with reverence because it connects us to God and to generations of fellow Christians. Participants in this class will come away with a new understanding and appreciation of the liturgy.

Interested in learning more? Check out this preview.

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Advent for Families

Heath Howe

As you develop your family’s Advent rituals for this year, consider utilizing Advent for Families with Heath Howe For Individuals and For Groups.

The Rev. Howe is the priest in charge of Family Ministries at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Kenilworth, IL and a contributing writer for Vibrant Faith@ Home. In this class, she offers valuable suggestions for ways in advntwrthwhich families can experience a fun and holy Advent season together. The class includes suggestions for ways to anticipate the coming of Jesus together through daily rituals, including a bonus page of ideas, and links to online resources. The Rev. Howe also offers guidance on how to handle with grace the consumerism that surrounds families during the holiday season.

We hope that this class helps guide your family’s Advent experience this year. To learn more about the class, please enjoy this preview.

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