Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Multifaith seminary to create new model for theological education

Written by Staff and Wire Reports
June 24, 2010

Andover Newton Theological School of Newton Centre, Mass., and Meadville
Lombard Theological School of Chicago have agreed in principle to form a new
interreligious university-style theological institution that seeks to become
an innovative center for educating religious leaders for service in a
pluralistic world.

The as-yet unnamed institution will be
established during the next year by the two institutions. Other seminaries
will be sought as partners in a design that allows participating schools to
keep their historic names and sustain distinct faith traditions while
gaining significant financial and administrative advantage through a single
corporate infrastructure.

In separate meetings late last week the Trustees of the two schools agreed
in principle to undertake a program of actions to bring the new "theological
university" into existence by June 15, 2011.

"Across the country seminaries are searching to capture the opportunities of
this new era in the life of the church, respond to the growing complexities
of a multi-faith society, and yet meet the ever-present challenges of
financial sustainability. This vision has the potential to offer innovative
answers to these questions, and do so not only in the curriculum but in the
design of the corporation as well," said the Rev.
Nick Carter, president of Andover Newton and incoming president of the new

"It's a good fit," added Carter. "As
institutions, we are socially and politically aligned on many issues."

The Rev. Lee C. Barker, president of Meadville Lombard, who will become a
senior executive in the new entity, said, "This new interreligious
'theological university' is designed to serve seminarians of all religions,
and seeks to strengthen their faiths and identities - not water them down.
It is in valuing each other's distinctions that we find the ground for the
greatest learning. We hope other like-minded seminaries will join us because
they share our mission to train leaders who are prepared to serve in a
religiously diverse world and want to do so in a model that can offer a
financially sound footing."

The two founding schools, one Christian and the other Unitarian
Universalist, will retain their historic names under the corporate umbrella
of the new entity.

Andover Newton, America's oldest graduate seminary and the nation's first
graduate institution of any kind, traces its establishment to 1807. It is
affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist
Churches USA.
Meadville Lombard, also among the nation's oldest seminaries, was founded in
1844 and identifies with the Unitarian Universalist Association of

The new institution will be based on the Andover Newton campus although the
Meadville Lombard academic operations will remain largely based in Chicago,
primarily engaging in "TouchPoint," its distance-learning program.

Meadville Lombard is in the process of selling its four-building campus in
the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The sale will liquidate the school's
real estate assets and terminate needs for ongoing maintenance, freeing up
assets for better use in the educational mission of the new school.

Interreligious collaboration isn't a new concept for Andover Newton. Hebrew
College Rabbinical School purchased eight acres of land from the seminary 10
years ago to establish its campus. In 2008, the two institutions founded the
Center for Interreligious and Communal Leadership (CIRCLE).
Its mission is to help cultivate relationships among the students, staff and
faculty of the two schools through formal and informal programming.

Previously, it was reported that Andover Newton Theological School had been
in discussions with Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School concerning a
possible merger. Carter confirmed that these talks ended with a mutual
agreement that the partnership would not proceed.

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  • Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Oil spill prompts environmental soul-searching

    Oil spill prompts environmental soul-searching

    Published: June 15, 2010

    (RNS) The constant loop of disheartening images from the Gulf of Mexico â€" oil-covered pelicans, dead sea turtles, despairing fishermen â€" has prompted many Americans to seek ways to do something, anything, to take better care of the Earth.

    But what, and how?

    While the political debate over the oil spill's cause and ripple effect remains polarized, Christian environmentalists pondering the familiar question "What Would Jesus Do?" believe part of the answer includes cutting back on fossil fuels.

    ''He would probably take the bus," said Matthew Sleeth, co-founder of Blessed Earth, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading environmentalism among churches.

    In the weeks since the April 20 Deepwater Horizon disaster, religious leaders and faith-based organizations have issued an array of responses, both in words â€" prayers for help, comfort and wisdom â€" and deeds, such as organizing aid and urging people to reduce energy consumption.

    Regardless of the response from the government and private sector, the solution must involve changing individual behavior to recognize and respect the divine gift of creation, and the costs of carelessly pushing its limits, they agree.

    An online petition from the Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation urges Christians to observe an oil fast on Sunday (June 20), the two-month anniversary of the spill. The Sabbath observance includes abstaining from motor vehicles, adopting a local-food diet, and "reflecting on the aspects of our lives that are so entrenched in the oil economy that we cannot even quit them for one day."

    Nature-based religions welcome this growing recognition that caring for the environment is a spiritual calling, and that the oil spill is "a wound in the earth," said Selena Fox, a high priestess at Circle Sanctuary, a Wisconsin-based pagan resource center.

    Fox said she has been meditating and conducting outdoor prayers several times a day, lighting a pentacle of ritual candles to channel her energy toward five areas: stopping the leak, helping the cleanup, healing the impact, learning from the disaster, and hoping that people become more respectful of the circle of life.

    Prayer is an important part of the response, particularly for distant viewers who feel helpless about the images of tarred beaches and frightened fishermen, said the Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, which is leading a prayer walk through Gulf Coast communities directly impacted by the spill.

    ''The first thing we have to do is pray for the people, pray for the engineers and technicians who are trying to figure out how to stop this mess, then pray for the nation to find a way to find renewable and clean energy," he said.

    ''There's a tremendous emotional and spiritual need there, and the best thing we thought we could do as Christians would be to go and spend our initial resources listening and praying with the people to find out how the church could help those in need."

    Beyond BP's obligation to plug the leak and pay for the damages, and the government's responsibility to ensure this does not happen again, all Christians have a sacred duty to take care of the environment, said Russell D. Moore, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a native of Mississippi's Gulf Coast.

    Though he hesitates to call it a silver lining in the murky underwater plume, Moore believes this oil spill may finally be the "apocalyptic" disaster that rallies Christians behind the environmental movement, just as Roe v. Wade brought together people of faith opposed to abortion rights.

    ''Ultimately, the issue is the same â€" if you believe that human beings are creatures and not gods, then that means that human beings have limits, and so we must respect the dignity and sanctity of human personhood and we must respect the world that God has created around us," he said. "Evangelicals have to reclaim our emphasis on protecting God's good creation."


    Politically, the environmental movement's long-term impact remains unclear â€" abortion remains the predominant issue for many Catholics and evangelicals. But protecting the environment is consistent with protecting all stages of life, explained the Rev. Jacek Orzechowski, a Catholic friar active in the Franciscan Action Network, which has dedicated June to prayers and deeds in response to the oil spill.

    ''Nature is a window onto the divine," he said. "When we contribute to the harm that is done to creation, it's a sin and we need to repent, by changing our individual habits and by becoming much more involved in the political process, as well."

    Orzechowski's Maryland congregation, St. Camillus Church, recently held a prayer vigil about the spill and has been phasing out use of plastic bags and disposable water bottles; some members are also active in green-gospel lobbying efforts in the nation's capital.


    While the rituals of confession and repentance are more closely associated with Catholicism, green-minded leaders from other faiths make similar references when preaching personal responsibility for the oil spill and urging more conservative use of nonrenewable resources.

    ''When I fill my car up, if I'm not combining my trips, I am part of that oil spill in the Gulf. It is a reminder that we live with the consequences for the way that we obtain energy," Sleeth said.

    ''The church is waking up," he concluded. "We've forgotten that nature is how God communicated â€" through bushes that didn't burn, through waters that parted. God cares about these dolphins and birds, and we should too â€" period. It's a biblical responsibility."



    Read more: http://www.newsok.com/oil-spill-prompts-environmental-soul-searching/article/feed/165491#ixzz0r5eTS1Wh

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  • Tuesday, June 08, 2010

    Looking at nanotech through the lens of religion

    Looking at nanotech through the lens of religion

    by Elizabeth Bahm
    May 26, 2010

    Scientific advances and religious beliefs have clashed repeatedly in recent years over issues such as stem cell research and evolution.  As nanotechnology becomes a greater part of Americans’ daily lives, researchers have asked whether it will face similar opposition. Experts say that the answer lies in finding solutions to the larger challenges of communicating between science and religion.

    In 2008, University of Wisconsin researchers found a link between a higher incidence of religious belief and distrust of nanotechnology. They found greater acceptance of the science in Europe countries where religiosity ranked lower compared with a greater distrust among American citizens who reported that religion played a significant role in their lives.

    Dietram Scheufele, a Wisconsin professor of life sciences communication and a lead author on the study, originally published in Nature Nanotechnology, said that this research and his continuing work in the field of society and nanotechnology revealed “perceptional filters” that shape how people use scientific information. He said religion can act as one such filter, serving as a lens that shapes how we see information.

    “It didn’t necessarily mean that they don’t know about the scientific information, they just choose to interpret it differently than people who are maybe less religious,” said Scheufele.

    Nanotechnology faces unique challenges when it comes to public opinion and perception since it is currently making the transition from an abstraction into realities and concrete applications. To some people, he said, nanotechnology might mean controversial areas such as synthetic biology, human enhancement, or weapons development. To others, it may simply represent better golf clubs and advanced medical equipment.

    The possibilities of nanotech raise what Scheufele identified as an essential question:  “Do we do everything that’s now possible, should we do everything – those conflicts between the philosophical and the scientifically possible will emerge because nano will infiltrate pretty much every area of our lives.”

    Such questions are a common refrain heard by Gayle Woloschak, director of Chicago’s Zygon Center for Religion and Science, and a self-identified “believing scientist” of Eastern Orthodox faith.  A professor of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern University, she said that concerns and questions over “jumping the gun” with the use of nanotech dominate the conversation when she speaks about the field with religious communities.

    “They say things like cell phones come out, everybody uses them, and then after we use them we ask, ‘Are they safe?,’ and that’s sort of the fear with nanotechnology,” said Woloschak.

    Philip Hefner, retired director of the Zygon Center and professor emeritus of systematic theology at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, said he has observed a “lukewarm attitude towards technology” among church leaders and theologians.  He noted that while many technological advances are taken for granted, like the presence of computer technology in our lives, more cutting-edge advances such as nanotechnology are often singled out as a target of skepticism.

    Hefner placed these concerns in deeply seated dualisms in Western culture and religion, which perceive a clear divide between such realms as mind-body, humans-nature or nature-technology.  Though he said that such dualisms are “deeply embedded in our culture,” he added that many theologians are also working to overcome them through dialogue with science.

    “For a long time we’ve thought that those dualisms don’t make sense and that we have to look at things differently.  Science is a big factor in showing us that mind and body are not as distinct as we’d like to make them, and that human beings are part of nature, they’re not separate from nature,” he said.

    Just as the religious community faces challenges in reorienting its perceptions, experts also suggested that scientists must to the same. Woloschak said that scientific language can be a barrier to understanding complex concepts, and that opportunities for dialogue between religious and scientific communities can help overcome this obstacle.

    She also identified fundamentalist perspectives as an issue for the scientific community as well as the religious one. “I think a lot of scientists lump religious people together as a bunch of fundamentalists,” she said, “So it ends up being that there are misconceptions about each other and they do stem a lot from language issues.”

    Scheufele said his research has found a high level of public trust in scientists’ ability to correctly and accurately conduct research, but less trust in their ability to navigate the moral implications of applying research. While scientists have often removed themselves from public debates for the sake of objectivity, he suggested this may do more harm than good to the public discourse.

    “The key solution,” he said, “will be the willingness of all of us to have conversations that cover concerns that the public has, which might not be scientific in nature but can benefit greatly from input from scientists.”






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  • Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    Prayer for World Environment Day, June 5

    From: CySampson@aol.com

    June 5th is an important day for all persons in our global village but especially for those of us committed to living the Good News of peace and justice. World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 and has been commemorated in a different city each year with an international exposition through the week of June 5.

    You are invited and asked to share with your members the enclosed prayer [below] for this day. It was developed by members of the USG/UISG (Union of Superiors General for men/International Union of Superiors General for Catholic women religious, http://www.uisg.org/uisg/English/missionintro.html)
    Commission for Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation in Rome. The dream of the members is that all consecrated religious throughout the world will not only be aware of this day but join in prayer with our brothers and sisters, friends and collaborators everywhere on this day. And so we encourage the adaptation and use of this prayer in any ministry setting where you are.

    June 5

    This prayer unfolds in three movements: celebration, lamentation, response.  Adapt.  Be creative in your use of music, drama and space.  Choose from among the scripture offerings.  Or you might choose to pray one movement each day.

    Setting:  might you choose a location for this prayer where our hearts and minds, sight, touch and hearing will be moved to conversion?  Where in your local place is the environment suffering?

    Opening Song

    Opening Prayer
    Gracious God, we gather today with people everywhere to observe World Environment Day. 

    You call us to be in solidarity - through our prayer and actions - with people adversely affected by climate change. 

    We recognize that Earth will only be our home as long as we learn to respect and care for the whole community of life and learn humility about our place in it, that we take action to protect and restore the integrity of life systems, and that we work for sustainable development for all people.

    Change our hearts.  Fill our hearts with a burning desire for your 'kingdom' where you live and reign for ever and ever, Amen.

    Movement I: Celebration

    Earth ( plant and animal life )
    Gen.1:9-12, 24-25;  Job 12:7-10;  Num 35:33-34
    R. God saw that it was good. ( could be sung )

    Fire (sun and moon and light)
    Gen.1:3,14-19;  Acts 2:1-4;  Heb. 12:29;  Ex. 3:1-6; 13:18,21-22
    R. God saw that it was good

    Wind  ( life and spirit and breath )
    Ezek. 37:5;  Ps. 104:3-4;  Acts 2:1-4
    R. God saw that it was good

    Water  ( seas and rivers and oceans and all water creatures )
    Gen. 1:9, 20-23;  Isa. 44:3a; 55:1;  2Kg. 5:14;  Rev. 22:1-3
    R. God saw that it was good

    Human Life  ( woman and man )
    Gen. 1:27; 2:7, 18, 21-22; 
    R. God saw that it was good

    PAUSE for silence / sharing / response - perhaps Pss. 19:1-7 or 104 or 148

    Movement II: Lamentation (1)

    Scripture:  Num. 35:33-34; Isa. 24:4-6;  Ezek. 34:1-22 (or 17-18);  Rom. 8:22
    Sung response after each:  Lord have mercy

    - We have increased our dependence on and use of non-renewable energy.  Many of us prefer cars to public transportation.  We increase rather than decrease our carbon footprint.
    - We continue to use water as a commodity while 2/3 of the world population lives with water scarcity or stress.
    - We destroy many of our forests and mismanage others.
    - Our tropical forests and coral reefs are under threat from human activity, and yet both could be sources for life, food and health care.
    - We contribute to global warming such that our glaciers retreat and shrink, putting all life forms at risk.  Flooding and droughts put the food security of hundreds of millions at risk.
    - We contribute to global warming such that increased sea and air temperatures result in rising sea levels, putting whole islands and their inhabitants at risk.
    - We do not alter our ways and sufficiently care for or welcome those migrants and refugees displaced by drought, flood, or lack of food. 
    - add your own …

    PAUSE for silence and prayer:

    Enduring God, hear our prayers
    as we bring these our hurts and hopes, our fears and our faults before you.
    Bind our hurts, encourage our hopes, comfort our fears, forgive us our faults.
    Through the presence of your Holy Spirit dwelling in us,
    empower us to remain steadfast in the hope and light and promise of the gospel revealed to us in your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen. (2)

    Movement III: Response

    Earth Charter(3)

    I / We, [Name], stand at a critical moment in Earth's history,
    a time when humanity must choose its future.
    As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile,
    the future at once holds great peril and great promise.
    To move forward we must recognize that
    in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.
    We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society
    founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.
    Toward this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one      another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

    We invite you to pray this in a variety of ways, pausing between each reading.
    - in the first person plural:  I, ____, stand at a critical moment …
    - in the second person plural:  We, (Christians / the name of your congregation / name of school or parish or other group), stand at a critical time …

    Silent prayer /Sharing of Reflections

    Scripture (to help reflect on themes in the Earth Charter preamble above):
    about wonder & awe, reverencing life in all its forms: Lk. 1:46-55;   Rev. 4:11
    about choosing: Dt. 30:19;  Rev. 3:14-15;  Jn. 10:10b
    about interconnectedness:    1 Cor. 12 
    about vision, promise: Rev. 21:1a, 5a;  Isa. 65:17a
    about responsibility and action for the common good: Millennium Development Goals (MDG)
    MDG 7 Ensure environmental sustainability.
    MDG 8 Develop a global partnership for development.
    UNEP's Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign:

    - Closing Prayer:  "To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities.  We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked.  Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world.  The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature" (from Earth Charter).  All praise to you God for your goodness to us.  Give us hearts of flesh to rejoice in your gifts, to beg pardon when we err, and to live justly.  We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus, who lives and breathes among us.  Amen.  

    1. For information and data about climate change see "Earth Community" JPIC Commission of USG/UISG, at http://jpicformation.wikispaces.com/EN_creation
    2. Shrowder, Jeff. Our World, Scattered Seeds: Worship Resources for Today's Church, The Joint Board of Christian Education,  Melbourne, 1994, pg. 93.
    3. For the full text and other ideas go to www.earthcharter.org

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