How can celebrating the “holy days” of American culture help us to understand what it means to be both Christian and American? In timely essays on Super Bowl Sunday, Mother’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and other holidays of the secular calendar, James Calvin Davis explores the wisdom that Christian tradition brings to our sense of American identity, as well as the ways in which American culture might prompt us to discern the imperatives of faith in new ways. Rather than demonizing culture or naively baptizing it, Davis models a bidirectional mode of reflection, where faith convictions and cultural values converse with and critique one another. Focusing on topics like politics, race, parenting, music, and sports, these essays remind us that culture is as much human accomplishment and gift as it is a challenge to Christian values, and there is insight to be discovered in a theologically astute investment in America’s “holy days.”
I am leading a study for my home congregation on “Being the Body of Christ in a Socially Distant World.” We are considering the ways in which the pandemic has challenged our habits of being church, but we also are talking about the new practices we have discovered that may be useful to our ministry and fellowship even when this present darkness is behind us. This coming week, we will be talking about virtual worship, particularly the virtual practice of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. The following are resources I assembled to give them food for thought on the subject. Perhaps they will be useful to some of you as well.
Take a look at these five short and accessible articles wrestling with the impact of COVID-19 on Christian worship, especially the celebration of Communion.
An NPR story that confirms that much of our experience with virtual church—good and bad—is being felt by churchgoers all over the country:
2. A Lutheran makes the argument for why we should not do the Lord’s Supper at home during the pandemic. Does his argument hold if we don’t subscribe to the Lutheran understanding of Communion? What is the Lutheran understanding? Wait—what is our understanding of Communion?
3. An “advisory opinion” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on whether it is appropriate to celebrate Communion virtually. Try to read past all of the polity references (i.e., who has authority) to understand what the meaning of the Lord’s Supper normally is in this denominational tradition, and how it can be justified virtually in times of pandemic. Does this perspective from the UCC’s “cousin” in Reformed Christianity help us think about our practice?
I had the great pleasure of spending last Sunday evening with folks from the Synod of the Trinity, a judicatory of the PC(USA) that includes the congregation in which I was raised. As part of a series on MLK’s vision of Beloved Community, I spoke to a Zoom crowd of 70 pastors and lay persons on forbearance as social witness in a culture of conflict. It was great to share the evening with Susan Wonderland and my longtime friend Michael Wilson—with a number of other old Pennsylvania friends peppering the audience!
Some Christians read Revelation 13 as prophecy for the end times. Others interpret it as a highly symbolic commentary on a despotic first-century emperor. A reflection of the past, a prediction for the future, or a play-by-play commentary on our present? Let anyone who has an ear listen:
“The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.” (Revelation 13:5–8, NRSV)
Not for nothing, but January 2017 to June 2020 is forty-two months.
To all Christians invested in the struggle for racial justice, I recommend Kelly Brown Douglas’s Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Orbis, 2015). Written after the murder of Trayvon Martin, Douglas’s book puts white supremacy in historical perspective, arguing that Christians should acknowledge the complicity of their faith in America’s original sin. At the same time, she offers a compelling theology of witness with this clear theme: the crucified Christ stands in solidarity with black lives still being crucified today.
From the book:
“It matters that Jesus died on the cross, just as it matters that God freed the Israelites from bondage. For it is only when the least of these are free to achieve the fullness of life that God’s justice will be realized. The profound meaning of God’s preferential option for freedom is seen in God’s solidarity with the crucified class. Their freedom will mark an eradication of all that separates people one from another and thus disengages all people from the goodness of their humanity. Thus, the justice of God also begins from the bottom up. Put simply, it is in the freedom of those who are crucified that one can see the justice of God working in the world” (197).
“In a revolutionary situation there can never be nonpartisan theology. Theology is always identified with a particular community. It is either identified with those who inflict oppression or with those who are its victims. A theology of the latter is authentic Christian theology, and a theology of the former is a theology of the Antichrist.”
The Kindle version of Forbearance: A Theological Ethic for a Disagreeable Church is currently on sale for $1.99!
What happens when we approach disagreement not as a problem to solve, but as an opportunity to practice Christian virtue?
In this book, James Calvin Davis reclaims the biblical concept of forbearance to develop a theological ethic for faithful disagreement. Pointing to Ephesians and Colossians, in which Paul challenged his readers to “bear with each other” in spite of differences, Davis draws out a theologically grounded practice in which Christians work hard to maintain unity while still taking seriously matters on which they disagree.
The Presbyterian Outlook recently surveyed their readership, asking for compelling and transformational recent books. In Defense of Civility was mentioned in response to the question, “What is the book you keep going back to and why?” Andy Kort, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Bloomington, Indiana, shared that in the book Davis “highlights issues like war, abortion, marriage, separation of church and state, and more in a way that not only helps me articulate my own thinking, but also is very helpful in allowing me to better understand the opposite view. He does this all while making the case for a civil discourse.”
You can find out more about all of the readers’ choices for captivating books here!
What happens when we approach disagreement not as a problem to solve but as an opportunity to practice Christian virtue?
In this book James Calvin Davis reclaims the biblical concept of forbearance to develop a theological ethic for faithful disagreement. Pointing to Ephesians and Colossians, in which Paul challenged his readers to “bear with each other” in spite of differences, Davis draws out a theologically grounded practice in which Christians work hard to maintain unity while still taking seriously matters on which they disagree.
The practice of forbearance, Davis argues, offers Christians a dignified, graceful, and constructive way to deal with conflict. Forbearance can also strengthen the church’s public witness, offering an antidote to the pervasive divisiveness present in contemporary culture.
“Forbearance. It’s an old-fashioned word, perhaps, but if ever we needed to recover its use, now is the time. Our politics and economics, our communities and churches, and even our families are fractured by polarizing disagreements that often grow into debilitating conflicts. In this discerning book James Calvin Davis deftly narrates the meanings, spirit, power, and practice of ‘bearing with one another’ as a fundamental Christian civic virtue, one that can lead us into ways of dealing with our conflicts that are marked by wisdom, justice, faithfulness, and hope.” –Craig Dykstra, Duke Divinity School