Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/23 2014

Climate Change: Turning Discussion into Action

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ChasingIceI live on the edge of the Allegheny River just north of Pittsburgh. As the river flows by, its appearance is constantly changing. One moment the water is dark and gray. Then a ray of sun breaks through the clouds above and sets each ripple afire with dancing light. The mood shifts, the colors change, the water levels rise and fall, and the seasons pass.

My favorite season is winter, especially when it turns cold enough for ice to form along the riverbank. When I see ice forming this far south, I know that even more ice is forming upstream. That means that in few days, I will see big slabs of ice floating by, sometimes colliding with the island just offshore, sometimes jamming together. If it stays really cold for a week or so, the blocks of ice freeze solid across the river. Then snow falls on the ice and everything goes white.

Last winter I noticed something new. Ice started to form just as the river level fell a few inches. This left little ice formations trapped in mid-air, suspended above the water on the branches and roots along the riverbank. Out came the sun, and instantly the hanging ice formations that clung to the bare roots and branches were turned into pure dazzling light. I grabbed my camera.

Shooting my ice pictures was easy. That was definitely not the case for the producers of the award-winning documentary, Chasing Ice. In their desire to give us a way to visualize one consequence of climate change, the film crew literally risked their lives to capture stunning images of ice. Ice forming, melting, shimmering in pure blueness, falling into the sea, bouncing on the waves…ice like we’ve never seen it before.

Chasing Ice is being given a special screening at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Fri., Oct. 24, 2014, at 7:00 p.m. The Rev. Paul Lubold of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in PA will lead a discussion on theology and the environment following the film. Find out more!

For its sheer beauty, this is a film not to be missed. But behind the beautiful pictures is a troubling message. The familiar changes of weather that I see along the Allegheny River are giving way to a more profound and dramatic change, one that we cannot yet fully understand or comprehend. Sure, scientists are debating the details of climate change. They wouldn’t be real scientists if they didn’t question everything. But they also agree that the changes are real, that they will continue, that we human beings contribute to making them happen, and that we can still act to soften somewhat the impact of the changes that lie ahead.

I am really pleased that Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is showing this film and even more pleased that the film is followed by conversation. I am looking forward to being part of the discussion. But more than that, I am looking for ways to turn discussion into action. Come and share your ideas.

The Rev. Dr. Ron Cole-Turner is the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics and teaches courses in the MDiv program including systematic theology, Christianity and evolution, and the Holy Spirit. He’s the author of numerous books including Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Advancement.


10/18 2014

Gamergate: The Invisible Scandal Impacting Your Ministry

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GamerGateYour ministry has been impacted by a debate that you probably didn’t know was happening. It has involved major Universities, news outlets, and even the FBI. You probably missed it because it’s about something you don’t usually notice. It’s about video games.

But why would a seminary blog bother discussing a debate on video games? Here are some facts that may help explain.

  • More adult women play videogames than teenage boys.
  • 71 percent of video game players are old than 18.
  • The average video game player is 31 years old.
  • 59 percent of Americans play video games.

(These numbers are from the Entertainment Software Association. The full report is here.)

Think about the people served by your ministry. If you serve adult women, people in their 30s, or Americans, chances are pretty good that someone reached by your ministry is playing video games.

Convinced? Good. Because what’s happened this week is very important to your ministry.

Threats of a school shooting set off a chain of events that forced the cancellation of a lecture at Utah State University. The speaker is known for her criticism of the way video games portray women. It’s been covered by several major news outlets like CNN and Time.

This is the most recent event in what’s been called “gamergate.” Without going into unnecessary details, it’s become a fight about the portrayal of women in video games.

The people your ministry reaches are playing video games. Those games shape our identity and our ideas about things like gender. Consider this: Statistically speaking, the 31-year-old woman in your congregation probably didn’t read Galatians 3:28 this week. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” She probably did play a video game.

The average American video game player spends 6.3 hours a week playing video games.

Most Americans read the Bible less than once a week.

This is why issues like “gamergate” are important for your ministry. You don’t need to jump into the debates. You don’t need to follow the minutia. You do need to know that a major source of influence on the people in your ministry is struggling to articulate how it will inform our cultural identity.

Written by the Rev. Derek Davenport ’05, director of enrollment and program co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Derek is also an alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program. Derek researches church symbolism on his website www.preachingsymbols.com.



10/15 2014

Theology Here and Now

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Biblical-TheologyThe global challenges we face today seem impossible. The spread of Ebola, the brutality of the so-called “Islamic State,” and the changes already occurring in the climate are enough to make me feel overwhelmed.

You probably remember the old advice: When the problems of the world seem too big, just concentrate on the smaller problems closer to home.

I don’t find that helps very much. The challenges we face right here in Pittsburgh and throughout Pennsylvania are pretty daunting.

Our economy is still leaving too many people on the sidelines. There are signs of prosperity, but poverty is still far too common throughout Pennsylvania, especially among our children.

We are sitting on top of abundant natural gas resources. But getting the gas out safely is a big problem. And then we read that someone just dumped contaminated fracking water into the Greene County sewer system near Waynesburg.

And even if we can get natural gas out safely, what about our coal miners and their need to make a living? And as much as we would rather not think about it, using any fossil fuel—gas or coal—sets in motion irreversible changes to the climate. No one wants our economy to languish when so many are still looking for a way into the middle class. But no one wants to ruin the planet or its ability to sustain the rich diversity of creation for generations to come.

And then we look on in horror at events in Ferguson, Mo., and see there a mirror of our own racial divide and the fear and mounting frustration that come along with it.

All these are Pennsylvania problems. They won’t be solved by sitting in church. They won’t be solved by someone in Washington. They won’t be solved by politicians or experts. In fact they won’t be solved at all unless people are able to come together for safe, honest, and sustained conversation.

To me, that sounds a lot like theology. The best theology is not about broad generalities. It’s not about some far-off future. It’s about the here and now. It is grounded in real problems and real people who have the courage to be real with each other.

I believe that’s exactly what God is inviting us to do. When we respond to God’s invitation, when we get out of ourselves and enter into relationship with our neighbors, theology begins to happen. The best theology does not come from books or from experts. Instead, it is born of honest conflict and nurtured by dialogue that is searching and sometimes painful. It arises from within and takes the form of shared hopes and growing confidence that God is alive, here and now, active and real, taking us forward in ways that no one of us alone can dare imagine.

The Rev. Dr. Ron Cole-Turner is the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics and teaches courses in the MDiv program including systematic theology, Christianity and evolution, and the Holy Spirit. He’s the author of numerous books including Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Advancement.

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