Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/31 2014

Christians and Halloween?

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HalloweenThis is such a tricky time of year. Some people get pretty excited about Halloween. Others get offended. Just this last weekend I was asked a question. “Why do some Christians celebrate Halloween and some don’t?” That question has another (more pointed) version. “Is it okay for Christians to celebrate Halloween?”

For me, the short answer is pick a side and be gracious to people who disagree. Here are five possible options, amongst the many, for how people view Halloween.

  1. The opposition: Current popular texts often suggest a sinister or pagan origin for Halloween. Those holding to this view often oppose any traditional Halloween celebrations.
  2. The scholar: Some scholars argue that such stories are recent inventions. They often embrace the festivities, but want to study the origins, so they miss the good parties.
  3. The critic: Others believe Halloween is so influenced by consumerism that its origins are irrelevant. They may join the opposition or the celebration depending on their tolerance for consumerism.
  4. The saint: Some hold to a view that Halloween is a development from “All Saints Day.” People in this camp generally either embrace or tolerate the day, and try to at least acknowledge the faithful who have gone before us. There seems to be a lot of research to support this view.
  5. The neighbor: Others may or may not know about the various theories, but they focus on the chance to get to know their neighbors and share some candy. This is the group I want to spend the holiday with. They have the most fun.

Regardless of which group fits you, try to consider the amount of thought behind all five. Whether you agree or disagree with someone’s view, try to be gracious. Faithful Christians may believe it’s important to celebrate a variation of All Saint’s Day, or they may be uncomfortable with a holiday of uncertain origin. Either way, they’re trying to be faithful.

Whether your neighbors celebrate Halloween or not, find out why. At the very least, you’ll get to know your neighbors better. If you’re lucky, you may even get some chocolate out of it.

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. He researches church symbolism on his website www.preachingsymbols.com.

 

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10/29 2014

Immigration: A Ministry of Social Work

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imiigration and social workImmigration is a ministry of social work. Jesus conjoined the commands in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:8 in response to the question posed by a Scribe: “What is the greatest commandment?” The result found in Matthew 22:37-39 is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This second command is the cornerstone text used by Christians in support of immigration reform.

The immigration issue has been a lightning rod in American politics often invoking vitriolic responses. Some will say the Republican Party failed to win a bid for the White House because their anti-immigration position alienated a growing Hispanic population in this country. But just this week news reports quoted former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida as saying, “The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families—the dad who loved their children—was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.”

social work ministry and immigrationJust as Jesus came among us (Emmanuel) one can only fully understand the lives of migrants by being among them. Through a World Mission Initiative cross-cultural trip, MDiv, MDiv/MSW and MA program students at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary have taken a look at the immigration issue up close and personal. In the past, I’ve led a team to Agua Prieta, Mexico, a town just across the border from Douglas, Ariz. The Presbyterian border mission, Frontera de Cristo, hosted us. For a week, we worshiped and fellowshipped with residents of the town, visited mequiladora factories, lived on a day’s wage of a mequila worker, and shared a meal with migrant workers. Some of them were attempting to cross the border for the first time while others lived in the US for years before deportation. We walked along the pathways in the desert where many have traveled in the cover of darkness escaping the watchful eyes of Border Patrol, listened to the testimonies of clients of C.R.R.E.D.A, a drug and alcohol recovery center, who as part of their recovery fill water buffaloes in the desert for migrants. But perhaps most riveting was the weekly prayer service for the men, women, boys, and girls who lost their lives attempting to cross the border. In good or bad weather, a group of the faithful gather in the parking lot of a McDonalds behind a van full of white hand-made crosses with the names, date of birth, and date of death of the persons found in the desert. If the person could not be identified, the cross would simply say, “No Identificado.” Each of us with an arm full of crosses, paraded down the Avenue of the Americas and one by one, called out the name of the person on our cross and shouted, “Presente!” as we stood in surrogacy. Afterwards we laid the cross on the curb. The result—a line of more than 100 white crosses dotting the curbside of the Avenue of the Americas lighting the way to the border checkpoint.

One cannot look at the issue of immigration without looking at the cross.

The Rev. John Welch is a 2002 graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He earned his MDiv degree, served in parish ministry at Bidwell United Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and is now the Seminary’s vice president of student services.

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10/27 2014

The good news is…

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good-news1Most of the stories we hear about tend to be the negative ones. There are lots of reasons for that. Self-proclaimed “Media Manipulator” Ryan Holiday attributes some of that negativity to the decline of “subscription based” news outlets. The loudest, scariest, most negative stories grab attention.

But sometimes, great stuff happens. We just don’t hear about it because the bad news is louder.

Some really cool stuff happened in the Church this week that wasn’t particularly loud. You probably didn’t hear about it, so I want to share some of it with you. Some of it happened in Africa, some of it happened in Italy, and some of it happened just outside Pittsburgh.

First, a Presbyterian pastor and infectious disease specialist was sent to Sierra Leone to help in the response to Ebola. He describes the struggles with educating people about safe practices, monitoring health scares, and even working to make sure the money sent to help actually gets to the right places.

Second, an Italian priest decided to ignore death threats and continue his work against organized crime. He decided that the need for faithful cultural change was greater than his need for safety. And by the way, his greatest fear is for the safety of escorts who have been assigned to protect him.

Third, right here in Western Pennsylvania, the Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum just celebrated 125 years of ministry. Pittsburgh Seminary’s own Don Dawson, of the World Mission Initiative, was part of the celebration. Central Presbyterian was founded in 1888. To put this in perspective for you, Montana, Washington, North Dakota, and South Dakota didn’t become states until 1889. Central Presbyterian has been doing ministry longer than Montana’s been a state. Happy Birthday, Central Pres!

There are three quiet pieces of “good news” about what the Church is up to! Next time you hear all the negative stuff, take a second to search for stories like these. Or share something great with us that your church is doing. Maybe next time we’ll include you in the “good news.”

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. He researches church symbolism on his website www.preachingsymbols.com.

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