Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/26 2016

The First 50,000 Harriet Tubman Bills

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Harriet-TubmanDo some quick math. 50,000 $20 bills is…


That first million has an important historical significance worth remembering. I’ll explain.

I’ve been fascinated by Harriet Tubman for some time, and several years ago had the chance to do some research and writing on her life. Her story is quite interesting.

Harriet Tubman was born as Araminta Ross in the early 1820s. Christianity was an important force in her life from her childhood. In her early 20s, she married John Tubman. She began to go by her mother’s first name and her husband’s last name, and thus came to be known as Harriet Tubman.

When her owner died in 1849, his will set Harriet free. Unfortunately, in addition to his will, he also left behind outstanding debts. Realizing that she would likely be sold to settle those debts, Harriet chose instead to escape.

Over the next 20 years, Harriet became an unstoppable force. According to some estimates, Harriet helped more than 300 people reach freedom. That record made her the most successful liberator in the United States and eventually earned her comparisons to Moses. She gained a reputation as a powerful speaker on behalf of abolition.

During the Civil War, she served as a scout and spy for the Union. After the death of John Tubman, Harriet married a former slave and Civil War veteran Nelson Davis. She then shifted her focus to advocating for women’s suffrage. She also created a home to care for the aging and in particular for those who had nowhere else to go.

In 1913, the liberator, speaker, spy, visionary, and scout died as a resident of the facility she had built. She left behind two biographies that she worked with a friend to complete and publish over the years.

As someone who cared for the aging, who freed slaves, and spent her life fighting for equality, why does that first 50,000 matter so much?

Because in the 1860s, Harriet was so notorious for her own escape and her role in freeing others that there was a bounty on her head. To be more accurate, there were many bounties on her head. The total value was somewhere around $40,000.

But that $40,000 in 1860 would be worth significantly more today. By some estimates, it would be worth roughly $1,000,000. Harriet had a bounty of $1,000,000 on her head! By the time 50,000 $20 bills are in circulation, something fascinating will have occurred. Instead of having a bounty of $1,000,000 on Harriet Tubman’s head, we will have a picture of Harriet Tubman’s head on $1,000,000.

I wonder what she would think about this.

Some have pointed out that Harriet Tubman might be less than thrilled to have her face put on money. Her own life’s work was more concerned with real justice than poetic justice. Others have argued that this symbolism represents a significant moment in American history, one we should celebrate, not downplay.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be an “either or”. Maybe this news can be both a reminder for us of the significance of Harriet’s legacy and call to each of us to work for what’s right.

Either way, the moment that 50,000th bill is printed, something truly amazing will have happened. It will commemorate the legacy of Harriet Tubman—but whether it calls us to battle injustice, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Rev. Derek Davenport ’05 is director of enrollment at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and program co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute. Derek is also a PTS alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program after which he served at a church in Orlando, Fla., for five years. Besides working with prospective students, he serves as a guest preacher in Western Pennsylvania, researches church symbolism on his website, and tweets at @DerekRDavenport.


4/19 2016

Pastoral Advice on Avoiding Burn-out

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burnoutI am a prime candidate for burnout.

I am a mother of a 5-month-old, a 6-year-old, a wife, a pastor planning several brand new programs and projects, a daughter, a granddaughter, a friend, a neighbor, an employer, the list goes on. I am busy and I am tired. But all of our lists go on and on, don’t they?

We are taught in seminary and by mentors that burnout is an apocalyptic event that all pastors are to avoid. We are given many examples and strategies of how to avoid this all-consuming fire that is coming for all of us: read the Bible, read the confessions, and pray. Find a group of pastors that you meet with each week/month/year. Make sure you have a spiritual director. Go to pastoral counseling. Spend time with your family. Spend time alone.

Just looking at all the strategies begins to make me feel anxious. How can I possibly avoid burnout when I don’t have the time or energy to employ the strategies that are proven to work?

This is the tension where I spend my time, and where I suspect most pastors spend their time. Right between “I am so busy and tired” and “this is the best job/life possible.” And right in the midst of it is the healthy place to be.

Burnout by very definition is a fire that takes over and is uncontrollable—a fire that burns everything down around it and eventually there is nothing left and the fire goes out. For pastors and professionals personal, spiritual, psychological burnout is very much the same. Burnout is when we are overwhelmed by what we are doing and what is expected of us to the point that there is nothing left—nothing left for us to give and nothing left for us to receive.

So how do we avoid burnout?

For each individual it is different. There is no prescribed strategy that will work for everyone. But we have to find ways that keep us from becoming overwhelmed by what we are doing and what is expected of us.

Personally, I know that the fire is burning uncontrollably around me, when I am no longer receiving. When I cannot receive love from my family and friends, when I am unable to listen to others, when I am unable to see the good that is happening around me in ministry and at home—that is when I am approaching burnout. At that point, I have to adjust my perspective. I have to take moments to myself. And then I am ready to receive and to give all over again.

So maybe there is not one strategy to defeating burnout. Maybe there is a different strategy for each individual. Maybe there is a different strategy for different times in our lives. The most important thing is recognizing your personal signs that burnout is approaching before the fire kills everything in sight.

The Rev. Erin Davenport is a 2005 alumna of the MDiv program. Through the Seminary’s joint degree program, she also earned her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh. A former chaplain, she now resides in Pittsburgh and serves as the Seminary’s director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute.


4/13 2016

Alzheimer’s and Counseling

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Alzheimer's disease and counselingIt’s tax time. Insert audible groan here. Even with tools like Turbo Tax, Tax Act, and all the rest, successfully filing your taxes can be a major headache. As is the tradition each year, my mom and I sat down together to work on my taxes one recent Saturday. I’m pretty sure I only raised my voice in frustration once and she only gave me “that look” a few times. Some mothers and daughters bond over shopping in Pittsburgh. We bond over our frustration with technology at tax time.

While calculating my deductions, my mom noted that I supported the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s not a big check, but I write it faithfully every year. “Are you hoping they find a cure before I need it?” she half joked. I answered back, “At least before I need it.”

Today more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. And while I’ve never personally been affected by the disease, I fear the day a loved one is among the 5 million. How would I help her? How would I handle her care? What will be the medical treatments by then? How would I care for myself while caring for her? If I’m the one affected, how would I want to be treated? Should I seek help from a pastor? A social worker? A counselor? Hopefully those advancements in research and treatment come soon and we see the day that we no longer need Alzheimer’s support groups.

Until then, I’m grateful for people like Dr. Lisa Genova, who holds degrees in biopsychology and neuroscience. Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction, she is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Still Alice, Left Neglected, Love Anthony, and Inside the O’Briens. She says, “Stories are a way into people’s hearts, and when this happens, we have more than knowledge. We have real understanding, empathy, sensitivity, the ability to be better caregivers, and maybe the motivation to get involved.”

In the book-turned-movie Still Alice, (Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Alice), Genova tells the story of Dr. Alice Howland, a renowned linguistics professor (a detail that’s different in the book). When words begin to escape her and she starts becoming lost on her daily jogs, Alice must come face to face with a devastating diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Genova takes a complex neurological disease—and one of my biggest fears—and turns it into a heartbreaking and inspiring story.

Lisa Genova will be at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary June 16. During that time she’ll discuss Alzheimer’s and her latest books. This event—including lecture, Q&A, and book signing—is a great opportunity for health care providers, social workers and pastoral counselors, family and friends of those suffering from the disease, and book clubs to join the conversation. Group rates are available. Learn more about “Understanding Alzheimer’s: A Conversation with Dr. Lisa Genova.

For the last decade plus, Melissa Logan has worked as the director of communications at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. When not updating the Seminary’s website or tweeting about the MDiv/MSW degree, she’s likely hunting for treasures at flea markets or hanging out with her furry friends.


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