Conversations with President Matthew Myer Boulton and friends of Christian Theological Seminary

A Theology of Heartbreak

PrayingAs you know as well as I do, this week’s elections have left the country stunned and reeling.  Waves of emotion continue to sweep through our neighborhoods and conversations.  Half the country is pleased, the other half devastated.  And in this case, “half the country” often means half the extended family, or half the neighborhood, or half the congregation.  The divisions between us are deep and fraught, and they often go right through each one of us, right to our core.

In different ways, then, we are all heartbroken.  Some of us because of the election’s results and what they may mean for the future, others because of the country’s divisions that continue to pull us apart.  Our hearts break, too, because of the acts of violence and contempt scattered around the country in the last few days, on school campuses and elsewhere, creating a wider atmosphere of intimidation.  Words of racism, misogyny, and hate have echoed through this brutal campaign, and still echo today – and accordingly, feelings of anger, disgust, and despair swirl around us and within us.

The temptation in such times is to retreat and withdraw.  And there is something to be said for that impulse:  sometimes the most appropriate first step is to sit with the pain rather than rushing to “fix it” or normalize it or set it aside.

And yet, in due time, a second step must come.  Every member of the CTS community is already both a leader and a leader-in-formation – and part of leadership is to take a second step, and then a third.  It might be as simple as an honest prayer of lament.  It might be as basic as reaching out to someone who is hurting or isolated, just to be together.  A next step might be to reach out to someone on the other side of the divide, to affirm them as your brother or sister.  And then, in due time, at each person’s own pace, yet another step might be to intentionally begin the slow and steady work of healing and restoration.

When Jesus says, in the midst of the most famous sermon the world has ever heard, “But I say to you, love your enemies” (Mt 5:44), he is not speaking of something easy or sentimental.  He is laying out a challenging, life-changing theology of heartbreak, an invitation and command to love with our broken hearts – not in spite of the brokenness, but rather in and through the brokenness.  At this deep level, “fixing” our broken hearts isn’t the point.  Loving them, and loving with them, is the point.  Indeed, when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he’s quoting an ancient scripture about love in times of intense division:  “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:  I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18).  True love is always brokenhearted.  That’s what love really looks like, and it’s hard work.  And it takes time.

So let us seek, even in the midst of so much division, to follow Jesus ever more deeply into that life-changing, world-changing love.  The Season of Advent is almost upon us, a season of light and expectation – but also a season of shadows, all the way to Christmas.  Christians are called to seek out the shadows of this world, and light candles there.  Likewise, we are called to seek out the brokenhearted divisions of this world, and to love each other there, precisely there, precisely when we’re tempted to do otherwise.

Pray for each other.  Reach out to each other.

Grace and peace,

Matthew Myer Boulton

The Difference Faith Can Make: CTS statement on recent violence

AmieV-CTSBLMVigil-15Matthew Myer Boulton, CTS President and Professor of Theology, and Leah Gunning Francis, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty
, have issued the following statement on the violent events of the past 10 days.

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out into the field.” Genesis 4:8

God of life and hope, have mercy on us all.

As the sound of gunfire continues to echo in our neighborhoods — from Baton Rouge to St. Paul, Dallas to Charleston, Newtown to Orlando — so many of us are angry, exhausted, heartbroken, devastated, lost. Violence like this strikes at the heart of who we are, and threatens again and again to divide us, segregate us, polarize us, turn us against our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, ourselves.

Reeling from such turmoil and grief, what can we do? What actions can we take? What difference can faith make at a time like this?

First, with the ancient singers of the psalms, we can together learn to lament. No less than half of the Psalter’s 150 psalms are songs of lamentation, lifting up to God feelings of rage, sorrow, confusion, indignation, and despair. “How long, O Lord? How many? Why? You have delivered us in the past — rise, and deliver us again today!”

Second, with the ancient prophets, we can raise our voices in a chorus calling for justice and genuine shalom. We can stand in solidarity with all who insist that Black Lives Matter, and that we must together build a society in which men, women, and children of color can thrive in safety and respect. We can stand in solidarity with those in the law enforcement community who are working for justice every day, and who are constructively improving law enforcement practices. We can stand in solidarity with all who recognize that racism and inequity — what W.E.B. Du Bois a century ago called “the color line” — remain crucial, pressing problems in America, and must be squarely and creatively addressed. And we can stand in solidarity with all who mourn and long for peace, from the victims of violence and their families to the communities and professionals who live in fear, fear for their own safety and fear for the state of the country we all love.

And third, with Jesus, we can reach out. Last Sunday, many Christian congregations heard sermons on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a story commonly taken to be about neighborly mercy for a man on the side of the road. But on an even deeper level, the story is about reaching out across social divisions and learning from people with whom we strongly disagree. Jesus told the parable to his disciples who were deeply suspicious, even hostile (today we would say “prejudiced”) toward Samaritans on ethnic and religious grounds. And yet Jesus insists that his disciples learn how to be merciful from “one of them.” Likewise, Jesus challenges us to reach out and be willing to learn from those who see the world differently than we do, to actually engage, listen, and build bridges together.

Through acts of lament, solidarity, and reaching out, we can together embody that ancient calling to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Our faith offers us practices and parables through which we can live, God willing, with dignity and courage — and now is the time to be faithful.  Now is the time to remember, with the author of Genesis 4, that each one of us is indeed our brother’s keeper, our sister’s keeper, our neighbor’s keeper.

Matthew Myer Boulton
President and Professor of Theology

Leah Gunning Francis
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty

A Prayer for Orlando

God of Life, God of Justice, God of Healing, God of Love,

Have mercy on us.

In ancient days, in the face of a world filled with violence, your rainbow promise embraced the skies with every color in creation.  Renew in us our commitment to that rainbow of hope.

We pray for the lost and the wounded, for their families and beloved ones.  Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep.  Hold fast the sorrowful, and make us all instruments of your peace.

We pray for the LGBTQ community around the world, but particularly here in this country we call home, as together we confront this devastating act of terror, the worst shooting in U.S. history.  Our hearts are broken.  Surround us with your Spirit of healing, your graceful presence in the midst of grief.

Save us from hate, from prejudice, from the ways we turn away from you and from each other.  Embolden us to follow Jesus in crossing lines of hostility and suspicion, building bridges between neighborhoods, religions, and regions of your world.  Save us from the contempt that leads to violence, and also the contempt that leads — in the wake of violence — to an even more fragmented, segregated, polarized world.  Make us a people of faith, not fear.

We know you are God of law, of Torah, of instruction and insight and learning.  We pray for our leaders in government and community life, and for the people they are called to serve.  Give all of us wisdom and courage as we build our common life.  Let our laws become at once more sane and more humane.  Stir in us a holy impatience with a world so full of gunfire.

And above all, save us from that most banal form of sin, the sin of numbness and weak resignation.  Save us from accepting this as “the way things are.”  Come Holy Spirit, breathe in us, inspire us, and wake us up — so we might renew our participation in your making “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Have mercy on us.  Save us.  Breathe in us, awaken us, and make all things new.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

True story

Students, faculty and staff will represent CTS at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina in July. The festival’s theme is “Story.”

When potential students apply to Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, they tell us about themselves. High GPAs. Terrific references. Years of devotion to their home churches.

But it’s not until they’ve settled in a bit — when they get through orientation, move into their apartments, go to class — it’s not until then that the true stories come out. Stories of joy, hope, support, epiphanies. Stories of abuse, loss, shame, doubt.

Novelist E. M. Forster used this example to show the difference between facts and a story:
The king died, and the queen died.
The king died, and the queen died of grief.

A list of facts doesn’t do much. Stories, though, turn strangers into friends. Skeptics into believers.

Jesus’s story is full of joy, hope, support, epiphanies, abuse, loss, shame, and doubt. No wonder we connect to it, are transformed by it, seek to follow his “way.”

We can’t wait to swap stories with old friends and new at Wild Goose Festival this year.



A Christmas Message from CTS









Dear CTS Friends,

The season of Advent is a time of shadows, of gradually gathering darkness: each night a few minutes longer than the last. We light candles of hope not because of the light, but because of the dark. We light them because we need to find our way through the shadows.

The news headlines these days provide plenty of gloom: a world awash in conflict and refugees, weaponry and violence, acts of terror and calls for exclusion. And so Christians wait and hope for God’s coming (“Advent” means “coming”), wait and hope for a baby lying in a manger, wait and hope for the Prince of Peace.

What does it mean to follow the Prince of Peace today? For example, can we American Christians agree that, at the very least, it means acknowledging that our communities are too violent, our homes and streets too overrun by assault weapons? In the wake of San Bernardino and Colorado Springs and Roseburg and Charleston and Newtown and on and on, can we witness together that the peace to which the Prince calls us does not include privately owned assault rifles, and that instruments of war have no place in our neighborhoods?

Jesus of Nazareth lived in a time of violence, too, and many of his contemporaries (some of whom were known as “Zealots”) called for violence against the Roman Empire. But this only makes more striking the ways in which Jesus took a different path, living and teaching in ways that make for peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he declared in the Sermon on the Mount. “Put away your sword,” he later said to Peter. Even in distress, Jesus did not take up arms — and the very idea of “assault” is the opposite of his Gospel of love and justice.

We may disagree about the extent to which firearms belong in our neighborhoods at all, but surely Christians can come together around a movement to ban assault weapons — machines expressly designed to kill people swiftly and extensively — from our streets and homes. We cannot let despair or political complexities render us silent or cynical. The shadows may fall, but we can only light our candles of hope again and again.

And surely we can also come together around a movement to dispel the fear in our communities, remembering those beautiful, challenging words with which the angels always begin: “Do not be afraid.”

Christmas is a season of small, miraculous things: a star in the sky only a few wise observers can see; an angelic chorus only a few no-name shepherds can hear; and a forgotten, homeless baby, indistinguishable from babies born every day, who is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Even though last night may have been two minutes longer than the night before, now is the time of turnings. Tomorrow night will be two minutes shorter, and over the weeks and months to come, the day will continue to grow. God’s salvation is at hand. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.

And so let us pray that this season’s small miracles include each one of us recommitting to this ancient good news, this insistent vision of God’s shalom for the whole world, so that every child everywhere may not only sleep through the night, but (as the carolers sing) “sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

Merry Christmas from Christian Theological Seminary,

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