The Gospel & My People

The following is the result of an assignment from my Theology As Living Conversation course at the American Baptist Seminary of the West. Thanks to Dr. Davidson for assigning this as I found it most useful in articulating my own understandings of who I am and where I am from. Location is not just a physical concept but a theological one as well.

Maybe this will help you understand better the Paul Schneider from Oakland, CA that is writing this blog. The theological assertions may be bold, or not – perhaps this will help you see better why.

The Gospel and My People

I’m a fourth generation Californian,

Californian first, a citizen of my country second.

My Grandmother who raised me was a Georgia Peach,

Which makes me a gentleman from Georgia, once removed.

My Grandfather’s family is German and more German.

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My Grandmother and Mother taught me family,

Some is given, some is chosen.

Baptist tradition: Feed first, ask questions later,

Everything in the world is easier to handle after a meal.

There are Georgian sayings that still make me smile:

“It’ll do you good and help ya too.”

“Patience is a virtue, catch it if you can.

Seldom in a woman and never in a man.”

“The English language works perfectly well already,

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”

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We celebrated birthdays with family dinners,

Family Given and Chosen, adults talking,

Because children do not speak unless spoken to.

We gathered at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter,

And at least once a month, filling the large dining room.

When someone new joined us, their words were as if dipped in gold.

At Christmas my Grandmother took us shopping,

An ornament for my mother, my brother and me, each year.

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Our hope was in God, in Christ Jesus,

And in regular attendance at Church.

Church was family too – chosen by us, but given by God.

We prayed to be compassionate and aware,

Lest we ignore the suffering of others.

We feared not trying our hardest,

Lest we become used to taking the easy way.

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We cremate, not bury. Ashes are scattered, not interred.

We remember our ancestors in their words

Coming from our mouths, in their features

Seen in our mirrors.

Line of brow, shade of eye, triggering laughter or tears.

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Good hard work, good music, good food and good God,

Love is only as rare as you choose to make it.

We value these things,

and try our best to shower out love liberally.

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It feels like there has always been Jesus for us,

Not as the warrior God the Germans first knew him,

But Christ our savior, archetype and hope incarnate.

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To live out the good news of God’s love,

for ALL people. To help people become,

Become the people God CREATED them to be.

The Church I grew up in affirmed

the humanity of all people, and the divinity therein.

Here I learned there are things worth fighting for,

Not in defiance, but from love.

Call me a heretic for love, and I’ll count it victory.

Even those who repudiated us we called

Our brothers and sisters in Christ,

acting from their convictions –

just as we acted from ours.

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The gap widens between churches,

Those open to acceptance and liberation,

Are farther than ever from those who are not.

And still God’s people are becoming,

Becoming who they were created to be.

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I come from people who need to know,

God love all people.

Because it means God loves us too!

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Jesus, I pray for Californians,

For my American Baptist brethren,

That by your grace they may continue becoming,

Becoming who they were created to be.

May we reflect your acceptance, your understanding,

Your LOVE to all people at all times. Amen.

Theology Without Action – Faith Without Works

Today, in the aftermath of the tragedy in Oregon, the President addressed the nation. One thing he said which hit home with me was: “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” He went on to say we should take action to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. Contemporary church communities would do well to remember: prayer is not enough. Action must be taken.

Whether or not you agree with the President’s political aims, and I’m not afraid to say that I do, the reason that it hit home with me had nothing to do with the politics. It was a stark reminder of why I came to seminary in the first place – my conviction that my faith must lead me to action.

I struggled for a long time with my call. Some of it was just real life getting in the way – I got married, got a job, had kids. Some of it was this uncertainty that I was called to ministry – why would God want me? I was a High School drop out. Prone to sinning and failing, giving up and getting distracted. I was certain that I was one of the people who needed ministering to, not one of the people to be doing the ministering. I didn’t have my bachelor’s degree. I came up with many reasons not to go to seminary.

I lived my life, and periodically tried to figure out this pull on my soul, always turning away from it. I reached a point where I needed my faith, where it became a source of real strength (again) for me. I started regularly engaging my spiritual disciplines of prayer, and reading scripture. One of the verses that leapt out at me in my reading was James 2:26 “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” (NRSV). It lead me to take a more active role in ministry in the church, and ultimately to seminary.

I’m currently in a class called Theology as Living Conversation at the American Baptist Seminary of the West. The very title of the class is a reminder that theology as “faith seeking understanding” must move from thought to conversation in order to be fully tested. It is in community with others that our theological understandings can be engaged and begins to become more than just an abstract. But conversation is necessarily only the start.

Just as “faith without works is dead,” so too theology that does not lead to action is dead. Our theological assertions must goad us to responding with real world action. It is my theology that God is God that leads to my praise, worship and leaning on God. It is my theology that God loves all people that leads me to believe that Radical Inclusion is how we should engage other people.

So I agree with President Obama. It is not enough to have our thoughts and prayers with the victims of this tragedy. Certainly let us not fail to pray on this, but we must also let our theology lead us to action. Otherwise the theology is at best half-done.

#talcabsw #abswtheology