My ship of faith has many sails

What it means to live into particular religious identity in the midst of spiritual plurality

by Ken Sehested

        Near the end of seminary training, I made a listing of what had been the most important books in my theological education. As one reared in deep-water Baptist tradition, I was shocked to recognize that more than two-thirds of my “most important” guides were Roman Catholic authors.

        I now say that while my ship of faith has many sails, its mainsail is that legacy flowing from the anabaptist outburst of the 16th century (though that movement’s precursors stretch back to 14th century figures like the Czech priest Jan Hus and the Oxford theologian John Wycliffe—and even 13th century figures like St. Francis in Italy and the Beguine communities, a lay, semi-monastic order of single women (later repressed) in the Low Countries of Europe, all of whom dissented from  the church’s wealth and privilege.

        Long story short, my anchorage among the Radicals stems from two reasons: First, because of their thoroughgoing affirmation of what I call the “democratizing of access to the holy” and, correspondingly, their undermining of all notions of political sovereignty. Second, the anabaptist majority’s (there were dissenters on this score) refusal, on theological grounds, to wield the sword in defense of the state. (For more on this, see “Public reasoning and ekklesial reckoning: Commentary on the Vatican conference calling for ‘spirituality and practice of active nonviolence’ to displace church focus on just war” and "Enough of this! Toward a theology of nonviolence: Why I don’t often use the language of ‘pacifism’.”) Read more ›

Eucharistic conventions

Why we practice these (somewhat) odd manners at the Lord’s Table

by Ken Sehested

        When three of us began daydreaming about a starting a new congregation,
during long hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the first year of the new millennium,
one of the things we immediately imagined was worship centered around communion,
including placing the table in the center of our seating. Every Sunday—which is unusual
in Protestant bodies. None of us were raised that way. This tangible ritual act—of
re-membering in the midst of a dismembered world—is poignantly expressive of our
theological vision. Read more ›

Water texts

In Scripture, water can symbolize either deliverance or death

In Scripture, water can symbolize either deliverance or death, salvation or destruction, healing or harm, prosperity or peril, blessing or curse, assurance or threat. What follows is a selection of such texts.

§ . . . the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  —Genesis 1:2 

§ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. —Genesis 1:21

§ Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. —Exodus 14:21 Read more ›

We are Charlottesville

The fact that we are shocked about today’s news from Emancipation Park is part of our problem.

by Ken Sehested

        I recall my first trip to South Africa, leading a delegation of US and European Christians for a first hand look at the apartheid regime. Over the course of 10 days we met with a host of groups and individuals, and even participated in an impromptu, multi-racial prayer vigil on the grounds of the South African parliament in Pretoria, something that was still illegal in 1989.

        It was, as you might imagine, a stunning and profoundly revelatory journey. Four things still burn bright in my memory.

        First, I did not know that the Dutch Afrikaners, who would later construct the legal framework of apartheid (pronounced there as “apart-hate”) settled in southern Africa about the same time English came to the American continent. There are many parallels in these stories. Read more ›

Precious indeed

Reflections on a post-bin Laden world

by Ken Sehested
4 May 2011, on the fifth anniversary of my grandson’s birth

        I spent more than an hour pouring over the newspaper Monday morning, whose oversized front page headline boldly proclaimed “A nation united” above its story of Osama bin Laden’s death. Rarely have I felt more disunited, disheartened, discomforted. Literally dispirited, the Holy Spirited-pledge to make all things new now mocked by Sunday crowds awash in frenzied rejoicing over assassination. All this, barely a week after Eastern morning, with its renewal of baptismal vows “to renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his promises.”

        Locally, the newspaper included theological justification in the words of a local pastor, who suggested that the military’s raid “sends a message that their lives [those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks] counted and their lives were precious.” Read more ›

Jonathan & ee cummings

The secret of freedom

by Ken Sehested

Recently, when Nancy picked up our 3-year-old grandson Jonathan from preschool, out of the blue he said, “Ja-Ja (her grandmotherly nickname), e e cummings wrote poem.”

“Did you learn that at school, Jay?” Nancy asked. “No,” he said from the back seat.

“Did your Mama teach you that?” “Yes.” Read more ›

Is an attack on one an attack on all?

The brutal consequences of our nation’s gun fetish

by Ken Sehested

       We are a nation awash in guns, increasingly inured to violence that doesn’t happen on our street or zip code or time zone, and increasingly addicted to militarized response to threat at home and, especially, abroad. The recent shooting of legislators in a public park, of those practicing for a charity baseball game, could be a teachable moment in how we might disentangle ourselves from these deathly habits.

       Will it?

       I wish I were more hopeful that lessons will be learned, penitence declared, restoration initiated, communal bonds recovered. People of faith, however, know that hope’s foundation lies deeper than present circumstances permit, however unfavorable. Read more ›

Day of Pentecost choral reading

A script for nine voices, inspired by Acts 2:1-13

(Leader and reader instructions at bottom.)

When the day of Pentecost had come,    [1]

they were all together in one place.    [1, 2, 3]

And suddenly,    [4] Read more ›

Such is the journey

A call to Jesus' memorial table

by Ken Sehested

We are free to act boldly because we are safe.

We are safe because we are at rest.

We are at rest because we have been forgiven. Read more ›