Looking Back on Bearings

A Retrospective on the Blog's Second Year

Perhaps because I have spent so many years of my life in school and church settings, I relish these last few weeks of August. Sure, classes may be starting in educational institutions across the nation, but in my mind, “academic summer”—with its more luxurious, relaxed pace—won’t officially end until after Labor Day, when vacations come to a close, the speed of curricular content delivery quickens, and church programming picks up steam.

As we proceed toward September, Elizabeth Drescher and I are preparing Bearings for its third season of publication. Over the course of the next ten months, we will introduce you to new voices, offer our returning contributors additional opportunities to shine, and move the blog in some novel directions.

But before we head into that future, we’d like to hark back to the past. Taking a walk down memory lane, we see that 2015–2016 was a fine year for The BTS Center’s blog, which won several national awards. Not only did Heidi Shott’s essay “The Privilege of Belonging” garner a Polly Bond Award of Merit in the Theological Reflection category from the Episcopal Communicators, but Bearings won two DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial Awards from the Religion Communicators Council—including the only two Awards of Excellence given in the Blog and Blog Series categories. We are especially proud of the fact that writers who were new to Bearings composed three of the four pieces in the “Standing for Justice: A Conversation on Race, Ministry, Leadership, and Congregational Life” series, which included the following posts:

During the 2015–2016 publication year, eleven first-time contributors offered their talents, perspectives, and insights to Bearings. They, together with the authors who made Bearings’ first year so successful, comprise a fine team, and we’re fortunate to work with all of them. Week in and week out, they produce thoughtful posts that raise important questions and jump-start meaningful conversations.

We are pleased with Bearings and its audience, which has now grown well beyond our initial expectations. If you are a new reader who would like to get a feel for what the blog has been about—or if you’re a longtime audience member who wishes to revisit some of your favorite posts—we’ve put together a literary retrospective for your reading pleasure. The pieces below, which occur in no particular order, represent thirteen—a perfect baker’s dozen—of the most popular pieces we published in Bearings last season. Enjoy.

(For more information about each piece, mouse over its image to access summary comments.)

 

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Christ and the Canaanite Woman

Jesus, The Jerk

When we published Allyson Robinson’s piece about Jesus’ rude behavior toward a woman’s request for healing, we knew that it might prove controversial. After all, Allyson dared to overturn a common Christian tendency to portray God as compassionate and humans as cruel. Little did we know that her post would provoke commenters to wade into important theological debates over the existence of suffering and whether God is fundamentally good. 
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Re-Imagining Communion

Somehow, between teaching and editing the blog Feminism and Religion, Xochitl Alvizo found time to write for Bearings this year, and she proved a great addition to the team. This piece—about how friends in a new church start developed Communion practices that did not cause pain for trauma survivors—was forthright, challenging, and fresh. Readers responded to its honest critique of traditional Communion rituals, as well as its exploration of how to use group discernment when making creative decisions.
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Our Savior of the Soccer Pitch

Sports and religion: Mention them in the same breath, and you may cause controversy. Some people may lament the fact that youth sports and weekend religious observances often conflict, but Keith Anderson isn’t one of them. Rather, he views athletic fields and faith communities as equal-opportunity arenas for spiritual formation. According to Keith, weekend sports don’t have to mean the end of churches as we’ve known them. Instead, they may help expand the definition of “ministry.”
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Tribute in Light 2013

September 11

Around here, it seems as though whatever Kelly J. Baker writes turns to gold. All three of the pieces she penned for Bearings in its second year proved immensely popular, but readers gravitated toward this piece—which helped kick off our sophomore blog season—with special enthusiasm. Perhaps that’s because Kelly captured so well the experiences of confusion, fear, anxiety, and grief that haunted Americans in the aftermath of September 11th. Or perhaps it’s because she connected those experiences with some of most pressing difficulties our nation faces today … almost 15 years after that singular, fateful morning.
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God is Not a Boy’s Name

As the founder of a Silicon Valley church, Nicole Lamarche is surrounded by individuals working on futuristic technologies that have the capacity to change lives. Yet in the midst of so much evolution and transformation, the phenomenon of using traditional (restrictive) language for God flourishes. In her reflections about a cultural yearning for “new language and new icons and new paradigms,” Nicole tapped into readers’ desire to “build worlds with words that create connections and communities of abundance, justice, love, and peace.”
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4H campers canoe at Rock Eagle, June 16, 2005.

Winter Dreams: The Warmth of Church Camp

In the middle of winter, Jordan Shaw took readers back to warm, youthful days filled with canoeing, hiking, and swimming in his piece about how church camps promote spiritual formation. Audience members apparently agreed with Jordan’s assertion that these beloved institutions make the "words on the pages of the Gospel … come alive" by helping youths to "embody the love of Christ.” It may be the end of August, but we’re already preparing ourselves to head back to camp.
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Disappearing Our Pastors

Megan DeFranza’s inaugural essay for Bearings was the most-viewed post of the blog’s second year, and it spurred the greatest number of Facebook interactions. Megan’s critique of faith communities that discourage their leaders from asking difficult questions or challenging denominational doctrine clearly resonated with readers—and with Evangelicals for Social Action, which shared the piece with its followers.
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Seeing Through Brokenness

In the past few months, Andover Newton Theological School has announced that it will enter into a partnership with Yale Divinity School, and Episcopal Divinity School has declared that it will cease granting academic degrees. During this era of adaptation and change, Pamela Shellberg’s piece about identity, loss, and rearranging life’s pieces into new patterns speaks to everyone who is attempting to make sense of ever-evolving religious and educational landscapes.
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Who Has The Right to Be Violent?

The question posed by the title of Jamye Wooton’s award-winning post stirred passionate feelings among Bearings readers. Facebook responses ranged from “Nobody has the ‘right’ to be violent,” to “When violence is a last resort to defend oneself from eradication, it is everybody’s right.” While the issues raised in Jamye’s piece—including state-sanctioned violence, racism, and civil protest—are complex and uncomfortable, we cannot afford to avoid addressing them as individuals, as faith communities, and as a society.
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The Bible in One Hand, Beer in the Other

Last autumn, Adam Copeland went out on a theological and gustatory limb when he wrote a blog post that mixed scripture and alcohol. In a perfectly pure-hearted attempt to encourage Bible study (and not because he happens to be a fan of Oktoberfest beer and desired to do a little sampling), Adam offered recommendations for the best brews to pair with various scripture passages. For those who imbibe, his piece was less a tall glass of water than a heavy, satisfying steinkrug of (insert your favorite Oktoberfest Märzen here).
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The Institutional Church Takes Its Place at Table 61

Bearings challenged many readers this year with its award-winning series on racial justice—and the immense popularity of Maxwell Grant’s piece proved that the blog’s audience also enjoys a feel-good story every once in a while. Max’s essay about an elderly woman who upends the social hierarchies at her assisted living facility allowed readers to root for the underdog, even as it forced them to consider relinquishing traditional definitions of “ministry.”
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Going Through the Holiday Motions

Martha Spong, executive director of RevGalBlogPals, dared to admit last December that she was struggling with “things that feel hard” and “felt a little low” as Christmas approached. In response to Martha’s heartfelt confession, readers wrote that they “related to her experience,” and thanked her not only for “beautifully and poignantly capturing the dissonance and consonance” of the Christmas season, but also for offering “a message of hope and blessing in the midst of the bleakness.”
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The Privilege of Belonging

The two narratives that Heidi Shott offered in this award-winning post introduced readers to a restaurant waiter who was astonished at being treated like a human being and a Hispanic pastor who turned down a colleague’s lunch invitation because he dared not set foot in the privileged suburb his colleague called home. Ultimately, Heidi’s work encouraged readers to reflect upon the experiences of being an insider versus an outsider—and to evaluate where they themselves were located in hierarchies of belonging.
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Image credit:

Cover – Susanne Nilsson, “Looking Back,” April 23, 2014. Via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0.

Alyssa Lodewick

An authorized minister in the United Church of Christ, the Rev. Alyssa Lodewick earned Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work degrees from Boston University. Before Alyssa allowed herself to pursue a religious vocation, she spent the first part of her professional life working for a variety of nonprofit organizations and academic institutions, co-editing To Educate A Nation: Federal and National Strategies of School Reform along the way. Connect with her on Twitter @AlyssaLodewick.

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