Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dalai Lama's next East Coast visit will be to Emory

For those interested in the Dalai Lama's next visit to the Eastern U.S., he will be taking part in a "short teaching" on The Nature and Practice of Compassion at Emory University, in Atlanta, Ga., on Oct. 17th.

The Dalai Lama will subsequently be taking part in the Pursuit of Happiness Conference at Emory, also on the 17th, as well as a panel discussion at the university on October 19th.

For more information, Emory has a special web page dedicated to the Dalai Lama's upcoming visit.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Dalai Lama, Hands of Peace

By Peter Zehren

I was honored to be in the receiving line when the Dalai Lama came to Riverside Church. Riverside and New York Theological Seminary have has a long relationship and it was extraordinary to feel the presences of peace as his hand blessed me.

Speaking mostly to the Tibetans in the New York Metro area, the Dalai Lama made a plea to heal dishonesty and take personal responsibility. As a people, “it is our responsibility to help.” He asked for understanding and patience with the Chinese government, with being kept out of Tibet, and with continuing to stand up for justice by the way we lead our lives.

“Dialogue,” he said, “is the critical function and only solution” to the political troubles in Tibet. I found that most poignant as my own person reflections have taken me through an exploration of Daniel Yankelovich’s book, The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict Into Cooperation. Yankelovich outlines dialogue as a method of communicating where both sides honor the other, where opinions and concepts are melded together, combining all aspects of conversation. In the colloquial, it’s a “both and.”

The thrust of what was said centered around being a good person. An appeal was made to teach “Tibetan ways” to the next generation with an admonition that “our survival as Tibetans depends on it.” Then, honoring the greater good, the Dalai Lama added, “Please keep doing well. Always do the best you can. Do the right thing and remember, this must be taught to the community.

Peter Zehren is Vice President for Development and Institutional Advancement at New York Theological Seminary.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Protestors arrested over immigration reform in Chicago

According to Chicago Tribune Reporter Cynthia Dizikes, as part of a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience, about three dozen immigration reform advocates were arrested in Chicago yesterday, Tuesday, May 25th, 2010. Among the protesters was Chicago Alderman George Cardenas.

The goal of the protesters was, reportedly, to bring pressure upon the Obama Administration to address growing concerns regarding the treatment of immigrants.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Immigration and Pentecost

By Dale Irvin

Two months ago the governor of Arizona signed into law an immigration bill that CNN called “the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration in the country.” The bill sent shockwaves through the religious community. In the aftermath numerous religious leaders around the nation responded with alarm. Two weeks ago a group of national Evangelical leaders issued a statement titled “An Evangelical Call for Bipartisan Immigration Reform.” The statement noted the need for secure borders, respect for law, and the concerns of taxpayers, but at the top of its concerns was respect for the God-given dignity of every human being. On the ground in Arizona in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the law, a similar concern was voiced by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tucson, Gerald F. Kicanas. Bishop Kicanas noted that the effect of the law would be to split families and make criminals out of children who were brought by parents to the USA.

At the heart of the issue is the problem contained in the phrase, “illegal immigrant.” As my faculty colleague, Rebeca Radillo, points out, immigrants are human beings, and no human being is “illegal.” The act of border crossing might violate the laws of a particular nation state, but it does not make one illegal. Quite the opposite holds for Christian faith. Border crossing is necessary if one is to know Christ in his fullness through the Spirit. One cannot be a Christian without being related to others who are of a different culture, national identity, or place of origin. This is the very heart of the message of Pentecost. On that day in Jerusalem the Spirit fell on the relatively mono-cultural group of disciples of the Risen Christ and broke through the borders of their cultural or national identity by empowering them with the gift to tongues to speak to those of other nations. The church that emerged from that experience put border-crossing at its very heart. One could not be a member of the church of the whole, the church “catholic,” without being a part of a culturally and nationally diverse movement. No matter what happens in the weeks and months ahead in Arizona, in the US Congress, and throughout the United States, Christians cannot lose sight of the center fact of their identity, that they are a community of strangers called to become neighbors in Christ.

See the American Baptist Church letter on immigration and Evangelicals for Social Action and more.

The Rev. Dr. Dale Irvin serves as the president of the New York Theological Seminary, in Manhattan. Among other written works, he is the co-author of Orbis Books' History of the World Christian Movement.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Former Union professor honored with James M. Washington Award

The Healing of the Nations Foundation and its president, the Reverend James A. Forbes, Jr., are recently announced that the Reverend Frederick E. Dennard was the 2010 recipient of The James M. Washington Award, presented to him on Sunday, May 16th at The Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, New York City.

The award was created in memory of The Reverend Dr. James M. Washington, a former professor at Union Theological Seminary, member of The Riverside Church and the Church Council, and honors the ministry of lay members of the Church who have best demonstrated principles of Christian discipleship in his/her services to the Church. The recipient of the award has consistently demonstrated Christian faithful adherence to The Riverside Church leadership covenant, exhibiting Christian maturity and charity in all endeavors.

The Reverend Dennard has exemplified these characteristics everyday of his sixty plus years participation and membership at The Riverside Church, according to Reverend Forbes. He has served on many commissions and committees and is currently a member of the Church Council where he has served as vice chairman. In his own words, he has served the Riverside Church and Congregation with "unconditional love."

The Reverend Dennard attended Juilliard School of music and earned his bachelor of arts degree from Brooklyn College, where he majored in psychology. As a student at Union Theological Seminary, he explored how the secular world can be a symbol of spiritual reality and graduated with a Masters of Divinity degree in 1962.

Forbes said the Reverend Dennard is well known for his service to the community. He and his late wife, Doris, a psychiatric social worker, founded the Harlem Interfaith Counseling Service (HICS).

Working together for over 30 years, their intergenerational family and mental health agency became a vital community service dedicated to the healing and wellness to children and adults in the Harlem community. Dr. Dennard currently serves as the vice president of The Healing of the Nations Foundation.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Grad: NYTS was a vital part of a spiritual journey

By Jim Purcell

In graduating from New York Theological Seminary on May 15 with a Master's of Professional Studies, it marked the conclusion of four years of work. For most of that time, I worked full-time, about 50 hours per week as a newspaper publisher. However, because classes were held at night, in Riverside Church, Manhattan, it made earning the degree possible.

Why seminary, though? And, why was it New York Theological for me? For most of my life, I was either a soldier in the Army or a newspaper writer, editor or publisher. My life had little, if anything, to do with the church. Nevertheless, in theory I was a Baptist throughout this time.

When that something that calls one strongly back to faith happens, though, it is something that cannot be ignored. I was not exactly a traditional student when I began seminary. At 39 years old, it was scary to think about entering a rigorous program at a Master's level. Then there was the fact I would have to commute to Manhattan from Central Jersey, about an hour and a half each way.

Still, I tried it at New York Theological, a class at a time, not really paying too much attention to a 'program' at first and being more concerned about enjoying the classes and everything they did in cultivating my faith in God. The student body was diverse, not only culturally and racially, but insofar as their educational and professional experiences. All of that made things more interesting. And, the professors were not only expert in their fields but motivating and inspirational, from a variety of faith traditions. It made the commute and the many hours of studying worth it.

The reality of life is that people learn hard life lessons, and hopefully those lessons teach compassion along the way. None of us are perfect in their faith or in any other way. Yet, in finding a call to vocation during mid-life, it takes an institution that is prepared to address students on that level to make the experience spiritually meaningful, and not just work toward a degree. At NYTS, work toward my MPS was marked by countless hours of studying and a journey that was remarkable.

My return to the church corresponded with my journey in seminary. Together, NYTS and my home church, Stelton Baptist, in Edison, New Jersey, transformed not only my career path but, more importantly, the person I was.

Sitting among my classmates at graduation was very special, because most of them are not unlike me – they had careers and families when they entered seminary, and they dealt with many obstacles in order to be earning their diplomas that day. Still, each of us did it even if we arrived to the same point by different routes. Indeed, it was and is the journey that has the real meaning.

Jim Purcell is a licensed ABCNJ minister, who divides his time between working for his Edison Township home church and in an Ocean County nursing home. He is currently in-care for ordination and working toward his goal of chaplaincy. As a hobby, he operates the religious blog Faith Outside the City.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NYTS Sing Sing Program makes a difference

By Peter Zehren

With tears in their eyes and applause for a man who made a difference, the folks at Mattie’s Diner in Buffalo, NY watched as his story unfolded on TV. Gerald Balone has made returned to the neighborhood where he was involved in a robbery that left three people dead. He spent 37-and-a-half years in prison. And, his life was changed by New York Theological Seminary’s Sing Sing ministry when he earned the seminary's Master's of Professional Development.

Gerald had just got off the night shift at Alcoholic and Drug Dependency Services where he works with rehabilitation. He also helps with re-entry but believes his most important ministry is with prevention, going into the schools and telling his story to kids.

Balone will readily tell you Buffalo is the second poorest city in the nation. “Most people would move on from here if they could. I’m right where I’m supposed to be, in the same neighborhood I started in helping out.”

Balone is proud of being a 1999 graduate of NYTS’s Sing Sing program. He struggled through his GED in prison, and then continued through getting his degree. Through hunger strikes, protests and plenty of struggles Balone made it. Now, in his words, “I’m probably the happiest person you’ll ever know.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

'The Politics of Jesus' speaks to realities of faith and the world

The Rev. Dr. Obery Hendricks took part in an interview with The Center for American Progress during 2007.

The Politics of Jesus was written by the Rev. Dr. Obery Hendricks Jr., a professor at the New York Theological Seminary. It was released by Double Day, New York, in 2006.

In Politics, Dr. Hendricks speaks to the Christ of this world, who wants for human justice; the physical, psychological and spiritual care of people; and understands and resides side-by-side with those who struggle against poverty and oppression. That God is among us in our pain is made clear by Dr. Hendricks. In Politics, Hendricks speaks to difficult topics that people are sometimes reticent to bring up.

In Dr. Hendricks' book, Jesus is not seen through the lens of the privileged, dressed in a robe of sunlight. Rather, Jesus is the Christ of is of flesh, blood and spirit; who is man and God seeking to return humanity to the kingdom through justice and the human revolution of the heart.

The Politics of Jesus speaks to issues of race and class; economic warfare; and the physical needs of our brothers and sisters (of every background) in the context of the word of God.

Inevitably, in examining the ministry of Jesus Christ, politics and human interaction and relations it becomes a matter of the political. And, this book not only acknowledges it but takes it on full-speed, in a scholarly but realistic way.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Day to Address the Needs of Today's Church

Transformative Leadership, Women’s Issues and the Media
What’s for the Youth in the 21st Century Church?
The nuts and bolts of community organizing

The Alumni/ae and Church Relations Department of New York Theological Seminary is pleased to present an exciting program on The Church in the 21st Century: Transformative Leadership Shaping the Future, on May 14, 2010.

The day will begin with worship, with a sermon by Keith Russell and the music provided by Darren Ferguson.

Exploring the theme will be a team of experts led by Katharine Henderson, President of Auburn Seminary. A panel composed of Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Kofi Opoku, Lester Ruiz, Daniel Meeter, and Allison Davis will discuss transformative leadership, women in the Church, challenges facing the Church, and media in the 21st Century Church.

At the Rising Star Awards Luncheon, we will honor two alums who have made tremendous strives in the five years since graduating: Cecilia Loving and Alfred Correa.

An afternoon panel led by Alfonso Wyatt will discuss What’s for the Youth in the 21st Century Church? Panelists are: Darren Ferguson, Diane Carter, and Alfred Correa.

Peter Heltzel, of the newly formed Micah Institute, will present a training session on the nuts and bolts of community organizing, with Ava Farkas, Liz Theoharis, and Chloe Breyer.

We are looking forward to having alumni/ae and friends join us for this informative and stimulating day. The cost for the program is $35, which includes a continental breakfast and lunch. Two Continuing Education units are offered for an additional $25.

For more information or to register, contact: Geraldine Howard, Director of Alumni/ae and Church Relations, at 212 870-3415, e-mail:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Forbes pens new book titled 'Whose Gospel?'

The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr., a past NYTS Urban Angel, has recently penned Whose Gospel? A Concise Guide to Progressive Protestantism. In Whose Gospel?, one of America's greatest living preachers offers a compelling vision of progressive social change. Known as the "preacher's preacher," Dr. Forbes has tirelessly advocated progressive views on the crucial issues of our time -- from poverty, war, and women's equality to racial justice, sexuality and environment.

The Rev. Dr. Forbes is president and founder of the Healing Nations Foundations of New York and senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church, in Manhattan, NY. The Rev. Dr. Forbes served as the spiritual leader at Riverside for 18 years before embarking on a mission of national and global ministry.

Dr. Forbes is also well known for his work on behalf of the National Council of Churches of Christ USA, the National Association of Campus Ministry, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), where he has led numerous workshops, retreats and conferences. Based on the 1995 Baylor University poll, Newsweek magazine recognized Dr. Forbes as one of the 12 "most effective preachers in the English speaking world."

Among other honors, the Rev. Dr. Forbes has won the Alumni Day Award of Howard University for Distinguished Post Graduate Achievement in Ministry.

For autographed copies of the book, which are available through The Healing of the Nations Foundation for $20, plus $6 shipping and handling, call (212) 870-3060, or email

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Global transformation begins with the urban experience

by Dale Irvin

We live in a period of enormous global transformation. Most of the earth's population now lives in cities or megacities. These cities throughout the world have undergone a change closely connected to the transformation in economy, politics, and culture associated with globalization.

The city is no longer located spatially at the center. It is becoming decentered and transcentered and immanent and transcendent at the same time.

Cities by their very nature seek to connect with other cities, form networks and facilitate contacts beyond the immediate terrain.

Globalization transforms basic understandings of existence upon which notions of church and mission have historically been constructed in the modem era.

The idea of national and even geographic boundaries of identity, for instance, that gave us the "here" and "there" of missionary thinking that was famously criticized by Keith Bridston as offering a "salt-water" definition of mission wherein someone becomes a missionary only when she or he crosses salt water. This is anachronistic in a day of global cities.

Cities around the globe are places of diaspora, places of passage more than places of settlement, more like thoroughfares than they are residences. City and world are converging formations. The implications for mission and ministry are enormous.

Christianity has a long and complex relationship with the city. During its first centuries Christianity was primarily an urban phenomenon. It spread from Palestine along urban commercial trade routes to other regions of the world, going east into Asia and south into Africa, as well as north and west into what later became Europe. In each place Christianity went, it rapidly adapted to new urban contexts, attracting artisans and educated (literate) classes who quickly assumed leadership of the movement. Cities were not of the size that we know them today, but were centers of religious, social, political, and economic power.

The city was never just a particular physical configuration; it was and still is a way of being. "A city isn't just a place to live, to shop, to go out and have kids play," says Richard Sennett. "It's a place that implicates how one derives one's ethics, how one develops a sense of justice, how one learns to talk with and learn from people who are unlike oneself, which is how a human being becomes human."

Perhaps the Christian movement has always shown a particular affinity for the city precisely because the city is in a certain sense part of what ultimately makes us human.

But the city is a complex, multifaceted reality, capable of extremes and of forming, as much as deforming, humanity. It is a process that both reveals and conceals, notes Henri Lefebvre: "Everything is legible. Urban space is transparent. Everything signifies, even if signifiers float freely, since everything is related to 'pure' form, is contained in that form." He goes on, "The city, the urban, is also mysterious, occult. Alongside the strident signs of visible power such as wealth and the police, plots are engineered and hidden powers conspire, behind appearances and beneath transparency." Theologically, we might say that the city, not unlike the church, is a place for sinners and saints alike, and a place where one can find signs and countersigns alike of the coming reign of God.

Dr. Dale Irvin is the President of New York Theological Seminary.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

An Interesting Mix of Religion and Politics

by Peter Zehren

At the common table everyone has a place and every voice is honored. New York Theological Seminary gathers people from six continents with a myriad of cultural backgrounds and faiths from Buddhists and Muslims to Jewish and Christian religions. It is with that spirit of inclusivity that I attended an Interreligious Dialogue Event at the United Nations recently.

Should faith have a seat at the political table?

Sister Joan Kirby presented a proposal for a Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace. The thrust of the proposal is to promote partnerships between UN member states and religious communities to further social good. A lively conversation ensued around the changing world order, fear of anything “religious” by politicians, even the use of terminology was seen as a possible deterrent to gaining the needed “buy-in” by a state to introduce the proposal, and several supporting states to move it forward.

Is dialogue stalled by terms and shifting power structures?

The point was made that religions or faiths (a term some from the eastern tradition were more comfortable with) are seen as a subset of culture. Kirby underscored, “religions transcend country boundaries and cultures.” Perception is key here. I raised the issue of changing world order. As countries like China and India surge forward the need to understand other cultures and faiths around the globe becomes more important than ever. The political, economic and faith sectors will need to work together.

Do faith-based efforts address social issues better?

One person shared her view that religious communities have addressed problems of poverty in developing countries more successfully through missionaries than some UN programs. The resources and efforts put forth from this sector have certainly assisted in a substantial way to disasters, health epidemics and poverty. That is why the sector should have a voice at the political table.

How can an interfaith effort gain support?

Unpredictable partnerships within the faith sector as well as other sectors could help gain the necessary backing. Already Europe has come out against this proposal which was compiled by interreligious and faith-based organizations at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 2008 hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of NGOs in a Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO). While the effort is laudable, many felt it may need a smaller test program to fine tune it before moving forward at the UN.

Peter Zehren is Vice President for Development and Insitutional Advancement at New York Theological Seminary.