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Two new grant projects to explore migrant experience in Texas
Randal Whittington

Education Beyond the Walls and Professor Gregory Cuéllar given grants for ongoing projects

The Institute for Diversity and Civic Life’s 2021 Migration Narratives Project include two Austin Seminary grantees. Education Beyond the Walls received a collaborative grant of $19,700, shared with Austin Region Justice for our Neighbors, and Professor Gregory Cuéllar, associate professor of Old Testament, received an individual grant of $5,000 for his “Arte de Lágrimas: Refugee Artwork Project.” Both initiatives seek to celebrate the humanity of migrants and foster reflection on immigration policy and practices.

Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Seminary will collaborate with Justice for our Neighbors to expand on the “Undocumented Stories” project, which began in 2017 with the objective of giving voice to members of the immigrant community in Texas. “The center of our project is education through the voices of our Latinx immigrant brothers and sisters to disrupt the conventional narrative about immigration and the immigrant experience,” says Mónica Tornoé, director of Latinx learning and of the Undocumented Stories project.

“Often in non-profit circles, client storytelling is seen as a tool for fundraising, a compelling way to connect with donors and show positive outcomes while asking for more funds,” Tornoe continued. “Too often, the hero of the story is the non-profit which stepped into a person’s life at just the right time to do something good and resolve the problem. We want to challenge that narrative by centering the immigrant as the actor in their own story.” Funds from the grant will support publication of a book—which can be used in whole or in part alongside video clips of the storytellers—and resources for community and church education programs.

 

In August 2014, Professor Cuéllar and a small team of faith-based volunteers initiated the Arte de Lágrimas: Refugee Artwork Project. According to Cuéllar, “The stories of the ‘Other’ that this project aims to bring into public view are those of asylum-seeking children and youth from Central America’s Northern Triangle. As part of the broad humanitarian response to the influx of asylum-seekers at the Texas-Mexico border from 2014 to 2017, we saw art-making as a friendly activity for asylum-seeking children and youth to do while they waited for their buses at bus stations in McAllen, Brownsville, and San Antonio, Texas. In contrast to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inhumane response to their arrival (many placed in animal-like cages and freezing detention cells), we felt the need to act by offering at the very least a neighborly welcome to the newly arriving asylum-seekers at the Texas-Mexico border. Hence, informing our project is less focused on the academic study of migration than on a faith-based ethics of care for refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers.”

This grant will allow the digitization and archiving of original artwork by asylum-seekers (2014–2017, 2019), thereby ensuring future access to the stories they tell about migration and religion in the Texas-Mexico border region. This grant will also fund the production of a virtual storytelling art exhibit, using a selection of the digitized art pieces (see https://www.artedelagrimas.org/).

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Professor Greenway posits agape as moral common ground  in struggle for global justice
Randal Whittington

Professor Bill Greenway has published his fifth book, Reasonable Faith for a Post-Secular Age

In his newest book, Reasonable Faith for a Post-Secular Age (Cascade, 2020), Professor of Philosophical Theology William Greenway argues there is an unrecognized, but real and potent, common core of global spiritual understanding shared by religious and secular communities. He claims that naming and affirming this core reality—the reality of agape—offers us our best chance as we face multiple global crises in the 21st century.

      “Across the world we face extreme and growing economic inequalities … conflict-driven mass migrations … [and] epoch-level species and habitat lost. … For the first time in history, these challenges are rising on a global scale,” writes Greenway. “Good people from diverse secular and religious institutions fight these challenges to creaturely flourishing in a multitude of concrete ways … The vast majority share a common understanding of what is reasonable and respond to essentially the same love. But the reality of this common spiritual ground is largely invisible. The transition to a global village sharing a common language has been achieved in the natural and social sciences. … I believe that a common understanding of a spiritual dimension of reality is shared by multitudes across faith traditions and cultures … and I argue that naming this shared spiritual reality is vital for the flourishing of life on earth.”

      Greenway writes as a Christian, but he argues that virtually all faith traditions, from Buddhism to Humanism to Wiccan, are rooted in agape—the reality of finding oneself seized by love for others. He illustrates how the moral reality of agape also rests at the heart of the ethics of those who are secular. Greenway explains how the “philosophical distinctions between secular metaphysics and the metaphysics of the world’s great faith traditions have collapsed,” and urges us to see this as a promising development, because it opens up interfaith and intercultural moral common ground, unveiling a basis for united ethical struggle against life-threatening global challenges.

            In his endorsement of the book, Keith Ward, former Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, says: “This set of essays is a penetrating philosophical critique of philosophical naturalism and a defense of a more open concept of rationality that is able to take religion seriously. A very important contribution to debates about philosophy, metaphysics, and faith.”

            This is William Greenways’ fifth book; others include For the Love of All Creatures: The Story of Grace in Genesis (Eerdmans, 2015), A Reasonable Belief: Why God and Faith Make Sense (Westminster John Knox, 2015), The Challenge of Evil: Grace and the Problem of Suffering (Westminster John Knox, 2016), and Agape Ethics: Moral Realism and Love for All Life (Cascade Books, 2017). The Academy of Parish Clergy, Inc. selected his book For the Love of All Creatures: The Story of Grace in Genesis as one of the Top Ten Books for Parish Ministry published in 2015.

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Professor Park and C. Helsel pen The Flawed Family of God
Randal Whittington

The Flawed Family of God: Stories about Imperfect Families of Genesis (WJK, 2021) is a new book by Professors Suzie Park and Carolyn B. Helsel

The Flawed Family of God: Stories about Imperfect Families of Genesis (WJK, 2021) is a new book by Professors Carolyn B. Helsel, Associate Professor in the Blair R. Monie Distinguished Chair in Homiletics, and Song-Mi Suzie Park, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Austin Seminary

The Flawed Family of God: Stories about Imperfect Families of Genesis (WJK, 2021) is a new book by Professors Carolyn B. Helsel, Associate Professor in the Blair R. Monie Distinguished Chair in Homiletics, and Song-Mi Suzie Park, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Austin Seminary. In 2020 while Park was a visiting scholar for the pastor cohort gathering the Moveable Feast, she heard pastors discussing the lack of resources for thematic preaching. The seed that conversation planted blossomed when she began talking to her faculty colleague and fellow Connections commentary series editor about co-writing a book on family stories in the Bible.

They began with the questions, What does the Bible say about what it means to be a family? and What does the Bible have to do with the current struggles of families today? The answers revealed that the family dramas experienced in the Book of Genesis raise issues—about married vs. single life, sibling rivalry, infertility, family relocation, blended families—which are startlingly relevant to families of today. Throughout the book the writers invite the reader to consider these and many other connections as they reexamine the joys and complications of modern family life. 

Designed for personal or group study, the book strives toward three goals: to allow the reader to see the relevance and connections between the biblical texts and the struggles of today’s families; to give voice to the silent characters in the text and remind the reader to listen for what isn’t spoken in their own families; and to enable the reader to form deeper connections with their own families and communities of faith.

“In this most creative book, Carolyn B. Helsel and Song-Mi Suzie Park have taken an unorthodox stroll through the book of Genesis. Where others find the creation story, Noah’s Ark, and the Tower of Babel, Helsel and Park find families—wonderful, human, complicated families … The authors provide insight into the frayed edges of our family life, but because the authors also find God in the broken places, they bring us profound hope.”
—Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Candler School of Theology

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New Grant for Small Town & Rural Congregations Project
Randal Whittington

Austin Seminary has received a grant of $999,453 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish Houses of Hope, a new program designed to serve small town and rural congregations. 

Austin Seminary has received a grant of $999,453 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish Houses of Hope, a new program designed to serve small town and rural congregations. 

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs. 

"The mission of Houses of Hope explicitly includes service to the church in ways beyond theological degrees," says Melissa Wiginton, vice president for Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Seminary. "The congregations our program address are places where hope is often at a low ebb but where the potential for congregations to influence transformation toward hope is significant. We will focus on Christian practices of forgiveness and gratitude that open to and nourish hope. A digital Houses of Hope Learning Center will serve congregations across the country, while Houses of Hope Learning Cohorts will deeply engage congregations in Oklahoma and Texas."

Austin Seminary is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. They represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as nondenominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian-American traditions.

“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.”

Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen their pastoral and lay leadership.

 

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