The app, partially sponsored by the Office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium, helps explore Lent’s difficult imagery with a new generation
by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service
DECATUR, Georgia — “May God grant you the perfect darkness that you may find rest that soothes your creaking soul,” writes the Rev. Shelli Latham, the president of Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation for d365.org, an online youth-centered devotional. “May God grant you the perfect light that you may see clearly the truths of your life and the path the Spirit lays before you,” Latham wrote for “Journey to the Cross,” the special season of d365, an online devotional and app that appeals to youth and young adults.
Latham, an advocate for the inclusion of the gifts and perspectives of youth and young adults in the church, accepted the invitation to write for d365.org because of the way its interactive platform is designed to reach young people. Latham reached her first anniversary as President of Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation in December. She is proud of the financial solutions and the foundation’s newly developing programs to fulfill its mission, as stated on its website, to take “on new areas of emphasis to encourage young people to consider responding positively to a call to ministry.”
d365.org features scripture, prayer and meditative elements in a digital format using text, images, videos and original musical compositions. Each day is structured around five verbs — pause, listen, think, pray, go. The webpage and app take viewers through postures of spiritual reflection and action. Devotions include a worshipful element through hymn and carol arrangements. Writers who are used to preaching sermons or 45-minute lesson plans are challenged to be concise in their content for each of the five sections that echo a Reformed order of service: prepare, proclaim the word, respond and receive a benediction.
“One of the things that d365.org focuses on is providing sacred space for people across the theological spectrum,” said Latham, who spent the first year of her tenure getting to know the diversity of churches and leaders across the 13 states her foundation serves. “The act of writing devotions of 175 words or less was a holy exercise for me,” she explained as she recognized how much every word counted in setting a welcoming table that could be a space that is both as wide and as open as the Midwestern territory which she now calls home.
Latham, who has frequently keynoted events for youth and young adults at Montreat Conference Center and Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly, did not find brevity as challenging as translating the scripture of her assigned week to an audience raised in culture awakened by #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and LGBTQIA+ inclusion. Because of the immediacy of the internet, d365 authors work on deadlines close to publications. “When I opened the list of passages for the week, my stomach dropped,” said Latham, who initially hesitated when she saw the verses that she’d need to amplify within a confined word count that does not leave room for nuance or historical contextualization.
“From the man healed from his blindness (“Who sinned: the man or his parents?”), to the repeated language about light being good and darkness being bad, Latham worried, “(h)ow do I faithfully wrestle with the prejudices of disability and the incredible and overlooked beauty of Black bodies in 175 words?”
Latham explained how her benediction for the week lifts up the positive attributes of both the dark and the light as she described how off-putting dualistic rhetoric is to younger generations who have seen the power language has to shape oppressive social policy, stoke political polarization, justify violence and disguise the resultant ignorance and intolerance as virtue.
“Journey to the Cross” is part of the year-round ecumenical devotional website and app, d365, which is partially sponsored by the Presbyterian Mission Agency through the Office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium (PYT). Gina Yeager-Buckley, associate for PYT, is excited about the depth of experience of this season’s writers and the sensitivity that they bring to young people’s experience of trauma in this world. From Feb. 27 through March 5, d365.org featured reflections from the Rev. Neil Myer, the Presbyterian campus minister of UKirk ministries for Michigan State University. Yeager-Buckley pointed out how Myer’s contributions were published this week in the wake of recent gun violence when a shooter opened fired in two campus buildings, killing three and injuring five Michigan State University students.
“As partners in this ecumenical resource, we are proud to connect them to our Presbyterian colleagues who display theological depth and sensitivity to new audiences,” said Yeager-Buckley, who praised Latham and Myer for their ability to write strong pieces for the space and at the pace digital publishing requires.
“The act of writing for d365.org offered a disciplined practice for me. Wrestling with scripture stirred me to a sense of awe and mesmerized beauty, while also making me squeamish and deeply uncomfortable,” said Latham.
“I was blessed with the stomach-churning opportunity to squirm in the hotseat of my own privilege,” Latham said. “What I found is that there is beauty in the complex space where light meets dark. A flickering candle at an evening dinner party is enhanced by the intimacy and mystery of the night, and we, as children of the God of light and of darkness, are enhanced by drawing up a chair in places of uncertainty and discomfort, where if we dare to be attentive, we will find new beauty and truth.”
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Categories: Presbyterian Youth and Triennium
Tags: d365.org, gina yeager buckley, john 9:1-12, journey to the cross, michigan state university, omaha presbyterian seminary foundation, Presbyterian Youth and Triennium, rev. neil myer, rev. shelli latham, ukirk campus ministry
Ministries: Theology, Formation & Evangelism, Youth Ministry