Thursday, December 24, 2009


Ah. That's my sigh of relief from yesterday afternoon after turning in my last paper of the semester. Not that I'm entirely happy with what I turned in but, either way, it's over and I don't have class until the second half of January.

There were a couple of times this Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday where I thought: "Why, O why didn't I stay in Ambridge longer?" I certainly could have used the extra time for reading and writing, and I definitely could have used the library's resources when it came to doing the word studies for my exegesis paper. On the other hand, going to the InterVarsity worship reunion on Friday night blessed me. I got to see several people who I love and haven't seen much of (or at all) since I moved to Pennsylvania, and starting your winter break with worship and prayer is always good.

My dad and I saw Avatar on Sunday night. Wow. I haven't seen that many 3D movies in my life, but this film's use of it really drew you into a fantastic world in an immersive way. Part of it had to do with the CGI, which was just enough on the far side of the uncanny valley to suspend your disbelief. The other factor was James Cameron's combined sense of scale and gravity--he shows us BIG, fantastic things that behave much like you would expect them to if they did exist. In short, watching Avatar was akin to seeing Jurassic Park or The Matrix for the first time--experiencing screen & sound in a way no other movie has quite accomplished.

I don't have an extensive year-end list for movies, but here are my favorites in A-Z order: Avatar, District 9, The Hangover,* Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, Up. Short list, huh? I saw virtually no independent films this year (except the derivative sci-fi flick Moon) and the promising-looking kid's movies I either didn't see (Coraline) or was underwhelmed by (Where the Wild Things Are, The Fantastic Mr. Fox; the latter I am open to watching again with someone indie-esque like Ben DeHart or Brendan Trinkle, although I was listening to that Karen O song from the Wild Things trailer earlier today and wanting to rumpus). I yet want to see, especially, The Hurt Locker and A Serious Man.

After my first semester of seminary, I can say a few things with confidence: 1) I know I'm right where I'm supposed to be, and that's a good feeling; 2) I am not called to be an exegetical scholar; 3) I love the Book of Common Prayer and am immensely grateful for our regular chapel services; 4) I am an emotional powder keg; 5) Prayer really makes a difference; 6) God has blessed me with many new friends; 6) 52 degrees and sunny can qualify as a warm day; 7) I will probably wear a collar one day (I'm probably confident about that one, I guess); 8) I am charismatic to the core and that will never change.

I have made peace with my total lack of interest in Christmas trees, elves, Bing Crosby, alternating greens & reds and opening presents. I was really made to be a liturgical Christian, I think. Embracing Advent as the season of anticipation and Daily Office readings from third Isaiah fits so much better with the gospel and eschews all the cognitive dissonance that warrants inversions of Xmas materiality like The Advent Conspiracy.** I want incense and candles and chanting and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and, in general, a deep sense of connection to millenia of longing for Jesus's return. 9) I am fundamentally eschatological and that will never change.

Here are two bits from my BCP-structured quiet time earlier:

"Thine is the day, O God, thine also the night; thou hast established the moon and the sun. Thou hast fixed all the boundaries of the earth; thou hast made the summer and the winter." ~ Psalm 74:16

"We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."

~ Tradtional Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, BCP '79 p.160

*I will qualify that this is the most riotously funny movie I have ever seen in the theater but not one I would watch in mixed company.

**Not hating on it, I just think the embracing the liturgical calendar precedes it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

from "The Dry Salvages"

Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled...

~selection from T.S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages" in Four Quartets.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brief Update

I haven't posted much these past two months, except to comment on some movies. There has been, I guess, the combination of much schoolwork and some emotional roller coasters that have made me reticent to set aside time to reflect on and share what is going on in my life.

I still have much to do--MUCH to do--between now and the end of the semester. I don't expect to write here again until after my assignments are turned in. December 18th I am flying to Jacksonville, where there will be an InterVarsity alum worship gathering (hooray) and family to see for the weekend before Christmas; I'll be there about four days. Then my mom, sister and I will drive to (just south of) Charlotte and spend Christmas there (another four days). Then the three of us are flying to Kansas City, MO for the OneThing Conference (another four days), and flying back on the--1st, I think. Then I will have another four days south of Charlotte, then fly back to Ambridge so I can take a January intensive on the New Testament from the 11th-15th.

So I'm basically gearing up for the busiest December of my life--wait, I'm already inundated by it.

Bonus: Yesterday I wrote an 850-word short essay that considered pentecostalism, women in ministry, international bible translation, the explosive growth of the church in the global south and the growing cracks in Western hegemony in order to postulate the shape of global Christianity in the next century. Woot.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Best Movies of the Decade, 2000-2009

In December of 1999, I was 16, an atheist, an awkward loner-geek with a small circle of friends with a bright mind and no purpose in life. Ten years later I am 26, an Anglican seminarian, an awkward social butterfly-geek with an expansive circle of friends with a fresh sense of purpose and place. It has been a coming of age decade—especially so these past five years—where I have grown spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and so on.

And aesthetically. I’ve always loved movies, but since college my tastes evolved from simple fascination with resonant image, sound and story (a fascination I’ve maintained) to questions of meaning, literary structure, cinematographic beauty, and authentic expressions of human psychology. The following selections touch one or all of these categories at once, and are my choices for the best of the movies I have seen—a considerably smaller sampling of movies than of the professional critic.

If a couple of themes emerge from my selections, I would to identify the tension between romanticism and biblical theodicy as the main one. I find both emotionally resonant and for now take a both-and approach that isn’t quite sure how they fit. The other easy to spot theme is my love for playful concoctions of image and score, like the “Procession of the Spirits” sequence from Spirited Away or the “Remy Drives a Linguini” sequence from Ratatouille. Yet another, from the dystopias of Minority Report and Children of Men to the bload-soaked revisionism of Gangs of New York and emotional trauma of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is that of a world out of order. These doubtless reach that place in my psyche that exclaims, “This world is messed up!”

Additionally, I think There Will Be Blood (2008) certainly belongs somewhere on this list, but I find that film obtusely fascinating to the point that I am unable to analyze my reaction to it. Paul Thomas Anderson is not my favorite director, but as with Punch Drunk Love (2004), he has concocted an original film simultaneously relatable and ineffable.

15) Good Night and Good Luck (2005): A historically-rooted morality tale about scared but principled people attempting to do the right thing. Director George Clooney appropriates Edward Murrow and team’s story as an impassioned case for level- headed civil discourse over and against demagoguery and fear-baiting. 

“Cassius was right, the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves. Good night, and good luck.” 

 14) Gosford Park (2000): Altman’s murder and manners comedy-drama doesn’t have a big heart, but what it lacks in emotional heft it makes up for in the sheer brilliance of its ensemble staging.

13) Kill Bill (2003-2004): Eccentric wunderkind Quentin Tarantino crafted this archetypal fever dream of violence and melodramatic posturing. Volume 1 tends to offend as an unapologetic monument of martial arts violence, a splattery apotheosis of far east combat films recast in a contemporary western setting. Volume 2 fleshes out its predecessor’s portentous phrases, providing “The Bride” a mythological past and a poignant resolution. 

“Yellow-haired warrior. Go.”

12) Rachel Getting Married (2008): Ensemble drama that finds fresh poignancy in the time-worn plot components of family, guilt and self-destructive behavior. Rachel's Hindu themed wedding plays out pantheistically in a jumble of families and ethnicities, colors (purples, oranges, yellows, blues), sounds (reggae, spare rock, sitar, string quartet) and a veritable torrent of emotion (love, shame, joy, regret, rage). Hathaway's Siva (i.e. Kym) functions as this pantheon's god most high; the actress shows her chops and delivers a harrowing, emotionally realized character.

11) Minority Report (2002): Whereas A.I. mixed genres and ended up less than the sum of its parts, Minority Report fuses metaphysical sci-fi, film noir, dystopia-lite and pulpy adventure action into a synergistic thrill-ride—so much so that its plot holes and Spielbergian sentimentality are negligible drawbacks. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography makes it the most beautifully photographed action movie to date. 

10) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): A sad and vividly constructed mind-trip about love, loss and how we (don’t) deal with pain. Jim Carrey plays against type as a mopey and dissheveled sweater-wearer, Kate Winslet as his gleefully chaotic belle. Charlie Kauffman and Michel Gondry comes together in a psychologically astute marriage of words and images that plays like a fragmented map of contemporary romantic angst.

“How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! / The world forgetting, by the world forgot / Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! / Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.”  

 9) Children of Men (2006): This dystopian thriller labors to construct a fully-realized, chaotic future. It is short on the wide establishing shots that typically provide epic “city of the future” moments and long on day-to-day details and dialogue that build this world from the ground up. Clive Owen’s dramatic arc may not be deeply compelling, but the urgency and frailty of his life and task infuse this troubling vision with purpose.

8) Gangs of New York (2002): A bloody, feverish, revisionist history that paints America’s melting pot a matter of grim survival and American identity as forged with the musket and blade. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a gripping, terrifying performance as the alpha male of this Darwinian ethnic war.

“I'm forty-seven. Forty-seven years old. You know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all on the streets can see. That's what preserves the order of things. Fear.” 

 7) Munich (2005): Spielberg’s post-9/11 dissection of the Arab-Israeli conflict illustrates the cyclic nature of revenge and the wake of its psychological damage. 

 6) The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001): A deeply odd, brilliantly photographed throwback-noir about detachment and the persistence of uncertainty. Billy Bob Thornton plays an introspective barber, the passive everyman caught in a matrix of strong personalities and officials beyond his control—much like The Big Lebowski’s Dude. The Coens again exploit this structure to suggest the futility of human effort, thematically in touch with both Job and Ecclesiastes.

“Looking at something changes it. They call it the ‘Uncertainty Principle’. Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy's on to something.”

 5) Lord of the Rings (2001-2003): A cinematic tour-de-force of action, melodrama and narrative-driven special effects. Purists be damned, Jackson adapts Tolkien into the most rousing epic and fully-realized fantasy world of film history.

“My precious.”

4) Ratatouille (2007): A quirky short story in love with the creative life of sensory delight. The cartoon is a fusion of form and content, richly textured and multi-colored. Remy’s class-defying ascendance to top chef of Paris, though a tad naïve, celebrates the power of the truly beautiful with the transformation Grinch-like food critic Anton Ego (with the elegant and sonorous baritone of Peter O’Toole). Michael Giacchino’s score captures its romantic quirk with a unique pastiche of whimsical Parisian interludes and fantastic orchestral crescendos.

 3) No Country for Old Men (2007): Pulp and art make love in this stark thriller; the film beautifully adapts Cormac McCarthy’s tale of money, murder and the absence of authority. It evokes, especially via Tommy Lee Jones’s world-weary sheriff, a certain elegiac masculinity wistful for a time when moral righteousness and courage were the only requirements for overcoming evil. Its three lead performance (Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem) all employ a less-is-more approach, leaving subtle nuances to imply volumes, and—in Bardem’s case—capturing the ineffability of violence, death and chaos.

“The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, ‘O.K., I'll be part of this world.’”

 2) Spirited Away (2001): A grotesque, oriental riff on Alice in Wonderland doubling as an archetypal coming of age story. Miyazaki’s frames are alive with motion and color, pulling the viewer into his wide-eyed protagonist’s journey through a wonderland of wild images. No less, the film’s central tension is between loving sacrifice and self-serving inaction, effecting an emotionally realistic transformation in his Alice though it occurs in a fantastic world.

 1) Pan's Labyrinth (2006): Guillermo del Toro’s lush fantasy-horror film blurs distinctions between fantasy and reality. It approximates N.T. Wright’s proposal for a Christian aesthetic, one foot in the grim brutality of the “real” world, the other in the mythical beauty of the spiritual one. Young Ofelia stands at the intersection of these worlds, del Toro playing with the question of whether her fantastic experiences are only in her head. Javier Navarrete’s score is haunting, poetic, thematically anchored by a lullaby befitting this unsettling yet beautiful bedtime story. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Rhythm of Life

I've been fairly busy these past five or six weeks and therefore haven't been regaling the world with updates on my day to day, nor with my occasional theological reflections. I did, of course, take time out yesterday to write that Wild Things review, mostly because I enjoy reviewing movies so much. I guess I am going to start integrating movies into this blog; I still want to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Lovely Bones, Avatar and maaaybe The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Maybe. It might be worth it just to see a Gilliam film in the theater.

Where to start? Obviously this has been the thick of the semester, though things promise to get thicker, like an old-fashioned milkshake. I'm mostly keeping up with schoolwork, and I'm figuring out more and more what my rhythm of life will be for the next several years. I had the strange experience on Wednesday of walking into a professor's office, reading the Greek words "eipev autoi de Iesous eimi ho anastasis kai he zoe"* on a wall poster and saying, "Oh, 'I am the resurrection and the life,' I can read that."

Last week I made the big decision to cut back on the amount of classes I am taking because I want to take the extra time to be spiritually formed and discern where I fit into the Anglican church professionally and also because a I was called to interview for a good job opportunity. The credit union barely three blocks from my house unexpectedly called me back about the resume I submitted in August about a part time position. The interview was short but positive, although she told me I might not hear back for several weeks because the individual who plans to leave has not yet given her two weeks notice. Ideally, I would be able to start right around the same time as the beginning of the spring semester so that I can both go home for Christmas for a few weeks as well as take a January intensive class. A job that I can walk to and work around my school schedule will do wonders both for my bank account and my manly sense of financial responsibility (it just feels better to work, however little...). That's not to say women aren't financially responsible! But I'll move on before I dig that ditch any further...

Understanding this new rhythm of life has helped me to accept the day to day, enjoy it, embrace it, and let go of any striving towards making a future happen for myself. I was praying before the monthly Trinity healing service last night and felt directed to consider and pray Psalm 23:1, "YHWH is my shepherd, I shall not want." It helps to remember that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and he will deliver my future and my calling--and one day a marriage? Hint, hint, God--on his calendar and according to his purposes.

I won't be going home for Thanksgiving, but I will be dog-sitting for the Thompson's this next week. At least I will have someone to keep me company. Just kidding. There are enough people sticking around that I won't have to spend the whole holiday alone.

*I have no idea whether this was the actual word order or whether I got the gender of resurrection right. The full text I quoted reads, And Jesus said to him, 'I am the resurrection and the life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are, reviewed.

Like Fantasia set to an indie-rock soundtrack, Where the Wild Things Are strings along a series of dazzling and incoherent images complemented by musical compositions which reinforce and/or augment meaning and mood. Spike Jonze—director of music videos, the one-two meta punch of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and actor who played Three Kings’s hilarious hick—serves up Maurice Sendak’s children’s book as a music video where the best scenes are extended sequences of motion, color, sound and mood. And so moody! Jonze and hipster novelist Dave Eggers have plumbed the book’s inherent darkness and come up with a world of lonely people (I suppose a denouement-set montage scored with Eleanor Rigby would have been too on-the-nose) whose only consolation is acting out like—wait for it—a wild thing.

Young Max, like so many child protagonists, is fatherless and lacking in friends. His ripe imagination, showcased in the “real world” scenes where he composes freudian-slip stories for his mom and barks orders at a fence, provides the excuse for the film’s extended digression on loneliness, fantasy and escape. After biting his mom and shouting Sendak’s brilliant child-angst exclamation “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” at her, he runs out of the house into dark suburbia and ends up in a fantasy-wilderness of heaving, anthropomorphized beasts who share Max’s confusion, loneliness and anger. Like the fatherless Max, they are kingless and pine for someone to bring authoritative order to their lives. One of the film’s central tensions is the problem of authority; not that these beings despise it, but rather they long for it and find it elusive. Glum concessions like “There’s no such thing as a king” suggest the intractable chaos left in the wake of absent fathers and, ultimately, an absent god.

Jonze shot the film in Australia, its images painted like some beautiful desolation, wide open spaces that are all rustic earth tones and blue skies. Those music video sequences show Max and the wild things at play, running, having a dirt fight and—most spectacularly—building the greatest child’s fort ever conceived. Max orders the wild things to construct it, and they rip trees straight out of the ground in order to thatch a hulking home for themselves. The film’s other great tension is that between self and other, individual and community; if Max learns any lesson, it is that he must consider the needs and feelings of others in his words and actions. This comes to a head when the others realize that Max had only himself and his imagination in mind when he designed the fort. The wild things’ friendship provides him with support, but also exposes his selfishness.

All the poetry of themes and images granted, I still found the film contrived. Maybe were I a couple of years younger, or perhaps less in touch with the roots of my own loneliness and angst (and what I take, as a Christian, to be some plausible solutions), then I might have emotionally resonated with its thematic structure. Jonze and Eggers succeed at describing and illustrating the isolation and loneliness of growing up fatherless and friendless with a moody, great-looking and mildly frightening film. This is no small accomplishment. Yet that darkness remains a little too intractable, too unresolved. Not that the conclusion needed to wrap up all of Max’s issues, but making the changes he went through more explicit would have helped.

Where the Wild Things Are evokes another Disney classic, Alice in Wonderland. Any narrative framework that moves from the real to the fantastic/absurdist and back to the real involving wide-eyed children does. I like the film better than Disney’s Alice, but not better than another recent film which evoked it, Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I think the difference might be that while Max seemed coddled when he returned home, Chihiro was so transformed by her wild ride that she didn’t need to be coddled. I like my coming of age movies to convey the dynamics of the central character, however subtle and token. If Wild Things wasn’t intended as a coming of age movie, but perhaps rather a child’s rebellious night out of the house, then I find its one hundred angsty and childish minutes as self-indulgent as the chocalate cake Max enjoys at its end.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cranmer & Hope

"Cranmer's sainthood cannot be established on the grounds of sinlessness or denial of weakness, which is an adolescent expectation. He loved life and retained a real measure of the fear of death. The Church, quite early, learned a danger of martyrdom as escape, when some were tempted to give their lives, not so much as witness, but as release from the ambiguities of life and to gain the joys of heaven prematurely.

The Christian paradox, that God uses the weak to confound the strong, can be seen in the life of Cranmer, where strength is above weakness. However, the paradox can be read the other way. There is strength beneath weakness which is obscure to a secular age (cf. II Corinthians 11:30ff.)

There is something everlastingly encouraging about Cranmer's faithful death. All who suffer injustice, betrayal, and defeat of what seems fair and good and according to the purpose of God himself can consider the mind of Cranmer as he died. The burning, dying Cranmer saw nothing with his natural eyes but a bleak Friday with the complete and utter failure and destruction of all he believed in. The unseen Easter reality was Queen Elizabeth's restoration of all his accomplishments and their abiding nurture over subsequent centuries. They were things hoped for but unseen by Cranmer, perceived only by the eye of faith and a heart of hope, faith and trust in the providence of God that gave Cranmer his courage in those last hours."

~C. FitzSimmons Allison in C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), xvii.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Week in Encouragement

On Wednesday morning I felt inexplicably funky. One of those days you're thankful for the liturgy because you don't have any more to offer than your physical presence and willingness to assent to the truth. Apropos that Martha G used the living dead as part of her sermon illustration. Eucharist, prayerfully received, always gives me a brief jolt of God's kindness. This week I also received prayer, which was from someone either insightful, listening to the Holy Spirit, or both. I mostly remember now that she prayed that God would remove doubt and fear from me. This helped me identify those thoughts as not from God and as barriers to his work, doubly so since he was pointing them out to me through her.

Friends of mind in Tallahassee sent the Trautmans and I a care package with encouraging letters, junk food and pictures of the Bodoh girls. Thanks friends! I remember my spiritual family in Tallahassee with deep fondness and appreciation. How many people get spiritual community like you during the quagmires of twenty-something pre-adulthood? I so covet all your prayers; I love it here at Trinity but it has still been a huge transition and this context is really helping me focus my spiritual growth. So I am not only coming into a new community, going back to school, learning Greek, becoming a member in a new church and trying to discern God's next step (with dramatic implications for the rest of my life)--I am also, with God's help, dredging the subterranean junk of my heart and dealing with it by his kindness and severity, providing a thick layer of spiritual warfare over it all.

Also, my sister blessed me with some prophetic encouragement the other day by sending me a list of attributes and promises the Lord spoke to her about me. It is good to be reminded of the good that God and other people can see in us; I am often my own worst critic. Especially meaningful was her connection of the Psalm 37:4 command/promise to delight yourself in the Lord and receive the desires of your heart with a specific desire of mine--more especially so since I haven often regarded that desire and that verse together! I love you Katie! :D

Last Saturday, before I left Jacksonville for Pittsburgh, some people close to me were sharply questioning my decision to move here. It was painful and frustrating. So I was in a weird mood as I went to board the plane and saw a mid-50s man with bushy eyebrows and carry-on luggage bearing the Anglican seal. I said to him, "Are you Bob Duncan?" He turned, smiled and said he was. I told him I was from Trinity and then we realized we shared both flights that evening.

When we disembarked in Charlotte, he was waiting for me at the gate and offered to buy me dinner during our layover. So for the next hour we chatted and ate Chili's. I really like him. We covered a wide range of subjects and covered a little of his personal history and a lot more of my own. I had the distinct feeling of being gently probed by the man who might ordain me in three or four years. After the discouragement before leaving, it was a blessing to have a "chance" encounter with the archbishop of American Anglicanism. It seems just one more step in the process of belonging to this new family. And speaking of my sister the prophet, she even said she hoped I would sit next to someone interesting after I wearily quipped that "There's never anyone interesting on commuter flights."

Lastly, I would like to point out that, save the archbishop, all this encouragement came by the way of women. Pick up the slack, brothers! Don't be outdone in the imitation of God. :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The spirits [and minds] of the prophets

Funny the things you remember. ~ Forrest Gump

I remember something Stuart Greaves said during my summer 2003 internship at IHOP.* He exhorted our group of young charismatic zealots not to "manifest" when we felt the Holy Spirit--not to shake and convulse and scream, as much as could be helped--by sharing a story from his youth.

During a certain season, the Spirit began to grip him intermittently and he would groan and shake in God's presence. These experiences interrupted the daily flow of his life, driving, being in church (I hope I'm remembering this correctly). When a leader who was discipling him spoke to him about it, the young Greaves replied, "I'm sorry--I just can't control it. It's God." His leader rebuked him, saying, "No. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Corinthians 14:32). Greaves went on to instruct us, saying that wild manifestations are alright when you first encounter the spirit, but as you mature they really help no one. He exhorted us to, when we feel the weight or power or fire of God's presence, resist any urge to manifest but rather turn that spiritual energy back towards God by means of contemplation, prayer or some combination thereof.

These words returned to me this weekend at the conference I attended with some seminary friends. It was called "Dreams, Visions and the Mystical Realm" (they should add that subtitle to Urbana and see what happens). I think Greaves's instruction was relevant in two ways. The basic application occurred Saturday night, when I really did begin to feel God's presence in such a way that might have lent itself to convulsions (and it was happening as I was observing other people go through holy shakes, no less). Rather than whoop, shout, or shake (not that there's anything essentially wrong with such expressions), I focused that divine gripping into intercessions in tongues peppered with maranatha pleading ("Come, Lord Jesus!").**

The other application had to do with many times in the conference where my mind flat out rejected what was being said, but through stirring up my spirit through muttered prayers I was able to receive from the Lord and suspend my judgments. This is not to say that I because I was feeling spiritual I just accepted everything I heard uncritically, but I feel like I was able to be encouraged and provoked by God through this man's ministry. Without the extra prayer I just would have gotten a headache. In the first case, I restrained the fire, in the second I fanned the flame.

The truth that our spirits are subject to us speaks to the relationship of spirit and mind. The charismatic tendency (I speak as one reared charismatic) is to welcome the Spirit and shut out the mind, encouraging a kind of divine possessing where we lose control and God takes over. I contend that this has more in common with Eastern mysticism and Gnosticism than the spirituality encouraged by the Christian Scriptures. To have an active mind is not less spiritual, to turn off one's mind is not more spiritual.

I am reminded again of Psalm 27:4 (another mark of IHOP's influence on my life). It's words don't encourage mindlessness, but rather mindfulness. "Ask, seek, behold, inquire" are sensory words about a creator god who can be known, explored and given witness to in concrete ways.

The incarnation testifies that spirit and flesh dwell together, not one over the other. Jesus did not set us an example of self-emptying so that he could be remote controlled by the Holy Spirit, but rather he "became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). The life of worship ought to be characterized by a fiery spirit and an active, disciplined mind that daily yields volition to God's direction--not his usurpation.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect." ~ Romans 12:1, 2; emphases mine

*International House of Prayer
**I contend that shouting because of a mystical God moment does not "release" something abstract in the Spirit, as is common to say in charismatic parlance. I don't see that in the Bible.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kairos, anyone?

Next week is our fall reading week: no classes, no chapel, no advisee group, no nothin'. I'm flying to Charlotte on Monday afternoon and back to Pittsburgh from Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon. Woot.

I'm going to need the time to: see family, get out of Ambridge, study Greek, run on the beach in the Florida sun, read 4 books.

I received my new laptop last Friday. On Saturday the left speaker began omitting screeching static instead of any proper sound. Sunday night I spent an hour on the phone with India, troubleshooting--finally HP agreed to take it back and gimme a new one.

I also spent an hour on Sunday after service at a parish meeting where the rector explained the details of the recent court decision* on the diocese of Pittsburgh and fielded questions from the congregation. The bishop and standing committee will decide by Monday whether or not to appeal the decision. I would hazard to say the people at the meeting were about 80/20 in favor of appeal, but I have no idea how representative that is of the diocese at large. I commend all who might pray and lobby on this issue to the words of Fr. David Sandifer from when Calvary Anglican (Jacksonville, FL) lost their building: "I think it will be good for us." To everyone else: please pray! Pray that those making the decision will have the wisdom of much counsel and sensitivity to God's leadership.

This weekend I'm going to a prophetic conference at Shepherd's Heart, the charismatic-Anglican-homeless church in downtown Pittsburgh. It's been a while since I've been to anything really crazy (OneThing Montgomery was energetic, but not wacko. Not that all wacko stuff is bad...); I've got to walk that fine line of discernment and openness, I guess.

It's been a good week. Stress levels are down. Productivity up. Please pray against any Satanic attack against the peace I have right now, especially since I'm attending spiritually-charged meetings in a spiritually-charged part of town at a spiritually-charged moment of diocesan crisis this weekend. Hm. Kairos, anyone?

*The Pittsburgh Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (over and against the EDoP [Anglican]), granting them legal rights to all diocesan assets. Millions in trust funds, property and buildings thus go to them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The High Today is 62

My new laptop is supposed to come today. By 4:30. So if I don't wait around at the house until then it will end up at the FedEx shipping facility and I'll have to go pick it up. This will be my first new computer since I started college seven years ago.

My sleeping pattern has been fairly irregular of late. I've had many late nights--some for good reason, others not--and many groggy mornings. Today was weird, though, since I was in bed before 12 but still did not want to get up at 8:30. I've got out of the habit of starting with breakfast each day, so maybe some dietary rectifications will help the situation.

Now that I've quit my job, I've joined the school football team. It's an informal, low-budget, female and male, flag-tackle team, and we have practice only once (twice?) a week. My first was on Tuesday--the first team sports practice I've had since I was thirteen. It was good to do something physical with other people for a change, since so much of my exercise this past year has been alone. And it turns out that if you're on the line you get to just stand there and keep the other guy from coming through--or, defensively, you can rush and scare the QB. It's fun to do something brute when you spend so much time being cerebral.

Other than football, I wish that I had more to report besides the goings on of chapel, class and community, but that's all that's really going on right now. This has the effect that most of the developments I'm experiencing are internal, whether intellectual, emotional or spiritual--except maybe to reaffirm that I am making friends quickly up here and am putting down roots in at least 2 different social niches.

One thing that is cool about classes is that, at least a couple of times now, there are deep congruences between the subject material. For example, on Monday I both read Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines and read about the crucial role monasticism has played in church history (these were readings for Spiritual Formation and Church History, respectively). So Willard provided a strong theology of grace, the body and discipline, while the monastics demonstrated the saving influence that disciplined lives can have on the world and history. After Monday, I decided that I would like to read something about St. Francis, and it turns out that Chesterton's book on him is one of the possible readings for Spiritual Formation. On another front, a Greek vocabulary word I've been having a hard time remembering showed up in an article for my Introduction to Mission to class. Not as cool as the monastic thing, but helpful nonetheless.

I've been asking people to pray for me to grow in discipline. And I've been asking God to grant me both his spiritual gifts and the fruit of the spirit (of which self-control is one).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mea Culpa

"The death we die as sinners in confession gives rise to new life. Something in fact has died--our social saint (more pernicious in some than others) as well as the power of the sin itself. But we become alive to Christ and his church as never before. We arise in Christ with the family of Christ. In the light of his resurrection, veils of shame, guilt and deception fall away, demons flee and sin's power begins to dissipate.

Forgiveness is the first expression of this resurrection power. Upon appearing to his disciples, the resurrected Christ sent out his disciples with the command to forgive sins. 'He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven"' (Jn 20:22-23). We as his disciples are thus imbued with his Spirit to proclaim forgiveness to those who confess sins. This is resurrection power, since the proclamation 'You are forgiven, in Jesus' name' resurrects a person from the death of the sin.

Assurance of forgiveness results from a priestly proclamation. The brother or sister who has heard our confession speaks the word of forgiveness. Without such a witness, we are prone to mumbling admissions of sin and absolving ourselves, neither of which can impart the power of new life to us. Only the forgiveness of God can. And this occurs with certainty through the priestly word of our brother or sister.

Bonhoeffer wrote, 'Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother... The assurance of forgiveness becomes fully certain to me only when it is spoken by a brother in the name of God. Mutual, brotherly confession is given to us by God in order that we may be sure of divine forgiveness.'"

~Andrew Comiskey, Strength in Weakness: Overcoming Sexual and Relational Brokenness (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 101.

Quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954), 116-117.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I have been wandering all my adult life. From atheism to repentance, the university and Intervarsity, the International House of Prayer, my History degree, moving to Tallahassee--I've been making reactive decisions. Not one of these choices began with my initiative or of "seeking the Lord." It's a miracle I've come this far. Through these years I've flirted with the gospel yet never fully embraced the path of death to life, the cost of discipleship.

Trinity marks the first time I have followed clear direction from God. Perhaps it is not that I have gone "into the wild" (see my second August post), but rather that I have discovered YHWH's "way in the wilderness" (Isaiah 43). It is the years of wandering that have the character of wilderness, not this most recent venture. Though risky, this step of following has begun to bring order to my personal chaos.

This past Sunday an intercessor at Ascension shared an image she had while praying for me after Eucharist: sheep being scattered in the absence of a shepherd, cared for in one's presence. She told me to stay close to the shepherd's heart. Given the busyness of the previous week, she was speaking to where I was at. It suggests I must keep the habit that led me here: listen, obey.*

Psalm 95 offers jubilant praise of YHWH's supremacy and genuflected reverence before his humble shepherding as training for the heart to listen and obey. Its audience: the stubborn-hearted people of God. In a word, us. Me. After time spent analyzing it in class yesterday and contemplating its personal implications during our quiet day today, I feel drawn to learn its lesson.

*or, summarizing the shema, "Hear... love."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Off Schedule

I am up too late and staring with trepidation at the "Submit Order" button on the HP Direct website. I am nervous about using my loan funds to purchase a new laptop, but my old one is falling apart (after 7 years of loyal service, I don't blame it) and I do need a computer for school.

This past week was my first week of combined work and education responsibilities. Disaster. Turns out that the guy I've been assigned to work with four days per week lives 25 miles away--fifty miles roundtrip each workday on top of whatever driving I do taking him around. I can't complain at all about him--he's sharp, funny, happy, energetic--but the extra time spent driving and the wear on my tired car are killer. The compensation is simply to meager to account for the driving and inconvenience to my school schedule, so I've decided to quit; end of story.

You can maybe see why I wrote no new posts last week; I'm taking this next week off as well. I really want to keep this twice-weekly habit; both so my curious friends and family can keep up with my happenings and so my penchant for theological soapboxing can have a release valve.

Today was my second time attending Shepherd's Heart church, an Anglican, charismatic congregation of mostly homeless people in downtown Pittsburgh (which is different from the church I am regularly attending on Sunday mornings. SH meets @ 5:15 Sunday afternoons). All of my spirit-filled friends in Florida who love the poor (you know who you are), I have found a reason for you not to live so far away from me any more. I am excited about somehow being a part of what they're doing, even if my part is trivial at first.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." ~ Mark 9:37

One of the quirks of attending Anglican seminary during the week and Anglican worship on Sunday morning is the probability of hearing the same text preached on at least twice a week. I heard two sermons on Mark 9:30-37 this week (as did many of my fellow students, I assume), both of which exegeted the passage capably and reached the same conclusion: greatness in God's eyes comes from serving those neither celebrated nor important to society proper.

Rector Jonathan Millard of Church of the Ascension (where I have begun to attend) exhorted us starkly: "Be ambitious and serve God!" I take this as a framework for my current endeavor: I need ambition in order to have the energy to accomplish the task before me with excellence. But the task I'm undertaking ought to be done in complete service to God and neighbor, not for my own benefit. It is not their desire for greatness Jesus criticizes, but their definition of what it means to be great.

That this lectionary passage should coincide with the start of my new job is God's provision for me. At the end of last week, the obligations of employment rudely intruded upon my school schedule--the temptation to resent my job present at its beginning. The two sermons--Grant LeMarquand's at Trinity and Jonathan's at Ascension--sobered me, challenged me, reminded me that working with the developmentally disabled means an opportunity for greatness. They also challenged me not to shy away at all from my predisposition towards urban and homeless ministry.

I suppose the challenge at seminary, then, is to do this without allowing "[my] left hand [to] know what [my] right hand is doing" (Mt. 6:3). One thing at a time, Jesus!

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I turned 26 Monday. The day was obstinately Monday-ish, marked by beginning of week obligations; I stayed up until 11:4o reading for school. We celebrated last night, though, with dinner, a movie and bowling (the local alley has $1 games on Wed nights). I am thankful for all my friends and new acquaintances and their contributions of food, drinks and laughter last night.

Also yesterday I met one of the individuals I will be working with as part of my job. His name is Josh, he is 21 years old and has a job and a driver's license. Apparently we will mostly be spending casual time together. I think it will be positive. This morning I had to drive up to the office to watch nearly 3 hours worth of training videos. One was particularly bad: poor image quality, garbled sound, rambling lecture, all in attempt to convince me of something I already thought (i.e. the developmentally disabled should be afforded the same dignity and respect as anyone else. Who would want this job if they didn't already think that?).

As job responsibilities are picking up, I already feel the onset of weariness. To be fair, I had a long day (compounded yesterday by an abundance of meetings I was obligated to by the school yesterday from 8:30 AM to 1 PM) and a late night (the aforementioned celebration). I've taken this job in order to minimize my debts (say I rely on loan $ for 10-20% of my expenses instead of 100%); the thought of forgetting it and scrounging by has definitely occurred to me. But I'm convinced that would not be good stewardship. I believe I'm called to be here, so God will either get me through this or he won't. But I'm not going to take out loans and attribute them to Yahweh my shepherd.

Please don't hear triumphant preachiness in that. I feel as though I only half believe it. I covet any and all prayers for encouragement, joy, discipline, peace--especially that I won't view this job as an intruding burden and thereby become resentful towards its obligations (as I did today).

There is a limited selection of scriptures usually read from as the conclusion to morning and evening prayer; I have been especially posturing myself to receive from God when this one is read/prayed:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." ~ Romans 15:13

Monday, September 14, 2009

Soaking in God's Metanarrative

A friend and I were discussing sermons on Saturday night. I said I considered a "C" sermon (as in A, B, C, D, F) to be one that acknowledges the content of a given biblical text, interprets it with a sound and humble hermeneutic and applies the interpretation to its audience's situation. I added that I had become grateful for "C" sermons since I have become accustomed to hearing ones that fail to meet this basic rubric of preaching competence.

She agreed and mentioned some preachers she likes and acknowledged that they tended to meet this basic standard. Then she added that some preachers, like John Wesley, seemed to be able to go off topic or ramble yet deliver an invigorating and enlightening sermon. I thought for a second and then asked whether or not this might be due to a deep internalization of the gospel metanarrative; she concurred.

I deduced this because of my exposure to two sermon givers in particular, one sermon producing community in general, and my personal devotional experience. The two sermon givers are John Calvin and N.T. Wright. Both have a grand sense of God's story from Genesis to Revelation, and the writings of each are littered with rhetorical fluorishes to their respective metanarrative structures (Calvin: "In the psalmist's praise our Lord's election is most surely demonstrated, in that so depraved a man might know the grace of our sovereign Lord..." or Wright: "What Paul has in view here is the now-and-not-yet of God's future rushing into our present of Christ's past: new creation, new humanity..."--I made both of these up, but they both sound right). The sermon producing community is the International House of Prayer, where Mike Bickle and team intentionally labor to reshape the metanarratives of intercessors and preachers-in-training to emphasize prayer, judgment, eschatology, and the church/believer as bride to Jesus ("He's our husband, beloved! And we're on our knees, with him, in intimacy--but he's the one who will judge the nations at the end of the age! The bridegroom is the judge!").

Which narrative, then? Its up to us to judge which grand story makes the best sense of our canon. I'm partial to some combination of Wright and Bickle (weird, right?), where Yahweh has been relating to his people covenantally since Abraham, has anointed and inaugurated Jesus of Nazareth as his king, and we wait in eager, prayerful, missional expectation of his return when he will judge the nations and make every wrong thing right--finally "in [Abram] all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3).

I just want to soak in that. Let that awesome story--of God's faithfulness, his power, his mercy, his justice, his out-and-out greatness--inform my reading of Scripture, my prayers, the hope of my calling, my praxis, my mission. Getting God's big picture infuses me with excitement. It contextualizes the work of the Spirit which I know experientially--whereas before I knew his power, now I'm enthralled by what he intends to do with it. And hopefully, when it comes time for me to take the stage, I will accomplish some level of exegetical competence seasoned with fluorishes of metanarratival grandeur, infused all by holy life indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Early In The Morning, My Song Shall Rise To Thee

Yesterday I woke up around 5:45 AM. I knew it was early because the room was dark. I lifted my head groggily to check the time but couldn't make out the clock: the green digits were blurry. So I squinted, trying to adjust my tired eyes, but the digits' contrast did not sharpen. Then I realized that my alarm clock was obscured by a drinking glass set before it on my dresser. I could not perceive the hour at which I woke because I was looking through a glass darkly.


Classes are going well. I was busting at the seams with intellectual fuel on Tuesday; having been away from the classroom so long I was ready to attack every question and concept with rapid, multifaceted argument and insight. Needless to say I had to restrain myself.

We have morning prayer four days a week, evening prayer three, and a eucharistic service on Wednesday mornings. These times have, so far, been rich with contemplation and touches of the Holy Spirit; I believe God is blessing me for heeding his call and submitting to the liturgical structure. I simply treat the Scripture, the hymns, the prayers, the recitations as opportunities for theological reflection, contemplation and otherwise turning my heart towards God.

Psalm 27:4 provides a concise philosophy of worship:

One thing I asked of Yahweh, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of Yahweh all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of Yahweh, and
to inquire in his temple.

Regardless of feeling, service structure, music style, even quality of execution, one may choose "to [dwell]... to behold... to inquire." God honors such worship.


I had a physical yesterday; turns out I'm in good health.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


If God has invested his creative energy and delight in fashioning me, then I have value, unity, identity. The disparate parts--the evangelical, the intellectual, the charismatic, the liberal, the goofball, the sober contemplative, the sinner, etc.--are fit together in the knowledge, worship and service of Yahweh as creator and of Jesus of Nazareth as lord and friend. He, by mercy and with joy, integrates me and infuses me with cosmic significance.

I consider a woman, 24, a refugee of Darfur, a mother, a Muslim, a rape victim, survivor to a murdered family, starving, dehydrated. I see only chaos: random, grandiose, socio-historical forces as diverse as post-colonialism and sub-Saharan geography all acting upon her blindly in a cruel amalgamation of time and place. And thus, given that such a woman probably exists, I question the God-givenness of my own time and place. Might I not be more than the causal product of those very forces which wreak suffering upon her--the suffering of billions? A product of a product of a product.

In the chaos of injustice, "I" am nothing.

I refuse to solve this problem with the retort, "God is in control." To do so one must be resigned to Candide's "best of all possible worlds"--the one we see with waking eyes. No! I say no! And no again!

This cruelly put upon woman is made in God's image as I am. Jesus cares for her well-being at least as much as the survival of my identity and sanity. The Christian response, then, is not of resignation to the merely apparent injustice of the creator's implacable will, but of moral outrage and divinely oriented empathy. Our God loves that woman--something must be done!!

Those grand, cruel forces at work blaspheme and dishonor the glory of god which fills and will fill the whole earth. They do not constitute basic reality, nor do they have any agreement with the intentions, desires, designs or actions of our creator god.

Thus global and historical injustice does not undo my identity and story. Rather, it pushes me headlong towards the worship of Jesus and participation in his victorious mission over and against the forces of darkness. They are the wilderness into which the Spirit drives us, and no status-quo-baptizing, justice-perverting theology can be allowed to quench that charisma.

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God and they will reign on the earth."
~Revelation 5:9, 10

Friday, September 4, 2009

Questioning My Orientation

This afternoon marked the end of the Fall 2009 orientation for incoming students at Trinity. We sat through hours of information, played games, ate meals together, hung out at night, familiarized ourselves with the school's inner-workings, filled out paperwork and terrorized the dean of students with myriad plastic flamingos and one frozen announcement bell (our students-vs-faculty comedy could be titled Revenge of the Birds).

I found out yesterday that I officially have a job with Life Management Consultants, the aforementioned company that works with the developmentally disabled. I have to complete a criminal history check (ha) and undergo a physical before I start; day one should be in a couple of weeks. Additionally, I decided to take out some loan money since I qualified for a subsidy of all interest--I'll be utilizing the funds on a need-only basis. There are great benefits to longer being a dependent.

My roommates and I are getting along great. Ben is 23 and Bryan is 22; both attended school together at Grove City College, an hour north of Ambridge. All three of us love Jesus, learning and chilling. We've got a great 3 bedroom apartment immediately across the street from campus and just to the left of the chapel (I look at its front door from my bedroom window). Our kitchen has an awesome retro stove that could have easily been made by Rosie the Riveter, and the counter-top surrounding the sink is all stainless steel--drying dishes drip directly down the drain.

The faculty and staff at the school have made it clear that they work not only to educate our minds but also to shepherd our hearts and spirits and form "Christian leaders for mission." Everyone with the school seems concerned for our communal and individual well-being--body, soul and spirit. It is a great blessing to know there are so many seasoned ministers on hand concerned about my growth and future.

I am looking for a home church. I actually need to be on the lookout for two churches, since I need both a local church through which I undergo the discernment process as well as another church which I will do mentored ministry in. So I have to find a place for community and growth and on top of that I place I think I will learn a lot from. Please pray for God's guidance and favor as I do.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Quotes

"Justice without love is brutality. Love without justice is banality."

~ John Dominic Crossan

"While often unconscious of their interpretive method, many Christians today nonetheless frequently employ an intuitive or feels-right approach to interpretation. If the text looks as if it could be applied directly, then they attempt to apply it directly. If not, then they take a spiritualizing approach to the meaning--an approach that borders on allegorizing the biblical text (which shows little or no sensitivity to the biblical context). Or else they simply shrug their shoulders and move onto another passage, ignoring the meaning of the text altogether."

~J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 20.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The [mostly] Calm Before the Storm

Today I interviewed for a job working with the developmentally disabled. I was promised a job offer so long as my references checked out, so this could be it. The pay is not quite as much as I need, but I have to take what I can get right now.

I haven't heard back from the youth ministry position. It sounds fun and challenging, but it would interfere with my ability to put down Anglican church roots in the area (it's at an evangelical Presbyterian church and I would have to work on Sundays).

This past weekend my roommates Bryan and Ben moved in. I also helped move a seminary family in in the next town over--they had two 24' trucks filled to capacity! I think my roommates and I are going to get along great. There a couple of years younger than me, but we have already shared some engaging conversation. We are the only three single males out of our 30-something numbered incoming class. So many married couples...

My good friends David and Megan Trautman are back in town after a two-week jaunt to Indiana and Michigan. I am glad they left, as I got to put down some roots and make some relationships of my own here in Ambridge, but I'm equally glad they're back. I think we're going to go to the Farmer's Market later this afternoon.

I've started reading for my Introduction to World Mission class. I love the book! It's a collection of writings from serving missionaries--the first intelligently and comprehensively lays out the contemporary web of global economic-social-political issues and talks some about what it means to bring the gospel to that matrix. Interdisciplinary thought + gospel proclamation = I'm excited.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

An apocalyptic, catholic priesthood

“The Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity have emphasized what Paul Tillich called the sacramental principle—the drive to make the material sacred, stemming from the belief in the incarnation of the divine in human form. The Protestant tradition, in contrast, has emphasized what Tillich called the prophetic principle—the drive to distance the divine from the material in order to avoid idolatry and allow the world to come under the critical judgment of the transcendent divine. Thus in a traditional Catholic church the altar provides a sacred space to house the consecrated bread and wine, the very body and blood of the crucified Christ; while the pulpit dominates the Protestant church, the place from which the word of the Lord can be proclaimed, condemning human efforts to save themselves and offering hope of divine forgiveness to those who surrender their lives to God.”
~ Gary E. Kessler, Studying Religion: An Introduction Through Cases, 138

“To him who loved us and freed us from our sins by his blood, made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” ~Revelation 1:5, 6

I take it from these two verses (cf. Rev. 5:10) that all freed from their sins by Jesus have been made priests to YHWH. If some, then, are set aside as “priests” vocationally, they are devoted to that catholic calling without the distraction of a “day job.” It follows that the vocational priest must turn their labors to equipping all in their care to live as priests.

Tillich’s “sacramental principle” describes the sociological function of priesthood. Across traditions, the priest is charged with bringing together the sacred and profane, usually constructing and presiding over a sacred space (or Eucharistic altar or mountain top or shrine) where a sacred power (or God or transcendence or ancestor) can be engaged with. If, then, one doesn’t balk at the Reformation, this begs the question of what a “priesthood of all believers” implies. I take it that many settle for the implication that they don’t have to confess their sins to a priest. I think it goes further.

The New Testament is clear—YHWH no longer dwells in physical space of the temple, but the physical space of his people. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to sexual purity: the profane, pagan temples have their prostitutes, but you are YHWH’s temple and must abstain from fornication (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Everyone freed from their sin by Jesus is given priestly charge to make themselves a dwelling place for YHWH, to be God’s sacred space on this profane planet. Charged to bring sacred and profane (heaven and earth) together so that heaven is witnessed by those immersed in profanity. And, no less, they are called to do it together (Eph. 2:21, 22). Thus our god’s sacramental presence is not limited to—and surely not absent from!—the Eucharistic table overseen by the vocational priest.

Paul identifies the aim of vocational ministry as “the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13), the man who lived and breathed as the physical embodiment of Israel’s god. Thus the vocational priest not only constructs (via liturgy) and presides over the sacrament of the Eucharistic table; they also labor to equip their congregation to physically embody the Father of our lord Jesus Christ—while personally endeavoring to embody him as well: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1, 2).*

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” constitutes no less than an apocalypse—a revelation—where the “priest” pulls back the veil of profane reality and demonstrates the supremacy of sacred truth. That Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who died twenty centuries ago, rules the peoples of the earth rather than those who profanely appear to is chief among revelations. Indeed, it is the chief concern of John’s Revelation, where the reign of the messiah conquers all rulers and all evil and culminates in that final union of heaven and earth where “the home of God is among mortals” (Rev. 21:3). In this way the priest becomes prophet-king, critiquing what is via what should be and transforming what is into what should be via the authority of the High Priest-Prophet-King, the resurrected lord Jesus. In him we have the power to see God’s future (as prophets) and the sacramental power to bring it into the present (as priests).

Thus morality, prayer, mission, community and charisma fuse together and constitute “my Father’s business.” It must integrate both of Tillich’s principles and avoid the pitfalls of either tendency—on the one hand a sacramental baptism of the status quo and on the other a prophetic Gnosticism where the world is going to hell and “I’ll fly away, O glory, I’ll fly away.” It is the business of the vocational priest and the priest’s “day job” to make it the business of all who have been freed of from their sins by Jesus, Messiah of Israel and lord of the whole earth.

“[L]ike living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” ~ 1 Peter 2:5

*I am emphatically not saying that each believer is “fully God, fully man.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Getting to Know You

It's been three weeks since I had a day of work. So weird.

The job hunt is coming along, slowly. I didn't get the Starbucks job I interviewed for, but the youth ministry interview is tomorrow. The school's dean of students connected me to a job working with handicapped people; I've emailed the contact person and will be picking up application materials tomorrow before the interview.

I went to a large, established church in downtown Pittsburgh on Sunday called Church of the Ascension. I enjoyed the service and am attracted to their emphasis on prayer and spiritual growth. It's about a 40 min. drive, but worth it if it's the right place. I'll probably visit several more churches and take some time to pray before I settle on one congregation.

God provided through my friend Bo (we were acquainted briefly @ UNF) who is getting married to another seminarian in January and was looking to get rid of several books he and his fiancee would be have two copies of. I got 14 books, 7 of which I'll use this semester. He saved me $90 on the cost of the books for this semester alone, not to mention the 7 others I will potentially use in future classes.

People here have welcomed me with open arms and made this transition warm and pleasant. Shout outs: Mike & Stevie Glor have been great, opening their home (and their kitchen, praise God) and organizing events; Becky is fun and good company; Bo & Lilly are idiosyncratically chill; Tina is short, talkative and funny; and I can see Dudley and I having more than one long conversation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bread of Life

"For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counsellor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him,
to receive a gift in return?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen."
~Romans 11:32-36

I see Romans 9-11 is about reversing the fall, embracing the sovereignty of God and relinquishing our autonomy. It follows then success in his calling depends completely on what he does and has little to do with me outside of trusting obedience. So, during moments of despair, I start thinking about how poorly it would reflect on him for my calling to come to naught. I find myself contending with him to think of himself--"You're all I've got! At least come through for your own sake!"

"Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life." ~ John 6:68

"Spare your people, O YHWH,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
'Where is their God?'"
~Joel 2:17

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yer Blues (?)

I have been alone a lot this past week, but I have managed to stave off depression through a variety of activities. I am quite thankful for the free internet and DVD collections available at the local libraries. Last night there was a cookout and potluck on campus and I had a lot of fun. We played games on the grass and hung out late and talked. My kind of party. Minus the beer.

I interviewed at Starbucks on Tuesday. I think it went well but they were interviewing other applicants immediately after me; not counting on it, I guess. I will interview sometime after the 18th for a youth ministry position at an evangelical Presbyterian church. And there is an Italian restaurant hiring in the next town over; I put in an electronic application a couple of days ago and am waiting to hear from them.

I have not been getting up by 6:40 everyday, but I have been good at getting exercise and staying away from junk food. I made a large pot of jambalaya on Sunday with brown rice, chicken, sausage, onions and green peppers. I've had it for lunch everyday since but I'm mixing things up at breakfast and dinner.

My schedule this next year will be fairly hectic. Between school and work I will probably be pulling 65+ hour weeks. I am praying for perseverance and diligence because I am going to need them more than ever. I really want to excel. School has always been easy for me and I never had much drive to do my best--I knew I would be praised by the teacher for simply completing the assignment. But now I am working towards a defined life goal and I want to seize it with everything I've got. So perseverance and diligence in school, yes, but also in prayer. I want my future life in ministry to be effective in bringing God and people together--to be filled with God's life and overflow with it for the benefit of others. So I've got to pray.

"Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’" ~ Genesis 12:1-3

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Into the Wild

I will attempt to, in addition to entries chronicling weekly life in Ambridge, post one theologically-oriented post per week. The following is adapted from the final paper I wrote for the "Discerning a Call to Ministry" class I took this summer.

"The crime you see now its hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die even to do this job. But I don’t want to put my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, 'OK, I’ll be part of this world.'"
~from No Country for Old Men, as adapted for the screen by Ethan and Joel Coen

"Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
~Isaiah 43:18, 19

I have suffered little in my life, yet still I identify with the nomads of ancient Israel. Easy platitudes cannot sustain the life of faith; those wanderers learned as much standing between an obtuse and untamable deity and the hard reality of a desolate wilderness. Only one maxim counted: “Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart.”1 In the hardscrabble wastelands of Sinai and Arabia they had but loving trust in Yahweh as their currency of survival:

"Inexplicably, this God speaks his powerful word directly into a situation of barrenness.That is the ground of the good news… The speech of God presumes nothing from the one addressed but carries in itself all that is necessary to begin a new people in history. The power of this summoning word is without analogy. It is a word about the future spoken to this family without any hope of a future. The juxtaposition of the barrenness of Israel and the speech of God is definitional for Israel. “Barrenness” marks the deep futility of Israel. “Speech of God” asserts the freedom and power of God to work his will among the hopeless."2

This discontinuity between earth and heaven underlines the irreducible, undeniable glory of the creator god who has called us out; by corollary, trust in him is the only option.

Abraham’s example is paradigmatic for my understanding of God’s individual calling. The creator god came to the man and commanded him to leave home for an undisclosed land. He obeys. The rest of his story plays out not based on his great courage, faithfulness or morality, but rather on the basis of God’s faithfulness to the promises and covenant he makes with Abraham. The man places his wife in sexual jeopardy almost immediately after responding to God’s command. Then he is blessed by a mysterious priest; he attempts to fulfill God’s promise for a son by his own means rather than God’s; he barters with God for the fate of a wicked city; he obediently attempts to sacrifice the son provided by God. Abraham’s story is not a clear-cut narrative of virtuous God-following, but a the story of a weak-kneed wanderer encountering the leadership of a god who inspires fear and obedience rather than ritual homage. As Paul would later understand it, Abraham lived “not by works but by his call.”3

My life has been marked both by several times when I sensed or heard God’s call and myriad seasons where I failed his standards or wandered confusedly through various schools, jobs and Christian communities. I might well say that the “barrenness of Mike” and the “speech of God” are definitional for me. I very well know that no direction I take of my own volition, no task I take of my own choosing bears fruit that lasts. The one thing I most desire, and most fear, to do; the one thing I would never embrace without God actively calling me and prodding to do so, is that which I now undertake. It was John Wesley or someone equally reputable that once said, “No one who can imagine themselves satisfied doing anything else should go into the ministry.” Alternatively, to paraphrase St. Augustine, my heart will never be at home until I find my work in him.

As tame as Ambridge, Pennsylvania may be vis-à-vis the wildernesses Israel tread, leaving for Trinity constitutes the first time I have “put my chips forward.” Though far from the riskiest step ever ventured, it feels to be the least secure thing I have ever done. The first time I have asked God what to do, heard a call to follow him coupled with real risk, and obeyed. I’ve reached a place where I can’t do anything else. Either I dream of a life more than the sum of its parts, or I settle for survival in the wilderness of this world. The good news is that by the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the dream is more real than the wilderness. One is not “awake” by resigning themselves to the zero-sum games of economics and Darwinian ecology, but rather “asleep” to the waking reality of the god whose word sustains the fabric of existence. One maxim counts: “Hear… love.” Awake to him, I can with fear and trembling say, “OK, I’ll be part of this world.”

1 Deuteronomy 8:4, 5
2 Walter Brueggeman, Genesis (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), 117. Emphases original to the text.
3 Romans 9:12

Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Season, Week One

I will be updating this blog weekly.

Today is my fourth day living in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, about sixteen miles north of Pittsburgh. This morning I will rest from my (physical) labors and begin the concentrated hunt for a job.

Monday I spent driving (yes, the Sentra survived the beautiful yet harrowing Appalachians) and moving in. This included pushing my 150 lb + desk up a flight of stairs with my friend David. I had to brace my shoulders against the bottom and push up like a leg press while he pulled and kept it from catching on the stairs; at the top we had to take the door off its hinges to get it in. The last two days I spent cleaning and unpacking. The kitchen has been time consuming, as I cleaned every shelf and compartment in my refrigerator (by removing them and washing them in the sink) and then every dish I brought with me since they were wrapped in newspaper.

My apartment is above a hair salon in a two story brick building that might be eighty years old (the kitchen is at least fifty years old). It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms (I have my own), a kitchen / dining room, a living room, a long hallway and a back porch of sorts. My roommates won’t move in until later this month, but one of them is visiting in town this weekend with his family.

The school has a warehouse on site that functions like a free Goodwill for students (thank God). I now have three nice winter jackets (who knew they came so thick?), a living room chair, and two pizza baking trays (the bare necessities). There is also a couch in there but my body has been more physically exhausted than my brain has had willpower since move-in was finished. So it stays where it is for now.

I met some of my fellow seminarians last night at a dinner organized by someone from the school. Everyone seems real nice and has their own story. There are a lot of couples—mostly married, one engaged. Not to say there aren't singles. Everyone, though, is here to go to school and be part of God's mission; I think I’ll fit in well.

I have been getting up early—6:40 or earlier each day so far—and want to make it my habit. Time will tell of my success.

If you’re the praying type, please remember my job hunt as well as the next few weeks when I will be living alone and won’t have much community.