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.