Who to Be

Yesterday I sat outside, finished reading a book by a theologian whom I love for his work in the patristics while being staunchly Reformed and vaguely Barthian. A friend came over, chatted for awhile beneath brilliant sun at only eight in the morning; sometimes it startles me how Colorado goes from winter to summer in the course of a week. He’s married, this friend of mine, and his wife is one of my favourite women though lately between school and work and life we’ve hardly spoken more than two sentences. Squinting at me as I talked about camping, Romans and Corinthians he said to me,

“in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

I nodded, head bobbing up and down in natural agreement. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I like the sound of that, I have control to be the kind of wife and person I want to be. Today, I want to sweet and gentle and tomorrow I’ll be kind and gracious. The thought of control evokes something deep in me, a longing in my soul for consistency, foresight and independence.

This morning, I climbed into the land cruiser that still shudders while idling and I felt a surge of frustration. Home is a mess and I’ve an exam this afternoon for which I’m hardly prepared amid everything else in life. In the short lived cool of the morning I was hot and upset. Ethan asked me what was wrong, as he always does when he can sense that I’m on edge, when he reads me like an open book.

I heard those words from yesterday’s sunny conversation, “in marriage, you get to choose the kind of wife you want to be.”

Today, I wanted to be strong, sure and content. So I lied through my teeth; said everything was fine and settled into the old fabric seat of our twenty six year old car that Ethan will always call a truck. By the end of the five minute ride, I had nearly exploded.

It isn’t about me choosing and forcing myself into prescribed mold of who I want to be in marriage, in life, in work or school. My friend was right, he was wise and spoke a bit of truth over me. But like dealing with the patristic notion of deification, one needs certain nuances.

I will be content and strong and sometimes I will even be sure of myself and what life holds. But that does not come from me choosing and then creating such a state of existence within myself. It is choosing who I want to be: a woman who follows Christ, who loves him and trusts him, who gives space to the Holy Spirit to conform and restore? Or something of my own making?

The beauty of the Incarnation is that God took on flesh and saved us by uniting humanity with deity, by making holy that which was sadly warped and twisted. The beauty of justification is that we are given a new identity, declared righteous and put in right standing with God.

The question now is whether or not we choose to grow into who we already are, and submit to the will of the Holy Spirit, the one who changes us into who we, in our deepest hearts, want to be?

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Easter Monday

Yesterday we worked. We went to work, and then we went to friend’s for lunch to celebrate a resurrection we’ve heard about hundreds of times. So, how does one — after growing up in the church — make the resurrection new each year? This is always the problem for me. Easter is a holiday that I don’t dislike but I don’t love. It is full of pastels like pink and purple, frilly dresses and deviled eggs. Yesterday I wore chacos with my jeans and we went for a long walk after a lunch of lamb, parsnips and yorkshire puddings.

But yesterday was full of sweet gifts: hospitality, warmth, hope, friendship and sunshine.slane ruins

See, Jesus dies and takes all the sins of the world on him. But something else, something slightly different happens when we light the Paschal fire at church and whisper on the eve of Easter here that He has already risen there.

  
The Paschal fire at our little church burns the thanks and prayers we bring to Holy Saturday and the broken day between Friday Good and Easter Morn. And we watch life be rekindled, stand in swirling smoke that raises voices to heaven like a pleasant sound and aroma to Him. We stand with each other, huddled against the wind coming over the mountains and we are resurrected to new life already and together.

It’s something about community and the call of the church. Perhaps this comes with Pentecost in a fuller way: the Holy Spirit indwelling where he had only once rested upon momentarily. But it starts here: with Jesus come back to life, calming their hearts and restoring to them the reason they had come together to follow in the first place.

So the celebration the next day — after work that drains and saps life because the curse has not yet been stamped out — that celebratory lunch over lamb and vegetables from the hopeful ground restores community, hope for tomorrow’s work and fellowship. And these moments: watching the sunset from a warm front porch, laughing and shouting over a boardgame and cheering to new life in Christ: these are the moments that make Easter beautiful and make Monday bearable as we return to the drudge of a world that is still being redeemed.

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photo is of the ruins at Hill of Slane. Copyright belongs to Wikipedia.

Friday Good

Today I rolled out of bed, climbed from the loft and hurried to get ready in twenty minutes. I burnt an egg, forgot my Bible, and brushed my teeth while texting E apologies that I was running late, even though it was my appointment to which I was late. I hardly remembered as I slid my macbook into the bright timbuktu bag, I hardly realized it was a day other than Friday. I only thought once, in a momentary glance at my Bible, splayed out on the coffee table to pages in Isaiah, I barely remembered in that instant that this Friday was more than just the last day of Spring Break and the day that Ethan’s parents would be in town.

Twenty minutes isn’t time to contemplate Good Friday.

We drove through construction, always Colorado spends the time between winter snows under construction. Like some bizarre metaphor for life: that we’re always under process, except when ice and frozen earth bring us to grinding halt. But even then, with the water in the grooves of the road, melting and freezing with each day’s cycle, even then there is process and change; even if we don’t see it until the cracks have spread to wide gaping holes.

I lay on the table at the chiropractor, wincing beneath the hands of massage and adjustment. My knee stretches out and back in, and when he’s pushing on a certain point in the muscle I can feel the pain radiate to both ends of my leg, and he’s shaking his head that I want to go rock climbing today. My body is broken, and I want to do what? But he sighs and gives me permission, says it won’t help but it probably won’t make things worse.

An old friend, one who has helped immeasurably with Ethan’s business start, texted E this morning while we were waiting through that construction zone. Something about writing a reference and at the end of his cheery morning message, left a little wish: Good Friday to you. But there was hardly time to think of that when we were driving me to work, and shuttling E off to his own last day at a lingering worksite that seems to push back with everything he does.

I came in to work and found an email where I was graciously dragged over hot coals. Sometimes, when they’re being polite, the anger is almost more severe, the disappointment more stinging. And apparently the office is closing early today, though no one told me and my hours are all over the place for this month’s paycheck, this month’s survival. Why are we closing early?

Good Friday.

Because today is the day that Jesus died. The day that he — God come down among us — let himself be stripped, broken, crushed and crucified. Last week he was riding in, prophetic statements abounding and triumph seeming close at hand. Tonight, at Tenebrae, he’ll not make a noise as he goes to the slaughter, like the sheep they killed each Passover: quiet, calm, resolute and sure. In darkness and shadows we’ll remember the one who took on fallen humanity, took on my broken body, my harried pace, my unkempt sin and put it to death with the piercing of his hands, and torn back, crushed side and bloodied head. And in his death he took on the curse: the bold rebellion of sin within humanity and the bruised earth suffering beneath, fighting back at you and me, even as we fight amongst ourselves.

Because Jesus came, came to do this act of love. Came to take me on, broken and angry. Came to walk at Ethan’s side, tired and frustrated. Came to walk among us, know us, reveal the One to us, and then in the most unexpected act in history: came to fling out his arms, take on all our mess and ruined humanity, and in his great, bloody embrace, came to take it all away.

Thus says your Lord, the LORD, even your God Who contends for His people, “Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, The chalice of My anger; You will never drink it again.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living,
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

My brokenness, forever under repair, my fallen nature evidenced in a body that so easily falls apart, the sin that makes me rush instead of wait, wait on the Lord, those things for which I am due much, much more than strained knees and abrasive emails, for that he took on flesh and carried away the cup of wrath: from me, from the nations, from the earth.

All this on a Friday we so desperately and hopefully call Good.

 

dedication of various sorts

Recently, while starting a new textbook I read through the preface and discovered the book had been dedicated to a friend of mine. She’s a beautiful sweet woman who’s getting married in a few months and I have the privilege to have her dad as a seminary instructor. She has been encouraging and patient and kind with me, excited about my life and my hopes in a way I’ve rarely had with female friends. Needless to say, I read the lines of dedication and nearly burst into tears in my office.

Needless to say, it’s been a long week. It’s been a week of tears and exhaustion and late nights with dinner at 930pm on more than one occasion. There’s been enough discouragement and existential theological crises to go around the seminary and back again. And I’m not even referring to midterms.

E has been on a deadline. This, of course, is nothing terribly new. We live on deadlines, our culture thrives on them as markers of achievement, accomplishment and success — even personal value and worth. I had deadlines too: papers, midterms, scholarship apps, taxes. But there was something in these lines, these boundary markers this week that made it harder than usual to push ahead and “keep up the good work.” Maybe it’s that in some of our life we’ve been over the deadline lately, in a way that nagged at security, value and worth. Maybe it’s that lent and penitence and realizing sin before the looming cross has just gotten to us.

To be honest, I wish it was the second option; that my sense of sin and unrighteousness, that my failure to to be conformed to the One in whose image I’m created was the reason for the tears in my office.

I cried on Monday because in a few minutes spent on social networking websites I felt undermined, cast aside, forgotten and unnecessary. I almost cried today because of the beauty in seeing my friend be so lavishly loved by her father so as to be remembered in words that many hundreds of people will read — to have work that took years of formation, challenge and perseverance dedicated to her sweet smile and progression from daughter-child to daughter-woman.

This week, I thought about giving up so many things for fear of failure, rejection and wavering purpose. Last week I heard Ethan do the same as he stood in my kitchen and said that work was doing him in, that everything was going wrong and wondering where is God in this? We’re trying so hard, striving, working, scrambling and serving. We’re on deadlines, with plates too full and cups too empty.

But then, last week, on the first day of Spring, the sky clouded over and I felt like the world was slowing down, coming to a halt; and we were finally starting to catch up to the spinning axis. And after class I read that “God was so much, and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of ‘the little ones’) as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life.” Like the father dedicating his book and work and time to my friend, dedicating the project that had consumed so much of his very life, this is how God is: coming down, kenosis and self humiliation to walk alongside little Ethan and me in the midst of ruined projects, grammatically incorrect papers and mounting bills.

So we’re holding these two things in hand: that God is good and that life right now is hard.

But what if we’re not to hold those in separate hands, but pull them together and realize they aren’t so incompatible as they seemed at first glance?Jean Calvin placed election in such a position within his Institutes to comfort us and give assurance that amidst the travails of life in a fallen world we are saved, called, and promised such vindication beyond the grave that this will seem small and of no account. Nothing separates us from the love of God, even when it feels as if everything separates us from the love of God. And thus we are renewed, restored with value and worth that draws on being created by such a great and gracious Lover, given worth by being held tightly and close despite the mess of this thing that we call life. And we’re given back our purpose, we’re given back our heart to carry on — not because we are striving, but because we are already accepted, known and loved.

Not meeting deadlines or making grades or getting published. Just walking with Him, growing in trust, learning what it means to be like him as we learn who he even is in the first place and then giving all that back to him as glorious praise.

This week, by God’s grace, I’m busy with papers and reading and catching up on day to day work after midterms. It is grace to be so occupied  because Ethan is busy and I’m hardly seeing him but for late night dinners full of exhausted words and tired hands propping up heads and slumped shoulders. I’ve had a few nominal fits of tears, always restricted by the workload before me and the very energy it would take to allow for salty tears.

And somehow, we’re choosing, or learning to choose or choosing to learn that God is here, alongside, walking and speaking and listening. He is good when life is hard. We’re saying thanks for work, pushing control from our own hands and refraining from forcing God to meet our expectations. We’ve come into Holy Week when Jesus was crucified not only for sins but for failing to meet the expectations of those in Jerusalem. What are my expectations? That life should be easy? That work would be life giving despite the curse and hardened ground? That somehow choosing Jesus meant choosing life abundant in terms of the American dream? Are these my expectations of Jesus as saviour messiah? And how must that be recalibrated?

How can I see God, who like my friend’s father, has lavished love and time and effort in order to serve me? to bless me in ways I so quickly fail to recall? And in the midst of remembering his love, his faithfulness, his hesed and hoping in his name, his character rather than circumstance, how must I remember this:

that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We’re exhausted yes, but not ruled or governed in worth, value or purpose by the deadlines and measurements of society. We are governed and given worth by the love of the One who made all things, sustains all things and brings all things to completion.

Bruised Knees and Joy

Last week, while running with one of my students, we decided to try out sprinting. We’re “training” for a race which means we’re trying to get my short little legs to run faster. After a seven month hiatus from running at all, asking these stubby appendages to do anything quickly is quite an endeavor. But it was cold and grey, the ground still frozen from the latest snow, so we marked the start and with the end in sight we began to sprint.

Three steps. I made it three steps before I yelped and cursed like a sailor and stopped. My knee had torqued to the side and I was bent double. But the pain faded, and the poor, tough kid mentality of my college years took over and I went back to jogging. Three miles later we’d done some decent sprints and I went off to meet with my own mentor.

Today, a week later, I’m wearing a brace and I had to gimp my way down the stairs to the car this morning. I’m just thankful I didn’t volunteer to walk to seminary today.*

This morning a dear friend hugged me and it felt like I might burst into tears when I stood up to return her embrace — the pain is worse when I go from sitting to standing, from bent to straight. She listened to what had happened and then said with her sweet smile:

This is all in his plan, it doesn’t surprise Him. Now, your work is to learn to see the plan, and even when you don’t you’re to trust.

Trust. Work to trust.

I’m to work out salvation in this day, this pain, the grinding anxiety that there’s something seriously wrong with my knee — something bound to cost money that I don’t have and time I’m unwilling to give up. But this is it, this is the work of the believer:

to look down at my knee, hidden in black elastic band and say, this is good. This the opportunity to trust, to wait more and hurry less, to be thankful for bodies that do work and pray for those that don’t.

It isn’t bruised, it isn’t swollen and it’s probably only a muscle sprain because it feels better when I’m moving. But I can’t run, I can’t train for the race, I can’t go up and downstairs with ease, I can’t bend at the oven or crouch with children. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

But I can choose to see God’s goodness in making bodies that work, in sustaining my knee from sliding all the way out of joint in the frozen cold. I can choose to trust that even if I have to see a doctor, God will provide a way because he knows my needs.

And you see — there it is — learning to trust in God’s character (provision, care, knowledge, sovereignty) rather than the situation in which I’ve found myself. This is the work of a believer: to trust God (and how do you trust if you don’t know Him?) and then to go out and live a life that speaks of such deep trust.

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*on a sidenote, please don’t worry about my knee! We’re pretty sure it’s only a minor muscle issue that just needs rest and some extra support when I do take up running again (and no, that won’t be this week, but hopefully soon).

Why: Laity

Last year, I wanted to take the Bibles out of pews. Have you seen that? At some churches, they have these things on the back of every pew that holds hymnals, Bibles and “get to know you cards.” Some places now have these on the back of each chair, or underneath the chair. As a kid, growing up in churches with chairs that folded up and made room for dozens of events throughout the week, with bare feet on hard cement floors and singing along to the words on an old school projector, I thought chairs or pews with built in book-holders were for the rich and old — probably because I usually saw in the churches that supported my parents which were full of old people and ostensibly rich by default (they were sending us money, weren’t they?).

This time last year, I wanted to walk through the aisles of such churches and pluck Bibles out of those holders. I wanted to take Scripture back from uneducated laity. I called a friend — after a hermenuetics class and flipped a lid with her. I was going on about poetry or narrative, about how people misinterpret passages of Scripture that aren’t didactic (such as the 10 Commandments, those are hard to misunderstand). It’s ironic to feel this, given my belief in the “perspicuity” or understandableness of Scripture by everyone (it was a big deal to the Reformers). Eventually, of course, I got over it. I’m even work in youth group now, where kids read their Bibles and misinterpret things all the time — like it’s their whole purpose in life, these kids end up with some weird theologies, trust me.

But last night, I was reminded why we need each other — laity and seminary student.

There’s a food pantry that serves seminary students and “the needy.” E and I go every couple of weeks, it’s good food which is fantastic because sometimes food pantries resort to quantity rather than quality. There’s certain merits to that approach; but it’s nice to have fresh fruit, meat and natural peanut butter. They serve the food in a  way that is incredibly respectful to our dignity, I need this food, seriously. But I never feel I am looked down on for that need. Last night, as they pushed the buggy of groceries out to the car, I had a lovely chat with Sue and Bruce who helped us load the food in the backseat and then asked how they could pray for us in the frosty night air. E, of course, being strong and humble said he couldn’t think of anything specific. I admitted to the woman that I’m struggling to be motivated at school and then I thought I ought to chime in on Ethan’s behalf so I asked her to pray for this house that he’s finishing.

“How should we do that?” she asked me, “I always feel selfish when I pray, you know, because I’m asking for stuff. How should we pray for his house he’s working on?”

I had to think, and think fast because it was frosty cold, my feet were already tingling from the ice beneath my booths and my cheeks were chaffing in the breeze. They were loading the last groceries when I said to her, “Well, I guess it’s more the heart. I mean, we want the house to finish well, and sell well of course. But it’s that I want him to be encouraged, to know that God’s walking with him in this, to know that he’s done a good job. I want him to finish strong, giving thanks, glorifying God. Yeah, I think that’s what we pray for.”

So she did. We held hands, all four of us in that icy parking lot on the windy hill. We bowed heads and that sweet woman prayed over us: for school, for work, for the food they’d just placed in our car.

This is why scholars need laity: to be reminded why we sit in class, research seeming minutiae and scribble our fingers down to the bone.

And this is why laity need scholars: to be reminded of the who, the what, the how we worship and remain in orthodoxy.

Because without one, the other would be lost in endless tracks of unnecessary philosophy and purposeless, too high and mighty to remember what it’s all about. And without the other, the one might fall into error, forget the past, or struggle to pray.

 

Penitence

Well, I’m no Catholic but I have sat in a confessional. The idea of a lone man listening to my sins from behind the partition reminded me of Oz and felt just a little uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was empty and I sat alone in the darkness, the scent of wood smoothed by so many sinful hands filling me with curious warmth despite my discomfort.

We attend a Celtic Christian service and my heritage is from the British Isles, smattered with bits of European continent. There’s a group there that has long intrigued me, a small sect of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Briton believers that existed outside of the Roman church for a long time called the Celè De or Culdees. One of their practices was to seek out an anam cara or a soul friend, one with whom you shared everything — one to whom you confessed.

As I sat in that French Roman Catholic confessional and heard the whispered convictions of so many brothers and sisters I thought there was something beautiful in the act of bearing one’s soul to a man who vowed to remind you of your forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Though it might become warped and trite, a mere act by which one could go on living the way they always had, there was always the chance that hearing the sin spoken of and seeing it dragged into the light might be good, healing and restorative to the soul.

The anam cara, the soul friend might provide this glimpse of unconditional love, gentle rebuke and restoration.

Each week during our celtic services, the presiding pastor offers us a few moments of silence, to bring our grievances to God — the ways in which we have grieved him. We quietly confess, recite the Lord’s prayer and ask for help in forgiving those around us because it is we who were first forgiven.

Lent is the season of preparation and waiting as we walk with Jesus. He’s set his face to Jerusalem, signaled that nothing will be stopping him from that sacred, painful journey to the cross where the dividing wall is torn down and all nations are bless through Abraham’s seed. Lent is the season of penitence for the sins that drove him towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, the grave and the death of sin.

I need to be reminded of this often, repeatedly, even daily. I do not mean to suggest that one beat themselves over the head with their sin and their guilt and then dwell in shame. Of course not! The resurrection frees us from that. But I do think in the midst of demanding schedules, screaming children, looming workloads and the daily drudge, it is easy to forget the movement of sin, grace, repentance and forgiveness that consumes our lives. It is easy to forget that I can forgive E because I am forgiven; just as I may bless and love friends because I am loved and am being taught what that love means. It’s this never ending growth towards becoming who we already are in Christ. And it starts with penitence, repentance and constant recognition of our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. This is one thing I love about our church: that each week we are reminded to repent, to reorient towards God and to be forgiven — and then to go out and forgive others! It is a convicting moment for me each week to consider how I have sinned by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.*

This is the reason we fast in Lent: to be penitent and mindful of our sins which drove him to the cross; to prepare for the long night ahead when he is in the ground; to recover our humble position in the divine dance that like a symphony moves from grace over sin, to repentance and culminates in restoration. What a beautiful season and opportunity to relearn and experience this masterpiece of God’s every year!

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. {Martin Luther, 95 Theses, 1}

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*Penintential prayer, Anglican Common Book of Prayer

Why: hope and lent

Last week one of my highschoolers told me that hope probably doesn’t deserve to be a stand-alone sort of word. She suggested it isn’t a distinct concept, separate from any other idea we communicate with words. It’s overused, she pointed out, and as I listened to the State of the Union last night — given by a man whom I watched campaign on hope and take office my last year of college when the economy collapsed — I had to agree. To my student, hope is simply another word we use to describe something we really want, a deep and longing desire.

We were outside, amid trees stripped to grey nakedness, with ice under foot and clouded blue sky over head, dotted by geese who’ve flocked to our wide open spaces. She’s a cynic and I’ve only just started my recovery from cynic to hopeful realist. We plodded along after she said all that, each looking to and fro across a landscape seemingly barren and devoid of hope. Between us I could feel the silence grow, soft and fearful as I wrestled for words to speak since I so vehemently disagreed with her.

But how does one explain hope?

It’s Ash Wednesday and there are people wandering the world with grey soot smudged on their faces in the form of a poorly drawn cross made by dirty fallen thumbs looking forward to redemption. But it’s a future redemption and today the ground is still hard and cold. Lent begins and we give things up: meat, sugar, drink or other things upon which we depend instead of finding rest in God. While the practice of fast is certainly formational, it’s also responsive and it’s worth considering in these winter months slowly turning to spring — what we are responding to.

There’s a thing that in seminary we like to call the “grand narrative” or a “controlling narrative” which serves as an interpretive lens for how one reads and interprets Scripture. As a good evangelical seminary, we usually consider this to be the story of Jesus Christ, the story of God coming in to save creation that has fallen down a winding rabbit hole towards greater and greater levels of chaos. We point to his words and the prophecies and the narrative of the seasons to say that Jesus will one day come again to restore and renew all things.

Lent, I think, the season of waiting and going without, is a response in recognition of this redemptive process. Recognizing that Jesus has come, and will come, and learning what it means to wait hopefully in the midst of this present age. Jesus is coming. He’s here, he has come. But I have not only been saved I am still in the process of being saved.* In a similar way, Lent reminds us that we are waiting. With creation we groan and wait and long for the renewal that comes in the end of times. We respond to the Gospel by entering into it; by acknowledging this period of waiting and hoping. Lent shows us we’re waiting, teaches us to long, and forms our hope for the future.

Hope, my friend said rightly, is an intense desire for something. I desperately long for violence to end, for wars to abate, for my family to come home. But there is more than just longing when it comes to the redemption of the world and the many things that make up that redemption. In the way that it’s used in political campaigns and  among high school lovers, hope is cheap and ill used, hardly needed as a word separated from desire and want. We want a better economy in the same way we hope for a job upon college graduation.

But this I’m learning: we don’t put our hopes in humanity and the world. We put it in the One who made those things and we put our faith in the promises handed down to us, the foundation of his faithfulness and the character that says he will fulfill what he has begun. This is what hope is, the faith and trust that God will see His promises through, the patient expectation that the earth will be renewed and the culmination of all things will include a new and distinctively different relationship with the One who is.

Hope is deep and more than simple desire. It pulls from the being of our person and rests on the foundation of previously fulfilled promises and the faith of those gone before us. Lent, the season of waiting helps us refocus that hope: away from created to Creator, towards coming redemption and fulfillment. Because in the liturgical season of waiting we are reminded that we are waiting existentially. We learn to long for renewal. We hang in suspension. This is the tension that Christians live in. Here, oh yes, here! But also not yet. We are expectant, anxiously so. We are waiting. And we know that it will come despite all our impatience! Despite persecutions, failures, and misunderstandings. We’re waiting, but not in empty desire.  We’re waiting in deep, founded, faithful hope.

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Phil 1. 6, 2.12

A Church of Theologians

An open letter to SK and all the “non-theologian” folk I know,

I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation on Friday when we talked about school (before we got onto youth group). You laughed when I told you about my classes and said that you didn’t think you had a head for theology.

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend and I have to disagree! Perhaps you don’t have the practice of studying things like…epistemology or process theology, etc. But I wanted to encourage you that you are theological just by very nature of being a Christian. I’m convinced that it’s the job (and nature) of all Christians to be theologians since theology is simply about getting to know God more and more.

I also think that whether or not we realize it, we’re theologizing all the time. We do this when we prioritize schedules and design lessons for students or counseling methods for clients. We’re asking, what’s the point here? (probably God) and how do we best serve Him or lead others to know Him? When you talk about EMDR and bilateral stimulation in counseling, you have to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in rejuvenating the mind and bringing healing. When we lead games at youth group or I sit on the sidelines, we have to ask, what does that tell our kids about themselves and about God?

When we complain we are saying something about how we view God and His obligations towards us. When we are grateful, we are saying something about Him and ourselves. When we comfort those in rough places, when we challenge those being drawn into sin, when we speak to non-Christians — we are always exploring what it means to know God and to be His followers. That’s all that theology is.

Of course, there’s the academic side of it. But any good theologian will tell you that the point of Academia is not to split hairs. It’s to provide a foundation on which the Church builds her practical, every day life.

So, you may not think you have a mind for the fine nuances of Moltmann or Calvin. But I think that you do have a mind for theology — otherwise you wouldn’t be in youth ministry or becoming a counselor (and certainly not at a seminary).

Of course, there is such a thing as bad theology and bad methodology or conclusions. But that simply means those who fall into faulty patterns and wrong conclusions need to be gently corrected. He’s a big God, after all. So there are plenty of chances for mistakes. Our theology must be grounded in Scripture and what the Church has long considered orthodox. It is not un-anchored, not a freedom to think without commitment.* But it is freedom to explore the One who is so wildly infinite that we will never exhaust the chance of knowing Him. It is freedom and joy to follow and walk in His ways. Further up and further in without a chance of ever being bored.**

Just some thoughts that have been ruminating. Hope it’s encouraging!

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* “Here is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment. Here is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without the freedom to think. Here is vibrant evangelicalism–freedom to think within the bounds laid down in Scripture.” –Vernon Grounds
** C.S. Lewis The Last Battle

Why: the computer and the pulpit

This morning dawned early,  before the actual rising of the sun. I rolled to the sound of my alarm, rising and falling in ecstatic tones, signaling the start of a new day, a new beginning. Forty five minutes passed between the tumble from bed to newly vacuumed floor and my passage out the front door with tortilla, books and water bottle in hand. Smoothing the jersey front of my skirt down against the cotton leggings to ward against cold and chapped white legs. Ethan took my hand, his own worn with callouses and bearing paint from yesterday’s haste and together we set off to work.

The office was empty, the building not even open when I arrived this morning at 7am with the sun just peaked over cloudy mountains. So I set to work and slowly others drifted in, professors, admin, work studies and others. There was little to be updated on our website so I settled in to data entry to the tune of Voyage of the Dawn Treader read in an English tone that helps my mind stay engaged. It’s slow and steady, dragging work — this coding for mailing lists now that we’ve switched massive email communication systems. But it’s necessary and important and there’s no way to do it in this age of technology but to type it in, each name at a time, one by one of near 10,00 records.

Recently I read a Tweet by a prominent pastor who linked to a website that would help or provide resources for those interested in the “most glorious work” of being a pastor.

This morning a professor came in looking for a DVD of our Seminary President’s installation a few  years ago. As he sat down and we chatted for a few minutes. I mentioned farming, theology, biblical studies and he told me to stay in the discipline I landed in last spring. He talked about teaching, accreditation and North Carolina, PhDs and how dating throws a wrench into everyone’s plan. Finally he asked, with a sigh and a sit down at the desk across from me, what I do in the office he had stumbled into still bleary eyed and waking up from yesterday’s late night grading.

Data Entry. Website maintenance. Grunt work.

keyboard

“Couldn’t pay me enough money to do that,” he said with a shake of his head.

“You could do it,” I thought, though I declined to say it in my respect and deference of authority. Instead I remarked on the office environment, the sweet staff and the flexibility around my student schedule. He smiled and left, remarking on the attitude and encouraged me for my future. I nodded, thanked him, promised to find the DVD and thought about my job. Couldn’t pay you enough? If you had to put food on the table you could do it.

The pastor said that to be a pastor is glorious work and it’s certainly true. To preach the Word (the Word, the logos, Jesus Christ) would be a great wonder! As well as a great responsibility. To counsel wounded souls, to help them come to healing–what joy!

But does that make it the most glorious work? What of that professor, equipping leaders for youth groups, churches and for-profit companies. He preaches the Word as he preaches what it means to lead like Jesus. He leads wounded souls to Jesus and healing. Joy of joy to work with students and engage them in ways that they will take into the world that so desperately needs Gospel!

These are easy comparisons. From pastor to professor in theological institution.

But what of the job that you couldn’t pay him enough to do? What of data entry, website maintenance and communications? Is it glorious too?

I’d answer yes. In the wee hours of the morning, when I wake before the sun I don’t come to this place only for a paycheck though that is part of the reason to be sure. I have bills to pay, food to buy, rent to make. I have a penchant for caffeine and the occasional dinner out. So I want the paycheck that comes by the internet at each month’s end. But there is also something about this job, this data entry, this web updating.

It makes information easier to access. It helps students get here to learn about God, to take the Kingdom further than it was when they arrived. It drives methods of accruing support to provide for maintenance, salaries and teaching tools. This is my job.

It’s data entry, sure. But it serves the Kingdom. And this is why I crawl out of bed before the dawn, pull the dress over my head, wrap the fancy scarf around my neck and hustle down the street to a job that at times puts me to sleep and crosses my eyes with migraines. It’s data entry, mundane and seemingly menial. But it’s Kingdom work and God honouring.

And so, my dear pastor whom I love and admire, my work of coding for newsletters and emails is as glorious as the work of a pastor. Because without my work, our pastors wouldn’t get trained to do the work.