Thursday, April 29, 2010

Transitioning to a Lifestyle of Staying Put

Dan Lugo posted recently about the "unsettled" feeling of transition that has once again creeped into his life.  I, too, have experienced this feeling of transience lately: actually, for the past seven years I have known nothing besides transition.  The encroaching days ahead are different.  For the first time in my adult life, I am seeking after a long term job.  We are planning a move to Westmont IL for a minimum of five years.  We are looking to plant roots in this community, where we will slowly and humbly begin weaving our lives and our children's lives together with those of our neighbors.  This time, the transition is not a rest stop, but a long-term planting.

The constant moving and transience that have marked the last seven years of my life will give way to planting roots and sinking in.  As I write this, I am sitting at "Brewed Awakening" coffee shop in Westmont, IL, where every customer thus far has known every other customer (besides me, of course).  The employees have known the desired drinks of these customers before ordering.  Two men are seated at a six-top table next to mine, discussing everything relevant and important - from the Blackhawks to the Arizona law.  No less than four people have joined them at that table throughout my time here.  The tables are non-uniform: some graced with lamps, and others with National Geographic magazines; the walls are covered with local artwork (including a collection of children's drawings); the bookshelf in the corner is filled with an eclectic collection of coffee beans, mugs, trashy fiction novels, and chess boards.  

The constant moving - always looking forward to something more exciting and different - has finally lost its appeal.  As seminary education wraps up in the next six weeks, I am aware that the future is just as exciting as it has always been, but for different reasons: I'm excited that we are not left alone to raise our children, but can rely on a community.  I'm excited to regularly share meals with friends and strangers.  I'm excited to be somewhere long enough to have experiences worthy of great celebration and great mourning.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jeremy Begbie - Theology Through the Arts

Jeremy Begbie has a rather unique and wonderful contribution to theological studies.  He is the current Thomas A. Langford Research Professor at Duke University, and vividly stands out as a proponent of theological studies through the arts.  The video below is delightful.  

Begbie has been focused on answering the questions "What can music or the arts bring to theology?" and  "How can the particular powers of music help us unlock the great truths of the Christian gospel?" over the past few years.  For Begbie, the mix of art and theology is not creation, but re-creation.  

"We're always working with a given,always taking something and remaking it." 

Examples of what he means in this re-creation process is in the video below.  


Monday, April 26, 2010

ETS2010 - Wright and Piper

Just three days before the Wheaton Theology Conference, John Piper, Albert Mohler, John McArthur and R.C. Sproul were together for the T4G2010 Conference.  I am sure the differences between these two conferences stood out plain as day, and much of the content of one was dealing negatively with the content of the other (at least to a degree).  Brett McCracken was at both, and his written a wonderful article that looks at both of them.

"The elephant in the room"  (as expressed at the Wheaton conference) is the differing views on justification within Pauline writings (Piper's most recent paper contended that this understanding of justification is also located in Jesus' teachings).  Wright and Piper have squared off before in writing, but will do so in person in November of this year at the Evangelical Theological Societies Annual Meeting.  

This looks like it will be a wonderful conference where they will hopefully stop "talking past one another," and instead discuss the methodological issues that lead to such difference.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Go Forth in Unity - Final N.T. Wright Presentation

Three of the most insightful quotes from N.T. Wright's final
presentation at the Wheaton Theology Conference:


 "Don't so stress the doctrine of your own salvation
that you fail to see what we are all being saved from."


 "Creation longs to be gently stewarded by the sons and
daughters of God."


 "We need theology, not so we can know that we are right
or have it all worked out, but because without thoughtful investigation, the
worldview of one-unified Church will not be able to sustain itself."


I am grateful for having had the privilege of listening to
such humble and provoking dialog over the past few days.  Before leaving the chapel last night, the
1,100 conference goers - pastors, theologians, seminary students, authors, and
laymen - received the benediction to go forth in unity, into the world, in the
power of the Holy Spirit.  One of the
final questions posed to Wright was, "When is schism acceptable in the
church?"  In a brief but passionate
reply, Wright answered, "Never." 


Although those who gathered at the conference may have had
vastly divergent theological interpretations of Jesus, Paul, and the People of
God, we left under the commission to be a unified embodiment of God's kingdom
to the world.  May God give us greater
passion in seeking the unity of Christ' body here on earth, and may we go forth
to be compelling lights shining in the dark places of the world.

OK - had to use this picture that I found. On a number of occasions, he mentioned the theological instrument of drinking beer with one another. 

  

 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Flowers in Our Midst - The "Already" of the Kingdom

Flowerincrack  It's one thing to be able to articulate a theology or doctrinal assertion of the "now-but-not-yet" - born out of the formulations in the New Testament - but it's an entirely different matter to describe the way in which this reality is seen in the everyday routines of life.  A brief survey of the gospel texts reveals that Jesus came preaching not a type of "get outta jail (Earth) free card," but rather that the kingdom of God had come near (Mark 1:15).  This proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom of God was not just a statement or profession to be believed in, but was an invitation.  It is an invitation to turn from unfaithfulness and turn towards faithfulness.  It is an invitation to learn, and an invitation to work.

In this new creation there is good news for the poor, release for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed (Lk 4:18): or at least the text says that there is.  The gospels themselves testify to moments when Jesus healed the sick, ate with the poor, and restored dignity to the outcast.

But was this simply a kingdom that was here and gone?  A fleeting moment of God's nearness with us?  An inkling of a better world?  

There's little wonder why the "already" or "now" or "nearness" doctrines of the church, in regards to the kingdom of God, are doubtful to a world who faces the genocide of ethnic groups, the obliteration of creation for insatiable consumptive desire, and the hypocritical judgment of sexual promiscuity.  The list of accusations against the reality of this new creation can appear daunting to those who cling on to what the world calls a "doctrine of ignorance."  Proponents of the new atheist perspective (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc.) make their careers out of highlighting the pain in the world, much of which they identify as created by the hand of religious ilk.  

Kevin Van Hoozer presented a paper this morning at the Wheaton Theology Conference, in which he asserted that it's very easy to make a positive statement (i.e. "There is a spider in the room" or "a flower is growing among thorns"), but it takes an extensive sweep and inspection to make a negative statement ("There is not a single spider in the room" or "Nothing but thorns can ever grow here").  

Nishi_gawa_flower_weeds  The problem with stating that "the kingdom is not at hand," is that spiders and flowers are continually sighted.  Desmond Tutu opposes apartheid in South Africa.  Martin Luther King Jr. marches for racial reconciliation.  International aid rushes to the victims of natural disasters in Haiti, Burma, and Chile.  But we need not simply look to international heroes as sole icons of an "already" nearness of the kingdom.  Men and women choose to lay down firearms and pick up coffee mugs as a response to difference.  Neighbors dine with one another.  Relationships are strengthened through conflict, as opposed to destroyed.  

Every week we gather around the Eucharistic table, where we are not given a theory of unity or a theoretical doctrine of God's presence with us, but a reality that we can participate in; something to taste, eat, and share with the world.  To the world, this may be an insignificant act: to faithful follower's of Christ, this is the birthing of a garden in our midst.  

The sighting of flowers in the midst of a hurting world does not eliminate  pain, but it makes it difficult to negatively state, "God's kingdom is not here." 

This is the joy of the 40 days of Easter.  "He is Risen!  He is risen indeed" We proclaim this continually during the season, and we open our eyes to see these flowers in the world.  We do not simply proclaim this as a truth, but dive into its reality and participate in its call.  We open our homes to one another.  We work towards reconciliation and justice.  We forgive when we want to hate.  

May we learn to see the kingdom among us, and may we be symbols of that kingdom to others.  

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Portrait from a Second Grader

Goodlooking This was the highlight of my day.  A second grade boy was not able to take his math MAP test today because of a glitch in the computer system.  This student is labeled as one of the "behavioral problem" students in the school.  He is disruptive in class, he bullies other students, and he shows no sign of motivation for learning.  I am always told to isolate this student while in the lab, so as not to disturb other students who want to learn.


Because his test didn't work, he was forced to sit quietly in front of a blank computer screen for the next 45 minutes; yeah right.  After the teacher told this student to "sit still" and "be quiet" a couple of times, I gave him a piece of paper and pencil to draw; he seemed indifferent towards this option.


But after a few minutes he picked up the pencil and began to draw.  A few minutes later, I asked him what he was drawing: "I'm drawing you...the nice computer teacher!" 


I am taking this drawing home to hang on our fridge. 


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Non-Freedom and Baby Registries

Buy-baby-gift-registry-800X800 

 

Augustine's famous confessional summary of stealing a
pear:


 


“Yet had I been alone I would not have done it – I
remember my state of mind to be thus at the time – alone I never would have done
it.  Therefore my love in that act was to
be associated with the gang in whose company I did it.  Does it follow that I loved something other
than the theft?  No, nothing else in
reality because association with the gang is also a nothing.” (Augustine,
Confessions, 33)


 


This was the feeling I had Monday night as Jamie and I
went to register for our baby girl at Babies ‘R Us and Target.  We were in the company of a capitalistic
gang, whose chief aim was profit and power. 
We were given an electronic scanner and a list of all that we “needed”
and were told to go play.  While this
experience is couched in the language of freedom – freedom to scan the items
that we want for our little girl and freedom from external coercion – we were
actually imprisoned to the system that scripts us to need the decorative and the
latest.


 


We are told that the acquisition of these goods will
allow for a happy and healthy life for our family, regardless of whether we -
quite literally - become enslaved in debt. 
Augustine describes the way in which he loved the association with the
group more than he loved the act or the ends itself; for the end is in itself a
“nothing.” 


 


We are lured into these same forces all the time.  In our virtual world, the gangs to which we
desire association are often not people, but particular lifestyles and
narratives that give meaning and purpose. 
The gangs of advertisers, who have focused not on product description but
purchaser desire, are often better at knowing human desires (and shaping those
desires) than is the church.  As a
soon-to-be parent, I realize that my own desire for “good things” for my baby
has been scripted from the earliest of ages by forces concerned not necessarily
with the ends towards which humanity moves, the narrative of a faithful God
redeeming the cosmos, but of profit and power.


 


I am thankful today for friends and family who are able
to describe the actual needs for new parents. 
I am happy that there are those whom we trust who can point out the
silliness of stealing a peach; an act foreign to rightly formed desire.  I am thankful that I am not left as an
individual on an island that is left only to say, “Alone I never would have done
it.”  This may have been true for
Augustine, but left to my own desires that have been shaped by the gang, I will
consistently choose to take the peach.   

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Update and Prayer Request

The weight of finding a job upon graduation is finally penetrating my emotions and my general health.  Being disciplined in tackling homework and chores always came easy: not so the last few months.  These things no longer appear to be worthy ends in themselves, but holdups from doing the really important work of sending out resumes and filling out applications.  I quickly set these tasks aside, open the computer and navigate to a search engine; but my enthusiasm dies quickly.  I realize that I am not qualified for even the smallest handful of jobs, and the ones that I do find, well, these are all being advertised to the masses of unemployed persons, each of whom are equally and desperately searching for employment.    

Both my undergraduate and graduate work over the last seven years has focused on music, technology, theology, and biblical studies.  The goal was always to graduate and take on a full-time pastoral ministry position, which would provide a salary capable of providing for my family and sustaining a general "comfortable" life.  

All of this seems to have changed in the last seven months.  I won't go into all of the theological reasons for it, but Jamie and I are now pursuing a path of bi-vocational ministry in Westmont, IL.  We believe that the best use of the local churches funds are not in paying salaries, but in doing acts of goodness, mercy, and justice.  This means that we find jobs in the community and relate to neighbors not as an exclusive group of religious professionals, but as co-workers, laborers, salesmen, technologists, nurses, cashiers, garbage men, drivers, etc.  

But now we face the dilemma of being uneducated and unexperienced in fields that would supply us with a sustainable income.  All of this is draining.  I am exhausted and feel defeated tonight, after spending much of the day searching for jobs.  When I originally created this blog, I fully intended to never use it as a space to "bare my soul" or as a type of personal-diary-gone-public.

But Jamie and I are feeling the weight of what seems to be an already defeated job-search.  We ask for your prayers in the upcoming months as we prepare for the birth of our little girl, the completion of graduate work, and the transition into a new community, with the desire of witnessing to redeemed and reconciled lives in Jesus Christ our Lord.