Saturday, February 25, 2006


Up until this week, I had 2 books that were my personal favourite on the subject of Pastoral Ministry. Eugene Peteron's Working the Angles, The Shape of Pastoral Integrity was my first read in College, during a Leadership in Ministry class. His hold point in the book is that what matters is not the things that people see that matter but those that people don't, the "angles" behind the triangle of ministry. These he sees as our personal Prayer, our working with Scripture and our Spiritual Direction. It's a great book.

The second is David Hansen's The Art of Pastoring, Ministry without all the Answers. I read this for a Pastoral Ministry class in college (one which I read "Working the Angles" again for). In the book, Hansen goes through his ministry experiences in Montana, beginning in a tiny church where he did everything and had to minister to everyone - all kinds of people. he delves into the human side - doing a funeral for a non-Christian biker whom he never knew. He goes through his personal journey in dealing with Hell in the Scriptures and how he should or shouldn't address it in sermons. It too is great.

But I think I have to add a third, or at least a third writer/theologian/thinker to the mix. The most recent book, Lesslie Newbigin, being Geoffrey Wainwright's biography above Lesslie Newbigin, A Theological Life. We just read for class the chapter entitled The Pastoral Bishop and outlines a couple of things in there that I'd really been wrestling with personally, even before I came to Princeton. Here are a couple quotes:

The authentic pastorate will never be for Newbigin merely inward looking.

ministerial leadership may be defined as following Jesus in the way of the cross so that others in turn may be enabled to follow in the same way. - from Newbigin's God's reign and Our Unity

ordained ministry properly functions not to exclude or replace but rather to enable the varied ministries of all Christians and the corporate ministry of the whole Church.

A minister does not, cease to be a layman when he is ordained

In fact, Newbigin believed that the whole idea of a paid pastorate provided for enormous problems. It created an institutional mentality that made the church all about providing for its members, inwardly focused and ceasing to be the sent out community that was inaugurated by Christ.

Now that I'm more than halfway through Seminary, I'm getting closer and closer to confronting all of those ugly demons that exist inside of me - the desire for wealth, status, power, applause... not that seminary Flag Football doesn't provide ample opportunity for all of these. But this time next year I'll be looking at Churches, assessing whether I should apply to work there, what the "benefits" are. I'll be thinking about financial packages, expense accounts, budgets, purchasing a house and all the other ugly things that our society lifts up as essential. And right there within walls of the church that counter-cultural community inaugurated by the incarnate Jesus Christ, who called us to be united and missional, laying down ourselves for the sake of others, sacrificing!

These are real issues in the Church. But until pastors are willing to stand up and lead in the way of the cross, our communities will not be as counter-cultural, as missional or as biblical as they were meant to be...

Monday, February 20, 2006

You must be Bjorn Again!

8 days ago Bridgette & I splurged (on gift cards) and purchased a Bjorn Active Baby Carrier from Babies'R'Us. For 2 days I couldn't get it off - not because it was too complicated but because it felt good and was so practical. Right now, I'm sitting at my "desk" typing this entry with Brennan in the carrier, asleep, and Bridgette out getting groceries. I think everyone is winning here.

Here's what the Baby Bjorn allows me to do:

1. Have Brennan close and safe which means he's not fussing.

2. Have MY hands free to type, turn pages, do dishes/laundry, etc.

3. Which means BRIDGETTE can leave, get out, get some fresh air, apart from Brennan (at least between feedings) and we all get what we need!

I'm not quite willing to say this is the best invention in the world... but for my life right now, it is absolutely a necessity. I'm glad we bought it and I'm glad that everyone can win. I wonder if anyone would notice if I brought him to class tomorrow...

Friday, February 17, 2006


"I love it when a plan comes together!"

That's what Hannibal Smith (George Pappard)would say on The A-Team all the time. Just in case you were unfamiliar. Anyway, I felt a little bit of that today. And here's why:

1. About a week ago now I was in chapel and the the Bible reading was... well, it's escaped me now. Probably because the message wasn't quite what struck home to me. Instead, it was the reminder that the Christian life is NOT easy. It is hard. We are called to be disciplined, and that's not easy.

2. During the Wednesday night "Discipleship" Bible study I assist with at Allentown Pres, we'd read over the passage where Jesus talks about eating his body and drinking his blood (John 6:53) and what follows are many disciples proclaiming that the teaching is too difficult and then they turn away (John 6:60,66).

3. During the last little while, as I've constantly been neglecting to read the Bible and spending my time doing other, wasteful things, I keep hearing in my mind "the Christian life is not easy - it is hard" yet I still continue to do the wrong things and neglect the right things.

4. Today, after class, as I clarified my comments to Dr. Guder concerning visible and invisible unity of the Church, he remarked that it is really Christ (triune God) who is working to bring about this unity and the question should be, "what are we doing to obstruct this?". He went on to talk about a person who was struggling with Christian Disciplines, but recognzied there were things God was saying not to do - and he was told to start there!

Now, maybe you're not seeing this, but here's where I'm ending up - I think I was that guy Dr. Guder was talking about... ok, not exactly, but pretty much. When he said it, I felt a little odd, like he was speaking direclty to my situation. Yes, the Christian life is hard. Yes, it requires discipline. No, not legalism, but yes, discipline. And I am one of the least disciplined people I know. I don't know why... no, I do. It's exactly where Dr. Guder ended up - it's not about the things I'm not doing (well, maybe a little) but more about the things that I AM doing. I mean, I'm awake for nearly 18hrs a day, like everyone else. I have a fairly good amount of control over how I spend that time. Yet I'm constantly amazed at how many other people are getting more done - are more productive - even those that have more to do than I do.

I can't chalk it up to having a baby - this has gone on long before Brennan's arrival. No, I've been feeling it for awhile. I've been wasting my time, putting up barriers to God using me to my fullest potential. And that's where this is converging at. If I'm to be disciplined, to follow the teachings of Christ, to live them out, I need to be willing to sacrifice my wants, my desires, my way of spending my time. That is the greatest gift I can give and the ultimate way to accept the Lordship of Christ in my life. Now, if only I could call in the A-Team to get the job done...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Candidacy, Ordination & All that Jazz

One of my Princeton Colleagues, Adam Cleaveland was blogging about preparing for his Candidacy Paperwork. As I read it over and responded, it reminded me of what I was doing around this time last year - preparing for my Candidacy in the Spring. Unlike Adam, I didn't grow up Presbyterian, so I had even less of a clue, coming here, what it REALLY meant to be Reformed. As I worked through my paperwork I began to question anew - "am I really Presbyterian? Am I really Reformed?" Over the course of preparing that paperwork, meeting with my Church and meeting with my CPM, I began to feel that I was. And after taking this 16th Century Confessions course with Dr. McCormack in the Fall, I felt that I could indeed find myself here. A few things I realized in that process:

1. There is a wide swath of ideas that can be found both in the Historical Reformed Tradition (read the Confessions) and in the Presbyterian Church today. The tradition is not rigid. Zwingli & Calvin disagreed on the Lord's Supper for goodness sake!

2. The Reformed tradition is really built on the Sovereignty of God and the Scriptures. In some ways, these are two of the most significant aspects of Theology today, and are extremely important to how we live as Christians in this Post-Modern[ing] World. (Yes, I just made up a new word/phrase, maybe I'll expand on it sometime) God's Sovereignty is important because in light of all the damage the loss of purpose has done to our understanding of what we do & the decisions we make, I think regaining a sense of purpose, divine purpose, is essential. If God is sovereign, we understand ourselves as second. We don't make the rules, we are subordinate to God. We are NOT subordinate to the Economy or Politics or anything else we've created, we are subordinate to God. Also, Scripture and it's authority is key because we have no other record of God and Christ's saving work than this document, which has served the Church for 2000 years (and, if you take the view of the 2nd Helvetic and some other Reformed Confessions, served the "Church" for thousands of years prior). We cannot just take Scripture as some nice book, a guideline, a suggestion or whatever. It needs to be authoritative. We need to be careful with how we use it in that way, but we need to be willing to submit to it. In an age that is talking so much about relativism, we need to understand that we recognize certain standards for our lives and conduct.

3. The Polity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in particular, allows for power to be spread & the Holy Spirit to work in community, rather than in individuals (a la models that employ bishops, etc.) Coming out of such a model, I didn't see too much problem. But then you start to see the abuses of power by individuals, you see how disagreements can easily be settled by those with the power without coming to a right resolution.

4. Uhhh... I'm not sure here, mainly because other things have taken my mind off this right now. But I do know there are more things I appreciated & felt like I fit with.

A couple neat concluding notes. Going before the Presbytery was a unique feeling. I followed a contentious decision about a Church who had 2 of its pastors given paid leave by an Administrative Commission. By the time the potential Candidates were called to the floor (I was 1 of 3) there was 1/3 less people, if not more. I think we may have each been asked 1 question. They were throw-aways. But when our home-church pastors and others came up to lay hands on us & pray for us once we'd been accepted... standing before those Ministers of Word & Sacrment and other ordained Elders & Deacons... it was an amazingly affirming feeling. I'd always (well, from about 14 or so) felt that personal call to ministry, but seeing it affirmed in Community was awesome.

Finally, I got the word last weekend from my CPM Liason that my Internship (required to be a Clinical Pastoral Education internship) was approved to be at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. He was amazing throughout the process. He's gone above and beyond what would be expected. He had told me it didn't look good, got a sense from the committee, but was willing to submit the request on my behalf anyway. He e-mailed me to tell me that it was approved. Going in I had felt frustrated. I was frustrated because I felt that arbitrary rules were getting in the way of what I believed was best for me and my family (long story short, TPH was the closest and actually paid you for your work - which matters a lot when you have a newborn baby). But I saw in that the Holy Spirit, working in community, despite what I had thought. If that doesn't confirm one to the Presbyterian Church... well, I don't know what will...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Neglecting good people...

Ok, so here's the thing. I'm not all that smart. And I'm not all that creative and I'm surely not worth reading all that much... which is why there are lapses of days where nothing happens here. But that doesn't mean I'm not out there reading OTHER stuff by other smart and creative people. I realized the other day that my links need some editing because I've got some people that just need props and that I check out that other people need to as well.

So... I think I'll go ahead and give out some of those props. I'll also update my links page with their blogs.

Matt Millner was my preceptor, first semester Speech @ Princeton. Not only does he employ a sweet hairstyle and was more helpful than the prof (you can guess who I may have had) but he also was the 2nd person who I talked with about Susan Howatch. He's got a great blog and definitely worthy of checking out.

John Bucholtz and his wife Kitty are great friends of Bridgette & me from Los Angeles (via Michigan & Arizona) who are now in Australia. He's a mo-cap guy who's been honing his craft, picking up bit jobs here and there, waiting for his big break. And God blessed them with an amazing opportunity. They're truly cool people. I had the opportunity to work with John & Bel Air Presbyterian Church in the Junior High Ministry.

Drew Sams was a colleague of mine as well at Bel Air Presbyterian Church while he was an intern in the High School Ministry. He did so well that eventually he was invited to become the interm Director and a year later was offered the gig as High School Pastor at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village. He's a cool cat who is also in the midst of studying with some other very good people at Fuller Theological Seminary.

I'll be updating this list as time permits. In the meantime, as I'm called away to change diapers and other fun things, check them out...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Altar Call

I gave a presentation today on the former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple (1881-1944) for my class on Lesslie Newbigin. It was short & somewhat rushed - probably not as good as some of the other presetations given - but hey, by the time my turn came, we were running out of time.

Anyway, when I got finished, my friend Andrew asked me - "So where was the altar call?" And the truth was, as I finished with the concluding anecdote, I got a little choked up myself - I almost started to tear up. Here is the story as it was included in Richard H. Schmidt's "How Shall I follow Christ, William Temple, 1881-1944"

"Temple ventured often onto university campuses where a sophisticated philosophical skepticism was much in vogue. He would preach every night for a week or longer. Attendance normally increased each night. Temple's intellectual vigor and spiritual passion revived the church on many campuses. In one memorable incident at Oxford in 1931, reported by his biographer F.A. Iremonger, Temple challenged his hearers on the final night of hte mission with the words of a familiar hymn.
'They are tremendous words,' Temple said. 'If you mean them with all your hearts, sing them as loud as you can. If you don't mean them at all, keep silent. If you don't mean them at all, keep silent. If you mean them even a little, and want to mean them more, sing them very softly.'

Silence filled the room as every eye looked at the text of the hymn. Then 2,000 voices sang, in a whisper:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

It All hinges on...

I was watching the History Channel the other day, and they were doing a "documentary" on the DaVinci Code - I'm assuming because of the impending movie as much as the books' appeal. It was interesting, and presented a pretty fair picture once everything was said and done. Of course, some of the people that it chose as its "experts" looked quite shady. Especially the guy who had long hair, wore sunglasses throughout the interview and was constantly smoking. Not that any of those things are bad, but put together, during an interview... well, it was just a little shady. He looked more like a biker and not like an academic or a theologian. It's like getting advice from a Girl Scout on the creation of the Internal Combustion Engine - it just looks odd.

Anyway, as it continued on at nausium about the possibility of Jesus procreating with Mary Magdalene, I found myself searching the reasons why this didn't take place. "The gospel accounts in the canon don't mention it" - yes, but they don't mention Jesus going to the bathroom either and I'm quite confident he did. As I ran through this and others I began to wonder, would I come up with something definitive? Then I landed on it - the Atonement. Not only the question of Jesus' having offspring, but really, all of Christianity hinges on it, it is the central doctrine of the faith. What did Jesus' DO? What did Jesus come to do?

If you believe Jesus' was just another moral teacher, a prophet who taught something new, something novel, that Paul or others took his words and crafted an amazing new religion from them... then you can buy just about anything. But if you believe in the Atonement, that Jesus actually DID something in relation to humanity and God, forever changing the relationship between the two... in such a way that humanity now had the freedom that Jesus' proclaimed as his original message (Luke 4:16ff, from Isaiah 58:6 and 61:1-2). If you believe that God came to earth to enact this, then the idea that Jesus stopped off for a quickie with Mary Magdalene (or even a long romantic relationship)... well it just becomes silly. It's just another example of lifting sexuality to the highest place in human experience... but that's another story.

Either way this realization is not something of my own. I've been reading Lesslie Newbigin and Bishop William Temple and both of them contend that the atonement is central to Christian theology. I also heard a sermon last Sunday by my pastor at Allentown Presbyterian Church on the Atonement, in which he raised up God's love as the main way of understanding it - but ultimately as Jesus dying for our sins. It just continued to confirm that this doctrine is key.

I'm excited this semester about my classes and about what I GET to read. I'm taking only one class for a letter grade - The Missional and Ecumenical Theology of Lesslie Newbigin - (the other 9 credits are Pass/Fail) which will hopefully allow me to read some material outside of what is required and get a firmer handle on Newbigin's theology. Either way, I've already decided that come next year, I'm taking Dr. McCormack's Atonement class no matter what, you just shouldn't leave seminary without a firm grasp on the doctrine that our entire faith hinges on. Unless you just want to become a best-selling writer of fiction...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Start?

I'm sitting in a study carrel @ the library right now. I just spend half an hour combing the library and have a stack of 18 books, all of which I intend to take out. I also intend to keep them for the entire semester. The greatest thing about our library, is that I CAN keep them. As long as I renew them, I'm money! Now, if I could only find time to read them...