Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Can you believe it?

There's a few things that I need to put under this heading:

1. We left Princeton, NJ, and flew 3000 miles across the country to Southern California... in order to see SNOW!! That's right, we went snow tubing in SoCal last week when we went to Big Bear. We saw more snow there in 3 days than all winter up until then in New Jersey.

2. As I'm writing this our 2nd Semester has already begun. I still haven't bought my books, or even got my head around the fact that my final semester at PTS has begun. In just a few months I'll be kicked to the curb, and I'm just praying that we have somewhere to go by then, which turns me to...

3. While we were back in LA last week, spending time with Bridgette's family, going to Big Bear, eating In-n-Out Burger, seeing a couple of our good friends... I had my Final Assessment, and passed. It was so amazing, so much easier than I thought. I thought for sure that there'd be some tough questions to answer, some scruples with my theology or the presentation of my sermon, but the whole committee was supportive, encouraging and very positive. I was totally blessed and completely blown away. As I try to get back into the swing of things here, I'll let you read the sermon I submitted & preached (the second half of 'cause we were behind in the days schedule). Let me know what you think.

"An Inside Job"
Mark 10:35-45

One of the most prevalent memories of my childhood was the special, ultra-exclusive clubs that my friends and I would create. Sometimes they would include secret handshakes or code words or even identity cards that would allow you access to the group’s hidden clubhouse. We did not need locks or a guard, whoever was in the club, knew who was not and the knowledge that you were excluded was enough to keep even the most persistent at bay. But to be on the inside, to be in that inner circle… that was a very special feeling. And I do not think that it is something that we leave in our childhood. Don’t we all want to be on the inside? Don’t we all long to belong, to know that we are a part of a special group, that there are people who know our name and share our passions? Isn’t the prevalence of private Country Clubs, private schools, and even the phenomenon of mySpace evidence that friendships, the desire to belong, the desire to be on the inside, is just as true for adults as it is for children?

Looking at the text for our sermon, we find two men who by all outward appearances seem to be inside men with Jesus. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, along with Peter, seem to form the inner-circle of Jesus’ followers. In Mark 5, the three are the only disciples who remain in the room of Jairus’ dead daughter when Jesus heals her. And again, in Mark 9, the three are the only disciples who witness Jesus’ transfiguration. So the fact that the two of them would draw Jesus aside while on a journey, to ask a favour of him, does not at first glance seem out of place. Why wouldn’t Jesus grant a request of two of his closest friends, two of his ‘inside men’?

And their request was? Well, really, it was nothing more than confirming the status that Jesus had already conferred on them in previous occasions. So, they might have been squeezing out Peter a little bit, but their request wasn’t really all that out of the ordinary. Jesus was about to ascend to the throne. His Messiahship was unquestioned; he was indeed the Son of David that Israel had been expecting. They had witnessed with their very own eyes and ears God’s blessing on Jesus at the transfiguration. They knew it was only a matter of time before Jesus would claim what was rightfully his. They knew it was only a matter of time before Jesus squashed the ruthless Romans and removed them from the Holy Land. And Jesus would need some help. He would need a right, and a left-hand man. And who better to fulfill those roles than the two brothers who had been with him from the beginning? James and John were really the logical choices here. Jesus had to see that. There was no one else. Peter was prone to fly off the handle and make irrational decisions. One moment he’d be saying one thing and the next he’d be vehemently arguing against that point. He was certainly not the man Jesus would need at his right hand. Maybe a military post in Galilee would suit him. Peter just wasn’t made out of the same stuff as Jesus. When you got down to it, James and John were the right men for the job. They knew when to lay low, when to listen, just the right time to speak up. They wouldn’t overshadow Jesus. After all, Jesus would be in the center…

But even before they asked their question, James and John must have recognized that their request was somewhat at least a little suspect, for they initially ask if Jesus would grant them what they ask – before they even ask the question. It does seem a little odd to ask to make a request, doesn’t it? ‘Excuse me Jesus, would you mind giving us something? We’ll tell you what it is once we know you’ll do it.” Of course, Jesus made them make their request before giving them an answer. He knew, what we could tell from our vantage point, that their request wasn’t exactly appropriate. After all, hadn’t Jesus just gotten through prophesying about his death? But I guess they missed that one. And then there was the rich man, who’d just been told he should sell his possessions and follow Jesus – real prestigious there. But it seems they missed that one too. And who could forget everyone’s favourite Jesus story, the one with the little kids clamoring for his attention, and Jesus remarking that you must be like a child to enter the Kingdom of God. Hmmm… I guess James and John weren’t exactly getting the message.

Maybe James and John were too busy thinking up all the neat things they were going to do once Jesus got to the throne – for Jesus of course. Maybe they were preoccupied about their own status in the Kingdom, their own place, to see exactly what this community, this upside down kingdom was supposed to truly look like. In any event, this was not exactly the idea of the kingdom that they had gotten, at least not up until this point.

But before we chastise James and John too much, we should note that they are not alone among the disciples in this desire for a special place in the kingdom. The rest of the disciples, on hearing of their request, get angry. It seems that all of them thought this request was not appropriate – because they weren’t the ones making it. In fact, in order to find someone who ‘gets it’ you have to continue on to the following story, the healing of the blind man named Bartimaeus. In that story, we have a man who understood what to ask for from Jesus, what his true needs were – simply to have sight, to be whole. He didn’t ask for power or prestige or special status. He asked for his sight. This simple request, granted almost immediately by Jesus, is the perfect foil to the request made by James and John in the previous story. And here Mark’s irony is in full effect. It is a blind man, one who requests his sight, that actually sees Jesus and understands his message better than those who have been seeing Jesus regularly, and hearing him talk – even hearing him describe the meaning of some of his difficult parables. It is this outsider, this poor, social outcast who gets Jesus more than these privileged insiders.

This really is a theme throughout Mark. He often paints the disciples in a less flattering light. They’re supposed to get it, they’re supposed to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables, understand his identity, his mission, but too often they do not. And Mark paints so many others, outsiders, in a light that says, at least for a brief moment, that they got it. They understood. They were really more on the inside, more in the know, than were Jesus’ own disciples.

The insiders – may not be as inside as they believe. And the outsiders – may not be as outside as they believe. I think this is also a word that Jesus has for us today. I have seen it time and time again in the Church today – there are insiders… and there are outsiders. And this is not even including those outside the community of faith… We so easily create invisible boundaries and decide who is in and who is out, who is part of our special circle and who is excluded from it. But if this word is for us today, than we are challenged, challenged to rethink the boundaries we have created. Maybe, just maybe, we’re not really on the inside. Maybe, just maybe, we’re not quite as special and select as we’ve thought ourselves to be. Maybe, just maybe, those we have excluded are more on the inside than we are…

When we take a moment to investigate our lives and our relationships, especially in the community of faith, I think we are good to return to this passage in Mark. Just now, we skipped over a very vital section. We had gone from the ten disciple’s anger about James and John’s request, straight to Blind Bartimaeus and his request for sight, moving from the indignant insiders to the outsider who actually got it. But we missed what Jesus said in between, Jesus’ words to his followers, to those who had believed themselves to possess a special status, and even the potential of preferment…

Jesus essentially says to them – ‘So you want to be special, do you? You want to be like those rulers among you, who hold positions of power, who control and manipulate and force you to do what they want? You want prestige and honour and power in my Kingdom? Well, that’s fine. But it doesn’t look like that – it doesn’t look like you think…’ And here the beautiful paradox of the Kingdom of God is spelled out - the truth about what it means to be on the inside... If you want to be great, if you want to be first, you have to be a servant, you have to be a slave. Leadership for Jesus is sacrificial. Leadership for Jesus is costly. Leadership for Jesus means being in bondage, submitting ones self to those around for their sake and not one’s own. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He came to serve, to offer his life as a ransom for many. And that is what he asks of us - to offer our lives for the sake of others. He asks us to set aside our possessions and our wealth, to set aside our desire for status and prestige, to set aside our very selves for others. By ourselves, in our own strength, we cannot do this. on our own we exploit others for our gain, we form cliques not communities, secret societies instead of seeking to serve those around us. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can stand up, break out of our ways of perceiving our work and truly step into our mission. Service - Sacrifice - Seeking those we perceive to be on the outside. THIS is our call. THIS is what it means to lead. THIS is what it means to be on the inside with Jesus.


Anyway, let me know what you think - feel free to preach it if you want, but I wrote it for the context of leaders, pastors, elders, etc. I'm not sure that it fits verbatim in a church. But if you want, just add the air quotes and attribute it to me...

Friday, January 19, 2007

"Leaving, on a jet plane..."

In 3 hours we're set to head to the Philly airport & board a plane for LA. We'll be gone for 10 days, some of which will be spent in Big Bear at Bridgette's parent's timeshare, and of course some of it will be spent jumping through the hoops of the ordination process. I will be heading to the Pacific Presbytery meeting tomorrow morning and then on the 27th I will have my Final Assessment.

I've got mixed emotions about it - Final Assessment. When I was back a year and a half ago my home church had actually thought I was there for my Final Assessment and spent some time grilling me on theology & really built the experience up as if there was potential for difficulty. I guess they made someone cry once? I dunno. But everyone I know that has had their Final Assessment has had no problems and my liason has been a great encouragement. So, I'm kinda stuck in there going - "this could be a cake walk" but "this could also be brutal and they might not pass me." Realistically, it will probably be somewhere in between. I'm sure there will be some concerns about things I say in my Statement of Faith, questions about how I articulated something or something I didn't say. There probably will also be questions about my sermon, about my emphasis on X or my lack of pastoral sensativity... I dunno.

I'm concerned but not worried. When all is said and done, I'll take the same approach to about all the major things I've done in my life, from going to college at Roberts, to heading to LA, to going to Princeton and then about the Overseas possibility next year - I'll do what I can do, and let the other people & God sort out the rest. I know I can't make things happen on my own. I know I have limited abilities. Maybe, in this case, others will see that my abilities are just enough to warrant this. And if not... well, they're always hiring at In 'n Out...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


This may be the most I have written in a single sitting before. It came out to 20 pages, when I sat down last night (Monday) just before 7pm, I had nearly 3 pages. That's 17 pages in around 9 hours, keeping to my 2 page per hour pace. Kudos if you can discipher the title of the paper...

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Almost there..."

I've been accused before of not following up on previous posts... which is probably true. I'm not sure if there's anything out there right now that needs following up, except that I finished that paper I was working on about 10 days ago and submitted it. I have no idea whether it was received by my professor, as he has yet to respond to my e-mails (I submitted two papers via e-mail to him, hoping he'd get them early so he could grade them and have some time to write a recommendation for that Oxford Visiting Student application I'm doing). So, other than that, I don't think there's any other follow-up necessary.

That means I can get onto tonight's post, which returns to the scene of the crime, in some ways, as that post 10 days ago. Yet again, I'm stuck in the CN Center, writing away on a paper that is due (this time, actually tomorrow at 9am, instead of a self-imposed due date). I'm approximately 5 pages through an 18-20 page paper for my Barth class. I'm writing on Barth's theology of marriage, interestingly enough. Primarily drawn from section 54.1 "Man and Woman" in III/IV (Doctrine of Creation). I will probably be up past 3am, but as it stands now, I've got a ton of notes and quotes and the paper, to some degrees is almost writing itself. If I can only stay on task long enough to get it finished, I should be in good stead.

That is of course where the picture and title come in. Garven Dreis, the Red Squadron Leader from Star Wars Episode IV has those famous lines, which he repeats a couple times in the movie, while he's attempting to shoot down the Death Star at the end of the movie. Darth Vader is on his tail, picking off his wingmen (which I can never understand why they don't do anything more than sit there and get hit instead of him, but anyway...) and eventually Dreis get's a shot off on the hatch to the Death Star that if hit correctly will begin some kind of mega-desctruction of the enormous Space Station.

I kinda feel like that now. I'm in the trench. I'm speeding along and "time" is slowly catching up behind me, picking off all of my other things. If I can just keep the distractions at bay long enough to get to the end of the trench, I can let off a perfect shot that will end this semester.

What I'm trying not to think about is that even once I slay the Death Star, I still have to complete 2 applications (the Pulpit-Parish Overseas Fellowship and the Visiting Student application to Oxford - which need to be received on Jan 31 & Feb 1 respectively) and preach my sermon at my Final Assessment on Jan 27 in Los Angeles. And of course the myriad of details that need to be worked out to get us packed up, on the plane, etc, and then there's second semester which will start up as soon as I return Jan 29 - and I've got an independant study which has me reading 55pages that first week (I devised the syllabus - what an idiot I am). So I guess I shouldn't think too much about what happens to Red Leader once he lets off that shot on the Death Star in the movie, now should I? 'Cause Darth Vader nails him in the wing and he tumbles into the Death Star and is blown up on impact...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What I think I believe

First, before I get going, I've got to say that it's Brennan's birthday today - he just turned a year old. Whoa! Check out our photo album for more pics.

Anyway, I finally sent off my paperwork for Final Assessment, which included my Sermon (on Mark 10:35-45), Exegesis work on the text and my Statement of Faith - what I believe I believe. Or at least what I believe I believed when I wrote it, not that its changed or anything, but I'm still convinced that a Statement of Faith is a living document that would probably be re-worded and re-worked at different points in a person's life, and really should be. I mean, would you really use the same language to describe your faith at 12 as you would at 32 or 52? Not to say that you cease to believe what you believed or that you now believe something new, but you would probably articulate it differently. I think that's a good thing. Anyway, in case you were wondering or bored, I figure I'll share what I wrote. And that way you can also confirm in your mind just how heretical I really am, 'cause I know that some family and friends often wonder about me, now that I've gone to Princeton and all - ha!

Statement of Faith – Don Coleman

I believe in God who is one, in three. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, perfect unity in divine and holy community, always having existed and always to exist.

I believe in God who created the universe and who is continually at work nurturing and transforming everything to God’s eventual and perfect will.
I believe in YHWH whose manifest presence was revealed to Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, to Isaac and Rebekah, to Jacob, Leah and Rachel, to Moses and to Pharaoh, to the Israelite people and to the nations they conquered and were conquered by.
I believe in God whose voice both calls out in love and whose ear listens for our cries, whose eyes both watch us in our sleep and in our waking and whose hands both reach out in loving compassion and in righteous judgment. God who proclaims and enacts good news for the poor, sight to the blind and freedom for the captive.
I believe in God who I cannot control, cannot contain, and cannot even fully explain – but God who desires to make all creation complete by worshipping YHWH alone.

I believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God the Father, who from the beginning being fully God, was born some 2000 years ago in Palestine of the Virgin Mary, fully human in order to restore humanity to right relationship with God.
I believe in Jesus Christ who living rightly before God and humanity, died on a Roman cross in obedience to the Father, providing salvation to humanity, was resurrected on the third day, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for humanity.
I believe in Jesus Christ, the Word, the full revelation of God to humanity, sent by the Father as the perfect example of humility in service.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, sent by God the Father, upon the ascension of Jesus the Christ into glory, as the living and powerful presence of God in the world and in every believer, enabling us to lead lives of holiness and drawing us into communion with God and our fellow humanity.

I believe that humanity is created in the image of God; due to the fall it is under the effects of sin, but due to the work of Jesus, no longer subject to its power.

I believe that the Church is God’s chosen instrument to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, good news for the poor, sight to the blind and freedom to the captive.
I believe that the Church is a sent community, called to relationship with God and sent to testify to and serve on account of the reconciling work of God in Jesus Christ.

I believe that the Bible is the reliable and infallible witness to God’s Word, inspired and authoritative in all matters of life and faith.

I believe that the Sacraments are divinely instituted signs, enacted by the community of faith whereby we testify to God’s reconciling work through Jesus Christ both in the world and in our lives. In Baptism, by the washing of water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are welcomed into the community of faith, signifying and sealing our in-grafting into Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive bread and wine, by faith taking part in the body and blood of Christ, whereby we are spiritually nourished so that we may grow in grace.

Let the debates on my orthodoxy begin...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Right Now...

I wish I could say this picture reflected an episode of my life that I just completed, or was soon to complete... alas, this is what I'll be doing for another 3-4 hrs. Then of course, running off to bed for 2-3hrs of sleep to get up tomorrow, submit the paper and begin working on my paperwork for Ordination. I'm so glad that I have a Statement of Faith to work from that I'm planning on tweaking. If I began from scratch tomorrow, working on just a few hours of sleep, I might write something like this:

I believe in JOE. It has the power to resurrect my mind while my body wastes away.

JOE comes in three persons, Tim Horton's, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts...

Thank goodness I won't be writing THAT... or will I...