Thursday, April 6, 2017

On Leaving Ministry

I remember the first inkling I had directing me towards ministry. I shared it with my then high school sweet heart, who chastised me for it. My plans were law and hers were pharmacy. For five years, we had our eye on success. Why was that changing now? This inkling directed my life for years to come and never in quite the way I expected.

The largest changes were relational, but they were all driven by an educational change. I at some point was in love with my high school sweet heart, but that changed around the same time I locked horns with ministry. Her day dreams were us moving to a local state college and living together. This sort of forethought was lost on me completely. It may have been escapism that drove me to apply only for a private Christian school near by. This was the inevitable break. All romance was lost in that relationship, and the symptoms of that blight appeared quickly. Childhood versions of infidelity came from both directions and the wounds were this time unable to mend. No one wanted to mend them. There wasn't love there any more.

Yet, I have never been a person really outside of the context of a committed relationship. In this I over valued them. Every woman who batted an eyelash was meant to be. I'd miss the bit were relationships could be just for fun, poking at pretending to build skills for later life. In my mind, I was already the final version of me. I felt I needed to build a flawless version of myself outwardly, while knowing it isn't possible internally. No one else had this void of wisdom. On this canvas, I painted my birthing into training for ministry. I made friends, deepened a relationship with a close cousin, and lounged around in the arrogance that studying for ministry can coddle. As many young men, I was a plaguingly wrought combination of insecurity and invincible pride. Studying what those around me considered to be a fount of truth made this insufferable to others. I knew this, and it was a source of anxiety. I did not know how to handle that anxiety. I retreated into other religion majors, but still there I lapsed into arrogance even among those who were my academic superiors. I searched for a niche in response.

I found that niche in the study of language. Now, I was by no means the best language student so there again I search for a sub-niche among the only 3 students who studied Greek and Hebrew to the same degree as me. I found this in reading and writing about the almost dead walking field of textual criticism. The field was academically dominated by the monolith of Bruce Metzger. His academic heir apparent had retreated from the struggle of Christianity and was thus isolated from Christian Academics. The field was left unclothed in a wash of ever more exegesis focused academics in the vein of N.T. Wright rather than the historical context of the late 20th century. I however loved it, in a deep legitimate way. Unseen to me was that I was now a middling undergraduate forcing a specialization in a dead field with no graduate programs. Thus I was left with only one option, seminary. Anyone who knows me will attest I am not outwardly meant for ministry. Those who know me well will say I had a particular gift for it, but only out of kindness and the fact that they are the rare few who stuck through the process of making friends with me. I am not that harsh now, but I certainly was then. Maybe I still am, but my new glasses don't work as well as I think they do.

I interviewed for Seminary from the two principle choices presented to us as students at my university. They were both from the same brand of Baptist Orthodoxy pretending to be rebellious because we were slightly less right leaning than the older class. Some associates of mine were in fact quite liberal, others imagined themselves to be, others went to Southern Seminary. Between Truett and McAfee school of Theology, I chose McAfee largely because I thought it would give me some space to develop outside of the well wrought clique of colleagues in college. Throwing away stability and moving across the country is generally a mistake. There is no clarity for me on how life would have gone attending Truett rather than McAfee. I can however, that I did not have an experience of a life time. It had nothing to do with the institution, but the quality of peers. I am sure they were fine people, but they were draining to me. Mostly in their similarity to me, the constant hounding on pet causes drove me crazy. The academic were very close to my undergrad, and so I was not stimulated. I had no great love for my peers or professors.

I knew but couldn't say it, it was not for me.

In light of that, I accepted a youth ministry position when I arrived at McAfee. I had worked with youth in the summer, and I loved working with youth. That was the first glimmer of my real passion in life. I still thought it was dusty Greek. I love the kids, and I love to teach them. I enjoyed planning camps and activities. I was wonderful at building relationships and teaching. From most warm fuzzy approaches to ministry I was on the ball. I did not however understand that Church Politics was quite like any other sort of politics.

When a new head minister was hired they expected church growth. The only program that grew was my youth program. Money does not grow on youthful trees and parents do not always follow their children to church. Salaries are not easy budgets to cut for ministers already deep in their career as they do to seminarians. Everyone makes mistakes, but mine more often had me thrown under a bus. This was more stones on a tired back. I wanted to do anything else but this.

I am not sure what it was, but when my youth budget was cut I broke and resigned. I told my wife we had to move back to my home town. I dragged my little young family through a terribly discouraging time of working shifts and have to transfer graduate schools.

Life doesn't always have a grand cause to shift. Sometimes it is self hate, depression, and lost. I could not have been much closer to God's institution on earth. I could not have been farther from where God planned me to be. I could not have been farther from God.

I wasn't much closer to God managing my family's restaurant, but I was relieved of terrible pressures. In being close to family, my life was filled with relationships. I didn't even know they had been missing. My brothers, my father, my mother, they were all back with me. Managing a restaurant alienates you from those you interact with. Furthermore, being a "educated" person alienates you further from those who you work with.

I was soundly out of calling, but I needed another one. It was a blink that I thought I would go to education. There was nothing that seemed in my past to suit it except wanting to work with Middle Grade children again. I researched programs for getting a teaching license and the nearest college had a deadline that night. I submitted all of the materials then and there. I interviewed the next week and I was accepted.

I am nearing the end of my first year of teaching. I find hundred of opportunities a week to love other people. That's all Jesus asked me to do in the first place before the Greek, the classes on Prophets, and thinking I had personal growth. That was all he asked me to do. Funny thing is, it also makes me happy.

I left the ministry, and I found my calling.

Monday, July 4, 2011

This may be beating a dead horse. . . (July topic)

These efforts to continue this blog may be in vain, as it seems to have lost its staying power somewhere at the beginning of the last semester, however, I shall post and see the results!

In observation of the United States Independence Day (that is, seeing it is upon us again), What are your thoughts concerning Church and State relations? What is the believer's responsibility in and to the state, if any? What are your thoughts on God and nationalistic fervor? On observance of national holidays in the church? Of the church's responsibility to (perhaps recognition of) veterans in the congregation? These are questions to spur the conversation forward and to test inspiration; a response for all is not required or intended.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Inevitable despair, hopeful proclamation through silence.

Tragic events are often also crises of identity; every crisis requires reflection and self-questioning in order to come to terms with or make sense of it. In the midst of these trying times are a myriad of voices--past, present, and internal-- giving 'consoling' words, theories of reason, and efforts to bring the tragically stricken person(s) back to a balance. Questioning a person's moral relationship to/with God is one way that people seek to find that balance or 'help' another regain it by finding a justifying reason for tragedy.
In these times of trial I do not feel that it is reasonable or appropriate to attempt to find resolution for other people in their pain, nor is it beneficial to correct the theology of the broken. I believe that the most helpful response to tragedy, or to the theological assertions of those on the periphery of the suffering person(s) is a presence that transcends quips of consolation and theological tidbits of absurdity. To be an active listener to the pain of the one who cries "My God, why have you forasaken me?" is to participate in bringing that same person to say "Father, into your hands i commit my spirit." It is not to say that all is well, nor is it to say that all is hopeless, but it is to be present and an active part of the body of the risen Lord in whom we see the conquest of the greatest of hopeless human inevitabilities. It is to be a silent witness to the active and present work of God's redemption in all of creation and to be the hands and feet of a Lord who proclaims victory over all chaos, bringing order and fullness to the formless and void.

We should be reminded that God entered into the suffering state of human affairs, died with us, but displayed his sovereignty over all realms of human affairs and nature and the greatest of all evils. The tradition is that Jesus descended into hell and overcame it, thus it is no longer a possibility, evil is gone and we have been freed from despair by faith in God's work through Christ.

Suffering may come, and the pain is very real. Despite these disturbances, we know suffering will end. Our job is to bear witness to that end, to be a part of the redemptive process, and to help others through their times of crisis with patience, hope, and love.



Friday, February 11, 2011

February Topic

Imagine you have a friend, and tragedy strikes them. Someone counsels them to consider what sin they have committed to lead to this tragedy. What would you tell your friend? From this practical/pastoral perspective, outline your conception of divine sovereignty.

Sorry I'm a bit late on this one.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Theology for Grief

                A little helpful background for this post is that I come from a closely knit family, and by family I mean the inclusion of my extended family. In this particular instance I will speak of My cousins, aunt, uncle, and grandparents on my dad’s side of the family, who rarely go days without seeing one another, or at least talking on the phone. Sadly, In November my Grandfather died unexpectedly. My wife and I flew back to Tennessee and Daniel and I, both pursuing education in (Christian) Religion, were assigned the task of speaking at the funeral service, along with my brother and my other cousin. 
       Daniel and I no doubt hold differing, yet similar views concerning the afterlife. It seems as I understand it that we both agree that the afterlife as understood in Christianity should not succumb to the popular theology of a metaphysical spiritual dwelling, existing with God on a separate spirit-plane of existence; it should not (at least not in Christianity), nor is it beneficial to, be thought of as a 'heaven' in the clouds with streets of gold, or any other streets for that matter.
       Daniel and I had several brief conversations over the period of that few days before the funeral about how to address this issue considering that (at least I) felt the pressure of tradition calling for some type of mention where Grandad's soul now must be existing, and how this theological perspective obviously was a source of comfort for many people. We made a conscious but unspoken decision not to address the afterlife as an existence such as previously described.  The Question then became, 'How do we deal with this now, in the presence of deep grief; in the desperate place of groping for comfort?'
           Daniel, as I recall, has struggled with the theology of afterlife and has for a time seemed to adhere to the concept of a resurrection of the dead by God at a future date undetermined in order to exist as a new creation under the reign of God and Christ. This is of course proper historical theology and this is the way that Daniel chose to speak of the future hope of ‘seeing Grandad again’ when he did (which was little). In his hesitancy to speak this way, I feel like Daniel is much closer to my own struggling view than he lets on. I tend to teeter from resurrection which has been described recently, to a position of non-existence after death, maintaining the hope of a future redemption for all of existing creation at an unknown date etc.. For myself, more weight is being placed on the latter as I get older. Ultimately our views of afterlife (or lack thereof) are speculative at best, but we chose to downplay and steer away talk of afterlife as much as possible without denying anyone any expressions useful to help them cope with loss. 
                As for the funeral service and my family, I have observed some interesting reactions and I feel that our conscious decision has had several consequences; whether merely personally perceived  because of my own thoughts, or reality, I do not know. I list them, regardless:

1) It seems to me that there is much less despair and anxiety of separation from Grandad’s person or spirit. Possibly this is due to the fact that in order to replace the gap theologically the family has . . .

2) placed much more emphasis on the memory of and speaking about Grandad’s life rather than his death and absence ‘for a time’.

3) There is an active and conscious recall and storytelling about the person of my Grandfather. This has created a sense of continued presence through a recognition of aspects of his character imprinted in each member of the family unit.

4) This narrative process has created what seems to be a mainly healthy grief process that faces the situation outright and creates a communication of feelings between grieving persons out of necessity, rather than passing it off and delaying grief by making remarks such as: ‘oh its going to be ok he’s in a better place now’ or 'someday we will see him again.'

5) For some family members, it seems to have created a sense of responsibility to carry on that character and a sort of call to abandon, or at least an acknowledgment and conversation about living lifestyles that are in contradiction to what he had raised his family to maintain.

6) Finally, If the focus is on the life rather than death, then the focal point is hope rather than despair. There is a shift from the tragedy of individual loss to the blessing of understanding that this loss is part of a larger picture, and thankfulness that this person is a part of a larger *buzzword* meta-narrative of God's action in history and has functioned as a link so closely associated with my self in that story.

                All in all I am happy and satisfied with the way in which we have dealt with and handle the death and subsequent grief process both initially in those fleeting conversations and now largely, perhaps without realization by most, as a family unit.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kingdom of Rust

I will just be frank: I have very little idea what the afterlife holds for us. But I know what it doesn't hold, and thus I want to talk about the future of humankind in contrast to the present/ past.

Our civilizations are a single great kingdom of rust. There is nothing permanent about it, even the decay and despaired relationships that seem to characterize world civilizations throughout history. In ten thousand years (assuming that time does not end before then), some futuristic race will dig through the sands of Egypt and find the remains of skyscrapers much as we have discovered the tombs of ancient pharaohs. Our economic infrastructures, already teetering on the brink of chaos, will have crumbled and been replaced by an equally unfair system. Rulers will still misuse their power and oppress the poor. The Church will still be lost in the fog between who it has been and who it should be. People will still die, starve, be manipulated, devalued, and disrespected. Not much has changed since Rome. Not much will change between now and then.

It is precisely because our civilizations cannot prevent the abuse of power and wealth while treating people equitably and fairly that makes our world into a kingdom of rust. Our world would be a kingdom of peace if only we could mend and maintain our relationships with one another. The shooting of the Arizona representative and the debate over political rhetoric that has followed is proof positive of my point. Our nation is crumbling from its lack of civil debate and cordial deferment. We demonize and smear each other to hold on to an office for a handful of years. Is it really worth the rift that we are tearing in the fabric of our world?

I think the afterlife is a kingdom of peace where humans and God are reconciled fully. Thus every action that a human takes is an act of worship, for it honors the right relationship between him/her, fellow humans, and God. There is no room for rust in an eternal kingdom.

Friday, January 7, 2011

January Topic

For the majority of what I would call "my mature Christian life", I thought thinking about the afterlife was a waste of time. I could never see the practicality of reflecting on something that there is no clear picture about. I had an opinion of what I thought it would be, and for a long time I didn't have a problem if I told someone that their view of the afterlife was ignorant. (If you don't know me personally, know that my past is founded on arrogance.) Yet, at the base of my theology I have always thought that love held and place. This caused a problem. When death finally faced me it was something that my "knowledge" did nothing to help show love to those mourning. The little grief I have experienced has not been desperate nor particularly cold, but it has been one of the view things in life that I will sight as evidence in my theological thought. It is a pit of confusion for me, and I have to admit I am being somewhat selfish in choosing this topic. I know it will help me think to read through it.

Basically, my idea is that we should each take a look at what the afterlife is to us. I don't want us to get into one view versus another based on anything too finite, but rather examine how the idea practically reflects itself in our lives. If it hasn't, think about how it could. How do we minister from it? Should it have an effect on our actions? How do we handle this thing that is so important to so many? Whatever you want to ask, go where you want with it. I know not everyone will come at it from an "afterlife" point of view. Even if your idea of what's next is a progression, that's what I am asking about, but make sure to mention how it practically effects your relationship to others.