A Few Thoughts on Ferguson, MO

20 Aug Joel Busby
August 20, 2014

I do not prefer to write publicly about things that I do not understand. Especially over the internet. (Though I make attempts to write about the unfathomable grace of God, so there’s that).

The more emotionally and politically charged, the more I want to avoid commentary. When you write something for a more public reading, you are saying that your voice needs to be heard. Maybe that is pretentious. May the reader judge.

I’ll be honest. I have no idea how to make sense of the Ferguson situation other than we live in a world that has a compound fracture deep at its core. I believe Christian theology makes great sense of this in the doctrine of what we call “sin”, but I do not pretend to understand the complexity of the situation. I have no idea. I have never attended a protest or policed streets in the midst of one. I have never tried to captain a police force. Mayor a city or govern a state or president a country.

I am not African American so I have no earthly idea what that is like and the tensions that it creates to live as such in our society. I have never personally experienced anything in the US that would make me mistrust the intentions of the police (Haiti is a different story on that, by the way). I happen to know that there are lots of complicated reasons — racial, demographic, socioeconomic, geographic — that has shielded me from such an experience. Call it what you will.

I think the Ferguson situation reveals some realities about our culture any way you slice it. It reveals a lot about humanity. I say this not because I’m some sort of expert on any of it. I do, however, trust the voices of people whom I know, who understand the situation better than me and have experienced it different from me. If nothing else, they are troubled. And that troubles me.

I also want to be a person who can always empathize with those who are not like me, so I try to listen.

In all this, I’m just saying that I have no freaking idea.

But it makes me very sad.

Yesterday, a woman — who at least outwardly seemed like she lived at a different socioeconomic strata than me and her skin color was different — walked up to my place of work. She knocked on the door and asked for a ride to her job. I’ve grown up in a culture that has implicitly trained me to nurse subtle assumptions and judgments — not only in regard to skin color but socioeconomic too — in that moment. More caught than taught. I mean, I’ve grown up in Birmingham, AL. To claim otherwise is to kid myself.

But she had a name and a story. Heck, once in the 70s she was a guest at a military ball.

She had missed the connecting bus and would be arriving late to work without help. She needed a simple practical gesture of kindness. One that my workmates and me were able to give.

In the process, we made a new friend.

We aren’t heroes. Please. But yesterday, in light of the news from Missouri, it felt like we were able to participate in something bigger and higher. It seemed that in a small way we chipped away at something.


I cannot solve the world’s problems. But I can live thoughtfully, reflectively and, in general, pay attention. Lift my voice when need be. Support those who are working at a systemic level.

Maybe try a few small things too.

Help this neighbor who comes across my path. And Ezra — adopted son of my close friends whose skin color is different than my boy’s — can come over to play. And we can love him and see to it that we encourage him to be the man God would have him be. And I can listen to Calvin, from my doctoral cohort, and let him teach me something of what it means to serve Jesus in his neighborhood. And I can pray for JD, Liz and fam as they put the nose to the plow in a more direct way in Memphis.

And all along the way I can think about, talk about and honor the one whose cross broke down dividing walls of hostility and who has, by the way, been raised from the dead.

So I can hope too.

And that is not nothing.

On the House Remodel & the Pastoral Ministry

15 Aug Joel Busby
August 15, 2014

My wife and I bought a house about a year ago.

We embarked on this adventure with a lot of plans to refurbish and remodel.

It’s been fun. And hard. And expensive.

Because of our budget, we’ve done nearly 100% of the work ourselves. We did pay someone to do something with our gas lines, which seems reasonable enough to me. I have zero desire to blow our house up. We’re at the age where not blowing our house up is worth more to us than the pride of knowing we did it 100% ourselves — but only barely.

Here’s an invaluable something I’ve learned: House projects are significantly easier if one uses the right tools.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve busted my knuckles, wasted materials, and botched a project because I wasn’t using the right tools. I’ve worked on things and had the conscious thought, “Dang. They really should make something that does this, makes this kind of cut, fits there, etc.”

Only later do I find out that “they” have indeed made a tool for just that. “They” also have a thing called a Dremel, which does everything. I saw one of these at a friend’s house and it blew my mind. I digress.

Interestingly, in my remodel projects sometimes I had the tools. But, I didn’t feel like going to my storage to rummage around for the right one. This was almost always foolish. It caused more work and strain and time and trouble. Ironically, I didn’t go through these steps because I thought something else would do the trick. That it would work better or faster or quicker. It almost never worked out this way.

Remodeling a house is like Christian ministry.

As a pastor, there are things you are trying to accomplish, cultivate, remodel, fashion, and shape. To put is succinctly, your endeavors are to the end that Christ would be formed in people. To see them grow up into Him.

Turns out, there are tools for this.

Historically, we’ve called them “means of grace.” In the tradition from which I hail (somewhat loosely, I’m an eclectic mess), it is Word and Sacrament.

Whenever and wherever the Word is preached, declared, proclaimed, announced, read aloud, taught, heard, thought about, wrestled with, discussed, studied, struggled with, batted around, obeyed, embodied, etc., the Spirit of God is at work to form and create and re-create and shape and remodel the hearts of people.

Every time.

I honestly believe this.

Further, whenever baptism and Communion are enacted and administered and shared, God is doing something to us and for us. There is a holy participation in something grand and inexplicable. This one is, perhaps, harder to understand and explain and elaborate upon, but something is happening nonetheless. Some tools are fully functional, even though perplexing.

I certainly believe there are other aspects of the pastoral ministry. Care and counsel, spiritual direction, hospitality/table fellowship all comes to mind. I practice these passionately and believe in them sincerely.

However, Word and Sacrament — this is the core. The essential tools. The sine qua non of the work.

We have the tools. We should use them because they really help — like A LOT.

Psalms of Lament

12 Aug Joel Busby
August 12, 2014

There is a collection of ancient Hebrew poems that express confusion, despair, doubt, fear, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress.

The frustration and angst, often, is directed toward God himself.

And these poems make the cut. They get put into the Bible.

They are the Psalms of Lament. Apparently, the Hebrews believed that we could live those feelings and experiences before the face of God.

We live in a world that seems increasingly chaotic and a lot of people are tired of pretending everything is fine. They see the fracture in the universe. They see it out there, and they feel it in their own chests.

Unfortunately, many churches exclusively offer peppy, happy-go-lucky gatherings, convincing those in attendance that cliche God-stuff can be mixed in as an add-on to their life and it will all be fine.

A lot of people buy in. But, a lot of people are not buying it.

Too often, Christians fail to speak into the dark places. Secular voices, however, are attempting to address these issues, and people are listening — a point made so wisely in a recent article. (The title of the article is “In Sweden, Human Darkness is Confronted by the Arts Not the Church: If the church is to survive, it doesn’t need to be nice – it must address the big existential questions of sin and death” Read this!)

TS Eliot wrote,

“Why should men love the Church?…
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.” *

I find it encouraging to know that the Bible offers language, modes of prayer, and worship in our darkest times. We can tell of these unpleasant facts, yes, but we can also offer a way to worship in the midst of them.

The Psalms of Lament are that pathway. We have such a resource to offer people in dark places.

The good news in these Psalms is that Jesus felt those feelings too. From his cross, he cried the cry of one of them, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

He went into that dark place for you and for me.

I think we need to recover these ancient texts.

Not to necessarily dwell on them exclusively — because life under God’s rule is filled with pure joy and beauty also. We are followers of a resurrected Lord for goodness sake. This means there are all kinds of reasons for hope and joy and celebration.

But we should recover these Psalms and carve a space for them into our rhythms of worship.

We need them to speak for us when we just aren’t sure. Which happens to be a lot of the time…

* T S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 96.

The PhD: Nearing Completion

29 Jun Andrew Byers
June 29, 2014

Dear readers…

My blog writing has dwindled from irregular posts to blankness. I am in the final throes of writing my PhD thesis, so my energies are getting channeled to the end of submitting 100,000 of what I hope is solid work. My sporadic use of social media has mostly been tabled (and to be honest, that has been rather nice).

For those of you interested (and don’t feel bad if you are not), here is the thesis title:

“Johannine Theosis: The Fourth Gospel’s Narrative Ecclesiology of Participation and Deification”

I will explain more eventually. For now, I am pleased to report that I just finished the introductory chapter. After I finish combing through the 100,000 words, revising here and there, I will submit a draft to my supervisor (within a few days). After taking his final suggestions into account, I will then print this massive Word doc, bind it, and mail it to the yet to be confirmed examiners. A “viva” (oral defense) awaits later in the summer.

Regular writing here at Hopeful Realism will resume eventually. But probably after this exciting and grueling season comes to an end.

Thanks to those of you who have kept checking in!

~Andy

An Eastertide Reading from ‘TheoMedia’

27 Apr Andrew Byers
April 27, 2014

The themes of Resurrection and New Creation are central to the ideas behind both TheoMedia and Faith Without Illusions. I found myself grappling with language sufficient for expressing the unimaginable—that the finality of death was checked by the emptying of a sealed tomb. And, of course, I fell quite short in finding such sufficient language. But may favorite sections of both books are probably those lines and paragraphs about Life’s mutiny against Death that we celebrate now at Eastertide. So I will be offering a few readings from the books over the next few weeks. This one is from the chapter on Resurrection and Ascension in TheoMedia…

There is no media silence like the silence of death. Nothing is quieter. No communicative breach is more definitive. Death is the ultimate act of relational closure… No relational distance is wider than that which is symbolized by a dirt-filled grave.

Or a sealed up tomb.

And that is precisely why no sound is more disruptive in a sin-plagued cosmos than the voice of a man once dead. No sound is more volatile in a death-governed world than the sound of man recently buried and now speaking. No sound is more eucatastrophic than the living speech of a death-silenced loved one…

Then I discuss baptism as a “focal media practice”[1] for the church:

Though a ritual practice, the act of baptism is also a media form, a highly visual and public depiction of our participation not only in Jesus’s death, but also in his resurrected life.

Like the Eucharist, there is a rich, multimedia quality to baptism. Consider the sound of water displaced and dripping (or perhaps pouring, depending on the mode of baptism practiced). Think of the sound of liturgical confession and ministerial pronouncement, the touch of soaked robes and wet floors, the sight of a saint dripping wet with the watery glory of a life yanked out of a spiritual grave. All of these elements convey together that Christ has penetrated that ultimate boundary wall of death itself and pulled us through the rent veil into the realm of life.

Though we live in a much lamented world of “media-saturation,” we should take note that the divine media of Easter and new creation are also out there. The difficulty is developing ears to hear and eyes to see…

[1] This phrase is an adaptation of “focal practice,” a phrase used by philosopher Albert Borgmann and recently discussed in Arthur Boers’ Living into Focus.

What my 20-year old self would think of me at 40

17 Apr Andrew Byers
April 17, 2014

[Thanks to those of you who have kept checking at the blog in spite of my hiatus in writing. I have been grappling in grim earnest to finish off the monstrous beast of my PhD thesis (and yeah, Beowulf has been in the pleasure-reading, as the foregoing clauses betray).]

This will be a rather personal post.

I turn 40 over the weekend. It feels like a milestone of sorts, one worthy of some degree of reflection (at the risk of self-absorption).

I used to pray that I would not “sell out” or slink into worldly compromise when I got older. So I have been wondering what the 20-year old Andy would think about the 40-year old Andy… about the values I now hold, the vocational goals, the accomplishments or lack thereof. Would that younger version of me (“20A” we will call him)—a passionate and restless soul freshly committed to serving Jesus to the death and to the uttermost reaches of the earth—would he approve of the contemporary Andy (henceforth “40A”)? Would he find his prayers against the lukewarm-ness of adulthood had been answered in the unfolding of two decades? And since I had a major change of heart after becoming more serious about my faith at 19, I will throw in some thoughts from the 18 year old Andy (“18A”)….

I think 20A would be absolutely flabbergasted to find that 40A is still a student. How could this be? 20A chose “Forestry” as a field of study to avoid the “liberal” religious studies department at UGA, and eked by academically just enough to get into seminary a couple of years later. And now 40A is 85,000 words into a doctoral thesis on biblical theology. 20A certainly evidenced some degree of intellectual promise, but university academics were a laborious distraction from the glorious “out-there,” the land of greener grass beyond the quad, a realm full of grand and epic adventures among perishing souls in need of rescue. 20A would be positively shocked to find his older self slogging through a third postgraduate degree.

What would 18A think? He would be disappointed that I have not already won a gubernatorial race in my home state of Georgia, and entirely miffed that financial means would be squandered on degrees that yield little in terms of financial means.

I think 20A would be pleased that 40A has written a couple of books. He would be quite dismayed, however, over 40A’s (materialistic?) struggle with their poor sales performance, even though 18A would be livid that one would invest so much time and energy (and I mean so much time and energy) in profitless enterprises like writing on theology and culture.

20A would be excited to discover that 40A has a passport jammed full of stamps and currently lives overseas. He would be puzzled, however, that the overseas location is an industrialized Western nation rather than a dark, jungly place of daily dangers.

20A would also be troubled by the fact that 40A has yet to reach an unreached people group and bring them to faith. He would have a tough litany of questions to pose to 40A: how could you be studying when so many people are starving and without the Gospel, or in need of medical help, or in need of rescue from oppression?

On that note, 20A would be pleased to learn that two decades later he would be struggling through multiple languages. He would, however, rub his eyes in consternation over news that said languages are biblical Greek, ancient Hebrew, and academic German. Why not the tonal clicks and gutturals of a stone age tribe awaiting the Gospel?

In sum, 20A would be very pleased indeed to know that 38A daringly moved his wife and kids to another country “by faith,” leaving behind a nice big house, a respectable job, and beloved members of his wider family. He would delight that a hefty percentage of material goods were jettisoned for that costly jaunt overseas. He would just be alarmed that all of this sacrifice—though expended in the name of following Christ—involves the pursuit of a ministerial vocation with such an academic bent.

18A would find both 20A and 40A as alien and quite unfamiliar and would possibly suffer embarrassment over being associated with either of them.

I have a lot to learn from the 20-year old version of myself. That guy had an edge about him, a streak of rebellion against “the way the world works.” One of the benefits of working with university students in ministry is that they do not know about these worldly workings and can thereby hear with peculiar clarity the countercultural edginess of the Gospel. I do not wish to lose sight of the divine kingdom that turns the world upside down.

But in spite of all the concerns 20A would wish to raise with 40A, he would be quite pleasantly shocked beyond all expectation and hope that 40A was married to Miranda Waters, a girl who had caught his 20 year old eyes, and that they had brought into this world the four children whom 40A regularly fails but loves so dearly. Spending one moment with the five people now affixed to 40A, dogging his steps and adorning his life, 20A would probably collapse to his knees. The youngster would not know what to do with the PhD decision, the life in England, the academic pursuits… but he would certainly have some sense, I hope, that however a stranger 40A seemed to be, something beautiful and wondrous was underway in his life.

Something grand. And epic.

“When the world is sick, can’t no one be well. But I dreamt we was all beautiful and strong.” A conversation with Richard Kentopp of the Gentle Wolves

12 Mar Chris Breslin
March 12, 2014

Thousands of music fans, media connoisseurs, and cultural experts flock to Austin, TX this week to participate in South By Southwest (SXSW) a music and film festival featuring more than 2000 bands, hundreds of film premiers, and interactive sessions including a “virtual conversation with Edward Snowden.”  Perhaps most notable, a several years ago Twitter was introduced here.

Cultural centers like these always interest me in terms of the church’s engagement –missiologically, artistically, culturally, and doxologically. As a part of a series of conversations I’ve had with musicians making music in and for the church, I spoke to Richard Kentopp of Austin. He plays and leads music at both Servant Church and Mosaic and has been rolling out new Gentle Wolves songs each week since February. Richard is a UT Longhorn and went to Fuller Theological Seminary, before being ordained by Mosaic and serving at Servant Church in East Austin.

Our church has been influenced by Richard’s recording ministry with Gentle Wolves (the house band for Servant Church).  His particular skill for excavating and refreshing old (in some cases very old) hymn texts, writing new songs from and for the church, and also appropriating songs from outside that speak the language of and make sense, perhaps most sense for, the church. And he does all of this with a deft ear and keen sensibility for the people in his community. By trade he is a musician, but he is also a pastor with a heart for those on the margins of faith. His creativity and bravery in a place deemed the “live music capital of the world” is truly inspiring.

On the new set of songs (dubbed Vol. IV), perhaps the quintessential display of these sensibilities is “When the World is Sick.” This tune is originally a lamenting tag at the end of an obscure (and certainly non-Christian) song by Montreal indie collective Thee Silver Zion Memorial Orchestra. After a litany of the world’s ills including “our dead marines,” the singer repeats the hopeful realistic mantra, “When the world is sick/can’t no one be well/but I dreamt we was all beautiful and  strong.” Kentopp and co take the haunting line and repurpose it as a Taize-styled Confession. Some parables of the Kingdom are just too powerful not to be used liturgically for the Kingdom.

I was able to talk to Richard a bit about some of his thoughts on worship music, what it means to play music that makes sense to an increasingly post-Christian culture in a cultural center like Austin, and his outlook on pastoring and including musicians.

Hopeful Realism: I was checking out the blog you keep and was curious to have you elaborate on your four reasons why you don’t sing praise and worship songs?  It seems like your four reasons really boil down to two reasons: “they’re not good” & “they’re unintelligible to someone outside of that culture.”

Richard Kentopp: That post is getting commented on in a lot of ways. That was what I was thinking that day. Not every day am I thinking all of those things in those ways. I think that post came out a bit negative; I’m generally trying to be more constructive. I will say that I do think those songs work well for some people. I know people who deeply connect with God through Matt Redman’s music and through his ministry and through their church singing those songs. But what I think has been lost, and one reason why the church in general is hemorrhaging young people, is our ability to make music that makes sense both musically and lyrically to young people.

I think you’re right, that music makes sense to people who grew up listening to “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” & “Heart of Worship.” But from a very young age, a lot of Christians, myself included, don’t connect with “youth group music.” There are plenty of people that need to be given the vocabulary with which to worship God, and have a hard time singing those songs. The church has done a pretty poor job –giving outsiders a chance to connect. I always try to plan for our worship gatherings from the perspective of someone having their very first worship gathering experience. What I’ve found is that success lies in getting the people who have been coming forever to come around that.

I often say to them, “You’re a giving member, you’re a leader at this church, I don’t really care what you think of our music. But I want you to tell me if you think its not going to connect with your friends or your coworkers, then you can give me critique and I’ll listen to it.” We’re on a mission. I’m not there to provide an emotional experience on Sundays, I’m there to help connect them to God and connect them to each other.  Emotions will inevitably happen.

HR: I’m reminded of a line in Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, “If we want to care for the ‘lost souls’ of our society, the best way we can reach out to them is to offer them the richest resources of the Church.” I think that includes the really vibrant language of the church. With regards to language, what makes you look at a text and say, ‘we could really do that well, and it might connect in a new and surprising way’?

RK: The follow-up post to the one you mentioned, listed what sort of songs we do. As far as hymns go, I don’t have any problem changing hymns. I’m not a purist. I think that it makes sense to update theologically or otherwise.

For instance, one of the ones that we’re working on, “We Are Waiting Blessed Savior.” The music is really simple but the lyrics are great. So I took these several hundred year old lyrics and plopped them into new music. One of the lines was, “We are waiting blessed Savior/for a reunion heart to heart/with our dear ones over the river.” Every time we sing things like that or “Sweet By and By,” theologically, I have a hard time finding backup that we’ll see our loved ones in such a state in our resurrection bodies. It became problematic when we were doing a funeral for one of our folks. As a pastoral move, if possible I try to chance some of the lines into more Christ-focused eschatological references.

Linguistically, I try to change thous to yous and thee to you. Basic stuff to make us not feel so alienated over time and space from some of these songs.

HR: Tell me about the difference, for you, between making congregational music and other kinds of recording projects.

RK: I see a real distinction between the music I make “for art’s sake” and what I do with the Gentle Wolves. Honestly, I’m not a big country-rock fan, but because we are where we are, and because that makes sense artistically and linguistically to people in Austin, we choose to do that. When I made my record, my goal was to make something in the language I enjoy, something that expresses me…but that’s not necessarily the goal for the Gentle Wolves and what we do Sunday mornings. My goals are simply different. I want people to easily catch on to melodies and to be able to sing to God. I pray that somehow God’s Spirit will connect them to himself and to everyone around them singing.

HR: I love to ask worship leaders about how they navigate the role of non-Christians in worship. You find folks on every part of the spectrum, in terms of who is able to participate in making music on Sundays.

RK: I’ve actually come about 180 degrees on this.  When I was in college at University of Texas, I was a part of a church in Austin that required you to be a part of a small group for over a year in order to be on stage in any capacity for music. They had a very high buy-in, and I thought that that was good, since you’re leading the people, even if you’re just playing bass or drums or guitar. I’ve found since I’ve been doing this as a worship leader that incorporating people who don’t call themselves Christians into your community can happen really effectively through having them play music.  Musicians love to play.  Honestly, I’ve seen enough fruit; enough people who weren’t Christians become so involved with a Christian community that they start following Jesus before they even realize what they’re doing. And they start to realize that maybe faith is something they’ve been doing, something they’ve been given.

How I counter the previous mindset that I had, is by realizing that I’m up there –not some paragon of moral fiber- I’m a pastor. The musicians that are beside me and with me are a microcosm of the church at large. So I want there to be people investigating faith, but still sharing their gifts with the community.

Download the Gentle Wolves catalog at their bandcamp page and stay tuned as the final few tracks of Vol. IV release in the next couple weeks.

Ashes, and yet Crawfish

05 Mar Chris Breslin
March 5, 2014

This Lenten Reflection originally appears at allgather.org.

I had the strangest Saturday.  To be clear, it was strange, but not bad.  You see, it was strange because of a couple of disparate things that came together to make my day.  Artists, whether in visual arts, film or even music, often use juxtaposition to make a point, to make something that you’d normally take for granted – well -strange, to jar your attention and uncork your imagination.  I think that’s what was happening to me. So I felt strange.

I spent my midday downtown with a buddy at a “Mardi Gras Primer.”  While this festival was filled with life and jubilation, it was decidedly less debaucherous than its Crescent City cousin (this was after all, only a primer, no appearance from Bacchus himself). We sat and listened to music teeming with joy and tradition, rich tones and raucous improvisations.  The saints came marching in along with literally dozens of brass playing “strutters” and of course, “Hey Pocky Way” had its hearing. The dance floor filled with an ever-evolving mix of goofballs, Deadheads, toddlers, NPR Sustainers, girls from Raleigh, and guys in bands….

I remember marveling at the common joy, the shared humanity, the unbridled enthusiasm and overflowing affection for our dear Bull City. We scooped up our crawfish trying to avoid bits of soggy spiced newspaper or the wrong stalk of celery and then held a clinic with the entry-level agrarian girls that stole our seats on exactly where to pinch the tail and pull for maximum crawdad consumption efficiency. I left happy, filled, unable to touch my eyes even after several hand washes, bearing the proper olfaction of a proper Fat Tuesday.

I returned home to the kids and our rigorously orthodox dinner, bath, and pre-bed liturgy. After they were down and out for the night in their white-noise washes, I set about my priestly task.  You see, I’ve been reading Leviticus, and its copious requirements and descriptions of what clergy does, for the sake of their people and on behalf of God. I don’t envy their job, or the guiding divine mandate that required it, but as I’ve waded through the tedium of the text, I’ve been acutely aware of how little my job as a pastor requires me to shower. Cutting up animals and burning grain offerings is not even implied in my job description. On a typical Sunday, I feel particularly handy (in a holy way) if I use a power drill to raise and lower the basketball goals out of our line of sight or when prepare the already prepared bread and juice for Communion.  That said, I set about my priestly, and carbon-neutral, task of converting last year’s Palm Sunday palms into this year’s Ash Wednesday ashes.

You see that’s precisely where the juxtaposition lay. Last year’s party, this year’s fasting. My hands, the same hands that still reeked of feasting, that were beginning to betray the sour of prebed, spit-up, now overwhelmingly stunk like singed hand hair and carbon. Where I had witnessed so much joy, a motley krewe of a congregation, I now flashed back to our Hosanna-singing, palm-toting congregation and the small pile of embers their messianic accoutrement had come to. There was a stark realization, a both/and affirmation, that both experiences are real, and valid, and faithful even and especially in their seeming contradiction.  That human beings, imaging their creative Creator God, were neither made for all party nor all funeral procession. But somehow, in Christ and by his Spirit, both at the same time.

Ashes, and yet Crawfish.

Ash Wednesday, and yet Mardi Gras.

Saint Paul got at this in his second letter to the Corinthians, when he wrote about his ministry and his hardships. After a grocery list of difficulties, he gets into the paradoxes. “…through glory and dishonor, bad report and good; genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on…” (2 Corinthians 6:8-9a).

As I enter into Lent, I pray that I remember that juxtaposing stench on my hands from Saturday. That it might somehow reinforce that dying-living life that Christ lived and made possible for me, for us, for this world. That I might not fear that seeming contradiction, but submit to its foolish-wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). And that I might “know Christ, the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in death, and so somehow, attaining the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10).

Speaking on TheoMedia: Is the Bible Media Savvy?

02 Mar Andrew Byers
March 2, 2014

I got to spend my Saturday at St John’s College at Durham University for a preaching conference sponsored by Cranmer Hall and Fresh Expressions. The theme was “Preaching in the 21st Century.” We were asking questions about the nature of the ancient communicative act of the sermon, wondering about its relevance in our current contexts and pondering how we might ply this craft with theological depth and cultural sensitivity.

As one of the speakers, I was asked to share about TheoMedia. It is always such an honor to talk about material I have written in hopes of serving the church. Below is a YouTube link to my talk, should there be any interest. It provides a good overview of the book. Here is a sampling of how TheoMedia addresses the idea of preaching:

“Our media exposure today is intense. Many of us are enclosed within a wall of sound bites, images, films, video games, and television shows. We are often too occupied with our communications gadgets to recognize that our senses are overloaded with messages and values sourced solely within our collective selves.

So we need an external media source to crack the soundscape and penetrate our field of vision. We need TheoMedia, the revelatory and communicative means of the One who is the wisest and best. No other voice is more precious to hear. No sight is more enthralling than a glimpse of his beauty. In the visual field of glowing signage, in our screen-dominated panorama, in the ubiquitous pastiche of glossy ads, our eyes need to catch some glance of the holy. Into the cacophonous din of our age, into the droning buzz of white noise, into the clamor of ringtones and beeps, we need the sonic boom or the gentle whisper of a word from the Lord.” TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 225–26.

Here is the video link:

TheoMedia: Is the Bible Media Savvy?

The Media Product of the Pastor-Theologian (Theological Writing, or Faithful Congregation?)

05 Feb Andrew Byers
February 5, 2014

Theologian = Writer.

That is often how we understand vocational theology. We equate theologians with academic writing. The fruit of theology is a book.

And certainly, those of us doing theology and biblical studies within academic domains are required to write.

Everyone in every job has to demonstrate some evidence of “output.” What do theologians have to show for their hard work? Books and journal articles. Academic theologians are assessed and measured by their writing output. In this model, the better theologian is the one writing the most articles and books at the highest quality.

Pastor-Theologians as Writers…?

But how well does this model work for theologians whose vocational domain is not the academy, but the local church? Are the best pastor-theologians those writing the most essays and books at the highest quality?

The hyphen in “pastor-theologian” creates quite a bit of vocational tension. To fulfill the “pastor” bit, there will be inevitably be less writing of books and articles. As Jason Byassee has commented in an interview on this blog, congregations should be allowed to beckon their pastor out of the quiet study to the hospital bed, graveside, or pulpit.

Does the “theologian” side of “pastor-theologian” therefore suffer because the “pastor” dimension limits the amount of theological writing?

The answer depends on how we define “theology.”

Congregations as Published Theology

I think we can agree that Paul could be classified as a “pastor-theologian.” As such, he did not publish theological tomes. One of the greatest Christian theologians of the early church, he did not leave us with sustained systematic reflections on the Incarnation of Christ or the Doctrine of the Church.

He left us letters. The media product of Paul the Theologian is a collection of his correspondences with localized churches.

But Paul seems to exalt another media product higher than his letters. The primary media product of a pastor-theologian may actually be a faithful congregation:

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.” 2 Cor 3:2

The strongest attestation of Paul’s work as a pastor-theologian was not a published monograph or collection of essays but a publicly visible community of Christians. He seems content to construct his vocational reputation not on his academic feats but on his pastoral work in forming congregations.

More could be said. And of course, the media product of a pastor-theologian need not be either theological writing or faithful congregations. It could well be both. And the disciplines of theology and pastoral ministry inform and enrich the other. As a writer, I am in no way interested in diminishing the task of writing in the pastoral office.

But as it turns out, today is my day in the chaplain’s office, and pastoral appointments await….

%d bloggers like this: