STM

Making an Announcement: A New Ministry Assignment

St Mary’s College, Durham

On January 2 I begin working as the Chaplain at St Mary’s College here in Durham. It is a real pleasure to be able to make that announcement. Everyone I have interacted with at the College have been so helpful and enjoyable.

For over a year now I have had the distinct delight of being a “layperson.” For the previous 11 years or so before moving to England, I had been serving as a minister in some official capacity. Since my vocational path has thus far tried to resist forking into Academics or Pastoral Ministry, the role of chaplain at a university college seems quite fitting.

My post will be part-time, with the bulk of my day-job energies still going to the PhD work. But I will now get to ply the crafts of academic biblical studies and pastoral ministry simultaneously. I have been in these waters before (Duke Div School/Mt Hermon Baptist Church), so the territory is not unfamiliar. What will be rather excitingly unfamiliar is that I will get to help lead Anglican-styled worship services every fortnight. This Baptist-ordained theology student has much to learn; but I am keen to soak up the wisdom of the students and staff I will get to work with.

Your prayers will be appreciated!

 

cover.FWI

Disillusionment, Cynicism, & Christian Eschatology

More and more I am recognizing that my book on cynicism (see the icon in to the right)  is ultimately a pastoral exercise in applying Christian eschatology to our daily reality.

Cynicism arises from disillusionment.  When the rug gets jerked form beneath our feet and we find ourselves breathless staring up at the ceiling, wondering what hit us, only to remember, oh yeah, it was REALITY that hit.  Idealism cannot thrive in an ex-Eden world. But cynicism is just as untenable in a world into which Christ has come, from which He has ascended, and to which He will return.

Eschatology is why cynicism is not valid… at least not for Christians.

If there is an open hole in the ground of this earth—the empty tomb of Jesus—then something cataclysmic has taken place.  The resurrection of the dead, implied in a few places in the OT (Isa 25, Dan 12, Ezek 37) and discussed more openly in the literature of Early Judaism, has been jump-started into our present sphere by the “first fruits” (1 Cor 15) of Christ’s own resurrection.  The New Age to Come (this is language found in Early Judaism and throughout the NT) has lurched backward from the future into our current time, overlapping with the Present Evil Age.

In Faith Without Illusions, I cite George Eldon Ladd near the end. Here is a wonderful quote I just reread this afternoon:

Christ’s resurrection is not an isolated event; it is in fact an eschatological occurrence which has been transplanted into the midst of history. We are living already on the heavenward side of the first stage of the resurrection. This puts a whole new light on the whole human predicament. [1]

You can click on the About the Blog section for more on “hopeful realism,” the perspective alternative to cynicism and idealism I am calling for in the book. Ultimately, hopeful realism is both eschatological (“hopeful”—appreciating the work of God in the overlap of the Ages and anticipating Christ’s return) and cosmological (“realism”—recognizing the full brunt of fallenness that has plagued our world and our own hearts so disastrously).

The Kingdom is in our midst… and still yet to come.

 

George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959) 44.

SWORD

A King from the Shadows

[drawing above: From the Dragon’s Hoard by Shaylynn Rackers]

 

It was story-time.

My wife and oldest daughter were away for gymnastics practice, and I had just tucked my smallest daughter in her bed. The house was oddly quiet for a home with two strapping little boys at-large.  I found them both on the sofa, each of the them reading a book (the 7-yr old was reading; the 4-yr old was staring down at an open text…  he sure looked the part).

I wanted to tell them a Bible story, but we suddenly got into a conversation involving squires, knights and dragons.  Toy swords (which are always near at hand in our home) were grasped and the 4-yr old narrated a tale about a dragon’s cave with huge bats and a brave squire. When it was my turn for story-time, I held them both in my arms and recounted a tale pieced together from majestic lore of old….

There was once a great King.  The greatest of all kings ever to have reigned in those lands.  He fought with the courage of a wild beast, looking his enemies in the eyes and never wavering.  He was blessed and special, unlike any other ruler.  A vow was made that the throne would ever go to one of his sons or grandsons down through the long ages.

—”What was his name?! What was his name?!” asked the 7-yr old, eyes wide open

“Shhh.  Just wait…”.  I resumed—

Then the people of this kingdom forgot who they were.  The great line of kings forgot their ancient father, the fierce and good King of old.

—”Was it Arthur?  It was King Arthur wasn’t it?!”

“Shhh.  Just wait…”

The people and the kings began to fade away.  Other kings, stronger and braver, fought against the people.  Captured them.  The years passed.  The family of the kings all but disappeared.  The people lacked hope.

But then—in the Shadows… in the Dark… in the Night—a baby boy came.  He was from the family of the great King.  But this baby would be the King of all.  And one day he would grasp a sword sharper than any other, a sword stronger than any other, and all evil would fly away from his face.  And one day he will fight every last dragon, and take their ruler, the great Dragon-Beast, the strongest monster of all, and throw him into the Lake of Fire forever and ever.

—”With all the bad guys?” (my 4-yr old is ever concerned about the “bad guys” getting their due).

“If the bad guys do not serve the the great King but follow the Dragon, then I am afraid they will be in trouble, too.”

Then I asked, “Do you want to know the name of this Greatest King?

Nods.

“Jesus. And the first king was David.”

Ahhhh, of course! flashed through the still widened eyes of the 7-yr old.  “But Dad, there are no dragons in the real world.”

“Are you sure?” (I had been reading an essay by J.R.R. Tolkien earlier in the day).

He was thinking. Wondering. And I explained to him that there be dragons, indeed.  But also mighty forces of light and beauty.  And we want to serve those good forces, fighting not with fists or swords but with truth and kindness.

The 4-yr old: “I like it when bad guys cry.” He was still delighting in the just end of badness.

“But sometimes,” I offered,” maybe we are the bad guys and don’t know it.”  The lines can get blurry at times, can’t they?

And on that note: “Bedtime, guys.”

TAB

The Table in my Home.

I had ground the coffee beans the night before in anticipation of an early Saturday morning reading a fine new book, Arthur Boer’s Living into Focus (my 7-year old is entertained that “the author is an Arthur.”)

In the pre-dawn Saturday darkness, I heard a tiny voice (that can get quite loud) calling “Daddy” from her crib.

I warmed up her milk while I brewed my coffee.  We are both very particular about our morning hot drinks.  I heat her milk in the microwave for 47 seconds.  My French Press (cafetiere) is timed for 4 minutes.  When the rituals were complete, we sat down happily under a blanket with clay mug of a bourbon espresso blend and a plastic thermos filled with perfectly warmed milk.  I also grabbed my book.

Boers is writing about “focal practices,” a phrase associated with University of Montana philosopher Albert Borgmann.

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Eugene Peterson wrote the book’s foreword.  Boers, Borgmann and Peterson alike share a suspicious disposition toward the technological ethos of our age—an important perspective for me to understand as I research for my media-theology book.  To a large degree, it is a perspective I instinctively share… though I have to say I am trying to listen carefully to other voices, a practice that is causing me to rethink a few things.

With my youngest daughter sipping milk and me sipping coffee, I was reading Boers’ evaluations of a home-life shaped around the TV.  In his view, important focal practices—ritual activities that healthily shape us and bind us to God and each other—can include hiking, meal preparation, woodworking, sharing fellowship around the supper/lunch/breakfast.  These varied exercises engage us in more healthy formative ways than video games or movie-going.  But practicing them is undermined by the perpetual question arising from our technological culture: “what are we going to watch…?” [1]

“Dad, can I watch TV.”

My oldest daughter had just appeared from her bed.

“No, hon, not now.”

I kept reading, now with both daughters snuggled up on the sofa under the blanket.  Boers was writing about his family’s experience of preparing and eating meals at this well-crafted wooden table, a furnishing in his home that almost took on a sacramental quality.

“Dad, I’m hungry.”

That was from my 4-yr old.  If he does not eat within ten minutes of rising bleary-eyed from a night’s sleep, there is a danger that the galaxy might implode.  At least that’s what his demeanor conveys.

I go to the kitchen to make breakfast: chocolate chip pancakes is the Saturday morning standard.  My mood is good.  I am excited about the culture I want to instill in my young family. As I work on the meal, I take glimpses out the window to take in the fresh sunlight hitting the Autumn leaves and the still-green grass.  Boers had installed a window in his kitchen so he could do the same.

“Dad, can we watch something now?”

I give my permission—the tiny toddler, full of warm milk, wanted to watch an episode of Elmo’s World.  It lasts 12 minutes or so… innocent enough, right?

Then I call them for breakfast.  My wife joins us from her activities upstairs, and we all sit around this old wooden table that, as our landlords inform us, used to belong to a well-known Bishop of Leeds.  Butter is smeared, syrup is poured, and conversation begins.

Actually, chaos begins.

Boers is calling for focal practices that cut into our technological/entertainment habits.  Part of the argument is that our lives are stressed, distracted, disjointed, fractured.  We hardly have any time to concentrate and enjoy each others’ company.  We can hardly sit and have a decent dialogue over a table these days with all the buzzing and beeping of our gadgets at the table.

Forget the buzzing and beeping.  I’ve got yipping and yapping.

When we all 6 take our place at that old, wooden table, the sort of conversation and fellowship I envision does not happen.  It is stressed, distracted, disjointed, fractured.  Someone drops a syrup-soaked hunk of pancake on the floor.  The sausage is too hot, someone complains.  The toddler shouts that she is all done, yet she does so while sneaking more bites as if she cannot get enough—she is mad if she gets taken down from her high chair, mad if she does not.  An argument breaks out between the two oldest across the table. A milk cup almost spills. All this happens in one rising swell—not instantaneously.  It just grows and grows until my wife and I are on edge, anxious, frustrated, and so busy attending to the madness that our own pancakes (lovingly riddled with blueberries) get cold.

And you know what?  If I had served the meal in front of the TV, it would have been quiet, relaxed, and argument-free.

Now, our table is not always cacophonous and chaotic.  And my wife and I understand that our children must be meticulously taught to sit quietly and respectfully while “at table.”  That will take years.  Also, Boers is not saying that these focal practices are easy.  In fact, difficulty is an essential ingredient in developing a focal practice: without the challenge, there would be no counteraction against the immediate-access culture of consumerism and technological gadgetry.

But Elmo’s World would have kept our table much quieter, much less stressful.

I am not necessarily disagreeing with Boers.  I like his vision.  I will help promote his vision.  But I do like to bring out the nuances and impracticalities, especially for those of us with small children (which Boers would readily acknowledge, and does so from time to time in his book).

Brewing coffee and warming milk with a bleary-eyed toddler in my arms is a focal practice of sorts.  My arm hurts, and reading with her squirming in my lap can be a real challenge.  I will never trade in those moments, though.

But I thank God for supper in front of the TV on Family Movie Night.

 

[1] From an interview David Woods had with Borgmann.  See Arthur Boers, Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2012), 21, n. 13.