Friday, December 29, 2006

Called, Part 2

Back before Christmas, I wrote a post about my sense of calling. It generated a lot of buzz, from church members and bloggers alike. Some people really seemed to “get it,” some were concerned for my mental health, and some were quick to … shall we say … “encourage” me to just get over it and do my job.

At the time of my writing it, I was in over my head in terms of trying to get done simply what needed to get done, and I had momentarily lost contact with the foundational sense of my calling to ministry. I asked several dear friends to again remind me of why it was exactly I was doing this pastor thing, and they did, and I’m okay now. Experiencing Christmas helped, too.

I just have one more thought to add. In the comments of that post, a couple of people mentioned “survival.” Adam wrote: “But I guess unless I want to move out to the forest, or really push the envelope of living in our society, i'll have to do what i'm not called to do to survive!” And Codepoke wrote: “The modern pastor's job is almost unsurvivable.” That got me to thinking a bit.

Seems to me that there must be a distinction between living out your calling and doing what is necessary to survive. See, I don’t want to “survive” as a pastor, I want to strive to realize my full potential, to flourish, to thrive. I guess survival mode means doing all the stuff because you have to do it, period. There’s nothing underneath in which to ground it, only survival itself. And that’s where I was a couple of weeks ago - just doing the bare minimum. It didn’t feel good, and it showed in my writing.

I know, I know – “Boo-hoo, Andy. Get over it!” Listen, I know people who have been forced into true survival mode by the vicissitudes of life, and it absolutely consumes them. I am not remotely trying to do any comparison thing, here.

So here’s where I am now. Having come through that little down-time a bit, I am in touch again with my calling to ministry, which means that I’m still doing all the stuff I ever did, but now there is some fertile soil in which it can take root, be grounded. It’s not that I’ll have to do what I’m not called to do just to survive. It’s more like my calling will undergird everything I do as a pastor. Even balance budgets and read forwarded emails!

God is good!

I Think It Says a Lot!

Here's my idea for a new personality inventory:
Were you more affected by the death of Gerald Ford or James Brown, and why?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Braeden James Bryan

Born December 24th, 2006
12:39 p.m.
8 lbs. 3 oz.
19 inches long

Everybody's doing great!

My sister Stephanie (Mom), my brother Brad (coach), my mom Caryl (grandma), my daughter Cori (cousin), and I all had a chance to hold him. He is ADORABLE!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Adam Mustoe's Christmas Reflection

Adam Mustoe has posted an incredible Christmas reflection that is definitely worth your time. Click here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I am not called to balance budgets.

I am not called to track contribution patterns.

I am not called to count heads in worship services.

I am not called to produce slick advertisements to hang on doorknobs.

I am not called to decide what kind of tile to put on the Fellowship Hall floor.

I am not called to cater to the nostalgic whims of the way things used to be.

I am not called to perpetuate the institutional status quo for no good reason.

I am not called to stroke the egos of pathological complainers.

I am not called to sit on committees that do nothing.

I am not called to read email forwards.

I am not called to reboot servers.

I am not called to fill out forms.

I am a pastor.

I am called to offer Christ to people.

I am called to proclaim the Gospel so that the reign of God will be realized on earth as it is in heaven.

I am called to serve people who are striving to pattern our lives after the example of Christ.

I am a pastor, and I am called.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Biblical Definition of Marriage?

I read it again today in the paper - the phrase "Biblical definition of marriage." This time, it was New Jersey Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, who said, "It's my personal belief, faith and religious practice that marriage has been defined in the Bible."

As many times as I have heard people say this, I have actually never heard anyone cite book, chapter, and verse in support. So that I might be better able to engage in conversation about this issue, will someone please give the the scripture citations to which people are referring when they say "Biblical definition of marriage"?

I'd be most appreciative.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction - My Thoughts on the Movie

My wife and I saw “Stranger Than Fiction” over the weekend. We recommend it – great writing, sharp acting, and a storyline that really drew us in right from the start.


I found this movie to be deeply Christological. Here’s my take. Harold Crick (Will Farrell) is the Christ figure, the one whose life begins to be narrated by an unseen voice, who represents the Holy Spirit. The voice encourages Harold to pursue his dreams, to begin living his life, an allusion to the incarnation. Harold is brought to life by the narrator, who is in fact an author writing a novel (Emma Thompson), as Jesus Christ is “brought to life” by the Holy Spirit. This author has an assistant who helps her write the story, and who I couldn’t help but think of as an angel. (I’m sure that had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the part was being played by Queen Latifah.)

Harold falls in love with a baker named Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in the process of auditing her bakery. (Harold’s real life job is as an IRA auditor.) I find it charming that, as he was digging into her life in order to find out what she had done wrong, his motivation was to prevent her from being punished. He said to her several times, “I just want to keep you out of jail.” Isn’t it also true that Jesus digs up our lives, bringing to the surface the things we do, in order to prevent us from being punished for our sins? "Miss Pascal" is at times a kind of Mary Magdalene/disciple figure in the story, and she is won over by Harold’s demonstrations of love, including a gift of “flours” and a heartfelt song. Of course, Ana also plays an active role in Harold’s decision to fully live his life, which happens as she offers him freshly baked cookies. It may be a glimpse of Jesus’ relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, which is one of the most "fully human" moments of Jesus life.

In his incarnation, Harold seeks guidance from a professor (Dustin Hoffman), the all-knowing presence who ends up telling him that, in order to finish the story, he must die. Connected by the phrase “little did he know,” Harold comes to the professor again and again, as Jesus did in prayer to God the Creator. And there is even a “Gethsemane,” the scene at the swimming pool where Harold comes to the professor, who is working as a lifeguard, to ask if there is any other way that this might happen, or “if this cup might pass him by.” The professor replies that this story is the masterpiece of the author, and that there is no other way to finish the story except by dying, just as the story of salvation would not be complete without Jesus’ death. Harold then visits the author, telling her to go ahead and finish the novel, he accepts that it is the only way. “Not my will, but yours be done.”

The “crucifixion” scene is poignant, as the narrator is typing the ending to the story, tears streaming down her face with grief, and Harold walks to his bus stop. As she narrates the unavoidable conclusion, a boy (representing humanity?) falls off of his bike in front of the oncoming bus, Harold dashes into the street and pulls the boy out of the way, and is crushed in the way only the full impact of a city bus can crush a person. Harold dies to save the boy, as Jesus dies to save humanity. At that point, the audience is fully convinced that Harold is dead, and the story has reached its final, climactic moment.

But then the author visits the professor, carrying with her the final manuscript copy of her novel. Handing him the envelope, she says, “I think you will be happy with the new ending.” Harold’s “resurrection” finds him bandaged and bruised in a hospital room, but very much alive. The author says to the professor something like, “He was someone who knew he had to die to save another person, and he did it anyway. Someone like that is worth keeping alive, don’t you think?” Ana comes to the hospital room to find the stone rolled away, and falls into Harold’s arms in joy and relief at his being alive.

The title of this movie is “Stranger Than Fiction.” You know how the whole phrase goes, right? “The truth is stranger than fiction.” The Bible records that Jesus identifies himself as “The Truth.” And so, that’s the way I saw this movie. It’s the Gospel. And it might be summed up with the final words of the author: Someone like that is worth keeping alive, don’t you think?

John Wesley - Chapel Linebacker

A thoughtful addition to the Wesleyan/Calvinist conversation.

Hat tip to Adam.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Right, Wrong, and Gavin's Tattoo

(We’ve been having a really good conversation here and there in the Methoblogosphere about the idea of pluralism/doctrine/inclusivism/Gavin’s tattoo etc. It is thoughtful, respectful, and humorous at times, and has evoked some really good insights. Thanks, everyone, for engaging in this healthy conversation.)

What one believes is important. Doctrine is important. And a lot of theology is couched in propositional terminology. I agree with all of these statements.

What I have said in this conversation is that theology is more than merely a set of propositions, and that reducing theological conversation to a rudimentary comparison of proposition sets minimizes the mystery of God’s relationship with the world. Such thinking leads us inevitably into “I’m right and you’re wrong” territory, and that territory is not where I see Jesus calling us to live.

Let’s use John’s analogy of Gavin’s tattoo. He says that either

1) Gavin has a tattoo, or
2) Gavin does not have a tattoo.

One must be true, and both cannot be true, says John, and he asks if there is a third possibility. There is!

3) I saw something on Gavin’s body that looked to me to be a tattoo.

This statement is true, no question about it. (Unless the speaker is lying for some weird reason.) Statement 3 is a testimony or a witness in which the speaker is sharing from her or his own experience of seeing Gavin’s body and noting what appeared to be a tattoo there. However, let’s just say it turns out that Gavin has a large freckle on his body roughly in the shape of the UM cross and flame, had it since birth, doesn’t like to show it off to his friends, kind of embarrassed by it – whatever.

In this case, statement #3 would STILL BE TRUE, although statement #1 would not. See that? I witness to what I believe, to what I have seen and experienced, and that is that there appears to me to be a tattoo on Gavin’s body. That’s pretty much all I can say, unless I am Gavin himself, the tattoo artist, or Gavin’s doctor and can offer a more … um … “intimate” testimony that would either confirm or refute my witness.

I believe that Christ Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, sent on God’s gracious mission to save the world from sin and death, and that in his life, death, and resurrection, all creation, including me, is reconciled to God by grace through faith. These doctrines are vitally important to me, and to who I am as a child of God seeking to become the person God desires. But without the “I believe that…” in front of it, this statement may very well become a stumbling block, rather than an entry point. In fact, God alone can confirm (or refute) this testimony fully.

There are ideas that are “I believes” – there are ideas that are “you believes” – there are ideas that are “we believes.” When we talk about the “I believes” and the “you believes” one of the topics of conversation is how we developed these beliefs, or the theological method we use. (Writing my Credo at the end of my seminary time was deeply helpful for me in that I had to closely examine my theological method and ask myself, “Why do I believe this?”) This kind of conversation leads us into thoughtful, sometimes intense dialogue, as we critically engage our own perspectives and the perspectives of others who have their own set of “I believes” to talk about.

The goal of this crucial conversation is not to verify that one person is “right” and the other “wrong,” the goal is faithfulness. We are called to be faithful witnesses to the truth. We are not the truth ourselves, we are but witnesses to it. I’ll testify to everything that I believe, you give me your testimony, and then we’ll celebrate the “we believe” ideas and reason together about the other stuff, in a grace-filled, loving, respectful relationship with one another.

How does that sound?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Heads You're Right, Tails I'm Wrong

(This post was prompted by a discussion over at Locusts & Honey.)

There are some people for whom theology is a set of propositions to which one may subscribe. If you subscribe to one set of propositions, you are a Christian. If you subscribe to another, you are Jewish. If you subscribe to another, you are a Muslim. And so forth. Even agnosticism and atheism fit in nicely here, as the subscription to their own respective sets of propositions about God.

For a Christian who has this mindset, evangelism seems to be a rather rudimentary process of comparing sets of propositions and ascertaining which set is “right” and which set is “wrong,” and convincing people to subscribe to the “right” one. The “right” set of propositions is almost always the set held by the one doing the evangelizing, which makes the set of propositions held by the object of evangelism, by definition, “wrong.”

So, the evangelist starts off telling their target, “You are wrong; I am right. The only way for you to get right with God is to stop subscribing to your set of propositions, which are wrong, and adopt mine, which are right.”

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the most effective way to spread the good news to me. In my humble opinion, it’s not even very faithful. It leaves no room for wonder, or doubt, or imagination. It is buttoned down, girdled, caged, boxed-in thinking that, when taken to its logical extreme, does not allow for a whole lot of movement of the Spirit. Plus it’s just no fun at all.

To start out, theology is more than a set of propositions. Peter Hodgson (I think) says that theology is a kind of “creative fiction,” or a poetic retelling of that which we know to be true about God. (I’m paraphrasing.) Dovetailing this idea, I see theology as the art of describing God and God’s relationship with creation. It is less scientific than imaginative. Reducing it to a mere set of propositions is like hanging color-by-number paintings in an art gallery.

Secondly, Jesus did not say to his followers, “Go therefore and compare sets of propositions with all nations, convincing them that their sets are wrong and yours is right. And lo, I will be with you (and only you) always, till the end of the age.” No, he said, “Go and make disciples.” It’s about relationships, not doctrines. Jesus seems to care a whole lot more about how we treat one another than about how we get other people to believe what we believe.

If you want to make a friend, you don’t try to convince them of how wrong their current friendships are and that they should abandon them in favor of being friends with you. You just treat them nice, show them some love, smile at them, help them out. If you want to introduce someone to Christ, you don’t recite orthodoxy at them and point out how wrong they are not to believe it. You just love them like Christ does.

Finally, it occurs to me that I don’t put as much stock in being right as some people do. There is a stagnancy to being right that is unappealing to me. If you’re right, there’s no room to grow. What, am I going to somehow get “righter” over time? Right and wrong are categories that do not often enter into my way of thinking.

It seems a little bit too deontological for me, too. I would much rather be considered faithful than right. My telos is faithfulness, and that guides my theological reflection in a way that being right never could. In that way, I am continually a work in progress/being perfected in love/in the process of becoming/working out my salvation with fear and trembling/emerging.

That’s what I think. But of course, I could be wrong.

Update: John has posted a response: click here.