Just the Wrapper

This is a podcast teaching from my doctorate mentor, Dr. Jason Clark, from Vineyard Church in Sutton outside of London. 

Jesus All The Way Through? The Violence of the Christian Life – Phil 3:7-14

One of the threads of our conversation as a cohort together this semester has been on the topic of “enjoyment”, “pleasure” and our lifestyles of consumerism in the western hemisphere.  We are asking the questions of how do we enjoy God together in community?  In this talk, Jason lays out a deeper and a rather more inconvenient question, “How do we feel about God being our enjoyment during the ripping pressures of our lives?” 

Jason challenges here with “Do we have Jesus, all the way through us, no matter what happens and even when we break?”  What he challenges the listener with is that when the pressure mounts, when the ‘weight of the world’ is upon us, when we are being stretched, somehow our attitude/personality changes and the “joy of knowing Jesus disappears too quickly.”  What we might find is that when we say, “I have Jesus”, it might be just the wrapper.  (ouch!)

Jason further explores the motif of violence when it comes to how God wants “to get Jesus all the way through us”.  That God takes freedom to violently seize us and give us the opportunity to be transformed.  I resonated so strongly with the two areas that Dr. Clark says we often feel stretched in:

  1. When things are taken away from us
  2. When we want to be somewhere else or be someone else

I have strong and viceral reactions to these situations in life and it takes its toll on me and my Christ followership.  My temper flares, I get indignant, my tongue gets sharper, my sarcasm seeks targets, I am utterly of the flesh in my reactivity.  It’s as if Jesus was just the wrapper and when I am stretched, the wrapper comes off and what is revealed is not Christ.  (ouch again)  Jason teaches:  “It takes violence to pressure us to bring what is in, out.”  What comes out may not be something we are proud of.

I have been in a perpetual state of this for about three years in terms of my vocational employment.  My spiritual, community, family life is fantastic, healthy, vibrant and full of godly energy.  My work life has been characterized by fear, anger, resentment, bitterness, hopelessness, despair etc.  It has at times drained me to the degree that my personality changed, let alone my countenance.  Recently, those heavy emotions have taken its toll on my family to which i have been deeply convicted.  When the pressures of life come, I’m not dealing with them well.  In my place of being overwhelmed, stretched, having God’s kind of violence done to me, I am finding myself back at the cross asking for mercy. 

I don’t want to reflect bile and poison on my inside.  I want to know that when I am stretched that Jesus is all the way through, I want to live in the reality that He is more than just the wrapper. 

Find your Ghetto

Tonight, I went and saw a screening of ‘Reparando‘, a grassroots documentay about this place

I now have so many friends and people within my networking context that have both been to La Limonada or have a role in serving/helping/partnering there now.  Cincinnati in particular seems to have been infected with the virus of partnership that springs from the ghetto in Guatemala. 

Our house church community had one of my former students, Rebecca Gant, come to one of our gatherings and share her story there when she was home over Christmas.  She serves there, with a threat to her life and well-being, because she’s in love.  She’s in love with the people, she’s in love with a life of meaning, she’s in love with the smell that comes from the city dump, for her and the others that serve there, it smells like hope.

Don’t try making sense of it, these are the things in life not meant to be sensible. 

After the screening, Tita, one of the main subjects of the movie shared just a few words about her work there and her partnership with Lemonade International.  Tita’s joy in life is infectious, the woman gardens in abject poverty and sees and smells beauty.  She won’t give up on the people that live in her heart.  Their story is her story.  This is not her job description, this is her soul lived outward.  Employment is something you have, a calling is something that has you. 

So, Tita, in her simple and humble manner, suggested this slice for life:  ‘find your ghetto’.  I found these words to be haunting.

Poverty comes in many forms.  I’ve walked in slums all over the world and I can tell you that it changes you.  It becomes difficult to walk in my suburban megastore grocery with 437 different brands of cereal when I’ve seen others mix water with dirt and call it soup. 

Can I tell you about the poverty I see and live in?  I drove home from the screening tonight past the landscape of subdivisons built off of golf courses with names meant to instill thoughts of a regal countryside but are really built upon the cheapest of construction sand to ensure profitability.  The entire neighborhood is built on fantasy, it’s a fascade.  Amidst the walls of these excesses of square footage achievements of the American dream are many flavors of the broken family.  Not because they want to be, but because they don’t know another story.  Marriages characterized by distance and deception.  Parenting wrapped in fear instead of intimacy.  Teenage girls raised on idealic false images of self all the while never comfortable in their own skin, for them life is a beauty pageant they wish they never entered.  Teenage boys raised in isolation because Dad must put in the hours at work to both provide for the suburban expectations and to prove his own worth he never received during his growing up years.  These teenage boys have access to countless hours of leisure and believe the lies of porn that the world is about them and their consumption.  Mom is just trying to hold it together, all the while feeling like a slave to obligations and wonders if she will ever recover her freedom to think, feel and be loved.  The homes are built for individual space, they are cocoons of privacy.  The garage door goes up, the car goes in, the door shuts.  This is about private possession, there is no shared story with a larger community.  They all started out with the American dream, many have only found that it’s the white picket fence they erected that keeps them from the life of meaning they once longed for.  They have bought the lies and they were more than not true, they were expensive. 

How do they cope?  It’s not the adhesive sniffing of la limonada, they medicate differently in their addictions.  Entertainment, amusement, escape, consumerism, prescriptions, drink, sexual appetites, achievements, promotions, status upgrades, vehicles, toys, trophy kids, secret lives, gaming, watching, dvr’ing, playing, competing, the next vacation, the next thing, the next magic pill, cutting, buying, lying, keeping busy, credit card debt etc. etc.

These people are my people, they are me.  They are lonely, they lack meaning, they are broken . . . this is suburban destitution.  We are lonely, we lack meaning, we are broken . . . we are destitute.  This is my ghetto.  May I be faithful in service here, may I find a voice to tell an alternative story. 

Rob Bell’s Hell

I’m a little late to the game for the blog world but I’ve been reflecting on the issues presented in the now widely controversial book published by Rob Bell called “Love Wins:  A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  I am as interested in the content of the book, notably the historic/orthodox/evangelical beliefs about the after life, as I am about ‘how’ we choose to discourse and/or debate about the topic within the evangelical/emergent/emerging/reformed/traditional/simple/modern/postmodern church community.

Several have written thoughtful responses to the book and to the discussion as a whole.  Here are some that I thought were helpful for their perspective or representative view:

I have never met Rob, previously read a Rob Bell book, nor have I seen a Nooma video.  However, to treat it fairly, I did buy and read “Love Wins”.  I have many friends who have been influenced by Bell’s ministry, both through writing/video and through his church in Michigan (not to be confused with this Mars Hill church).  If we are to judge others and who they belong to according to the ‘fruit’ of their life/ministry, then I would say to my experience that Rob has been clearly ‘fruitful’ for the Kingdom of God.  My guess is as well, after an initial viceral/emotional reaction to the issues raised in Rob’s book, that even the harshest critics of Bell’s theology would affirm that he is in fact a follower of Christ and a gifted communicator based on the fruit of his life.  Though, I would not doubt that a few may personally excommunicate him altogether for a lack of agreement on the issues at hand.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  (John 15:5-8 NIV)

The question at hand seems to be, is Rob Bell suggesting that 1) Hell doesn’t exist and 2) If it does, is anyone going there?

“There is a hell now, there is a hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.”  (p. 79)  Bell spends a whole chapter on his beliefs about hell and nowhere did I read or interpret him saying that hell was fictional or soley metaphor.  He speaks to the reality of the greek word “Gehenna”, which we translate into the English ‘hell’ being an actual place outside the city of Jerusalem.  The Valley of Hinnom, the city garbage dump with a constant fire for consuming waste and the wild animals fighting over scraps with their gnashing of teeth.  He raises at the very least a historical and literary question of whether Jesus’ references of Gehenna were not a literal description of a place of eternal fire, but rather a reference point for the 1st century hearers/readers of what the agony of separation and discommunity with the Creator is like.  I read Bell challenging some of our traditional concepts of Gehenna but not universally discounting hell, rather he is presenting a different kind of hell.

“To summarize then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we exeprience when we reject the good and true and real beautiful life that God has for us.  We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.   And for that, the word ‘hell’ works quite well.  Let’s keep it.” (p. 94)

It is obvious that Bell is deeply influenced by the teachings of N.T. Wright, particularly his historical study of the 1st century world that led to his assertions in “Surprised by Hope“.  Here is Wright’s description of his belief in hell from Surprised by Hope:

“When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God.  One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around.  . . My suggestion is that it is possible for human beings so to continue down this road, so to refuse all whisperings of good news, all glimmers of the true light, all promptings to turn and go the other way (repent), all signposts to the love of God, that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all.”

This state of hell seemingly for Bell and Wright is quantitatively the same as the traditional view, it is eternal.  However, it goes without being “Captain Obvious” that they are qualitatively different.  Traditionally it is a view of a kind of physical torment, in isolation and conscious flesh burning.  Bell/Wright are alluding to perhaps an even more wholistic kind of anguish.  I think you could argue that the loss of your creative image, the soul identity of what defines you as a mark of creation is a kind of hell that goes beyond description.  It is utter and exponential lostness.  Bell is criticized for being a ‘softie’ on his theology of hell, he may in fact be suggesting a state of torment far worse than the traditional concepts of Dante’s Inferno.

And to the 2nd question, if there is a hell, is anybody going there?  Bell lays out his arguments in more artisitc language than he does with objective belief statements.  He’s a storyteller and the ambiguity I’m sure is what those who are quite nervous and reactionary of his assertions even more uncomfortable.  Bell on one hand alludes that some “will” choose away from God and be in that place of isolation from the Creator forever.  Then on the other hand, the entire thesis of the book is that Bell believes “Love Wins” because that is what God wants.  He wants all His creation, died for all, forgives all (even if they haven’t asked for it) and longs for all.  If Bell is a universalist, perhaps ironically he is asserting a kind of “irresistable grace” the Calvinist reformers hold to.  That in the end, God’s grace and love versus the human will is not a fair fight.  He will melt their hearts, they will choose the love of their Creator and therefore “love wins”.  (You can surely make an argument here for if this is freewill at all)  It seems to me that Bell is hoping and wondering if this is the case.  I admitt that I hope and wonder the same, but there is not enough Scriptual evidence for me to form this into a “belief” statement, it remains in the category of ‘wonderings’ for me.  I think in this way, Bell’s heart for all to choose this love has him over-stating and over-reaching the Scriptural narratives he cites with this end already in mind.  This is the way he chooses to tell the story and he is accountable to God for his voice.  So for that you can ask your textual criticism questions, but to label him a ‘false teacher’ an ‘enemy’ and bid him ‘farewell’ (i.e. John Piper’s tweet), is as well, in my perspective, an over-reaction and not nearly the grace given to us from the shadow of the cross. 

D.W. Bebbington, in his book: Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s”, lays out the classic definition of an Evangelical with his quadrilateral:

  • biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
  • crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
  • conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted
  • activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort

I don’t read anything in Rob Bell that separates him from this camp.  He appears to me to be a thoughtful, passionate, lover of God, lover of the Church, lover of the Scriptures and all people as the bearers of the image of God.  He certainly represents a comfort within the postmodern context that is qualitatively different than modernist models, but I perceive him doing that yet as an Evangelical.  (I don’t mean to put this label on Rob, maybe he doesn’t want it, but I use it for my own identity and see Rob within that scope.)

We, the evangelical church, are human and therefore are prone to not disagreeing well.  We, the western hemisphere, also seem to be in the midst of macro-philsophical and cultural shifts in which the plates of change we stand on are in motion.  Whatever the realities are of what a modern world (built on the tenets of the Enlightenment) of which Evangelicalism found it’s voice and expansive influence in, the milieu is certainly shifting.  Postmodernism, with it’s skepticisim of objective truth and institutional structures, is increasing it’s growth in every fabric of our culture.  I think that I am somewhat native to postmodern musings but there are as well times that talk/writing/assertions/statements etc. within Emergent make me reflective in disagreement based upon my understanding of Church history, tradition and the Scriptural narratives.  The Kingdom of God is neither modern, nor postmodern, it is the reality of all things under the rule of God.  The Kingdom supercedes any of our cultural loyalties or pedagogical attachments. 

As Rob Bell seeks to tell his story of passionate and all consuming love of the Creator for ‘all’ His Creation, if we disagree with his interpretations, how ought we to do that in light of the cross we all cling to?

In light of the cross, can we get under Paul’s words :  10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (I Cor. 1:10 NIV)?

And if we disagree, can it be like this:  “18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”  (Phil. 1:18 NIV)?

Time will tell how ‘we’ get along.  Mistreatment of Rob is perhaps his own personal hell and a cross he has to bear.  In the midst of our disagreements, I am longing for a Church that Love Wins.

Let them play!

This is a pretty classic scene from the 1977 film “Bad News Bears” that I must have watched a hundred times growing up.  I loved playing ball, it was my drug and my coping mechanism growing up in an abusive and broken home.  Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey, I loved it.  I memorized box scores and highlight reels, going to stadiums was like visiting holy ground.  I loved the smells, the sounds and the feel of the game.  I would spend an hour or two alone before each game in my room in a kind of monkish focus.  I went over the game in my head and played out mentally what I wanted to do.  I not only loved the game, I needed the game.  In a broken home where I rarely experienced belonging, when I earned the uniform and put it on, I belonged.  For the moments that I could wear that uniform between the lines, I was somebody.  Sports was more than my identity, it was my narrative.  I loved the game, and I just wanted to play.

Things have changed, things have really changed.  It used to be shocking, but now stories like this are somewhat ordinary.  

Angry-coach

In my context within suburban America, sports are somewhat king.  The suburbs have no real intentional community space.  We have individual spaces (private homes with private garages, no front porches but rather isolated back decks/patios) and consumer space (endless strip malls and storefronts for consumer dreams/slavery).  The athletic fields/stadiums are the closest thing we have to communal space where many gather across economic, race and class divisions.  In an age of pluralism, church is just one of many to compete with that third space.  The professionalization of youth sports over the past decade has been astounding.  Professional uniform quality, professional photography, professional field surfaces, professional coaching, professional training, professional travel schedules with professional pressures not to compete, but to win.  Win games, win positions, win tournaments, win scholarships and more accuratley, win the approval and admiration of their parent’s love and attention.  Those qualities unfortunately don’t come for free, they are earned with adult-like focus and training starting at about the age of 5 or 6. 

For the past 12 years or so, I’ve been coaching youth sports and have seen it all.  The level of pressure on youth at young ages literally stunts any athletic growth or character building that could be a benefit.  There is a common story, kids who are pushed the hardest at the youngest ages cease playing their sport or any other sport for that matter at about the age of 15.  At the place of cogntive development where they develop their own abilities for abstract thinking they begin to choose what they care about, and it’s often not the thing that an over-aggressive parent pushed them towards. I like to stay involved because it gives me a chance to have fun with the kids, teach them how to love the game, how to learn from any situation, how to gain character, how to handle challenges/disappointments and to boost their young egos with encouragement and affirmation. 

My 14 year old daughter plays high level select soccer for a club we chose because of its focus on player development, not winning.  If a boy or a girl at the age of 9 believes they want to play a high school sport, they have to specialize and train for that sport almost exclusively if they want to just “make” the team in a large and competitive school district.  As well, we are in a soccer/futbol rich area and do not have to travel to play high level competition in tournaments, they come to us so our time/money investment is relatively minimal.  The professional development club in our area that is the most competitive costs between $11,000 – $14,000 per year and play tournaments all over the USA with normalcy.  They can have one tournament in Florida one weekend and the next weekend be playing in Texas . . . at the age of 9!!!  Kids are not developmentally prepared for those kinds of expectations, that kind of pressure or that kind of schedule.  They just want to play. 

Reading Shirl James Hoffman’s “Good Game:  Christianity and the Culture of Sports” just confirms many of my suspicions.  Sports, while at heart is a game, has derailed to a kind of fundamentalist faith that has ruined something that was once so good.  As well, Evangelical Christianity rarely thinks through its attachments to this militant culture and joins the game for hope to cash in its fame and popularity for its own agendas.  I could not count the amount of speakers I’ve heard at men’s breakfasts, conferences, seminars, workshops, outreaches, fundraisers, services etc. that were the classic ‘bait and switch’.  It is marketed as a means to come and meet/hear a relevant professional athlete speak from their “platform” of being a modern day gladiator and then turn the conversation to that of evangelistic opportunity. 

“The Christian community, which only a century ago was still ambivalent about whether sports were legitimate leisure pursuits for believers, has long since joined the parade.  While the affinity for sports in the Christian community has been thoroughly ecumenical, evangelicals have had the most voracious appetite for sports, expecially in harnessing them to their religious purposes.”  (3)

His writing gets to the heart of this relationship of Evangelical Christianity with the culture of sports.  Is it healthy?  Is it mutually beneficial?  Is it Kingdom-worthy? 

“Variously described by those inside it and outside it as narcissistic, materialistic, self-interested, violent, sensational, coarse, racist, sexist, brazen, raunchy, hedonistic, body-destroying, and militaristic, the culture of sports is light years removed from what Christians for centuries have idealized as the embodiment of the gospel message.  The Christian worldview is based on an absolute, immutable, justice-loving God.  The worldview of sports is based on material success.  How Christians, and especially evangelicals, have managed to live in these two diametrically opposed worlds, even to the point of harnessing one to serve the other, is the focus of this book.”  (11)

In my next post, I will focus more on this relationship and the moral questions that surround it.  In the meantime, I want to speak to my experience with sport and what I have found as it’s advantage to a life in service to the Kingdom.  “Many seemed to believe that excercising the body (especially in the context of a team sport) excercised the mind and morals at the same time.”  (113)  What can be learned from competitive sport?  Can any of it be harnessed for good without being hijacked to the immoral? Here is what I learned:

  1. Belonging – As I mentioned previously, coming from a broken home, playing team sports gave me a family to belong to.  We wore the same uniforms, we cheered for one another, we suffered together, we ate together, we won together, we lost together.  It was a shared life, together.  I learned that that I was not an individual, I was a teamate.  My choices affected the whole.  I played not for myself, but for them.  Shared accomplishment was deeply more satisfying than individual awards.  Losing on the scoreboard was not a devastating loss, letting your teamates down was the only devastating loss.  We were fictive family. 
  2. Making hard and adverse faith decisions – Sports offered me opportunities at a different future than the one I chose.  At the age of 16 I had to choose to go on a missions trip to the Dominican Republic of which I would miss games/practices and in turn be benched for several more games on my traveling team.  I went on the trip and accepted my punishment.  At the age of 18, I was offered a full scholarship to play baseball at Ohio University, which should have been the culmination of all my hard work from the age of 5.  Instead, I discerned a “call to ministry” and chose a private Christian University for my studies much to the disappointment of my coaches, mentors and even my Mom.  After playing 2 years of college baseball for the Christian University, I quit altogether on my former dream to put all my spare time into being a youth pastor who targeted broken kids like myself.  For many, this seemed a waste of talent.  But sports allowed me these learning opportunities to make hard choices and trust in God as the only spectator that mattered.
  3. Hard work – Sports does not corner the market on hard work, many things that you train at are hard work.  But competitive sports taught me how to practice, how to prepare, how to train my mind and body for tasks at hand.  I’ve used this same frame of mind for any retreat I’ve spoken at, any sermon I’ve prepared, any meeting I’ve led, any outreach I’ve organized.  Ministry is hard work, I think sports training helped me develop a mindset for rigorous preparation.
  4. Confidence – If David gained his confidence to face Goliath by remembering how God helped him defeat the bear and the lion when he was a shepherd, I can say certain experiences in sport did the same with me.  “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.” (I Samuel 17:36 NIV)  Years ago, moments before speaking to a youth gathering of over 5,000 students, I specifically drew back on having at-bats before similar sized crowds and thought if I could do it then, I could do it in the present as well.  It was as if the Holy Spirit could utilize my memory as he did with David to pursue the purposes of the Kingdom. 
  5. Competitive Drive – In the world of ministry, there are many places where competitive drive can be used in all the wrong ways.  We do not compete against other churches, other ministries, one another etc.  We have but one enemy, and he hates the Kingdom of God.  Much of my time in student ministry I worked with teens who were deeply entrenched in occultic communities or experiencing demonic oppression.  I brought the things I was finding to my elder boards I was accountable to and they reflected the spirit of the age, modern scientific worldviews that had no theology for spiritual warfare.  So at the age of 23, I felt alone to learn myself and confront these principalities.  These students would have demonstrative demonic manifestations and I found myself at war.  There were the visitations at night meant to intimidate me.  There were the real-world occultic leaders who would leave notes on my car or messages on my answering machine when my wife was home alone.  There werre the sexually abusive Fathers still wanting to manipulate and control their daughters.  I learned I had a real enemy that wanted me to give up, walk away, relinquish any influence on these students who were wrapped up in pain, darkness and hellish torment.  I think Sports helped me know how to pick a good fight, how not to give up, how to hunker down and ‘let nothing move you’ (I Cor. 15).  Sports taught me to not to back down, to actually believe the words of the Scriptures and trust in the power of the name of the Christ.  

I think the questions of Sport and it’s present state within consumer culture are more than ready to be asked.  At the same time, if seen for its developmental opportunity for character growth (as anything can be), it can be a learning ground for lessons learned for a life of service in the Kingdom.  How can we find a way through for healthy sport?  Just let them play!

Future of Autism?

Autism is becoming an increasingly major US epidemic with little clues to cause nor cure.  Here is an article on how medications are showing little to no effect on helping to be effective against the symptoms.   The number of autistic children in the U.S. alone has risen from just 15,000 in 1992 to 365,000 cases in 2010.  Friends, that is significant. My son, Zach, is 8 years old and was diagnosed on the autism spectrum around the time he was 2.  We have been fortunate, we got early intervention and the school district we live in had resources to help us with some special needs resources and he has flourished in those.  He is healthy, he is happy, he loves his sisters, he learns about the world by observing and copying others, he can be affectionate, he is intelligent but every once in a while we see how his issues show themselves and we wonder what his future will be like in the real world. I had a bad dream a few nights ago that Zach was raised in a home that was full of conflict, he was neglected and without nurture for his heart or his issues.  The look on his face was soul crushing to me.  It was as if the “real world” had stolen his joy, his smile and his boyish energy.  He looked hard, angry, agitated and broken.  I wonder out loud if the purpose of that dream is to increase my awareness of what other kids and families are going through without the resources we have been blessed with.  It is a hard road of atypical challenges, judgments from others when your kid  is acting out in public, yearning for normalcy that will never happen, loneliness when your child can’t handle your nurturing touch and isolation when your child cannot speak the words and phrases they are thinking.  As a parent you desire connection with your child, but it’s painful when that child down deep may want that too, but physiologically they cannot execute it in the real world. What is the future of autism in the US?  I am not a medical doctor, researcher nor scientist so I can’t speak to that end.  But what I am is an architect of community.  Your autistic child needs community, needs people that will love them unconditionally and long for their future.  They need a tribe of belonging that defines their normalcy, not a world of false hopes and aspirations.  Patience is the key to working at unlocking the intelligence that is pent up within them, they need a community that is comitted to long-suffering.  The hope for proper nurturing is community, not isolation.  The rugged individualism of the western hemisphere, particularly in the US, is a fool’s gold, it’s an empty void of logic.  Needing each other is not weakness, it’s a tribal strength.  Our future is bright in authentic community, the future of autism is depending on it.

Media_httpordinarycom_zsdlb

peace,Marshall

Why I’m at home in LGP1

For the past 5 years or so, I have been researching Doctorate programs that may be a good fit for a bi-vocational pastor/church planter like myself.  I work in higher education and initially was looking exclusively at PhD and EdD programs that could be a professional credential different than my BA in Christian Education and my Masters of Divinity.  I was very skeptical of any DMin program, particularly within evangelical universities, that would be different enough from a MDiv experience that would just re-hash the same material.  I was looking for something somewhat classically academically rigorous that would challenge my intellectual pursuits while also being deeply connected in mission to the real world where the Gospel is to be announced as the hope that it is.   It was at this intersection that I found George Fox University’s DMin in Leadership and Global Perspectives. 

Being a husband, father, pastor, employee etc. , I was scared to death about adding the workload of a doctorate program to my already full life.  What I have found is that my studies have been life-giving and somewhat of even a sabbatical experience for me.  When I have my planned times to read and write, I have found my engine firing on all cylinders and gifts, dreams and thoughts within me become enligthened with new understandings.  It is in these intentional study times that I can actually relax and just be myself, they have had a devotional quality to them for me.  Jason Clark, as the mentor for the doctorate program, gave us great advice at the onset.  He said, “do a little, often”.  Keeping this rythymn and pace has allowed the time management piece to take care of itself and although it is challenging, the studies have even provided a kind of rest for me. 

As far as my skepticism for whether this would be “typical” western-oriented evangelical program with popular reading, that was dispelled from the get-go.  The leadership of the LGP program are ardent and trained learners of theology, church history, cultural dynamics, global trends and missional praxis.  I have been astounded at the depth of material we are covering across so many pertinent foundational issues for those wanting training in global missional leadership.  With as much as I have already learned and digested this first year of LGP1, I am eagerly anticipating the coming semesters.  I wanted serious theological and cultural scholarship, I found it.  Dr. Clark as well challenged us from the beginning to be true “reflective practitioners”.  Our academics existed to inform our service to the Church in the real world.  We study to learn so that we can better serve and be in mission to the needs of our contexts.  By utilizing open blogs and social media spaces for the majority of our writing, it has allowed the people from the community I serve in to interact with my thinking and learning and create great conversations for our ministry context.

Lastly, I just want to speak to the global Advances and the cohort model.  Our cohort gathered for the first time in Oxford, England and then spent time together in Cambridge, London and Germany.  These settings were as picturesque for their aesthetic beauty as they were historic for classical learning.  The highlight for me was that in these 10 days, we went from being in a new cohort together to becoming a learning community.  We traveled together, we ate together, we shared our stories together and we had our “new program” fears relieved together.  As we moved forward, it would be together.  These relationships formed the foundation for inspiring discussions in our weekly chats throughout the year.  We don’t agree on every point and come from widely different backgrounds and perspectives, but relationship set the tone for theological discussions sprinkled with grace and mercy to one another.  For each of us, we can often be heard saying that these weekly online chats are the highlight to our weeks.  As well, social media keeps us up to date on one another’s lives and ministry contexts so we can better pray and support one another.  This kind of well knit learning community has been a highlight for me.  I love reading other’s perspectives and being challenged in my own by people I deeply respect and I know care for me.  It is a taste of Kingdom now. 

I was looking for a solid doctorate program, what I found was that in LGP1, I’m right at home and can’t wait for more.