Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Pastoral Calling

I am applying for a chaplaincy intern position at several hospitals in the area. If accepted into the program, I will receive a Certified Pastoral Education credit unit and perhaps be eligible for a year-long chaplaincy residency. I thought I would share a brief excerpt from my application:

Frederick Buechner says that vocation is the point at which our greatest joy intersects with the world’s greatest need. If he is right - and I think he is as right as anyone - then I feel confident about my calling to the ministry. I can think of no greater joy than standing with the people of God, in the midst of the world’s pain, suffering and brokenness, as we witness in word and in deed to the kingdom which is now at hand. For what is so remarkable about Buechner’s statement is the fact that our greatest joy IS in fact the world’s greatest need. It is Christ who stands in the crossroads; and I believe I am called to stand with him.

On March 20, 2005 I was ordained into the gospel ministry by Lowe’s Grove Baptist Church – a church I was assigned to serve in while a student at Duke Divinity, and the church I choose to remain in because in serving the people there I found my self. Soon after ordination I began as an adjunct chaplain at Durham Regional Hospital. As a newly ordained person, I am discovering that my philosophical and theological investigations, while important, will ultimately fail to minister to the deepest needs of those whom I serve if I do not have the ability to listen well, and comfort well, and be the presence of Christ well.

In the future I hope to pastor a church. I would also like to work toward a PhD along the way. My wife also has plans for furthering her education. I think we are both gifted in many ways. We both love to read and write. We enjoy inviting others into the deep world we see around us. We call this community building. In biblical language I suppose it is called kingdom making.

I am the dreamer and she is the organizer. She is a better dreamer than I am an organizer. One day she will be a great scholar. One day I will be a great preacher. Naturally, we both want to change the world. This makes it all the more frustrating that this world wants so badly to remain the same. As an interracial couple (she is black, I am white) we feel the world dragging its feet over issues like race and culture everyday. It is difficult to turn dreams into reality. It is even more difficult to love something you are trying to change.

I suppose this is why I am applying for the CPE internship. I am applying because I am beginning to realize changing the world isn’t necessarily my job. My job is to remain faithful. Like Jesus upon the pediment outside Jerusalem, we too are tempted toward making an eschatological jump. We want to end all suffering, end all pain, end all death. We want to be effective. We want to play God. But the truth is it is in the shadows of our deepest doubts that God’s grace is most present and most real.

The call to minister to the world’s greatest need does not mean we will always solve all its problems and eliminate all its sufferings. The call to ministry is simply the call to be present with our gifts in times of need. I want to begin chaplaincy education, not because I need to be a more “effective” minister, but because I want to be a truer one.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Baptist World Alliance

Despite the recent act of terror carried out in England this month, later this week some friends of mine and thousands of other Baptists will converge on Birmingham, England to celebrate the Baptist World Conference. Below is an email I sent to one of those friends and his wife...

Grace and peace to you!

Irie and I are so very disappointed that we were unable to attend the Baptist World Congress with you, Ardelle and our many friends in the Baptist world. In these times of conflict, terror, war and rumors of war I am confident that the hope of the world rests in the coming together of believers for the purposes of promoting peace, justice, fellowship and reconciliation among the nations.

Two weeks ago I sat on the bed with Irie as she wept for the sons and daughters of England. I too was moved with shock, fear and anger. I was at first impressed with the level of calm Tony Blair and the rest of the British people displayed in their reaction to the bombings. However, on the heals of this week's innocent shooting of an apparently innocent Brazilian suspect and the purported "shoot to kill" policy now under effect in Britain, my hopes for a peacable end to these crimes has dimmed. I fear that we are now truly living in a state of suspended ethics - just what the terrorists want.

But, as BWA officials have again and again declared over these past two weeks, it is in God that we trust! For it is in God that we have our hope, our peace and even our very being.

I preached the Sunday after the first set of London bombings. It was the first time in my young career in which I have had to step into the pulpit following an event of national or international horror. The lectionary text for the day was the Parable of the Sower. The parable of a farmer, who in spite of all common sense, goes out to scatter his seed even in the most unlikely of places. On the road, on the hard surface, amongst the thistles. Perhaps Christ will do just this in Birmingham. Perhaps he will indeed be just crazy enough to sow the kingdom of God into the hearts and minds of a violent world. And perhaps he might be just crazy enough to grow it also...

In preparation I recalled that wonderful prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy...

Hardy, I am thankful you, Ardelle and the rest of our Baptist friends have not lost the courage to sow the kingdom of God. And I pray your works will bear fruit some one hundred, some sixty and some thirty fold.

I am glad to be your partner and look forward to the pickin'.

Peace in Christ and love to you both,


Sunday, July 24, 2005

"Family Values": An Original Sin?

In The City of God Augustine states his belief that Eve was the only one deceived by the serpent's promise that partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would indeed make her like God. Adam's sin, however, was of a less credulous and more conscious kind.

"For not without the significance did the apostle [Paul] say, 'And Adam was not decieved, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression ;' but he speaks thus, because the woman accepted as true what the serpent told her, but the man could not bear to be severed from his only companion, even though this involved a partnership in sin. He was not on this account less culpable, but sinned with his eyes open."
City of God, xiv.11

According to Augustine the choice for Adam was a choice between two goods. More exactly, it was a choice between a good "thing" and true good. Eve or God. In Augustine's view, Eve tasted of the fruit in order that she would be like God. Adam, on the other hand, tasted of the fruit in order that he might be like Eve.

And therein lies the rub for the family values camp and all others who feel that things or people or whatever else can be good in and of themselves. The family is a great thing. But Jesus' message is promised to turn men against their fathers and women against their mothers (Matt 10:35). Sobering words.

On Augustine's view, it was the desire for intimacy which was Adam's undoing. His desire for community superseded all else. Adam was the first victim of peer pressure. I think this may have tremendous implications for our sexual ethics as well as the way we live our public and communal lives in general.

In Genesis, Adam and Eve do not feel ashamed of their nakedness until the fruit is devoured. Augustine thinks Adam's and Eve's shame at their nakedness was caused by a sudden loss of control over their members (xiv.24). What was once under our contol is now beyond their power. NON POSSE NON PECCARE. No power not to sin. The first sign of original sin.

Why only their sexual members and not more mundane things like arms, hands, fingers and toes (though toes can indeed be sexy)? Probably because it is with our sex organs that we find the greatest bodily intimacy with others. Adam and Eve lost control of their sex organs because they lost control of their selves. Their bodies were no longer their own. They now belonged to a fallen community.

What bothers me about Augustine is the fact that his theology fails to thoroughly shape his politics inside of his own fallen community. Certainly his thoughts on the fallenness of humanity did much (for better or worse) to inform his ideas about our sexuality. According to Augustine it is best to remain celebate in order to avoid being mired in the corruption of our fallen and lustful members. But he is unwilling to employ that same strict hermeneutic when addressing other areas of our social being.

In book nineteen of City he is willing to justify the use of (measured?) torture aimed at securing the state. Why? Is the desire to belong to an ordered state not very much like Adam's desire to remain in (a now sinful) union with Eve? Why is Augustine willing to suspend normal ethics for the preservation of a corrupted polis?

In conclusion, whether it be families, the security of the state or whatever else is perceived to be good, nothing should be "valued" in and of itself. Our desire to belong is a dangerous gift, and one which we must always temper with degree of circumspection. What good goes awry it can be terribly corrupting.