Sunday, May 31, 2009

What is the Revolutionary Tradition?

Or perhaps the better question is why did I abandon the Calituckyohioan? 

The Calituckyohioan's time had passed. I have been thinking of changing it for a while. I came up with it when I had only been in Pasadena for a little while. I was in a new area and wanted to hold on to my Cincinnati identity while opening up to the possibilities that awaited me in California. 

When I moved back to Cincinnati I was still going through a time of transition, only in reverse. So, the name still made sense to me. 

I have now been settling back in to life in Cincinnati, and no longer really feel torn between two homes. 

Now, back to the initial question.  I have been keeping my eye out for a new name for a while. As I was reading more of Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, I came across a chapter entitled Tradition & Revolution. 

He applies the terms broadly to the Church and specifically to the Roman Catholic Church. If the life of the Church is the Truth of God, breathed into it by the Holy Spirit, he says, then humans have a tendancy to turn away from this "living tradition." So, the revolution comes into play not against the living tradition, but against the human tradition (turning away from God).

And yet this tradition must always be a revolution because by its very nature it denies the values and standards to which human passion is so powerfully attached. To those who love money and pleasure and reputation and power this tradition says: "Be poor, go down into the far end of society, take the last place among men, live with those who are despised, love other men and serve them when they push you around, but pray for those that hurt you. Do not look for pleasure, but turn away from things that satisfy your senses and your mind and look for God in hunger and thirst and darkness, through deserts of the spirit in which it seems to be madness to travel. Take upon yourself the burden of Christ's Cross, that is, Christ's humility and poverty and obedience and renunciation, and you will find peace for your souls.

Merton is not the only person to have impressed this upon me. In fact anyone who has issued calls to true discipleship are doing the same thing. For me, this includes a wide range of pastors, theologians and personal friends.  In fact, Greg Boyd's latest book, The Myth of the Christian Religion, is an excellent example of this. It is my understanding that the original title of that book was to be Revolting Beauty. This makes sense to me because it issues the same calls to the Kingdom that Merton does. In Boyd's case he walks through a variety of topics and shows how the world works, and how God's Kingdom is something much different.  Another great example is The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill.

There is not a single section of the above exhortation which I find to be easy. But that doesn't excuse me from pursuing them. That quote is not an all encompassing challenge, but does a lot to point in the right direction.  So, this blog will now move into a new chapter of my life. The chapter of pursuing the Revolutionary Tradition- pursuing the reign of God and his kingdom.

In light of the quote now found in this blog's header, one could say that where worldly revolutions are physically violent, a this revoltion is spiritually violent. It is violent by way of the cross however, and can only result in the gift of true life, in, through and from Christ. 

Moving forward, it is my hope that this blog would be a place where I can work out how that revolution is going in my life, and offer up the fruits of my own study and experiences to anyone who might find life in them.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why Anglican/Episcopal?

Yesterday I wrote some initial thoughts on why I have decided to start the (unofficial) discernment process of ordination.

As to "Why Anglican/Episcopal?" I have a variety of answers, again, none of them full in themselves.

I will give three reasons for now. First of all, some of the people I have been nourished by the most in my studies have been Anglican. In particular having John Goldingay as a professor and reading the works of NT Wright have always left me changed for the better. Since I was in the position of having to "church shop" as I didn't have a denomination to call home any longer (that is a huge disadvantage to my church-muttiness, despite any ecumenical perspective it has given me), I figured I would start with the places that have nourished me, so that made the Episcopal Church a prime candidate.

Secondly, having come from a Vineyard background as my most recent church experience, I felt that the worship services of the Vineyard were thoughtful, but not as complete as I might have hoped. I do want to stress that I am wading into a mixture of theological reflection and personal preference. I have many friends in the Vineyard Churches and I do know that there is a rhyme to the reason of how they function; I just don't think they scan as well as the iambic pentameter I have found in the Anglican liturgy. No church is without liturgy, but not all liturgies are the same. I am drawn in by the very comprehensive order of worshipI have found in the ECUSA. I will also admit that musically speaking, I prefer hymns to most modern worship. Not only do I find a great depth of purpose in the ebb and flow of the liturgy there, I also find great comfort and perspective in realizing that it is a service that spreads out not only to the past as a lasting tradition, but also in the present, as most churches are following the same texts and ceremonies across the world.

Finally, it was the via media, or middle way, that I am still coming to appreciate which tipped the scales in favor of the Anglican Communion. The Church of England was unique in that it grew mostly out of political conflict rather than pure ecclesiastical reformation like the Lutheran Church. As a result the Catholic and Protestant natures became more intertwined than in other churches. It is my understanding that via media is one of the things which allows the Anglican Communion to exist as a place where a multitude of theological stances can be held, but where all may still be in communion with one another. Because I disagree with someone else on the issue of the ordination of women for example, does not mean that we should break off our association with one another. Still, there are dangers to this kind of inclusiveness. This is most evidenced in the last few years as the issue of Homosexuality has caused some very deep divisions in the Anglican Communion and threatened the unity of the worldwide communion. And yet, via media gives me hope. Finding middle ground means that we have to make room for “the other” as Miroslav Volf might say. Compromise is a dirty word in America, and in the Church this is no less true. This is sad because I believe we are called to constantly yield to others in our lives as led by the Spirit.

Those are just a few of the things which have brought me to appreciate the Episcopal Church and the larger body of the Anglican Communion. After a few years of avoiding church, and floundering around in a church shopping expedition, Christ has finally brought me to a place where I can settle in and begin to do Life Together with a community.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why Ordination?

I keep putting off writing the various posts swirling in my head, so here goes the first round.

Some thoughts on ordination. A couple of posts ago I basically said a lot about what led me to St. Timothy's but I haven't really outlined some of the other things swirling around ordination for me.

When I was at Fuller, I began as an MDiv student, but switched to an MA in Theology The difference in degree tracks for me was that the MDiv had more pastoral classes, but the bible/theology classes were all the same. All through my first two years at Fuller I had been pondering what kind of track I would take, a more pastoral or more academic one. My thinking when I switched degrees was that I would look into a second masters with a thesis and then on to a PhD someday. In the end, could not afford to live in LA any longer and the shorter degree was a benefit in that regard. I also was not really a part of any church or denomination for the last year or so of my time at Fuller, which made it hard to figure out how a pastoral path would work.

Since then, I have realized that my vocation does not have to live in either of these realms alone. I have also found a spiritual and church home in the Anglican Communion/Episcopal Church. If God permits me to seek ordination in that church, I believe that he will also lead me into a way of serving the church both on an academic and pastoral level. I am not interested in becoming a huge writer, popular all over the globe. Rather, at this time I find it my hope and calling to bring God's word to whatever situation and church I might end up in someday. I'm interested in finding ways to express various concepts to those in the church who have not had the blessing of theological study. Not because I have some secret knowledge that I must disperse, but rather because I hope the process would be one in which our faiths would be worked out in communion with one another. I recognize that my training thus far has been nothing short of the gift of God, and to refrain from sharing the fruits of that gift with others would be a disservice to God. Ultimately outside of the mustard seed of faith, I think it is how we live in loving communion with each other which defines us as people of God rather than a series of theological concepts; yet exploring those concepts is still a very valid and edifying process.

I must stress here that while this is in part a decision on my part, it is by no means in my hands alone. It is in the hands of the community I am seeking to know and grow in currently and also obviously at the Lord’s discretion. No matter how much I may desire to serve the Church in this capacity, I must daily bring it to the cross in order that Christ may bring it to life in the Holy Spirit. This is honestly a frightening thing. It is so because whenever we bring something to the cross to be crucified, there is the chance that Christ may not resurrect it. The refining fire of the Lord will burn away what is not of his will. So, if his will is a different path than ordination, then through my prayer life, and the communal discernment process of the ECUSA, he will make that known.

At this time, while I am eager to start the process, there are actually many steps between here and end of that journey. For starters, my focus now is on joining into the life of St. Timothy’s and just being in communion with those who worship there. This will mean getting confirmed into the church in the next year, but more importantly, it means being content with just “being” among them. If I were to approach this church as a means to an end, then I would be doing a grave disservice to them and to God. Instead of sharing life, and making room for them in mine, I would be leeching life away from them. It is my sincere prayer that I do not come anywhere near that route.

So patience, patience, patience. I know God is tugging me somewhere. I know that he has brought me to St. Timothy’s. That is enough for now.

Ok, so that I hope sort of speaks to the "why?" regarding ordination. It is not a full answer, as I don't think I will have a full answer even at the time of ordination. If I am in Christ, then I am always subject to him providing new inspiration and understanding of my calling and vocation.

Tomorrow I will explain some of the reasons why I have chosen to look into the Episcopal Church in particular.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Carefully Choosing Who We Follow

Do you want to know you are following somebody worthy of the name of Christ? Let me suggest this litmus test for their actions: Are their lives characterized by laying down their own lives so that others might live? Or are they taking life from others so as to amass life for themselves? According to Jesus and Paul, the former is the way of Christ, the economy of the gospel. The latter is a much darker (if broader) road.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Thought from Thomas Merton

The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by anything and judges no man's sin because he does not know sin. He knows the mercy of God. He knows that his own mission on earth is to bring that mercy to all [people].

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Prelude to Change: How I Got Where I am Now

First, an observation. As I look back on the 4+ years of blogging and even longer of attempting various journals, I notice one constant. When God seems to be doing a lot in my heart, and teaching me things, I tend to get engrossed in those so much that writing about them usually falls by the wayside. It is much easier for me to vent over frustrations in writing (whether public or private) than it is to get out my thoughts during the good times/fruitful times. The last two months have been a great example of this. After a fairly long adjustment to life back in Cincinnati, I have finally come out of a state of depression and anxiety into a time of joy and growth. Unfortunately, unless you are someone I come into contact with regularly, you may not even have noticed. I certainly have not said much about it online that is for sure!

I recently began attending St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Anderson Township, and being involved in a church on a regular basis has been one major flank in this time of change. One source of my depression over the last few years has been a lack of experiencing and participating in God’s Church. I made a very foolish decision in 2006 to leave the church I had been attending for one which had more young adults. Now there were a few reasons for this at the time. One was that as wonderful as Fuller Seminary was, it was still a grad school, and as such was not a place where people staid very long. So, many friends I had made when I first came to Pasadena had moved on or were moving on. Another reason was that the church I was at was very small, and it seemed that most people were 10+ years older than I was, and the ones closer to my age were all married. The people there were wonderful, and I recognize that leaving that church was a very big error in my personal judgment. Nonetheless, I felt pretty alone and made the hard choice to leave.

The church I began attending ended up not being a very good fit. I never really understood why this was. One of my good friends seemed to fit in just fine with all the new people there. However, I always felt like an outsider there. I began volunteering with the hopes that I would meet people, but nothing ever moved beyond a superficial acquaintance level, and the friend I began attending with sort of drifted further away.

From then on I admit that my church search has not really ever been the most disciplined. I can look back and see a spiral of depression which both came from various experiences and also contributed to my lack of interest in other experiences. Even this fall when I did find a church I really enjoyed, my depression kicked back in and I began to recede from participating there as well.

I am not going to argue that there was a divine reason for why I never found a church home. I do believe that God wanted me to commit to a church in that time span, however various things, including my own selfishness and stubbornness precluded that from happening. I will argue instead that the Lord has brought me to St. Timothy’s at just the right time. I had begun attending just a couple of weeks before Easter. I had already had a massive failure on my attempt at a long term fast, and basically things were on course for another spiritually dry Easter time for me.

Then Holy Week arrived.

I had an urging from within to try and attend the entire week of services. The realistic side of me figured I would go a few times that week, but that the chances of me following through for the whole week were pretty slim. I believe God had loftier plans that week because I found myself in the pews every night from Palm Sunday to the Easter Vigil the following Saturday. It was certainly not out of any desire to be more spiritual than others. It was almost as if I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

That week is one which will stand out as a profound experience in my spiritual journey. One of the beautiful things about Holy Week is that not only does it give more attention to the entire passion narrative than you find in any Easter Sunday service, it also allows you to do this side by side and in communion with others. Obviously any church gathering is like this, but having that reinforced night after night is hard to walk away from unaffected. I strongly encourage anyone who has not participated in a full Holy Week to try and do so next year. Even if your church doesn’t observe Easter in this way, there are many denominations which do.
As a result of the Spirit being rekindled within me by the grace of God in this time, I have been led back into a time of study and contemplation. My thirst for reading and thinking on God, theology and the Church has increased greatly, and my desire to get all my thoughts down in writing has yet to catch up.

I met with the pastor of the church this week and we had a wonderful discussion about many things, but what began to sink in during the conversation was just how much God is doing in my life lately. I hope to start posting on some of these issues here in the next couple of weeks (although given my track record it will probably be spread out even longer). The major things I feel God has led me to start processing are a mix of abstract and practical theological issues. I have been thinking a lot on ordination, justification, non-violence, and vegetarianism in particular; as well as how to put my beliefs into action. These are certainly not all I have dwelt on, but they are probably the ones I have dwelt on the most.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Podcast Plugs #1 Never Not Funny and The Sound of Young America

I have been a very inactive blogger lately. It seems that when I moved from Northern Kentucky to Anderson I left my desire to blog behind. This is not a statement of “I will be better in the future” just an acknowledgement that I am pretty much hit or miss.

Moving on…

I am a fan of quite a few podcasts which range from theology to the absurdly funny. There are only two podcasts which I have ever felt motivated to pay for however.

The first is Never Not Funny, a podcast run by comedian Jimmy Pardo. The format is simple, yet extremely entertaining. He and his producer Matt Belknap host a guest and they just talk for roughly 90 mins. There is never a set topic, and he generally has guests from the world of standup but also others including Mad Men’s John Hamm. They offer a free truncated version but in order to get the full version you must be a paying subscriber. It has been required listening for me every Wed/Thur for at least 3 years now. I should mention that if they gave podcasts ratings, this one would be a very high R or even an NC17 at times. The conversation can go into some places you can’t un-listen to. This is not to say that they are all cussing all the time or all raunchy all the time, but they also don’t make efforts to avoid those kinds of things either.

The second one that gets some of my money is one which I could easily get for free. The Sound of Young America is a free podcast and Public Radio International program which you can find at

Like Never Not Funny, I have been listening to it for a bout 3 years. Only recently did I decide to pledge a monthly contribution though. TSOYA is an interview program hosted by Jesse Thorn and recorded live in his apartment. This may sound cheap, but he actually gets many high quality guests from authors to comedians to actors and actresses. For instance he recently had Jenna Fisher from The Office on as a guest.

I had always taken it for granted that the show was offered free, but I am glad to be a donor now. There are a few things that have really impressed me about this show. For starters the guests are always interesting even if I have never heard of them, or they do something of which I am not normally a fan. Secondly, Jesse Himself is a wonderful voice of sincerity in the midst of our ironic generation. He actually coined a term called the New Sincerity which is about embracing the sheer awesomeness of things without needing to put some sort of ironic spin on it or coat it in cynicism. This really shows in his interviews with how he treats his guests with actual interest and admiration. If they are on the show, it means he wants them to be there, it is not some random assignment. And finally, he himself has a really great sense of humor and rapport with most of his guests.

I write this all for two reasons- 1. If you haven’t listened to either of these podcasts before, I can’t recommend them highly enough. And 2. especially with TSOYA, if you do find you listen and enjoy it, go ahead and pledge a monthly donation. Jesse is a hard worker and unfortunately the show is on his dime. You can donate anywhere from $2 to $200. Right now is their pledge drive, so you can learn more about it by going to the above website.