Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…

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Buds spring on the trees
New life forms all around me
How is this winter?

Growing up in Florida skews your feelings on winter, but I wrote this after hearing a horticulturist from New Jersey lament “What is the world coming to?!” after seeing flowers coming on the Cherry trees in North Carolina. This has been such a mild winter this year, I feel disappointed!

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On Mark Driscoll, Sex, and the Church

I want to say first that I have no read the book Real Marriage, nor do I intend to (there is to much other reading to do in Divinity School), therefore, I do not intend to write a review of the book. What I do want to do is to comment on Mark Driscoll in general.

Ever since I first saw the controversial soundbites on youtube, and the scathing remarks on Facebook about him, I have been intrigued by his ministry. I have been both deeply offended by some of the things he has said, and at other times inspired. His ministry reaches millions of people, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, often to people who would otherwise not give it any thought, and for that, I think he should be respected and given more thought than many of his harshest critics allow. After reading many news stories, blog posts and reviews of Real Marriage, I have come to the working thesis that Mark Driscoll’s true gift to the Church is to force us to talk about social issues we otherwise try to ignore.

Now I am not saying that he gets is right, or that his theological responses are helpful (he comes from a much more Reformed tradition than I do), however, if nothing else, when the church is silent, Driscoll’s voice screams out. Take domestic violence. When was the last time a pastor or church leader talked about the statistic that 1/4 women has experience domestic violence in their lifetime? Or admitted that domestic abuse is a problem in our pews? Driscoll does. Now one can call his biblical interpretation sexist, or criticize him for over-emphasizing masculinity, and that wives should be subordinate to their husbands (and in all of those cases I agree), however, if the true test of theology is how it is worked out in worship and in the lives of the people, then who is really close to the Gospel?

In Real Marriage, the Driscolls (they co-wrote the book) offer their own story of faith and sex, detailing (for some too much), their journey from pre-marital sex, to refraining from sex, to dealing with sex within marriage. Next they go through what does Christian sex look like? That is a good question. So often, the Church is too embarrassed to talk about something so scandalous as sex. As a result, there is a theological-vacuum which gets filled with the theology of prime time TV and movies.

For the past 4 months, on CNN’s belief blog (one of my favorite sources for religion news), there has been a story on “Why young Christians aren’t waiting anymore”. It describes a report which says that 80% of young evangelical Christians have sex before they are married (88% is the national average). It then makes the interesting remark that  because so many people in our generation are waiting until they are older to get married, they have to wait longer than any other generation to have sex. That is more years of temptation and struggle than ever before. This is something which our generation is answering without the help of the Gospel, or the Church. And that is unacceptable.

I admit, that ever since that article was published, I have been doing a lot of thinking about it, but have been too afraid to publish anything. I was embarrassed, afraid, worried that what I might say would be misunderstood, rejected, or deemed heretical. Well, thanks to Mark Driscoll’s bravery, I don’t think I can stay silent. I commit to you and myself that I am going to work out my thoughts this week, and publish them for your review. So, please feel free to comment below, or e-mail me with your thoughts. This is an issue we all need to deal with in prayer, study, and community. Why not now?

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Announcements: A terrible way to die, or wonderful way to live?

Within a worship service very few people comment that their favorite part were the announcements. In fact, I would wager that most get forgotten. In every church I have worked with, this problem Where do they fit it? How do they function? What is their purpose?

  • Some bring them to the forefront of the service, using the prelude to keep the worship separate.
  • Some bring them into the middle of the service between the hymn and the prayer concerns.
  • Others put them at the very end in the hopes that people will remember them better as they get in their cars.
  • Most churches do a combination. The normal announcements go at the end, while the important ones get mentioned by the pastor in the middle of the service, or if the announcement is lucky, it gets the place of honor before the sermon when everyone is listening.

Behind all of these options is an underlying discomfort with these seemingly secular necessities and the spiritual worship. With people being over-programmed and churches feeling the need to promote their programs in the midst of the busyness, it is no wonder we perform these tasks with a certain reticence.

This semester I am taking a worship history course and our first section is about the worship in the Jerusalem church. So, imgaine my surprise when I read in the diary of Egeria (a 4th century nun who travelled in the Holy Land) this description:

Then for the dismissal, the archdeacon makes this announcement: “At one o’clock today, let us all be ready at the Lazarium.” (29:3)

A forth century announcement?! I put a very mark next to this text. I guess that the need for announcements in worship is as old as the church itself. At the end of the day, announcements are not merely a means to an end, but are in fact instructions and opportunities for Christian life. In the Jerusalem church, these announcements were imperative because throughout the day, week, and year, the location of worship changed rotating around to the various holy sites in the city. Without announcements, the community would not know where to go.

What would it look like if we as a church took announcements seriously? What if we saw them not just as a necessary evil, but as an invitation into the life of the church and an opportunity for a deeper connection with God? What would this look like? Would we pray for the Spirit’s presence in the announcements? Would be take time for people in the congregation to make some of their own?

I certainly do not have all of the answers, but thanks to Egeria I can no longer just dismiss them. What do you think?


Revelations at Publix

One of the signature questions on almost every Divinity School exam begins like this: “You are standing in line at a grocery store and the person in front of you asks…” Sometimes it is framed in a pastoral setting” “A member of your congregation comes into your office and asks…,” but essentially they are both asking the same thing. How do you take all of this complicated theology and make it intelligible for the person who has not suffered through dense readings for three hours puzzling over foreign sounding prose. These questions are actually one of my favorite parts of our curriculum. If theology is what we think about God, and if Christianity proclaims a God who desires a personal relationship with each person to the extent that that God became human in order to make that possible, then how can we as pastor-theologians not take the time to find ways to explain that God to our congregations in ways that they can understand?

I was reminded of this during my final trip to Publix before heading back to Durham. Because there are no stores in North Carolina (a truly sad state of affairs!), I was making the most of my visit. This includes stocking up on Publix recipes. On this occasion a nice older woman, Marcia, was making “Pub Style Chicken,” (which was delicious!) and we chatted for a while. When I got my second sample of chicken, she asked me where I went to school. When I told her Duke Divinity School I saw that familiar “oh-you-go-to Divinity-school” look which is by now so familiar. And then came the question: “So, in twenty-five words or less, can you tell me how the Bible came to be?” Really?! She even included a word limit! Where is my preceptor? I gave her my standard answer of the process being a very long and very Spirit-filled process, which J. Ellsworth Kalas describes as the “democracy of the Holy Spirit” (always a good line), and she seemed satisfied. We got to talking about her life and her brother who died from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and I promised to try and look her up next time I was in town (provided she had more samples of course), and I picked up a recipe card.

As I got into the car, I thanked God for allowing me to be in this place, to study at this school. Being labeled a seminary student and future pastor is one which I struggle with because of the baggage it carries for everyone you meet. But at the end of the day, being able to provide theologically informed pastoral advice in (slightly more than) 25 words is a gift which I am being given every day, and as I begin the second half of my seminary career, I want to thank Marcia for the reminder (and the chicken!).