Subway Prophet

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


What’s in a gown? Sartorial Reflections on Baccalaureate

I am not sure that anyone would ever call me a stylish person. I try more than some and less than others, but overall I wear what is comfortable and if that happens to include a humorous T-shirt, fun pair of socks, or exciting tie then I am all the more excited. However, when I was thinking about what I was wearing for Baccalaureate It seemed rather significant.

For those who do not know, Baccalaureate is essentially the graduation for Duke Divinity School. Sure I will not technically graduate until Sunday when the President of Duke University and other people say things that few people listen to or remember, but the good part with worship, sermon, and hoods is what we have all been waiting for. For the service there are two required pieces of attire:

1) Black robe–Unlike High School and College there are no required styles of robes. Most people wear the robes they have purchased for leading worship as pastors. I think this makes it that more significant. In Divinity School, we have been working with the end in mind. I know that four years ago when I began the dream I had was to be a pastor standing in front of my congregation and proclaiming the Word of God. Wearing the same robe to graduate that I will wear when I deliver my first sermon as a pastor reminds me that the four years of work that I have put in were not an end in themselves, but were instead a preparation for my future ministry. My particular robe is extra special because it is one that I got for free while I was in England. The Wesley Study Centre where I was studying received the robes and stoles of a former Methodist minister. No one else could fit in the robe and so I got to keep it. It is a very nice (and expensive) robe and I am extremely grateful for it. However, I am even more grateful for what it represents. My time in England was one which reaffirmed my call to ministry and helped me to understand what it was that God was calling me to as a pastor. I am so excited about what God is doing missionally in England and the friends that I made during that year inspire me in so many ways. As I wear my robe in the service as well as in the pulpit I know that they are a part of my story and ministry.

2) Hood–The hoods represent the fact that I have mastered divinity graduated with my masters of divinity. My particular hood is one that I am borrowing from Rev. Chris Brady who was the lead pastor of Living Hope, the new church plant that I was a part of for most of my time at Duke. While Living Hope has been closed by the Bishop, the community that God brought together for that season of my life remains an important part of who I am, and the ways in which I grew as a person and as a pastor will forever mark my ministry. Chris Brady who is now the pastor of Wilson Temple in Raleigh has been my pastor during my entire time at Duke and a generous mentor and friend.

While most people will only see the robe and the hood, for me they represent both the communities that have shaped and formed me in the past, but also the ways in which God has used those people (and countless others) to prepare me for the work that I am called to in the future. If there is one main thing that I have learned in Divinity School it is that ministry is not something that can (or should be) done alone. Without my community here in Durham as well as all over the US and UK I would not be here today. As I cross that chancel area my wife, parents, mother-in-law, and many friends will be sitting in the congregation of Duke Chapel as well as worshipping online and I am so grateful to be able to share with them that moment and the many other ones to come.

GHS Graduation

June 2006, Me and my parents after my High School graduation.

FSC graduation

May 2010, Me and my two best friends after graduation.

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Duke Article

One of the things that I have tried to do while being here is to remain connected to Duke and the community I built there. For my first post of reflection, I wanted to share with you an article I co-wrote with the other American student who is here with me Kayla for the Divinity School’s student newsletter. A version of it is due to be published in a few weeks by the WSC in their newsletter as well. I have made a few edits to it for the sake of clarity and because I can and also added links to explain some of the terms.

Greetings from England!

In case you have been wondering where we have been, or who we are, some background is probably helpful. In September we began a one year exchange program with the Wesley Study Centre (WSC) in St. John’s College at Durham University in England. As we begin our new term, we wanted to let our Duke community know how things were going. Having been here for several months, things that initially seemed strange have become normal. Durham Cathedral (a place of prayer for over 1,000 years!) that towers over our college no longer gets called the “chapel,” having tea (with a bit of milk) has become a mainstay of any social interaction, and the words, “circuit,” “mission” and “”The Doctor” have become part of the normal vocabulary.

While these may seem like incidental changes, taken together they hint at a much more foundational change in who we are as students, ministers, and Christians. One of the most significant changes has been that by studying and worshipping with the British Methodist Church and the Church of England, we have begun to see ourselves as part of Christ’s world-wide Church. We are studying with students from South Africa, Germany, China, and Brazil, however, the whole ethos of this place seems to look outward. The two central concepts which shape the majority of conversations in the classroom and common room are mission and practical theology. How does the Church discern and participate in what God is doing in the world? How is what we are learning going to shape how we do ministry in our churches parishes?

While neither of these are new questions to us coming from Duke, the ways in which they are asked and the answers they are giving have a unique and powerful particularity. As part of our studies we have both been given the chance to be placed in a Methodist Church (similar to a Field Ed) where we are able to put some of these questions and answers to the test. After adjusting to British worship styles and hymnody, we have found that there is a great freedom in ordering the worship service. Many services are done in “café style” or are particularly shaped by the needs of children (called “Messy Church”). There was a service over the summer at a Christian conference which was called a “Goth Eucharist.” Such creativity and intentionality is a lot of fun and has given both of us permission to be creative as well. Last term, for example, we both led the daily morning prayer according to the United Methodist Book of Worship.  While some people said it “felt like a holiday,” for us it felt like a little bit of home.

It is certainly difficult in a lot of ways to be away from you all. There is no place like Goodson Chapel, of W0016, however, as you begin this semester know that as we gather to pray in a small chapel in Durham, England that you are in our hearts and prayers. We look forward to sharing many more stories and experiences next year when we return!

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

[Note: Kayla has also been blogging her trip and often includes video blogs. Some of which I feature in. If you are interested check it out:]

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Morning Prayer, Monotony, and the Joys of Advent

LJW does his Morning Prayer.

LJW does his Morning Prayer.

One of the most significant parts of life in Cranmer Hall and the Wesley Study Centre is the regular pattern of prayer. At Duke I was an infrequent attendee of Morning Prayer. It was not because I do not love beginning my day with prayer and Scripture; it is just that I prefer to begin my days with a few more minutes of snooze-button enabled sleep.

Because Cranmer is primarily here to train Anglican students for ministry, Morning Prayer is a requirement for their students. Methodists (much to Wesley’s post-mordem disappointment) are not required to attend every day, however it is strongly encouraged. Because I am living in college and breakfast is only served before prayers, my motivation to get out of bed is significantly higher. As such it has become a much more significant aspect of my daily life.

This means that the lectionary readings for the daily office have made the pattern of the liturgical seasons all the more prominent. For most of the daily services we use the Church of England’s Common Worship. During Ordinary Time, it has different services for each day of the week. Each service provides enough similarity to provide continuity throughout the week, while also having enough change to keep things from becoming monotonous. However, After All Saints Day, the service changed. Gone were the variety and in came one liturgy for the entire month before Advent. Even though many of the students who led the prayers tried to add in various things to mix up the service, by last week I was awaiting Advent not for the emphasis on Jesus as the Light into the darkness, but just so that I could turn to a different page each day!

Therefore on Monday with words like, “…the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night…” ordinary time was over and the preparation for Christmas had begun! As I thought about it, I realized that this is the point of Advent. In the midst of the normal routines of life, the season of Advent breaks in all around us both with explosions of garland and bright colored lights, as well as the reminder that so many years ago, God broke into the normalness of the world in the person of Jesus, illuminating a world filled with darkness and reconciling all of humanity within himself.

Now that is something we can celebrate!

LJW celebrates Advent at Sacriston Methodist Church

LJW celebrates Advent at Sacriston Methodist Church

The Adventures Begin in Durham (NC)


Before heading out on the trip, I needed to head up to Durham (NC) for one final visit to say goodbye to my friends and get my Duke fix for a while. The semester has just gotten underway and so I have had to negotiate visits around people’s studying. Seeing as our classes do not begin for another month, I have tried not to rub my freedom in their faces. Come May, June and July while I am still in school and they are resting easy, I hope they return the favor :).

Being away from this place and the community of the Divinity school is most definitely going to be the hardest part of this whole experience. For the past two years this has been my home. As a class we have laughed together, cried together, argued and debated one another, and through it all grown closer to each other and to the God who has called us to this place. When I get back many of those who I am closest with will have graduated and begun their ministry, but fortunately many others will still be here and I am looking forward to getting to know them even better. For now, however, I am grateful to be able to see everyone here and enjoy these precious last days with them.

While I was with friends, Little Wesley began his trip by seeing the sights around the Divinity school. With some of the best Methodism scholars in the world, there were a lot of people to see. He went to a Div School pot-luck and had his picture taken by a few fans, but in the midst of it all he made time for some Bible study as well. Little Wesley has his priorities straight after all :).

Let the travels begin!

This gallery contains 5 photos


In Memory of Susan Keefe.

This is not the first blog post that I had expected to write after an unexpected five month hiatus, but as I sat in Goodson Chapel yesterday listening to people tell their own stories, I felt that I needed to write my own. I did not know Susan Keefe. I had seen her in the hallways with her measured pace and the frail features of the ascetic she was. However, like many of my fellow students, I was in awe of this mysterious professor. She was respected and loved my the whole school, not because she was a brilliant lecturer (which I am sure she was), or for her gregarious personality (which she certainly was not), but because she exuded such an unworldly holiness that one knew the Divinity School was all the more so because of her place in it.

Like many, I participated in rumors of her ascetic practices, but looking back I see even those as being marks of the sense of awe in which she was seen. When selecting classes for this semester, hers was the one I was most excited about, even though because of my year in England, I knew that I was not going to take it. Just having her class on my fake schedule was an honor. And so, when we received the news that she had died, there was a collective sense of loss.

I wanted to write this post because her service reminded me of what funerals and memorial services in the Church need to be. Absent were trite words of comfort and vague phrases of an afterlife. Instead there was a clear confession of the resurrection and a celebration of the grace filled life she had led. Her specialty was Medieval commentaries by obscure theologians, preparing them for other scholars later to come and analyze to use in their own research. Dean Hays called it a “thankless task,” and I am sure it was not one which sold millions of copies because a simple Google image search fails to bring up any pictures of her.

While I will never be able to take her class, her memorial service will be the only lecture I will be able to have, which seems in a way fitting. It reminded me that a life lived in constant love of Christ and seeking to follow His way is one which does separate us from this world, but still keeps us intimately connected to it through our ministry and our relationships. That is the true mark of an ascetic. Not how much they are separated from the world, but how much they bring the world closer to the Kingdom through their place in it. Dr. Keefe did that.

The final lesson I have from her is one which Dean Hays and her family found propped on her desk when they were cleaning it out. Handwritten on a simple sheet of notebook paper it said:  “What if you were to say to your congregation: Your baptism was the beginning of your preparation for death.”  At our baptism we die to Sin and are reborn to new life through Jesus Christ. It marks us and makes us children of God and when lived out fully prepares us both for our eventual death, but also for the everlasting life which comes afterwards. I do not know the answer to Dr. Keefe’s question, but I intend to find out by sharing those words and with each congregation I have.

Thank you Dr. Keefe, for a life well lived. Amen.

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Reflections on an Ash Wednesday

““Beware of practicing your pie before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1–6 NRSV)

One of the most frustrating days for me is Ash Wednesday. Lent is my favorite season of the Church calendar, so it always frustrates me when people make the practices all about them. “I will give up chocolate so that I will lose weight” or  “I will give up Facebook so that I look like I am truly sacrificing when really I just want to be more productive.” Of course these decisions are not made in secret, but instead are the result of a large scale, trumpet worthy, deliberation (More on that later).  For this reason, I usually do not give up anything and instead add something to my daily routine avoiding the many questions.

Today I was particularly attuned to the trappings of Ash Wednesday. When I went to class this morning my eyes were peeled for black smudges. Everyone I met got searched for their mark. Had they been to the early morning service?  Did they have that holier-than-thou look? Still being undecided on my precise Lenten practice, I formulated my answer for the inevitable questions. This continued during the Divinity school’s Ash Wednesday/Eucharist service as I watched as everyone went up to the station, pious heads bowed, and heard that they were worthless—dust.

When it was my turn, I went, bowed my head in reverence and preparation, and while being marked with ash, heard the words: “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” As I walked back to my seat I saw on the foreheads of everyone around me the same black mark I had just received. In that moment, instead of judgment I felt a connection with those around me. They were all marked as well-fellow sinners!  We were all repenting and preparing together.  As I sat down I realized how in my righteous judgment of so many people’s piety I had individualized this day just like everyone else. It seemed a so obvious, yet so easily forgotten fact. Nothing we do in life is done alone. Fasting, prayer, supplication need to be done in your “prayer closet,” but also in community. If anyone is going to stay on the wagon of repentance, we are going to need each other for accountability and support.

For the rest of the day, as I spotted more and more people’s ashen foreheads I thanked God that they were there with me. We bore our crosses together. And I hoped that they, and all of you will help me keep my Lenten (and life) attempt to give up judgment and self-righteousness.

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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!).

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Happy New Year.

Statue of James Duke in front of Duke Chapel.
Note the Fall Colors :).

It is the new year and thus the time to celebrate the future by looking at the past. It seems as I talk to my other friends at Duke and hear their perspectives on their experience that we are all on the same stretch of road, but all having different views. Since it has been October since my last post, I have some catching up to do.

I remember coming to Duke and having heard the refrain of how much a religion major would help me to succeed. Having talked to other students with a variety of majors and hearing how well or not well they fared, I would be tempted to both agree and disagree. Florida Southern was very historical critical in its approach, teaching me how to analyze a text in its parts and see how it fits together in its context. Duke is very literary and looks at the text as a whole and attempts to determine how it fits into our context. These are two completely different approaches, and I think that because of FSC when I graduate, I will have the best of both worlds and a more complete understanding of how to look at scripture. The other thing that helped initially was having an understanding of the vocabulary of theology. This helped me to be able to jump into conversations faster than my peers who waded in slowly. Despite this initial disparity, by the end of the semester I feel like we were all in the deep end together trying our best to keep our heads above water. Seminary is hard.

This is not something which should even be surprising. Duke is a great school, with a well deserved academic reputation, the assumption is that it should be tough. And yet, as I was pulling my hair trying to determine how I was going to get through all of the end of the year papers and exam prep, I was as surprised as anyone how hard it really was. But it is a good hard. Paul tells us that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Rom 5:3-5). I think that this certainly proved to be my experience. Our Old Testament final was most certainly my most difficult. We were given a study guide later than many people wanted, and the exam had no options, and very complicated in-depth questions that required a creative synthesis of information from the entire semester. One of my roommates and I were studying for it the night before and at our wits end. How could we process all this information! And then we had a break through. It was a little verse in the book of Ruth which sparked a revelation for both of us that we both thought was brilliant. We got so excited that my other roommate could hear us across the apartment. It was a good moment. Out of that experience I realized how grateful I was to our professor. Sure the exam was hard, but we were in grad school. Where my two other exams were tough, our professors had held our hand through the whole process. Dr. Portier-Young did not. She assumed that we were smart and deserved to be there and gave us an exam which forced us to prove that to her. And we did. I think that is what seminary has taught me. Sure, my religion background gives me different questions, and a different perspective, but graduate school is a place to ask different, harder questions, and to gain a different, more developed perspective. Next semester is going to be tough. I have three core classes and a seminar where the readings will bring me from Homer to Aristotle to modern times. It will not be easy. But at the end I will have gotten through it, and I will have learned something, and I will hopefully be able to look back and see the character and hope which resulted.

I hope that this semester I will be able to be more attentive to this blog. Personal, devotional time is a tough thing to find in the midst of required reading, but I enjoy this process and hope to be more attentive to my experiences in the semester to come.