Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Re-Entry to My New Normal

Yesterday was my day-off.  And I found myself pacing the cage.

After 2 weeks of a very scheduled life it was difficult to adjust to a day without a schedule.  I had been looking forward to it but once Monday arrived I didn't know what to do with it.  By afternoon my son Josh took me to a State Park where we went on a 6 mile hike through the forest and my inside world settled down and I enjoyed the rhythm of our hike.

Sunday morning, the day before yesterday, I drank a cup of coffee just before our worship service started because I wasn't patient enough to wait for decaf.  Big mistake.  By the time I stood up to speak my insides were in Tigger mode when I typically prefer Pooh.  As I spoke my internal Pooh was desperately trying to sit on my Tigger the whole time.  Despite that, it was an amazing morning as one after another of our RV family came up and shared a prayer for our church.

One thing that the SSU Modules have given me is a love for the prayers of others.  As a good little modern evangelical I learned that spontaneous prayer is the best prayer and probably the only kind worth praying.  Except the "Lord's Prayer" of course.  Praying the Psalms has long been an important part of my life.  But discovering the written voices of believers who've travelled this pilgrim way long before me, has been an enriching experience.  Joining our voices as one voice to lift the same thoughts and heart to God as a cry is a powerful thing.  Bonhoeffer gave me an appreciation for the power found in united hearts saying the same words in God's ear together.

Monday came and between the coffee hangover and the prayer time I was feeling full of energy on my day of rest.  The hike was good medicine for my soul.  At some point during our hike an email message arrived from one of my profs that I owe him some papers so after we got home I started getting my words together.

And now it’s Tuesday and I’m back in the office and trying to take on one thought at a time as I sort out where we go from here.  During my module prayer times I felt like God said some important stuff for me about my here and my now.  I’m excited to see what comes next.

Let me bless almighty God,
whose power extends over sea and land,
whose angels watch over all.

Let me study sacred books to calm my soul:                       
I pray for peace,
kneeling at heaven’s gates.

Let me do my daily work,
gathering seaweed, catching fish,
giving food to the poor.

Let me say my daily prayers,
sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet,
always thanking God.

Delightful it is to live
on a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell,
serving the King of kings.
- The Prayer of St. Columba

Friday, October 26, 2012

Done! (for now)

We finished today with a Benedictine/Celtic fusion.

There's lots to say but right now it's like the end of summer camp and it's all about packing, saying "good-bye!" and making sure we're not forgetting anything before we get out on the road.

I hate good-byes.  I'm bound to be forgetting something.

This has been another extraordinary journey, in some ways I feel I've travelled as much as I did on our last module when we went to Egypt, Jordan and Israel.  For now, I'll take this moveable feast and get on the road to Raleigh.  I've got plenty to share and process and pray about well into our next reading list and our next (and my last) module in March.

The SSU Ministry Modules have been a spring of life for me, I can't imagine going back to "normal" now when all this comes to an end.  But today, I'm glad to be headed into the final stretch of this part of the pilgrimage.  Home beckons.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday: The Way

This afternoon we had our last session with Dr. Dan.  Out of all the counselling courses I've ever taken this has left me with the most tools I can immediately put into use.  It makes my head hurt thinking about how much we packed in to such a short amount of time but it has been worth it.  I leave this experience richer, not just for the lessons learned but especially for seeing the heart of the man who was teaching us.

Tonight Prof. Greg talked to us about pilgrimage.  The talk was finished by sharing the Eucharist or Communion together - the very way we started the day.  I've never before started and ended a day with the body and blood of Christ but I have to say it was meaningful and deeply moving to have the rhythm of my day started and finished by the holy meal.

There's a movie we watched this week that we talked about tonight.  It's called The Way and was directed by Emilio Estevez and stars his father, Martin Sheen.  The film was excellent and I'm going to share the trailer with you here.  If you read the words used in the trailer you will read an accurate summary of what these two weeks have been for me.

Tonight I'm grateful for the classmates, the Modulites, who I have had the privilege of sharing this journey with.

Enjoy this short taste of The Way:

Liturgy and Leaving

This morning was good but difficult.

We started with a liturgy that was moving and meaningful.  As we moved through the rhythm of the liturgy I was energized by our voices, joined in unison, hearts united in a single prayer together.  It was powerful because we were engaged and something bigger than any one of us was happening.  And it was sad because we reformers have done our best to avoid liturgy (while secretly building our own) and thus avoided the richness of tradition and the depth of our collective story.

It was particularly difficult because we openly started what many of us were feeling just below our studious surface: disengagement.  We’re 24 hours away from the end of the residency part of this module.  We’ll be doing some homework for the next month but we who have become one are becoming many again.

I'm excited about getting home but I'm apprehensive as well as sad to be leaving this experience – particularly as I reflect on having only one more module to go.  In March we’ll return, hopefully all of us will be here and then some, but some of us will be making our last ‘return’.  There’s a thesis to write or a project or some other options that some of us might choose to finish our Masters but we’ll finish on our own, without our band of brothers and sisters.  And I find that tough today while we’re still enjoying being together.

Here’s a “leaving prayer” attributed to the good St. Brendan who knew a thing or two about voyages:
Beyond these shores
Into the darkness
Beyond these shores
This boat may sail
And if this is the way
Then there will be
A path across this sea.
And if I sail beyond
The farthest ocean
Or lose myself in the depths below
Wherever I may go
Your love surrounds me
For You have been before
Beyond these shores. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


This afternoon we talked about hungry hearts.  Everybody has one.  The Boss is never wrong.

Dr. Dan suggested to us that our deepest hunger, the one that itches underneath all the stuff we try to satisfy ourselves with is intimacy.  I think Dr. Dan knows what he's talking about.  So the question I'm contemplating tonight is, how do we create a safe community where intimacy can grow, be experienced and be real?

There's a moment in a movie called, "Life As A House" where the main character, in bed and dying from cancer, suddenly reacts to a nurse's touch as she cares for him.  He gasps slightly and says, "I have not been touched in years."  The nurse is incredulous.  "Really?" She asks, "Not a friend or a mother?  People have to be touched.  Everyone gets touched by somebody they love."  His life has become isolated, both his interior and exterior life.  He is divorced.  Estranged from his only child, his son.  His work allows him to isolate and the people who live nearby are happy to leave him alone.

It's a metaphor "rich" film.  Not really a great film but it's thoughtful.

The deal is that intimacy looks different to everyone.  For some a hug is one step too far.  For others hugs are just the beginning.  Who listens to you?  Who gives you 5 minutes of listening without prepping a rebuttal?  Who considers your words, thoughts and feelings and validates them by making room in themselves to receive them, hold them, without trying to fix them?  Can I suggest that the "touch" we need isn't always physical, in fact often is not physical?

What says "intimacy" to you?

You can be all alone in a very crowded house.  And your head can get pretty crowded when you're all alone.  This kind of isolation is deadly, sometimes slow, sometimes fast but always deadly.  A good friend of mine died about 7 years ago from starving to death for intimacy and filling the hole with heroin.  Again and again.  When the emptiness is there we'll toss food at it, TV, sex, alcohol, drugs, religion...but that emptiness stays hungry 'til we meet the lack with the one thing that can satisfy it.  Authentic, intimate, unconditional.

"People have to be touched."


This morning we had some time to talk through the idea of “worldview” and how it impacts our perceptions and ability to receive or accept new things, new ways and new ideas.

We started with Herodotus.  He was writing a glowing report about a local custom.  Here’s an excerpt:
Of their customs, whereof I shall now proceed to give an account, the following (which I now understand belongs to them in common with the Illyrian tribe of the Eneti) is the wisest in my judgment. Once a year in each village the maidens of age to marry were collected all together into one place; while the men stood round them in a circle. Then a herald called up the damsels one by one, and offered them for sale. He began with the most beautiful. When she was sold for no small sum of money, he offered for sale the one who came next to her in beauty. All of them were sold to be wives. The richest of the Babylonians who wished to wed bid against each other for the loveliest maidens, while the humbler wife-seekers, who were indifferent about beauty, took the more homely damsels with marriage-portions. For the custom was that when the herald had gone through the whole number of the beautiful damsels, he should then call up the ugliest—a cripple, if there chanced to be one—and offer her to the men, asking who would agree to take her with the smallest marriage-portion. And the man who offered to take the smallest sum had her assigned to him. The marriage-portions were furnished by the money paid for the beautiful damsels and thus, the fairer maidens portioned out the uglier. No one was allowed to give his daughter in marriage to the man of his choice, nor might any one carry away the damsel whom he had purchased without finding bail really and truly to make her his wife; if, however, it turned out that they did not agree, the money might be paid back. All who liked might come even from distant villages and bid for the women. This was the best of all their customs, but it has now fallen into disuse. They have lately hit upon a very different plan to save maidens from violence, and prevent their being torn from them and carried to distant cities, which is to bring up their daughters to be courtesans. This is now done by all the poorer of the common people, who since the conquest have been maltreated by their lords, and have had ruin brought upon their families.

I hope you react to that.  But I hope you are able to take it in from both his perspective and your own.  I struggled to even read it and yet, on reflection, I saw his point.  Can you?

After that we read about the long struggle in medicine to convince hospitals and surgeons in particular to wash their hands before examining patients and between patients.  The first proponent was rejected by the institution and couldn't find work as a doctor and ended his life in a mental institution.  It took decades for this “common sense” practice to become a standard rather than an idea ridiculed by the establishment.  It reminded me of the lessons in the book, “Sway”.

And the discussion ultimately came around to the question, “What are the things we ‘know’ today that will give way to better revelation in our future?”  Who are the bright lights we shield our eyes against today who will be the luminaries of tomorrow?

Perspective has been a recurring theme of this module and knowing the worldview from which I'm observing the world and the church will help me be open to what God’s doing today that may not be considered “best practice” by my past.

I think elections can teach us this.  I think history does too.  But I'm really intrigued by the way butterflies tell this story.

Can you think of some Christian World View perspectives that have changed over the last 100 years?  I'm making a list...

Module Week 2: the Afternoons

High School.  Geometry.  I suck.  A meeting is called with my Dad, my Teacher and me.  The greatest obstacle to my education was my attitude.  I hated geometry and couldn't see the point of it.  I wanted to drop the class before I completely flunked out.  So there we were in a little room while my Teacher tried to help me adjust my attitude.  I told her, “I just don’t see the point, I’ll never use this in my whole life.” 

“Oh yes you!” Her voice was starting to raise a little.  “What if you go into forestry and you have to determine how tall a particular tree is without being able to cut it down to measure?”

“If I promise to never go into forestry will you please let me drop your class?” I asked.

I've been to several practical workshops since I've been in ministry and most just leave me with a list of things to do or fix or a feeling of extreme inadequacy.  The sessions we’re having in the afternoons this week on “The Addictive Life” with Dr. Dan Lambrides, aren't like that.  I walked out of our Tuesday session with some practical tools that I already know how to use when I get home.  Overall that’s been my experience at SSU.

In “The Addictive Life,” Dr. Dan was talking to us about Trust.  He was asked to speak to a group about Trust and as he prepared he realized he knew what Trust is but recognized a need to be able to talk about what Trust is and what we mean when we say, “Trust.”  What makes Trust happen in our relationships?  He broke it down for us and the insight he gave us, just about this one word, so central to relationship, so central to leadership and pastoral leadership in particular, was worth coming for this whole module. 

Tuesday he dropped this one on us: "The first requirement of any craft is the love of its material."

And I thought about my craft as a pastor and a little light went on as about the spectacular "flame out" rate of those in my craft.  We love the position, we love the authority, we love the salary, we love the mission, we love the instant 'friends', we even love Jesus but I'm wondering how many of us first and foremost love the material?

And it doesn't involve any geometry.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


15 years ago or so I walked into a Christian bookstore and right up front was a display for a new book someone had just written on the Father Heart of God.  I smirked.  "That's so yesterday..." was what I was thinking.  We'd been "touching the Father's heart", we'd been talking and reading about restoring the hearts of the prodigal's for the Father's house, sang "Father, I Want You To Hold Me" and recovered the Abba Father.  I was way past this book.

And in my spirit I heard the *ahem* of God.

So I stopped, as you do, and listened for a second.  "I've peeled one layer off that 'onion' for you." was what God seemed to be saying.  "You've got a long way to go."

This morning in Lorna's class on spiritual formation was another one of those times I heard the *ahem* of God.

This time it was about trust.  "Stink," i thought, "I just moved my family cross country to follow think I don't have trust down?"  It's a dangerous but brilliant thing to argue with God.  "Onion." was all He had to say.  But he went on and talked about my willingness to trust Him for that which I understand but now He's leading me to learn to trust in those places I do not understand, to get both feet out of the boat and firmly on water.

Since the first day of Lorna's class I've been thinking of this picture from C.S. Lewis in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I'll include it here for those interested in reading it.  The short version is that pink and tender is the condition I find myself in when God is working most and best.

"I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn't that kind of fear. I wasn't afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it -- if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn't any good because it told me to follow it."

"You mean it spoke?"

"I don't know. Now that you mention it, I don't think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I'd have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last when we came to the top of a mountain I'd never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden - trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well. . . .

"Then the lion said -- but I don't know if it spoke -- 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know -- if you've ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy -- oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Edmund.

"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off -- just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt -- and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me -- I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on -- and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again." [115-116]

I've got a lot to learn and I'm getting educated one layer at a time!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Problem : Solution

This afternoon we discussed some tools to help people in crisis.  Here's the one that resonates most with me.  It's a prayer.  A simple prayer and it has become a widely known prayer.  Inside of this prayer are all the elements you need to come along someone facing a crisis or for you to use facing a crisis of your own.

The way to read this prayer is slow.  Phrase by phrase.  Let it sink in until it resonates.  Its original form is by Reinhold Neibuhr.  This is a slight adaptation for clarity of language.

Spend some time with this and keep it in your tool box.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Sleepless in the Steve

For reasons unknown to me I only logged about 2 hours of real sleep last night.  wasn't up all night studying or writing.  didn't swill massive amounts of coffee before bed.  But I find myself in an interesting haze of “definitelynotasleepandnotreallyawake” this afternoon.  Our morning session had plenty of conversation and content to keep me awake.  I even managed to have a moment of panic as I discovered one more thing that I've always thought of as “Vineyard” that I realize I have not had a specific conversation about with my leadership team in Raleigh.

The discussion this morning started with the Desert Fathers.  If you've never read anything from them or about them I’ll just say that there is some remarkable treasure that comes from this period and this tradition.  I will also say that some of these DFs appear to have been as looney as the guy who argues all day with his own reflection.  (Or the woman who used to show up at conferences in Summerside wearing a wedding dress and army boots who always had a “word” and a “prophetic dance” ready to share.)

Connecting the treasure we found in the Desert Fathers and the conversation that followed about Augustine was some time well spent on sets. 

Bound set. 

Fuzzy set. 

Centred set.

My head feels like it belongs in the fuzzy set right now but I've been a centred set kind of guy for a very long time. 

I want my life to be measured by my relationship to the centre  not some prescribed boundaries that define me in or out but can do nothing to reveal my true face.  I want to measure where I am in the community of Christ by how I am moving in cooperation or resistance to his gravity, not by whether I voted for the “right” candidate or use the “right” Bible or agree with someone else’s “right” interpretation of that Bible.  I get that rules and hard boundaries are easier; it frees me from relationship and the responsibility to be my brother’s keeper.  I get that messy lives are part of living in a centred set but I can’t think of a bigger mess of lives than the 12 disciples of Christ or the early church.

I would rather define my faith in Christ by stopping and helping the “wrong” kind of person than getting to the church service or Bible study on time.  I would rather hang out with the “wrong” kind of people who need some salt rather than organize a capital campaign to build a bigger bushel under which we can hide the light.  I want to be known for what I'm building more than what I'm tearing down, what I'm for rather than what I'm against, who I love rather than who I won’t love.  And I think if God’s grace allows me to do that, I will find myself moving closer to the Centre I long to see.

So, bound, centred or fuzzy for you?  And nap or stay awake - what do you think?

Friday, October 19, 2012

End of Module Week 1

And so my first week of the Master of Ministry Module (mmm good) comes to an end.

My “final” for the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark & Luke) portion will be to take everything I've just learned, process it all and come up with a way to tell you all about it in paragraphs rather than pages.  To condense it all down into the kind of conversation I might have with someone over a pint at our local pub.  If I can just get my brain cells to stop exploding it shouldn't be a problem.

The thing I've enjoyed most about Bill Jackson’s teaching has been his telling of the Text in a way that motivates us to get moving off this page and into the ongoing Story.  It’s not nearly enough to know how the Story goes, I want to play my part, I want to actively participate in writing the chapter I’m in. 

One of the big ideas from this afternoon was the way in which Israel had turned the Temple into a dark den instead of a city on a hill, a light to the nations.  They’d turned God’s grace into a license to smugly hoard YHWH rather than carry His presence to the Gentiles.  Rather than embrace their Samaritan family they used the Temple to exclude.  Instead of being humbled by the grace of God to be Torah people they became arrogant about a Law that only proved they fell hopelessly short of God.

And it leaves me wondering how it’s happened that we who are the new Temple have followed in their steps, created our own ghetto, bottled Jesus and stocked our shelves with him for profit and rather than live on mission we choose to send missionaries and pay their electric bills rather than be the light of the world.  God have mercy on me and keep me from following the well traveled path.  God have mercy on us and transform us yet into grace givers, water walkers, heart menders, life releasers, sight restorers, captive freers and storm stillers.

Tomorrow morning we start week #2.  Pray for us weary pilgrims!

Thanks to all of you who have supported this adventure with resources, prayer and encouragement.  Thanks as well to all who have read and are reading these ramblings that tell the story of educating brian.

Dessert: reflections on a morning module

Last Spring I was walking in the wilderness from Egypt, up thru Jordan and part of Israel with our SSU module.  This morning we looked at an individual named Antony who represents a tradition of people who sought God in the desert wilderness in that area.

I have to confess that in March I found the geography very appealing for its otherness and its solitude.  It would be easy to drop everything and wander off into the hills and live a different kind of life.  And then I’d get hungry for a Mars bar and stop kidding myself.  The life of Antony, as told to us by Athanasius, is an intriguing look into a life desperate to shed the skin of complacency and comfort for a life of danger, challenge and absolutely no Mars bars.

His search for obscurity made him a strange kind of celebrity.  His pursuit of the presence of God made him the target of demonic attention.  His love of peace brought him into significant conflict.  His desire to be along with God led to crowds seeking him out for advice, help and wisdom.

Athanasius wrote of Antony, “It was as if he were a physician given to Egypt by God.  For who went to him grieving and did not return rejoicing?  Who went in lamentation over his dead, and did not immediately put aside his sorrow?  Who visited while angered and was not changed to affection?  What poor person met him n exhaustion who did not, after hearing and seeing him, despise wealth and console himself in hi poverty?...And who came to him distressed in his thoughts and did not find his mind calmed?”[1]

As a pastor in an urban setting I want to set my heart on being a vessel for the same Spirit of God in the same measure that Antony was.  I want a transformational empathy to emanate from my life as it did Antony’s.  I want power to find a clean conduit in my life to lead others to experience the providence of God.  I want to want Jesus more than I want a Mars bar or comfort or cable or a retirement package or a smart phone or recognition.  Let Jesus alone be my main and my dessert in whatever desert I find myself.

[1] Life of Antony by Athonasius, p 94, Paulist Press

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Synoptic Gospels: Module Day 4 afternoon

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. (from the Princess Bride)

That’s how I felt today during class as we looked at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  The word wasn’t, “Inconceivable!” though.  The word was Gospel.

We sailed on some pretty deep waters today with questions like, “When did Jesus know that he was divine?”  And Shawn’s dangerous question: “ Wasn't it crazy for God to put everything on a plan that Jesus could've said “No.” to?"  We talked about demons and the important and incredible connections between the story Matthew, Mark and Luke tell with the story we find in Genesis and Exodus and in Isaiah and Daniel.

But the big idea that still nags at me tonight is this...  

We say, “I got to share the gospel with someone today!”  And I hear Inigo say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  I would even go so far as to say that we’ve led people to “believe” in a gospel that isn’t.

In a way, this study has made me feel more rooted in the Vineyard movement more than I have ever felt before because I think at the core of the Vineyard is the gospel, the real one.  I'm quite sure we've muffed it by times, we've defaulted to the traditional gospel by times (I don’t know how to refer to this thing yet that is called gospel but isn't) and we've even led people on adventures in missing the point.  But at our best we’re embracing the Gospel that Jesus preached and that’s got me energized.

So, what’s the gospel?  Here it is in the NIV.  Forget everything you know and pretend for a half hour you’re a first century Jew, living in exile in your own homeland like sheep without a shepherd and somebody whispers in your ear: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

First, don't repent of all the naughty things you've done.  Repent of what you think the Kingdom of God ought to be.  Repent of reducing the Kingdom of God to just another super power that seeks the same thing every other super power seeks.  Repent of seeing the Kingdom as a way of finally getting on top and putting someone else on the bottom for a change.

Perhaps it would be more clear if you imagined you and your family as slaves on the auction block and just before the bidding starts for your children, someone leans over and whispers in your ear: “I’m setting you all free right now to live free together forever.  Your Story is getting a new ending.”  Or maybe imagine yourself in the clinic for chemo to fight your aggressive cancer and just before they hit the button to start another round of body wrecking treatment someone leans over and whispers in your ear, “Treatment ends today with healing.  Take what I offer and your Story will have a happy ending.”  Or you might even imagine that you are all alone, orphaned and without a friend in the world and you’re just about to jump off a bridge and someone whispers in your ear, “It’s adoption day.  From now on you have a permanent home and a permanent family by whom you can be fully known and unconditionally loved.”  And if you heard all three of those whispers you’d be at just the start of what makes the gospel so great.

What Story are you in?

Cracking More Eggs: Spiritual Formation pt. 2

A key part of our foundation are the images of God and images of self we have collected like Rachel collecting the household idols of Laban before she set off with Jacob for "home".  We sit atop these images no matter how precarious or how uncomfortable.  A key refrain in educating brian has been, "we do not know what we do not know."  And so it goes with the images of God and of self as we try to keep our balance on this bumpy ride towards home.

Today Lorna gave us this:
"...we are not usually conscious in a direct way of any false image that in fact may be influencing us.  But our negative feelings...can lead us to new discoveries about the way the divine mystery in our lives is subjectively shaped and narrowed by false images.  if any progress is made in recognizing one, the power of that false image over us at once begins to weaken.  It may not disappear altogether, however, until replaced by a better image.

It is not enough to clean out false images from our spiritual cupboards.  The beautiful and true images of God revealed to us in Scripture need to be recognized, brought gladly int our hearts and given the place of honor in the heights of our spirit.

In the whole Bible...and especially in the Gospels, true images of God are expressed and given to us in a rich variety of situation, actions and interpersonal exchanges.  By growing familiar with them our hearts may be 'filled with God.'...(There is an invitation to) spend time with the Scripture passages which bring true images of God into our deepest souls."  - Prayer Companions Handbook, pp 54-55 John Wickham.

One of my false images is the "I'll serve you if you serve me" God.  I struggle with disappointment with God sometimes solely based on his inability to live up to the promises I've written up for him and signed his name to.  The "God who owes me" is not a God worth following.

Another one that I'm recovering from is the "personal Savior" God.  At the heart it's western and it feeds division.  God is not my "personal savior", he's much, much bigger than that.  And I can only understand who God really is by understanding he's Savior for the lot of us, not just me and I can't possibly begin to understand you or me until I get that right.  I've come into a Kingdom, not a Day Spa.

Any false images you'd like to toss on the pile and find yourself on a more solid foundation?  Go ahead and leave them here in the comments if you want...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wednesday Afternoon Modulation

Would you like to know how many times I have read the Gospels?


I've preached them, studied them (yes, sadly, sometimes in that order), covered them in Bible College, listened to them on tape and on mp3, listened while others preached them, watched them on video and on DVD (but not blu-ray yet) and I've seen musical theatre based on them (Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and the Cotton Patch Gospel - thanks Harry!) and I've seen them acted out in one man plays.

This afternoon, Bill Jackson was making me feel like I was discovering them again for the first time.

There is a depth to the synoptic gospels, a textured richness that is simple and profound, common and sublime, clear and mysterious.  Like David by Michelangelo or Renoir's Moulin de la Galette there is a beauty or message that anyone can appreciate and there's something even more substantial so that someone who is willing to spend an afternoon with the Gospels need not be bored and will never come to the end of discovery.

Today was filled with, "How have I missed that?" moments and "That's so cool!" thoughts.  We've launched the boat well out past the 3 points and a poem of my Bible College days and my love for the Text is greater for it.

A Tub Full Of Jello

This morning we dug in to the question that burns my soul.  Why do we seem hell-bent on destroying community wherever we find it?

To get to the bottom of this one we turned to early church fathers like Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome and Polycarp.  We've been reading their writings, some of which are the oldest Christian writings outside of the NT Canon.  Besides being fascinating, they give us a record of the early church leaders who tried desperately to maintain and promote unity and love in a way that made me picture a large man trying to bear hug a tub full of jello.

The harder they tried, the more dissolute it became.

The more we love something, the more we tend to want to build a cage for it to "keep it safe".  And yet a cage, no matter how gilded, is not that for which we've been made.  It's only the open hand that is a suitable container for community.

"If there is true Christian love in a man, let him carry out the rpecepts of Christ.  who can describe the constraining power of a love for God?  its majesty and its beauty who can adequately express?  no tongue can tell the heights to which love can uplift us.  Love binds us fast to God.  Loves casts a veil over sins innumerable   There are no limits to love's endurance, no end to its patience.  Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance.  Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship.  It was in love that all God's chosen saints were made perfect; for without love nothing is pleasing to Him.  It was in love that the Lord drew us to Himself; because of the love he bore us, our Lord Jesus Christ, at the will of God, gave His blood for us - His flesh for our flesh, His life for our lives." - Clement of Rome

A sustainable community is possible if we allow ourselves to be what we are rather than what we want everyone else to be.  Like a good marriage, we may come together for an ideal we perceive in the other but ultimately we stay together and build a marriage because we give up the illusion, empty our selves and embrace who the other really is.  Instead of insisting each should behave like Christ we learn to discover the treasure that is Christ hidden in the other.  Let our love for one another be the flexible container in which true community can grow.

"My friends ain't the way I wish they were / They are just the way they are" - Brother's Keeper, Rich Mullins

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bible Conversations

This afternoon we talked about the Quest for the historic Jesus.  Tonight we talked about the Hebrew meaning and understanding of Genesis and whether it conflicts with science.

It made me think of this example of what discussions on these topics can be like:

I can't tell you how many times I said, "Wow." today.

Have you ever been in one of those conversations where you are all using the same words but clearly not meaning the same thing?


Lorna is a deceptively small woman.

She leads our Spiritual Formation course in the module.  This time last year it was the first session with Lorna that provoked me to consider that God might be saying more to me than I wanted to hear.  It was an initial step on a journey that has led us to a new life in Raleigh.

Today she led us into an exercise that seemed simple enough.  After some simple preparation we had 20 minutes to God to be with us and guide our thoughts.  Simple.  Then we go to some point in our lives that God wants to visit with us.

"Allow God to tell you your story in a new way."

In my case, God took me back to a meeting a short time ago.  It was a good meeting.  But God drew my attention to an issue He wanted to deal with in me.  Namely, he was confronting me about my tendency, in certain situations, to hide my "I" rather than fully engage in an I/Thou experience.  He showed me that his desire was to be Aslan to my dragon-skinned Eustace and that I'm better off pink and vulnerable which can only happen after his claw has left me stripped of even my thinnest layer of self-protecting guise.

So I found myself metaphorically sprawled out on the floor after this exercise wondering how Lorna had once again been used by God to turn me upside down even though this time I knew what was coming.

This was a big morning for me.

In the midst, this song by Steve Bell was playing in my spirit.

Fashion for Me – Music and Lyric by Steve Bell
Fashion for me a desert of peace
A land that is empty of endless disease
With no one to suffer, hate or appease
With nothing to covet, desire or compete
But You alone
Grant to me Lord by Your sovereign hand
To wander forever in this boundless land
Where all of my yearnings, fears and demands
Are abandoned and lost to the great desert sands
Surrounding me

Fashion for me a desert of peace
Where Father, Son and Spirit meet
Together as one – together release me
Free from sin to enter in
To life forevermore

Fashion for us a city of love
Where the lamb and the lion together lie down
Where all of the wandering pilgrims are found
Rejoicing in song for the Saviour is crowned
As Lord and King
Grant to us Lord by your sovereign hand
A city of joy in the heart of the land
A home for the weary alien man
The fatherless children, the widow whose hands
Are tired and worn
Fashion for us a city of love
Where Father, Son and Spirit live
Together as one – together allow us
Free to take and celebrate
The life forever more
Do yourself a favour today and find a quiet spot with a cup of tea or coffee and take 20 minutes to let God tell you some part of your story in a new way.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ministry Module continues: Gospel

This afternoon we dug in to the synoptic gospels with Bill Jackson.  The challenge is starting at the beginning, before our preconceptions were formed, getting back to what the Text actually says.  That all started with acknowledging that even knowing the Text comes with certain limitations.

The first time I went to this kind of school I was taught the Text was beyond questioning.  That the first step was understanding that the Text was Other and outside of us and something we are meant to follow, not something we're meant to doubt or question.

Today we started over and the first step to discovering the depth, beauty and truth of the Text of Matthew, Mark and Luke starts with doubting everything we think we know and asking the most dangerous of all questions, the question that gets us all into the most trouble and creates some our most primitive conflicts.


And just like that, like a key slipping into the right lock, we're suddenly discovering depth, experiencing wonder, coming away from the experience more convinced of God's unique revelation in the Text rather than less.

Almost favourite moment of the afternoon: watching a fellow classmates perception suddenly give way to some reality.  Kingdom-filled but real.

Most favourite moment of the day: feeling yet more of my own perception about the gospel dissolve and give way to something more robust, something Kingdom centered, something richer.

This afternoon the Kingdom took over more of the real estate of my heart and my head.

Have you asked "Why" lately?


This morning we jumped in.  The lecture was on the “Value of Tradition”.

This morning’s big thought from our Prof Peter, “If you’re a lover of the Bible you probably know it is the history of a people who the Spirit leads out beyond the Word.”  And then we unpacked that for a couple hours which led us all to this conclusion about tradition: “Repeat without repetition.”

Connecting the dots looks like this: the Bible over and over sets up a standard and then calls us out of or beyond that standard of living.  (insert Bible verses here) Not just talking rules but a way of living.  Being Spirit led moves us on to what God is calling us to today.  What counts is knowing what to hold on to and what to let go of.  We need God’s wisdom for how to embrace the old in a healthy way and God’s courage for moving in to the new in the face of pressure to stay the same.

What Should we retain from the past?
Things that are helpful or beautiful
Remembrance of past mistakes

I love that we’ve jump right in to our first heresy in our very first session! 

Re-Education Begins!

Good morning education!  Let's pick up where we left it...

Every day is full of lessons but getting back to the classroom is a special kind of learning that bounces from humiliation (seriously? that was in that book?  that's what he meant?  how did i miss that?) to exhilaration (seriously!  that was in that book!  that's what he meant!  that changes everything!).

We flew into Boston yesterday from Raleigh.  I'm not writing in the royal third person, I had a travelling companion from Winston-Salem who is also taking this course and we shared the same flight from Raleigh.  Our 7 a.m. flight was cancelled so we sat and waited for the 11:45 a.m. flight.  I got a lot of reading done.

In Boston we connected with two women - ALSO on this Module - from California and we travelled up together by car from there.  All in all it saved us - collectively - at least $1000 doing it this way and all kinds of carbon footprints.  At the airport the car rental boss looked on us with love and pity and gave us a free upgrade so we could get our luggage AND bodies into a vehicle.  Bless the Lord!

On the drive up I learned that I had done one of the assignments completely wrong.  And so the education process started again!  One of our travelling companions shared some music with us on the way up, some songs she had written and recorded.  One line she wrote has stuck with me like a theme for this adventure.  Roughly translated it goes like this, "Beckon me in until your presence becomes my home."  That's what I want.

I'm about to leave my room - nicely prepared for me by friends who left an especially nice gift for my arrival - blessed again - and head to breakfast and round 1.  I'll keep you posted on the highs and lows so stayed tuned if you're interested.  I know I've got a lot to learn but this I know: it is an honour and privilege to take part in an SSU Master of Ministry module, especially with this group of friends.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Deep. Fresh. Free.

There are all kinds of ways to get educated these days.  Here are 3 wells that I drink from that I wanted to share with you before I leave Sunday and my brain gets turned to mush (but a tasty mush) at SSU.

I like to read reasonable people who have something to say or know some great questions to ask.  These three represent people better known as authors or academics than pastors.  I don’t read them every day but regularly.  All three are rich in content and easy to read and with which to engage (ie. they interact with their readers in the comments).  Sometimes the comments alone are well worth the read.

First up, Roger Olson.  Roger describes himself this way: “I am a Christian theologian of the evangelical Baptist persuasion.  I am also a proud Arminian!”  He is the Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University.  I love his perspective, even when I don’t agree with it.  He is a great thinker and asks honest questions.  Those who lean towards Calvin need Olson in their lives.  Those who are, like Olson, proud Arminians, need Olson to keep their hearts and minds challenged with questions about things that matter.

He covers a wide range of topics and issues.  He’s good stuff.

Second is Scot McKnight.  McKnight is one of my favourite authors – a sort of N.T. Wright for Dummies.  He’s got a load of cred to his name but here’s the short info on what he does: “Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.”  One of the things I enjoy about his blog is the very interactive comments.  You can get into some very good and meaningful discussions without flame wars.  Scot covers current events, theology, pastoral concerns and with the help of RJS, science and faith.  If you only read one of these 3, this is the one I would most highly recommend.

McKnight’s blog is called “Jesus Creed” and you can read his book by the same name.  Here’s the link.

Third is Ben Witherington III or B3.  B3 is a prolific blogger.  He shares everything from archaeological insights to movie reviews all the way to current theological studies.  B3 cuts to the core of some really essential issues and if you want a taste of seminary without the tuition, get a daily dose of B3.  Some of his basic bio info: “Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.”

B3 is another rich resource.  The comment section is a great opportunity to interact but you can find yourself in over your head on some of the more theological discussions.  Here’s the link.

If you like to think and you want to hear voices that don’t sound just like your own, check these 3 blogs out.  If you want to be challenged to go beyond the surface of belief and dig around in the substance of the why and what of your beliefs, check these 3 blogs out.  If you like to keep life simple and Sunday School was quite enough for you, you’ll want to avoid all 3.

There's a lot I still don't know but one thing I know I'm sure of is that God has created some safe wells full of fresh water.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Difference 24 Hours Can Make

24 hours ago I was facing some big questions.  “How can I leave for 2 weeks when I just got here?”  “How am I going to pay for another module?”  “How can I not be there for my daughter’s next surgery?”  “How can I possibly get all this work done by Sunday?”  Basically, it was a typical Tuesday.

I felt I had been given some pretty clear direction from God – no burning bush or anything but words, confirmation, sense of knowing in my knower.  But I was standing in front of the giant wall on my obstacle course of life and didn't see a way over it.

But once again I get by with a little help (actually a LOT of help) from my friends.  I've been encouraged and I've been undone by the kindness and wisdom of friends.  I've been the recipient of extravagant generosity.  I've been the beneficiary of wisdom that came from the throne of God from people who didn't know they were giving me answers to the questions I’d been asking God – even sometimes down to the very words or expressions they used that mirrored my own.

For all who've helped by prayer, by gift, by friendship, by words of truth, I thank you.

I'm still wrestling with feeling like a terrible dad.  As I plan to leave on Sunday, my wife and daughter are planning to travel back to PEI for my daughter’s surgery 10 days later.  Your prayers for them are welcomed and appreciated.  I have been there every time she’s gone to sleep and woken up from one of these and it’s hard to think I won’t be for this one.

And please pray that my brain will be able to absorb everything that will get stuffed in to it in the next 2 weeks.

For those interested in the process (not prawcess), I’ll be live blogging the module so tune in for daily insights and experiences starting Monday, October 15th.

There's a lot I don't know but one thing I'm learning better every day is that without friends, life sucks.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dear Readers & Friends

The next 24 hours are going to be very important for Educating Brian.

I am not defusing any bombs, saving the Country or helping a President get to safety.  But still...

If you pray I would sure appreciate those prayers.  I'll tell you the whole story later but for now if you could just say a prayer for this little endeavour (getting me educated) it would be much appreciated.