Saturday, March 12, 2011


It is easy to get frustrated -- and despondent -- when you forget not only what you are working for, but whom. I don't mean this in the exclusively divine sense ("I work for Jesus!"), but also the human. Last year, at seminary, was one of my most fruitful years in terms of insight and joy -- I had a spiritual awakening and I also knew who I was studying for. This year I seem to have lost a bit of zest. Apart from often feeling buried in work (but that is not a new feeling), I've lost focus. This year I've been concentrating on making professorship my career. It has made me miserable. I like being a professor. I can easily see doing it for years and years (even though my post a couple of days ago might seem to argue against that). But if I am just working on getting a secure job, I'm working for the wrong reasons. In that regard, I've never been particularly ambitious: working to 'get ahead' just does not interest me.

But this week, I've been reminded of who I work for, who I study for, and who I am ambitious for: the community of saints here in Beaver Falls. Why study theology? To draw the community together to worship God and to realize His Kingdom in this place. Why make coffee? To draw us together in conviviality and fellowship. Why bake bread? Man shall not live on bread alone, but he does -- every once and awhile -- need good bread. Companion comes from the idea of eating bread together. Thinking this way energizes my living and my work and draws me into tighter union with those who are also united with the Messiah.

This is the reason that my dream -- however nascent! -- of starting a bakery here never dies. This is the reason that my hope of reestablishing the fresh water spring in our neighborhood is growing into action. God has not only called me in general, but called me here with these people and others who He will call.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The need for theological education

We had a nice Harvest Co-op meeting tonight about the development of variegated co-ops in our local community (or at least the parts I got to hear -- various duties call). One aspect of building local community that has struck me as necessary, and particularly neglected, is theological education for youth. I don't mean theoretical or philosophical/speculative theology (whether Trinitarian or over heady matters like 'free will/predestination' that our youth tend to love), but rather building wise, mature Christian men and women able to effectively join their ecclesial neighborhoods (or, in that wonderful old way of speaking, parishes). Due partly to ecclesial communities that only recognize the authority/worth of ontologically ordained members ("priests") or that relegate the eldership to bureaucratic matters, the Church produces either sycophantic yes-men or dependent moochers (obviously, these are extreme categories): Christians that either tow the party line in an obnoxious, arrogant way or those that can never seem to be freed from some besetting sin, even though they have been united with the Spirit for years, or even decades (I speak here, in both cases, from experience).

Part of the difficulty of this, at least in traditional Protestant circles, is that we have no idea what we are training our children to be. We want them to join the Eucharistic fellowship (assuming here that most are not paedo-communion sorts), but don't have any adequate means of explaining why that is important. We don't think, also, of the ecclesial of being the fundamental social category of existence: we are the Body of the risen Christ primarily, with all other categories (race, gender, nationality, job/vocation, etc.) coming out of that primary mode of being. So, we don't know how to teach our youth the importance of God's Word and the absolute claim to obedience that God makes on all of life, nor do we know why.

My proposal, then, is to reinvigorate this primary Christian education. It needs to be straight-forwardly Biblical, with an emphasis on the text as we have received (and we are supposed to be guarding) it. That is, we cannot let our students get lost in the morass of historical-critical ways of thinking (this is not, by the way, to minimize the importance of historical study of the text -- it is important, but it is not primary for developing wise citizens of God's Kingdom). Instead, the text must be allowed to stand as it is, warts and also (and what glorious, Chalcedonian warts they are!), especially since it is often the text in itself that points (and re-points, and re-points) us to God in Christ. From experience, I have seen that students are intrigued by, for example, the coat-and-goat theme of Genesis. But deeper than that (since that is largely a surface level literary facet), we see what we are supposed to do -- in the here and now -- through the text: we are to be guardians (Adam, the priests, etc.) of the Bride (Eve, Israel, the Church) for the world (east of Eden, the Gentiles, those outside the Church). The text, if read with an eye of faith that is attuned to the reading of faith seeking understanding, sees these things. Then, the Law is about -- not salvation in the limited sense of final destination -- but guarding the gifts that God has given me and requires at our hands. The Wisdom books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.) teach us how to navigate this world that God has given us and will more fully give us. And the list could go on.

Obviously, this is just a start. Wisdom as a goal (rather than sin-management) requires discipline, which requires some sort of binding authority structure. Are we willing to grant such things to our elders (and, in the image pattern of God, require it at their hands) and live by them? Are we willing to become lay-elders, training our children and the children of our neighbors, if the formal eldership is asleep at the wheel? Are we willing to submit to God in His Word, or shall we continue to have the State teach our children what it means to be citizens -- what it means to be wise administrators of what we have?

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Excitement is Gone

I've been teaching at the collegiate level for almost 5 years now. I wonder, often, about what in the world I'm doing. I was raised to believe, both by family and by the Church, that I could change the world. But what happens when the world doesn't change? What happens when you meet students that, for no apparent reason except maybe that you are scheduled to teach them at 8 in the morning, absolutely despise you? The irrationality of what I do, at these times strikes me.

I'm asking these things rhetorically, but with a certain poignancy. I know of professors, brilliant men and women who could change the world, who are burned out by the politics, the narcissism, the you-name-it of education. As a young professor who has his career yet ahead, I weep for these but also hide it in my heart. That will be me some day. I don't say 'might' because these are far better, far stronger people than myself. I'm already feeling the burn as I try to speak for wisdom over monetary comfort -- a worthwhile and futile pursuit in any age. In the end, Jesus often looks exactly like Mammon.

Here, maybe, is the danger of the Protestant rejection of the monastic economy. In trading out a life of constant worship for one of work, we declare loudly who our God is. This is not to say that work is a bad thing -- it certainly eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God -- but in our desire to demythologize 'calling and vocation' away from monastic and 'religious' orders we have not ably reenchanted the concept away from a baptized Weberian secularism. Work shall save us by giving us material comfort, high status, and a sure sign of God's blessing in our lives. We tell our students to investigate their 'worldviews' to gain a sense of deep 'calling,' which, for many, looks like the job they came into college to get. The point of cognitive dissonance is not reached until either mid-life or, possibly, post-college quarter life when the debt stacks high and the ability to be content just working for the glory of God has been sapped out by such winsome talk of 'purpose' and 'vocation.'

What we may, instead, want to start preparing students for is the necessity of being despised. For all the glamor and idealism of 'calling' I find myself being stepped on by adolescents. I see my mentors dragged through the mud casually by teens who consider themselves benefactors of the college. I also see students, told that God has a specific purpose for them, struggling -- tearfully -- to make any sense of it: for if God Himself has a purpose for me, it must involve clarity, direction, and some glory. God must be calling me to something 'special.'

Possibly would it be better to simply say that God has called you to become a mature person, a citizen of the Kingdom, doing work that just needs to be done? Do we really need to fill our heads with illusions of grandeur of how God is going to change the world through us? God changes the world through suffering -- there is the message that we don't hear. You want to be called by God? Come and die.