September 4, 2012
I spent the last week in Portland, Oregon beginning work on my Doctorate of Ministry through George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I thought, after graduating seminary last May, I would take a break so I could get down to the “nuts and bolts” of ministry. Instead of worrying about parishioners, outreach and classwork, I would be able to focus on the two I thought most important: parishioners and outreach.
Well, it seems that God’s plans and providence work out a bit differently. First, I was brought into the crisp, sharp reality this program is about the “nuts and bolts” of ministry. Second, it showed me the direction I often line out for myself, while similar to God’s direction, isn’t exactly the same. It’s a bit like a snapshot…I see the picture and it looks really nice and then someone comes up to me with a picture of the same scene from a different angle and it looks so much better.
This is what God is doing through this program. For so long, I’ve understood the power of story and symbols. So much so that I’ve come to appreciate not having grown up in church. Instead of being infected with years of Bible drills where individual verses were memorized, I grew up with a life of stories. Stories shared with me by my parents which were a bit of family history, a touch of laughter, and a hint of music. So, when I came to faith in my early twenties, I read the Bible as a book of stories. Reading it this way was (and remains) a powerfully transforming experience.
Rather quickly, however, I was brought into the world of doctrine and dogma. The problem this caused was the tradition in which I came to faith in often didn’t tie its doctrines into the history of faith. These doctrines and dogma weren’t really connected to any story but were presented as propositions one must believe and communicate. Something inside me enjoyed these propositions but a bit of the story began to die. The rich tapestry of Scripture was being eaten away as I was taught to seek out doctrine instead of unraveling the interplay of the story found woven throughout the text.
It took me a number of years before I was able to come back to the beauty of the story. NT Wright, an Anglican minister, wrote a number of books that helped me along this path but I must say that the seminary I attended was also helpful as I had teachers who were able to emphasize the power of the story and its relationship to the whole. (A caveat…many teachers emphasized the role of the story within a specific book of the Bible but I have been quite fortunate to meet interesting people who have been able to help me see the Bible as a book with many stories working together to make a whole. This book truly is greater than the sum of its parts.)
So, here I am: Stepping out on faith, wondering where the finances to pay for this program will come from because I want to tell this grand story so much better. In fact, I don’t want to just tell the story better but I want to visualize the future of this story for it to make an impact in the present. I want to tell this old, old, Jesus story in fresh futuristic ways. I believe Dr. Leonard Sweet will help me along the way. He is the professor who will conduct our onsite intensives throughout the duration of this program as well as someone I’ve come to know over the last few years. He earned my respect through his heartfelt desire to gaze into what we often see as the dark abyss of the future and find its hidden light. In doing so, he is helping us shine the light of the Jesus story along our inevitable journey toward the future.
So, I must be willing to cast my gaze forward and find new ways to tell the story. This future may seem dark and foreboding but if we look really hard we will see a twinkle of light; and if we stretch out our arms we may be able to grasp this light and bring it into God’s present.
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