Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Challenge of Ecumenism...

I am truly grateful for the insight into the current ecumenical dialogue between Baptists and those of other Christian expressions, especially our Roman Catholic friends. A special thank you to Steve and Cameron for their generous insight into the contemporary situation, as well as the opportunity from my friend Bruce to engage in this area. As a Baptist in the most 'classic' sense, I've been concerned primarily with our own intra-denominational divide, rather than the greater divisions within Christ's universal church.

As Baptists, we are a loosely connected association, held together by only the most modest of ties: a spartan ecclesiology, simple biblicism and a tacit commitment to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. It should come as no surprise that we have splintered into so many disparate elements. It would seem that as soon as we Baptists attempt a more binding theological (read 'creedal' or 'confessiona'l) communion, we find a way to disagree over the minutiae and part company; sometimes neatly, sometimes messily, but always with great pain. In the past 40 years, the pain of separation has been felt in almost all Baptist sects - Southern Baptist, Cooperative Baptists, American Baptists, Baptist General Conference and the list goes on and on.

The result of this messy separation is not just a falling out between churches and denominational entities, but most prominently in our own children. Many of our children no longer see the point in being "Baptist." All they have known is struggle and infighting. Indeed many of my former students at Howard Payne University - most of them in fact - were not concerned about 'remaining' Baptist. There are now other churches that can meet their spiritual needs and they have no problem letting go of what they perceive as 'the futile struggle in Baptist life'. Indeed, even I was one of those at one time. But now these young men and women seek a way out or a way through. Unless Baptists find a way either to find unity or respect diversity, then our future is truly, 'post-denominational'…

A Brief, Personal Recap of Baptist Fragmentation

In my personal experience of Baptist life in Texas, Virginia, the Pacific Northwest and now the Northern Rockies, I have slowly categorized my experience of Baptists into several distinct family groups according to the following loose collaborations: Reformed, Moderate, Liberal, Fundamental and now Bapto-Catholic. What follow are some brief, quasi historical descriptions. None are intended to provoke debate or scholarly critique, but rather to elucidate the popular mindset.

Some segments of the Baptist family have sought unity within a strictly Reformed understanding of Baptist roots, stemming from the early London confessions of the seventeenth century. In the United States, this has led to an increasingly narrow Calvinistic theology of this group.

Some elements of the Baptist family have sought refuge in the modernist thought of E. Y. Mullins with its emphasis on individual and local church autonomy. This has led to what is called the 'moderate' Baptist church; a church that has defined itself over and against its more theologically rigid relatives. Of this moderate branch, there are many variations some professing the 'Calminianism' so aptly detailed by James Leo Garrett or a more Arminian Baptist position as exemplified by Roger Olson, to name a few.

The propensity to elevate individual autonomy has had further consequences though and led to an even more 'liberal' expression of Baptist life. This expression finds its expression in the rejection of fundamentalism in the 1920s as exemplified by Harry Emerson Fosdick in the north and Carlyle Marney in the south. Both of these distinguished thinkers explored the boundaries of faith and ethos, and were drawn to faith as psychological reflection and ethical action. This expression of Baptist life is highly influenced by the Social Gospel movement inaugurated by August Rauschenbusch earlier in the 20th century.

Yet another element of the Baptist church rejects both of its aforementioned cousins in favor of its own modernist theological leanings by elevating scripture, usually the King James Version, to a place of inerrant epistemological authority. This element is usually designated as 'fundamentalist' or 'primitive' Baptist. Yet others find unity in ethnicity, such as German, Swedish, African-American or Korean Baptists, for example, and their ethnic inclinations and commitments.

A recent expression of the Baptist family, coming out of the struggles of the late 20th century and related to the moderate branch of the Baptist family, is the Bapto-Catholic movement. Recovering liturgical and spiritual practices from the post-Niceaen church and seeking to create a healthy ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other ancient expressions of the church, the Bapto-Catholic movement seeks to create a renewed future for Baptists. Bypassing or ameliorating the current fixation on the Reformation as the source for Baptist life and thought, the Bapto-Catholic movement is gaining traction within a younger generation of Baptists.

A more recent Baptist expression is the "emerging, postmodern Baptist." This expression of Baptist life draws from a veritable potpourri of theological and liturgical strains, but intentionally refuses to be dominated by any one strain. Roman Catholic and Orthodox influences are readily evidenced in the worship of these churches while at the same time one can find influences of Jewish and Buddhist spiritualities layered over a distinctly Reformed theological understanding. Since the movement itself allows for infinite variations, there are really no variations.

I realize that all of these vignettes are merely reductionist caricatures and ultimately reflect my own perception, good or bad. Yet even my opinions have popular roots, and to some degree have merit.

What then is our direction? Are the Reformed, Fundamentalist, Moderate, Liberal, Bapto-Catholic and Emerging expressions our only options as Baptists? Is there another way? Prior to Vatican II (1962-1965), the World Council of Churches (b.1948), a primarily Protestant grouping of churches was the voice of ecumenism. Post-Vatican II, ecumenism became a priority of the Roman Catholic Church. Not all Roman Catholic theologians were behind this ecumenical quest; some, such as Hans Urs von Balthasar, were concerned that such a quest would be injurious to Catholicism. Ironically, it is von Balthasar's theological outlook that holds the greatest potential for creating ecumenical bridges between the various Christian expressions from the Roman Catholic side. On the Baptist side of the divide, James McClendon and Stanley Grenz stood as ecumenical standard bearers; and McClendon more so than Grenz. Yet Grenz's theology may have more promise for ecumenical engagement from the Baptist side!

The question comes back to how we understand the challenge of ecumenism. According to canon law, only the pope can call ecumenical councils. Does this mean that non-Roman expressions of the Christian faith must adhere to that dictum? Is it legitimate for denominations to engage in ecumenical discourse with other Christian expressions if itself is experiencing disunity and division? Shouldn't the ecumenical ideal begin in our own house? Some theologians have already answered these questions for themselves. Many of us either have not asked the questions, or we aren't concerned about them.

This is the challenge of ecumenism… from my perspective.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is It Time for a "another" Third Way?

The last month has been illuminating. Acquainted, but not familiar with the Baptist-Catholic ecumenical dialogue or the nuances of the Bapto-Catholic believer, I have been given a crash course in that phylum's details. 

In the midst of the conversation, it has become obvious that the late 20th century was not kind to Baptists as a whole, regardless of sectarian orientation. Whether you were Southern, American, General Association, General Conference, Cooperative, Fundamental, Free-Will, Six-Principle, Conservative, Mainstream or "fill-in-the-blank" type of Baptist, in all probability, you experienced prolonged conflict and possible schism. I have served in two Baptist denominations: American Baptist and Southern Baptist. My experience of both groups contains angry conflict and painful separation. 

As these different sub-groups search for a way through their issues some have turned to an increasingly Reformed theology, while others have sought solace in the Bapto-Catholic trajectory. For my Reformed friends, conservative Baptist life had too many loopholes. Adherence to Chicago-statement inerrancy demanded a tighter theological web to support it. Calvinism was the answer. For my Bapto-Catholic friends, moderate Baptist life and its adherence to Mullins inspired individual autonomy left a serious want for holistic community and liturgical continuity. Thus,  the Reformed trajectory seeks to build a tighter, more rigid theological wall in regards to who's in and who's out of the kingdom, while my Bapto-Catholic friends seek refuge in a tradition that goes back 1200 years before the Reformation, yet has similar exclusivity issues as it gets deeper into ecumenical dialogue (see "papal authority", "ecclesiastical infallibility" and "creedal assent").  

Is this it? Is this the fork in the road to which Baptists have arrived? Reformed, Bapto-Catholic, or a soporific middle? Of course these are rhetorical reductions, but it would seem this is where we have landed, in popular terminology.

In our quest for a "third way" two historic theological figures are worth considering: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Stanley J. Grenz. Balthasar died in 1988, a committed Roman Catholic, yet wary of the ecumenical resolutions of Vatican II and a stout defender of the Marian tradition. Nevertheless, Balthasar's dialogue with Protestant theologians, secular philosophers and secular literary figures creates a model for ecumenical engagement. Stanley Grenz, a committed Baptist, was similarly engaged in a vibrant dialogue with a wide variety of theological perspectives, while remaining committed to the unique ecclesiology of Baptist life. Considered together, Balthasar and Grenz provide clues to a third way for Baptists.

Baptists, due to their unique ecclesiology, have an opportunity not only to draw from tradition streams in the past, but to create a multitude of new trajectories. The legacy of the John Smyth-Thomas Helwys experiment is a 'new' way in and of itself. These Anglican-Separatists, influenced heavily by the Waterlander Mennonites and later by the Westminster Divines were a living experiment in cutting edge ecclesiology! The sheer malleability of the Baptist tradition does not demand a search for origins, but an exploration of theological futures. True ecumenical dialogue therefore does not result in the surrender of ecclesiological uniqueness or acquiescence to foreign theological doctrine, but rather the creation of new theo-ethical ontologies. Baptists need not surrender Bible, Soul, Church and Religious freedoms in this quest. Indeed, these freedoms, when viewed from the historic Baptist communal perspective, contribute to the continual creation of community. This is possible when the quest for community is pursued not by retrieving tradition exclusively, but in exploring the theological future. "It is for freedom that Christ set us free" (Galatians 5:1). Baptists are 'simple biblicists' - as was Hans Urs von Balthasar. Scripture is greater than the term inerrancy that has been used to capture its essence. Baptists, in recapturing the essence of scripture as "the Spirit's book" (Grenz), will experience a life-giving theology not known since our 17th century origins. This exploration of the future is not simply a hopeful dialogue, but rather an eschatologically formed understanding of reality, where the future shapes the present. 

You want the rest? See you at the BHHS meeting in June!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Baptist Ecumenism... some initial observations.

I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. (John 17:11 NASB95)

In the 'high priestly prayer' of Jesus in John 17, we find the verse most oft cited by ecumenists - those who strive for universal church unity - to appeal to the mass of Christianity to be 'one' unified body. This movement, born in the modern period - roughly 1948 with the first meeting of the World Council of Churches - had stumbled with the resurgence of Evangelicalism in the 1970s and 1980s, but has found new life in the strangest of places: the Baptist church.

Seeking to find a way through their own divisions, Baptist theologians from across North America began to explore the works of the church fathers (patristics) and the ancient creeds (Nicaea and Chalcedon primarily) in order to move beyond the rigid Reformed positions of the ultra conservative right in Baptist and Evangelical life. Theologians such as the late James Wm. McClendon (Fuller), the inimitable (and living!) Ralph Wood, Barry Harvey, D. H. Williams,(Baylor); Curtis Freeman (Duke); Steven Harmon (Gardner-Webb); Philip Thompson (Sioux Falls Seminary) and Derek Hatch (Howard Payne University) to name but a few, have seriously explored the relationship between Roman Catholic and Baptist faith. Although many interesting correlations and possible connections have been explored, this exploration has not been unanimously embraced by Baptists; indeed, many Baptists have seriously questioned the integrity and viability of such ecumenical dialogue between Christian expressions so ecclesiologically different (e.g. Bruce Gourley, Bill Underwood, Walter Shurden, et al).

In light of this divergence, what then allows an ecumenical dialogue to occur among such differing expressions of Christian faith? Does the unity of the church come by surrendering ecclesiological uniqueness? Does it come by theological accommodation? Does it come by agreement on a shared mission? Does it come through a shared sense of moral obligation and virtue? What is the goal or end of such a dialogue? What does it mean "to be one?" Does that mean "a lack of difference" or homogeneity? Is the John 17 passage enough warrant to allow for a wholesale realignment of ecclesiological expressions? These are important questions for the ecumenist to ask.

One of my favorite theological mentors has been Dr. Ralph Wood of Wake Forest and Baylor Universities. Dr. Wood has laid claim to the designation, "Bapto-Catholic" for himself. In an interview with "" Dr. Wood was asked and answered the following question:

You describe yourself as a “Bapto-Catholic” Could you elaborate?

Wood: We Protestants are woefully weak in our understanding of the sacraments as actually conveying divine grace through the corporate community of the church, rather than merely symbolizing such grace as we ourselves individually appropriate it. Hence our need to learn from Catholics that baptism and Eucharist are two of the acts that objectively make us and sustain us as Christians.

As a Baptist, my other great debt to Catholics lies in the splendid tradition that the Roman Church has built up in its long millennial existence. By engaging its various host cultures, Catholicism has produced a vital legacy of moral, literary, philosophical and theological truth. Having come into existence only in the 17th century, we Baptists have not created such a rich tradition, though in John Bunyan we have engendered at least one world-class writer. By contrast, Catholicism has produced scores, and many of them are my heroes: Dante, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walker Percy J.R.R. Tolkien, and of course Flannery O’Connor herself.

This enormously fecund tradition helps prevent Catholics from espousing a rather pathetic do-it-yourself religion, each believer determining truth for himself. In addition to the magisterium, Catholics have a veritable panoply of saints who serve as exemplars of the Christian life. Moreover, Pope John Paul II issued a series of encyclicals that provide excellent guidance not only to Catholics but also to us Baptists as well, so that we do not have to make injudicious ad hoc responses to such complex matters as euthanasia and abortion and homosexuality.

Yet some of my priest-friends complain about the horde of “Mass” Catholics who receive the sacrament faithfully every Sunday and think that they have thus discharged their Christian duty. We seek to cultivate a vital personal piety: reading Scripture daily, saying prayers regularly, making witness to others, etc. There are many Catholics for whom these things are true, of course, even as there are many Baptists for whom they are not!

A second contribution concerns the centrality of the proclaimed Word. Preaching also lies at the heart of our evangelistic life, our desire to spread the Good News to the whole world. This explains, by the way, why Flannery O’Connor was so deeply drawn to Baptist and other Protestant preachers in her native Georgia, especially the half-literate ones who announce the Word of God in uncouth but brilliantly engaging terms.

Thus have I devoted an entire chapter of my book Flannery O’Connor and the Christ- Haunted South to the excellent preachers who appear in her fiction.


I believe the questions then that I would ask Dr. Wood would be, "In terms of equitable ecumenical dialogue, how can Baptists uniquely contribute to Catholicism?" and "Why is Catholicism any different than Eastern Orthodoxy or Coptic Christianity?" Certainly, the Orthodox and Coptic traditions have as much artistic and sacramental emphasis from which Baptists can borrow as the Roman Catholic tradition. Dr. Wood, a man I continue to admire and respect, has raised more questions than given answers recently. From my initial observation, Bapto-Catholicism is not so much an ecumenical dialogue as it is a one-sided admiration for Catholic liturgical and theological sensitivities. When was the last time a Roman Catholic theologian drew from the work of E. Y. Mullins or W. T. Conner in a theological treatise? Or, for that matter, when did one draw from the work of Barry Harvey or Millard Erickson? Exactly.

The Bapto-Catholic dialogue is not a pure ecumenical conversation, if an ecumenical conversation is a dialogue with an equitable exchange of ideas tempered by a mutual respect for the other's position. It seems to be rather one sided (regardless of Dr. Wood's hopes) with the Baptists drinking stout draughts from the Catholic keg as our Roman friends look on with the stoicism of a 'Cheshire Cat'. My initial assessment is that the Bapto-Catholic dialogue is the attempt of a segment of Baptists - who have been brutally scarred by four decades of theological and political combat with Baptist assassins from the 'right' - to find meaning in faith outside their own tradition. I don't fault them one bit in this attempt. I think Dr. Wood's observations are spot on. This is not a bad idea, it is an engagement with merit - it's just not as ecumenical as my friends believe it to be.

For next time: if this is not a purely ecumenical dialogue, then what is? What would a genuine Bapto-Other dialogue look like?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Celebration of In-Between-ness

As a good Baptomatic-Methodyterian, Catholo-Protestant Christ-Follower, I tend to view the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday as the "half-time" of Holy Week. (The sheer fact that I mention the terms "Good Friday" and "Holy Week" means that I am ecumenically oriented, which places me on the "dubious" list of my purely Southern Baptist friends.) Nevertheless, I find myself on this Saturday morning wanting more from this 'half-time' respite.

A quick check of my favorite though dubious resource, "Wikipedia", draws a picture of this Saturday in dark terms. My Roman Catholic friends call this day 'Holy Saturday' or 'Black Saturday'. The chancel is stripped bear and the administration of sacraments is severely limited. Holy Communion is only given as Viaticum to the dying. Altars are covered with black. It is a grave day, a solemn day. For my Orthodox friends, a sunnier disposition is held. It is called 'Holy Saturday' or 'Great Saturday' even 'The Great Sabbath'. In the Coptic (Egyptian) church it is called 'Joyous Saturday'. It is on this day that Christ 'rests' in the tomb from His work and the day in which He, by the Spirit, performs the "Harrowing of Hades" - the descent to hell where Jesus frees the captives! Woot!

Either way you look at it, as good Postmodern Baptomatic-Methodyterian Catholo-Protestant Christ-Followers, we have some choices to make about this day. Personally, I appreciate the point my Roman Catholic friends want to make, but I choose to celebrate the day as my Orthodox brethren do, as 'Joyous Saturday'. In days of darkness, such as ours tend to be at this time, the 'Joyous Saturday' approach communicates better in a consumerist culture. Having clarified my theological preference, let me make a different statement:

We live in Holy Saturday.

As contemporary Christ-Followers, we live our lives between the cross and resurrection. Jesus gives us the example of the cross and the hope of the resurrection. We share in His sufferings in the hope of His resurrection. In this sense, we live between Black Saturday and Joyous Saturday. We live between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim. Mount Ebal being the mount of curse and Gerizim being the mount of blessing (Deuteronomy 11:29). Alan Lewis's book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday does a superb job of exploring this relationship.

How does this serve us as Christ-Followers today?

This day causes us to pause and reflect on our "In-Between-ness." As participants in the whizzy-go-fast Western, Postmodern culture of our times, we become frustrated when life doesn't produce an immediate answer to our questions or fulfill our every desire. Black Saturday reminds us of the profound sacrifice of love that Christ made on our behalf. Joyous Saturday reminds us that He has set the captives free from sin and death; and yet, both remind us that we live in the "almost, but not yet." Christ is the example and hope. We suffer with Him and yet one day will live with Him. We are forgiven and empowered, yet not quite resurrected.

If we understand this "in-between-ness" as the nature of our existence, then each and every day becomes a choice between Gerizim and Ebal. Each and every day is an opportunity to live joyously and wisely. Each and every day is a celebration of life in the midst of death.

Tomorrow, Christ-Followers around the world will proclaim the resurrection of Jesus as truth. I will be one of them. But Holy Saturday begs the question: Why wait?

Live resurrection.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

April snows bring May mows...

Well, it is Maundy Thursday and it is snowing...again. You think I would get tired of it, but not true. There is a different rhythm to life in the northern Rockies as opposed to the southern plains. I read that there were tornadoes moving through north Texas yesterday, which is typical this time of year for the southern plains. From Colorado, east to Kentucky and from Nebraska, south to the Gulf of Mexico, there is a distinct rhythm of life in the springtime. Powerful thunderstorms form across the plains, bringing life giving rain, but also powerful life stealing winds.
The northern Rockies have a different feel altogether. Spring snow tends to be wet and melts off within a day or two. This is followed by a gradual increase in temperatures over time until it snows again; but the snow becomes less and less, turning to grapple, maybe even light hail (that really doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?) and then just rain again. Although this area has seen snow in July, it usually ceases in early June. Last summer there were almost weekly, short rain showers followed by 5 or 6 days of beautiful sunshine in the 70s-80s. Very different than the rhythm of life in my native Oklahoma-Texas.

The ancient Israelites understood the rhythm of life in a way that we do not today. There were aspects of every religious festival that were connected to the agrarian rhythm of life in Palestine. Festivals coincided with various harvests and equinoxes. They were connected to the rhythm of life. Although we tend to dismiss this fact, it is nevertheless true. Why would we dismiss it? Is it because we perceive this correlation to be 'pagan' in nature or maybe 'ungodly' or 'anti-faith'?

However, if God indeed created the earth for humankind, why can we not see its cycles and rhythms as part of life as God intended? If anything, these cycles remind us of our 'createdness' and our 'stewardship' of this creation. These cycles remind us of our humble position in this creation and the need for us to fulfill our station in the plan of the creator.

This Easter, remember the life God has given to you. Remember that we are a part of this creation and have a special role to perform in it. If we are celebrating resurrection, remember that you saw resurrection first in the rising of the sun each new day. Let God remind you with the setting sun of each day that our life is hidden in Christ. Let each harvest remind you that all that we have comes from the creator and be thankful for it.

Treasure each and every moment as a gift from God.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Catherine.

My daughter Catherine was born today, 20 years ago. I cannot begin to describe, as I am sure no parent truly can, how much I love my children, but especially Catherine. Catherine was my first. She has taught me as much about myself as I have attempted to teach her about life. It has not always been easy. At first, I did not understand that, but now I do. Difficult can be good.

Today, I can say that I love my daughter more today than the day she was born. That is bitter sweet. In so many ways I look back with regret on what I didn't do - performances I didn't see, the graduation picture I don't have, the fuss I made over which college she chose. Now, I simply miss her. What I wouldn't give to get some of the moments, some of those opportunities back. But I can't. I can only be the dad I need to be for her future, which I might ad, is rosy.

I am very, very proud of Catherine. She has done well in college and is managing her life well. I don't know how much of that is my influence, but it really doesn't matter. I am still proud of her. She will always have my love as her dad. Indeed, when my time is over in this life, all that will be left to remember about Jay Smith, will be Catherine and Hannah.

Catherine, I love you, I am proud of you and I am grateful to be your father.

Happy 20th Birthday!

Lenten Reflection #2 It really is about love...

Lent is an interesting time for me. It tends to either be a regimented denial of my own cravings, where I can't wait for it to be over, and resolve into an 'Easter basket' of indulgence or, it is simply a liturgical season, like any other, where I pay homage to it's intent, yet go about my life in all of its regular patterns. This year is different.

As a pastor of a church out of the 'free church' tradition - a church formed out of the protestant reformation, intentionally disconnected from government - liturgical seasons take a back seat to 'the preaching of the Word'. Yet, the liturgical seasons to some degree still inform our practice. This is obvious when we talk about Christmas and Easter, but not so much Advent and Lent, and in my tradition, definitely not Pentecost. (Which, by the way, is too bad!) Nevertheless, Lent now has a hold on me, unlike ever before. Why is this happening? Maybe because I'm getting older; maybe because I'm paying more attention to my own spiritual formation; or, maybe because I continue to examine what exactly 'love' is in my life; maybe all of the above. Either way, Lent has got me thinking. Not just about self-denial or about my own failures (read 'sin'), but about love.

My chosen text for this Sunday (March 18, 2012) is Romans 13:8-14.

8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

In light of this singular text - not a normal text for Lent - I find a pretext for Lent being theologically rooted in love. We enter into self-denial, not driven by unwarranted or coerced obedience, but driven by love. To be driven by love is not an overbearing, burdensome denial, but a desire to honor and return the love from lover to beloved. Theologians from Walter Kasper to Stanley Grenz understand the Holy Spirit as the absolute, personal and reciprocal love between God the Father and God the Son.

In the season of Lent, our self-denial is driven by the desire to participate in the love between The Father and The Son. We enter into self-denial, driven not by some sort of ascetic principle, but out of the desire to please "the one who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). In this fashion, our self-denial helps us understand the nature of love and God's desire to enter into a love relationship with us. Good Friday-Easter then becomes the great act of love and Pentecost becomes the eruption of love into our world.

Don't allow Lent to pass you by this year. Learn more about love. Learn more about God. God loves us and desires to draw all of creation into the love relation that marks God's very being. Don't give up chocolate, sugar, coffee or fill-in-the-blank consumerist addiction for 40 days just because the priest/pastor/minister told you to do that action. Do it as an act of love for the God that loved you so much that He gave us his Son and Spirit…forever.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Poetry of Life (for Lauri)


Hot summers in Bethany
Bicycles to Ripper Park
Hearing the Ice Cream Truck miles away…
The trip to Verden
Anxious twisting
to see my cousins
The hot summers under the pecan trees
hot bread, fried okra
fascinated by the burning trash barrel…
Aunt Bea
Shay and Karen…
grain silos and railroad tracks

A trip to Tulare!
Adam, Becky, Dad and Mom…
I-40, Route 66
Albuquerque, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon
Bakersfield, Tulare
white houses, HOT streets…
trips to the small corner store
lots of swimming at the local pool
31 flavors with Shel
Pismo beach
Lauri's laugh alone
made me laugh then
and still does today.


Three children three marriages
We've lost parents
Our children are beautiful
life didn't turn out
like we thought
Whitley and Smith always
we are halfway through now
regret behind us, wisdom ahead…
Driven one way from the beginning
we can choose now
the direction of the last lap.

true life
is just beginning.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lenten Journey 1

Wednesday, February 29 • Leap Year 2012

We are now one week into the season of Lent. As a baptist Christian from the southwest, Lent took a while to catch on in my life, but it has in the last 10 years. This year, however, Lent has taken a twist for me. I am taking Matthew 16:24-25 as my cornerstone verses for this year's Lenten journey:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

This seems like an appropriate verse for Lent, traditionally a time of self-denial in preparation for the reflection and trial of Holy Week. But as I have reflected upon it, I realize that self-denial is not something one can undertake out of a sense of obedience or even out of fear, necessarily. So what is it that drives our denial of self?

I believe Jesus gives us the clue in verse 25: "for My sake"…

I believe that "for My sake" means love. It is our love for God that drives our Lenten denial. It is God's desire for us in Jesus, overflowing into our lives through his own self denial on the cross that impels us, by His love and consequently our own, to deny our renegade self, take up the cross and follow Him.

Love is the heart of Lent.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February can be the cruelest month…

First, a confession.

My dear blog-o-philes: I have been terribly remiss in not posting recently and for that, I truly apologize. The last three months have been more than difficult - they have been excruciating in the intensity of spiritual and physical struggle. It is still tough at this moment and so I ask for your prayers on my behalf. I write from a hotel room in Portland, Oregon. My back is a constant source of pain and I am just burned out. Too many things happening too fast and I am not taking care of myself as I should. Have I lost my faith? No, absolutely not. I just know that I am deep in a spiritual struggle and could use your prayers. I could name all of the 'powers' that confront me, but I don't know if I need to do that. Let it be enough that I know what's going on and need your prayers for strength, wisdom and rest.

Second, an observation.

This weekend, I am attending the second annual "Justice Conference" in Portland, OR. (See: ) Although I still have back pain, I felt The Justice Conference was an opportunity to learn and experience a bit more in the area of a rapidly developing ministry area. I admire the principal speakers (Miroslav Volf, Walter Brueggeman, Shane Claiborne, Francis Chan…) and have heard a bit about the secondary speakers. Some of my colleagues from academia are attending. So you will understand when I say that I was a bit dismayed to find that TJC has become a "destination event."

The intention is good. It seeks to make Christians, and really, people in general, aware of the nature and need for justice in our world, and, impel them to action. It does this in a number of ways. First, it has a variety of exhibitors - all of whom are attempting to 'do justice' in some field - who seek to become visible and recruit support and personnel for their mission. Second, it has a variety of speakers who address the topic of justice biblically, theologically, sociologically, psychologically, etc. These speakers are nationally known authors, pastors, academics, practitioners, etc who seek to communicate effectively about specific justice issues.

The problem is, as I see it, that once you identify and commodify a concept or thing, then package it for sale, it runs the risk of simply becoming another "product" in our consumerist society. The Justice Conference runs the risk of becoming an end in itself. Cool people plus cool music, plus cool atmosphere, plus cool exhibits, t-shirts and give away stuff all add up together to create an event that people want to which people want to continually return. But will the event itself result in the inculcation of the need to 'do justice' in its attenders? I don't know. That is yet to be seen. I hope so, but what I have experienced so far would suggest that the conference is becoming an end in itself. Only time will tell. My sense is that the conference organizers need to have more 'hands on' and 'how to' workshops and projects.

My hope is that the Justice Conference rethinks and restrategizes how it does, what it does in order to become more than the sum of its parts. Then the conference will empower people to change the world. I am grateful for the opportunities at the conference. I have been spurred to think and to imagine how we can cultivate the ability to do justice in my local context. Now to make that a reality. I look forward to next year's conference, assuming that some changes are made.

More again soon. God bless you my friends.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Appalachian Spring!

I went to sleep in 2011 and woke up in 2012. My alarm did not blare, but in soft tones, sang to me. Hugh Wolff and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra played the last 90 seconds of Aaron Copland's original Appalachian Spring. To be honest, I can't think of a better way of waking up to a new year. The first thing that came to my mind was "thank you Lord for whispering such a lovely wake-up to me!"

Isn't it interesting how God whispers words of confirmation and encouragement to us? Those 90 seconds spoke volumes to me about life, about the new year and about God. 2012 is a special year.

Happy New Year my friends.

I know it has been awhile since I have blogged, so I must share a bit about what has been going on in my life. If you are a facebook friend, then you probably know a little already, but let me summarize a bit for you here.

I have been in Bozeman, Montana for almost a full year. In two weeks it will be a full year. It has been one of the most interesting years of my life thus far. As much as I loved Howard Payne and the teaching ministry I had there, this move was the right move for a variety of reasons. I look back at my time at HPU as a time of preparation. Preparation for what was to come in Bozeman. I miss my friends and I miss my older daughter who is at HPU. I made memories at HPU that I think of often, some joyful, some painful. Nevertheless, as time gathers momentum, I see that time and its purpose in my life.

Moving to Bozeman has not been without its difficulties though. It took seven months and a lot of work to get into our house. All of the flying back and forth as well as the work on the house caused some serious back problems, for which I am now going through physical therapy and treatments through an orthopedist. The church, as people, started out well, but has been stumbling along as of late. I refuse to be discouraged though. I knew this would be a five to seven year turn-around when I came. The core group of the church is resilient and loving though and we will not only survive, but will thrive in the near future!

2012's challenges are also its blessings. Here they are:

1. Finish my thesis.

2. Faithfully lead Bridger Community (FBC, The Rock Youth Center, CSR Ministries, The Montana Centre and Montana College) to a new level of thrival!

3. See my family into a new era of beautiful living.

4. Love God more.

Let me close now with a prayer now for the new year. It is not mine, but St. Elizabeth of Dijon's prayer. Enjoy.

Much love to each of you for a happy new year.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: Prayer to the Trinity
O my God, Trinity whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring, and wholly surrendered to Your creative Action.

O my beloved Christ, crucified by love, I wish to be a bride for Your Heart; I wish to cover You with glory; I wish to love You...even unto death! But I feel my weakness, and I ask You to "clothe me with Yourself," to identify my soul with all the movements of Your Soul, to overwhelm me, to possess me, to substitute yourself for me that my life may be but a radiance of Your Life. Come into me as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior.

O Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to You, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You always and remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.

O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, "come upon me," and create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery. And You, O Father, bend lovingly over Your poor little crature; "cover her with Your shadow," seeing in her only the "Beloved in whom You are well pleased."

O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to You as Your prey. Bury Yourself in me that I may bury myself in You until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness.