The “Unsuccessful” Church

By all modern measures, pills the little church would be considered a failure. It never grew past 50 in attendance. Its demographic was always heavy on the seniors, ambulance with only a handful of people under the age of 25. For twenty years the church gathered in a rented facility, a youth centre, and all of the church’s belongings, from the pulpit, to the collapsible communion table, to the hymnals and coffee supplies, fit snugly into a tiny closet. (People used to joke that the little church would be ahead of the game if Christians became a persecuted minority in Canada because it could be packed up in less than fifteen minutes) In the last decade, the church began to die, literally. Every year at least one member went to be with Jesus. With the majority of the members being retired and on fixed incomes, the church operated on a lean budget. As the congregation shrank, the pastor offered to drop down to part-time status to help on expenses. More than one person asked the pastor why he kept ministering there; it wasn’t like he was making a ton of money as a full-time pastor, and now as a part-time pastor he was making bread-crumbs. His response, every time, was so long as people kept showing up, he would continue to pastor. This was a pastor that took joy in ministering to seniors, and in the ever-increasing race for “families and young people” more and more churches were neglecting their elders. This pastor wouldn’t do that to them. Seniors needed pastoral care just as much as young families.

The church was eventually dissolved. 20 years of ministry and it died. It was merged with another tiny congregation.

“Unsuccessful.” Or was it?

It was the church that I was discipled in. While I was saved through a large Pentecostal youth ministry, it was this tiny, dying church that took me under its wing and helped me grow in the faith. The pastor’s wife picked me up from home every Sunday morning, and drove me to church. I learned about being a Christian, and a woman, and a servant during those car rides. I didn’t say much, but I just listened as the pastor’s wife ministered to me through the stories of her life experiences. I learned about serving by helping to set up the rows of chairs every morning, by placing a hymnal and bible on each chair, by helping to put everything away at the end of the service. I learned about suffering and struggle as I prayed with members who were suffering from cancer, dementia, or the loss of a spouse. I learned about joy as I shared in the celebrations of 50th wedding anniversaries, birth announcements of grandbabies and great-grandbabies. It was in this church that I was baptized. It was in this church that I got to cut my teeth on leading worship and preaching. It was by this pastor that I was married, and that my first child was dedicated to Jesus.

The church may be gone, and church growth experts would say that it was an “unsuccessful” church, but they would be wrong. It’s not about numbers.

It’s about proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.

It’s about faithfulness.

It’s about service.

It’s about obedience.

It’s about caring for one another and discipling each other.

It’s about changing lives.

And that’s what this church did. It changed the lives of seniors who would have otherwise been forgotten by larger churches. And it changed my life. I learned about the long road of the life of faith, a life that is marked not by successive mountaintop experiences, but by the slow and steady walk of decades of faithful discipleship.

 

An Exercise in Self-Control

snoopyAfter my semester of chaos I was ready for a break. My plan was to take January off.

No working on my final thesis proposal.

Lots of time to read for fun.

Even some time to play a bit of World of Warcraft (which I actually found to be very, sovaldi very boring. How weird is that?)

Other than my internship, I didn’t do a lick of school work. While it wasn’t in the original plan, even my blogging took a bit of a sabbatical. A few “hot topics” were buzzing in the blogosphere, and I didn’t blog about them even though I had ideas for posts.

Nope. I rested.

And yet, about halfway through my sabbatical, I was tempted more than once to pick up my thesis proposal.

I have ideas! I am refreshed! I should start this!

No Amanda, you said you were taking the month off, I would tell myself, as I put the thesis notes back on the shelf.

I made it through the sabbatical and kept the original boundaries the entire time and for a student-aholic that is a huge exercise in self-control.

I’m glad that I didn’t pick up my thesis proposal early. I enjoyed the quiet. And now that the quiet is over, I know that the next year will be anything but quiet. Between my internship, thesi,s and life in general, this year will be busy-busy. But when things get chaotic I can look back at my sabbatical and remember how restful it was, and that whether I’m in a season of busyness or rest I have so much to be thankful for.

It helped that I wrote a paper last semester on the theology of rest. It allowed me to think through why we rest, and because of that, I was able to enjoy my rest deeply. On Valentines’ Day I will be giving a lecture in a college class on the practice of rest. I hope to share with them this idea: Rest can and should be seen sacramentally – we rest not primarily because we are commanded to rest, or because it is good for us; instead we rest because God rested first and he invites us to join with Him in the rest that only He can offer.

There’s lots of exciting stuff coming up on the blog this month: stay tuned for a post on theological reflections on the move towards MOOCs in online education, a review of a book by NT Wright, some thoughts on the difference between guilt and shame, and a essay on Paul’s embrace of OT Law for the Church regarding sexual ethics.

Life of A Grad Student

Last night I finished my last major paper for my last class of my seminary degree. Save for a few loose ends that need to be dealt with this week, cialis I am basically done all of my classes. Next week, I start my internship, and in February I start work on my thesis. Wahoo! I’m on track to graduate in 2014.

So as I was printing off a copy of my paper to do one final round of edits (I am the queen of comma issues), I found the following video in my Twitter feed. Yup. It pretty much sums up the experience of a grad student, be it at a Masters’ or PhD level.

2012 — A Busy Year Both on the Blog and In Real Life

Hello my friends. I hope you all had a blessed Merry Christmas. We had a delightfully quiet Christmas with lots of food (and chocolate) and much-needed quality “just hanging out” time. It was a geeky Christmas in terms of presents.

Not only did The Doctor visit and bring the dvd set of first season of Doctor Who with David Tennant, for sale AND the 50th anniversary Dr. Who Monopoly, but we also got the Settlers of Catan expansion Cities and Knights. Chuck and I have been trying it out, and it’s going to make our Tuesday Settlers date nights very very interesting.

I can’t believe how quickly this year has flown by. It was a very busy year. On the seminary front, I took 8 classes between January and December (Greek, Theology of Forgiveness, Reformation Era, Patristics, Christology, Spiritual Formation, Research Methods, and Pauline Epistles). I have now completed all of the classes for my degree and am gearing up to start my thesis in February, as well as do my internship by helping out in a college-level class for the semester.

Things were also quite busy on the blog. The blog has reached the magical 100,000 hits in a little over 2 years which was awesome. Thank you so much to my readers, and to those who shared posts through Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and other blogs. And, in September the blog moved from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress.org format. (A big shout-out to Nick who helped me get it all set up).

I think this year had some of my favourite blog posts.

I did a series on Women in the Reformation, looking specifically at Invectives and Insults that leading Protestant women faced for their attempts to proclaim the Gospel:

In light of this new egalitarian theology, women from a variety of backgrounds found a voice and entered into the action of proclaiming the Gospel and wrestling with the new theology of justification by faith. As Daniel Frankforter notes, at the advent of the Reformation, “many women comprehended immediately what it was about, embraced its faith, preached its message and encouraged its leaders.” Unfortunately, the response from the leaders of the Reformation to these women actively participating in preaching and teaching was not entirely positive. More often than not, the women who chose to write, preach and teach were met with invectives, attempts to expunge their writings, and silence.

I did a tongue-in-cheek exhortation on why Christians should never read the Patristic Fathers:

10. They’re boring. They don’t talk about anything interesting. Ever. And they are polite and never ever disagree with each other.

9. People were baptized naked. Yup. Naked. Oh my victorian/evangelical sensibilities!

8. What do you mean there were women in leadership in the early church? Church Mothers? Desert Mothers? Everyone knows that the only biblical model for women is to be at home in high heels and have supper in the oven…

Speaking of tongue-in-cheek humourous posts, I also did a very loose interpretation and reimagining of Proverbs 31, In Praise of the Geeky Wife:

A wife of geeky character who can find? She is worth far more than gold-pressed latinum.

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks no season of Doctor Who.

She brings him buffs, not de-buffs, all the days of her life.

She grinds mats and rep and works with eager hands.

She is like Cyrano Jones, bringing her tribbles from afar…

I wrote about how Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Merida from Brave are illustrations of young evangelicals:

I guess what it comes down to is this: I wish there was a little more humility; a little more listening. I get the disenfranchisement of the young people in the church today, I really do. I am of that generation. I think the difference is that I didn’t grow up in the Church, so I didn’t have my rebel moment. I came into the Church at the age of 16 with my eyes somewhat open to what I was choosing. It was (through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit) my choice to respond to the gracious gift of Jesus; it wasn’t forced on me (“you have to be a Christian because that is what this family does”). Add to that, I have spent a lot of time reading Church history, listening to the elders who have gone before, and sitting under their wisdom. It has changed me. It has softened me. It has made me (somewhat) more patient with the foibles and frustrations of a Church that is made up of imperfect humans.

I wrote one post on the Biblical Womanhood hoopla that arose in the blogosphere after Rachel Held Evans’ newest book came out:

For 17 years I have struggled through the minefield of messages and advice, trying to be an obedient disciple of Jesus. And yet, I have also learned that much of the “advice” that is given out by well-meaning lay leaders in the church is loaded with spiritual guilt and peer pressure. Not only is there a desire to be a faithful servant, but there is a social need to fit in. And when those pressures are combined with “biblical” wisdom, it becomes a power cocktail of stress and anxiety, one that leads to a salvation by works rather than a salvation by faith, as women try their best to live up to the expectations.

I introduced y’all to some of my favourite female theologians, and Chuck talked about how to be a smart consumer of the academic literature that focuses on the complementarian-egalitarian gender debate:

First, there is a difference between “gender differences” and “inherent gender differences.” Gender differences (and that includes personality differences) are often substantial, but are the product of both biological and social factors. So finding larger differences than previous studies found does not lock us into the interpretation that these differences are all about God’s design. Also, the CBMW author rails against secular academics who are trying to prove that gender differences are “negligible, circumstantial and not a part of design,” but ignores the fact that the study (which I’m guessing he didn’t read) is about a conflict between academics who expect gender differences to be small and other academics (mostly evolutionary psychologists) who expect them to be large…Pointing to a poorly written study in a poor-quality journal and using it to “prove” an organization’s position actually serves to undercut the credibility of said organization.

On the sci-fi front, I wrote about the theme of apocalypse and the nature of humanity as portrayed in the Whedon-verse and Doctor Who and compared it to a Christian theological understanding:

Indeed, and here is the biggest difference, the Christian apocalypse is primarily redemptive. The Christian apocalypse is not about utter and total destruction. The earth and humanity will not be left in ruin, where the survivors are left alone to somehow bravely rebuild their lives. True there will be judgment (and violence). But even that judgment is redemptive.

So once again I want to say thank you to all of you out there. Some people think that blogging is an impersonal and isolating endeavour, but I have made new friends and even met some of you in real life as a result of the community that has been formed through the blogosphere.

May you all have a restful Christmas holiday. And I look forward to all the conversations that will happen in the blogosphere in 2013.

~Amanda

 

 

 

The Best Reflection on the Newtown Tragedy I’ve Found So Far

I haven’t said much on the blog about what happened on Friday in Connecticut. Part of it was because I didn’t have words. Part of it was because I was waiting for the dust to settle a bit, viagra which turned out to be a good move given how much misinformation was reported by the media in the first 24-48 hours after the incident. And part of it was because I didn’t want to jump on the “must say something profound” bandwagon.

And so, I’m still not going to say much, but instead point y’all to the best reflection on the tragedy I have found so far. Tim Perry is a Canadian Christian Blogger, and an Anglican. His post, “Where Was God?” and Other Wrong Questions is theologically profound, biblically solid, and thoroughly pastoral.

…The murder of 27 people, 20 of them children under 10 is evil. Beyond that it was an event of horrific evil, I have nothing really to say about it. And in my silence, I hope I am emulating the one thing that Job’s friends did well–stayed quiet. They got in trouble when they opened their mouths.

 

So, with and for the victims, I will stay silent.

 

I do want to offer some thoughts on what I think are some of the wrong questions now being asked.

 

The first wrong question is the religious question: “Where was God?” Were the question left hanging, followed only by the same silence that followed our Lord’s last cry on Good Friday, it would be a fine question. But far too often, it’s not. The question is a mere preamble to the answer. Thus far, I have read only two. In short, one says, God was absent. Having scrubbed God from the public life of America, or North America, or the West (take your pick), we are now left to live with the consequences of our “cleanliness.” God has indeed left and we are left to live with godlessness. I confess to holding this answer in some regard even if it is stupidly and insensitively presented by many. It does conform to the message of many of the Old Testament prophets, not to mention Jesus and St. Paul. A message that boils down to, “the consequence of sin is more sin.” But it is the wrong question and wrong answer for this time.

 

A second wrong answer to this wrong question affirms just the opposite conclusion as the first: God was present through it all–weeping, perhaps consoling, hastening a departure for heaven. This answer is often given as a response to the more unkind versions of the first answer. And while it does tug at my emotions, I find it wanting, not least because of the emotional response it evokes in me. After the initial pull of sentimentality subsides, I have anger. Were I ever to be in a similar situation, and I pray I never am, I would hope that I have the same courage as the principal and other teachers who died intervening to stop the gunman and to save children. To stand by and cry while observing such a massacre is the definition of cowardice. Not divine love.

 

Further, it seems to me both answers are wrong because, at the end of the day, they are not actually about God and God’s need to be justified in the face of evil.  (Did God ever say he needed us to defend him in this way?) They are wrong because their principal function is to help us reconstruct, at whatever cost to the parents and grandparents of the dead, our own sense of safety. “God is off in his corner. I’m with God and you’re not.” That’s the underbelly of the first answer. “I’m with God. I’ll cry from the sidelines and do nothing, too.” That’s the underbelly of the second. Either way, the answers serve to comfort us by reminding us that we are not the ones who are suffering. That we are somehow different. That we will (hopefully) remain safe from such events happening to us…

 

So, is there a right question to be asking? It seems to me that there is. It is the question that drives Psalm 80–the Psalm for this Sunday’s lectionary: “How long, Lord God Almighty,will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” To sit with those who are grieving does indeed involve silence. But not simply silence. There are questions to be asked. But not questions about God, or guns, or mental illness. Rather, the question is to be directed to God. The Psalmist is not afraid to ask–How long O Lord? He goes on to say that his people have eaten enough bread soaked with tears. He tells God it’s time for him to turn his face again to his people and deliver them. He is not afraid to talk to God…

I’ve quoted just a couple of excerpts, so go and read the whole thing here.

What is Your Rule of Life?

We all have one. Even if we don’t call it a “rule” we all have an ethos and a pattern that shapes our day. Now of course there are formal “rules” like Benedict’s rule for his monastic order, click which had specific rules and expectations for its members, cialis and while these rules may seem legalistic and harsh (e.g., at least two references to the use and benefit of corporal punishment), they are not designed to be punitive, but are instead meant to be tools to assist the community to conform and be transformed to Christ’s image.

It’s our pattern or structure to how we live life. It is our boundaries for what we do and don’t do, and sometimes even includes measures for if we fail to do what we should. It can include practical things like, when do you read Scripture or do devotions? Do you do it in the morning or in the evening? Do you follow a specific “how to read the Bible in a year” program? Do you follow the Daily Office? When and how do you pray? Do you pray in the morning before you start your day? Do you go somewhere specific to pray or do you pray as you go about doing the dishes? What activities do you do in the life of the church? Do you attend a bible study or a small group? Do you gather with others to intercede for the people in your church? Do you regularly go to church? How do you participate in the corporate worship? How do you participate in the Great Commission of Christ? Do you engage in evangelism, support missionaries or go on mission trips? Do you regularly tithe? Do you practice fasting and how often?

The purpose in specifically thinking about our rule of life is to not only identify gaps but also to consider how what we do (or don’t do) shapes what our beliefs, our character and our identity as disciples of Jesus. It’s not about being legalistic, as if doing these works will save us or justify us before God. Instead, doing these patterns or rhythms are a way to respond to the saving work of Christ, to participate in the work and task He has called us to, and to testify to the power of the Holy Spirit who works in and through our lives.

Now saying all of that, I need to be honest. I wish I could say that I currently have a rule of life. But this semester is one in which I am operating in survival-mode only. My only rule at the moment is to survive until Christmas and to go to church every Sunday. But I know that this semester is only a season. In fact, up until this year I had a rule of life (even though it wasn’t called that), or a structure and rhythm to my spiritual growth. It will need to be tweaked as I enter the new year and a new season. It will not be survival-mode, because I know that I need and thrive under structure rather than chaos.

As I try to articulate my rule of life for the new year, the question that needs to be answered is, “how will I balance family, school, life, my family’s walk with God, and my own personal walk with God?”

Currently, at the dinner table, we adapt the BAS Evening Prayer to create a time of family devotion. The rhythm of that mirrors the rhythm of Sunday worship, and it has helped my three-year old to understand what happens at church. Every evening as we sing the Lord’s Prayer, the three-year old announces, “I sing that song at ‘talk to Jesus!” Come the new year, I would like to begin to incorporate the BAS morning prayer into my routine as a way to start my day. It will probably only be on days that I’m working in the library, and I hope to make it the first thing I do before I turn on my laptop and begin answering emails or working on schoolwork. One of the things that I am missing and need to find a way to better incorporate into a rule of life, is finding a way to carve out space to listen to and to sing worship music. Before moving to Saskatchewan I used to sit at the piano and play through worship songs for about half an hour every day (part of this was because I had been serving as a worship pastor). Since moving here I haven’t touched my piano except to dust it (and even that doesn’t happen as often as it should). That emotional-expressive component of my spiritual life has taken a back seat to the more cognitive, word/study based component of my spiritual life.

As for church life, I am and hope to continue to be active in the ministry role of “crucifer/server.” As well, I will continue to be on the list of “readers” who read the appointed Scripture passages as assigned. At the moment, those two activities keep me busy enough in the life of St. Aidan. One of the things that is profoundly shaping my spiritual development is the fact that we take communion weekly at St. Aidan. I still haven’t been able to find the words to articulate how exactly it is shaping me, but the rhythm of gathering with my family at the front and taking communion together has become important. So much so, that in the brief times when communion is not served (e.g., when we celebrate Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist), my soul feels hungry and even a little bit restless.

In my time at seminary, there have been three components that have been vital to my spiritual development. First, taking classes in a modular format is a great way for me to devote significant time in a focused way to learning about Jesus. There is something powerful about sitting in a classroom with others who are just as eager to learn. The bonds that develop in the intensity of a week-long class help to profoundly shape not only my “cognitive” knowledge of Christ, but also my “experiential” knowledge of Christ. Second, one of the first opportunities I had to plug into life in Caronport was joining the Karl Barth reading group. This group of students, pastors and laypeople meets Friday mornings to discuss short passages of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It is also a time for prayer and a brief reflection on Scripture. While I have had to step away from this group this semester, my plan is to resume participation in January when my schedule becomes a little more flexible. Third, the St. Aidan cohort at Briercrest has been an amazing blessing. The mini-community of Anglicans at Briercrest is in some ways almost a small group or cell group. The ability to meet for coffee with one or more St. Aidanite, or even just to encourage one another in passing has been a source of grace.

While not directly related to spiritual growth, one of the things that I have been working on this semester, and hopefully will continue through the year is carving out specific time for my husband and I to have “us” time. This may mean going on a date, or just hanging out, but it is regular, weekly time for us to spend time together without the distractions of the kids or work or school. Thankfully, college students are able to fulfill their service learning requirements by doing free babysitting, and we have begun to take advantage of that by having regular Tuesday night dates. It is a time not only for us to rest, but also for us to edify and encourage each other in our vocational calls, and to even sometimes dream together about our future hopes and plans. (Or, to not do any of that but instead to just focus on how to slaughter the other person in a cut-throat game of Settlers of Catan!)

When Google Knows You Too Well

 

A promotional poster for Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men (film)
Of Gods and Men (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The professor that I will be interning under next semester is wanting to incorporate the movie “Of Gods and Men” into his course material as an example of living the cruciform life. Having not seen it, ask I turned to Google. Ah Google. In this case it knows me too well. When I googled “Of Gods and Men” the first offering it gave me was “Star Trek: Of Gods and Men” the 2006 mini-series that was directed by Tim Russ (Tuvok) and starred an abundance of Star Trek alum, case and not the 2010 French film about trappist monks in Algeria. Hmm. I wonder if there is a way to  incorporate Star Trek into my internship. Oh let me count the ways!

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Life of a Grad Student

I sat through the last class of my program this week. Granted I still have mountains of post-course work to do for the three classes I did this semester, ampoule but I’m done sitting in class. Come January, cheap I should be starting my thesis.

This class, treat Pauline Epistles, was a huge blessing. Not only was it academic and challenging, it was also an amazing opportunity for God to work. It felt wonderful to break out in prayer throughout class to give praise to God as a way to give thanks for what we were learning. The professor showed us her heart and hunger for Jesus and demonstrated great pastoral care for each of the students.

It was exactly what a seminary class should be: wholistic; not just about “head knowledge” but about the formation of the whole person. We were shaped, and ministered to, and challenged by the Word and by the Spirit.

I’ve spent the last two days with a “mod” hangover. It’s the hangover that is inevitable after sitting in an academic class for a week. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep, and given the weather (mega-snow), it’s been a perfect weekend to stay holed-up at home in my jammies. Now as the hangover clears, I find myself finally being able to rejoice in this milestone. I’m almost done my degree. By this time next year I should be finishing my thesis and gearing up for graduating. It feels good.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying and encouraging me on this journey. Doing these classes has been blessing and I am thankful for all the professors and students who I have had the privilege to study with.

Now to tackle the mountain of post-course homework. Thesis, here I come!

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Few More Canadian Christian Blogs

Be sure to check out Andrew Rozalowsky’s blog. Andrew is at McMaster Divinity in Hamilton, illness Ontario.

And take a peek at Emerging-Anabaptist by Ryan Robinson. Ryan lives in Toronto, view Ontario.

The ever-growing list of Canadian Christian Blogs can be found here.