The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity

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I had the privilege of writing an article for Christianity Today‘s CT Pastors imprint that was released today. There’s an excerpt below, but you can read the full article here.

Gregory the Great, so tradition tells us, was a reluctant pope. Well-educated and from a wealthy family, Gregory experienced inner tension between his longing for the contemplative life and his sense of calling toward secular responsibilities. After converting to the monastic life and transforming his house into a monastery—the happiest years of his life—Gregory often was called into service of the church in public ways, including serving as Pope Pelagius II’s legate to Constantinople. When troubles gathered around Rome, Gregory was called from his monastic life to the city to help. Soon afterward, Pope Pelagius died of the plague sweeping through Rome at that time, and Gregory was elected to succeed him. Gregory tried to refuse the office, preferring his monastic life, but once elected, he accepted his duties faithfully and worked hard to serve God in his new position. The best leaders, according to the old proverb, are reluctant leaders.

Of course, as my own story shows, reluctance is not an inherently laudable trait…[read the rest of the article here]

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 December 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

85262“John the Baptist Points to the Real Hope of Advent” – Fleming Rutledge reflects on how both Advent and John the Baptist are apparently out of touch with the cultural currents that surround Christmas. Connecting with the longing for Jesus to come as Judge, “John does not proclaim Jesus as a captivating infant smiling benevolently at groups of assorted rustics, potentates, and farm animals. Instead, he cries out, ‘He who is coming after me is mightier than I. . . . His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:11–12).” Her entire article is compelling. [Thanks to David Bier for sharing this with me.]

 

brunson22a“‘A living martyr’” – World Magazine names Andrew Brunson as their “Daniel of the year,” following accusations against him in Turkey and his recent release from imprisonment.  “Jailed in October 2016 and subsequently charged with espionage and terrorism, Andrew Brunson found himself catapulted to the center of global headlines and U.S.-Turkey relations. Norine, jailed briefly then released, never left Turkey, knowing she might not be allowed to return to support her husband. Now they were home to family and friends.”

 

Mar Mattai Monastery Iraq“The Vanishing: The plight of Christians in an age of intolerance” – Janine di Giovanni reports on something that many of us have been highlighting for the past few years: the excavation of a persecuted Christian minority from the Middle East. “The Christians here have endured invasions by Persians, Kurds, and Turks, but they have recovered after each persecution. This is, in part, their tradition: they believe in their sacred right to their land. . . . The persecution of Christians in Iraq began as early as the thirteenth century. But in recent years it has reached a tipping point, setting off a mass exodus. In 2002, when I was living in Baghdad, six months before the US invasion, there were nearly 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are between 250,000 and 300,000 left, according to Samuel Tadros, a fellow at the Hudson Institute.” You may also want to read this recent, similar statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury: “Christians on brink of extinction in Middle East, warns Archbishop of Canterbury.”

 

2013_9-16-The-Russian-Orthodox-Church“Israel expropriates almost 70 acres of Catholic Church property” – On a related topic, The Middle East Monitor reports: “Israel’s occupation authorities expropriated almost 70 acres of Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley and West Bank on Tuesday, Shehab news agency has reported. The land is owned by the Roman Catholic Church — the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem — in the villages of Bardala and Tayaseer near the West Bank city of Tubas and in the Jordan Valley respectively.” Is it for security or settlements? Either way, the church just lot its property to the state.

 

A Uyghur woman walks pass a statue of Mao Zedong in the“The Uighurs and China’s Long History of Trouble with Islam” – On a related topic, in The New York Times Review of Books, Ian Johnson offers an extended reflection on Islam in China, with particular attention to the Uighurs in northwest China. He also gives some helpful reflections on why China has struggled to accept Christianity, as well as other religions viewed as subversive.

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 11.36.26 AM“All the presidents at the Bush funeral service together recited this core prayer. Except one.” – There was a little kerfuffle in the Twitter-sphere when people noticed that President Donald Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump did not recite the Apostles Creed after the homily during George H. W. Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral. Michelle Boorstein offers an even-handed reflection on the history and significance of the Apostles Creed, and also why the Trumps did not recite it during the service. You can also read my article about why we now recite the Apostles Creed when taking communion at Eastbrook Church.

 

pexels-photo-684387“The Dominant Approach to Leadership in the Church and Why Jesus Means to Upend It”Kyuboem Lee over at Missio Alliance: “There’s a reason many pastors feel used and abused—they’ve been living as cogs in the wheels of the Church Industrial Complex (as my friends JR and Dan White say in their book, Church as Movement). What is the remedy? It’s certainly not trying harder to keep the machine going. Jesus said there is a different kingdom—and a different way of governing, or leading. A different theology of power for a different kingdom. And out of it, a different way of structuring ourselves as society or organization or community. The greatest in this society will be the servant of all.”

 

civil war“Battle Lines: Recovering the profound divisions that led to the Civil War” – Numerous people have recommended that I read Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War. I haven’t had the chance to get there yet, but a tantalizing appetizer came this past week in Gordon Wood’s in-depth review of both Delbanco’s book and Sean Wilentz’s No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding. The review sends you deep into the history of slavery in our country to some profound wrestling with what was really going on.

 

3309“Unknown John Donne manuscript discovered in Suffolk” – This might just be the English-major in me, or it might be the poetry lover in me, but I found this article about a recently discovered manuscript of John Donne’s poetry fascinating. Donne is that well-known 17th-century love poet, who eventually became an Anglican priest and metaphysical poet. “A previously unrecorded handwritten manuscript of John Donne’s poetry has been found in a box at an English country house in Suffolk. Dating back 400 years, the bound collection was kept for at least the last two centuries at Melford Hall in Suffolk.”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart

The Way of the Heart - NouwenDuring my sabbatical, I re-read a book for the fifth time. That’s not a very common occurrence for me, but Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart is that sort of book for me. As I was looking through my sabbatical journals, I found excerpts from this book over a long stretch. So, as much for me as for anyone else, I am pulling them all together here in one place. Maybe one or two will particularly impact you. If so, I’d love to hear from you about that. If not, well, there are certain books that speak to us in ways that no one else understands. Since I first read this during college, The Way of the Heart has helped an active achiever like me step into the silence and stillness with God.

Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter — the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self (26).

Ministry can be fruitful only if it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord (31).

The goal of our life is not people. It is God. Only in him shall we find the rest we seek. It is therefore to solitude that we must return, not alone, but with all those whom we embrace through our ministry (40).

As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a grace of the Holy Spirit (56).

In order to be a ministry in the Name of Jesus, our ministry must also point beyond our words to the unspeakable mystery of God (59).

The question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence (65).

Hesychia, the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world is alluring, and the demons noisy (70).

‘To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.’ – Theophan the Recluse (76).

They [the Desert Fathers and Mothers] pull us away from our intellectualizing practices, in which God becomes one of the many problems we have to address. They show us that real prayer penetrates to the marrow of our soul and leaves nothing untouched (78).

 

Henri Nouwen on Compassion

henry-nouwenHere is a quotation from Henri Nouwen that I shared in my message, “Compassion,” this past weekend:

God is a compassionate God. That is the good news brought to us in and through Jesus Christ. He is God-with-us, who finds nothing human alien and who lives in solidarity with us. He is a servant God who washes our feet and heals our wounds, and he is an obedient God who listens and responds to his divine Father with unlimited love. In fellowship with Jesus Christ, we are called to be compassionate as our Father is compassionate. In and through him, it becomes possible to be effective witnesses to God’s compassion and to be signs of hope in the midst of a despairing world.

From Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri J. M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison.

Busyness: A Love/Hate Relationship

I struggle with busyness. I hate it, yet I love it. Being busy refreshes me, but it can also suck the life out of my soul.

In my recent reading of a biography of Henri Nouwen, an amazing writer on the spiritual life who was also a professor at Yale and Harvard, I came across some words that spoke deeply to me. Nouwen was a busy man who realized that his external busyness revealed a deeper issue at play in his soul.

His biographer, Michael Ford, writes these words:Read More »

In the Name of Jesus (part three)

This is my third and final post in a series on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus. These reflections are on “Part Three: From Leading to Being Led”.

The Temptation to be Powerful
Just as Jesus was tempted by Satan to use his power to influence people for his ministry goals, so, Nouwen says, we face the temptation to do ministry in power for controlling others instead of in weakness being led by others.

The true way, according to Nouwen, is for Christian leaders to exhibit these characteristics:

  • downward mobility like Jesus toward the Cross – not upwardly mobile toward what is wrongly called ‘success’
  • willing to be ‘radically poor’ to follow Jesus into unattractive places – not caught up in the wealth and riches of this world
  • allow Christ to form their entire lives – body, mind, heart – not just intellectually following the ideas of Jesus
  • help people hear God’s voice in their real lives – not just chattering on about their own ideas

I am reminded of the prayer from The Book of Common Prayer which asks God to show us that ‘the way of Cross is the way of life.’

What sort of leaders are we? Do we lead ‘in the name of Jesus’ or in our own name?

How can we practically let Jesus lead us in his downwardly mobile, humble, poor, and God-oriented way?

In the Name of Jesus (part two)

Here are some further thoughts on Henri Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus, here delving into Part Two: From Popularity to Ministry.

Doing Ministry Together
I was deeply impacted by Nouwen’s emphasis on the fact that ministry is shared and not something in which we strive “to do something spectacular, something that could win [us] great applause” (53). How often our motivation in ministering is aimed at that wrong end: praise, attention, recognition, accolades. We are so bent on others’ opinions that we miss the true nature of ministry.

True ministry involves proclaiming the gospel together, not just standing around talking together, but trusting that “the same Lord who binds us together in love will also reveal himself to us and others as we walk together on the road” (59).

Think of that. As we engage in ministry with others, are we so together in it that we trust God to reveal himself to and through us to others?

Or are we competing with others for the praise and glory of ourselves in the eyes of other humans?

Who We Are – Who We Are Not
We need to know our identity. It is not about us, but about God.

Nouwen writes:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. (62)

If you skimmed that section, read it again.

Good.

Do we know who we are and who we are not when it comes to ministry?

This is the struggle.

This is the joy of doing our ministry in the name of Jesus.