Archive for July, 2014

How Can God be Real when there are so many Bad Seeds?

Posted in Homilies with tags , on July 20, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Shay is a friend of mine.  I met him one January day in California.  I had daytripped with my family to Mt. Pinos, the tallest mountain in Ventura County at 8,847 feet, for a bit of fun: sledding, building a snowman, maybe having a snowball fight, picnicking, and otherwise romping around on the snow for several hours.

So there we were: Holly, the four girls, and I—Emily, now 13, was two years old, to give you a point of reference; and she could lie down completely inside the snow saucer—so cute!  I just had to get a family picture.

We had a decent enough camera with us—this was long before phones had cameras.  But it had no timer feature.  So I looked around for someone to take our picture.

And there!  Yes, fifty feet to my right, I spied a youngish dad talking excitedly to his young son.  “That’s the guy,” I told myself.

Now, I said he was talking excitedly to his son.  And well he should have been; for they’d just sledded down perhaps the biggest and fastest run on the mountain.  But as I approached him, I realized he wasn’t speaking in English.

So I began going through my mental catalog of languages.  Spanish?  No.  French maybe?  No, too guttural.  German?  No way.  I’d taken a couple years of that in college.  Yet this language was somehow familiar.  What was it?  I’d studied a little Hebrew and Greek.  Could it be?

Then it struck me.  Hebrew is spoken in today’s world.  Were this man and his son actually speaking to each other in Hebrew?  Were they actually from Israel?

“Hello,” I said.  “I was wondering if you could take a picture of me and my family?”

Then the man said, in very good English, “Sure, love to.  But would you take a picture of me and my family too?”

“Yes,” I answered.  “By the way, is that Hebrew I heard you speaking to your son?”

With a surprised look he said, “Why, yes!  How in the world did you know?”

Then I pulled out a trick from my languages bag: I’d once memorized Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew.  Want to hear it?  (Bereshith. . . .)

He nodded, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.  Wow!  I’m impressed.”

And from that moment we were fast friends.

We introduced ourselves—Shay, his wife Yael, and their two young boys, Zohar and Carmel.  And we took pictures, shared picnic baskets, and played together, our two families, for the rest of the afternoon.

We saw Shay and his family several times over the next year or so.  We ate dinner in their home at Yom Kippur; they came to our church the day all four girls were baptized.  Talking about spiritual matters with Shay came naturally.

His backstory is one of growing up in Israel.  As you probably know, this is a politically volatile place!  As children, Shay and Yael commonly encountered soldiers on the streets, right out in the open public, with machine guns strapped over their shoulders.  As they got older, both Shay and Yael spent mandatory time in Israel’s army.  Yes, mandatory!  And if my memory serves, that’s in fact where they met—in Israel’s army.

That done, Shay completed college and went on to earn an MBA from the University of Tel Aviv by the time he was 28.  He then married Yael and began his career and a family.  Some years later he had the opportunity to work in the United States, in San Diego.

Yael was absolutely thrilled.  “A place of no violence,” she exclaimed, “no wars, no threats to us and our children!”

So, that settled, they packed up all their things and moved to San Diego.  They arrived, by the way, on Sept. 1, 2001.

No violence.  No wars.  No threats to us and our children.

Ten days later we all know what happened!  Terrorism attacked our shores.

For Shay and Yael (as for us), this was a huge blow.  But to make matters more complicated, Shay’s boss was on Flight 11, one of the planes that crashed into the towers.  And in this context, Shay, at 38 years old, found himself suddenly promoted to interim CFO of a successful international company.

That’s his context.  So I found myself very sympathetic to his worldview when one day he told me his perspective on the big picture.

“I am a Jew,” he explained, “but only in practice, not in actual belief.  I want my children to know their heritage.  So, yes, we celebrate Yom Kippur, the Passover, Hanukkah, and the other important holidays.  These are the festivals of my people.  And I want to believe in God.  But how can I when so many bad things have happened to my people throughout history?”

That’s his question: if God is real, why is there so much evil in the world?

And it’s a good—albeit very difficult—question.

Now I’m not even going to try to attempt to answer this question today.  Biblical scholars with much more theological muscle than mine have been trying to answer this question for more than a millennium.  Unsuccessfully too, I might add.

Yet today’s Gospel—this parable about the wheat and tares—gives us some insight into this difficult question—and some lessons to draw from it.

First, God knows our struggles.

The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like a field in which good seed has been sown; but also, it is assumed, a considerable amount of bad seed has been sown too—while no one was looking.  An enemy did this, but he was stealthy about it, and thus no one realized it until much later.  But the point is, it’s obviously here, now, in the present manifestation of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus never said that following him would be easy.  This was a sort of modern American evangelical myth of the 1990s, or at least it was for me.  “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” I was told.  But how can you say that a family member suffering through cancer is a wonderful plan for anyone’s life?  There is suffering, hardship, and downright evil in this world.  It’s obvious!

But guess what.  It’s not only obvious to us; it’s obvious to God too.  Jesus knows our struggles.  That’s part of why he teaches this parable in the first place.  Draw strength and encouragement from him.

A second insight: there’s no room for spiritual judgment.

We like to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, don’t we?  From early childhood we are encouraged to have a pride of place—whether it’s for a home team, a home state, a home nation, or a home political party.  We have our people; they have theirs.  And anyone who’s not on my team, well, they’re less than respectable.

But not so according to this parable!  The bad seeds are indistinguishable from the good, Jesus says, until they bear grain.  Did you catch it?  No one noticed the weeds, not even the master, until they bore grain!

In the kingdom of heaven today—or, to bring it really close to home, right here in church—good and bad exist together in a sort of harmony.  We’re all familiar with stories of the so-called diamond in the rough, right?  Or, to use today’s metaphor, the kid everyone thought to be a bad seed turns out in the end to be a good seed.  This leaves no room for any sort of spiritual judgment on our parts, as if to say, “Man, that guy!  Don’t know what in the world’s wrong with him!  I mean, why does he even come to church in the first place?”

We’ve all done it.  We’ve all had our judgmental thoughts.  But whatever it takes, stop yourself from doing it again!  Just don’t go there.

And a third insight: the good is right there with the bad.

“Why doesn’t God just do something?” we want to ask.  Right?  We hear about problems in the Middle East, or terrorism on our home soil, or about a friend diagnosed with stage four colon cancer—or about a passenger plane shot down as it flew over eastern Europe!  And we want to say, “Enough already, God.  Do something!  Stop this evil!”

The thing is—and it’s not easy to see it—God is already doing something.  The good seeds are right there with the bad.  Their impact is strong and solid.  But, as the parable itself says, if God were to pull up the evil, the good would be uprooted too, right along with it.  And none of us wants that!

We cannot know the innerworkings of God’s grand design.  That’s impossible!  But we can believe that God is what the Bible says—loving, omnipresent, all-knowing, and all-powerful.  Don’t lose sight of the good!

So: we’ve looked at a very difficult question today: if God is real, why is there evil?  And while there is no easy answer, we’ve gained some insights:

  • Trust God: know that he has not abandoned you.
  • Don’t be quick to judge others: God is helping them through their difficulties, just as he helps you through yours.
  • And, on the flipside, strengthen others: God has put the good seeds right alongside the bad; be that good seed to everyone around you.

Ask Me How I Really Feel

Posted in Reflection with tags , , on July 19, 2014 by timtrue

Gloucester Cathedral

So my bride of nearly twenty-one years is off on an adventure to England, singing with a choir for the next week in this cathedral (Gloucester).  She took this photo herself, in fact.  This morning.  In all, she will be away from me for ten days, the longest (I think) we’ve ever been apart since our wedding day.  Ask me, then, how I really feel about this.  Go ahead.

She’s singing with a choir with which I’ve sung too for the last year, hoping (against hope, it turns out) that I too would be journeying on this pilgrimage.

So ask me how I feel.

Long have I loved the medieval English cathedral–whether this one, in Gloucester; or Durham; or Oxford; or, well, it doesn’t really matter.  The flying buttresses, the stained glass, the vaulted ceilings commanding one’s attention upward, heavenward–one glimpses across the threshold of heaven when one enters these places of worship.

Go ahead, then, ask.

But singing and worshiping and glimpsing heaven is not the only thing these pilgrims will be doing.  There’s ample time in the schedule, oh yes, to visit some of the local eateries and breweries.  Cask ale, I’ve heard, is something like the taste of angels weeping on one’s tongue.  Oh well, guess I’ll have to keep imagining for now.

Meanwhile I will be doing what I love, and spending concentrated time with the people I love most in the world–bride excepted.  So there’s some consolation to be found in that.  But whatever!  Some people, too, find consolation in cheap American beer.  Or in warehouses for church buildings.  Or in happy-clappy mantras.

Okay, that was kind of mean, I admit.  But when’s it gonna be my turn already?

My daughter just got back from four months in Italy.  Now my wife is spending ten days in England.  Not her first time overseas either!

But I!  I’ve studied the Greeks and Romans until I’ve dreamed in Latin!  I’ve planned out a full semester-long European study tour, starting in Jerusalem and making my way, slowly enough to take it all in of course, to Scotland!  I’ve sampled every British beer I could get my hands on!  I even owned a Mini Cooper!  Oh, not to mention a 1970 Triumph TR6!  Yeah, right out of high school!  And–AND–I even genuinely like futbol!

And still–STILL!!–I’ve yet to go abroad.

So sad.

Pathetic really.

Like how I look when I try to line dance.

. . .

Sowing Seeds of Good News

Posted in Homilies with tags , , on July 13, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The history of church planting in our country is a colorful one.

In our early history, when our country was being settled, immigrants came from the Old World to the New.  And they needed places of worship.  So, naturally, many Roman Catholic congregations; as well as many Congregational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other Protestant congregations were formed.  During this time, too, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was born.

Later, around the beginning of the twentieth century, after many so-called mainline denominations had been well established, there was the rise of what I shall call the preacher movement.  This is where a preacher, usually a gifted one, would write a sermon, stick it in his back pocket, and go out to the streets to preach it.  Once the preacher had gathered enough listeners to call the gathering a congregation, he’d start a church.  The Mormon Church essentially began this way—as did many Baptist churches and the larger fundamentalist movement.

Again a shift in church-planting methodology was seen after the end of World War 2.  Mainline denominations continued to spread in numbers of congregations.  But growth in overall numbers slowed and even stalled out.  The preacher movement continued as well.  But the tide was turning here too.  Now, after two devastating wars and the loss of many lives around the world, humanity’s attitude had taken a pessimistic turn.  The focus of church planting turned outside of the church, really, to parachurch youth organizations.  Young Life and Youth for Christ formed during this time.  Also, numerous youth camps such as the mega camp I used to work for, Hume Lake Christian Camps in California, began around this time.

Next, in the 1980s and 1990s, came an intense focus on demographics.  Who was our target audience?  What cities around the country were prospering economically?  If we were to plant a new congregation, where would the ideal place be in order to achieve sustainability most quickly?

And if we’re after sheer numbers, we could argue that this worked.  Saddleback Community Church—founded by Rick Warren in 1980 and reaching 10,000 members by 1990—arose out of such demographic sensitivity.  Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church during this time too.

But I add this.  Today Bill Hybels and his pastoral staff say that they went about church planting and growth all wrong.  Their focus was numbers.  And numbers they got!  But they saw way too little growth in Christ.  Real followers of Christ, they say—real disciples—are lacking.

Which brings us to today.  How do we plant churches today?  Or, perhaps a better question to ask, should we plant churches today?

I came across an article this week from Leadership Journal[i] called “9 Reasons not to Plant a Church in 2012.”  Written in January of 2012, it states that there has been disillusionment in the past decade or so with the overall church planting movement.  It then lists the nine reasons for not planting churches.  The preacher model, it says, where one gifted preacher goes out and gathers a congregation, goes against the biblical model of Jesus sending out teams.  Studying demographics, it argues, excludes many segments of society from hearing the good news.  Church plants, it claims, simply redistribute churchgoers from one congregation to another but do not bring in the unchurched.

So, good question.  How are we to plant churches today?  Should we plant churches today at all?  Or, to ask a broader question, what should our outreach look like?

Jesus told a parable, saying, “A sower went out to sow some seed.”

I love this parable.  Don’t you?  There’s a lot to learn from it regarding individual discipleship.

There are four soils.  Our hearts are like one of these soils.  The first is hard like a road.  The word of God falls upon these hard hearts and is not even considered.  The second soil is rocky and shallow.  People in this category are likewise shallow, so when rocky times come they forget the good news of God’s word.  The third soil is decent enough, but thorns and thistles grow in it too.  So when God’s word takes root, it is eventually choked out by the thorny concerns of wealth and pursuits of happiness without God.  Only the fourth soil is where the good news lands, takes root, and multiplies.

And this point rings loud and clear in our postmodern, individual-focused ears:  Our hearts are to be like the fourth soil.

We are clear about how this parable applies to us, as individual disciples of Christ.  But what about when it comes to the Church?  How does this parable apply to church planting?  How does this parable apply to outreach—to illuminating San Antonio and the world with the light of Christ?

To answer these questions we need to shift our focus a little—from the soils and their various conditions to the sower himself.  Who is this sower?  And what is he trying to accomplish?

To answer the first question then, the sower is us.

“Oh, no it’s not,” you say; “there you’re wrong, preacher.  The sower is clearly Jesus.”

Fair enough, I answer; I see your point.  Let’s say the sower is in fact Jesus.  But what is the sower in this parable trying to do?  He’s trying to plant a crop that yields thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times the original.

And the original is no shabby quantity!  He’s scattering seed on the road, in the rocky soil, among the thorns—everywhere!  He has an abundance—a point to which I will return.  Present point is, he’s got this over-abundant original quantity—already seemingly more than he can handle on his own—and he’s hoping to multiply it by a hundred: he’s going to need some help!  And if this sower is Jesus, as you yourself suggested, then who will help him but his disciples?  And who are his disciples but us, the Church?

We are the sower.

But it’s not just about the seed.

So, to answer the second question: the sower is hoping to plant and sustain a healthy, productive crop.

And where does a healthy, productive crop come from?  Why, from the plant itself.

Do you see?  Churches are the plants that produce the seeds of good news for the world.  And only healthy churches will produce thirty-, sixty-, or a hundredfold.

But plants have a life, don’t they?  Some plants live for only a short time.  Others, like the Giant Sequoias up in the mountains by Hume Lake Christian Camps, live and thrive for thousands of years.  Either way, though, new plants must come along in order to keep the seeds coming.

Now let’s return to our question about church planting and other forms of outreach.

From this parable I think it’s rather obvious that churches are the healthy, productive crop Jesus has in mind.

I think it’s rather obvious, too, that churches should be in the business of producing seeds of good news and spreading them across the world.

But there is something about outreach here that isn’t so obvious, something I’ve already said:

You are the sower.

It’s not just the preacher who sows.  It’s not just the clergy.  It’s not just the people and institutions that are involved with establishing new church plants and maintaining them.  Outreach is so much more!

Look again at the sower of this parable.  He spreads seeds of good news far and wide.  The picture is one of carelessness, even recklessness.  He scatters seeds seemingly everywhere—on the road, on rocky soil, on weedy soil, and on good soil.  He has an abundance.

So do you.  You are blessed beyond measure.  You commune with the King of kings, week after week, at his very Table.  You have a community right here that loves and cares for you even when you feel ornery and alone.  You have hope where many others have none.  These are the seeds of the good news of Christ.  And there are so many others!  And you carry them with you wherever you go.  An over-abundance of them!

So scatter them all around you.  Fling them about you carelessly, recklessly, even thoughtlessly, wherever you go.  Someone calls your name from behind and you turn suddenly.  There, in that sudden turn, hundreds of seeds are shaken loose from your clothes, your hair, your pockets; and you’re not even aware of all the good news that has fallen from your person.  That’s the picture here, right?  This is outreach.  This is how you and I are going to illuminate San Antonio best.

It’s not about demographics.  It’s not about being a gifted preacher.  Outreach is about Christ in, on, and all round you.

 

[i]                http://www.christianitytoday.com/parse/2012/january/9-reasons-not-to-plant-church-in-2012.html

Wisdom Is as Wisdom Does

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on July 6, 2014 by timtrue

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds (v. 19).

Have you ever considered how nonsensical nursery rhymes can be?

Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top,

          When the wind blows the cradle will rock;

          When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

          And down will come baby, cradle, and all.

I mean, come on!  Who’d even put their baby in such a precarious spot in the first place?

Or how about,

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

          Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

          All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

          Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Sad!

Or, one more:

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick;

          Jack jump over the candlestick.

Okay, kids, now that I’ve told you that one, don’t try this at home.

Nonsense, right?

Well, as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there’s nothing new under the sun; for in today’s Gospel Jesus makes a reference to a nonsensical children’s rhyme.

His generation, he says, is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to each other in game-like fashion, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”

Now there are a number of questions that come up if we try to make sense of Jesus’s words here:

  • In the first place, what are children even doing in the marketplaces—the agora, the forum—places in the ancient world generally inhabited during the day by adult males?
  • Supposing the children in the marketplaces are in fact working. Well then, what are they doing playing games—playing when they should be working?
  • Or, supposing it’s a day off, when the agora is closed for business. Supposing the community children have indeed gathered to play. Well then, why aren’t all the children dancing to the flute or joining the dirge; why are only some of the kids playing?

Any way we try to look at it, it’s nonsense.

But that’s Jesus’s point.  Nonsense!  This generation, he says, is responding to John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah in ways that amount to nonsense.

For John came fasting and wearing a camel shirt, and people say he has a demon; whereas Jesus came eating and drinking—generally rejoicing in the coming of the New Kingdom—and people say he’s a glutton and drunkard, a friend of riff-raff.

What nonsense!

Then Jesus says these words: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Right here, right after stating that his generation is being nonsensical—or, to use another word, foolish—right after stating that his generation is being foolish, he drives his point home with a stark contrast: wise vs. foolish.

You see, his generation—especially the religious leaders of his generation, those men who would have conducted business day after day in the marketplaces—considered themselves wise.

They had studied the Torah since early childhood, working through the ins and outs of Jewish history, memorizing the subtleties and complexities of the law.  They had been schooled in their present cultural context—able to worship their own God in a temple built by that Roman, Herod.  They were looking for a militant savior to free them from Roman domination, a savior they just knew would come.  They knew all these things and more.  They were savvy in the knowledge of how to get around in their world.  They were wise.  And they knew it!

Yet Jesus calls them foolish!

Their wisdom is folly.  Real wisdom—the kind of wisdom shown by people like John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth; the kind of wisdom we too can possess—real wisdom will be vindicated by its own deeds.  Or, to put it even more simply: wisdom is as wisdom does.

Today, we are a lot like the “generation” Jesus addresses here.

We live in a world where expertise is highly valued.  We challenge little kids to think a lot about what they want to be when they grow up.  We encourage our college-bound adolescents to pick a field of study that will make them money when they enter the workforce.  As adults, we like to hear what the “experts” have to say on a given topic; other voices are less trustworthy.  We value expertise.

But godly wisdom is not the same thing as expertise.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Expertise is a good thing.  Without it, we would not have the technology, comforts, conveniences, and arts we all enjoy.

But none of this expertise is necessary for a person to possess true wisdom.  That’s what Jesus is telling the experts of his generation; and that’s what Jesus is telling us.

Godly wisdom comes only to whom the Son chooses to reveal it.

And here’s the really good news: Jesus’s yoke is easy and his burden is light—not like the yoke and burden of pursuing expertise in a chosen field.  Jesus is gentle and humble in heart; in him you will find rest for your souls.

So then, what does this godly wisdom look like?  How do we acquire it?  For the answer I turn to Jesus’s prayer in our passage, which begins:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Two things stand out to me.  The first is thankfulness.

“I thank you, Father,” Jesus begins.

The significance here comes when we realize just where Jesus is in his earthly ministry.  Things aren’t going well, to be sure.  Jesus has begun his ministry, he’s preached some sermons and performed some miracles.  He’s sent out the twelve on an early mission.  And now he’s being persecuted.  The religious leaders of his day, his generation, do not like what he is about.  They do not like the non-violent changes that Jesus demands.  Jesus finds himself, then, in the midst of a great deal of inter-personal angst.

But he’s thankful!

Which leads me to wonder.  How thankful are you?  How thankful am I?

When life seems to be caving in around you, when a project at work or school doesn’t go the way you planned, you’re about to miss an urgent deadline, a client isn’t happy with you, or you’re being reported by a disgruntled co-worker—or whatever—I wonder: do you thank God?

What do you mean, you ask, do I thank God?  How can I thank God in these situations?

Well, I answer, have you ever tried?

Just last week my car broke down.  My whole family was with me in the car.  We drove to MICC, for Family Camp.  Just after arriving, however, the car wouldn’t start—dead battery!  So, ugh, major hassle.  I called a local parts supplier, who had a battery in stock and the tools to replace it.  And, half an hour later, the job was done; we were back in business.

That’s when it occurred to me just how many little blessings had occurred.  The breakdown happened at the conference center, where my family could sit comfortably inside an air-conditioned room—not up the road, in the middle of nowhere, where we’d stopped for gas.  We had arrived early, so that I could go through some pre-camp training; as it turns out, I had enough extra time to fix the problem without interfering with my other obligations.  And so on.  The more I thought about it, the more I found myself thankful and grateful, until I heard myself say out loud, “God is good.”

Turn a bad situation good.  When things go wrong, look for the blessings in it all.

And the second thing that stands out to me: humility.

“Father,” Jesus prays, “[you] have revealed them to infants.”

Wisdom to infants.  But what is an infant?  Perhaps you’ve heard this statement before:  “Of all mammals, the only one that cannot swim on its own shortly after birth is the human being.”  Now I don’t know if it’s a true statement or not.  But it does convey the idea of just how helpless an infant is; or, another way to look at it, just how utterly dependent an infant is.

This infant-like dependency is the attitude God is looking for.  For here there is no theological sophistication; here there is no illusion about powers of understanding.  A heart that is teachable, a mind that is not already made up—this is what God asks of you.

And what is this but humility?

God is not looking for you to be an expert theologian.  God does not expect you to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek as you grow in your understanding of the scriptures.  God does not require you to be a spiritual leader of hundreds of souls in order for you to grow in your own spirituality.

Instead, whenever you meet Christ, whether here at the altar, in daily prayer, in reading the scriptures, or in spiritual conversation—whenever!—come in an attitude of thankfulness and humility, asking him to increase you in godly wisdom.  You may be surprised at what happens.  In fact, your newfound wisdom may even confound some of the “experts.”

End of Year 1

Posted in Background, Reflection with tags , , , , , on July 5, 2014 by timtrue

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July 7 marks my ordination-to-the-priesthood anniversary: one year.  It therefore seems a good time to reflect over the past year, maybe even over the past twenty-five years; and to look ahead to the twenty-five or so years remaining in my career–not that I hope only to live for only another twenty-five years, leaving me dead at seventy-one; but that I will retire from full-time ministry at about that time (the Episcopal Church presently has a mandatory retirement age of seventy-two).

Along these lines, I used to think I’d work till I died: who needs retirement, right?  But now I’m more of the mindset that I will rejoice to stop full-time parochial work and take on a growing list of projects, like completing some works of fiction I’ve already begun and writing others; and like spending vast quantities of time in the great cities of Europe; and like taking the time necessary to read, mark, and inwardly digest and otherwise work through Homer and Vergil; and like obtaining and using season tickets for a symphony orchestra; and like watching my kids and grandkids grow and mature; and like–well, you get the idea.

So for the past twenty-five years:

  • Twenty-five years ago I was twenty-one, working at Hume Lake Christian Camps in California as a camp counselor.  Already the Holy Spirit was working on my own spirit with the suggestion that full-time work in Gospel ministry might be my vocation some day.
  • Twenty-five years ago I’d just moved out of my parents’ house, going from there to Hume Lake, and from Hume to Davis, where I’d transferred to finish out my education.
  • Twenty-five years ago I was a mathematics major.
  • Somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-four years ago I switched my major to music, concluding that I would like to pursue seminary after college, to earn a master’s of divinity and seek ordination.  It didn’t matter to seminaries what academic discipline I majored in, just that I earned a bachelor’s degree.  Curiously, even though I’d never studied the languages, I thought some about switching from math to classics (Greek and Latin); but music, already a known passion, won the day.
  • Shortly after that I met Holly.
  • Some time in here I was baptized at First Baptist Church of Davis.
  • Holly and I got pretty serious; marriage looked like a possibility.  I shared my desire for full-time ministry, resolved to take whatever I needed time to get there.  She liked the idea and resolved to take this journey with me.
  • We married on Sept. 11, 1993.
  • My first attempt at seminary came in the fall of 1994.  Holly and I were about to have our first child, so we moved to Colorado to settle in before the baby’s arrival.  Denver Seminary was the plan, a Baptist seminary.  But work was scarce.
  • So, without starting seminary, and accepting an offer to be Director of Youth Ministries with Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in my home town, we returned to California.  Now there were three mouths to feed.
  • Youth ministry was a blast.  Here I did manage to attend the Master’s Seminary part-time, where I studied Greek and Hebrew and plodded my way through a two-year Bible survey.  Through it all I surmised I probably was not as aligned with the way Baptist churches do things as with other churches.  But which ones?
  • After three years, and now with four mouths to feed, I left Baptist youth ministry to begin a career teaching in Christian schools.  This was still youth ministry, I reasoned, and in many ways more substantial than the ministry I had been engaged in.  But I wasn’t sure of my denominational alignment (if any), and also reasoned that I should step out of formally recognized ministry until such a time that others recognized my call.
  • Teaching took us to various parts of the country–a real adventure over a dozen years.  In that time I ended up teaching all ages from kindergarten through college.  Also in here was a three-year stint with a civil engineering firm (making a total of fifteen years), which, frankly, paid the bills better than teaching.
  • The other journey was spiritual.  I grew a lot during these years: I was a part of a failing school start-up; we faced and overcame cancer; I experienced a high level of success in another newly started school; I increased my Greek and learned Latin, equipping me with unlooked for skills desired by Christian schools seemingly all over; our family grew in size from four to seven.  All this shaped me as a man in general; but particularly I grew leaps and bounds spiritually, counting on God through it all to lead, guide, and otherwise direct.  Trust is the word that comes to mind here.  But also, during this time we went from Baptist to Presbyterian (when four kids were baptized on the same day) to, finally, Episcopal.  The sacraments, liturgy, and musical tradition beckoned too strongly for us to ignore.
  • So, finally, having settled into this particular Christian tradition, and with me becoming more comfortable with the idea that maybe I would never be ordained, that maybe my career would only ever be to teach–in this context, the local bishop entered me into a formal process of discernment, a process that led to seminary and ordination.  And so my sense of call some twenty-five years ago has been realized.

Whew!  Doesn’t this journey sound tiring?  It has been.  But along the way I’ve been placing myself in the shoes of whatever pastor/rector has been leading the particular congregation of which I was a part, often in roles of church leadership myself, always asking myself what I’d do in a given situation.  Thus I graduated seminary and entered the priesthood a year ago ready to get to work, so to speak.  Yes, I’m tired.  But yes, too, I’m ready to press on, like I’ve run half the marathon already but I’ve still got half of it to go.  No time to slow up now.  In fact, heck, I’ve just settled into my stride.  So looking ahead:

  • Soon I hope to find a parish that I can settle into for a long time, perhaps the remainder of my career.  I’m ready–not a kid with no life experience.  (Yet I realize too that one can never be completely ready, but must trust in God’s leading.)  This is a tall order for a curate, I realize, to go from a first appointment into a position of parish rector.  But it’s not impossible.
  • In that ministry (wherever and whenever it will be) I hope to focus on pastoral care, Christian formation, and outreach.  More specifically, the Anglican tradition (of which the Episcopal Church is a part) already possesses a rich tradition of liturgy and practice; I intend to draw from these rather than from the latest successful methods.  Why spend my time, I figure, concentrating on attractive gimmicks to get newcomers through the doors when instead I have the Daily Offices (Morning and Evening Prayer) and spiritual direction already at my disposal?  And just to get a little pragmatic here, contrary to what some are saying there is in fact a high amount of interest in the ancient traditions among young people, particularly among the twenty-something singles.  As for Christian formation, well, I’ve been putting together curricula and teaching and administrating professionally for a dozen years; this whole part of the calling is in my blood.  And as for outreach, I intend to be, well, intentional about getting out into the community–on school boards, a city council, involved with sports and scouts, perhaps the Rotary Club–wherever I can without over-extending myself.  Etc.
  • But primarily I am resolved never to lose sight of my duty to provide spiritual leadership to whatever community I eventually find myself leading.
  • And to trust.

So, yes, I’m tired already.  But on the other hand I’m just hitting my stride, and this energizes me.  Besides, this is the only marathon I’ll ever run.  Best to run it well, with perseverance.