FTE Day 5: Flood Narratives

One of the strong themes of FTE’s Leadership in Ministry conference was the theme of context. And this year, FTE took a long, hard look at the context of our experiences at the annual conference. While last year’s conference was in Boston, this year’s conference was in New Orleans, and while I’m no expert on Katrina, FEMA, Louisiana politics, or the massive disaster born of all three, having New Orleans as our context allowed me to experience some beautiful communities of faith and their responses in the wake of the storm. I’d like to share a few of those stories with you now. Continue reading

FTE Day 4: A Call to Excellence

[[Sadly, this post is more than a day late in terms of FTE’s actual chronology. I hope it won’t be more than a dollar short]]

I struggled a lot with writing about day four here at FTE’s leadership in ministry conference. It’s not that the conference hasn’t provided me with plenty of ideas to write about, it’s simply been difficult to pick one strong idea, distill it down to the important core, and then engage that topic humbly and authentically. But after an extra day of reflection, I think I’ve finally settled on a topic, and it involves one of the key components of FTE’s mission: excellence. Continue reading

FTE Day 3: Writing as Vocation

Today I had the opportunity to engage in a profound and deeply challenging workshop called “Writing as a Faithful Witness to the Community.” The workshop was lead by Enuma Okoro, herself a published author, cultural critic, and engager of the arts (Okoro also co-wrote Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, with Shaine Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove). We spent two hours discussing writing as a vocation and dissecting how writing serves as a witness to the community of faith. We talked about telling and listening to different stories, and we even got to do a bit of our own writing, which I’d like to share with you now (and in the future). Continue reading

FTE Day 2: Learning to Let Go

I’m one of like five Baptists here at FTE’s Leadership in Ministry Conference. This is not a bad thing, and I think that most of the denominations here only have about five or six representatives among the various fellows anyway. It’s a beautifully ecumenical environment. But being one Baptist among many non-Baptists at a conference that places so much emphasis on story-telling means telling some painful stories. Today I had to recount for a Mennonite friend the story of the Takeover.

I hate living that narrative. I hate that that story (effectively narrated here, by Wes Spears) forms a part of my own story. I hate that battle scars earned before I was even born continue to effect the way I explore my ministry and my calling. I hate that I cannot attend a denominational school for fear of being rejected as a heretic. I hate all the hate that still exists.

But tonight, as we reflected on our busy days exploring ministry in a post-Katrina New Orleans, Juan asked us to share a story from our days wherein we imagined our future ministry taking a dramatically new direction. And for the first time in my life, I was able to tell a new story. It went like this:

We had a traditional New Orleans meal at All Saints Episcopal Church (a beautiful and inspiring community that has positioned itself in an old Walgreens in the heart of the Lower Ninth Ward), and as we were eating, we talked. I asked Ben (the Mennonite friend from above) what it was like growing up as a Mennonite and being part of a community that so powerfully includes a commitment to peace as a part of its identity. As I listened to his stories of the intentionality of the Mennonite peace witness, my pacifist heart was gladdened, but immediately challenged by Nell Bolton, Executive Director of the Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana . Nell asked me if, taking into account the historic Baptist commitment to peace, I felt free to explore and express my pacifism within my own tradition.

I had to tell her no. While I identify myself as a member of the Co-operative Baptist Fellowship, I had to admit to Nell that the SBC still has a mysterious dominion over Baptist life in the Deep South, and especially on the campus of a Baptist school. I had to explain that many of the people I interact with – and many of the people I react to – have managed to enmesh their faith and their patriotism, that to challenge the ideas of war and death were to almost challenge the existence of Christ. I had to explain that I live in a culture dominated by a Convention that supports capital punishment and has no official problems with prosecuting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Convention that spends more time worrying about the literal nature of hell than the literal suffering of people. I had to explain that this vision still captures the imaginations of so many Baptists, that this was my context, and that in such a world I felt that my prophetic voice of peace was drowned out.

But in that moment, as I was preparing to say what I almost always say (that there’s room for reform in the SBC, that we can change these things, that it won’t always be that way) I had one of the clearest moments of my young life. I could see myself turning around and walking away from the SBC.

In that moment, I envisioned a new future for myself, one where my theology and my ministry is defined by whom I am and what I feel God calling me to, rather than as a reaction to the madcap antics of the Convention. I saw a future where the long shadow of the Takeover did not dominate me or define me or shape my ministry. I saw a life, possibly even a life in the Deep South, which was not defined by the monolithic and magisterial Southern Baptist Convention. And for the first time in my Baptist life, I breathed easy. In that moment, I took a step away and began letting go.

Does this mean that the Takeover is no longer a part of my story? Certainly not. It is enmeshed in my narrative in ways that many other stories never can be. Does this mean that those wounds will not affect my ministry? Hardly. There are still scarred veterans out there who need healing. What this does mean is that I will refuse to let the Southern Baptist Convention execute a stranglehold on my identity and my ministry. It means that I refuse to identify myself as something over and against something else. It means that I am committed to my own Baptist identity, not the identity Paige Patterson and Al Mohler and Paul Pressler and Adrian Rogers think I should possess. It means that in the future I will embrace the freedom inherent in Baptist life. It means that I will focus my pastoral life on meeting the very real needs of congregations, not trying to undo the damage done simply to prove a point. It means that I’m letting go of the hatred and the bitterness that has so heavily defined my Baptist relationships. It means that I’m moving forward.

How about you? Is there something in your life you need to let go of? What might God be asking you to walk away from? What will that look like? Will it lead you to a sense of the genuine in yourself? Explore this idea in the next few days. You might be surprised at the results.

FTE Day 1: The Discipline of the Genuine

So I don’t know if many of you know this, but I’m spending the week with the Fund for Theological Education at their conference on leadership in ministry. One of the key components of the conference here in New Orleans is our round-table discussion groups. The undergraduate fellows are split into groups of ten and assigned to a leader who provides a structured and free space to tell stories, explore vocation, and meet with the divine. We had our first round-table meeting tonight, and our leader, Juan Huertas, asked us to focus on the discipline of the genuine. Continue reading

Redemption, part 5: Penal Substitution

Penal Substitution is one of the most popular models of atonement in current discussion. In point of fact, I know many conservative Evangelical Christians who would insist that the only proper and biblical understanding of atonement is this one, and J.I. Packer insists that the model is “a distinguishing mark of the world-wide evangelical fraternity” (gendered language aside, part of the motivation behind this series was to ‘un-convince’ them of this very thing). I obviously don’t believe with them, but I’ll do my best to give the Penal model the most comprehensive treatment possible. Continue reading

CotM Summer Update

“Summer time! And the livin’ is easy….”

Especially over the past few days (which have included CotM’s highest viewed month of all time). Having returned from my European adventure, summer’s been pretty tame thus far. But the ease of dwelling in the Georgia haze has given me plenty of time to sit around and think. Thus, it is with great excitement that I announce my summer agenda for Church of the Malcontent.

The first thing on the place it obviously finishing up the Atonement series. I’ve got three posts left: Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, and finally, the post that explains my own personal theology of atonement. Now that I’m reunited with my library, I’m hoping this series will come to a quick conclusion.

Following that, I’d like to do a series reflecting on my experiences in Europe and on the East Coast. During the Spring term, I was able to study and work in London, and it gave me a wealth of things to think and write about (in fact, I’ve already talked about it briefly in Finding my Prophetic Voice). After London, I spent time on the East Coast and visited a few seminaries. There’s a lot to say about that brief time, and I’ve even contemplated expanding my seminary search process into another series. We’ll see how that goes.

I’ll also be attending the Fund for Theological Education’s summer conference on exploring ministry, so expect some blogs from those exciting days.

I’ve floated a few more ideas, like exploring the usage of clergy in film, and you can be sure that church developments over the course of the summer will inspire new one-shot posts, but that’s all I’ve got planned for the summer. Let me know if there’s anything you want me to discuss, and maybe I’ll give it a shot.

Here’s to summer! See you around the blog.

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