Saturday, March 29, 2008

Surreal Global Village

My friend Glenn sent me a link for this one. I don't know whether to thank him or change my email address. (Just kidding, Glenn!) It's...some combination of kinda disturbing, pretty funny, and extraordinarily surrealistic and bizarre.

Apparently, there still exists in Russia the Red Army Choir, the official choir dating back to U.S.S.R. days which performs throughout Russia. They were guests at a concert by the Finnish rock band "The Leningrad Cowboys" not long ago, where they performed, in English...well, watch the video - you'll know the song.

After I take over the world, I will do something about stuff like this.

As a sometime-choral conductor, though, I've gotta say...nice final consonants. You can really hear that "t" on "sweet home".


Friday, March 28, 2008

Great Everything Must Change Interview

Andrew Jones has posted a great discussion/interview with Brian McLaren regarding the "Everything Must Change" book.

I've come across Andrew's site many times when researching various topics, but I keep forgetting to add him to my list of links. That is now rectified - he's a worthy whistler, indeed. Well worth checking out.

I've been absent for a couple weeks now, friends - my apologies. Lots going on, and lots of stuff I'm thinking about - hopefully I'll even get to sharing some of it with you soon! More to follow...


Monday, March 24, 2008

Maundy Thursday

A painting of the Last Supper by Simon Ushakov, 1685.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

But God...

Awhile back, I posted about a project called Nieucommunities. The following devotional is written by someone at the Nieucommunities site in the West End of Glassgow, Scotland.

(The following is not written by me, just shared by me because I liked it.)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV)


But God… We all have them, right? Those times in our walk with God when loving him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength seem effortless. Fully alive moments of success in relationships or service that make our passion for God so real…our calling so clear…our ability to sacrifice so natural. Moments when we can almost hear our Father in heaven saying, “This is my son…my daughter…in them I am well pleased!” We actually feel the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

But then, there are other times…times when love grows cold…times when each step stirs fear, indecision, and doubt. They are the seasons of death and darkness…seasons of the cross. But God… Our community in Glasgow is walking through one such season. We witnessed and endured brokenness in ways that we always hope as children of God we won’t have to experience. In many respects, we watched the ministry God built slowly disassemble before our eyes. It is a season of asking many questions about our calling, our purpose, and our reason to exist.

But God… It is in these times that it is the hardest to believe that he has not made a mistake—that “we are his workmanship.” In these times, it is the hardest to believe that we have a purpose“— good works, which God prepared beforehand.” It is hard to walk the steps laid out for us.

But God… A thought, an idea, which I hold in my mind and heart, fuels my passion in the hardest of times. It is as if Paul writes these words for me at this pivotal moment between what was and what is. Between what has been and what will be. It is my Lord Jesus walking step by brutal step toward his greatest moment of darkness and his greatest gift of love.

But God… It stirs the heart in the deepest place. Could it be that God is still intimately and strategically moving in and out of our lives, shaping and forming all that we are, fixing that which was broken, finding that which was lost, making us into what he has always dreamed we would be? Could it be that the weight of this world does not have to rest on my shoulders…but that it rests on the crucified shoulders of this “great love with which he loved us?”

But God…


Happy (Belated) Birthday, Dad!

So I've been absent from this page more than a week - sorry. More on that later. For now, some day-long overdue business - Happy Birthday Dad! (And Aunt Betty!) Hope it turned out better than these birthdays did!


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Yes We Can

It's been around, but it's worth watching again - especially after the dip in IQ in Texas and Michigan. :) Remember the math, folks! He's ahead and he's gonna win.

Projecting victory in Mississippi!

Yes. We. Can.


Daniel Vestal, CBF, and the Missional Movement

This is a copy of an e-newsletter sent out by the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship - some reflections from Daniel Vestal on the relationship between "Baptist" and "Missional." I can't find this online - I'm sure it's on the CBF website somewhere (see links on the right), but I can't find it. (Updated 3/11 - the day after I post this, Churchworks sent out a link to the column. You can find it here to read it with appropriate formatting and everything.) I think there's some interesting stuff in it, so I'm posting it in its entirety. Feel free to comment - I'll probably have comments of my own at some point.

I couldn't get it to post with formatting included, so I've reformatted a bit to try and get it back to its original appearance. Hopefully I've avoided creating errors. If you'd like me to forward the original email to you, send me a note and I'll be happy to do so.

-Chris (what follows is from Daniel Vestal - as always, I don't necessarily endorse everything, I just think it's worth reading)

Being Missional and Being Baptist
By Daniel Vestal
March 5, 2008
As I interact with Baptist congregations, it is encouraging to see how many of them are seeking to define themselves as missional. Yet I often hear the question asked, "Does being missional have anything to do with being Baptist?" And the opposite question is asked, "Does being Baptist have anything to do with being missional?" The following reflections are an effort to explore the relationship between the two.

Being Missional

The word missional is a relatively new word in the Christian vocabulary. It is an adjective to describe a Christian or a church that discerns God’s mission and is discovering what it means to participate in that mission.

God is on a mission to transform the world through Jesus Christ. God’s mission is to create a global community of justice, peace and love. We are invited to participate in God’s mission by following Jesus Christ and being a continuation of Christ’s presence in the world. As individuals and as congregations we participate in God’s mission when we:
-depend upon the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit
-engage in spiritual formation and make disciples of others
-embrace a biblical world view by seeking and serving the Kingdom of God above all else
-think and act locally and globally with the least evangelized and most neglected
-embrace and serve those who are poor and who suffer
-practice authentic community and celebrate God’s blessings

Being Baptist

I have written a number of sermons and articles on what being a Baptist means to me, but in all honesty, being a Baptist doesn’t have a lot of meaning until one decides to become a part of a church. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is a personal decision but it is never intended to be a private decision. We are meant to live in fellowship and unity with other Christians, encouraging one another, supporting one another, worshipping God together and serving Christ together. This community, this fellowship, this togetherness is what the New Testament calls the church.

But here’s the problem: What kind of church? What kind of Christian community is one to join and be joined to as a Christ-follower? It ought to be clear that there are many different kinds of churches where genuine followers of Christ come together for fellowship, worship and ministry. We need to be clear about this because I can remember a day when people would say, "My church is the only true church." Hopefully that day is over. But having said that, let’s ask the question again, "What kind of a community am I to join as a Christ-follower?"

Without giving a lengthy version of Baptist history or beliefs, let me offer a few statements that summarize this tradition called Baptist. It is a tradition that was birthed about 400 years ago and has resulted in thousands of churches being started.
-Baptists have believed that salvation is experienced by the grace of God as an individual freely and voluntarily trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. No one can trust Christ for someone else. No one can be a proxy for another’s faith and commitment. Neither can we coerce another person to trust Christ. It is always voluntary.
-Baptists have believed that after trusting Christ, one should publicly and freely confess faith in the waters of baptism. Baptism is a voluntary act of obedience to the command of Christ.
-Baptists have differed over the mode of baptism, although most have practiced immersion. But the important thing to say about baptism is that it is a public act of confession.
-Baptists have believed that every person who trusts in Christ is competent both to respond to God and represent God to others. Every believer is a priest who can go directly to God. Every believer is a minister who is gifted by the Holy Spirit and is called to use those gifts both in the church and the world to further Christ’s mission.
-Baptists have believed that the Scripture is the inspired Word of God and is authoritative for our faith and practice. However, Baptists have also believed that every person is free to read, interpret and apply the Scripture as the Holy Spirit leads them. This means that Baptists have resisted the use of human-made creeds to force conformity of belief. Their source of authority has been the Bible and not a human interpretation of the Bible.
-Baptists have believed that every church is autonomous and ought to be free of eccelastical control or government control. In a Baptist vision, there is no such thing as "the Baptist church." There are only Baptist churches and each church is free to determine its ministry, plan its worship and choose its leadership.
-Baptists have believed that just as churches ought to be free of government control, so government should be free from the control of churches. This means that Baptists have rejected a church state just as they have rejected a state church. They have argued for a free church in a free state.
-Baptists have believed that individual Christians and local churches should voluntarily work together for the sake of the Gospel. This is sometimes called the "associational principle" and it has resulted in many remarkable, collaborative ministries. Cooperation and voluntary connection is as much a part of Baptist history and identity as individual autonomy and freedom.

Being Missional and Being Baptist

Now what does all of this have to do with being missional, particularly in the 21st century – a century that is sometimes called post-denominational? There are many missional churches that are not Baptist, and of course there are Baptist churches that are not missional.
-In a missional church that is Baptist every person will be valued because each is a priest before the Lord and a minister of Christ. There are no "first-class" and "second-class" members. Distinction between "clergy" and "laity" is not that important or significant. The ordinances of baptism and The Lord’s Supper can be administered by any member of the congregation if the congregation so chooses.
-In a missional church that is Baptist there is no hierarchy of authority. Rather there is shared decision making and shared ministry. Baptists have varied in their history on the role of elders, pastors, deacons and other leadership. But in a Baptist vision there is equality and an egalitarian spirit that permeates the entire congregation.
-In a missional church that is Baptist the Scriptures will be central to its life and ministry. Because Scripture is authoritative, Bible study is important. Because Scripture is authoritative, Bible truth will be sought and applied more than the opinions or interpretations of other people.
-In a missional church that is Baptist differences of understanding and interpretation of Scripture will be respected. People will be valued even when they differ from one another. If we accept freedom of conscience and the priesthood of every believer, we must expect differences and learn to love one another across those differences. The church that has a strict/narrow spirit and communicates an attitude of "my way or the highway" is not true to a Baptist vision.
-In a missional church that is Baptist there will be voluntary cooperation with other Christians to fulfill Christ’s continuing mission. Although we believe in the priesthood of every believer and the autonomy of every church, that doesn’t mean that we act in isolation from other churches. Rather we cooperate in a spirit of mutual trust and respect. We realize that the needs of the world require cooperation and collaboration.

Can you imagine the transformation that would take place in the world if Baptist churches discerned God’s mission in the world and discovered their participation in it? It would be revolutionary. Can you also imagine the energy that would take place in Baptist churches if they discovered and interpreted the Baptist vision for the 21st century in missional terms? It would be revolutionary. In Cooperative Baptist Fellowship we are working and praying for such transformation and energy.

Daniel Vestal is executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, serving since 1996.

Copyright 2008 The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship


Monday, March 10, 2008

Stab in the Dark goes Off the Edge

So...apparently my friend Fencerscott was inspired by me to insert those handy "read more" tags into his blog.

With the result that all his hundreds of previous blog posts turned invisible.

Oops - um, sorry about that, Fencerscott. *gulp*

So, in minor recompense, I give you a link to his new blog. Just a Stab in the Dark is now Off the Edge of the Map. Take a look-see. And tell him I said sorry.

(Heh, heh, heh, heh...I'm certain no one suspects this was intentional, as I test out my death-to-competing-blogs-o-ray, preparatory to taking over the blogosphere. Oh, yes - Soon, I Will Be Invincible!)


Laverne & Shirley - er, make that Lisa & Leanna

Making our Dreams Come True by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox
(Laverne and Shirley Lyrics)

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Schlemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated.
We're gonna do it!

Give us any chance, we'll take it.
Give us any rule, we'll break it.
We're gonna make our dreams come true.
Doin' it our way.

Nothin's gonna turn us back now,
Straight ahead and on the track now.
We're gonna make our dreams come true,
Doin' it our way.

There is nothing we won't try,
Never heard the word impossible.
This time there's no stopping us.
We're gonna do it....

My friend Lisa's having a baby.

Another baby, I should say - Leland will just be 21 months old when the new little boy is born in August.

My friend Lisa is *brave.* (brave=crazy)

Lisa and Leanna graduated from Furman with me. They were roommates and grew up together in Birmingham, and they each, in their own ways, have always seemed fearless to me. Leanna has been a chaplain and a church staff member and is far along on a doctorate from Vanderbilt Divinity. She's brilliant - you wouldn't know quite how brilliant because she's so quiet about it, but she was Valedictorian of our class at Furman. I think she was quiet about it, at least in part, because she didn't need the validation of other people realizing how smart she is.

This is in contrast to the Chris version of things, where you want everyone to tell you how smart (or good, or nice, or musical, or...) you are so you can believe it yourself.

Leanna's never sought that in the time that I've known her. What I've been working to gain the last several years - a trust in myself - she's always seemed to me to have. Fearless.

Lisa was an Education major - early childhood, Lisa? But she never takes the easy or normal path. In the first few years after Furman, she was a ballroom dance instructor (having tried out for the job w/o knowing any ballroom dances!?!), a host at the Opryland Hotel (one of those things where you show the stars and famous people around - another job she had no experience or training for, she just thought it would be neat or something), and ultimately a missionary for a couple of years in Kyrgyzstan.


She came back and moved to Charleston - not back home to Birmingham, or to Nashville where she'd been living, or Greenville, Charleston. She didn't, as best I can recall, have a job or anything lined up - she just wanted to live in Charleston. So she went. She was sure she'd find something. She liked the beach (once during exams she got tired of studying and wanted to see the beach, so she left campus after midnight, drove four hours to the beach, walked on the sand for 15 minutes or so, and drove back), she wanted to live in Charleston, she moved to Charleston.

This is in contrast to the Chris version of things, where you want to do something, call up six or eight friends to talk it over - for 6 months to a year - while you dither and agonize and, probably, write blog posts describing the existential angst caused by the possibility of making a change.

I don't demean this, exactly; this is often my process. But Lisa's process always looked different to me. Want to live in Charleston, announce move to Charleston, move to Charleston. Simple.


Lisa and Leanna have remained among my closest friends. Granted, we can go a year or two without seeing each other (hey, ladies, we've got to start planning this year's get-together! When's Dust free?), but they're still among the people whose friendship I most value. They have always been fun, creative, entertaining - one day I'll get them to re-enact their version of Simon&Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" and post it on Youtube, it's about the funniest thing I've ever seen - they could've gone on the road and sold tickets for that performance! They always had lots of friends because they were so full of life - and when you became their friend, they introduced you to a dozen others. My college experience, and my post-college life, have been much fuller because of the friends they introduced me to. In their energy and their fearlessness (brave=crazy), they always reminded me of Laverne & Shirley. (Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days were among my favorite shows growing up. I mention Happy Days gratuitously, so Leanna and Lisa can mock me for it - it's an insider thing.) Oh, I know they're human - they have their doubts just like anybody. But their doubts don't stop them. Nothing's impossible, nothing's gonna hold us back, we're gonna do it - we're gonna make our dreams come true.

And they do.

And that's why, in addition to being great friends, they've also always, kind of, been heroes to me. They helped pull me out of my introverted INFJ life (I wonder if it's their fault my J became a P?), helped me make great friendships, gave me lots of laughter and acceptance - and taught me, sometimes, to be fearless. Or at least less fearful.


We were often crazy, at Furman.


May we all be so lucky as to be so crazy.

Lisa, congratulations. Love and prayers are with you. Tell John and Leland to take good care of you - not that you need it! Scott, keep being good to Leanna. Don't be strangers, folks. I've posted a picture to the right - another of my heroes ;) who won't be held back - that's in your honor, you two.

Thanks for the inspiration. At this time in my life, I need the reminder. I'm not backing down or taking the easy path. I'm walking the way.


On your mark, get set, and go now,
Got a dream and we just know now,
We're gonna make our dream come true.
And we'll do it our way, yes our way.
Make all our dreams come true,
And do it our way, yes our way,
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

ONE and Jesus pt 1

My post from yesterday was about ONE's general purpose statement - which is about committing one percent more of the US Budget to fighting, not poverty or inequity generally, but "extreme poverty" - poverty that is life-threatening, based on disease, lack of access to clean water or food, etc. ONE hopes to wipe out that kind of poverty.

Many Christians often cite, without much understanding, Jesus's statement in the gospels (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7) "the poor you will always have with you" as a reason not to try to reduce or attack poverty. This is bogus. (Yeah, I was going to say something longer and more scholarly, but decided to cut to the chase. Yep, even I can do that occasionally.) Three things inform our understanding of what Jesus is saying here - the immediate context, the wider context of Jesus's teachings, and the wider context of the Bible generally. (This is the long and semi-scholarly part.)

In the first place, look at the immediate context. We're getting close to the crucifixion, Jesus has been dropping hints left and right and sometimes saying outright that he's going to be murdered soon. He's headed toward Jerusalem and death. In the midst of this, a woman comes with an alabaster vial of precious and costly perfume and pours it on his head. (Culture people, culture - this isn't our culture!) Kind of reminds me of Psalm 23 - Jesus is in the valley of the shadow of death, soon to be in the presence of his enemies, but "my head you've annointed with oil; my cup overflows." This woman shows tremendous reverence and honor for Jesus, using this tremendously costly gift, not for her own benefit, not holding any of it back for later, but breaking it and spilling it out to honor Jesus.

As Jesus tells the grumbling disciples, this woman did a beautiful thing, one which would be remembered wherever the gospel was told; as indeed it has been, for the last 2000 years. Indeed Jesus, who we know feared the death he was going to face, saw this woman as doing "what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial." Can you imagine how moved Jesus must have been by her costly gesture? "She has done a good deed to me." Nothing was going to save Jesus from the crucifixion to come, but this woman ministered to him. Jesus was surrounded by disciples who continually "didn't get it," who would shortly betray and abandon him in various ways, who refused to believe or understand his statements about his upcoming death. How alone he must have felt! And how comforting, for a moment, to have this woman give him this gift, letting him know that he was not alone, and he was so highly valued as to be worth this gift. Maybe, just maybe, this whole Incarnation and death (and Resurrection) would be worth the pain and heartache.

Then some of the disciples spoil it, by criticizing her! They think it's *wasteful* of her! Can you imagine?!? None of them are being helpful to Jesus as he's going toward death, only this woman is; and they attack her for it!?

My hunch is, as so often was the case, the disciples were trying too hard - showing off for their teacher (rabbi) as it were, trying to "prove" they'd learned their lessons well. Jesus taught so often about the poor - so they're parroting lessons they've heard but not understood, complaining that this perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor, rather than "wasted" on ministering to the soon-to-be-crucified Jesus.

Wasted. On Jesus.

Can you imagine?

So what is Jesus's response? It's not, as many Christians make out, "Forget the poor, you'll always have them around, that's no reason not to give extravagant gifts to your spouse and your kids! GIve them nice trips, and forget about the poor - most of 'em are just lazy anyway!" No, Jesus says "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me." Not "don't help the poor," as we know from Jesus's many sermons on that theme (more below); not "don't help the poor," but, "get a grip, guys, I'm about to die! This woman is the only one acting like she cares! Back off!"

I hear Jesus being in a lot of pain and fear and heartache at this point.

Note how Jesus frames this. It's not Him saying ignore the poor while spoiling your loved ones with extravagant and unneeded gifts. It's Him saying there will always be poor, and you can and should help them, but my need is imminent, and this woman is not being selfish and keeping this perfume for herself and her own vanity, she's ministering (doing a good deed) to me.

As we look at the immediate context, it's clear that Jesus isn't repudiating aid for the poor; he's telling the disciples that they don't know what's going on, and that if they'd learned the spirit, not just the letter, of his teachings, they would know this woman had done a beautiful thing.

To be continued...


Friday, March 7, 2008

The ONE Campaign

I've just signed the ONE Declaration committing myself to help fight the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty.

I'm asking you to make that commitment, too, by adding your voice.

I think your name belongs on that declaration, too. You can put it there by visiting:

ONE is a new effort by Americans to rally Americans - one by one. So far, over two million have signed the declaration in support of a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world.

Together as ONE we can make a difference!



Thursday, March 6, 2008



BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH*snort* - what?

What'd you say?

Oh. Well, no. I didn't find a job. (Kill-joy.) No, I didn't end poverty or world hunger. (What have you been doing, for that matter?) But I *did* take another step forward in my plan to take over the blogosphere.

I FINALLY learned how to insert the stupid "Read more" text and make it work!

Granted, it's inserted "Read more" at the end of everything, including tiny little posts that have no 'more' to be read. So far, the on-line helps I've been able to access say this is a problem that can't be fixed yet. We'll see. Oh, in case any of YOU need help with this - the most helpful website I found for instructions on the problem is here.

But what this does mean is that I don't have to force you, faithful reader, to span through mounds and mounds of text if you don't want to.

See how considerate I am? This is why you should root for me to take over the world. Not that it matters whether you root for me or not, since soon, I will be invincible. I'm just saying - I'll be a considerate absolute ruler. Sometimes.


And yes, I'm doing this post to compensate for the fact that I'm not doing a REAL post. Give me a break - I've been working on this "Read More" problem for about 3 hours now, and I'm ready to go home.

I'll be starting a series of book reviews tomorrow, and there's more fun stuff planned on the horizon. Keep reading! (Or you'll be sorry, when I'm invincible.)


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Job Hunting, or...

...what's the deal, anyway?

So, I've referred several times to the fact that I'm an ex-hospice chaplain, or looking for work. Several people have private messaged me for info, since I've never gotten around to clarifying that. So I'm going to steal from myself again, and stuff I've written people off-blog, to give you at least a short version of the story.

I'm doing this for a few reasons:
1) to update you, as there are still lots of my friends that I've not mentioned this too, in any depth.
2) To ask for your prayers - and to give you enough information for you to pray with some specificity.
3) Since I've written most of this in emails to others, putting it here saves me time and coming up with another blog post. :) It's an economy of effort thing.
Update 4) Apparently I'm doing some processing, too - all the stuff about seminary and CPE was added as I was editing the post. That stuff's more for me than you. Bunch of voyeurs. ;)

Anyway...I've been working for several years now as a hospice chaplain. My sense has always been that this probably wasn't permanent. When I graduated from seminary a little over 5 years ago, I had some personal and denominational issues to work through, and also felt pretty ill-equipped, in some ways, for ministry. There was only one 3-hour pastoral counseling course, for example, and it had no practical component. Most of my seminary training seemed to have little to do with actual ministry to hurting people or a troubled world, honestly.

So I didn't want to look for a church yet. I was mad at seminary, mad at Baptist life in general, mad at me and mad at God, depending on the day of the week and the hour of the day. I didn't think I'd be good for a church staff, at that point - or that church work would be good for me, seeing as I was mad at churches and churchy people. ;)

So I decided to enroll in CPE training - Clinical Pastoral Education. This is the training for chaplains, and it involves having a supervisory chaplain critique and monitor you and help you learn to monitor and critique yourself, alongside a group of peers. That's a really shorthand description - but it's a model of learning where you act, reflect on your actions (alone, with your supervisor, and with your peer group - "why'd you do that? Why didn't you do this? What were you really thinking as you did this? What's really going on here?" - the latter being my favorite rote CPE question!), and then act again - hopefully with greater insight, expertise, sensitivity, courage, etc. That kind of action/reflection model really appeals to me. Plus, the chance to do that in the context of ministering within a hospital seemed a great response to the divorced-from-real-life-and-real-hurts complaint that I had with seminary. (Others didn't feel that, by the way - I acknowledge that a big part of the problem during my seminary years was with me - hence, the anger at myself as well as at seminary/the church/God.)

This is turning into the long version of my job-situation. Oops. Well, if you know me or you've read previous entries, I daresay you're not really surprised...

Anyway, cutting of the retrospective - I worked in the hospital as a chaplain and CPE student for 15 months - a summer internship and a year of residency. It was a great experience and helped me grow in all kinds of ways. (I'm trying to be briefer - hence, vaguer.) By the time it finished up, I felt ready and even eager to look for work on a church staff. I also felt much clearer than I ever had in seminary about the kinds of jobs I was interested. In particular I was much more sanguine about serving in a "pastoral" role, whereas before I'd always preferred to use terms that, for me, were less loaded - "ministry" or "minister" as opposed to pastoring or pastor.

I'm not great at this shorter/less introspective/just the facts stuff, had you noticed? I thought you had.

So, it's my last week at the hospital, I've been job-hunting for a couple of weeks - and in the space of 24 hours, I get three calls from three unconnected people telling me about a job.

But it's not a church job, it's as a chaplain. A hospice chaplain, in fact.

Well, the hospice opportunity intrigued me a bit, and I decided I'd pay attention to the three providential phone calls. I'd had the opportunity to serve in several different areas within the hospital during CPE - in oncology, ICU, general surgical, pediatrics, Trauma, all kinds of stuff. But I kept requesting a placement in hospice and kept getting denied it.

The main reason for this - as far as I know, anyway, was for continuity. ("As far as I know" - CPE centers are big on you knowing and expressing your motivations, while at the same time hiding their own. It builds character or something. Plus, they like for you to reflect on what you want - and then give you something else, so you can reflect on the disappointment and learn to be open to the unexpected, and stuff like that. They're very intentional and occasionally sadistic about it. Really. It's great training - and great fun, if you're twisted like me - but it's not for the faint of heart.) Hospice patients and families need some continuity, with so much of their lives in turmoil, and they don't need to be afflicted with a new chaplain every 3 months if that can be helped. Ironically, that was my very reason for wanting to serve in hospice. I was constantly frustrated in the hospital with having 100+ new patients each day, many of whom would be gone a day or two later - relationships had to begin and end very quickly. As much as I enjoyed being at the hospital, I desired the chance to form on-going pastoral relationships with folks, and felt like hospice was the best place to do that, within healthcare. It still wouldn't compare to parish/local church ministry or even campus ministry (my other great and, at the time, latent interest). But it was the area within healthcare chaplaincy that most appealed to me - in theory. So I kept asking for a practical stint within hospice to check that perception out and see if I should pursue it.

Didn't get that opportunity during CPE, but now here I was being offered a full-time job in hospice. I took it, and stayed there ever since. Sort of. I didn't leave, but the company left me a couple of times, and changed names once (so far) as it changed management. Local management changed 8 times, depending how you count it, in 3 years.

The company was having lots of power struggles on upper corporate levels. Lots of people were laid off right and left - the other chaplain that started with me was laid off 7 weeks later, for example. So it felt unstable from the start. Lots of other people quit over the next couple of years. The local office had 35 staff (roughly) when I started; after a year, all but 5 of them (roughly, and counting myself) had been replaced. After a year, I was one of the most senior employees left!

It was a really unstable situation in a lot of ways. The ministry aspect of it was great, and you got to see God working in people's lives just about every day. The corporate aspect was not great, and was a constant distraction from the work.

But my sense was that it was where God wanted me to be for the time-being, that there was a lot for me to learn from it. As in CPE, it allowed me to develop pastoral care skills - practical & theoretical - far beyond what I'd gotten in seminary. I was immersed in the real needs of real people - the stuff I felt so isolated from in seminary. You could pay attention to the corporate stuff, and constantly be listening for rumors and putting out your resume - or you could focus on the work. That's what I did for the next 3 years.

Chaplaincy also gave me the chance to meet people I probably wouldn't have in a typical church, and put me in relationship with people from a variety of backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities. It helped me to grow a lot. Moreover, it enabled me to be involved on a volunteer basis in other ministry opportunities, through my church and, this last year, through the Cooperative Student Fellowship at USC Columbia. That's allowed me lots of different outlets for ministry - pastoral care through hospice, music and education through my church, spiritual formation and just plain fun through the college group. Any time over the last few years that I've thought about leaving my hospice job - and that's been a number of times, with so much staff turnover! - I've had the clear direction that I was in the place I needed to be - not only with hospice, but with my church and with the CSF. (When I say that chaplaincy enabled me to do these other things - I mean that if I'd had to look for work at a church, I wouldn't have been able to be a church member at Emmanuel. The community at Emmanuel has been really good for me - it's been a time of healing, trying new things in a safe and supportive community, learning to love the church again.)

But that time is drawing to a close, from what I can tell. The week before Christmas, I was laid off from my job with hospice. Technically I'm still on-staff; they like me and have kept me on, theoretically, on a 'prn' or as-needed basis. But they were making cutbacks, relating to a buy-out. (That's the second time the company's been bought in a two year period - our last buy-out was in June 2006. I got an eventual promotion out of that one.) Whatever, the fact remains that since Dec. 26 I've not had any paid work from them, nor does that seem likely to change.

I've spent a lot of time in prayer and discernment over the last two months. Over and over again, I hear God telling me "everything must change" - that it's time for me to step out into a new phase of life and ministry. At this point, even if my old job and hours were offered to me again, I would have to decline to go back to work for them - or probably any hospice, except on a part-time basis. More and more, over the last couple of years and especially the last couple of months, I feel myself drawn (back) toward pastoral, congregational ministry. This is difficult to explain to folks who try to be helpful by telling me about job openings in chaplaincy - I might work that way bi-vocationally, if I had to, to allow me to work on staff with a church - but otherwise, I think that ship has sailed. That's not a reaction to bad stuff with chaplaincy - despite my disdain for corporate life, church work has its issues too, and then some. It's more my sense that chaplaincy was a stop for me, to learn more of what I needed to learn, but that ultimately my calling is to pastoral work in the church, helping God's people to grow into their roles as the hands, feet, and voice of Christ in the world.

Pastoral care is part of that - but so is education and discipleship, worship...all the things that the church does. And I want to minister in and through the Body of Christ, in the name of Christ - not in the name and under the authority of a business conglomerate.

I could go in a lot of directions from here - long-term, I feel some drawing toward pastoring, maybe even some kind of urban church-planting with a lot of community involvement. But in the short and medium term (3-5 years?) I'd love to find a church staff position as an associate pastor, with some combination of responsibility for spiritual formation/discipleship, pastoral care, and I say, I could go in a lot of directions and I'm trying to be open to possibilities. I've loved where I've been the last few years, and I'm still in love with both my church and the college ministry. But neither pays the bills!

(That's not the real issue, of course. Chaplaincy paid the bills pretty nicely. And it allowed me to do real ministry with real people. And I don't know what the future holds. But for now, I think it holds something different. "Everything must change" is the word I hear. I'm excited...and a little nervous, too...but excited to see what that means.)

So that's my current situation in a nutshell. As I say, I'd appreciate your prayers. Grace and peace.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Furman Singers

So, Sunday night a week ago I went to a concert by the Furman Singers, the flagship choir at Furman University. (And yes, I’m an alumnus and was in Singers.) They were in town on day 1 of their Spring tour - yes, I know, it WAS in February. Furman has, since time immemorial, been on a weird modified trimester system - a 12 week Fall term, an 8 week Winter term, and a 12 week Spring term. Spring break therefore falls at the end of February or the beginning of March - in the gap between Winter term and Spring term - and that’s when Singers holds its annual concert tour. (This schedule has been or is close to being altered to a regular semester system - which I disapprove of, as the misery of Winter term, the dreary, rainy, extended-class-hours winter term, where getting-sick-kills-you-because-the-term-is-too-short-to-make-up-what-you-miss-but-everybody-gets-sick-because-it's-winter - is one of the prime bonding experiences at Furman.)

(This also was the time when Furman BSU engaged in its Spring mission trip - SPOTS, or ‘Special Projects Other Than Summer,’ meaning a mission trip that wasn’t during the summer. They went to places like New Orleans and D. C. and - well, I don’t know where else they went, I wasn’t THERE, I was on Singers tours. Not that I’m bitter about it. Even when I see my old BSU friends and they say things like “hey, remember that time on SPOTS when…oh, that’s right, you didn’t go.”)

(Those were long parenthetical statements, were they not?)

So…Furman Singers was in town a week ago, singing at St. Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia. This was day 1 of their tour - the rest of the time they were in more interesting places like Philadelphia. Anway, I went to hear them. They were, of course, awesome, they’re Furman Singers. Singers was and is an audition only group of about 100 voices. And since the two tour buses would only carry 80, you had to audition for Tour, as well. Bing - Dr. Bingham Vick, to you - has been conducting Singers for 38 years, and he’s bar none the best choral conductor I’ve ever worked with. Bing’s retiring in 2010, I believe, so opportunities to hear Singers while he’s still conducting them are not to be missed.

I can’t for the life of me figure out what I did with the program from last Sunday, which is irritating seeing as I took an extra one to be sure I didn’t lose it. Several of the pieces were unfamiliar to me, and several of those were just fantastic, worshipful pieces with glorious harmonies. I have no idea which they were, unfortunately, until I find that program…

Fine. I’ll do a more thorough review when I find the program, then. One of the fun things, if you’re a former Singer, is to see which pieces they’re doing that you’ve done before. There were only a few this time - but one of them is possibly my favorite Singers piece - it was one of the audition pieces for Tour my first year in Singers. Ralph Manuel’s Alleluia is a simpler piece than the norm for Singers, and the text is pretty predictable - seeing as how it’s just repeating “Alleluia.” But the harmonies are gorgeous - just full, pure, gorgeous chords. Every voice part gets some good stuff, and the tenor part, if you’re a tenor, is just to-die-for. Here's a link to our performance from 1993.

It’s a great piece, and, just as we did it on my first Singers tour back in ’93, they performed it as the first piece in the program, while arranged in a semi-circle around the room. So if you’re in the middle of a great big sanctuary with good acoustics, like I was, it’s among the most wonderful surround sound experiences you can have.

Other pieces they did which I knew were the selections for the Mosquitoes (a male barbershop quartet) and the Honeybees (a female barbershop quartet - which has been around for a shorter time than the Mosquitoes, founded when four young ladies approached Bing and said ‘we demand equal time.’ As Bing says every time he introduces them.); a silly piece called “No One’s Perfect”; and of course “Brown Eyes,” a Furman-specific serenade which is the last piece of every Singers concert. Here's the 1996 version. It seems like they did Bruckner's "Locus iste," too.

I’m hoping to be able to get the CD when it comes out later this year, but to whet your appetite, you'll have to settle for recordings from my years.

The program’s sacred “half” (actually 2/3, but Bing always calls it half) always ends with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Here's a version from 1993. I’ve always loved this song, despite the admittedly very dicey theology of having a national battle hymn. Bad idea, scary imagery - grapes of wrath and unloosing the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword, etc.

Guilty pleasure or no, it’s fun to sing. Singers’ alumnae are invited to come up front and join the group for this song. It was great fun and very moving, on several levels. For one thing, there were LOTS of Singers alumnae present - I’d guess there were about 25 of us, swelling the ranks to over 100 voices. Lots of clapping from the audience when so many people got up and began moving to the front, and you can’t help but smile to be part of the legacy. Two of the alumnae were from my own time in Singers - Lisa Jeffcoat, whose married name I can never remember, and John Norris, who tells me he’s recently gotten engaged! Congrats, John!

Anyway, you get to recapture for a moment the glory of that kind of music, which you really don’t find again - I’ve lived in places with very fine community choral programs, but it’s just not the same as singing for Bing. So joining Singers for this one piece is wonderful and bittersweet - you feel all the pride of being part of such a great choral tradition, the sadness that it’s in the past, the gratitude for the opportunities it gave you, and the comfort of knowing you’ll get to sing it with ‘em again next year.

So the Battle Hymn starts, with organ and piano accompaniment (although there was only the organ at this concert, which was a bit of a letdown), a great Bass soloist, and 100+ highly trained voices singing. Hard not to be transported under those circumstances.

My favorite is the last verse - “In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free, while God is marching on.” That doesn’t require martial Crusader-like imagery - even ‘marching’ isn’t too out of line if you don’t want it to be. And while I seriously doubt Jesus was born in the midst of lilies, the rest of that is good theology. We are to be transfigured by Christ - formed and shaped in his likeness, imitating him in what we do and how we act. This is also an ongoing thing - “God is marching on” - as we live in such a way to help all people find freedom. Luke 4:18-19 - “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Christ laid down his life for those things, and rose again, empowering us to live new lives where we are free and we are to extend freedom - from poverty, oppression, and blindness - to others. That’s great stuff.

It’s also great just to sing for Bing - who truly is a marvelous conductor and builds an incredible rapport with his Singers. I felt myself standing taller, breathing deeper, just generally singing better for him than I do for anyone else. Bing was my voice professor, my instructor in choral conducting - I probably spent more time with him than any other faculty member at Furman, now that I think of it. Anyway, just to see his characteristic gestures and mannerisms, his pride in the alumnae coming to join him, his energy and humor and musicianship, was great fun. He can be very stern - many people find him intimidating, as I usually did, and it’s hard to call him anything but “Dr. Vick” in person - but he’s a lot of fun, too. I always love the first verse of Battle Hymn. Bing always wants us to pronounce “glory” as “guh-lory,” very Italian, so the word is clearly glory and not gory or lorry or something else. He makes this characteristic gesture at this point, the first of many times that we’ll sing the word - a gesture similar to an Italian chef exclaiming over the wonderful sauce he’s made, Mama Mia! And he often makes a silly face to show how much he likes the sound we produce.

You’d have to be there, I guess.

But you’d have to audition first.



Saturday, March 1, 2008

Way to Go, Sis!

An excerpt from an email from my sister: "Please congratulate...members of the Speech and Debate they won their fourth consecutive state titles in both 4-A and ALL divisions (A, AA, AAA, and AAAA) overall. This was a tough year for these kids, as we lost 38 seniors last year, so this was a very big win for them."

My sister is the coach of the 4x-in-a-row state champions of the Mauldin High School Speech and Debate Team. This is my alma mater and I was a member and past captain of the team. But it took my sister to forge them into the current juggernaut of forensic ferocity that they have become! I guess the kids and the booster club helped some, too. Coach Cottingham has been their coach for, if I remember right, 5 years; the last 4 of them, they have been state champs.

Way to go, Coach!