The Value of Tradition

I was fortunate to get a Kindle back in February for my birthday, and I have really loved it. One of the unexpected surprises with this new gadget has been the opportunity to read some of the great classics that I’ve never read. The big one I’m working through right now is Moby Dick, which I started right after Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

I’ve always believed that creativity is aided by reading apparently disconnected works and seeing the things that tie them together.  That’s what I always loved about taking several different classes simultaneously during seminary. Unexpected connections are often the place where we find true inspiration and creativity.

In reading these two books, I came across two quotes that I really appreciate that offer a unique perspective on the value of tradition. The first is one that I have heard before,

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.  Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton

The next is one I hadn’t heard,

Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Moby Dick – Herman Melville

These two quotes were important reminders to me that we lose an important voice when we forget or ignore the wisdom of those who have gone on before us.

A New Year, and Few Resolutions

Today has been a good day.  I had the day off of work and took time to do some things that needed doing.  

Even though we’ve tried in the past, today was the day we really took off Emma’s training wheels for good.  She took to it immediately and rode up and down the street in front of our house.  I loved sitting on the tailgate of my pickup with Caleb, drinking coffee, and watching her as she alternated between pedaling and crashing.  

We put up all the Christmas stuff today and completely cleaned out our garage.  As a pastor, so much of our work moves at glacial speed, so  it’s nice to do this kind of work from time to time and actually start and finish something in the same day!

We also followed in my family tradition and ate beans and cornbread for New Year’s Day.  As long as you eat something that swells when it cooks, rice, beans, etc., you’ll prosper in the year ahead.  At least that’s the logic behind that tradition.  So, I’m looking forward to a prosperous year!

I’m not one to make a ton of New Year’s resolutions, but I think I’ll make a few for this year.  I plan to read through the Bible this year using YouVersion on my iPhone.  As of this moment, I’m planning on doing my daily readings in the TNIV version.  

Second, I plan to work on my skills as a leader.  Seth Godin has been really inspiring me lately, and his post today really challenged me to step up to a different level in that arena.  He writes, 

The place where expectations are lowest: leadership. Everyone expects you to get in line and follow, not lead.  The opportunity this year is bigger than ever: to lead change, to create a movement in a direction you want to go. While the rest of your world huddles and holds back, here’s a golden chance to use cheap media, available attention and great talent to make something that matters.

This hopefully links to my third resolution, which is to finish my D.Min. project.  My project involves developing an alternative entry point for Christian Formation, specifically creating an online classroom for a curriculum series I’ve been working on in my new position.  It is definitely integrated with the cheap media side of Seth’s challenge, since I’m using free resources like and youtube to develop it.

I think that’s all I’m going to write.  It seems that there resolutions are ever-expanding, and I could think of fifteen more things that I’d love to focus on in the New Year.  I guess fifteen focus areas would probably not be focus at all, would it?!

May you all be blessed in your planning and blessed in this New Year!!

How to be a Finisher

One of the real challenges I’ve faced is moving from being the sole staff member, pastor, preacher, leader in two congregations to being a member of a larger team.  As a result, I’ve been on the lookout for great information about how to better function on a team.

Kem Meyer is the author of one of my favorite blogs, and in a recent post she pointed me to this article by her husband Mark Meyer (whose blog I just subscribed to) that really provides some great information on “how to be a finisher.”

  • Look for an opportunity to take an initiative that has been stalling out or hanging incomplete at work. Take it, and in your mind make yourself 100% responsible. Do what it takes to get it done and done well. Want to be normal? Be cynical and roll your eyes at how the project is just another company objective that will never get done…
  • In meetings and conversations, be the best note taker- pay attention and get the details of what needs to be done whether it’s your responsibility or not. Help remind people of the tasks to do, priorities at hand, and assist people by reminding then what needs to get done. Normal is people on your team missing details leaving projects incomplete, clients unhappy, and money uncollected. Fill in the cracks for your team so your team finishes strong.
  • Be willing to make a decision. Everyday there are scores of emails and conversations filled with questions, hurdles, and excuses. Bring clarity and be solution oriented… take those things that are spinning and bring them to a finish line. What’s normal? Add to the confusion, be vague, ask questions that seem really smart but just keep things undone, offer more reasons why something can’t be done and how you don’t have enough information. Hide in the multitudes of 80%.

Great stuff, eh?  I love his thoughts on how to “be normal,” and the way he points to exceptional ministry by avoiding those traps.  I look forward to reading more of Mark’s thoughts in the future.

Bible Study Interests?

One of my ongoing responsibilities in my new position is teaching a fairly in-depth bible study each week.  On Tuesday morning at 6:30, I have been walking through Paul’s letter to the Romans with a group of about 60 men.  Later, at 9:30, I teach about 65 women the same material.

We’re about to come to the end of Romans in the men’s group and that means we’ll be heading on to something new.  I’m not sure what direction I want to go at this point, so I thought I’d enlist your help!  Which of the following books would you most like to study?  This list is selected based on a couple of criteria, primarly what our groups have already covered (Romans and Matthew most recently) and my personal interests.

So, here ya go!  If you’d like to add some comments for your reasons, feel free to do so in the comment section below.  Just as a note, if we choose something like the Psalter it will not be a three year study but instead will focus on some of the theological highlights.

Science and Theology

Last night, our church hosted a discussion on Science and Theology as the final installment of our Living Faithfully series.  As I listened to the talk, I thought it might be interesting to provide some of the resources that have shaped my own thinking in this area.  To make a long story short, I entered the ministry after six years studying Biology and Molecular Biology, so it has been an important thing in my faith to integrate these two fields that are sometimes seen as polar opposites.

Here are a few books and a resource that have been helpful to me:

There are many more, and some that are much more specific and in depth.  If there’s a field you’re curious about specifically, either leave a comment or contact me and I can give you more detail.

Conflicting Moral Imaginations: Job, His Friends, and Suffering, Part 3

Job responds out of a moral imagination shaped by the bitter and difficult experience of crushing suffering. The sheer terror of these events shakes Job’s moral imagination to its core. We might even ask whether Job’s moral imagination was the reason he was chosen or if it was shaped by the sheer force of his suffering. In other words, which came first, the suffering or the moral imagination that enabled and shaped his response?

Instead of being able to easily embrace the friends version of what is happening, Job begins in Chapter 3 with a profound lament, cursing the day of his birth (3:1), longing for non-existence (3:13-15), praying for the grave (3:21-22), and utterly lamenting the omnipresent nature of his groans and sighs (3:24). He responds first to Eliphaz as he reminds him of the realities of his suffering: worm-eaten flesh (7:5), swift days that end without hope (7:6), and even utter hopelessness in the face of his suffering (7:21). He then replies to Bildad desperation over being unable to even communicate or perhaps even contend with God (9:3-5). He despairs the invisibility of God’s movements (9:11), and he is filled with bitter loss when he looks at himself in comparison to this inaccessible and overpowering God (9:15-21).

However, in Chapter 10, Job begins to shift from lament over God’s inaccessibility to give free utterance to his complaint (10:1). Somehow, he begins to form a complaint and argument against the unfair treatment he has experienced. He asks God if he oppresses (10:3), he asks if God can see (10:4), and he begs God to leave him alone and allow him to depart to the land of gloom and deep darkness (10:18-22).

Finally, in response to Zophar’s accusation, Job comes back with sarcasm, in effect saying, “You guys are so brilliant. When you die, wisdom will die with you (12:2).” Job then restates his innocence (12:4) and describes God’s power once again (12:13-25). Finally, we see him resorting to the only recourse he can imagine. As Carol Newsom so helpfully points out, Job can only imagine justice and accountability through a divine court of law. Job’s only recourse that doesn’t effectively diminish the suffering he faces is by telling his broken testimony in front of witnesses.

The friends, unlike Job, simply can’t imagine a suffering that is not for the good of the righteous sufferer. They seem to have no difficulty imagining suffering that wears down the unrighteous and grinds the unjust into dust, but they are struggling with the picture of the righteous sufferer. One can easily see that this is a common theme in exilic literature. If we did something wrong, then exile is punishment for that wrong. However, if we have been righteous and we’re still in exile, then what is the response.

I think there is a definite tension between the moral imaginations of the friends and Job that can be extrapolated to the national level of exilic suffering. I would suggest that the friends are saying the suffering necessarily suggests there has been a serious breach of relationship with God, whereas Job seems to hold fast to the idea that he is suffering unjustly. In the face of utter injustice, the only response his imagination will allow is the recitation of his suffering in such a way that God hears as if through a court of appeals. Somehow, the only response he can imagine is the spoken testimony of what is taking place.

BWIII on Viola’s Reimagining Church

If you haven’t, you need to go over and check out Ben Witherington’s comments on Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church. He really spends a lot of time interacting with Viola’s work, and I think you’ll find some interesting insights here.

On the first post, Ben indicates that Frank will respond to these comments, Ben will respond to the response, and then Frank will have a last word.  I look forward to this conversation!

Greatest Hits

Every now and then I like to go back and look at the views for particular posts.  It reminds me of some of my favorites from the blog, and it helps me figure out how I want to focus my posts in the next few months.  So in the spirit of those musical one-hit wonders that release Greatest Hit albums far too early, here are five of my favorite posts of my blogging career.

Newfangled Songs…

We played a new song in worship and got the following letter the next week,

I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it.  Last Sunday’s new hymn – if you can call it that – sounded like a sentimental love balled one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon.  If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this – in God’s house! – don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship.  The hymns we grew up with are all we need.

OK, I’ll fess up.  We didn’t get this letter, but a minister did in 1863 in the week following their first time singing “Just As I Am.”  If you want to read more interesting thoughts, head over to Vintage Faith (Dan Kimball’s blog) where I found this.

Happy Go-Lucky Religion for the Masses

Since my book budget is largely going toward stuff I have to purchase for D.Min. classes, I’ve been checking out a lot of stuff from one of my local libraries. On the recommendation of good ole Nathan Mattox, I borrowed The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I really loved this book. It was funny, insightful, and even inspiring. Go check out BWIII’s thoughts on it if you want an in-depth review.

Now, I’m working through two others. The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart, and Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysts by George Makari.

So far, I’m more into the book on Liebniz and Spinoza by Stewart. That’s the reason for this post. Spinoza wanted to create a society that maximized freedom and limited the clerical and religious abuses that he observed in his world. Interestingly, one of the ways he wanted to do this was by creating a religion for the masses, a “popular religion” for the work-a-day dolts (he did sort of frown on the everyday people who didn’t pursue a life of contemplation) who needed something to make them good freedom-loving, open, and peaceful folk. Stewart writes,

The essence of the creed Spinoza proposes to sell to the masses is the belief that “there is a Supreme Being who loves justice and charity and whom all must obey in order to be saved, and must worship by practicing charity and justice to their neighbor.”

My question is this. Does our Christian faith sometimes simply elevate things that we’d all pretty much agree upon without a commitment to following Jesus of Nazareth, the particular person whom we believe to be the incarnation of God? What are we missing if we end up with a Christian faith that only emphasizes being good, just, open, kind, and happy? Just wondering.