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“Spiritual Experiences”

Last week Emergent Pittsburgh hosted Ian Mobsby for two events – one focused on worship and the other focused on the Trinity and the structure of the church.

The event on worship was a nightmare for me in many ways.  My personality type (Myers-Briggs) contains an ST – Sensory Thinker, as opposed to Intuitive – Feeler.  I sense that if you did a poll of people at the event on Monday night you’d find that the majority of people were intuitive – feelers, and that’s to be expected.  I sense that many of those who are interested in things “emergent” tend to be more the intuitive – feeling type.  Anyway…

One of the things that Ian talked about was how worship, as opposed to being an attempt to satisfy God with a response, is a formative experience for people.  I’ve observed in my own ministry that what people draw the most from are the lessons in which they experienced something – when they felt a real sense of God’s presence.  The problem is, as someone firmly grounded in the Neo-Orthodox tradition, I have been taught to tremble in fear at the thought of relying on experience (and with a lot of justification, even if I do say so myself).  However, I’ve come to articulate something that I think gives experience its rightful spot.

The role of Christian leaders is to prepare people for, lead people in, and help people interpret spiritual experiences.

This may seem self-evident, but I think the preparation and interpretation part are really important.  At Youth Specialties in 2006 Kenda Dean interpreted the story of the calling of Samuel by pointing out that while it was Samuel who heard God,  he needed Eli to tell him that it was God’s voice.  I think this is a good way to look at contemplative ministry.  Much of experiential worship tends to be individualistic – while the whole community may take part, usually they are silent activities.  There is nothing wrong with this – but it is important that others in the community help each other interpret what they experienced.

Everything we do in ministry is essentially (or should be anyway) a spiritual experience.  But contemplative experiences are especially valuable because they take the emphasis off the “pastor” or “teacher” or “leader”.  The leaders become facilitators or guides, rather than communicators of truth.  It gives the Holy Spirit space to work and for people to hear the Spirit speaking in shear silence.  Personally I know that I am far more relaxed leading contemplative experiences than I do when I’m in a more traditional “teaching” role.  As opposed to relying on authority of a leader, contemplative exercises allow people to experience God’s presence for themselves.

Prepare, Lead, Interpret.

The Silent Day

Holy Saturday

A day of silence

It’s the one day that there’s no point in reading your bible to find something about it out, because the bible is stunningly silent when it comes to Holy Saturday.  According to Luke:

55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56
Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.  1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb

There is nothing to be said when it comes to Holy Saturday, Jesus is dead, God is dead, there is nothing.  There is no word from the Lord on Holy Saturday, just blank empty space.  One can only imagine the pain of the disciples on that Saturday.  The end really had come, it wasn’t a joke, he didn’t save himself as the crowds tempted him to do so.  Jesus was really dead, and the seemingly the hope that came with him with it.  I can imagine they might have felt angry, that they were deceived and misled.  Perhaps there were some who started to say, “Remember he said something about the third day?”  But we don’t know for sure what happened, all we know is whatever did wasn’t recorded and passed on.

What does the silence of Holy Saturday mean?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  I’ve always felt that to a certain extent the silence of Holy Saturday was left there intentionally, to show that sometimes when horrible things happen God is silent for a while, or doesn’t act right away.  And that’s not a sign that God has left us, or that God has turned away from his promises, but rather, God’s timing isn’t right yet.  At least that’s the best I’ve come up with.

Perhaps Holy Saturday has nothing recorded because we’re not supposed to know what happened that day, or perhaps it’s because there was nothing of note.  Or perhaps it’s something else completely.

In any event, the darkness of Holy Saturday points toward the glorious resurrection hope revealed on that first Easter Morning.  Praise God, for Christ has risen and will come again.

Categories: Holy Saturday, Theology

NYWC VI

December 3, 2006 Leave a comment

I’m actually writing this blog post in the midst of the evening general session. I’ve been busy today with various things.

After my afternoon off I went over to an open forum discussion I saw advertised. A professor from Asbury is working with YS to study what makes for good relationships between a youth pastor and a senior pastor, and since I think my senior pastor is a pretty swell guy I thought I’d go and share a little bit about what makes our relationship good. So I did, and it basically comes down to a few things. (1) I know I’m respected. Pastor Doug respects what I do – he doesn’t think of youth ministry as “mini-ministry” but genuinely respects what I do in my work with youth. (2) I respect him. At least once a week I am thankful for the fact that I don’t have Pastor Doug’s job. He has to deal with a whole different set of things than I do. To be fair, I’m pretty sure that when it comes to things like Jr. High Lock-ins Pastor Doug is pretty glad that that’s my territory, not his. (3) We communicate. At least once or twice a week Pastor Doug and I sit down and “touch base”. We talk about what’s going on with the youth ministry, the greater church, etc. Pastor Doug doesn’t do things behind my back and spring them on me and I try my best not to do that to him. (4) Support – as far as I’m concerned, Pastor Doug and I try our best to be loyal to one another.

I think beyond that I did some a good amount of research when I started thinking about taking the job I have. I talked to the interim associate, a former member, the former pastor, the presbytery pastor, the former youth pastor, as well as other people in the Presbytery. I remember Jim Mead (Pastor to the Presbytery) telling me that when I looked for associate positions the most important thing was to make sure it would be a fit between the senior pastor and myself. So, I took that to heart and it turned out to be good advice – I made that a priority in my search. I as much told one search committee that I wasn’t there person almost entirely because I knew it wouldn’t be a fit between myself and the senior pastor. I wonder if a lot of youth workers really have the chance/take the chance to really get to know the senior pastor and figure out if it’ll be a good fit between them and the senior pastor.

Anyway, after that I met up with a group of PC(USA) people and went out to dinner, and that was a really good time. It was fun to get together with people who (1) Are part of my world in youth ministry (2) Are part of my world in the PC(USA). What was depressing was to hear some stories from other seminaries and CPMs from frustrated and somewhat dejected Presbyterian students. But, I want to be positive so I’m going to stop there. But other than that – it was a fantastic time

Tonight, as I write this, I’m listening to a younger African American version of Andrew Purves. It’s really funny. Chris Hill is a youth worker in Texas and he started his message with John 1 and talked about John the Baptist. I knew where he was going when he started – incredibly solid stuff. The only reason I’m writing during it is that I feel like I’ve heard this, granted it was from a somewhat older Scotsman. Hill’s basic thing is this – we as youth workers are, like John the Baptist, to bear witness to the true light. While he was reading John 1 Chris repeated “he was not the light, he was not the light, he was not the light…” Even as someone who heard Dr. Purves talk about this for three years and remind us that our ministry was not redemptive it’s still incredibly hard to get that into my head and heart. In Chris’ words, “I am not the light”. Absolutely fantastic stuff – I’m definitely going to be getting this recording because it. “I am not the light, but I can point you to a light that can change your life forever”

Tonight’s Late Night Theology Discussion with Tony Jones was interesting as always, but also very moving. One woman in the group raised to us an issue about a little girl in her church who is battling cancer and how that relates to intercessory prayer. The discussion took on a much more gracious tone than last year and it felt more worthwhile because we were thinking theologically about an actual situation. We ended our time by laying on hands and praying – very cool. As someone said (and I honestly forget who) “True theology leads to prayer”

Afterward I had a nice discussion with Kenda Dean from Princeton about PhD studies, but that’s another post for a another time.

New Sermon Posted…

August 8, 2006 1 comment

So my recording was successful – quite successful I’ll add.  We figured out how to make garage band record more than 40 minutes of music and we captured the whole thing, including the message.  This message was entitled, “Why I Have Hope”.  You can find the audio here…

In many ways this sermon is an on-going dialogue in my head between Jurgen Moltmann and Karl Barth.  I have been shaped a great deal by Barth (given the title of my blog that’s not surprise) and to a lesser but still important extent by Jurgen Moltmann.  In part because I see Moltmann going where Barth didn’t into the areas of redemption and eschatology.  (In fairness to Barth, the Church Dogmatics was never completed and that area was the projected fifth volume).  Despite the sharp differences between Barth and Moltmann, especially in their development of the Trinity I find them both to be extremely helpful to read, especially side by side.  I’ve internalized the language of Barth better, so I think he comes through more in my preaching and writing, but I think the thought forms of some of Moltmann’s work in Theology of Hope come through.

On a related note, I managed to lose my copy of “Theology of Hope”, so until I pick it up from my dear friend who recovered it for me, I’m switching to William Stacey Johnson’s “The Mystery of God: Karl Barth and the Postmodern Foundations of Theology”.  While I’m interested in Johnson’s argument I don’t think I’ll try to engage it in this forum.  However, I have on order my own copy of “Barth for Armchair Theologians” which I plan to read as soon as it arrives.  Written by my friend John Franke my review will in no way be objective.  I am however hopeful that this resource will be one that I can recommend to people, both lay people at those in seminary, as a resource for being introduced to Barth and his thinking.

and when you get a chance check out the new  turningpoint website

Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum

July 14, 2006 3 comments

When it comes to discussing my favorite theologian, Karl Barth, it does not take very long (usually after the disucssion of his influence and the shear size of the church dogmatics) for someone to bring up his relationship with Charlotte von Kirschbaum.  Ben Myers has posted some thoughtful reflections on their relationship here.  This post was in response to Ben’s piece, “An Imagined Conversation between Bultmanna and Barth, which is quite entertaining in its own right and deserves a read.

Categories: Karl Barth, Theology

Barth, Moltmann, Hilary, and the Trinity

June 27, 2006 2 comments

So of late I’ve concentrated a fair amount of my reading on the Trinity. My final term in seminary I took a course on the Doctrine of the Trinity in which we read Moltmann’s The Crucified God and The Trinity and the Kingdom. Now, I’m current reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics 1.1 (the later part) where Barth develops his doctrine of the Trinity. At the same time, I’m reading Hilary of Pointiers On the Trinity (which as you might have guessed is his development of the doctrine of the Trinity)

What has been most interesting is to see where all three of these authors start their development of the Trinity. Moltmann starts with Jesus Christ being identified as the “Son” of the “Father” and proceeds from there. Not suprisingly, Moltmann emphasizes the “threeness” over the “oneness”. Barth starts by identifiying God as being “One” and then develops from there into the doctrine of the Three “modes of being”. Finally, Hilary starts with a doctrine of God the Father by defining God by what we are not. (Omniscient, eternal, etc.) and then develops the doctrine of the Son by expounding the “Christological passages” of the New Testament (John 1, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, etc.)

What has been most interesting is to see the three different approaches and what I see as their strengths.  From what I can tell, Moltmann is correct in his assessment of the dangers of developing a doctrine of God from classical theism – by saying that God is everything we are not (as Hilary does) because it can end up being a stretch to connect that image of God to the image of God presented by Jesus Christ.  Barth and Moltmann start in similar places, but Barth’s insistence on starting with God as one leads him toward his modalistic tendencies, while Moltmann’s starting with the three leads him toward his tritheistic tendencies.

What has been perhaps the most interesting is the realization that Barth rightly critiques the use of the word “person” given the post-enlightenment context in which he wrote.  While Moltmann tries to explain how he is defining “person” I think he ultimately fails because the word just carries too much baggage.  While I’m not sure the phrase “mode of being” (in English – this is one time I wish I knew German) is a great alternative Barth’s development of it has calmed some of my fears about the direction in which he was headed.

Well, that’s enough mindless musings for tonight.  I have a feeling this is one of these posts that makes little to no sense, but it helps me sort things out in my head.

Kingdom of God Quiz

Here's a new quiz I hadn't seen:What is the Kingdom of God?

I guess my ecclesiology shows through a little bit doesn't it?   

You scored as Kingdom as a Christianised Society  

Christians shouldn't withdraw from the world, but by being present in it they can transform it. The kingdom is not only spiritual, but social, political, and cultural.

Kingdom as a Christianised Society
 
92%
The Kingdom is mystical communion
 
75%
The Kingdom is a Future Hope
 
67%
The Kingdom as a counter-system
 
58%
The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia
 
58%
The Kingdom as a political state
 
25%
Inner spiritual experience
 
17%
The Kingdom as Institutional Church
 
8%
Categories: Theology