“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
~ John 15.12-17
I’ve got a new post up at Going To Seminary where I talk about how the difficulty of finding one’s voice in the midst of all the heroes you have going into seminary and the new ones you find. We end up doing a lot of mimicking and daydreaming about other people’s spiritual lives and gifts; it’s hard to find our truest selves in the midst of it. Further, I talk at length of the various ways that seminary changes the way that you, as a developing leader, relate to the leaders at your church. It’s also an interesting post to read on this All Soul’s Day. (On a side note, this post has a lot more to do with my experience years ago moving from one state to another for seminary than my current experience at my current church.) Check it out, and let me know what you think! Here’s an excerpt:
For many of us, attending seminary ends up changing our relationship with those people that have shaped and supported us and led us to that moment. For many, they are leaving supportive church families and leaders and doing school elsewhere. I’ve watched many of classmates have to go through a sort of internal “break-up” with their home churches and those pastors with whom they spent so much time. It hurts. They wonder why their pastors “back home” who were so supportive of seminary training won’t return emails. Can’t get together for coffee on school breaks. Won’t talk about possible job opportunities in the future.
Read the full post:
“All My Heroes are Dead“
Check out the rest of my Going To Seminary posts.
[image credit: “St. Jerome” by Caravaggio]
I’ve got a new post up at Going To Seminary where I talk about how it’s hard to make and sustain community, even in seminary. I’m writing mainly about my experience at in in-residence seminary program (my experience with distance learning has been quite different, as you can imagine). But, even if you’re not in seminary, the lessons in the piece are entirely applicable to general church life as well. Check it out, and let me know what you think! Here’s the intro:
Seminaries are weird creatures. In the beginning, most everyone is new and has to do the awkward dance of forming relationships while at the same time trying to find a flow for school to survive. It takes a unique person to really be a part of both the academics and communal side of seminary. And let’s face it: no one is holding your hand there; you mostly have to be self-motivated and spiritually self-sustaining, because the usual church structures that motivate, support and counsel just aren’t there at seminary. Even things like prayer groups and chapels are still only as helpful as the attention you put into them.
Read the full post:
“Seminary Community is Hard & Hurts“
Check out the rest of my Going To Seminary posts.
(On a side note, I’m sorry that the picture above only has men in it. I hate that, but it represents some of the themes of the piece really well.)
My good (online) friend Lore Ferguson (for whose site I recently guest-posted) just had an old post of her’s published on the site The High Calling. It’s called “Sleeping Alone” and it’s some of her meditations on the sustaining life of God in her singleness.
And wow, is it amazing. It’s raw, honest, unflinching, and gracious. Read it right now and then come back here. Here’s an excerpt:
Singleness is a beautiful thing and when I take account of the past decade I see a faithfulness to its beauty in my life in a way that only comes from grace, but I also see a succession of tiny funerals every step of the way. A cemetery full of them. Adventures I have had alone. Mornings I have woken alone. Moments I have reveled in alone. Each one bringing joy in its experience and mourning in its completion.
Life is meant to be shared and marriage is not the only way to share life, I know this, but the mystery of two flesh becoming one is a mingling that cannot be known by me, with my bed all to myself, 400 thread count sheets, open window, and quiet morning. And I mourn this.
As I’ve said several times before on this blog, we humans live on the basis of story. Our life, our world, and our faith provide our lives with a grand “narrative” in which all of our “sub-plots” find shape. We can’t help but use this shape of the present story to fashion some sort of idea of where this story is going. We’ve all experienced this when reading a book. The entire time, we have a guess of where the plot is heading; as we receive more information, we naturally readjust our expectations and thoughts as to the goal or end.
In short, the only way we know to make sense of the various aspects of our lives is to give them shape, narrative, and an anticipated goal towards which they are moving. This is the only way we know to justify each step forward we take in this career, relationship, etc. It gives us our bearings and a point of reference.
This weekend I find myself with the honor, joy, and privilege of heading to a two-day long leadership retreat for my amazing church, liberti church: center city. In honor of this, I wanted to post articles by myself and others focusing on Church philosophy, community, and such. Some of them are a bit longer than usual, so feel free to grab a cup coffee before digging in. I hope you find these helpful and encouraging no matter where you find yourself in relation to the Christian Church. Have a great weekend. And be sure to stop by next week; I’m pretty excited for the stuff I’ve got planned for the blog then.
liberti: center city’s home meetings start next week. I wrote this blog post last year the day before I began leading a brand new group in the Rittenhouse neighborhood of Philadelphia. It’s wonderful to look back over the past year with these people and see that God has answered every prayer I had in this post. I’m still serving these amazing people as their leader, and I can’t wait to see them on Tuesday.
Here, the author of one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, Desiring the Kingdom, offers his thoughts on the current state of theology, denominations, and theological education. A quick must-read for all.
We know the story well. You start a relationship and it’s exciting at first: it’s new, it’s unfamiliar, and each day seems to hold a new discovery or a new inspiration. There’s a dynamic sense of interaction and give-and-take that inspires you to share more and more of yourself with this person. You learn more about yourself. You learn more about them with whom you are sharing this stuff. Your thinking sharpens and you spend much of the day musing about what you might tell them and when you might interact with them once more, wondering about how you might phrase something or to what detail to speak of a certain thought, feeling, or sentiment you had.
But then it happens. These interactions begin to feel a little more like a duty than a delight. You feel the weight of expectation and it begins to stifle the feelings you once had. Those days that go by without interaction feel more like reprieves than punishments. You feel the strings of your own heart beginning to unwind from the ball of yarn that is there’s.
[This weekend, I had the privilege of helping lead the prayers and liturgy at my church. I thought I would post my manuscript up for all to read and take part in as well. I hope this blesses you to read as it blessed me to write.]
Greeting and Preparation
Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Hello, my name is Paul, and welcome to Liberti: South Philly. We are a community of people–people with struggles, doubts, addictions, and frustrations–who are still in the process of figuring out what it means to believe in this God we believe in, and relate to Him and others in a way that reflects that belief. This may be your first time here or your hundredth, but either way we want to welcome you all and we hope that your time here today is meaningful.
The part of the Christian faith we will be talking about today is that of community and relationships. Most likely all of us in here have our own sets of insecurities, uncertainties, and baggage concerning this topic. Our relationships seem to be the area that can frustrate us like no other; the area that it appears no amount of mere intellectual knowledge can change. It is often the source of our greatest joys, our deepest sorrows, and our most profound change.
Oh, God, I knew it!!
Right when I stopped seeking
is right when I would find
the right one!
I mean, the right one? Because I don’t know . . .
First inductee into the club of my infatuation
So many years ago, but only for a time.
Shot down once, so I moved right along,
Losing closeness day by day, week by week, month by month
Class by class
But now you’re back-
But I thought you left!
Off to see the real sunset and the real ocean,
And the real you; but nonetheless.
Strange occurrences accompany this new reacquaintance:
Images of rings and white
and things so right
flood my conscious mind;
Images of laying and lying
And praying and dying
A face horizontal caressed by
sunlight slits through bedroom blinds
days, years after a honeymoon shared.
Counting wrinkles day by day
And counting sheep night by night
But the night is dark and hard to see
Are you the face that will set me free?
I strain my eyes, while confusion sets in,
And now you’re coming back, away from real sunsets, and real oceans,
The real you – Is it a sign?
Oh God, I don’t know it!