The author describes pastoral ministry in terms of being a “grassroots theologian,” a phrase I’ve used for nearly thirty years.
He quotes Seward HiltnThe author describes pastoral ministry in terms of being a “grassroots theologian,” a phrase I’ve used for nearly thirty years.
He quotes Seward Hiltner, who imagines the results of a probable poll of ministers responding to the question, “Do you regard yourself as a theologian?” • 31%: “Well, I am a minister, but you could hardly call me a theologian.” • 22%: “It is true I have studied theology, but I’m not really a theologian.” • 17%: “Brother, I sure ain’t. I’m only a simple parson, not one of those high-powered book guys.” • 8%: “Well, I guess I am, in a way, but I am more interested in serving people than in theology.” • 7%: “Where did you get that idea? And don’t do it again. I’d even rather be called ‘Reverend’ than ‘theologian.’” • 5%: “No.” • 4%: “I am about twice a year, when I go back for the alumni lectures.” • 2%: “Excuse me, I have to rush to a funeral.” • 1%: “I wonder who thought up that question.”
Eight models of ministry are outlined, each of which seems appropriate in certain contexts, but also may lead to pitfalls if exercised uncritically: • Servant-shepherd, • Politician-prophet, • Preacher-teacher, • Evangelist-charismatic, • Pragmatist-promoter, • Manager-enabler, • Liturgist-celebrant, • Chaplain-counselor.
The reader is challenged to acknowledge the limitations of these models, and invited to consider a model that provides a frame of reference in which all these other models may be placed: the pastor as grassroots theologian. The grassroots theologian doesn’t function as a resident encyclopedia about the Bible, church history, and famous theologians, though she or he will possess a certain amount of knowledge about these topics. Rather, the pastor-grassroots-theologian develops a habit of mind, and regularly exercises discernment in all aspects of ministry. “What is God up to in our lives and in this congregation?” “What are we doing in terms of relating and responding to God?”
Calian reminds clergy that in order for the church to be the church, it needs grassroots theologians who humbly interpret the Word of God within the events of local congregations and individual lives. Without theologizing, a pastor may become a humanist in sacred guise, and the church just another philanthropic organization. “Without such theologizing, the church will always be attuned to the culture of the preceding age – always trying to catch up, but seldom providing leadership.” ...more
Coughing as I was, and contemplating my inevitable journey to the edge of mystery, a New Year’s Eve completion of this book seemed a good way to end 2Coughing as I was, and contemplating my inevitable journey to the edge of mystery, a New Year’s Eve completion of this book seemed a good way to end 2014. After 27 years as a clergyperson, I’ve had many opportunities for such contemplation. Any seminarian can pick up a Book of Common Worship or funeral handbook, and stumble through the basics of planning and leading a worship service at times of death. But deeper questions about why we do the things we do often go unanswered or even unexamined. This book answers some of those questions.
Thomas Lynch is an undertaker (I think he might actually prefer that term to “funeral director”) who works near the territory in which I grew up and was schooled. Tom Long was my preaching professor at Princeton Seminary, whose writing and conference speaking has guided my ministry for decades. You can look up their biographies, so I needn’t say more about them. Either alone writes with wisdom and grace, but put them together in one book, and you have a magnificent dialogue that ends up feeling like an authoritative classic on the topic addressed.
I will venture to call the book a post-mitfordian text, in the sense that the authors are not just carrying on a dialogue with one another, but also debating the work, influence, and lingering effects of Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death. They acknowledge the abuses Mitford exposed, and bemoan the damage that undertakers and ministers imposed on themselves by buying into America’s commercialization of death. Then they point out the way the Mitfordian Movement has pushed us in another direction that has led many to deal with death in spiritually and emotionally impoverished ways. That Mitford could write her text, and not mention the tragic deaths of her first husband and two young children, and, apparently, was no better in processing grief with her surviving family members, is a case study example that waves a red flag at us.
Theologically, Tom Long’s anti-gnostic emphasis, which has grown more pronounced in recent years, is on full display. “Bodies matter, and a society is only as healthy as its concern for the safety and health of the physical bodies of its citizens …. What happens, or doesn’t happen, to the bodies of the dead tells us much about what we believe about life and death, what we think of ourselves as a society.” This is one way to summarize the nexus of the theology and praxis surrounding a good funeral; our actions toward the dying and dead will reveal to what extent our theology is truly Christian.
The Lynch/Long emphasis on practices that respect the body, include the body in our gatherings, and exercise great care to accompany the body all the way to the grave is posed as an alternative to the mitfordian practice of quickly whisking the body away in the best possible antiseptic and industrial manner. The Lynch/Long practice reflects an opposition to a neo-platonic understanding of the body as simply an “empty shell” from which one's true essence has escaped. Again, as others have said in a pithy way, “matter matters.”
Though I cannot identify a chapter that was “best” for me, one did especially trigger my imagination, perhaps because of two family deaths this year, and that was chapter seven on the theory and practice of cremation (Lynch). From the Lynch/Long perspective, there’s nothing innately wrong with the use of fire as an element or tool in accompanying our loved ones to the grave. But when you imagine the theology reflected in contemporary practice, it’s usually not satisfying: bodies delivered to an unknown crematorium in the back of an industrial park, stacked in rows, a cardboard box with a metal disk placed in a retort (there’s a new vocabulary word for me) for high-temperature baking, and ultimately returned to family in a small box or vessel that may or may not have a place in worship services leading to burial or scattering. Lynch and Long don’t major in ridicule, but when they do, it effectively makes a point, e.g., “The memorial service, by avoiding the embodied dead, the shovel and shoulder work, the divisions of labor and difficult journey to the grave or the pyre, too often replaces theology with therapy, conviction with convenience, the full-throated assurances of faith with a sort of memorial karaoke where ‘everyone gets to share a memory.’ ” What if, in cases of cremation, we began to accompany the body to and from the crematory? What if we adopted the practices of other cultures by including in the final journey funeral pyres around which families and friends celebrate liturgical traditions? There’s a picture to ponder....more
The theme is all about sustaining missional ministry by keeping certain things flowing (currency should flow like a current of water) as God intends (The theme is all about sustaining missional ministry by keeping certain things flowing (currency should flow like a current of water) as God intends (Psalm 24:1-2). Divided into currency of "time and place," "gracious leadership," "relationship," truth," "wellness," and "money." I like what I'd call the "sidebars" -- shadowed sections of the text -- which offer practical exercises in a workbook-like way....more
I summarize this way: 1.) Pay close attention to the unique coloring of your skin, eyes, and hair. 2.) Once you know your personal palette, learn how toI summarize this way: 1.) Pay close attention to the unique coloring of your skin, eyes, and hair. 2.) Once you know your personal palette, learn how to use it in different types of clothing for the settings you anticipate. 3.) Evaluate your wardrobe and plan your purchases accordingly....more
I decided that if I want to gift females in my family with fashion essentials, then I’d better get educated. The first book I read – by a fashion jourI decided that if I want to gift females in my family with fashion essentials, then I’d better get educated. The first book I read – by a fashion journalist – seemed rather thin on useful content. This book strikes me as solid, written by someone who not only is an expert, but also knows how to communicate and teach. The early chapters focus on form and silhouette, leading me toward a deeper appreciation of clothing balance, proportion, and line for various body types. Along the way, I picked up a few dozen other useful ideas about discarding, tailoring, storing, and buying. Like Antonio Centeno, the guys’ style expert I like, Kendall Farr emphasizes buying high quality essential pieces, but isn’t afraid to tell you to look for them at your local bargain store. And, yes, I’ve already scored a handful of deals on linen, cotton, and silk pieces at my neighborhood Goodwill. I’m still a novice, but suspect that this is one of the better books that I’m likely to find for female fashion advice....more
Author's observations + Apologetics 101 + Gospel tract = this book. Most interesting part for me was chapter nine "Bad Guys Finish First," which highlAuthor's observations + Apologetics 101 + Gospel tract = this book. Most interesting part for me was chapter nine "Bad Guys Finish First," which highlights Jesus' gracious treatment of a criminal, as recorded in Luke 23:39-43....more
It feels more like a workbook than I had imagined. The table of contents is essentially a three-level outline. Each chapter is clearly organized withIt feels more like a workbook than I had imagined. The table of contents is essentially a three-level outline. Each chapter is clearly organized with headers and bullet points, with crisply written sidebar case studies and exercises. The opening chapter encourages workbook-like uses, saying that in addition to reading the text from start to finish, readers can browse for “concepts and tools most useful for understanding or deal with the particular adaptive challenge you are facing.”
If you’re looking for philosophical underpinnings and controlling images, you’ll find some in the second chapter on “The Theory Behind the Practice.” The authors draw upon evolutionary biology, reminding readers of the adaptation that has taken place in human society during four million years of cooperation and competition. After defining adaptive leadership as “the practice of mobilizing people to tackle touch challenges and thrive,” the authors write, “the concept of thriving is drawn from evolutionary biology, in which a successful adaptation has three characteristics: (1) it preserves the DNA essential for the species’ continued survival; (2) it discards (reregulates or rearranges) the DNA that no longer serves the species’ current needs; and (3) it creates DNA arrangements that give the species the ability to flourish in new ways and in more challenging environments.”
I found myself wondering more about who has the power to judge that something in an organization’s DNA no longer serves current needs, and thinking we should be mindful of the ethical dimensions when our organization “discards.” Discarding action may have as its object a poor understanding of a chronic challenge or an ineffective strategy for coping with a chronic challenge. But, sometimes, discarding action may mean changing roles and/or eliminating positions, and I think it’s important to keep clearly in mind that such actions involve real people with legitimate fears, concerns, and obligations, who should be treated justly. A living organism that discards the wrong cells may end up consumed by cancer, and I imagine that an equally unpleasant end may be faced by an organization that makes poor judgments about what or who to discard.
Among the most helpful sections for me, speaking to my need for understanding and dealing with my particular adaptive challenges: • Chapter 2, pp. 19 ff. “Distinguishing Technical Problems from Adaptive Challenges” • Chapter 5, pp. 70 ff. “Determine the Technical and Adaptive Elements” • Chapter 10, “Act Politically” • Chapter 12, “Build an Adaptive Culture” • Chapter 19, “Stay Connected to Your Purposes” • Chapter 23, “Thrive” ...more
I’ve been in conversation w/ KB for nearly 30 years, my feelings alternating between admiration for his courageous creativity and exasperation about hI’ve been in conversation w/ KB for nearly 30 years, my feelings alternating between admiration for his courageous creativity and exasperation about his convoluted concepts. On the one hand, I highly respect his Jefferson-like role in penning the Barmen Declaration, which is a mountaintop moment in 20th-century Christian witness. On the other hand, I’m greatly annoyed with what has seemed like his arrogant contentiousness, for example, in the famous reply “Nein!” to Emil Brunner in which he denied the value of natural theology. As a 23-year-old theology student, I would have resonated deeply with the appraisal of James Barr (p. 283) when he characterized the "Church Dogmatics" as “countless pages of wearisome, inept, and futile exegesis.”
However, in the process of reading this text, my understanding of Barth has broadened, and my appreciation for his work has deepened. TJG’s ability to vividly and succinctly describe the cultural, social, and political context that shaped Barth’s work gave me a fresh perspective that I didn’t get (or perhaps couldn’t appreciate) earlier in life. Back then, my theology professor pushed us through a couple thick volumes of the "Church Dogmatics," with context provided by Eberhard Busch’s biography. How I wish we would have been led on a journey through Barth’s commentary on "The Epistle to the Romans," and had "KB: Against Hegemony" as a supplemental text! I might have considered Barth to be a pastor and grassroots theologian whose example young ministers could emulate, rather than a prolific academic genius in in whose footsteps we could never hope to follow.
I believe I first heard about this book in an address by Cynthia Rigby at the Festival of Homiletics in 2007. I’m so glad I finally found a copy at a reasonable price, and got around to reading it. I’m going to read it AGAIN. P.S.: read it a second time, 1/23/14....more