Good Shepherds Wanted

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Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

Kevin Watson’s list of hoped for characteristics of the future pastor of his children is pretty dang good. Say the last three words of the previous sentence aloud with a twang (“purty dang gud”), and you’ll hear them as I intended you to, the way those words are meant to be spoken–every time.

The Reverend Doctor Watson names confidence in the good news message, an experience of justification and the new birth (I like it!), an ease in offering testimony, a commitment to Jesus as the only source of salvation, humility, Christian orthodoxy, a theology of discipleship, fervency in prayerfulness, “more than average” self-awareness and self-knowledge” (funny!), openness about failure and familiarity with repentance, wisdom regarding Christianity’s relationship with culture (which can be, at times, oppositional), bold, both familiar with and honest about suffering, a theological education yielding simple, plainly spoken convictions born of wrestling with complex truth claims (beautifully described as “simplicity on the far side of complexity”), skilled in fighting fair and unafraid of “healthy conflict,” winsome,  and concerned for the lost.

Watson adds that he hopes his children have a pastor who proclaims forgiveness from past sins and freedom from sin “in this life now.” That’s a Wesleyan distinctive, one I admire.

Beggars can’t be chosers, but while we’re making lists and dreaming about what could be, those closest to me might know that I would like the pastor of my children to be a lover of literature of all kinds, the outdoors, knock-knock jokes, action movies, science fiction, Patty Mills, camping, Elvis Presley, Chuck Norris, hot sauce, Hot Sauce, golden retrievers, LEGOs, the original Star Wars trilogy, PEZ, hand-written letters, hiking, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Detective Comics, Luka Doncic, Taco Tuesday, road trips, cold weather, good puns, old pick-up trucks, youth soccer, the X-Men, Kansas City BBQ, Battlestar Galactica, Jean Luc Picard, a well executed cannon-ball, building fires, kettlebells, and professional wrestling.

But if it were one list or the other, Kevin’s would be better for my kids. They’re already getting enough of the stuff on my list.

I’m praying for a both/and rather than an either/or here.

May it be so!

Spiritual Leadership is Tough

“People may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” Laurie wrote after Wilson’s death. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”

There is similar introspection among clergy of many faiths across the United States as the age-old challenges of their ministries are deepened by many newly evolving stresses. Rabbis worry about protecting their congregations from anti-Semitic violence. Islamic chaplains counsel college students unnerved by anti-Muslim sentiments. A shortage of Catholic priests creates burdens for those who remain, even as their church’s sex-abuse crisis lowers morale. Worries for Protestant pastors range from crime and drug addiction in their communities to financial insecurity for their own families to social media invective that targets them personally.

Adam Hertzman, who works for the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, witnessed the emotional toll on local rabbis after the October 2018 massacre that killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue.

“Somehow in the U.S. we expect our clergy to be superhuman when it comes to these things,” he said. “They’re human beings who are going to feel the same kind of fear and numbness and depression that other people do.”

– David Crary, Associated Press, “Stresses Multiply for Many U.S. Clergy: ‘We Need Help Too‘”

Eugene Peterson wrote, “The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”

Pastoring is hard work. It is challenging work. It is human work, and it is divine work. I’m not sure if being a pastor is any more challenging now than it has been in any other age. Regardless, two reminders are worth noting. First, be kind to your pastors. Second, offer them your help.

A Desk I’d Like to Sit At

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Photograph by Jessica Lutz, as seen at Texas Monthly

[A] distance runner on the Sul Ross track team named Jim Kitchen was fond of chugging up Hancock Hill when he was a student. This was 1979, and Kitchen was twenty. One of his campus jobs involved culling outdated dorm furniture. One day, an idea struck him. “I had made trails up that hill, cut cactus and made paths, and I was running it three or four times a week,” he says. “I thought, ‘It’d be really cool to have a desk up there.’ ” Kitchen picked out a desk, a heavy, stout thing, from the surplus pile and tried moving it by himself. He didn’t get very far before cajoling two friends to help him lug it to the top of the hill. “We did it at night,” Kitchen says. “I thought I’d get in trouble for stealing a desk. I never told anybody and told those guys, ‘You gotta be real quiet about this.’ ”

He stashed a notebook in the desk’s drawer so he could track his run times. He’d also, on occasion, feel compelled to jot down his thoughts on those pages. He showed the track team the desk, and they began visiting. Slowly, through word of mouth, others found it too. More people started writing in the desk’s journal. The first notebook ran out of blank pages. Then a second one and a third. “Whenever they’d get filled up, we’d take them away and put a new one in there,” Kitchen says. “It really surprised me, the things that were written—pretty moving stuff. This was all before the internet. We weren’t socially connected like we are now. But people were making a connection to nature and to each other in those notebooks. It became something pretty special.”

The Texas Monthly feature: “The Desk on Hancock Hill.”

It’s a place I’d like to go.

Truett’s 2020 Lenten Devotional Guide

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Image by elizabethalliburton from Pixabay

Truett Seminary has compiled a devotional guide for the upcoming Lenten season. I contributed a couple of entries and assisted in the editorial process. The guide outlines daily readings from Matthew and offers reflections from students, staff, and faculty that are inspired by the prescribed Scripture text for that day. Entries variously include exposition, poetry, imaginative prose depictions, guided prayer, recommended practices, and questions for reflection.

Download your copy and follow along.

Better Than VR

Father John Misty’s “Total Entertainment Forever” is prophetic.

Imagine a world where people prefer virtual reality over embodied, physical experience. Having trouble? Just revisit the major plot line of Ready Player One, or Tron, where virtual and physical realities intersect, merge, and somehow overlap.

I don’t care much for the “Total Entertainment Forever” video. The lyrics are the juice. Father John Misty describes the world emerging before us today, a place where we date the celebrity of our choice in a virtual environment, where we are “free” to live however we want (in prisons of virtual illusion), where rich and poor are equally “entertained,” distracted by fantasy. The “nightmare” we’re invited to awaken from is our lives, preferring instead our dreams being beamed straight into our eyeballs in marvelous hi-def.

No gods to rule us
No drugs to soothe us
No myths to prove stuff
No love to confuse us
Not bad for a race of demented monkeys
From a cave to a city to a permanent party
The song closes with a proper scene. Father John Misty imagines a future society unearthing the evidence remaining from our own period, human beings “plugged into our hubs,” smiling but wasted away. We’re left to ponder whether the final line–“This must have been a wonderful place”–is uttered by our posterity in marvel or disdain.
This is a word for our times. The prevailing narrative is that any and all technology will only make human life better. There is truth in that claim, but it is not true. I’d still rather experience life in the body over being a brain in a vat.

Roger Scruton on Beauty

I share this video largely to put down a marker for myself, to allow myself to stumble upon this again at some point in the future. I’ve read Roger Scruton and admire his work. He is a philosopher. In this video presentation, Scruton argues for beauty while critiquing modern art and architecture which, according to Scruton, represents a cult of ugliness. Scruton believes that we have lost touch with the meaning of beauty and have abandoned our quest to create it, much to our impoverishment. He seeks to persuade us to recapture something we have lost, to establish anew the importance of beauty, to inspire courage for those that might name ugliness in art as ugliness, and to encourage the creation of something beautiful.

Beauty can again capture our imagination. Art is no less art if it is ugly, random, purely provocative, and cynical. But if it is ugly, it should be named as such, and in its place beauty should be elevated and celebrated, lifted up as a model, and held forth as an example worth emulating.

The Jesus Shoes

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The absurdity is largely the point.

Family sent me this CBS News report. MSCHF took a pair of Nike Air Max ’97, obtained water from the Jordan, had a priest in Brooklyn bless the water, injected the holy-fied water in the soles, added a few additional flashes to the shoe, and then sold them for $1,425. The buyer then listed the pair on an auction site for $4,000.

The shoes reference Matthew 14:25, the starting point of one account of Jesus’ walking on water. The heels feature the name of the company on the left, and “INRI” (Latin for Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum) on the right. There is a single drop of blood on the tongue, a golden crucifix affixed to the laces, and the insoles are red, featuring again  the company name and “INRI” arched above a cross across the top of a circle which is completed below by a partial crown of thorns. Look at this ridiculous website.

Why did they do this? To poke fun at other collaborations? To make us think more carefully about cross-promotion (a play on words?), like the moment we discovered Rob Lowe, star of 9-1-1: Lone Star, was a big fan of the NFL?

Yes and yes. But let’s hear from MSCHF’s Daniel Greenberg, as quoted in the CBS News article:

“We set out to take that to the next level,” Greenberg said. “We asked ourselves, ‘What would a shoe collab with Jesus look like?’ Obviously, it should let you walk on water. ‘Well, how can we do that?’ You pump holy water into the pocket of a pair of Air Max 97’s and with that, you get Jesus Shoes — the holiest collab ever.”

But is it the holiest collab ever? Or the most profane?