Younger Voices | Blog

Selected blogs by writers under 40

Friday
Apr222011

He is not here...

By D. Christian Nix

I remember my one and only Easter as a full-time student pastor far too vividly. It may be the only 'do-over' in egg hunt history. It was a beautiful day, but the sun was quickly blotted out by an untimely false start at the third through fifth grade egg field. There was an apparent miscommunication – I blame other people – and a handful of kids were somehow allowed to start hunting before the masses had made it to the starting gate from their hot dog lunch.

Oh, it was an ugly, ugly scene – tables were overturned, tears were flowing, blood was shed…or was it just ketchup? Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but it wasn't my proudest moment. Adults had to recover eggs from children with overburdened baskets, order had to be restored, angry parents assuaged and eggs re-distributed across the asphalt parking lot – it was more a mad chase scenario than a hunt, I guess.

The irony was thick, instead of a 'triumphal entry' I had created an 'angry mob.' I'm certain I heard chants of 'crucify him, crucify him' pointed in my direction. I had leveraged an event that involves a competition driven by greed – enhanced with monstrous prize eggs – to celebrate the selfless life and death of Jesus. In the midst of the hunt I had forgotten what it was we were supposed to be searching for.

The 'hunt' for Jesus began early in his ministry. He was constantly surrounded by crowds, many following him from town to town. When he took a boat across the sea, the crowds met him on the other side. Certainly they were enamored by his message…and his miracles. Like children at Easter, many were probably hoping to find a prize egg.

After a long day of caring for the sick and afflicted in Capernaum, Mark reveals that Jesus sought a quiet place of solace the next morning (Mark 1:35ff). After his disciples finally find him, in what must have been an exhaustive search, they chide Jesus for his absence – "everyone is looking for you!" Jesus calmly responds that it's time to move on.

Jesus appears to have had little interest in being the hunted. His driving motivation was not to be the center of attention, but rather to bring attention to the needs of communities, and to challenge the social, political and religious boundaries that diminished (and continue to diminish) the lives of so many.

Eventually the 'hunt' for Jesus takes a decidedly disastrous turn. The crowds that praised him vanish – apparently all the 'prize eggs' had been found. They are replaced by moneychangers, rich young rulers and religious authorities hell bent on his destruction.

Few stood by the cross as he died, and only three, two Marys and a Salome, visited his tomb. In the end, the hunt for Jesus comes up empty. As the angel tells them, "He is not here…" (Mark 16:6). The message brought fear and trembling, and maybe the anger that only true mourners could hold for their beloved – "Where are you?! Don't you know that everyone is looking for you!"

Yet, Jesus' posthumous call to his followers in Mark's Gospel was simple… 'it's time to move on.' Begin again. Challenge the authorities again. Put the rich young rulers in their place again. Heal the sick again. Comfort the afflicted again. Seek justice again. Be willing to die for it…again.

I've spent the better part of three decades trying to wrestle Jesus from his hiding place – "Damn it, Jesus! Don't you see the trouble in our world…do something! Don't you know that everyone is looking for you!" I think I've become just deaf enough to the Christian cacophony to finally hear Jesus calmly whispering, "Damon…it's time to move on. Why are you still standing by my tomb? Don't you see – it's the world that needs to be resurrected, not me."

"He has risen…he is not here" – those words are not a comfort, they are a challenge…and they leave me trembling.

-D. Christian Nix blogs at disillusionedgospel.blogspot.com.



Friday
Mar252011

Belonging

By Brandon Hudson

I was sitting in the car outside of Target while my son slept and my wife, daughter, and mother-in-law went in to do some shopping. Because Quinn seems very prone to napping while in the car, I have learned to take a book along everywhere or something else to work on while he sleeps. I’ve also noticed that people tend to assume the cars around them are empty when walking through the parking lot.

On this particular day, I was reading something in the backseat when a woman walked past the car on her way to the store and then turned around and walked back. She stopped right in front of my car and began to have a conversation.

“What’re you doing here?” I heard her ask. There was no reply.

“What’re you doing here?” she asked again, her pitch rising a bit as if that was the reason she had received no answer before.

It was then that I noticed that while she was talking, she was looking downward, towards the ground around the cart return. It was also then that I began to notice a squeak or a chirp coming from somewhere near the ground around the cart return. Immediately I thought, “How compassionate. How wonderful. This woman has taken time out of her busy day to turn back from her errand and care for an animal who has been wounded and ignored outside the Target in Longview, Texas.”

The conversation continued.

“What’re you doing here?” she asked a third time, like Jesus, reinstating Peter to carry on the ministry of the Kingdom. Here she was bringing healing and life. I stopped even trying to read and watched.

It was then that I noticed that her posture was not one of a healer, but of an aggressor. Her shoulders were driven forward and her face was leaned in toward the still unseen creature on the ground. Perhaps she was frightened that her attempts at kindness would be met with aggression from this wounded animal, and so, she mimicked a posture of aggression herself.

Finally, she made her move.

“I haven’t seen any grackles, what on earth do you think your doing. Shoo, now! You’re not supposed to be here,” she said, and she made a movement toward the bird, chasing it away from picking up the remains of Target food court refuse left on the ground beneath the cart return.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no great defender of the grackle. So far as I know, they are not an animal of particular interest to the Sierra Club. When I lived in Waco, they were a constant nuisance. Anywhere that food might drop, they migrated. They are not birds known for their cleanliness; in fact, they probably carry with them quite a bit of disease. In Waco, there was an employee of the city (or so the legend goes) who was hired simply to ride around town with a shotgun loaded with blanks and fire up in the air to scare the grackles away from various establishments.
 
To me, they are unattractive and bothersome birds. But really, if they don’t come to my space, where else where they go? Have I built where they used to live?
 
When I heard this woman talking to the bird, I really wasn’t thinking about the environmental impact of shopping centers, though I have since discovered (through my awesome research skills and Wikipedia) that grackles had their habitat effected by human expansion early on, but now have a pattern of growth with human establishments, due to their ability to adapt and their “resourceful and opportunistic nature.” In other words, we are creating our own problem.
 
Instead, I was thinking about how those words sounded coming out of her mouth - “You don’t belong here.” 

I was thinking about the way that her posture stood to this small bird.

This woman, who was not large by any human standards, stood towering over this bird who was bothering her, who was not to her liking.
 How often, and to whom do we say, “You don’t belong here?” 
How many of our systems say to other groups, “You don’t belong here?”
How many of our churches say to outsiders (be they outsiders based on religion, color, creed, race, marital status, or sexual orientation) “You don’t belong here?”
 
This is not a political concern for me. My faith is larger than my politics. This is a God issue for me. God, this One who is trying to bring everything together...I wonder what God thinks of the boundaries we are so hell bent on drawing in order to protect our own interests.
 
I’ve been reading a book called The Scapegoat by Rene’ Girard. His contention (in his reading of historical persecution texts) is that when things go wrong, the dominant power always seeks a group on which to place the blame (a blaring oversimplification, just read the book). When I look around me, in a society where faith and politics are intermingled and where the culture is shifting, I see dangerous patterns of blame and boundary drawing emerging from people who are confessing with their mouths that “Jesus is Lord.”
 
If Jesus is Lord, then we must understand that he is Lord of all, and let our actions follow that belief. Jesus may be my Lord, but I am professing that he is Lord of all. If that’s the case, then who am I to exclude my brother from the table. Not the table of America, the table of Life, the table of Christ. 
 
My hope and my prayer is that the posture of my life would be open. My shoulders would be relaxed and my face drawn in a permanent smile that welcomes the world to the God I know. My prayer is that God would eradicate in my life the word of negation the don’t that breathes in my small and scared self. May it be replaced by the affirmation of my sacred self so that with my life I take the time to turn around and say, “You belong here” to all the grackles (myself included) that I may encounter.
-Brandon Hudson is pastor of Northwest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He blogs at Only One Thing.



Thursday
Mar172011

God and Japan

By Zac Bailes

I do not even attempt to claim that I can provide a coherent theory of providence within the confines of a blog post. The theories are numerous, and the scholarship varied, and the nature of 21st media doesn’t provide for the delicacies varied traditions demand.

If you survey the media, even briefly, you will quickly find a plethora of issues facing humanity across the globe: Middle East Uprisings, the Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Fallout, and the gap between rich and poor in America. I’ll put it simply: at any given moment people are facing grave suffering whether as an earthquake, severe diagnosis, or shaking off the chains of political oppression. Time and again we return to the question of God, and more specifically, God’s Providence.

Where is God?

This is the question plaguing Christians concerning suffering. I could attempt to provide an answer, but there would certainly be objectors, and rightly so. Theologians would demand I provide an answer, and given the proper context I certainly would. My concern and refusal to answer this question here in this space is due to the fact that we use the question of providence to ignore the question of human suffering.

If we can place the blame on God or say that God “had a reason for doing X,” we ignore the fragile human reality called “suffering.” I could pontificate on the necessity of a sound theory of providence that engages tradition and scripture, but remains conversational with philosophical traditions. I could argue for narrative form, which accentuates the realities of suffering, but makes them paradigmatic. I could, but I won’t.

We only ask the question of God’s providence in the midst of suffering. It is only when human experience demonstrates loss of life, or threat to life, that we ask and wonder what God is doing. Human suffering is the impetus for asking the question. Before we wonder about what God is doing, we must ask how humanity is responding. Are we providing basic needs? Are we engaging the struggle? Are we seeking to make more acute our senses of justice? To ask the question of God’s providence assumes that we have engaged human suffering. To ask, “Why suffering exists?” means that one has suffered and been with the suffering. It means that we have seen how absurd alleviating suffering can seem, but yet we still persist in faith that peace and safety will be restored.

Where is God?

In suffering, God may seem quite far away, or God may seem the only thread for someone to hang onto. In suffering, God may seem the only force sustaining someone, or the very force that put someone in the hospital bed, or even the grave. In suffering the question of where God is, what God does, becomes secondary. If our concept of God’s providence does not call us into action, into healing, we suffer our common humanity – the very humanity granted by God.

We should pay attention the deep urge within us to protect human life. Could we be so bold as to see that as God’s yearning within humanity? Could we be so hopeful as to listen to the still small voice within us compelling us to make whole what is broken? What if we never separate the human impulse we feel to help others from God’s providence? When we respond to suffering, we become God’s activity in the world. When we work tirelessly for peace, we become God’s activity in the world. When we resign ourselves to separatism and hateful rhetoric, we limit the collective impact of God’s activity in the world.

I cannot provide any words to console the Japanese people.
I cannot provide any words to console the long-suffering of the Libyan people.
I cannot provide any words to console the “non-elite” in America.

I cannot provide words, but I will act. I will encourage communities to mobilize what goods they can to support the Japanese people. I will call, write, and speak to my elected officials for the continued support and practical action for the people of Libya. I will seek conversations, and challenge my community to look at each other and not at titles.

And when somebody asks me where God is, I will say that God was in our sending of supplies to the people of Japan. I will say that God was in the unrelenting diplomatic efforts to secure justice in Libya. I will say that God was in the challenging of an unfair tax system. God lives in our actions, and in our commitment to peace and healing.

-Zac Bailes is a Kentucky native and Baptist minister who attends Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He received a philosophy degree from Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. He blogs at "Crazy Liberals & Conservatives."

Tuesday
Mar152011

Avoiding spiritual burnout

By Michael Lee

Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?  He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Isaiah 40:28- 29

We all get tired – even wiener dogs get tired. My little daschund “Penny” takes a few naps a day.  I think before she curls up to rest, she looks at me and says, “Don’t bother me, I’m off-duty.”

We humans get tired several ways.  If we are giving of ourselves emotionally or physically, we need to recuperate.  It is not an option…If we do not rest we will not be able to think, keep control of our feelings or function

But sometimes we are not able to rest: as we find ourselves being pulled by life’s demands…

  • Taking care of children
  • Taking care of a sick loved one, or
  • Working so many hours just to stay afloat financially….

As theologian/physicist Tielhad deChardin said: “We are not human beings having a spiritual journey, we are rather spiritual beings having a human journey.” We are more than just our bodies.  Our bodies contain souls.  And these souls need to rest – if we do not seek rest for our souls we will have spiritual burnout.

A writer who has influenced my thoughts on “spiritual burnout” is Parker Palmer.  He is a Quaker and an educator, here’s what he says about burnout:

One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess--the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingsness from which I was trying to give in the first place.

 

We need to say this to ourselves repeatedly: “Restoring my soul and restoring my body is a choice.  Either I make the choice or I don’t.”

Renewing the strength of our souls can come through prayer, scripture reading, repentance for trying to take on the burdens of the world by ourselves, and quietly giving 15 minutes to just “listening” to God. We must carve out time daily or we are good for no one.

Our souls get tired, not only our bodies. Often we don’t notice burnout until it affects us negatively.  At some point our soul will “scream” for attention through a breakdown, a loss of desire, emotional numbness, or acting out in morally or unethical ways. 

Nobody is immune, regardless of intelligence, age or state of salvation. Soul restoration is a must for everyone. We should carve out a few minutes everyday to restore our souls.

-Michael Lee is youth and young adult pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C.

 

 



Thursday
Feb242011

Climbing Mountains — Seminary Style

By Britt Hester

Recently I took part in a one-day retreat with the faculty and student body of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. The retreat was held at Camp Pinnacle in Clayton, Ga., with the purpose of exploring what it means to "nurture the soul(s) of the McAfee community."

We spent time resting, communing and worshiping with each other and with God. It was an enriching experience. I personally enjoyed the time I spent with my fellow students and professors. My time there allowed me to relax and appreciate the present moment without worrying about what I have to complete next.

Upon our arrival, Dean Alan Culpepper lead a group of us on a hike to Pinnacle Nob. This was no mere walk through the woods; this was an all out hike up a mountain. The beginning of hike was relatively easy. We hiked up a few hills here and there, but for the most part the trail was a gradual ascension.

As we approached the top, Dr. Culpepper decided to stop and warn us of the coming attraction. The final leg of the mountain was basically a straight, uphill climb to the top.

For those of us who were out of shape (including yours truly), the climb was grueling and painful. The burn in my thighs brought back memories of basketball practice when we would run suicides after two hours of practice. Needless to say, the final leg was not enjoyable. In fact, it wasn't even scenic.

Typically you can counteract the pain with beautiful scenery, yet all we could see were the leaves and rocks that lay before us was we trudged along. At one point I thought about stopping and perhaps even turning around to head back to the camp for an ice bath. I'm happy I didn't.

Once we arrived to the top of the mountain, the view before us was phenomenal. We could see for miles. While I enjoyed the view, I was mostly grateful for the chance to catch my breath.

As I sat on the rock recuperating, Dr. Culpepper began telling stories and facts about the mountain. Then, he transitioned into a more reflective mode as he asked us questions about what made up the soul of McAfee. Listening to the answers was encouraging and enlightening. I felt at peace, at home.

I thought about my journey to McAfee and all those who had influenced it. I kept thinking, "What a journey! I'm finally here. I just hiked a mountain that many before me had hiked. I'm sure they had similar feelings. I'm sure they felt at home like I do now. I wish I could stay in this place, this moment, forever."

That's when Dr. Culpepper continued with his story. He told of Jesus with Peter, James and John on the mountain of the transfiguration. During the story, Jesus meets Moses and Elijah on the mountain, and they are suddenly surrounded by a great light. Peter realizes this moment is special and inquires about setting tents up for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.

But, Jesus doesn't seem interested in staying. Instead a voice comes out of the clouds announcing that the disciples are to listen to him. Much is not said, but they do head back down the mountain to a world much different from what they just encountered.

Dr. Culpepper mentioned the importance of this part of the story. Jesus was not interested in staying on the mountain away from the rest of the world. Instead, Jesus leads the disciples back down the mountain to face a hurting world in need of the grace God offers.

Hearing this shook me. After such a long hike to the top all I wanted to do was enjoy the moment. I didn't want head back to camp. I wanted to bask in the beauty before me. I worked hard to get here. Let me enjoy the moment by staying a little while longer.

Instead, we concluded and went back down the mountain the same way we had come up. Needless to say, I was worn out and tired when I got back, and wished we had stayed on the top a little longer than we did.

Upon further reflection, however, I realize how similar that climb up the mountain is to my seminary journey. The truth is that most seminarians have worked their butts off in order to get where they are now. The journey was and is long, trying and challenging. Nonetheless, I am here and the easy thing is to get comfortable.

I've found it difficult to forget seminary is similar to the transfiguration experience. Everything I am experiencing right now is overwhelming, challenging and most of all, good. Deep in my heart I want to pitch some tents for my professors, fellow students and myself, and to live in this moment forever.

But, the call to ministry extends beyond the mountain. Each day I'm learning the world doesn't need tent-dwellers; the world needs grace. If seminary is our "transfiguration," then graduation is our descent down the mountain to extend the grace of God to the world.

(Britt Hester is a student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga., where he is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. He enjoys reading, exploring Atlanta and cheering on the University of Alabama football team. He blogs at britt-hester.blogspot.com.)