The Taser's Edge


Transitioning to Something, Not to Nothing

Okay, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t name this post “It is finished.”  Maybe in the right company.

Yesterday at 11am, I celebrated with the whole Pastoral Services Department the completion of my residency year with a banquet.  Yesterday at 6pm, I celebrated with my fellow members the completion of the 22-month Anglican Missional Pastor program with a feast (and that one had booze!).

Today at 8am, I met for the last time with Anglican Missional Pastor folks (in that setting).  And at 3pm, I was back at Duke for my final residency work.

22-month ending of AMP.  12-month ending of CPE.  And the new beginning is summer, for which I don’t know a three letter acronym, although SUN and FUN are neck-and-neck in this lame race.

And I might be helped at least a little by the fact that the Psychology Today blog was doing some work on transition theory this week.  Check their articles out, or look at this handy-dandy chart, an oracle of my life (or not).

The Transition Curve

I don’t want to define this new space as nothingness.  I don’t want to define it as unemployment.  I don’t want to define it in terms of what it lacks.  I want to enjoy my rest.



Death by Footwashing: A Sermon

This morning, as you know if you read posts from earlier this week, it was my turn to preach at Anglican Missional Pastor training, a program for ministry development within the Anglican Mission in America.  The manuscript of the sermon I preached is as follows.  Even if you don’t go around reading random online sermons, my mom does, so there.  And Holly’s mom.  And a few other people.  For those who are disinterested, I dangle this tidbit: in the sermon I talk about my recent encounter with some Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Continue reading



Tuesday Reading Roundup, Week 8

1. Cane by Jean Toomer–The back of the book quotes somebody saying, “Cane is an important American Novel.”  Personally, at just over half way through, it may well be great, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a novel.  Unless I’m missing something, which is possible, it’s more of a series of prose and poetry vignettes.  I began reading it months ago, and stopped in the middle.  I would like to finish it.  We shall see.  Spring “Reading Week” (Duke insists on not calling it Spring Break) is next week after all.

2. Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann–Still plugging away at it.  Marvelous book, but I have nowhere in my normal scheduling to place a book which is neither wholly for pleasure nor for school, and it’s getting to the point that the tag cloud to the right of my site is making it seem like I read a ton of Schmemann.  Not the case, visitors.  I have read very little of him over a very long period of time.  That cloud is also over-the-top with Hauerwas.  I’ve read less than a book by him, too.  Y’all will be hearing from Schmemann throughout Lent, just as I seem to be.

3. Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix–I was supposed to have read the first half for last week and then to finish it off for this week.  Clearly neither of those things is going to happen.  But, the tiny bit I have read is quite interesting.  The guy actually is a trained psychologist, after all.  That’s Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. to you.

4. The Lady, Her Lover, and Her Lord by T.D. Jakes–I said last week that I was surprised by how much I liked the book.  That ended at about 35 pages in.  Questionable biblical exegesis, overly conservative gender assumptions and gender role assignments, and terrible prose.  That’s not to say that there aren’t good points in it, because there are many of them.  And I’m still not finished with it yet.  I have to write a review on this or Hendrix’s book for Wednesday.

5. Upside Down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership by Stacy T. Rinehart–Rinehart (surprise: he’s a dude) is coming to speak at this month’s Anglican Missional Pastor training thing, at which I have to preach.  Eep.  At least if I don’t like his book and he doesn’t like my sermon, it will be a nice trade-off.  Self-psychoanalytical moment: Why would I be approaching this book with such a negative attitude?  For one, the president of Moody Bible Institute provides praise on the back.  What has Duke done to me?  I never even slightly considered Moody myself, but I have been good friends with a couple really good people who went there, and I never used to despise that brand of Christian conservatism.  It (this stance in me) is ideological, and I don’t like it.  And now returning to Tuesday Reading Roundup…I do have some hope–I’ve had good luck with the couple NavPress books that I’ve read, this book is with NavPress, and Rinehart was a vice president with the Navigators as of the writing of the autobiographical blurb.

6. Supreme: The Story of the Year by Alan Moore–This one’s as close to a normal superhero comic as I’ve read since I got a free issue of X-Men at BagelFest as a kid (actually, it might have been Zack’s issue, and I think it talked about the importance of recycling), or perhaps that Power Team comic in which they fought a gang with lots of paperclips in their faces, and in which the Power Team won over evil by wielding a bulletproof Bible (the same version, The Sword, that the Power Team would sell you).  Anyway, that’s not to say that it’s normal at all.  Apparently Supreme was an existing superhero (according to Amazon, a super-violent rip-off of Superman) before Moore took over in 1996.  Moore reinvented Supreme as a new revision of the old character who has to travel to his past in order to recover from his amnesia.  As a new version of an old hero, this Supreme doesn’t know about his past, because it’s not his past, but the past of a different Supreme.  As Moore tells the story, the book alternates between sleek and shiny computer-aided graphics and a retro look from the thirties or forties.



A Job, A Joy, and Now a Familiar Feeling

Yesterday morning at about 8:30, I got a call from one of the supervisors at Duke University Hospital, offering me a CPE residency for the coming year!  Speechlessly exciting.  Even as I write about it again, it makes me excited for the next year and all the possibilities it holds.

I have to admit that I also have other, more negative, feelings surrounding it.  Guilt, because I felt like I didn’t want it as much as some people who may not have gotten it in the end.  And fear.  Even in my excitement and joy at accepting the offer, something in me was telling me that I should get ready, because I was going to start worrying about it.  I don’t know if  self-warning became a self-fulfilling prophecy or if that’s just truly how my mind works.  Hear God, act in what I believe is faithfulness, and then worry about every decision after it.  I did it with Anglican Missional Pastor, and now I’m doing it again.  Is it a cycle caused by my expectations or by something else?  As you can see, overthinking is part of my make-up.

This morning, though, in my worry, I felt like what I needed was some worship.  And the first song I listened to was “You Are Mine,” track 1 off of Karla Adolphe’s Chair and the Microphone, Vol. 3 (connected to Enter the Worship Circle, if you’re not familiar).  The chorus is just so good:

When you walk though the water, I will be with you
When you pass through the river, the waves will not overtake you
When you walk on the fire, the flames they will not touch you
You are mine, you are mine, you are mine

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.



Creating Christian Community and Naming the American Lie

This post is meant to be read after “Tasty, Tasty, Stanley-flavored Kool-Aid.”

Last night I traveled up to Roanoke, VA to visit Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican Mission in America congregation.  Actually, there are now three churches, the original Church of the Holy Spirit and two churches that it has planted in the surrounding area.

It was the first meeting of the new year for Anglican Missional Pastor, the clunkily named (hard to see that on a resume) program I’m doing to train to be a pastor within the AMiA.  It was a wonderful discussion about all kinds of stuff having to do with church planting and church leadership, encouraging rather than a bunch of technical stuff.  Eventually, one of the questions we asked was basically, “Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  There are many answers to that question: hope, community, belonging, to be known, to be accepted, to be understood, to love and be loved.

Stanley Hauerwas has a catchy slogan depicting his reading of the claims of modernity: “You should have no story but the story you chose when you had no story.”  Although his wording is facetious, it is also true.  Think of the promises of America: you can be whatever you want to be, you can do whatever you want to do (provided it doesn’t harm anyone else), your political beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your philosophical beliefs are your own and you alone formed them, your religious beliefs are your own and you alone chose them, your mind is your own, your body is your own, your identity is your own.  Your personal story started with you, has been defined by you, and only those influences which you choose (bad influences being able to be ameliorated by counseling) will affect you.

If you think this is an overstatement, look at the promise of Barack Obama: grows up in poverty, the child of a Kenyan, raised by a single mother, becomes the first black president.  It is a lie to say that any child in America has the same potential.  I have only to talk to my wife and her fellow public school teachers about their students’ performance on End-of-Course testing (North Carolina’s way of doing their part for No Child Left Behind) and I know that it is a lie to say that, in America, any child has the potential to be president.  (I want it to be clear, however, that I do believe that every one of those children has the potential to do great things, but for most of them, their greatness will not be one chosen from among a stack of possibilities, but one highly determined by the circumstances of their lives, circumstances which were far beyond their control.)

Once again, I’m far afield.  This post is supposed to be connecting the post on postliberalism to my AMP day today.  Here’s the connection.  As I mentioned in this week’s Tuesday Reading Roundup, I have been reading Bryan Stone’s Evangelism After Christendom, which brings many of the ideas of postliberalism to bear on Christian evangelism.  One very strong part of postliberalism is a focus on narrative-formed communities.  Each community has its own story, and the members of that community are not discrete beings.  Rather their identities are dependent on one another (intersubjective) and upon the story and tradition of their community.  Communities are particular because they and their members are formed by particular stories and traditions.  One of these communities is the Church and its story is the Gospel.  Certainly this idea can be relativistic–many communities, none better than another–but Bryan Stone claims it doesn’t have to go that far necessarily (as does Alasdair MacIntyre, on whose work much of narrative theology is based).

“Can we name some basic human needs that our churches try to meet, no matter what the variables of a given setting?”  People long for community, because although we are told that we can decide who we want to become, our identities are intertwined with each other.  This is not just a collective consciousness as a species (although I don’t necessarily have a problem saying that it may also be that), but it is more importantly about our collective identity as children of God.

Deep inside, we still know that we are connected to one another, that the divisions between us are wrong and somehow artificial (even though they go very deep), and that we are not separate islands unto ourselves.  No matter how loudly and often we are told that we can be whomever we choose to be, we know that our selves are not wholly determined by our choices or ourselves.  The Church has something to offer, because it is a place which (at its best and truest) affirms that voice within us and says to us, “Yes, you are connected to everyone else and also to something greater than you can voice or name, you are not alone, you were created to be loved and not to be abused.  Here is a community in which you are invited to experience and to have your identity be shaped by love, joy, peace, companionship (a word literally meaning ‘sharing bread’), and hope.”

Believe it or not, throughout history, there have always been some quarters of Christianity (a remnant, if you will) which actually work like that, and there are churches where it happens today.