Sunday, October 31, 2010
I have been spending an unusual amount of time recently with a female Episcopal priest. Of course, she spends a lot of time with the local police chief. There is no problem, however, since both are fictional and the leading characters in a series of mystery novels by Julia Spencer-Fleming.
Clare Fergusson is the thirty-something priest of St. Alban’s church in Millers Kill, New York, a small town nestled in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York. A Virginian by birth and former Army helicopter pilot, Clare is in her first charge out of seminary. Chief Russ Van Alstyne is 15 years older. A Vietnam vet and former military policeman, Van Alstyne has returned to this home town upon retirement to head up the local police department, accompanied by the wife who helped pull him out of alcoholism. As one might imagine, events conspire to bring Clare and Russ together on several levels.
Neither our protagonists nor the people of Millers Kill are saints; they are people who wrestle with the issues of life and often stumble along the way. In All Mortal Flesh, Van Atlsyne tells Clare, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in twenty-five years of law enforcement, it’s that anyone is capable of anything if pushed hard enough.” Clare’s experiences as a priest don’t contradict this observation. In fact, her challenge is to be the mediator of God’s grace to such people—and often to herself.
Those residents of Millers Kill who cross the line are often people like us—a parent concerned about his child’s future, a low-wage worker who has lost his job, a woman whose family has fallen on hard times, a doctor trying to cover up his transgressions. They don’t intend to do evil, but their burdens become untenable. Of course, there is the occasional sociopath as well.
Although Clare and Russ are the heroes of the series, they have their flaws as well. They take care of others but they often find themselves lonely and with no real friends. Thus, the friendship that turns into something more and heightens the tension of the relationship. The emotions they experience are real and often wrenching. Clare’s struggles to listen to God while ministering to those around her and attending to her own needs will resonate with clergy.
Spencer-Fleming is an effective writer who tries to avoid formula. The events in one novel take place over the course of a single day. Another goes back and forth in time from the Prohibition days of the 1920’s to the present day with other stops along the way to unravel several mysteries. One is written almost entirely from the perspective of a new member of the police force. The author allows us to get close to the two primary characters, but she also introduces other three-dimensional characters in each novel and weaves them into her plots. No one’s life is static and characters evolve from one story to another, so the reader will want to read the series sequentially.
Each novel unfolds at a pace that pulls the reader along easily. As you might expect, there is often a climatic event that both surprises and exhilarates, putting one or both of the leads in peril.
There are six novels in the series with a seventh due in April 2011. I am looking forward to the next episode in the lives of these interesting characters. If you start now, you can read all six and be ready for the new title, One Was a Soldier.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Few books can be considered truly seminal works in their field. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission by David J. Bosch is one of them. Although Bosch, head of the department of missiology at the University of South Africa, died in an automobile accident in 1992, his work stands as a classic in its field. In a recent issue of Christianity Century, one theologian selected it as one the five books of the last 25 years that he describes as “essential.”
As we worked through part of Bosch’s book in our Christian Witness class this past Saturday, I was once again impressed by the scope of his work. Professor Bosch drew on history, theology, sociology, and economics to paint a picture of a gospel that has been continually in dialogue with the culture in which it finds itself. He saw the gospel as dynamic rather than static in relation to its culture.
The thesis of Bosch in this book is that “what has unfolded in theological and missionary circles during the last decades is the result of a fundamental paradigm shift, not only in mission or theology, but in the experience and thinking of the whole world.” He notes, of course, that this is not the first such shift that the world or the church have experienced, but we have the opportunity to be conscious of this change and take advantage of the opportunities it offers.
Bosch is not light reading. Students often note (if not outright complain) about his tendency to examine every implication of an event or movement ad infinitum. With a longer view of things that he was not permitted to have, we can see some false conclusions, such as the waning influence of fundamentalism in religion. This does not detract from his innate ability to observe, analyze, and suggest the implications of major movements in the Christian faith.
Anyone who wishes to understand how we arrived at our present situation in regard to Christian mission will find Bosch invaluable.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Two recent things come to mind. As I watch children play sports, I am impressed by their attitudes toward the game. Some really hustle. They love the game and get into it. Others are less enthusiastic and may be living out parental dreams and expectations. In fact, some of the most negative experiences come from overly aggressive coaches and parents who forget (especially for children) that being in the game is the important thing; winning is secondary at that stage of life. Both the kids and adults should be having fun.
Another recent event was the televised image of a Titans football coach making an obscene gesture either to the officials or the other team in a Sunday afternoon game. He was fined but not as much as the owner of the team was last year for making a similar gesture. The attitude expressed is both unnecessary and unprofessional. Certainly, pro athletes are light years away from kids on the playing field, but I still like to see adults act responsibly and enjoy the game even when they are competing for the Lombardi trophy.
Who bears the responsibility for good sportsmanship? I would like to think that it is something that is modeled all along the way, but this is not true. Spectators (including parents) need to see it in practice because they often forget what is important in the heat of the moment. They need to see good sportsmanship in the players, but the players will not practice it unless their leaders—the coaches—do it. The coach sets the tone.
There are a number of coaches that I admire—Tony Dungy, for example, and Mike Singletary. I admire them not because they may be winners but because they are shaping those they coach. They model good behavior and expect their players to do so as well. Coaches who model and mold deserve our respect and our support.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Occasionally, I will come across something that I wrote when I was a young minister with a young family. An ongoing concern during that time was having a healthy balance between time for ministry and time with family. Did I every resolve that tension? Of course not. I deal with it even to this day. This was not a problem to be solved but an ongoing choice to be made.
There are some tensions we learn to live with.
Although Stanley did not refer to scripture in his presentation, we can find biblical examples of this. Jesus himself experienced this type of tension. We see it in Mark 1:29-39:
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"
Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (NIV)
Jesus healing; Jesus praying. Time with humanity; time with God. These are really two sides of one coin that made him who he was. This was the tension that drove his ministry. Tension can be a motivator rather than a demotivator if we recognize its constructive dimension.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
|Rev. Dr. Eillen Campbell-Reed|
and Rev. Mary Beth Duke
I reminded those present that although most Christian churches ordain ministers of the gospel, there are differing ordination practices and that they would not be surprised to learn that even among Baptists there are varying practices!
This was the first ordination service conducted by the church and the building was filled with church members, friends and family of the candidate, and former classmates at the Central Seminary site. It was day of celebration as well as commitment.