This painting was done by the hands of the students of Arumdri ministry, a ministry to people with autism and developmental disabilities. It is an adaptation of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son. It emphasizes warmth, embrace, forgiveness, kindness, and grace. Here, the Father enfolds and embraces the child. Compare it with the original work by Rembrandt:
In coaching and guiding their hands and colors throughout this past year, I have felt and experienced their love, frustration and gradual acceptance of me. The picture you see above is 1 of 3 completed; but there are many layers underneath, painted and re-painted; for them it was therapeutic and nurturing to push around warm colors on the canvas. I felt somewhat exploitative of their work – repeatedly trying to let it stand on its own right, in its own light – but ultimately I had to defer with what was “hangable.” Perhaps I have compromised some artistic integrity in that and for that I am honest and remorseful; still I am seeking to find a place where their expression will stand alone as “hangable” – true art – and I am looking for this place.
From a different vantage point, and that of ministry: I have repeatedly found that the greatest ministry I will ever do is amongst those who will give me no accolades, will not “grow” my church as the formula goes, will not advance my scheme, my agenda or my empire, and yet will give me Everything in return. I receive my deepest Treasure from them.
In time you will see more and more of these paintings on this space; giving testimony to this process in growth and purity.
Last Sunday we worked through Phil 2:5-11 for our “Believing Well” series on the essentials of Christian belief. This week – the Incarnation – as we focused on the “emptying” Christ (Greek = kenosis / kenow) – who descended from heaven and became (hu)man. Being a little tired from recent travels I started off slow but gradually found something deep well up from inside me – and it culminated in this prayer:
God I know that I am holding onto something* that is beginning to kill my soul* and it bothers me; I don’t know why, but it really bothers me.* Whether it is my self-ambition,* or my self-respect,* or my self-identity,* or my self-protectiveness,* I can feel myself clinging to it, not wanting to let go.* And I need your help.* To wrest this thing from my grasp and the grip of my hardened, white knuckles.* Take it from me now.* Take the accompanying insecurity, so many insecurities* that I might begin the journey downward,* emptying myself of self-driven will, ego, advancement* so that I might rise up to kiss the face of the humbled God* and enjoy greater union with You than ever before. Amen.
I was not alone in being stirred by these words.
It moved, disturbed, provoked, hurt, and healed our saints at Harvest back to their place of first Love. So I publish this prayer here for your use; may it continue to minister to you as you seek the better way of Jesus’ self-emptying.
Following on the heels of my previous post re: summer classes @ Regent College… the above video is a preview of yet another upcoming summer course – this one taught by Soong-Chan Rah, a fellow Covenanter, really hitting on some important issues concerning race that I have been talking about and vibing on for a long time now:
We ended up retreating into our own ethnic communities w/ very little interaction across these different boundaries… and I wonder if we do that with the Gospel as well… at the end of the day we retreat into our own sequestered communities… Cultural captivity means we operate under theological / sociological assumptions… shaped by cultural forces… practicing faith in such a way that we don’t realize how much is Scripture / and how much is the celebrity, big shot evangelical consumer culture we have developed for ourselves… we make superstars out of individuals who might not have much to say… and we end up diminishing the role of immigrants, women, senior citizens… we don’t hear from them.
This is precisely the critique I have felt – especially recently at the Exponential ’13 Conference (yes I am publicly calling you out) which was basically a one-sided perspective on church planting from & for a vastly Anglo, middle-class society. At one point, one of the presenters broke out (on video) in mock Karate Kid antics, poses, noises that really revealed the drastic cultural blind spot of this conference; perhaps this should’ve made another post, but that is precisely what this post is about: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church – and I didn’t see this cultural intelligence at Exponential at all. I just saw one way to reach one demographic in a vastly changing Western landscape. Rah is right; skinny jeans abounded, hip young things platformed on the strength of their few published books, but at the end of the day, there was no depth. Now btw, I must clarify, the opinions written here reflect MINE and MINE ONLY – and I don’t speak for Soong-chan – so this is me – not him – talking. But I was pretty ticked off, enough that I got up and walked out in the midst of thousands of people, in the middle of that session.
Afterwards, I was surrounded by black church planters who were somewhat intrigued and drawn in to me for the fact that I was countenancing an angry asian voice… one African-Am colleague told me “I didn’t know there were angry asian men; angry black men yes, but angry asian men – thank you for raising your voice; I too was offended by what I saw.”
Which brings me back to Regent College <smirk>
This is a class I want to take. I want to talk about this stuff, deal with it, apply it. I think you should too. Church planting for the next 20 years is not going to be about slick missional lingo, theo-jargon and hipster jive; it is going to be about the driving minority voice and growing presence in America of non-white churches, minority evangelicals. Why don’t more people get that?
Six summers ago, I embarked on a new journey of biblical and self-exploration that became the threshold of a new understanding, a new way to tackle controversial questions like the above title, a new worldview on this thing called the Christian faith. Shedding the past behind, leaving an “old” world in many respects, I began summer session at Regent College poised to open my mind to new vistas, not only intellectually, but formatively as a human being.
Of course, I started with the greats, my first two classes with J.I. Packer (Puritan Theology for Today) and Bruce Waltke (Old Testament Theology) and I still say today that those two classes set the mold for me henceforth. The beginner’s exegesis of Ruth that I did in Waltke’s class became part and parcel of my own narrative & “heilsgeschicte” and defined my ongoing self-understanding of my own story and destiny to this day and onward. I still frequently meditate on its implications for my present context. And who can forget Packer’s constant Baxterian emphasis of the studied minister, “first light then heat”; Packer gave me the theology of how to do pastoral ministry; Darrell Johnson would later give me the ethos.
<wistful>Ah, those days gone past.</wistful>
Now I’ve been asked by my good colleagues at Regent to promote their summer session for my own reading audience here on my blog – which I will gladly do, with my own personal emphasis and flair; it is a tremendous place to retreat and to reflect, only to find that you never left “the world” to begin with. Even if just for a summer I cannot strongly recommend enough (esp for all my “lay” friends out there not in “vocational ministry”) – take a summer class at Regent. It will rest & replenish your soul, your lungs, your mind, your spirit.
I love my present parish context.
Houston, TX has become my home in every regard; my children are entering grade school here in Katy, TX, and my every intention is to see them all the way through till they graduate high school. And there are several good seminaries in-state and nearby; I cannot highly recommend them enough. But there is something that happens when a displaced Vancouverite – former Regentarian – bumps into another former student also ministering down here – there is an ethos connection; a common nod of knowing, a strong collegiality, and almost a stronger student spirit than ever, almost more so than when we were on campus (I’m looking at you, Jeff Pate, Peter Coelho, Pete Chung, Dave Wang, and others). What we learned in the lab we now work out as practitioners in the field; After serendipitously bumping into Jeff Pate at a retreat in Dallas, we meandered along a TX backwoods trail lost in spiritual conversation almost like we had never left the cool brisk air of Vancouver. And I was just telling Pete Chung the other day that I wish we had a student ring so we could wear it proudly for those occasions of serendipity.
Wow. This really sounds like an advertisement to drink the kool-aid.
And it really turned out to be nothing about the Taliban or the Tea Party at all (I’ll let Provan tackle that – May 15 free evening public lecture – here drink some more). But I really never thought the juice could be so life-giving; that such places commonly parodied as “cemeteries” could have among them such a life-giving seminary; another former Regentarian, Lisa Kim once shared with me along those lines: “Regent did for me what YWAM did for you; it more than educated me, it healed me, it made me more comfortable in my skin, made me more of a holistic human being, and thus more deeply spiritual than ever.
Are you burned out? Transitioning? Have some miles and vacation time? Spend a week or two at summer session at Regent College. This is my own endorsement.
photo credits: Fernando Gonzalez
This past Easter 2013 I once again had the privilege to officiate in the important life ritual of baptism for 2 infants (preemie twins) and one young man (Alex – 13). Their entire families, extended clan, friends, family, and the whole church watched on in this precious moment that is becoming our most celebrated service here @ Harvest Community Church. We had probably our biggest attendance ever, and it was very diverse as well, which made me deeply happy. The energy was good, and it continues, I can still feel it. We – the entire congregation – bask in the glow.
So I am deeply grateful to be involved in the interstices of life for this precious and growing community in Houston, and I can see the fruits of it growing year by year. Last year’s baptism was an awesome start (esp as I baptized my own kids then & there); this year it was even better, if I can say that, and each year seems to just hit it out the park. Awesome.
Enjoy the photos, more can be found here; thanx and be sure to give props and credit to our photographer (one of several), Fernando Gonzalez.
“Gracious God, my sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo.* Forgive what my lips tremble to name,* what my heart can no longer bear,* and what has become for me a consuming fire of judgment.* Set me free from a past that I cannot change;* open to me a future in which I can be changed;* and grant me grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image;* through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.”
(from The Covenant Book of Worship, p.349-350)
This prayer / litany was used by me on various occasion, to most effective ends, most recently during our Good Friday Service of Tenebrae (shadows) 2013. It has a way of speaking deeply to people in 1st person perspective.
As I write this we are awaiting the announcement of a new Pope – signaled by the famous white smoke emerging from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Now, twice in my lifetime do I live through such an event and we are on the cusp of the third pope in the last quarter century. I am no Catholic, but this is a momentous event with repercussions all throughout Christendom, including Protestantism, I believe.
But on a lesser, more personal scale…
I too await the white smoke, as I write this from the Hyatt Regency O’ Hare in Chicago, awaiting tomorrow morning’s final interview for my ordination with/into the Evangelical Covenant Church. Yes, it’s a big deal. Personally. On many levels. That I can’t go into detail here. Let’s just say it’s been a looooong journey and this hope had been deferred, tested, and tried for a good long season. Should I pass tomorrow, I will be slated to walk down the aisle come this summer at the denomination’s Annual Meeting in Detroit and be be-stoled in front of all, my family, my colleagues, my friends, my mentors, my cloud of witnesses. A little recognition sometimes means a whole lot when one commits one’s entire life to an endeavor.
And that leads me to thinking, both in terms of how I am prepared to lead my congregation of about 100 people – in tandem with the new upcoming Pope who will lead a congregation of about 1.2 billion.
So what are we looking for in church leaders?
They say the new pope will have to have business acumen, strong managerial skills, in leading the papal bureaucracy out of the Middle Ages. Perhaps someone, from a previous life, who had obtained a business degree (such church leaders do exist). On the other hand, people are also calling for a Pope of strong moral fortitude, able to navigate the playing field of contemporary social and ethical issues, not to mention the waning image of the Church plagued by scandal. Or perhaps another brilliant theologian as previously, who can provide a Summa to shepherd and redirect the masses lost in the sea of Western post-modern relativism. All to say, these are really BIG red shoes to fill. And deep in the papal conclave I bet there’s some serious nail-biting going on.
I’m biting my nails, too.
Not just because of my interview tomorrow. But because the demands and the expectations of the office are so high. I remember being frustrated in seminary because the demands were so many, so varied, and so diverse. Pastors have to be modern scholars, classically educated in the languages, ancient history and philosophy. And then on top of that we have to understand the care aspect, of people, families, and congregations. Counseling & systems theory are requisites, IMO if one is to survive the first few years in a new pastorate. Then we also have to be torchbearer, calling the church to missional involvement & engagement of our communities. Pastors have to wear the hat of social activist as well. And to boot, we need to have organizational and managerial skill, knowing how to lead a church organizationally and structurally.
It’s such a tall order this thing called shepherding, pastoring. At times I search for a purity in it, perhaps something more resembling a monastic life, an ascetic life; cloistered with one’s books and study – this is a happy life for me. But once I put the books down there are a myriad of demands, expectations. It’s hard.
But it is what I have committed my life and the rest of my future to. A little recognition wouldn’t be bad; it would be a very nice reward after all the years of preparation to see a little wisp of white smoke rise from Chicago tomorrow morning…