Seminary Admissions

The Most Important Week

Being a resident of Connecticut, the recent UConn Men’s & Women basketball championships have sent the whole state in what appears a fan frenzy celebration. The excitement spilled over into a parade and well-wishing for those athletes who gained some fame. Just a few days ago (Palm Sunday), we celebrated the remembrance of another triumphal entry; the Messiah Jesus rode on a donkey through the praises of the people in Jerusalem. How many of you became a frenzied participant in your church’s activity on Palm Sunday?

Maybe we don’t dance in the streets as much as we used to because we know what the week has in store. We know it is a time to remember the Exodus through Passover, we know it contains a commission to serve one another, we know it is full of betrayal and we know it ends in agony and shame. An emotion-filled week as we hear once again “My God why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) It might be that some of us might feel as though God has forgotten us. Even in ministry we may feel as though God has led us so far and yet it seems as though He’s forgotten His promise in our lives. The sad thing is that we stop there, we don’t continue through the story to be resurrected.

Maybe the words we ought to take in, the phrase that has the power to change the course of our shame and guilt, is “It is finished” (John 19:30). With that Christ-act, humanity can now rest. And rest in the completion of a restored relationship with the Father. In it, we ought to rejoice and worship for God was and is faithful to the end. But how many of us shout for joy on Good Friday? It is a “good” day— grace came down, dwelt among us and gave freely. The Apostle Paul understood that salvation is a free gift, but he also knew that being a disciple, a follower of Christ would cost everything. Are you preparing to give it all to God this week? Are you ready to crucify what you hold so tightly in your hands? I am. I am ready for God to release His Spirit’s power in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

We can see more clearly day-by-day when we offer ourselves as the “living sacrifice” in worship to God— He redeems, He resurrects, He is victorious! We are taken from the cross to the empty tomb where not only are our sins covered with the blood of Jesus, but the heaviness of this life is now rolled out of the way to make space for life eternal. The Easter message is not only about the victory found over sin and death, but the acceptance of having died to Christ and re-emerging as a servant of God.

My plans for Good Friday and Easter don’t include wallowing in my past imperfection, but are focused on the fact that God is transforming me to be a whole and holy NEW creation— and that is not something you remain quiet about sitting in a pew in a funeral-like state. No, it is shouting from the mountain-top, in a frenzied follower state; “My God reigns now and forever!” (Isa. 52:7) Amen.

Do I belong here?

When asked what the experience/challenge of being a woman in seminary, I can’t fully express it without giving you some of my context.  I write as a woman, from a deeply feminine place, because that is a beautiful part of who I am.  And more important than my gender, I write as a beloved child of God who is trying her best to hear the voice of her Father.

I was 19 years old when I first realized seminary might be in the cards for me.  I remember that moment well.  I remember the overwhelming sense of purpose, the gratitude for direction as the pieces and prayers finally started to come together.  It was one of those pure, clear moments of God.

The next moment I remember is the first person that thought I was going against God’s will in my decision.  It stung.  You know what, it didn’t just sting, it throbbed, it cut, it wounded, because it was my dad.  My dad didn’t see the gift in me.  He saw my gender and it was very bad.

But the purity and clarity of the former moment was stronger.  I knew as a young, single female this would be the first of many conversations I might have because of my gender.  I knew then that I would always have a choice in what voice I listen to, and I knew that God would bring life if I listened to His.  I had to pursue seminary.

So I came to Bethel.  They saw my gender too, and this time it was good.  Where I acknowledge many of us have different experiences here, and mine might not be normative, I’ve been lucky.  I have gotten to interact with people here who want to help me find my voice as an embodied female in the Kingdom of God with gifts, dreams, and visions, not as a woman needing to compensate for the ways my gender might be viewed as a weakness.

Although I am aware I have classmates who may disagree with my pursuit of leadership, I have received a lot of support at Bethel as a female.  Just this semester, after sharing in class some of my struggles around this issue, I was approached by 3 different females that gave me resources, books, and encouragement in how to hold onto yourself in face of disagreement.  I heard a professor thank a female student for her voice when she expressed her frustration in hearing “another male perspective.”  That is healing to me.  Where the challenge lies is in how I will interact with those outside of seminary.

When I interact with people in the church, sometimes I get the question, “How did you come to the conclusion that you should be a pastor?”  I immediately know by the tone of someone’s voice, the particular wording of the question, what opinion the individual might have.  On good days it is just another conversation, one that I might not choose to engage depending on how I am approached.  On bad days, it still hurts.  But it doesn’t hurt for the reason you might think.  It hurts because I know in my ministry after seminary there will people who will see my gender before they see God.  When they interact with me, they will experience my femininity before they experience God through me.  That hurts me.

And it also empowers me.  I think it is safe to say that as leaders, male and female, we are learning how to lead out of our God-given identities and gifts.  The hope of seminary is that we might come out better equipped to hide behind the power of God in our ministry because of the work we do here.  Knowing what I know about being a female in Christian leadership, I have to be even more aware of this.  I can choose to spend my energies trying to convince those who do not approve of me to change their mind (which actually doesn’t work by the way), or I can be a good pastor.  The best ministry advice I have ever received is this: Let your gifts speak for themselves.   We do not need to compensate for our real or perceived weaknesses, we need to trust that God will work in and through them.  That is the beauty of this God, a God that wants to use broken and cracked vessels to shine His light in the world.  Let us posture ourselves to do so.

 

 

 

What it Means to Follow Jesus Christ Today

Hebrews 12:1-2. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ today? I want to address three aspects that are pertinent to the concept of discipleship in our times: the need to address injustice in the world as indispensable to discipleship, the relevance for discipleship of our access to the historical Jesus, and the necessity of deconstruction of self as the beginning and continuation of true discipleship. We can call them the horizontal, ecumenical, and self-reflective dimensions of discipleship.

1. Our world has grown extremely complex. Each human being is part of multiple communities, interest groups, structures of existence that vie for our allegiance or simply leave us no choice for self-determination. One way or another we are wrapped up and unconsciously implicit in practices that perpetuate injustice. Irrespective of our own personal ethical choices, we are inextricably linked to institutionalized evil if only for the mere fact that we, as human individuals, are part of the human race. How are we to understand the nature of discipleship in the midst of this? What is our responsibility? Does it mean to interpret the exhortation to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” as a command to ignore the world and concentrate on “my personal Jesus” who in good faith and due time will snatch me away from this evil planet?

Such vertical escapism needs to be denounced in the strongest possible terms. Discipleship is always discipleship in the world, never away from it. Discipleship is per definition related to the other. If discipleship denotes emulating Jesus Christ, and if Jesus Christ represents the new humanity, then discipleship means embodying that new humanity. Human existence is communal existence and therefore communality is transformed and renewed in the new humanity of Jesus Christ. This can never mean a Church that shies away from the world for reasons of ethical purity, for the very essence of its ethical goal is to be new humanity, to be new community. At the heart of this new communal existence stands the cross, the emblem of self-giving to the other, whether friend or foe. This means addressing injustice wherever we find it in this world and becoming agents for change at whatever cost. We can call this the horizontal dimension.

2. In evangelicalism there is an implicit connection between the emphasis on Scripture and the positivistic assertion of access to the historical Christ on the one hand and discipleship on the other. Indeed it is true, it is the Christ of history that addresses us through Scripture and calls us to follow him. But there is a reductionistic danger in that believers may think that such an approach to Scripture or such foundationalist theology is the sole guarantee of access to the true Jesus, that somehow evangelicals have the monopoly on Jesus, or that somehow their theological output automatically renders the one and true Christ. This is the ecumenical dimension of discipleship.

We should realize that our encounter with the historical Christ is mediated through Scripture and that our encounter with Scripture is mediated through our hermeneutics which in turn functions as a mere building block for a constructive theology of our own making. It is wrong to think that evangelical foundationalism (or any theological method for that matter) has the monopoly on the real Jesus. Other people are also in the business of listening to Jesus. They may be Roman Catholics, liberals, liberation theologians of various kinds, but what unites them is the desire to address the call of Jesus to discipleship in a plurality of contexts. They picture themselves sitting at Jesus’ feet and consider themselves his disciples. I find it remarkable, for instance, how Bonhoeffer, who is adored by many evangelicals as a great example of discipleship and martyrdom, arrived at his radical lifestyle through a liberal paradigm. Ironically it is the liberal Bonhoeffer who is one of evangelicalism’s most celebrated heroes!

3. The One we call Jesus is always partly the product of our own imagination, shaped in our image. It is so easy for us to reduce the challenge of Jesus Christ to merely one aspect of our existence. For some this turns into the call for justice or equality, for others to private ethical existence. To the extent that we narrow the call to discipleship to merely one part of our existence, we betray the very Christ we claim to follow. As an evangelical I am deeply concerned about evangelicalism’s preference for a Jesus who merely resides in the Christian’s heart. Inner motives are judges, the ethical boundaries of the ecclesial community are held in high esteem, but nothing really changes. Discipleship is prone to be reduced to something that is utterly detached from a world in which human trafficking, violence, ecological destruction, and economic oppression continue unhampered. It is de-incarnated discipleship.

We need to realize that the encounter with Christ must be an existential encounter. Christ is the Other over against us. He is not merely the hermeneutically sanitized Christ of our own constructive theologies. We cannot get around the mediated forms, but if Christ is real he will break through these layers and address us. The real Christ will speak to the real me with all of its shortcomings. Postmodern deconstruction is not a new fad. It has happened throughout history whenever women and men were encountered by the living God; when they were addressed in their existential situation and found themselves exposed to the truth of God. As such discipleship is perpetually self-reflective. Discipleship means deconstruction: what we are, is exposed for what it is so that a new construction may begin that conforms us to Christ who is our role model. Throwing “off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”, then, becomes the transformation that is divinely required in my particular context. Motivations are judged; blind spots are exposed; secrets are brought to light; transformation happens; relationships are renewed; the self-giving begins.

These three aspects, then, I think to be most relevant in our current situation. So much change has to take place in the way we think about our relationship to the world, our ideas about how we have access to Christ, and the way Christ addresses us, before we can begin to understand what it means to follow Jesus Christ today. And the need to do so is urgent simply because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus Christ.