Friday, May 27, 2005

I want YOU!

I asked my nineteen-year-old coworker why she wanted to join the army.

"I don't know," she said. "I guess I just wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself."

This struck me as odd. Something bigger than herself? Why the army? Why the army, where she will be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenged. Where a superior officer will set rules that will dictate her life and bark out commands that she is expected to unapologetically follow. Where she'll have to leave her mother, father, and sisters and move to a foreign land where she'll most likely encounter scorn from others. Why join the army and run the risk of losing her very life all because she wants to join something bigger than herself?

Why not just join the church? Wouldn't that be simpler?

Kenda Dean says that teenagers come to us looking for something to die for... and we give them pizza. I am 34 days away from being an official, real-life youth pastor and my heard is swarming with thoughts of transcendence and fidelity.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Definition of "Emergent"

My dad asked my 16-year-old brother what the word "emergent" meant, to which he responded: "A person who is emergent is a twenty-something with a blog." I think my brother is pretty smart.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mandy's Book Club

I'm not Oprah, but I do have a list of books to recommend:

Favorite Fiction:

  1. Jane Eyre--Charlotte Bronte--This is my all-time favorite, must read book. With all of the theological implications packed in this novel, I suppose I could include it in the theological reading list. Do not be deceived by the title, this is not just a "girl" book.
  2. East of Eden--John Steinbeck--This is another book that appeals to both men and women. Landscape is a large component in this book. It's an "epic" book that follows a family through a few generations. This is one of Keith Drury's favorite books as well.
  3. The Scarlet Pimpernel--Baroness Orczy Emmuska--Who knew the French Revolution could be so fun. This book is just plain fun. It's a pretty easy read--a bit sensational, but I don't feel guilty since it's written by a "Baroness."
  4. Glittering Images --Susan Howatch--This is a must for anyone in the ministry. Howatch has a series of novels that follow the lives of various priests in the Anglican Church. This book explores spiritual pride, double lives, sexual immorality, etc. These books are my new addiction. Be sure to read them in order.
  5. Me Talk Pretty One Day--David Sedaris--Okay, so technically this book doesn't belong under the title "fiction," but I didn't want to start another category. This book is a compilatation of witty, sarcastic short stories.

Theology Readings:
  1. An Introduction to the Theology of Religions: Biblical, Historical & Contemporary Perspectives--Veli-Matti Karkkainen--Wow. This book explains and evaluates the positions of many popular theologians regarding Christianity's relationship with other religions (Newbigin, Hick, Heim, Pannenberg, Barth, etc.). This book is both thorough and readable.
  2. Christ the Center--Dietrich Bonhoeffer--Although Bonhoeffer is best known for The Cost of Discipleship, this is by far my favorite Bonhoeffer book. Bonhoeffer takes a serious look at Christology and explores how Jesus became sin.

Practical Theology Readings:
  1. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian--Tom Long--This book and the one below are by far my favorite preaching books. This is an easy read with big potential for life change.
  2. What's the Matter with Preaching Today? Edited by Mark Graves--This book is based on Fosdick's article written 75 years ago for Harpers Magazine. The book contains essays by most of the major homileticians today ( Thomas G. Long, Barbara Brown Taylor, Cleophus J. Larue, Fred Craddock, Eugene L. Lowry).
  3. Nonviolent Communication--Marshall B. Rosenberg--I wish this was required reading for all human beings. I can't keep this book on my shelf--people keep borrowing it. This has been a life-changing book for me in my relationships.
  4. Practicing Passion--Kenda Dean--Great book on youth ministry.
  5. Runaway Bunny--Margaret Wise Brown--Yes, this is a kids book. You could preach a month long sermon series on God's love with this book.
  6. Listening for God--Marilyn Hontz--I love it. I'm biased.
May Reading
  1. Mystical Paths--Susan Howatch
  2. The Meaning of Jesus--Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
  3. Plan B--Anne Lamott

Monday, May 23, 2005

"So Mandy, how has seminary changed you?"

It has been nine days since I officially became a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. In the past month especially, I've been asked the question, "So Mandy, how has seminary changed you?" While it is difficult to put into words what I've experienced these past three years, I'm going to make an attempt...

The top seven ways I've been changed by seminary:

1. I believe less, more. Before I entered seminary, I was given ample warnings, "Be careful. Don't let anyone take away your faith." I entered my first class a little nervous, convinced I was going to be dodging fiery arrows for the next three years. Soon into my time at PTS, I dropped my suspicion. I realized that people were not trying to make me stop believing what I believe. Instead, they wanted me to understand and articulate what it is I believe. I have yet to encounter a professor who enjoys destroying faith. Since my time at PTS, there have been beliefs that I have let go of or been more lax with, however, that which I have retained is much deeper than it was when I came. I believe less, more.

2. Only a word or two. This is my favorite "quick response" to the above question. In some ways, practically speaking, seminary has only changed me by a word or two--this is particularly true with my preaching. The hours spent in systematic theology classes, listening to lectures, reading theologians, and writing papers all boils down to changing me by...a word or two. Not big, theologically words, but little words. Little words like "in" or "through." Will these little word changes make a difference to the congregation I am preaching to? Maybe. Probably not. Do they change the preacher? Definitely.

3. Useless vocabulary. Since my time in seminary, I have encountered the limits of using words like "liberal" and "conservative." I had always assumed The Wesleyan Church was a conservative denomination until I encountered Presbyterians who found my church very liberal because we fail to say The Apostles Creed every week. I think these labels have so many meanings tagged on that they cease to be helpful.

4. God is not male. I knew this before I entered seminary, but I'm not sure I truly got it (not that I "get it" now). I recently read Plan B by Anne Lamott and was a little annoyed by her continual reference to God as being "he or she." God is not he or she. I guess you could say God is he and she...and then some. (In general, God is seldom X or Y. ) With that said, I don't have a problem referring to God as "he," (we know God through the revelation of Jesus who came as a male). I do, however, go out of my way to make scripture gender inclusive for congregants.

5. Women in's pretty normal. Being at PTS has shown me that being a woman in ministry is pretty normal. On a campus where half the student population is female, I have been overwhelmingly encouraged in ministry. It's not a big deal here. It was at PTS where I heard my first woman pastor preach on a Sunday morning. It was also at PTS where I recieved the Lord's Supper from a woman. I was suprised how meaningful these experiences were for me.

6. God cares for the poor. Again, this is one of those things that I knew, but I didn't really "get." This is probably the area I have been most challenged in--it's also the area that I have the hardest time articulating. To say that "God cares for the poor," doesn't seem to do justice to what I am trying to get across...yet at the same time, it's exactly what I'm trying to get across. Something has changed in me, and I'm not quite sure what--this has also caused some political shifts in me, but more on that later...

7. Cynicism is too easy. Before I officially enrolled in seminary, I asked an older student to give me one piece of advice. She said, "Don't become cynical." I didn't understand what she meant until I began living on campus. Cynicism is too easy. It's easy to be cynical when students do not live what they preach. It easy to become cynical when I see a fellow seminarian getting drunk Friday evening after Friday's much harder to go to that person on a Wednesday and ask if they are struggling with an addiction. My temptation to be cynical towards my fellow seminarian is dwindling. Now the temptation is to be cynical towards other Christians. Now I must fight the urge against taking shots against what I think might be immature faith. I did not go to seminary so that I can look down upon those who did not have the opportunity to think through their faith in a seminary setting. I am walking away from seminary with the knowledge that I am going to have to fight within myself to keep from being cynical of other's beliefs.

Well, there you have it. Those are the top seven things that came to mind on this Monday afternoon. I have loved my time at seminary. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I enrolled in seminary is because I didn't know what else to do. John was already a student, and I didn't feel ready to get a "real" job. PTS was the right place for me. There is no doubt in my mind.