It’s taken me a rather great while to get this second post in this series up. Honestly, since we left Houston my thoughts have been terribly scattered and getting anything down in written form has been difficult for me. This state is not particularly normal for me and I don’t really like it. Before going any further allow me to note upfront that I am going to be rather honest about how I feel about a few things and that it is very possible that misunderstanding may occur and offense will be taken where none is intended. I certainly hope this does not happen and I invite and encourage the reader to visit the first post (here) before continuing on. And yes, I realize its Christmas Eve and some may think this out of place. But the things I share in this post simply mean that I have needed Advent and Christmas even more this year! And warning, this post is long so pace yourself.
Part of the reason for this series is for me to clear my head and (being in a HUGE transitional period) figure out where to go from here. I am no super saint, so it’s a good thing there is not biblical requirement for super saint status among God’s people. I say this because it’s tempting for me to come to my generalized sense of discontentedness and conclude that I really don’t measure up. But as I revisit the story of the people that God has used throughout history and even in my own life, I am finding that its not just me. ‘Measuring up’ (whatever that means, if you know please tell me) it seems isn’t as important as we are led to believe. Why is it that we so often carry around this undefined weight to ‘measure up’ in such a way that only some sort of super saint could ever meet the standard? I have become convinced that God incarnates his presence in this world in the weak, the lowly, the messy, the smelly, the ordinary, and the all too human things of this world. I guess if its put it that way, perhaps I’m still in the running. I can be ordinary, weak, lowly (though hopefully not smelly), and yes…even discontented with the best of them.
The Theological Thread
Those that know me will know that this could be just about anything since I tend to approach everything from a theological perspective. But here I am using this for some things that I am feeling discontented about but couldn’t find another place to put them. First there is the subject of the gospel. Yes, I am discontented about the gospel at least the version of the gospel we have heard since coming to Carlsbad (ok, see I probably just offended some folks). Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel (see here) critiques the ‘soterian’ gospel which focuses on the individualist ‘plan of salvation’. It does this to the detriment of the more genuinely robust, full gospel of the Apostles and the Gospels – the gospel of the Kingdom, the King Jesus gospel. Since we moved here references to the Kingdom and to Jesus as the liberating King have been few. Mostly (especially in the area Baptist churches) its an individualist salvation gospel that gets preached concerned with ‘saving souls’.
But having spent time in Crosspoint Fellowship in Abilene and Ecclesia in Houston, both of whom focus on missionally living out of the King Jesus gospel its just rather frustrating. It needs to be said, the gospel is not about you and me. The gospel is about King Jesus and his Kingdom. I have come to believe that if you only know Jesus as personal savior, you don’t really know Jesus. Its that simple to me, really. I know that perhaps most people mean the King part to be implicit in there somewhere, but Jesus is not simply your personal Lord or King either. No, the personal savior part is true and we are included, but we are included only in the context of the Kingdom, with Jesus as the liberating King of the whole world/cosmos. If we don’t preach the gospel of the Kingdom with Jesus as the liberating King we aren’t preaching the gospel!
Second, there is the idea of male headship. Yes, this is an issue for me…mostly because we are in a very conservative area now where it seems that I don’t exercise my ‘headship’ in what is considered the ‘biblical’ way. Keep in mind that not long after we got here the movie Courageous came out. This is the ‘best’ movie to date from the producers, but unfortunately in my opinion its still yet theologically thin (in how it presents a soterian gospel as well as headship in marriage). According to the movie it seems that all our troubles will be solved if men just take up their rightful positions as the ‘leaders’ in the home and church (and society?). Where does this leave women? Well, its not explicated precisely but it’s a safe bet it leaves them as the ones who submit to male leadership. Now, I believe in headship, I just don’t think has anything to do with male ‘leadership’ or authority complimented by the unilateral submission of women and wives. I disagree with those who demand that the complimentarity of men and women requires a relational hierarchy (of men over women). I consider my view to be ‘complementarity without hierarchy’ and I would describe myself as a ‘mutualist’.
I believe 1) that Jesus is the head of the home and family, 2) that the husband is NOT the head of the family/home but instead is head of HIS wife who are ‘one flesh’ together, 3) that headship in marriage is tied to the ‘one flesh’ analogy (as in a head and a body) and is thus a metaphor for intimate communion not authority over, and 4) that the Ephesians text must be framed by Ephesians 5:21 and mutual submission (in both church and marriage). I believe that ‘male and female’ created in the imago dei are meant to be co-equal, and co-regents, and that mutual submission is the high calling of all our relationships, including marriage as an icon of the triune communion of Father, Son, and Spirit. The producers of Courageous are correct; we have a stark crisis where men are concerned. But they are wrong that the ‘biblical’ answer is for men to exercise their ‘headship’ as ‘leaders’ – unless of course they mean that men and women are to act as mutually submissive co-leaders alongside each other (which they don’t). Those who see male headship as ‘leadership‘ and ‘authority over’ and the unilateral submission of women leave me discontented.
Third, there is the Lord’s Supper…or Communion…or the Eucharist. Why am I discontented about this? Basically because I miss being able to take Communion weekly. This was one of my favorite things about being a part of Ecclesia in Houston. Taking weekly Communion is a powerful way to be storied into the incarnational narrative of Christ each week. Despite how ‘in shape’ we may or may not be we all inhabit broken bodies. Our bodies may differ in degree, but they do not differ in kind. And it is this same flesh that Jesus took on when he became human, was bloodied, crucified, and resurrected. For those of us with broken bodies (ie, all of us) there is only sustenance from the broken flesh and blood of Christ. I have come to wonder how we can not take Communion weekly. I honestly feel like I’m starving with a once a month observance. We currently worship with FUMC here in Carlsbad – this is not meant as a slam on them. I really appreciate the blessing that my wife is accepted as an ordained woman (I’ll explain more below) but I wish we would do Communion weekly.
The Marriage Thread
The second thread contributing to my discontent surrounds my marriage. Now let me say on the front end my marriage is NOT in trouble. I love Christie (others know here as C.C.) more than my very life, and she me. So what is the discontent about? There are three main factors here. First, after our CPE/chaplaincy experience we both felt like we needed time to reclaim our marriage. The fact of the matter is that being a CPE student is a full time job…and being a chaplain is a full time job. Since we were both CPE students and chaplains, well, that was like four full time jobs (dealing with all the brokenness and suffering that the city of Houston could throw at us) in our house. Looking back I’m not sure how we did it and I would advise others against it.
Second, since we arrived in Carlsbad neither of us really feel we have been able to reclaim our marriage as we desired. Resting and recuperating has not really come to us as we have hoped. And, while grateful for their generosity and blessing, it has been difficult to figure out how to be husband and wife while living with the in laws…not much more to say here, it just has.
Finally, Christie’s recuperation from the toll everything has taken on her (especially physically) has been very, very slow. And without insurance now it is difficult to find adequate health care to help her recover. I can only say it has been rough. And it takes it toll on me. It eats at me that I have not been able to provide a way to take care of her better. This comes not from the traditional tack of the husband as ‘head and provider’ (see above on mutual submission) but because as her husband I experience ‘one flesh’ intimate communion with Christie. When she is in pain I hurt too, pure and simple. It is love that motivates me to want to ‘provide’ for her, and it eats at me that I can’t do so properly right now.
The ‘Ecclesiastical’ Thread
Both Christie and I have Southern Baptist roots…and we find ourselves back among primarily Southern Baptist turf here in New Mexico…and we find ourselves really at odds with both our roots as well as the Southern Baptists in this area. We still consider ourselves Baptist…just no longer that kind of Baptist. It won’t make sense to some but denominational identity is not that important to me, but my Baptist heritage is. I suppose that’s a way of saying my Baptist heritage transcends denominationalism – or that one can be a good Baptist and not be Southern Baptist. Given the Baptist options around here it was really not surprising that we ended up worshiping at a Methodist church. We are Baptists that happen to go to a Methodist church currently.
It can be difficult to locate oneself in the ecclesiastical wilderness. The journey is difficult and some people just give up. We were very fortunate in Texas at both Crosspoint in Abilene and Ecclesia in Houston. Both churches are grounded in a deeper sense of the gospel than the soterian option and both have a definite missional focus. Both also are not captured by the rank traditionalism that marks so many churches. Its odd that those who are the biggest ‘traditionalists’ know next to nothing about the wider church tradition (or even Baptist heritage for that matter). Given my penchant for being a non-traditionalist many are surprised I advocate a recovery of the wider church tradition (and yes, even Baptist heritage). I’m a ‘catholic’ Baptist if you will. The problem is not tradition per se, but stale, dead, cold traditionalism. In fact, I believe that recovering a greater sense of the wider church tradition will help us recover our story and be an antidote to traditionalism (which is ironically usually very recent).
But back to the matter at hand, at both Crosspoint and Ecclesia my wife was fully accepted as an ordained ‘woman in ministry’ (in fact Crosspoint ordained us both in a joint ceremony). It is here that in Texas we were also fortunate to have the support of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), of which both Crosspoint and Ecclesia are affiliated. The BGCT is supportive of women in ministry and works to provide an environment in which they can thrive (which can be tough, especially in more traditionalist churches). In the strictly Southern Baptist world (which dominates New Mexico unfortunately) this is not the case. We have even had a couple of Southern Baptist churches threaten church discipline in the past if we were to ever join them. Yikes!
At this point in our journey it is apparent that, while we are perhaps Baptist and embrace our Baptist roots, we do not consider ourselves Southern Baptist any more and for multiple reasons do not feel at home in a Southern Baptist church. So, we are part of a Methodist church, which (while it has its own traditionalism, and while its ‘contemporary’ worship is more Hillsong than David Crowder or Robbie Seay) is where we are a better fit and where I know my wife will not be questioned or looked down upon because she is ordained. We so long to be back with our fellow Texas Baptists though and back with our Crosspoint family.
The Vocation/Calling Thread
One thing I have never been concerned about is my resume. I sometimes think that I’ve made a mistake here – especially when I go to apply for a job. My resume often feels like a catalog of failures. But I have tried to focus on following the best discernment Christie and I had for what God was calling us to do. This is why we left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000 to start a church in Plainview, TX. It ultimately didn’t go well for us. What is for certain is that when we left SWBTS for Plainview I chose a path of ministry outside the traditional church system. I have felt called to people, contexts, and a missional expression of the faith largely outside of the traditional structures. This has meant that I have worked a variety of (so-called) ‘secular’ jobs and (as one person put) did church stuff ‘on the side’ (though I don’t like this language).
I have a great deal of pastoral experience but almost all of it is non-traditional (such as working in children’s homes, church planting, small group leadership, and even hospital chaplaincy) and my ecclesial experience is almost all non-paid (which always caused me to question if I should have ever really considered myself bi-vocational). After our time as hospital chaplains we now find ourselves in transition period, in sort of a limbo. This is pretty much a feeling I’ve felt in some way since we left Plainview all those years ago. Though I feel I was able to incarnate God’s presence in some very tragic circumstances, chaplaincy never really clicked for me. It too felt very limbo-ish. The place that I have not felt this limbo type feeling is Abilene. Abilene just feels like home.
Currently I work for a mental health company as a ‘Community Support Worker’ (a kind of unlicensed social worker) and with their group psycho-social rehab program. This job has been a great blessing for us and I have been able to use some of my pastoral training in my work. But it has still been difficult to go to work every morning. There is the lack of effective training for what they expect me to do and certain administrative issues that contribute to this. And there is the fact that much of my (postmodern) theological formation is at odds with the (modernist) therapeutic psychology of a mental health organization (something that put me at odds with much of my CPE experience interestingly enough also). As a theologian with a pastor’s shape I feel quite often that I am a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Where I’m at currently, I honestly feel like a parody of what I’m called to be.
It has taken me too long to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. There are two major ways that I am shaped – as a theologian and as a pastor – both of which has been confirmed by other Christians in community at various times. And its these two things that I feel called too in the deepest parts of my being – pastoring in some capacity and being a theologian, things that in my opinion should never be separated in the first place. I would like to get a PhD and teach theology (despite the buzz going around that doing a PhD is not the thing to do right now) but the thought of moving someplace far off for a PhD isn’t appealing to me. No, I’d rather us move back to Abilene, reconnect with Crosspoint and HSU/Logsdon Seminary, and enroll in a distance PhD program like the University of Durham. How are we going to make this work? We have some irons in the fire, but at this point I really have no idea.
The ‘Exile’ Thread
I saved this thread for last on purpose. I’ll be brief here as this one will set the stage for the next post, so I’ll say more there. As the name implies, the cumulative total of everything I’m experiencing right now means that I feel very much like I am in exile. Living with the in-laws, working a job where I don’t really fit, separated from our home, etc, etc …the only way I can describe the way it feels is exile.
E.W. Said put it like this,
“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, and even triumphic episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind forever.”
Yes, I know its Christmas Eve and I’m really not trying to be a downer. The Christmas Gospel of the Kingdom is big enough for whatever we bring to the table. Pretending doesn’t do any good. We might as well be honest about it. And this season the word exile remains very descriptive of what I’m feeling. Though I have a very good roof over my head, and am grateful for all the ways that God has provided for us, and am thankful for those through whom God has provided, in many ways (but not all) I feel homeless. But this just means that Advent and Christmas are all the more theologically significant for me this year, because the coming (again) of Christ is the end of exile. This is reason for rejoicing, Kingdom type rejoicing, even in exile!!! I’ll pick up with this theme of exile again in part three. For now thanks for reading and your prayers are coveted and appreciated.
Christmas blessings to all!