Hope

Life In Review or, A Pastor Moves Forward by Looking Back: A Conversation with Scott Scrivner

Five years ago the iconic Mummers Theater, also known as Stage Center, was demolished. Considered a modern architectural marvel, it served an interesting feature for the annual Oklahoma City Arts Festival for years. Then it flooded. Efforts to save the building failed. What eventually takes the now vacated space will be influenced by the experiences with the former structure.

A person’s faith journey is not much different.

Even for a pastor.

On this episode of patheological: the podcast for the Pastor-Theologian, Scott Scrivner and I talk about his recent book, Life in Review: An Interactive Guide to Deconstruct Faith Toward Hope. The product of his recent Doctor of Ministry Degree where he worked with Leonard Sweet and no doubt studied semiotics, Scott combines a work that is part memoir, community reflection and guide. The book is as visually provocative as it is in its prose. Scott is Pastor of Convergence OKC and is also a graphic designer. To say this book is a bit of convergence of those roles is itself to risk pressing the metaphor too far.

If the subtitle throws you into an apoplectic fit for its use of the D word, then think of it as the journey of the late Robert Webber who wrote that little book about his own faith journey, On the Canterbury Trail. Or, consider it akin to Karl Barth grappling with the Protestant Liberalism of his day. If that is still too far, pick up Brian Zahnd’s, Water to Wine. No matter what word one chooses, these illustrations make the case that deconstruction is not destruction but a move toward construction.

Consider this in the book’s subtitle, Faith Toward Hope. I first heard this take on Anselm on the New Persuasive Words podcast with Bill Borror and Scott Kent Jones, faith seeking hope. Whether one wants to call it epistemic humility or an acknowledgment of the limits of human reason, the aim is hope and this hope is in Jesus Christ.

Take a listen and see if you don’t find threads of your own journey, even if you use different words. You may also find additional information about the artists, the book and more here at Semper Introspiciens.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.


Preaching As Resistance

Many resist preaching, listening to preachers, that is. Preachers may be the worst. I have attended denominational meetings and watched folks get up and leave when the preaching begins. Imagine thinking mundane business to be more interesting than the preacher you may not have heard before.

Over the past thirty years, I have read less than a handful of preaching books. I have only listened to a few sermons over those same years outside of attending meetings where preaching placed prominently on the conference agenda. It has not been a practice to read many sermons either.

Over the past couple of years that has changed. I think Joe Thorn is correct that most of us preach to ourselves before preaching to or with a congregation. Podcasts have helped to provide the means to listen to a variety of preachers and sermons.

Last Fall I attended an event at my Alma Mater, Oklahoma Baptist University. The one-day conference was on Black Preaching. After that event, I ordered several suggested books on preaching and committed to reading or listening to a sermon a day this year. There are some resolutions I may have dropped quickly, this is not one of them. The practice has been good for me.

I caught up with Phil Snider recently. We talked about a book of sermons he recently edited, Preaching As Resistance: Voices of Hope, Justice, & Solidarity. Rather than a book on the mechanics of preaching, Phil set out to address the craft as public theological discourse,

Crafting sermons that invite listeners to faithfully imagine, embody, and experience the transformation harbored in the gospel of Christ is among the most difficult of all vocational tasks.

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If you read sermons, this is a book for you. And, if you are interested in thinking about preaching as public theological discourse, get the book for the Introduction and Afterword by Richard W. Voelz. In the meantime, listen in to our conversation and hopefully you will give more thought to the theological content of your preaching.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

On the Other Side of the Ash Heap

There is not going to be a return to things as they were. Or are. Think of it as the notion that to step into a river at the same place, does not mean you are stepping into the same water. The water in which you stepped in downstream.

It is not hard to become captive, enslaved, to things as they were. Marriage counselors often hear, “We would like to get back to the way we were.” While the sentiment is appreciated, it is not possible. The way you were is what led to where you are. But, what about mental illness? Is there a better on the other side. After all, we are not in absolute control of our brian chemistry.

Trust the Process

On this episode of Patheological my friend Scott Curry, who self-describes as a *lifer* when it comes to depression, encourages us that even with the chemistry we cannot control there is a process that may lead to something better on the other side of the ash heap.

We continue mapping onto the experience of depression the story of Job. Scott fell in love with Hebrew Wisdom Literature and in turn the book of Job. While wrestling with his own experience with depression, he noticed some helpful if not future altering connections that led him to exhort those who might be battling depression to trust the process. There are similarities to what we might suggest to those battling addiction.

Courage?

Scott does not offer a self-help remedy. He does insist the move to life after the ash heap, after working with mental health care professionals in light of one’s self-awareness there is an issue with ongoing depression, calls for courage. One teaser. Often we read the end of Job and are not sure what to do with the description Job receiving double what he had before. Given the poetic nature of the literature, Scott prods us to think of the way we feel after such a low time – the pain and suffering with depression – as life is twice as good.

Give the episode a listen. This is really a culmination of three podcasts that stretch from last year to these past two episodes. The most recent may be found here.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

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Katy’s Long Obedience In the Same Direction

Sister Mary Katherine. No, not Sister Mary Clarence. Katy was no Sister Act, not an undercover nun. She was my first grade Sunday School teacher.

Only in more traditional Baptist churches did you hear women referred to as sister. Don’t let we Baptists know that Roman Catholic women, given to simple vows, have been referred to as sisters longer than there has been a Baptist Tradition. We would quickly adjust our confessional statements declaring such a designation anathema if we knew.

About two weeks I drove my Dad and Mom to Portland Avenue Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. That sentence sounds like it is such a long trek. It isn’t. We went to the funeral for my first grade Sunday School teacher I knew as Mrs. Kilman. Spellcheck changed it to  Kidman. Not kidding.

The funeral folder reminded us that Katy influenced many in her 56 years at the Crestwood Baptist Church, the church of my childhood and youth. I will be 56 in May. She spent another 25 years at Portland Avenue Baptist Church. If you are keeping score, that is 81 years. I have some to go to get my 81 year pin. Katy not only taught me in Sunday School. She also taught me in Training Union, think Baptist discipleship for children. 

One Sunday evening, I was maybe 6 or 7, we covered the story of King David and a descendant of King Saul. David and Saul are pretty simple names. No trouble with pronunciations. Saul’s grandson, Mephiboseth, received kindness from the new king. It was an act that ran counter to the practice of most new power families. When I heard Saul’s grandson’s name I giggled. So did Randy and maybe even Jimmy. It was the sort of funny that you could not stop. The more we realized we were laughing at a Bible name, and the momentary guilt that we might somehow be acting sacrilegiously by thinking the name was funny, could not overtake our belly laughs. Katy’s husband, John, saw it humorous even as he tried to settle us down to listen.

We weren’t scolded. We were loved.

Over the years of my childhood, Katy taught in Vacation Bible School. She had the voice of an angel. Beautiful alto harmonies added to the Ladies’ Trio of which she was a part. She sang in the choir, in the alto section. Katy and my mother worked with our church’s Senior Adult group – The Jolly Elders. They may have been the initiators of the ministry at Crestwood. Katy’s mother, Grace “Nanaw” Peterman, was my first lawn mowing customer when I was 9 years old. Katy’s daughter-in-law,Mary, taught in our Youth Department when I was in high school. Katy’s grandson Ryan was the ring bearer in our wedding nearly 36 years ago. To say this family holds a number of special places in our own family is an understatement.

One of my favorite books is Eugene Peterson’s, The Long Obedience In the Same Direction. Centered on the Psalms of Ascent, Peterson’s reflections key in on life as journey. The songs were sung on the way, during pilgrimage. We make much of achievement, of accomplishment, the arrival at a destination. Teaching children the Bible is less an achievement and more a journey. First graders move on to Second grade and on to the Third. A Teacher shows up to do it all again. It would be easy to see how over time we must adopt a different vision since a year in elementary Sunday School is not accompanied by finals, exit exams as it were. What is being taught is that we are not alone in our journey through life. God is with us. So are his people.

Ron, Katy’s oldest son, led us in congregational singing. He encouraged us to sing the parts. I sat next to my Dad and we sang the bass line. The gathered family and friends sounded like a church choir. Sitting near me was Maria. We grew up at Crestwood. We graduated from high school and college together. We sang in the Youth Choir. I saw adults I had not seen in more than 30 years. The memories were rich that day.

Thirty years. 

Sitting in the service and reflecting on Katy’s faithfulness to family and faith and God’s faithfulness to her, I realized that in January of 1989 I began serving my first church as a full-time pastor. The church that put up with my novice attempts and had faithfully provided young preachers a place to begin. I am not sure I achieved the average tenure in its history. Reading the list of their pastors put the average at between 2-3 years. I served about 16 months. 

It was not happy feet or a forced departure. I had been accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The move to a church closer to the seminary would make me more available to Patty and the girls should a need arise. Otherwise, I would be gone during the week for four weeks at a time, three times a year. A five hour commute every day would have made it largely impossible to succeed in the program. I commuted for three years in college but the drive was less than an hour.

This summer I will have served Snow Hill for 25 years. When I graduated with my MDiv in 1988 the average tenure was somewhere between 2-3 years. Using that figure, I have pastored somewhere between 8-12 terms at one place. My predecessor served for 25 years. In fact, since 1968, Snow Hill will have had just two pastors. God willing, I may be privileged to spend the rest of my time as pastor right where I am.

Some days I wonder what influences have led me to think a pastor may, if possible, remain at one place for a long time. Brother Justice pastored at Crestwood for more than 20 years before retiring. Brother Carpenter, our Bible History teacher in high school, was pastor of a small congregation in south Oklahoma City for a long tenure. Brother Emery pastored at Snow Hill from 1968-1993. I know there are others.

Maybe it was Katy, and those I knew/know like her. Today, many look for the day when they can retire from serving in a local church. Know this, young boys and girls remember those who taught them in Sunday School when they were children. Sometimes it even sticks that despite the ups and downs of church life, the highs and lows, helps them weather their own experience of the highs and lows faithfully at one place for a long time as adults. Sure, what we are physically able to do over time may change. Serving others may last a life time. It did for Katy.

The practice of a long obedience in the same direction haunts my memories and provides hope for my future.

Hope in the Hospital? or, No Escape for the Pastor-Theologian

Few places offer a challenge to the pastor-theologian like the hospital. Who knows what that family member is thinking while seated on a bench outside the ICU wing? The look on his or her face may be deceiving. Read More