Dinosaur Bones

 

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You gotta love a good metaphor.

The other day, I was sitting with some clergy colleagues and we were talking about the role of the pastor.  What, we wondered, is the pastor’s real job?  Sure, they are supposed to preach, to teach, to visit the sick, to shepherd the flock, to die on the cross demonstrate self-sacrifice, and to model discipleship.  But how?

For some of us, the answer was simple–you do all of that by casting a vision.  One colleague offered that when he serves a church, he sees his role as providing the church with a vision that is God-centered and faithful to the gospel.  A faithful ministry, he said, is one where you have succeeded in convincing your church to follow you where you believe God would have the congregation go.

But not all of us agreed.  As we sat in the room debating, I found myself thinking about dinosaur bones.  Specifically, about the process by which archeologists carefully and meticulously unearth these ancient treasures from below the ground, and then painstakingly assemble them together to show us something of what dinosaurs (or ancient pottery, homes, synagogues, you name it) may have looked like.

In that moment, I was compelled by the notion that successful pastors don’t cast a vision–they unearth the vision that was there all along.  They tend to the soil of their congregation, listening for clues that might help them discover what is lying below the surface, waiting to be revealed.  Good pastoral ministry knows that the congregation has a vision, they just may have forgotten it, or buried it beneath anxiety about change or finances or anything else that has a tendency to get in the way of the gospel.

Of course, I was feeling pretty profound when I finally had the courage to share my metaphor with the group, but it turns out I had still more to learn, because no sooner were the words out of my mouth than a colleague blurted out:

“Of Course!  It’s like the Hadrosaurus!”

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this can’t possibly be right….

If you are like me, then you were probably utterly confused, so I will explain what my colleague was so excited about.  Apparently, we have been finding dinosaur bones for centuries, but that doesn’t mean we always knew what to do with them.  In fact, , scientists were often baffled by the bones, and sometimeswould put them together in all kinds of shapes using what seemed to be educated guesses.

Until they found the Hadrosaurus. In 1858, scientists in Haddonfield New Jersey uncovered the first largely intact dinosaur skeleton.  It was the first time they had enough pieces to know what a dinosaur actually looked like, and what it revealed is that, up until that moment, we had it all wrong.

 

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Ahh, that’s better…

Before the Hadrosaurus, paleontologists had assumed that most dinosaurs were
quadrupedal; Hadrosaurus revealed that they were not.  It turned out that dinosaurs like the Brontosaurus were completely fictional–they never existed, we just imagined them because we didn’t know what we were looking at. It took seeing a complete, intact dinosaur to realize that we had it all wrong.

In our group, we found ourselves on the precipice of something important.  We were realizing that the role of the pastor may have more to do with paleontology than we realized.  Yes, a good pastoral leader pays attention to her congregation and helps uncover what is already there. But they also need to know how to faithfully fit it all together. In order to help the church be faithful, they must endeavor to fit those pieces together so that they make something that is real and honest and true.

There are plenty of instances where we uncover a bunch of different passions and visions, but if we don’t have a blueprint, we cannot fit them together in a faithful way. And that is what Scripture is for.  It is our Hadrosaurus, our guide to what the church should look like.  And thanks be to God that, like the dinosaurs, there are countless models of faithful churches to look at. But they all follow certain rules.  They are faithful to the message of Christ, devoted to works of mercy and compassion, to worship and prayer, hospitality and healing, justice and reconciliation, generosity of spirit and with resources.

These building blocks make us who we are. And when we are attentive to them, when we put them together correctly, they reveal something about who God is.  More than that, they leave something for future generations, a blueprint for those who come after to follow as they, too, learn what it means to worship the one we know as God.

 

 

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What if my bones were in a museum,
Where aliens paid good money to see ’em?
And suppose that they’d put me together all wrong,
Sticking bones on to bones where they didn’t belong!
Imagine phalanges, pelvis, and spine
Welded to mandibles that once had been mine!
With each misassemblage, the error compounded,
The aliens would draw back in terror, astounded!
Their textbooks would show me in grim illustration,
The most hideous thing ever seen in creation!
The museum would commission a model in plaster
Of ME, to be called, “Evolution’s Disaster”!
And paleontologists there would debate
Dozens of theories to help postulate
How man survived for those thousands of years
With teeth-covered arms growing out of his ears!
Oh, I hope that I’m never in such manner displayed,
No matter HOW much to see me the aliens paid. -Bill Watterson

 

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Lawdy Lawdy!

Gawrsh it’s been a while…I got myself lost in the Lent-Easter vortex and am only now starting to pull myself out… didn’t help that I also became not a little bit attached to watching television on the web–I am officially caught up on more shows than I care to admit.

But seriously, it has been a pretty busy last few months!  I turned around on tax day and realized that A and I have been married now for 8 months, which just goes to show how time can fly when you keep yourself busy.  Before we know it, we will be edging up on a year….whew!

In other news, spring is in the air, and like many other amateur gardeners I have gotten a bit antsy to play in the dirt.  Up in Belvidere, the farmers started tilling the corn fields about two or three weeks ago, and that for me was a sure sign it was time to begin playing… add to that that nights are almost 10 degrees warmer on average in Philly, and I have been cultivating my own little strip of earth with joy.  As it currently stands, I have my row crops (carrots, beets, parsnips, radishes, kale, chard, salad greens) in the dirt, as well as some snow peas and cucumbers.  I was a bit nervous about the cukes but I have plenty of backup if something goes wrong.  I also splurged on some tasty looking strawberry plants, and they are going wild in the back yard in Philly.

Additionally, I have been starting to have fun with my sourdough starter–yes, I became one of those people with a weird jar of goop in my fridge.  A and I are really enjoying the bread we are getting, even though I still feel like a beginner at this.  I still have some slow downs and hold ups (like this Sunday when my sponge didn’t want to rise in time for a children’s sermon based on it!) but there are lots of classic church ladies in Belvidere to tell me what I am doing wrong and help me correct it when I do… ah i love those ladies 🙂

A and I are also considering a foray into cheesemaking and beermaking, so we shall see what the future holds.  I joked with him that my goal is to turn us into alternative “live off the land types,” but really I just want to be able to make the things I like best–aka, cheese, bread, beer, jams and pickled and canned veggies–on my own because it feels awesome to do so.  I really like the idea of putting up food for the winter, or caring for my own starter, or even–although A swears he will allow it–raising my own hens.  Something empowering about knowing how to manipulate seeds and food products.

So that is more or less what is going on with me right now.  I am biding my time with my ground cherry and tomato plants, but the warmer days are on the horizon, and before long I will probably be complaining publicly about all the pests bugging my crops 🙂  but until then, I am at least comforted by the notion that there are tasty things growing outside, and that I might get to eat some of em.

further thoughts…

Questions that have been on my mind:

 

  • what is the purpose of church?  is it the same or different from the purpose of Christ?  
  • what does it mean, I mean, REALLY MEAN, to serve?
  • what is, really, salvation?  Is it possible to, as many churches would have you believe and do, save other people?  This prospect makes me uncomfortable, as I tend to think that is God’s job alone, but what is our role as fellow human beings?  What shape does salvation take in a life?  Is it feeling loved and wanted by others and by God?
  • How does one truly love one’s neighbor?
So yes, I know these are all big questions, but they have been on my mind, especially given my experience on Sunday with that church… the experience was so wrapped up in the needs and experience of the community that had already been welcomed (the insiders, if you will), which seemed so out of step with Christ that it made me wonder what the point of church is at all… because if it ain’t Christ, then what is it? Furthermore, who am I to judge where Christ is?  What if I am wrong?  Do I want to be a part of something that closes itself off and isolates itself from the real world?  Is that the kind of love that I would want to receive?  
So if you have any ideas or ruminations, I would love to hear them… these are big questions, and it is my suspicion, as with many things, that big questions are best wrangled with in community rather than alone, for it is in community that we face one another and open one another to our own experiences and form a more complete picture of how God might be working in our contexts.

Off to SF we go.

Yesterday morning I suckered my ‘rents and my bro into driving up to San Francisco with me to scope out Mission Bay Community Church (I billed it as an “excellent family bonding opportunity” in “sunny SF,” which was incidentally far enough away from the Santa Cruz fires that the air didn’t smell like a campfire or make one’s eyes tear up).

 

So we piled in the car around 9:45 and chugged up the 101 (yes, I went to undergrad in SoCal and YES I picked up and have held onto that nasty habit of adding an article to freeway numbers).  We got there early, or at least got off the freeway early… only we had a bit of trouble at first finding the church.  Actually, what happened was that we blew past the church altogether, missing the sign which was shaded by some trees on the side of an industrial looking building.  I should have known better than to look for something blatantly “churchy” but obviously not.  Anyways, my dad spotted the sign, we snagged a parking space and skipped on in (at least I did) in time with the sound system with 5 minutes to spare.  

 

The church was pretty neat, in terms of aesthetics.  BRC and Co. have created an awesome atmosphere that feels instantly welcoming (which was precisely what my dad pointed out when we sat down).  There were big couches interspersed with pews and folding chairs, some of which were organized around cafe tables.  There was an open kitchen in the back with coffee, tea, and donuts, and the mostly 20-30 something crowd was clustered about throughout the space engaged in conversation with one another.  It felt almost like a friendly, industrial coffee shop.  We snagged a table and some coffee and chatted with some of the people around us, who were also quite friendly.

 

Worship itself was, as I heard BRC say before, not all that different and yet different all at once.  There was a definite emphasis on music, which was a good mix of old and new led by a worship band, and a definite lack of emphasis on individualism or anything that moved people away from the communal aspect… so there were no hymnals to stare at or bulletins to get lost in, and everything was projected on the front on a screen.  Again, my dad seemed to like that a lot.  I felt as though, if you were looking for community, it was pretty hard to miss it there (gawd I sound like an ego-booster for BRC right now, I bet.).  Overall, the coolest for me was the rationale for why they encourage people to move around or engage the service however they feel comfortable, that being that they want to celebrate and affirm that people process information in different ways, and that it is important to facilitate an atmosphere that encourages people to see church as a home and not a place that asks that people deny who they are (at least, I think I got that right…)

 

Sermon was decent, I had a question or two, but then again that was welcome in the room as well.  Generally, it was a great experience and my brother, someone who would rather do almost anything rather than go to church, gave possibly the best compliment he could: “well, it wasn’t boring, thats for sure.”

 

So way to go, MBCC.  You failed to bore my bro, and my ‘rents loved it–all in all a success in my book.  It was fun, it was interesting, it was genuine.  I look forward to hearing about how things are going as this fun and welcoming church continues to grow and discover itself.

When Email fails; blog.

Who knew that in this day and age of dependence on email, that email might actually fail me? I have spent the last week trying to email the following to Broad Street Ministry with no luck… I chalk it up to internet demons.

Anyways, if you are out there Bill, its me, Sarah, eagerly waiting to bequeath you with the reasons for why I would love to work at Broad Street this summer.

Ahoy there! It’s Sarah from Harvard.. It was great to get a chance to chat with you lat week; it truly felt like the Spirit is up to something, from being pointed in the direction of your church, to the parallels between your mission and my passions, to the awesome convo. I took very seriously your invitation to be creative, and thought perhaps I might construct an epic poetic account of myself to describe “Who Am I” but then remembered that I have seriously suboptimal poetic skills (I could give you some references for that if you want.) Anyways, if you want more info, I have a blog (of course I do, right? deeperinmethani.wordpress.com… and you are currently on it, so welcome to your first internet blog. I hope I don’t disappoint.). I also have a resume, which you mentioned might be helpful.

When I could Start: June 1
When I would have to leave: end of August

Anyways, in the absence of bad poetry, here goes nothing:

Who Am I?

Here are some phrases that describe who I (think I) am:
-passionately seeking to live like Christ
-missionally-minded: in other words, I believe that my whole life is a mission of love and service, and that our calling as Christians extends beyond Sunday and beyond the physical church
-a Presbyterian seminarian in search of a communal ministry that embraces the radicalness of Jesus.
-not content to stay where I am comfortable, but rather impelled to explore the fringes of my faith and my experience
-inspired by the ordinary radicals in my midst to be and live as they do

So those are a few things that characterize me, although for the most part these are things that not only characterize my psyche but stretch beyond the now to how I seek to be in my ministry and my life. For the more “fact-based” account of who I am, perhaps this would suffice:
My name is Sarah Glass, I am a 2nd year seminarian at Harvard Divinity School and a Presbyterian (PCUSA) under care with San Jose Presbytery. I am currently an Inquirer who will be going before CPM next week to make the case for Candidacy in the Church. I came to HDS considering military chaplaincy, which I believed and still believe is the most invisible youth ministry out there to the church, one with amazing potential as well as intense responsibility attached to it. Somewhere along the way I perceived that God might be calling me to something else, in particular doing the nontradition within traditional ministry settings in PCUSA. I am still trying to figure out what that non-traditional would look like, but I have a good idea–I feels strongly passionate about urban ministry, particularly urban youth ministry, as well with a ministry that engages the economic and social challenge of the Gospel.

How I found out about Broad Street Ministry

I knew early on this year that I wanted to have a chance to do something radically different the traditional ministry experience that I had this past year. I wanted to practice ministry somewhere that engages the things that I am passionate about, a place that, as you put it, “Gets in the mix” and is not afraid to engage the odd and risky and often scary aspects of following Christ. I wanted to find a place that would leave me passionately excited about my call. Anyways, I started looking (naturally online) in places that embodied the values I cared about. One place I looked was presbymergent.org, a blog for Presbyterians who are seeking to live up to the challenge to be reformed but always reforming. Broad Street was listed as a church that embodies those values, and so I checked out the website. Based on conversations with people on that blog and on my research, I had a strong feeling that Broad Street was doing what I dream about.

What I want to get out of this summer

To be honest, I think it all boils down to passion. I have spent the last year and a half learning about the theoretical and the academic aspects of ministry, and while I have spent the last six months doing good ministry in a good church, I know that God is calling me to explore something different from what is traditional. I came to seminary feeling strongly that God was calling me to work with youth, particularly young adults, particularly in settings that engage the world outside the church. My hope is that by the end of this summer I might have a stronger sense of that call, that I might feel as passionately in practice about my vocation as I feel about it in theory.

One less hoop…

So today, whilst many a folk was probably enjoying the weather, or reading a nice book, or whatever folk do, I was doing the final preparations to send my forms for candidacy to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in San Jose, CA who oversees and handles my ordination. It was a pretty big deal, because this year I am requesting to be moved from the status of “inquirer” to “candidate”, indicating that I am fairly certain that my call is within the church and request that they confirm that call. Overall it requires a lot of paperwork and even more spiritual discernment. And to be honest, it took me over 3 months to finally finish the questions, because I found that whenever I sat down to write about them I would end up reflecting on the meaning of the questions for hours. I think that is better, actually, but it ended up being an intensive process that I, for one, am relieved to take out of my own hands and finally place in the hands of the committee.

I guess I thought that, in honor of finishing that process, I might finally make public my statement of faith, probably the most important part of this process. I am quite proud of it, but I also know that it will probably change as I learn more about God and faith and the church. I also have realized in writing it how valuable of a process it is, because by writing a statement of faith I had to think about what I really do believe and then find a way to express that belief.

So here you go. Enjoy. (as a note, the references in my statement of faith are to places within our Book of Confessions that are in line with my theology).

STATEMENT OF FAITH

I believe in a “living and true God” who was and is ever present in the unfolding drama of this world, a God who “created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image,” a God who does not love a single created thing any more or less than any other and whose “sovereign love is a mystery beyond the reach of our minds” (WCF, BSF, Conf. of 1967). That same God cries out in solidarity with a world that is lost, a world that often fails to see God’s grand vision for this place. This God seeks constantly to “act with justice and mercy to redeem creation,” to set right what has been wronged, to teach us to live not in this world but in the possibility of this world (BSF). I believe in a God who walks beside us, who both rejoices and laments with us, who seeks always to challenge us to imagine and to work towards a way of living that more fully realizes God’s vision for this beautiful but fragile planet.

I believe in a God whose “reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery,” a God who loved this world so much as to be willing to die for it (Confession of 1967). God’s sacrificial love for this creation was realized in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s “eternal wisdom, the substance of God’s own glory,” the one called “Immanuel” by the prophets (SC). Christ lived and worked alongside creation, giving of himself completely to those whom God loved. Christ taught us how to build up the kingdom of God here and now on earth through love and humility and self-sacrifice. Christ’s life and Christ’s message of hope are recalled to the church through the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s act of reconciliation, both in death and life, makes possible the reconciliation of humanity to God through grace, love of justice and love of neighbor.

I believe in the Holy Spirit who moves within the lives of us all, “comforting us and abiding with us forever” (HC). The Holy Spirit is the still small voice of God in our hearts which “creates and renews the church as the community,” encouraging us in our lives as we seek to live more fully in God, with God, of God (Conf. of 1967). That Holy Spirit guides us through our daily living as divine inspiration, lending us vision and courage as we seek to love our neighbor and our God more fully. The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts as we are born into the family of God through the sacrament of baptism.

It is in this God, a God of infinite and indescribable love and grace, a God who inspires me to look beyond myself and to participate with my whole mind and soul in the glorious work of reconciling the world “to whom alone I must cleave, whom alone I must serve, whom only I must worship, and in whom alone I put my trust” (SC).

Ah Annual Meeting.

Long day at church today… because of the Annual Conglomeration’s meeting for budgetary and other administrative Issues.  In other words, CHPC experienced an annual 2 hour recap of last year and the challenges facing next year.  It was brutal (not as brutal as the session meeting on Wednesday) but it was also amazing to see people committed to the church speak up about their commitment.  The best part in fact of the meeting was that people seemed unified about mission and about direction, something that you don’t always see in a church, no matter what the size.  It looks like we are setting goals this year for membership, and I think we might just make them, to be honest.  The goal the pastor set was a 25% increase in membership, a steep feat for anyone, but then again 2 people approached me after church today and indicated that they want to join, so it can’t be that bad, can it?

Really it all comes down to discernment I guess, if you think about it.  This church has a mission that it is so clear and vocal about—but somehow the mission doesn’t always translate to action.  And I guess thats the real doozy, isn’t it?  I think one of the things I have really begun to realize about church ministry is that the buildup to action is the biggest roadblock to change.   Because it’s so easy to talk, and really it is easy to act too–but so often we tell ourselves that action is hard, that it will take too much out of us, that perhaps it will be a waste of resources.  The risk of failing makes action all but impossible.

Recognizing that, and then realizing how little it requires of us to actually act on our words, is the situation I find myself in this afternoon as I reflect on Clarendon Hill.  We have an amazing opportunity to give to the community of God, to the community of Somerville.  What we need is the faith to do it, or perhaps otherwise stated the courage to act on our professed faith.  I think it will only seem difficult until we do it.  And that’s where I am now.  I am trying to figure out how I, as an intern, can help this church have courage to act.  I don’t think its something I can accomplish alone, but if I can figure out how God is calling me to help it along, that’s a start, right?