Monday, August 28, 2006

An arranged life

Jana and I returned last evening from the mountains of North Carolina, where we celebrated the wedding of a young couple in, what was commonly referred to by the two families-- not entirely unironically-- as an "arranged" marriage.

Curious term. We thought such things only happened in cultures far away.

Indeed, the story of this bride and groom met is a textbook "set-up." He in New York, she in Charlotte. Her best friend is the daughter of his mom's best friend. They eventually meet under the loving calculations of these mutual friends, and are promised against their protestation that they will hit it off.

They do. They fall in love. They marry. It's an arrangement.

Aren't all our lives arranged by parties and powers outside us who know us better than we know ourselves? We are on the planet not because of any agency of our own, but because two folks conspired to make it so. Whatever the quality of their relationship, they made an arrangement for us to show up.

That we are alive today is attributed not so much to our own powers of self-preservation, but to all kinds of forces converging and collaborating for our good. Did we recruit them? Employ them? Properly pay them? Did we deserve them?

Parents, family, friends, teachers, pastors, mentors, colleagues, healers. They simply meet us, like angels, at just the right intersection, giving us the spiritual and physical provision we need to continue the journey. We don't order them up, like pizza. They appear, as if special arrangement has been made.

Join me today in a weird and wonderful imagination. Be one of those famed flowers of the field Jesus talks about. They don't toil or worry. Sunshine and soil provide them everything they need to be more beautiful than a king's palace. All they have to do is be lovely. That's the arrangement.

I reminded this bride and groom of their arranged marriage.

They reminded me of my arranged life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

First day of class

It's been a long time since I experienced first-day-of-class jitters, but that familiar human feeling came back in full on Monday evening and yesterday morning as I taught my first two classes here at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.

Writing a syllabus would be the first test of my new pedagogical performance. For all you who need translation (like me), a syllabus is an outline of class assignments and expectations; syllabi is its plural. At the faculty meeting last Thursday, as we shared our syllabi with each other, I was quickly reminded of just how long I had been absent from the peculiar and insular language of academia.

My collegues produced gorgeous, detailed, exhaustive documents that addressed every conceivable question students might have about what was required of them. Mine, by comparison, were pathetic. They looked emaciated next to the fleshy outlines of the other faculty members. But, my fellow teachers endured my amateurism, and patiently provided the necessary feedback for me to produce adequate syllabi.

Sandlot meets big-league.

Actually, the exercise brought to mind Jesus' instruction to his disciples to "let your yeas be yeas and your nays be nays," as the memorable King James puts it. In relationships, particularly new ones, precision in speech is important. Students need a clarity of requirements and expectations-- not fuzzy suggestions.

My old teacher, Wayne Oates, used to stress the essential relational component of "clear covenants, faithfully kept." As I told my students when distributing the syllabus, there is nothing "innerrant" about the document, and it will surely be flexibly interpreted, but the clearer map of our coming journey will make us better co-travellers.

And what impressive co-travellers these students are! They are bright, inquisitive, eager, commmitted. They are already incarnating their theological studies in real Christian service in a variety of ministry positions. Maybe the following observation is simply a function of my aging, but they seem more focused than me and my crew of seminarians 25 years ago. (I suspect my contemporaries will call that a classic case of psychological projection!)

There is a diversity of race and gender and generation among the students which greatly enriches our learning experience. African-Americans are significantly--not nominally-- represented; many are working pastors and preachers already, furthering their theological education for more effective Christian ministry. Younger students in their 20's and 30's learn alongside older students in their 40's and 50's, forming a community of mutual exploration and inquiry. Fully half of the students are women, illustrating that the Pentecostal prophecy of Peter 2000 years ago is now fulfilled before our very eyes (Acts 2.18).

They inspire. After being with them the first day of class, I am stoked.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Now, back to the "more on that later" matters of packing up, moving on, settling in...

Hauling your stuff halfway across the country is a hellish task. Even with the professional movers, who amaze in their capacity to make things fit in just the right, tight crannies, it's nothing but tedious. Jesus was right on, as usual, when he instructed us to go light.

Where does this hording instinct come from? What on earth are we ever going to do with all this stuff? Why this human tendency to collect and store and stockpile?

Storage is an industry, and not an inexpensive one. We're squirrels busily burrowing niches for stuff we will never use.

In a reversal of Thoreau's wisdom at Walden Pond, why let your matters be as one or two when thousands can provide you a weird sense of security?

I was embarrassed to discover an upstairs closet at Trinity full of files from Second B that I had not so much as glanced at over the past five years. Boxes and boxes still sealed shut from the move to San Antonio five years ago.

Why not pitch this useless material? How could I possibly ever use minutes from a monthly church business meeting back in 1989, even if it were in the realm of the remotest possibility that I would have the slightest clue where among those endless reams of paper I could ever put my hands on such a document? Not to mention the infintesimal possibility that anything interesting happened in a church business meeting...

Don't worry, fellow packrats. Those files got loaded up and trucked to Atlanta where they are now safely at rest in another closet I won't enter until it's time to pack 'em up and move 'em to the next place.

It's an addiction. Somebody start a 12 step group.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Offline & Disconnected

I have been largely offline for the past three weeks as Jana and I have packed our things (more on that later), traveled across country (more on that later), started settling into our new home (more on that later), and, all the while, fulfilled preaching assignments on Sundays (yes, more on that later).

It is good now to be re-connected and back online, and I look forward to continuing this weblog conversation. We are curiously provincial and routinized creatures. Familiar persons,patterns and paths of daily activity frame our lives. These routines become second nature for us and we do them without thinking.

They give us categories by which we organize our "daily-ness." It is more than a little disorienting to be removed from this familiarity. One forgets where he placed his keys, set his coffee, put his wallet.

In such a foggy state, weird things happen. The other day in a bookstore I purchased a book that I had already obtained only two weeks before. Authors pray to the bookbuyer gods for readers like me.

The factors of travel and aging only make the situation worse. Youth adapt more readily to unfamiliarity, but as we move into the middle stretches of the journey, we cultivate a greater appreciation for the recognizable spaces of where we lay our head.

This tableau of home and hearth locates us. Maybe this is part of what Jesus was getting at when he instructed his followers to pray thanksgiving to God for the daily provisions of bread... and other regular, blessed habits of eating, sleeping, and ordering a life.