Friday, March 27, 2009

Sensual Philosophy

A person may construct their philosophy about certain matters through knowledge, either examined or inherited, but it's important to acknowledge the degree to which we develop our philosophy through the senses. I write this because, while visiting Washington D.C., I was struck by how moved I was, and therefore forced to evaluate my thinking on some subjects, because of what I took in through the senses. To be more specific: by physically being in the space of a monument or memorial, I was forced to consider the history and message of the monument or memorial than I was made to do simply by reading about it from a distance. Case in point? Say what you will about Protestant disagreements with Roman Catholic theology, but let's see if you mount such a rabid opposition when standing in a cathedral. I'll wager the architectural and spatial commitment to reverence in that place will temper your rhetoric - possibly even make you reconsider some of your most heated imprecations.

Because I encountered this in almost all of the the places we visited, by the end of the week I was thoroughly exhausted. In each location, the intake was a flood to the senses. For this reason I previously lamented that we saw too much and went too fast. Take, for example (and I'll be giving other examples soon), the first monument we visited - The Lincoln Memorial. On the walls to the left and right of the statue of the seated Lincoln are the text from Lincoln's inaugural addresses. Theses speeches can be read, analyzed and their historic contexts studied, but its by standing in front of wall of the text (two stories tall) that one really takes it in. The echo of the monument, the hushes voices of people trying to be somewhat reverent, the marble and natural light - even the outside temperatures free from artificial heat or A/C, all combined to create a sensory entry into the "Lincoln experience." The references to God in his speeches appear, in this setting, quite sincere. However critical of American historical militarism one might normally be, the experience in the monument gives the impression that this man is to be lauded for his leadership, conviction and vision for a unified nation free of the blight of slavery.

More to come about the sensory tsunami of these historic and meaningful places...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Personal Log: Love - Hate Relationship with Seminary

As seminary comes to a close, I find that I am able to understand and empathize with those seminary graduates and alumni that gave a negative report of their experience when I asked them about it. Some went so far as to admit needing between 5 to 7 years following graduation for their spiritual life to recover. I understand that dilemma.

For me, following graduation, it may be a while before I want to pick up my Bible again. Having gorged so sickeningly on biblical data (particularly this semester), I find that I may want to commune close with God in meditation and prayer later on in a manner that sets the Bible aside. I admit this is not the preferred instinct. However, no matter how healthy a food may be, if you indulged so excessively on it as to vomit due to over-intake, future plates of it can activate the gag reflex.

I have loved the seminary environment for its education, it has stimulated my faith on many levels and has been instrumental in exposing me to areas of study that will now always be part of my personal studies. However, I also hate seminary for facilitating a situation in which the Bible now makes me convulse, gag and lean over the toilet hoping chunks don't get lodged in my nose.

This may not have been the reaction of many other graduates, but I'm not as strong as they are.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Edifying Excursion

Having just returned home from a vacation trip to Washington, D.C., I can confess that I am sufficiently exhausted enough to seemingly need another vacation. However, rest must wait until the school work that is soon due is completed. Nevertheless, the trip left me with a great deal to write about. Once present urgent demands have been satisfied, then I wish to take time to reflect on the various sights and sounds of the trip. It was an edifying excursion in that it not only re-acquainted me with a great deal of American history, but left much to ponder in terms of America's future.

For example (and each of these categories will likely require blogs of their own):

The moments visited on day 1 (Lincoln and Jefferson), or the World War II memorial or the Vietnam Wall. These had their own appeal, demanding meditation and sober reflection on the conflicts America has engaged in.

The museums and functions of state visited on day 2 - First we spent time viewing the U.S. Navy Memorial. I could have spent hours more here taking it all in, but time was restricted due to an appointment later in the day. Next we visited the National Museum of Natural History, leaving in time for our appointment with Congressman Ralph Hall. We were delayed in getting to his office by a president motorcade in which President Barak Obama passed by mere yards away. Accompanying Congressman Hall into the U.S. Capital to observe the House of Representatives conducting business.

Visiting Annapolis, Maryland on day 3, with its resident United States Naval Academy. After walking around the academy campus, and eating lunch at the Officer's Club, we browse the waterfront of Annapolis. The Chesapeake Bay is a beautiful area, and Annapolis, as a community, simply oozes with history.

Day 4 found the bulk of our time spent in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Time spent here left a great deal to meditate on concerning the depravity of mankind, and societal tendencies to duplicate the evils of Nazi Germany.

Day 5 left enough time before our flights home to visit Arlington National Cemetery and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport.

All in all, we probably saw too much. Such a pace does not leave room for calm meditation while standing or sitting on this environment. However, in the coming weeks, I will attempt to recall the impact each of these sites had on may and share them in the medium.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Ministry of Presence

One of the greatest doctrines a Christian can meditate on is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ; meaning, God became human. The deity of Christ is essential for our salvation because without being equal to the Father, he could not have brought us to the Father. The full humanity of Christ is essential for our salvation because without exact similarity to us, he could not have represented us to the Father. If to be Christian means to be a "Christ follower," then the key question for the Christian is who is the Christ they follow?

Because of the importance of this question, the Christological definition of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 remains vital for us today:

Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.

We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten – in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the “properties” of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one “person” and in one reality . They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only begotten Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers has handed down to us.

It is because of Christ's full deity and humanity that we could rightly call him "'Emmanuel,' which means 'God with us'" (Matt 1:23). This results in a localized proximity of God that many would enjoy throughout his earthly ministry. The manner in which Jesus touched lepers, ate with sinners or stayed with tax collectors were all "proximate" aspects of his ministry. In essence, he was communicating the "proximity of God" for those that needed grace. We can go further and say that he spatially mediated grace to those needing it. We rightly would identify a connection between Jesus' words to Zacchaeus "I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19:5) and his later pronouncement "today salvation has come to this household" (Luke 19:9). Jesus primary means of bringing that salvation to the household was to stay there. Why such a mundane method for mediating grace? Because the God/man renders all methods far from mundane!

It is for this reason that we must find it particularly tragic that such "methods" are forgotten in Christian ministry. What "methods" are these? Eating, drinking, touching and staying overnight.

The one sent from God communicates the presence of God merely by there physical presence. This is called practicing "the ministry of presence." It's a vital aspect of Christian ministry that more exactly copies the way of the master than the frequently sermons, crusades or confrontational evangelism techniques that we evangelicals are prone to. While our Bible exposition and ministry acumen is helpful, it must not crowd out this "ministry of presence" that is more clearly shown in Jesus' ministry than any other of our practices. Christian ministry has become so industrialized that church "executives" cannot imagine wasting time on habits and practices that do not fit their results-oriented goals. The pastor "ministry of presence" goes away under the guise of streamlining ministry effectiveness. Grow more; plant more; do more. These chants have largely drowned out the old accusations against Jesus as being "a friend of sinners."

For chaplains, the ministry of presence is among the most important skills we learn. We may find all our exegetical and expositional skills painfully under-utilized in chaplaincy. All those classes in seminary were important to obtain a degree. All that Bible knowledge may assist our personal piety. However, very little of that will come out in the chaplain's greatest moments of effectiveness; those being, when people need the chaplain to simply be with them - cry with them, eat with them, drink with them, laugh with them, work with them, run with them, stand with them in the rain or crawl with them in the sand. The pulpit is replaced by a seat on Engine One, or the deck railing on the a frigate.

The "ministry of presence" calls the minister (or chaplain in my case) to communicate the great truth of the Incarnation by demonstrating the proximity of God through their presence with those needing grace.