Sunday, May 24, 2009

When Mom Uses my Whole Name

Everyone knows that when your mother uses your WHOLE name, you're in trouble. Typically, that's how she uses her voice of authority. Dads typically use a deeper voice to express particular and acute authority for a correctable moment in a child's life. Unfortunately, moms have to use different ammunition because the deep voice thing doesn't work as well for them. Sorry, Moms.

Instead of using a deeper voice, like the dad, moms use the child's first, middle and last names. It's the combination of all three (or more) names that causes the child to stop in their tracks and realize that special authority is being invoked. Growing up, that authoritative combination was used toward me on many occasions. It's not that the memory of it is negative. It's more that the memory conjures moments of motherly authority. Hearing "Aaron Frederick Ott!" always meant: Your behavior is at odds with the ideals I (and your father) have for you. By my own authority I will instruct you on where you erred, and how you will correct course. Listen and obey, or it will go worse when you father comes home and learns that you have ignored my direction.

It was a heavy matter to be addressed by my whole name. It was my mother's magic phrase. If her authority was not heeded, then my father's came into effect. Sometimes it did anyway. I think about how this has been reflected in my present family. The authoritative combination has been heard from my wife on many an occasion. My poor daughter has gotten the unkind curse of two middle names. That way, when she hears the magic spell it's in the form of a a four word cadence: "Jessica Amber Vallerie Ott!" That poor girl. I remember one incident in particular when Jessica asked to go play outside. After not getting the desired response, she came to ask me. I not only denied the request, but disciplined her for ignoring her mother's authority in the process.

The parallel to the above described "motherly" authority is given by St. Cyprian, the 3rd century Bishop of Carthage in North Africa who wrote, ""He cannot have God for his father, who has not the Church for his mother." While Cyprian may have overstated the case, suggesting that salvation cannot be found outside of church membership, his quote is still worthy of consideration. How would one claim loyalty to the Groom who does not also have loyalty to the Bride? Or to put it another way: Can one claim respect for the Father's authority who does not honor the Mother's?

Some may attempt to argue against thinking of the Church as their "Mother," but from where did they receive the news of eternal life? Were you not nursed on the milk of doctrine, cradled n the arms of community, bathed in baptismal waters, soothed with the singing of praises, and nourished by communion? In what way have you grown as a Christian that cannot be attributed to the nurturing of the Church? What other avenue of the Holy Spirit's work might you trace through life in developing you?

I have argued extensively elsewhere that the normative means of sanctification employed by the Spirit is the integration Christian's experience to one another in the community of faith. Calling this "integrated sanctification," it suggests that among all models proposed throughout church history for explaining how the Spirit conforms us to the likeness of Christ runs a common thread. This "thread" is the influence of the Church common to all believers. In essence, any expectation I might have for growing in Christ must be tied to my integration to the Church. It would be unwise to expect the Spirit to perform his work of changing me independently of his work through the Church. St Cyprian may have restricted salvation too narrowly, but one can understand his point when we reflect on how the Spirit has uses the Church as his primary womb in which to incubate, and out of which to birth, new believers.

Because of this analogy as "Mother," it can be said that she has authority to correct me where I err and direct me in a manner pleasing to the Father. The Church is the Mother that can, and should, at times use my whole name to grab my attention. Actually, this is rather comforting. Consider how often wayward teens are strangely reassured by the resolve of strict parents in the topsy turvy years of adolescence. In this way I am comforted, stabilized and reassured by the "mother's" authority to direct me in the way I must grow. She is the "mother" that uses my whole name to stop me in my tracks and, with authority surpassed only by the Father, reveals what is expected of me. Any response other than, "Yes Mom," might invited further discipline from Dad as well. It would be unwise to risk it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Which Way is Up?

Certain life traumas can leave one feeling disoriented, discombobulated and distrusting of the senses. Take, for example, the experience of wiping out violently on the ski slopes. In a moment when the ski catches an edge in a particularly complicated turn, the human entropy ensues. In a cloud of snow the body begins to tumble uncontrollably until the momentum is diminished enough by the friction of the hill. Arms and legs flail. Hopefully the skis break loose from the boots to avoid twisting the legs and knees unnaturally. Poles are of no use - why hold on to them? End over end the accidental acrobatics continue, stopping in a silent heap. After such a crash you're hesitant to move at all. You take a few moments (or even minutes) to run an internal diagnostic check, wondering if anything is broken. You're thankful for breathing. You're pretty sure you're breathing; but not sure of much else.

Once you're reasonably confident you can move, then comes the decision of which way to move. Directional confidence is shot, so you scan with your eyes for clues that will indicate which way is up. "Is that up?" No, dummy, that's left. "OK, I see a tree. It's pointing up; that helps." At this point you'd rather not sit up. You'd rather just lie there and replay the crash in your mind. How did you take that turn wrong? Did your ski catch on a rock or bush protruding from under the snow? You blame, "This stupid resort should groom their runs better." You'd rather just lie their for a couple of minutes, but if you don't sit up people will ski over and ask if you're alright - heightening the embarrassment. "Are you alright?" a skier asks. "Fine, thank you. Just feeling like a dork!" you yell back.

Sit up, idiot, or more will come.

"Here's one of your skis mister," a polite child offers. "The other one's still up the hill."

"Thank you." Now run along and leave me in peace to look for my ego. It's buried in the snow around here somewhere.

Finally standing up, you face uphill to survey the wide swath of debris left in your wake. This was one for the books. Slowly you go about the business of gathering up your gear. Oh, there's the other pole. Crash ripped off one of my gloves too. I'll never find it. But you know that once you have both skis back on, you'll have to ski down the rest of the way to the lodge in order to rest up there. That sucks, but it's also a blessing. If you had broken something, they'd have sent the rescue skier that pulls the stretcher behind them on the snow. That would have been worse - way worse.

For me, and somewhat for our family as a whole, the news of not entering the Navy as a chaplain can be likened to a skiing wipe out. All decisions are suspect because of being uncertain which way is up. You're stunned, and you need a moment or two to make sure nothing is broken. Oh, I'm confident that we'll find all our gear and ski back down to the lodge. We'll probably even get on another lift in a few minutes. But after a bad crash, the body moves slowly and deliberately.

"Dude! Don't just stay in the snow. Get up! Let's go back to the lodge for coffee," a skiing buddy yells after they stop abruptly next to you, spraying you with snow.

"I'm coming. Give me a second." And it's going to be awfully difficult for you to drink coffee with my pole jammed in your face. DUDE!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shaken Faith

When life events so congregate as to call into question much of what one has come to assume about God, faith is shaken by the tectonic shift of misleading paradigms. What one believes God is like, and thus his manner of intersecting with human affairs, collides with the harsh reality of disappointing pain. Former ways of assuming that he led people along life's path can appear quite untrustworthy. The standard platitudes are insulting, and a bonfire is the only appropriate home for various trite bumper-sticker sayings purchased from a local Christian bookstore. They were created to offer a form of comfort, but in the end only comfort those who do not need comforting. Faith has been shaken, and all the "houses of cards" are revealed by the flattened debris spread round about.

However, faith is not flattened by the shaking.

Instead, only that which can be flattened by the shaking, is in fact flattened. In other words, faith is reduced down to that which cannot be shaken. Faith is legitimately reduced, by the disappointments of life, to that which cannot be affected by the disappointments of life at all. Such faith weathers the storms, endures the hardships, stomachs the bitter, survives the dangerous, gazes on the unsightly, gulps the unsavory, resists the threatening, detects the deceiving and soothes the anxious.

It's medicine to the sick in spirit.
It's first aid to the wounded.
It's fuel to the empty.
It's nourishment to the famished.
It's refreshment to the thirsty.
It's shelter to the exposed.
It's covering to the naked.
It's refuge to the harassed.
It's reward to the destitute.
It's attachment to the disconnected.
It's life to the lifeless.
It's sight to the blind.
It's sound to the deaf.
It's flight to the feeble.
It's comfort to the confounded.
It's reconciliation to the rejected;
and it's serendipitous to the disappointed.

It straightens the crooked.
It smooths out the rough.
It makes sense of the senseless.
It grooms up the grungy.
It enlightens the darkened.
It points out the elusive;
and unravels the enigmatic.

What faith can boast such things? What might such faith confess?
Such faith maintains humility about what it cannot answer,
but it remains confident about what it can.

But at this point in life, the faith that I find cannot be shaken by gross disappointment can only confess that which has always been confessed of Christians everywhere.

Therefore, when asked what I believe, I presently can only answer:

I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven,
And sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From where he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
The holy Catholic Church;
The Communion of Saints:
The Forgiveness of sins:
The Resurrection of the body:
And the Life everlasting. Amen.

-The Apostles' Creed

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Futile, All is Futile

-"Futile! Futile!" laments the graduate,
"Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!"

-What benefit is there in all of a man's effort,
in all the outcomes he strives for?
-For whatever he accomplishes is temporary.
-If he is successful in reaching a goal,
it is quickly replaced by another.
-It vanishes away like vapor off coffee.
-This, therefore, is futile,
like chasing after the wind.

-I found that all of what I strive after is empty,
lasting only for fleeting moments of joy.

-I strove after education,
to be fully prepared for working in the Church.
-I endured Bible college and seminary,
pondering the mysteries of God's grace.
-I sought to know God's Word,
and to perceive its nuances in Greek and Hebrew.
-I clung to learned professors,
to be mentored by their character and insights.
-I groped for all manner of wisdom and understanding,
so that I might fully glean from seminary what it offers.

-However, this was futile and chasing the wind.
-For the Greek and Hebrew are quickly forgotten,
and the insights are not in demand.
-Grades do not influence success,
nor does the diploma bring employment.
-It is like vapor that one exhales on a cold day.

-I also dedicated myself to responsible parenting,
so as to be a good father to my children.
-I read many books published by Promise Keepers,
and written by reputable Christian authors.
-I applied these insights to rearing my children,
balancing discipline and affection with them.
-I worked to be an example,
a godly role model for them to follow.
-I labored in all manner of ways to be a good father,
so that my children would be fully equipped to live
wise and productive lives glorifying Christ.

-Yet this too was futile and chasing the wind.
-For success is not passed on through generations,
and an achieving father does not guarantee
productive offspring.
-From one father comes both those successful and those not.
-From one father comes both those who will live wisely,
as well as those that will suffer from folly.
-From one father comes both those about which he brags,
and those for whom he prays.
-Therefore, the manner of the father does not produce
the successful or the unsuccessful.
-This too is like stream rising off a lake in the morning,
futile and temporary.

-I also strove after vocations in the Church,
to apply my training and skills.
-I wrote curriculum and planned sermon series,
to faithfully instruct people on following Christ.
-I led a congregation into developing strategies,
so that they could have a lasting impact in the world.
-I preached with passion insights taken from the Bible,
so that the hearers might apply God's Word.
-I administered the Lord's Supper regularly,
that they might be one with Christ and each other.

-Yet this too was futile and chasing the wind.
-For one congregation grows and another dies,
yet both had pastors performing the same tasks.
-Both may be in the same community,
sharing the gospel and loving people,
yet one thrives while the other closes.
-There is no pattern to it.
-The mystery is beyond the human ability to predict.
-It is meaningless to attempt explaining it.

-I also pursued a career path that best suited me,
that used my greatest skills and passions.
-I accomplished requirements for chaplaincy,
and fulfilled all manner of things for applying.
-I labored tirelessly to complete seminary quickly,
and meet benchmarks for entrance to the Navy.
-I scheduled all manner of life events
to enter Naval chaplaincy this summer.
-I also was surrounded by an encouraging throng
that believed this "God's Will" for me.

-Yet this too was futile, and chasing the wind.
-One takes six months to prepare, yet does not enter,
while another takes three months and does.
-Also, life events may seem to make one career perfect now,
yet one life event 20 years ago may prevent it.
-In addition, careful examination of Scripture reveals
that careers are never among the promises of God.
-There is no predictability to the selection process,
and no obligation from God to grant it.
-Such ambitions are utterly futile,
and chasing after the wind.

-Futile and meaningless! All is futile!

-I gave myself over to wisdom,
that I might know how God manages the world.
-I desired insight with which to counsel,
and illumination with which to teach.
-I inventoried my strengths and weakness,
so that I might apply myself to a ministry career.
-I listened intently to advice from others,
especially those who were succeeding.
-I tried to be of some benefit,
to make a positive contribution in any arena.

-This was totally futile, and chasing the wind!

-For God is not obligated to provide careers,
nor is he bound to make me successful.
-His mercy is shown in the cross,
not in the compensation package.
-Since the Spirit is given freely,
his presence is no sign of special gifting,
nor is it a harbinger of success.
-In God's sovereignty he exalts who he will,
and he makes humble who he will,
and none can discern his pattern.
-For reasons known only to him:
this one is successful, though that one is not.
this one has a rewarding career, though that one does not.
this one is fulfilled in his job, though that one is not.
this marriage suffers divorce, though that one lasts.
this child makes the parent proud,
that one makes the parent pray.
-To make sense of it, when God has not revealed the sense,
is utterly futile, like chasing the wind.

-All that one can do is to:
Love the Lord their God with all their heart,
soul, mind and strength;
and love their neighbor as themselves.
-Beyond this is meaningless speculation.
-One has no more power than simply to
cultivate good relationships,
show respect,
demonstrate generosity,
and perform their work.
-Therefore, be content and enjoy:
the love of your spouse,
the laughter of your children,
the satisfactions that accompany good food,
good wine and good tobacco,
the pleasure of quiet solitude
and the beauty of creation.

-But anxious planning for uncertain futures
are meaningless, futile and chasing the wind.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ministry Privilege

At this point in the progression of ministry its important to take stock in the incredible privileges I've been granted for service. Among the greater of these blessings has been Gateway Fellowship, and the staff into which I've been welcomed. The closing of Woodcreek Bible Church was necessary, but the discomfort of it might have been much more severe had there not been available new peers into which to transition. In addition, since serving at Gateway it has been very comforting to have my chaplaincy ministry sanctioned by a local body that understands "external ministry." The pastor, elders and staff have demonstrated a pursuit of the "incarnational missiology" that was discussed so often in seminary classes. It's refreshing to watch this take place because its rarity has contributed to the decline of Christianity in North America. Somewhere along the line many churches lost there missological focus, believing that mere short-term missions could constitute the totality of a church's obedience to the Great Comission. Dr. Mark Young (former professor of world missions at DTS, now leaving to be president of Denver Seminary) was correct in asserting that for evangelical churches to faithfully pursue the Great Commission in North America, they would have to develop an ecclesiology organized around the missio Dei. It's a great pleasure to serve in a church that is doing exactly that.

One of the tremendous privileges though in present service is the opportunity to teach the elementary grades using The Bright Knight story for the cirriculum. There was no expectation that I would be given such an opportunity, but nonetheless Trent extended sufficient trust to allow this ministry to the kids. As a result, we have had a wonderful time in the Sunday school for the elementary grades. The story, the crafts, the dancing and the music have all worked as well as we had hoped. The resulting effect has been that the kids can practically recite the story back to me when we review, and they also understand the parallels to the Christian life that we are allegorizing. We only have five sessions left of the story, with the last two being told on the same day (May 31st). In this way it has been an incredible privilege to make a contribution to a church that is pursuing the missio Dei with iron resolve. Finding another that is performing this task, in this area, would be very difficult indeed. Why would you try?

Another way that I am blessed by Gateway is the manner that they "send me out," not only eventually into the Navy as a chaplain, but also everyday into the community as a chaplain too. In essence, they already are my "sending church" because of the chaplaincy duties I perform for Fate Fire Rescue and the City of Fate. This also is a way that Gateway pursues the missio Dei, by sending ministers out into the community to make an impact with "external ministry." This does not happen for me alone. The other satff members are also involved in "external ministry" at the local Middle School and High School. This is missiological ecclesiology in action, and its a great privilege to be a team member in this pursuit.

Many of my Anglican friends have asked me to delineate reasons why I resist their overtures to recruit me into their ranks, though I agree with them on many points. Although I find the liturgical connection to the historic church attractive, I cannot deny that the makeup of the Christian landscape appears presently to offer too choices: (1) liturgical connection to history, or (2) missiological connection to the culture. I wish the choices were not limited to these; but if I must choose between these two, then the greater weight must go to the latter. With that understanding, I can assert that Gateway Fellowship faithfully pursues the latter choice rather well. Therefore, it is a privilege to serve in a church that is keeping the weightier things the main thing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reformation, Rejection and Revolution

In his article The New Evangelical Scandal, Matthew Anderson makes some valid points worth reflecting on. His essay is too lengthy to receive a full review here, but I'll comment of some of the issues that seem to have applied specifically to my experience.

For example, Anderson's criticism of criticism deserves a thoughtful reply from "new evangelicals." He contends that it is not courageous to criticize common elements of the evangelicalism of the Boomer generation just to appear cool within a neo-beatnik context. Certainly his analysis is correct if indeed he is accurately describing the motivates of the "new evangelicals" (NEs). However, he inadequately addresses the possibility that the growing body of NE distaste for the legalisms of the last two hundred years is valid and genuine. Instead he is dismissive of the NE ethos, categorizing it as a form of peer-pressure. While the social dynamics he invokes are possible, such pronouncements smack of an under-engagement with the gripes of the present generation. Such condescending antidisestablishmentarianism can, in and of itself, be a form of "fitting in" among young Republican Baptists too.

However, in raising the issue, he performs a service by reminding us to pay attention to our motives. I, myself, have been in circles wherein the bashing of Thomas Kinkade, Jerry Falwell, Sandi Patti and Tim LaHaye was popular and "cool." While I have plenty of criticism for those trends (embodied by that representative list of people) within evangelicalism, I also must admit to feeling that acceptance-pull from time to time that resulted in criticism-for-effect. The "amen" was more quickly garnered from the immediate peers by making fun of "church as my parents knew it." Such instincts are, admittedly, not courageous, but conforming to a new group. Had I sought to take the "courageous" stand with my faith, I might have at the time admitted to liking a couple of Thomas Kinkade's paintings, believing them reflections on idealism that is part of the Christian eschatological hope. Sure such an admission might have resulted in some eye-rolling among my new peers, but at least I would have been "authentic."

In addition, Anderson soft-sells the degree to which evangelicalism deserves the NEs' criticism for developing an over-individualised Christianity in America. Certainly the NE trend to customize their own Christian spirituality through artistic expression, tattooing and church reinvention may reveal a continuing intuitive individualism, but from whom did they receive this instinct? This is the parent lecturing the teen on the dangers of smoking, all the while with a cigarette in their hand. In truth, Anderson had better take care not to decry the NE perpetuation of individualism too much; for it is precisely this legacy of evangelicalism that is keeping it alive. Those who have found they can no longer stomach evangelicalism's development of individualism as a virtue are converting to pre-evangelical forms of Christianity. Anderson's reference to the mass exodus to Canterbury, Rome and Constantinople is explained by this.

What articles such as Anderson's are helpful for is in developing discussion regarding the difference between rejection and reformation. Just because one is passionate about reforming their tradition within Christianity, it does not follow that they will inevitably reject that tradition. Anglo and Roman Catholics alike are quick to remind me that Martin Luther's intent in 1517 was not to break with Roman church, but to reform it. However, since a break did in fact occur, it is assumed that the instinct to reform must inevitably result in a break. I disagree.

I disagree that reformation must lead to rejection because I believe that one of the worst legacies of evangelicalism can successfully be discarded: revolution. The great tumor of evangelicalism that has had the most debilitating effect on the church is the spirit of revolution. Anderson seeks to invalidate the redefined "patriotism" of NE libertarians, but fails to acknowledge that the greatest of the evangelical disasters in the last two centuries to the Church is how evangelicalism imbibed the revolutionary spirit for governing itself. The instinct to break away from England may have served the new colonies well in the late 18th century and early 19th century, but the "break away" mentality has left the Church in a decrepit hodgepodge of fractured elements. The great triumph of evangelicalism is the break up of the Body of Christ. No wonder many NE churches have a Bonhoeffer-like unease with displaying the American flag in the front. This is not to suggest a fundamental flaw in America. It is to suggest that church and state (at least in terms of governing philosophies) should have remained separate all along. The history of evangelicalism is one devoid of submission, weakening and rendering near empty any notion evangelical ecclesiology.

Many of Anderson's critiques of NE trends have validity, but we all must remember the degree to which "new evangelicals" inherited their instincts from "old evangelicals." Anderson doubts that many NEs have read from great evangelical heroes of the past. Why would they do so if they see those "heroes" as having produced what they reject? For many of my friends though, they took Anderson's critiques to heart and left evangelicalism altogether. Instead of reading evangelicalism's heroes, they developed heroes that pre-date evangelicalism, that pre-date America, and in many cases pre-date the Reformation. I cannot join them because I do not believe reformation must lead to rejection. However, I empathize with Anderson's distaste for NE revolution too.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Token Pastor among Priests

This weekend it was my great pleasure to attend a class offered by the Reformed Episcopal Church at the Chapel of the Cross on Anglican Spirituality. Of course, the whole discussion of spirituality is built upon the foundation of one's theological presuppositions. My theological starting point is the Baptist tradition that looks to the trans-sacramentally mediated grace of God. By this I mean that the grace of God is not dependent upon the sacraments for its transmission. This is a bold assertion, for it unabashedly places me in the tradition that affirms the sacraments to be "ancillary" to Christian worship, and unnecessary for salvation of one's soul (this is such an unfortunate admission, for I would rather that many non-sacramentalists in my tradition had not grown into anti-sacramentalists, discarding vast riches of church heritage altogether). I personally take the position that although the sacraments may not be a required means of grace (justifying or sanctifying), they are nonetheless helpful to the believer's spiritual development in how the work of God is invited to permeate the physical world and experience of the Christian. In this way, one might say that although I would not teach the sacraments to be a required means of grace, nor would I assert that they impart no grace at all. And because I will not assert the sacraments to be of no value, I conversely hold that they may be of some value for developing Christian spirituality. The exact nature of that "value" must not be too quickly defined, for one can easily gravitate to one of the two extremes: that (1) the sacraments are of salvific value, or (2) that they are of no value at all.

Because I find that the sacramental traditions enjoy a more tight link to the historic church, I am drawn to learn of them so as to develop a more ancient faith. Though I am committed to the Baptist theological tradition, there is freedom within that system to explore links to ancient Christianity. However, resources developed within Baptist systems to learn of the ancient church are scarce. Therefore, if the Baptist wishes to develop Christian faith that acknowledges kinship to the fathers, he must develop that faith through exposure to those who "know" the fathers better than he does. It has been my joy to make friends with those who can assist me in this. Along this line, my friend (who is near to being ordained an Anglican priest) invited me to accompanying him in his class on Anglican Spirituality.

The lessons and discussion were very stimulating. However, it became apparent in short order that I was the only one in attendance that is not fully "immersed" (sorry for the pun) in that Christian tradition. Not only this, but it was quickly evident that most had "converted" to the Anglican tradition from mine. This does not necessarily make the scene as dramatic as attending and A.A. meeting with a beer in my hand, but the rhetoric of some to me suggested their expectation that when I "come to my senses," I'll make the switch as they did. This possibly overstates it, and I would err to imply that I was made uncomfortable in any way. On the contrary, these peers are to be lauded for having made someone comfortable that was clearly out of place.

Within the class, we discussed the aspects of spirituality taught from ancient Christian sources and monks of the British isles. The "efficacy" of baptism was explored, along with the aspects of the human condition needing redemption and the implications of God taking on humanity in Christ's incarnation. We engaged in a fascinating conversation on sin as a "force" that effects and imposes itself on the human condition. This sin "force" produces ripple effects throughout one's life, throughout humanity and throughout creation. I must admit that the sacramental approach to spirituality does appear to acknowledge, in a helpful way, the connection that inevitably must exist between spiritual reality and the physical world we live in. This class likely has aided me well in exploring "baptist sacramentalism," understanding the extent to which a Baptist can have a connection to the ancient fathers and minister boldly in a postmodern context by doing so with pre-modern resources.

Sure it may have seemed a strange thing to be the token Baptist pastor among Anglican priests, but I proceeded boldly into such a context knowing the value it held for me. After all, if the Baptist tradition is to thrive in a post-fundamentalist (possibly even post-evangelical) context, then it will need to be enhanced by those traditions that pre-date such American innovations to Christianity. Therefore, I gladly wander into classrooms where, though I may stand out, not sharing many fundamental (again with the puns) assumptions, but finding much to learn anyway.