Even during Finals week, we must rest.

To all my teacher and student friends who are still going with school… the below is adapted from an e-devotional I wrote that went out over email to Gordon students in December 2011.

fallow field

It may seem strange to talk about Sabbath-keeping during end-of-the-semester crunch time. Who has any time to spare for rest, let alone a whole day?

Last week I was reading from Exodus during Morning Prayer, with the people with whom my family lives in intentional community. Exodus 34:21 jumped out at me, “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.”

Regardless of our familiarity with agrarian lifestyles and metaphors, this text speaks to us of a God who invites his people into rest. Sabbath-keeping, as with all of God’s commandments, brings life to those who keep it.  Even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

You all are in the midst of final papers and exams—you likely can’t just up and take a day off, since that might mean missing an important exam. But you can seek pockets of rest, times to sit down in God’s presence and ask for him to guide you through all your comings and goings. If Israel must rest even during their plowing season and harvest, we ought to seriously consider following this timeless pattern, taking rest even during our busiest seasons.

So close your email. Go to bed (especially if you’re reading this at 3am). Go outside and walk around (even if it’s raining). Go eat a snack and talk to a friend. Some of you will need more encouragement to this than others, of course, but heed well God’s life-giving words. Even during Finals week, we must rest.

More than 125 youth workers at Open Boston

Open Boston Worship More than 125 youth workers gathered at Gordon College on Saturday, February 2 for Open Boston. An initiative of The Youth Cartel, Open Boston brought together more than 20 speakers to lead sessions on topics ranging from student leadership and youth ministry innovation, to soul care and strategic relationship building. Interactive sessions enabled mutual collaboration throughout the day, evident from the event’s Twitter hashtag. An opening and closing session of worship served as bookends to the day.

Open Boston was preceded by Open Seattle and will be followed by Open Paris. The Open events are about “celebrating fresh ideas in youth ministry.”

I spoke about developing student worship leaders. Here’s the handout (PDF) I used.

Derrida, Caputo, and David Walk Into a Psalm

Joel Robine/Agence France Presse-Getty Images, via NY Times
Joel Robine/Agence France Presse-Getty Images

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Psalm 51:2

The heading of Psalm 51 gives its setting: “When the prophet Nathan came to [David] after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” The Hebrew text is more explicit in its description of David’s adulterous act in the Psalm heading. David had had sex with another man’s wife—and then had him killed in battle.

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida could have found himself at home in this Psalm. Derrida might point out that for David to follow up his sins with a plea for God to “wash away all [his] iniquity” is to ask the impossible. (For Derrida, as John Caputo puts it, the impossible is “something that exceeds the horizon of foreseeability and expectation.”)

In this sense David asks for the impossible. The affair with Bathsheba was sordid enough, but he also called Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back from battle to sleep with her in the hopes that no one would know David made her pregnant. When this plan failed, David oversaw military orders that sent Uriah to an unjust death. How audacious is David to ask for forgiveness from these sins that so “displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27)? Doesn’t David make an impossible request?

Caputo, in a somewhat Christianizing read of Derrida, writes, “[H]ope is truly hope when it has been pushed up against the impossible and everything looks hopeless.” All must have looked hopeless to David, who wrote, “My sin is always before me” (51:3). Yet he held out hope in God, praying, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (51:12).

With God the impossible is possible. We can be forgiven for even the unspeakable sins of our past. Some Psalms later David writes, “Praise the Lord, my soul… who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (103:3).

Don’t we often feel “pushed up against the impossible”? Don’t we sometimes look at our sins, only to see that “everything looks hopeless”? And yet, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (103:12).

God exceeds the foreseeable. He transcends our expectations. He does not visit upon us the punishment that our sins deserve. David’s impossible request for forgiveness is possible, because God is the God of the impossible.

The above is a reflection I wrote for the Gordon College Lenten Devotional, “The Hope Before Us.” You can access a pdf of the whole devotional here.

A Prayer for Difference amidst Unity, and Unity amidst Difference

Gordon's Beyond Colorblind logo
Gordon’s Beyond Colorblind logo

Does race matter? Is ethnicity important? How do cultural backgrounds affect our everyday lives?

This week at Gordon College we have a special emphasis week, BEYOND COLORBLIND:

BEYOND COLORBLIND is a focus week to help start new conversations about race and culture on campus.  We hope the lectures and discussions help us consider how our racial and cultural identities and experiences shape our views of ourselves, others, and God.

You can watch the first large group session of the week (chapel) here. Richard Twiss was the main speaker. It’s well worth your time.

Two weeks ago I shared a prayer for the first day of school. Today I’m sharing the congregational prayer we prayed in unison this morning in chapel. This came after the passing of the peace.

God, lover of all people,
Creator of all nations,
We praise you for all that you have made.

Thank you for the rich mosaic that is the body of Christ.
Thank you for difference amidst unity,
for unity amidst difference.

Give us a spirit of understanding and appreciation of each other.
Help us to see your image clearly in those around us.

Bless us now as we gather,
and may we declare your praises with our whole lives,
through our risen Lord Jesus.
Amen.

Find out more about the week here.

A prayer for the first day of school

2012 to 2013
 
This semester is the first day of classes at Gordon. This morning in chapel I led us in a responsive prayer, offering thanksgiving and petition to God at the start of a new semester. I offered the prayer in italics, then we all as one congregation read the bold responses.

For the start of a new semester and all the promise that it holds:

We give you thanks, our God.

For the joy we have in seeing friends for the first time in a month:

We give you thanks, our God.

For those with whom we live in dorms, apartments, and houses:

We give you thanks, our God.

For the chance to gather freely in worship:

We give you thanks, our God.

For all that we will learn: in the classroom, in this worship space, in Lane, in labs, in practice rooms, in the library, in relationships, on campus and off campus:

We give you thanks, our God.

For wisdom for all students, staff, and faculty, as we seek to offer God our very best in all that we do:

Lord, please be near us.

For family relationships that we’ve invested in over the last month but now step away from in some ways:

Lord, please be near us.

For perseverance and diligence in our studies:

Lord, please be near us.

For healthy sleep patterns, motivation to exercise, self-control in eating good, healthy foods:

Lord, please be near us.

For those areas of life in which we struggle, where we despair, and for those things of which we are ashamed:

Lord, please be near us.

I’m Speaking at Open Boston in February on Student Worship Leaders

open ymIn a couple of weeks I’ll be one of a group of speakers at a youth ministry event called Open Boston. It’s February 2 and takes place at Gordon College.

From Open’s What to Expect page:

The content of sessions is firmly focused on ideas, concepts, and best practices for developing a youth ministry for your context. Expect presentations that cover issues around working with high school students, middle school students, and every combination of adolescents in your community.

The general idea behind Open is that we believe that the best ideas in youth ministry are “out there” being tried–right now–by youth workers just like you. But most other events don’t give those voices an opportunity to share what they’re learning.

Open is exactly the opposite. We exist to celebrate innovation, discover new ministry ideas, and hopefully inspire the collective us, the tribe of youth ministry, to dream about reaching students in new ways.

The session I’m leading is called “Raising Up Shouts of Praise: Developing Student Worship Leaders.” Here’s the writeup:

Worship through song is key to a community’s sense of connection to God and each other. God deserves our praise, and God delights in the praise of his people. What role can and should your young people have in leading worship? How can you recruit youth to lead worship, and train them to do it faithfully and effectively?

In “Raising Up Shouts of Praise,” Abram Kielsmeier-Jones will share some lessons he’s learned in developing student worship leaders: from big picture methodology concerns (like how to select a team; Biblical principles in which to train them) to nuts and bolts (like how to coach worship leaders in what to say between songs, how to help them find and teach new music). Abram especially looks forward to hearing others’ lessons learned that he might take back with him to his own worship leading context.

I’m really looking forward to being a part of this, both as speaker and attendee. Click here to read more about The Youth Cartel (not an actual cartel), who is helping to organize the event. Open Seattle happened in October; Open Paris is coming up in the spring. You can go to the Open Boston site to find out more.

Day of Prayer

Here’s part of a writeup I did on our Day of Prayer that took place last week:

In the evening we worshiped again as one in the chapel with a congregational expression of the Psalms through song. From a lone voice in the darkness expressing the cries of the Psalmist in Psalm 130, to voices in unison reading the Psalms of Ascent; from hymns to contemporary music to bluegrass; from a Taizé chorus to Gospel music led by the Gospel Choir, we raised our voices in prayer and praise together, using the words of the Psalms.

The whole post is here, at Notes Along the Way, the blog of Gordon College.

Rocks cry out on the Day of Prayer

What a great way spend a day this Tuesday! We had our annual Day of Prayer at Gordon College. (Here is the schedule of events for the day.)

As I wrote before, I’m struck by how the Day of Prayer is a microcosm of an important aspect the school’s life together: we are one and we are many. There are more than 40 denominations and Christian traditions represented at Gordon. On the Day of Prayer we prayed as one body—lived out in the morning and evening services in the chapel—and we prayed in diverse ways (for example, in the Orthodox tradition, through hymns, in the Catholic tradition, by reading Psalms together around a fire pit, in the dark, with artistic expressions, through dancers leading worship, a Gospel Choir, and more).

The picture above (via a Gordon student) is of a rock cairn that the students added to throughout the day. Students, faculty, and staff wrote prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving on a rock, which they then placed next to the entrance of the chapel. Watching the rocks pile up throughout the day, as praises going up to God, was a highlight for me. These rocks cry out!

See student response to Day of Prayer (with pictures) via the Twitter hashtag #GCDayofPrayer.

SEEK: Day of Prayer

Tomorrow (Tuesday) at Gordon College is the Day of Prayer. Here is the schedule for the day. We’ve been working hard in preparation for this day, and I’m excited now that it’s here at last.

Day of Prayer at Gordon is a dedicated day–no classes or regularly scheduled events–where we remind ourselves of who we are in Christ: a body of believers that can join together in prayer to give God praise and request his continued provision in our lives and in the world.

I’m struck by how the Day of Prayer is a microcosm of an important aspect the school’s life together: we are one and we are many. There are more than 40 denominations and Christian traditions represented at Gordon. On the Day of Prayer we pray as one body—lived out in the morning and evening services in the chapel—and we pray in diverse ways (for example, in the Orthodox tradition, through hymns, in the Catholic tradition, by reading Psalms together around a fire pit, in the dark, with artistic expressions, and so on).

Philosophers talk about the problem of “the one and the many.”  At Gordon, we get to experience the blessing in Christ of being one and many.

You can follow Day of Prayer via the Twitter hashtag #GCDayofPrayer. (Gordon College on Twitter is @GordonCollege.) Read the Day of Prayer press release here.

A wife for Jesus?

Front of papyrus fragment, Karen L. King, 2012

Did Jesus have a wife? Does it matter?

In the last two days I’ve seen about 50 Facebook status updates from friends and groups I follow, each with their own take on the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” papyrus that Harvard Professor Karen L. King recently announced. (Nerdy grammatical excursus: King has titled the papyrus with Jesus’s, but I follow Strunk and White and prefer Jesus’.)

The Harvard Divinity School press release is here. It begins,

Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.

The papyrus has been dated to the 4th century and is written in Coptic, the alphabet of which has overlap with the Greek alphabet. King has postulated, in fact, that the Coptic in this little fragment may have translated a Greek original.

The key quote from the papyrus is translated, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife….'” It then gets cut off. Go here for a full translation, as well as helpful Q&A with Professor King.

It seems to me there are two primary questions on folks’ minds right now. First, is this thing real or a fake? Second, did Jesus have a wife, or could he have?

In pursuit of these questions, I spoke with two Professors of Biblical Studies at Gordon College, a top Christian liberal arts school, located just north of Boston. Was Jesus married?

“Is there anything in the Gospels that would give us a hint he was married? I don’t think so,” noted Professor Marvin R. Wilson. “If he was married, how come he says to his beloved disciple at the cross, ‘Take my mother,’ not ‘Take my wife’?”

The significant woman in Jesus’ life, for whom he is looking out in his final hours, is his mother Mary, not a wife.

All the same, Wilson said, “It’s a good question. One who had no marriage would certainly have been the exception. We have an exception in Jeremiah, but that was a divinely commanded celibacy.”

Wilson noted, however, that the assertion that Jesus had a wife is still an argument from silence. “Certainly he had a wonderful ministry with women. We know the 4th century was a time of theological clarification (Council of Nicea) as well as turbulence. This Coptic text may have represented a small sect of aberrant Christians that had broken away from the larger–yet still emerging–traditional community.”

Is there much at stake in the question of whether or not Jesus had a wife?

“Certainly I don’t think any key issues of the Christian faith are at stake here. If Jesus had a self-imposed celibacy because of the work he was called to accomplish, that would make him unusual, but not unique.”

Professor Steven Hunt noted, “There’s so much we don’t know about it yet. It’s apparently a very small fragment.”

Regarding the authenticity of the papyrus, he added, “I’m perfectly willing to go with [Professor King] and say that it’s an authentic fragment of some document that’s now lost, but it’s probably speaking more to the nature of debates in the 3rd and 4th century about sex and marriage… it’s almost certainly not giving us accurate information about the historical Jesus.”

More interesting than the fragment itself, Hunt noted, is the question, “Would Christians be troubled to find out Jesus was married? The fact that many would, may really be quite suggestive, especially if their reaction was rooted in a negative attitude toward bodily existence in general and sexuality in particular.

“So, while there’s no good historical evidence that he was [married], from my perspective,” Hunt said, “it’s not really theologically problematic to suggest that he could have been. Since the Bible affirms the essential goodness of marriage and sexuality, what would be the problem with that?”