THE ROLE AND identity of the minister has always been complex: Preacher and teacher, pastor and prophet, counselor and social worker. Despite this inherent dynamism, church structures—seminaries, congregations, denominations—often focus on transforming diverse candidates for ministry into a uniform class of spiritual professionals equipped to serve Christ in a bygone era. Responding to the challenges facing congregations today involves hearing and sharing the gospel in fresh ways, which requires a revolution in how ministers understand themselves and the training they receive.
Cynthia G. Lindner’s Varieties of Gifts does not read like a revolutionary text, but it is iconoclastic. While Lindner does not argue directly with the many books on pastoral leadership encouraging conformity to a specific mold, she gently brushes them away with a thoroughly postmodern conception of the “well-lived pastoral life.” Drawing on insights from dialogical psychology, which highlights the “multiplicity” of the human self, Lindner brings attention to the diverse talents and perspectives of aspiring and seasoned pastors. Too often this plurality is perceived as vocational ambivalence or personal confusion—an obstacle to be overcome in the modern quest to create a unified, coherent sense of self. Yet this pursuit of a single identity deprives ministers of important resources, limiting both their professional effectiveness and satisfaction.
Varieties of Gifts seeks to end this repression and embrace the minister’s natural multiplicity. Lindner believes this path leads to the realization of untapped potential at a moment when religious institutions are desperate to discover new and different ways of being faithful. She writes, “effective ministers have always inhabited plural roles and multiple selves which have funded the flexibility and inventiveness that religious leadership demands over the long haul.” Thus, the internal tensions of the minister’s life (How do I serve this community as both prophet and priest? How do I remain authentic while embodying a role defined by perception?) become a resource in the pursuit of excellence rather than a distraction that promises to lead one astray.
I never expected to be here—unsettled, sometimes looking over my shoulder at so many precious and lost moments. I expected to always look forward, always be moving somewhere. I yearn for some fruition of my dreams: a time when racism and the earth are healed, when every child is loved to his or her full potential in every way, when my lover and best friend never doubts his beauty, when I am the person on this earth whom I long to be. I long for the certainty that my children possess—that they will save the frogs.
I did not choose these dreams of mine. They were given to me. I’m sure of it. The Spirit beckoned them, whispering: “Dee Dee, this is part of my vocation for you. Strive to make these dreams a reality. I will go with you.” And with that God-inspired passion at my back, I plunged ahead, doing my best to be faithful to what was asked. Truth be told, I expected to bring at least one dream to fruition—given all the heart that I was willing to pour in and all the need and the rightness of the causes.
The gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus comes at a time when we desperately need its powerful message of encouragement. Our nation is in the midst of an epidemic of what I call “a degenerative discouragement syndrome”. The news cycle enumerates a list of issues and concerns which seem to resist remediation or repair.
Peace studies combine research, analysis, and practice in an attempt to answer questions of what peace actually requires, why accepted wisdom has failed to move civilization away from violence and toward peace, and how people have successfully reformed social, economic, and political relationships to achieve sustainable peace. And through this study, real-world answers are emerging.
I WAS IN A MONASTERY the other day and got to talking to a monk who, when I asked him why he was a monk, why he volunteered for a job liable to loneliness, a commitment to an idea no one can ever prove or document, a task that entails years of labor in the belief that somehow washing dishes and cutting grass and listening to pain and chanting in chapel matters in the long scheme of things, said, because it’s hard.
I was startled; sure I was. You would be, too. Rarely do people say with a grin that they do something because it is hard to do it. But he said it again, still smiling, and then he talked about it for a while, haltingly at first, as he felt for the words, and then with a lovely flow, like something let loose from a dam after a long time pooling behind the dam.
Because I am not sure I can do it at all, let alone do it well, and do it for years and years, perhaps for my whole life, he said. I cannot think that way. I try to be a good monk for a week at a time. Walking helps greatly, I find. Also birds. We have a resident heron here who has been a great help to me. Sometimes he or she is right there by the reeds when I am in pressing need of a heron. I have come to think that the birds are shards of faith themselves in mysterious ways. You could spend a whole life contemplating birds and never come to the end of the amazing things they do. There are many swallows here and I spend hours at a time watching them conduct their intricate maneuvers. They have the loveliest gentle chitter with which they speak to each other in the air. Remarkable creatures altogether. When I was first a monk I was of a mind to adopt one as a pet, and I actually got a ladder and climbed to one of their nests, but when I loomed into view there, surely a great horror to the parents and the young ones, I could not find it in myself to reach in and steal a child. I went back down the ladder and went to the chapel.
An early fellow Sojourner, Perk Perkins, reminded me this week that not long after we started Sojourners as a new Christian magazine for justice and peace, I came running into our little office one day and exclaimed, “Dean Smith is a Sojourners subscriber!”
Here were young Christians in Washington, D.C., saying our faith called us to racial and economic justice, opposing the nuclear arms race, ending the death penalty, and supporting the equality of women. And the greatest college basketball coach in the country was reading Sojourners?!
Dean Smith died on Saturday. He was 83 years old.
Monday’s front page New York Times story — not just in the Sports section — was titled, “A Giant of College Basketball And a Champion of Equality.”
ESPN and everybody else ran the numbers. But all the tributes and comments on the death of Dean Smith have quickly moved on from the numbers. Current UNC coach, Roy Williams, said his predecessor "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people."
Player after player who were coached by Dean Smith, as famous as Michael Jordan to those who barely walked on to the team and hardly ever played, testified in the last few days to how much more than a coach he was to them — their “mentor,” “teacher,” “second father,” “role model,” life-long inspiration and guide.
At Sojourners, our interns have the chance to meaningfully put their faith into action for social justice. Placed in entry-level positions throughout the office, interns are given significant responsibilities that range from writing for the blog to managing relationships with donors to collaborating on mobilizing initiatives.
These full-time jobs are combined with mentorships that help connect each intern’s professional development with their vocational discernment.
And for complete information on the program and application, visit sojo.net/about-us/internships. Apply by March 1, 2015!
I’ve become a big fan of author Anne Lamott. How can you not love someone who says her thoughts about others are sometimes so awful "they would make Jesus "want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish?”
And when she screws something up — which would be often, of course — she has a “Bad Mind” that starts telling her she’s such a loser. Always has been, always will be.
I know that voice. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about that voice at church. Our reading was the story about Jesus getting baptized in a muddy river and how he heard a distinct and unmistakable voice talking to him as he stood there dripping. The voice called him beloved. Reassured him that he was loved, deeply and passionately. In our discussion after the reflection, I mentioned Anne’s "Bad Mind" and how it’s often my mind too, screaming to be heard and believed. Our pastor — who also likes Anne — asked if anyone else hears that Bad Mind voice. Everyone raised their hand. Nodded, too.
Yep. We all seem to be on a first-name basis with that voice. At least I’m not the only one.
I was once asked to participate in our organization’s "Take Your Daughter to Work" celebration, and found myself both amused and challenged when one of our young participants queried the panel, "Does your work interfere with your life?"
My initial reply was that my work is a very important part of my life — something that is central to it, and that adds meaning, structure, and texture. Since the time of that panel discussion, I’ve thought a lot about what else I should have said. So I want to use this opportunity to share some additional thoughts — about how to have a youth work career that enhances your own life as well as the lives of others.
Here are what I regard as a few guiding principles.
After traveling the country this spring — while keeping an eye on Washington, D.C. — I am more convinced than ever that our personal decisions, choices, and commitments will change the world more than our politics. The message in the Epilogue to On God’s Side says this as well as I could do again. It’s short and very practical. Here it is:
The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make. The “commons” — those places where we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space — will never be better than the quality of human life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.
Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.
Gordon Cosby was my spiritual father, not simply a brother in Christ. This relationship continued for some 45 years until his dying days. In a time when egalitarianism defines nearly all relationships as the desired norm, it’s well to remember the role of mentors who maintain, purely through their own internal integrity and faithfulness, a spiritual authority in the lives of others. Gordon Cosby was such a person to me, and to countless others.
I first encountered Gordon when I was a young legislative aide on the rise in Washington, D.C., working for Senator Mark O. Hatfield and his legislative efforts to end the Vietnam War. Disgusted with the moral vacuity of the evangelicalism that had been my heritage, but searching for faith that was more than just following a progressive social agenda, I discovered the Church of the Saviour. Gordon’s insistence that following Jesus required a disciplined inner spiritual journey always expressed in joining God’s outward mission in the world captivated me then, and ever since.
I was a nervous kid. Once, I got so freaked out by the prospect of a speaking part in my first-grade school play that my folks thought I had come down with appendicitis. But there were two times in particular that I remember descending into unmitigated panic. Both involved discussions with my dad about my career.
The first time, my dad was telling me about his year-by-year earning trends as an insurance salesman. He went from being one of several agents manning a booth in a Sears store to being the highest-earning employee in his major international company over about 15 years. He added zeroes to his income, and a passel of staffers, including my mom for a while (didn’t work out so well – they divorced thereafter).
At his height, he was earning upwards of half a million a year, and this was in the 80s. His company flew him all over the world, showered him with awards, and held him up as the high-water mark for all other agents to aspire to. I combined this remarkable achievement with the implicit cultural message that all generations exceeded their parents in earning power and went into an emotional tailspin.
How in the hell was I going to make that kind of money?
I’ve been asked how I knew I was called to be a writer. For me, calling is fairly easy to recognize. If the thought of doing something fills you with equal parts joy and terror, it’s probably a calling.
There’s more to it than that, I suppose, since the idea of buying a new Tesla sports car fills me with both feelings too, mostly because my wife, Amy, would kill me. There are other elements, like the conviction that our calling should feel something of an identifiable need in the world, and that it should call on gifts we have in a way that is life-giving not just to others, but joyful and life-affirming for us as well.
But the joy and terror thing is a pretty good sign you’re on the right track.
It was December of 2000, but I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday.
It was a few days after Christmas during my senior year of college. I was quite nervous, and I wondered how my friends and family would react.
How would my basketball teammates respond? Would my roommates treat me differently? And of course, what about my girlfriend? She had no idea our relationship would take such a dramatic turn.
I could hide no longer. I had to be honest with who I was. And so, after a great deal of delay and long nights of nervous planning, I finally decided to share what I had been keeping secret.
Beginning with my girlfriend, then my parents, brother, sister, and eventually friends, roommates, and teammates, I shared the news: After a significant amount of prayer and discernment, I was no longer planning to attend law school following college graduation, but instead, I wanted to attend seminary in order to become an ordained Lutheran pastor.
As to be expected, I received mixed reactions.
My parents were confused and surprised, as they – like most people – had not perceived me as “religious”," especially not to the point of pursuing ordination. Nevertheless, they accepted the news with delight and affirmation.
In addition, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was wonderfully supportive. So was my brother, sister, and closest friends.
On the other hand, some others were not sure how to react. My friends – mostly uninterested in religion – wondered about future plans. Basketball teammates were a bit uneasy. And even the campus priest and a few professors had an assortment of reactions. While a number of people were anxious and apprehensive, those within my closest circle of friends accepted the announcement with open arms.
I continue to thank God for such a wonderful web of support.