Monthly Archives: April 2013

Planning a Pilgrimage this Summer

File0682Summer with the extra day-light hours and the more relaxed schedule in campus ministry provides an opportunity to break away from work and try something new.  It’s the time of year to put final touches on adventures, those weeks of magical bliss. It’s a time to create a new world, to try out some dreams, or to take the next step in a story.   It’s a time during which adventure can be a gateway to a new possibilities.

  • A time to leave everyday life.
  • A time to more deeply connect with internal spiritual nudgings.
  • A time to refresh after two semesters of work.
  • A time to journey towards a story.

After several years of ministry and family responsibilities that have kept me close to home, I’ve decided that this year is the time to head out on a more distant literary pilgrimage.  During this time, I want to integrate writing, pilgrimage, rest, community, new experiences, and life transformation.  So, I am working towards creating this perfect summer adventure – both eager and fearful at the same time.  But what does this look like?

Recently I’ve wanted my journeys to be grounded on this book on literary pilgrimage that I’ve been fooling around with forever.  Each time I venture out – whether across town to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio, or to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri – I get a new burst of energy for writing.  These journeys draw me into conversations that others are having about place, literature, story, and faith.  In turn, they pull me out of my writing rut.

Beyond research for a book, I want to explore other connections of literary pilgrimage.  Where might this interest connect with work within study centers, particularly centers associated with authors’ homes?  Where it may fit in with apologetics, in sharing the Christian message as a campus minister? Also, where might literary pilgrimage connect with the teaching of literature – both in formal and non-formal venues?

Within these reasons there is the underlying desire to design such trips for others.  I would like to learn how to develop a pilgrimage that would be welcome at a school like the University of Cincinnati – a journey for that students would be able to join for credit in literature, writing, religious studies – but also be on a personal pilgrimage that offers time to reflect on the larger questions of life and the academy.

One more thing – I look to these journeys to bring the possibility of connecting with other pilgrims. There is no doubt that a trip that includes interacting within a community moving towards a common goal is good discipline for someone who favors time alone and can get lost in being by herself.  I want to experience the wonder of being on pilgrimage, of walking in another’s steps, of meeting myself more deeply – and doing so with the challenge of being with other people – of being with a group, exploring a place, creating new stories even as we explore the richness of old ones.

What have I hit on?  I’m not to the point of getting a hotel yet, but am slowly putting together a journey that includes a week at a C.S. Lewis Seminar in Oxford, England, and some further meanderings around that great island.  Planning questions are still rumbling around my mind, but there is a beginning to this summer pilgrimage.  It won’t be perfect, but the possibilities for opening a new door in my life exist – and for that I can’t wait.

Any other pilgrimage planners out there?

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Holy Scriptures and Authority

Holy Scriptures II, by George Herbert

OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
            And the configurations of their glorie!
             Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.
This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
             Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
             Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:
Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
             And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
             Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.
              Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
             This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

 

In this poem Herbert implicitly compares the authority of stars – and their associated study – with that of scripture; and the stars don’t fare well.  For him there is no doubt that holy scripture is the touchstone of life that ‘lights to eternall blisse’.  Yet, this implicit trust in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is not a given today even among Christians.

Where does the authority of any text come from?  One response is likely to be the author (from Latin – auctor(author, founder, originator), auctoritat (power, decision)).  If the author is an expert in the subject, uses reliable sources, writes truthfully, and has reputable colleagues, then people are likely to view the book as authoritative or at least willing to test it out.  When George Herbert penned this poem his authority came from his life as a parish priest in Bemerton, his knowledge of the English language, and a degree from Cambridge – a combination of external and internal sources.

Questions about authority don’t often arise in relation to a poem – unless it has to do with whether or not the state author actually composed the poem.  Yet, when we encounter something that is historical, scientific, or that may ask us take a position, there is a greater desire to understand the authority behind the text.  Who should we trust?  Political writings that skew statistics in order to denigrate the other side, memoirs that fictionalize a story presented as actually occurring, or historical writings and assumptions that are being constantly revised make us more wary of the trustworthiness of other writings.

The Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Modern, and Post-Modern eras with the growth of scientific inquiry, industrial progress, historical research, and reliance on human reason has prompted many questions about the authority of once revered texts.  Nothing is to be assumed or taken for granted.  Does the essential meaning of a text come from the one who writes it or from the reader who is interpreting it?  Does the one who puts pen to paper or fingers to keys really define the author of the text?  Can a text claim to have authority any more as post-modern critical methods rip away the foundations of trust?  What does it mean for something to be true?

The discipline of literary criticism has have been discussing the idea of textual authority for decades whether it’s Michel Foucault’s asking what is an author, Harold Bloom exploring the anxiety of influence, Stanley Fish wondering what makes a text, or Elaine Showalter looking at the authority of male versus female writings.  These methods have bled into other disciplines.  With its historical and cultural importance, the Bible has not been exempted from, and has often been at the center of this questioning.

In 1633 when Herbert penned this poem, questioning of the Bible’s authority had already started and has continued such that the introduction to his poems in one anthology asserts that people continue to study his poems even though the common belief in biblical authority is now gone. It can be easy to be swept up into the view of scripture as yet another text to question like all the others.  That is, we must prove its authority through human reason.  However, C. S. Lewis’ relationship with this book prompted him to write that “the Bible is fundamentally a sacred book, and demands incessantly to be taken on its own terms . . . Stripped . . . of its divine authority, stripped of its allegorical senses, denied a romantic welcome it cannot achieve its function.”

So, on what do we base the authority of scripture in this age and take it on its own terms as God’s Word – seeing in it all the “constellations of the storie”?  This will be one of my explorations in the coming months.

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Ministry of Prayer, Poetry, and Parable

Plans.  Posters.  Phone calls.   At this time of the school year in campus ministry it seems that I’m merely working to get things done and reach finals week along with the students.  So, these days I’m trying to get people to events and laying foundations for the next academic year.  Days are full, but at the end I look back and wonder what I have been doing.

What’s the point of it all?  Get a few people to a dinner.  Add to the list of students I’ve seen.  And then when things don’t work out I seek to plan my way to a better outcome.  After a while it seems empty, though this was a job that was supposed to be fulfilling.  You know, connecting with students, providing opportunities for them to connect with God’s Word, and helping local congregations to do the same.

In the effort to get a campus ministry up and running I’ve spent more time coordinating plans than working with people – clearly focusing on the area where I am naturally more comfortable.  Any creativity is pushed aside until another day when I have time.  But will I ever have time?  There are so many ways to schedule in this job with no set schedule.  What will appease funders and churches?  Numbers of activities and people.  But this can’t be all?

poetry magnetic piecesNot long ago a few new words broke into my broken ministry paradigm – Prayer, Poetry, Parable.  Eugene Peterson in his book The Contemplative Pastor seeks to redefine the 21st century job description of a pastor.  To return it to a practice of presence, of being, of breaking from the societal norms.  He does this not only through a set of beliefs, but also in a way of living.

 

  • “Words are the real work of the world – prayer words with God, parable words with men and women.”
  • “Words making truth, not just conveying it: liturgy and story and song and prayer are the work of pastors who are poets.”

These words were like the opening of a new world.  What if I focused more on prayer – that of my own and of students. To take time to listen to God and walk more closely with him in ministry.  Also, as I think of sharing with students it is easy to get into a rut of trying to explain a set of creedal beliefs.  A few get it, but many look back with blank stares.  So learning from the use of parables and poetry is a way to engage students in God’s story.  But it’s more than that, they are practices of creativity that mirror how God interacts with us fully.

From personal experience, I resonate with Peterson’s observation that “People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves).”  Because of this he talks about helping people see the God’s “grace operating in their live” while paying “attention to the Word of God right here in this locale”.   In addition to being creative, this is a very peopled and placed and view of ministry – centered on God’s Word.

Though I may not be an ordained pastor, working as a campus minister requires similar break in the ordinary routine.  It can be tempting to step onto campus and fall into step.  To rack up activities, market programs, and speak the language of competition.  But is that what campus needs?  Another voice defending their turf – even if that turf is biblical truth.

Maybe what is needed is another type of voice – one that slows down and speaks differently in prayer, poetry, and parable.   This voice would invite others in to pray, engage them in the practice of poetry, and tell and listen to stories in a new way. Most importantly, it would interact with people in their place now – just as God interacts with us – not expecting them to come to one more event, but walking with them in their journey and drawing these individual pilgrims together naturally.

 

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