Remembering my hero – Marva J. Dawn (August 20, 1948 – April 18, 2021)

I propose we bring back sainthood in the protestant church. That’s because when someone like Marva Dawn passes from this life to the next, you wish there were bigger words than ‘theologian’ or ‘author’ to describe them – they don’t seem to capture the substance of her life. “Saint” might be better (and apparently CT agrees).

Marva J. Dawn was a theologian. She was an author as well. For me she was a pastor to worship leaders. She was an exemplary thinker about worship, writing many which deeply influenced my life’s trajectory. In Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time (1995) Dawn spoke directly to the burgeoning modern worship movement of the mid 90s; I found myself formed as a young adult and growing worship leader myself in this exact cultural moment. So to say Dawn had a small impact on my life is a vast understatement. As praise and worship music led by guitars and drum sets swept across the country, Dawn neither rejected entirely nor welcomed them whole-heartedly, but offered this kind and pastoral reflection on our theology of worship, our conception of music as outreach, and our understanding of the role of music in worship. She reminded me that worship in the Bible was never done to attract the unbeliever. Worship in the Bible is meant to glorify God. The by-product of this glorifying is that unbelievers would be attracted to God themselves, but this is never the reason why people worship. We get things all upside-down when we make decisions about our worship or liturgy for the sake of the unbeliever. In her follow up book, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, Dawn goes deeper into the “worship wars” and exposes the problems of viewing worship as utilitarian – a means to an end. As the title itself proclaims boldly – worship should have no other end than the end of glorifying God.

I hope that I carry a piece of Dawn’s legacy in my own ministry. I have always shrugged my shoulders at the term ‘worship wars’ – for worship is indeed a war, but not between opposing worship styles. Worship is a war between the powers of heaven and the powers of hell, and the battlefield is the human heart. When we coin the term ‘worship war’ as between two stylistic preferences we not only forget about the hundreds of other worship styles other than ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’, we put ourselves as enemies of each other, instead unite ourselves against our common enemy of sin, death, and the devil. And regardless of that, Dawn reminds us that worship is always traditional because it is based on the faith of those that have gone before, and worship is always contemporary because it’s happening here and now. She never picked sides. She proclaimed strongly that we ought to use ‘the music of the whole church for the sake of the whole world‘. I hope to honor Dawn’s legacy by promoting this in my own ministry for years to come. May you rest in peace, Marva J. Dawn. You are a saint to me.

{Adam Goes to Seminary} March 2021 Update

Happy Spring! Our first semester of 2021 is well underway and classes continue to be a source of energy and excitement. At the same time, days that I head into work at TCC are also full with the many weekly tasks, but also new problems to solve, vision to cast, and relationships to strengthen. I am grateful for the balance of study and work that I have at this season of my life, and will be sad when it comes to a close. At the same time, I’m also excited to return to full time ministry work this summer. After the summer I will have just 4 classes remaining for my degree at Gordon-Conwell, which means one more year taking 1 class per term. This means I expect to graduate in the spring of 2022!

Greek continues to be challenging, and this impatient student who was never good at languages can’t wait for the day when I actually get to use the greek to unpack the scriptures. For the meantime, I’m restricted to simply studying vocabulary and grammar, and translating simple sentences out of context. It reminds me a bit of technique exercises for piano. I hated them, and couldn’t wait to just play music; but at the same time I see the value of slow methodical practice. I just wish it wasn’t that way! This summer I will be taking Interpreting the New Testament, which (I hope) means finally putting my greek study to use in understanding God’s word better. More on that to come…

Christ in the Old Testament is one of those ‘drinking from a firehose’ kind of classes. The professor (retired Senior Pastor from Park St. Church) lectures for 3 hours straight each Wednesday night while students furiously take notes. Though I heard many of his sermons from my time attending Park St. Church, this feels not only like 6 sermons per night, a survey of the OT and how Christ is prefigured and predicted in many of its texts, but also a glimpse into unique and compelling interpretations of key stories and passages that we all know. I could share many, but her is one such example that struck me: when God clothes Adam and Eve before they are expelled from Eden, he does so as a symbolic act that reminds them of their sonship and their kingship. He is having mercy on them despite their disobedience. The reason for this interpretation? To clothe someone in the OT was to symbolize care and compassion (as a father/mother clothes their children). It was also to symbolize inheritance (money was kept in the ‘hem of the garment’ in the same way we keep money in a wallet or purse; think also to how the prodigal son is given the cloak by the father upon his return).

God does not give us what we deserve – expulsion from Eden without protection, but extends his fatherly mercy and while still punishing, does not leave us out to dry. How do the clothes of Gen 3 prefigure Jesus? The temporary clothes Adam and Eve received prefigure our ultimate clothing – Jesus Christ. So when we read that we are ‘clothed in Christ in the NT, it means we are covered by God’s grace, mercy, compassion, and kindness. It is in Jesus that we receive the ultimate and eternal sonship, kingship, and inheritance. Christ the ultimate protection from God’s wrath, and this is good news!

Finally, Women in the Church is a challenging and thought provoking class where we discuss gender, sexuality, what it means to have sexed bodies (something the church talks little about), and social and ecclesiastical concerns in a safe and supportive environment. Readings have been really great. My favorite so far has been Icons of Christ. For anyone who has wanted to think deeper about women in leadership in the church (and whatever side of the aisle you fall within that debate), I would recommend it. Discussion is, as you can imagine, lively and impassioned, which is just what I was hoping for in a seminary class.

In other news, my car died so Shauna and I got to make our first joint adult purchase of a new (to us) car. It’s a VW Golf Sportwagen and we love it!

Spring time new (to us) car!

{Adam Goes to Seminary} January 2021 Update

Happy New Year! 2021 has started off pretty well for me, as Shauna and I GOT MARRIED on January 9th. We had a small ceremony (‘micro-wedding’ is the term these days) with just a few friends and family, though my parents and our siblings had to join via Zoom. Even still, it was a perfect day and exactly what we wanted in a wedding celebration. A very cozy and intimate ceremony and a warm home-cooked meal at l’Abri Fellowship – the place where we met. Plenty of pictures will be shared on social media and on our wedding website soon!

We really hope to have a larger party in August 2021 here on campus at the Seminary if at all possible. We know more and more people are getting vaccinations so we are hopeful that something can happen then. We’ll certainly have a good reason to throw a party!

As I kick off my second full-time semester, I’m excited for my coursework this term. I’m continuing the slog of Greek II, tackling the verb system which is mighty confusing. Not much to say about that. I’m also taking Christ in the Old Testament, which was one of Shauna’s favorite courses and one I am really excited about. This meets on zoom, which is a bummer, but with a lecture-heavy class is not that bad. I’m also in “Women in the Church”, which explores the intersection between gender and theology, and how one can interpret critical biblical texts relating to women’s leadership in the local church.

Shauna and I are settling into our apartment on campus here. Since I lived here in the fall on my own, Shauna is taking time to make it her own, and make it ‘ours’ at the same time. We have lots of plants, and the space is feeling cozier every day. Good thing, since we’ll be spending lots of time here with half of our classes meeting virtually!

Blessings to you all!

Adam

Lent Log Day 22: Liturgy is an Anchor to the Soul

It’s no surprise to readers of this blog that I believe that liturgy (which is to say any practices, actions, words, or habits that we do with regularity) has the power to shape our hearts. As our world is turned upside down, our thoughtful liturgical practices will help us remain connected to God and serve as an anchor in very turbulent waters.

We’re doing church virtually now – a “practice” that I’ve always resisted because I feel it shapes our hearts more as consumers or passive viewers than as active participants. But in God’s providence we’re all watching church on screens now, so what choice do we have but to make the most of it.

People have been overwhelmingly appreciative of our efforts to get things running smoothly online. Someone in my small group mentioned last night (via a zoom call, of course) how nice it has been to walk through the Church’s liturgy together. Even though it’s carried in a different vessel of the computer or tv screen, the content remains the same, and it’s to him very grounding and assuring. I couldn’t agree more. Through singing and reading scripture and praying together – especially repeated things – we see and read into them even deeper meaning than what we’ve seen before. I know this firsthand from allowing the liturgy to wash over me while walking through a divorce. The words became somehow more true, more meaningful, more real for me. This pandemic is in many ways similar – it’s easy to say “God is my refuge and strength” when all is well. Quite another proposition to say that during Coronavirus. It is my belief and my hope that by saying and praying such words from your heart when things are well, we can with God’s strength, say them the same way despite whatever is going on around us.

So in many ways, the church should continue doing what it always does – proclaiming Jesus as the way of life, health, peace, forgiveness, and the only true and lasting reality we’ll ever know. My job isn’t any harder. It’s just gotten a bit different.

 

 

Lent Log Day 17: The New Normal

My 100th post on this blog! Huzzah!

Who knew when I started this daily posting habit that I’d have such a curious and unknown world full of things to write about. But here we are in the middle of a global pandemic. We are not gathering in groups of more than 10, we’re tele-commuting, and basically everything is cancelled. (Favorite tweet so far: “Never thought I’d be giving up this much for lent!”)

At the church we’ve moved to a live-stream and video recorded services only. So now my weekly work is filled with website updates, communication updates, video recording projects, and tech setups. Churches around the country are trying to adapt as quickly as possible to this new normal. For many, including us, it’s live streaming and video recorded content. This is a great way to continue leading people in worship right in their homes. We did it last Sunday here:

Our friends at L’Abri are also offering live-streamed morning prayer every day on their facebook page:

 

But while all this live streaming is great for the time being, I’m also beginning to realize that whenever this all finally passes, we’ll be forever changed by the weeks or months spent not meeting on Sundays. It’s actually testing our hearts to see if we really understand the true purposes of worship. I’ve seen some people commenting on facebook, “I could get used to this!” I earnestly hope we don’t get used to this – that we long to be united in worship and fellowship in the flesh, not just virtually. I also wonder how much sustained engagement we’ll get after weeks or months of live-streaming only. It’s a lot easier to watch church and make breakfast, listen to the prayer and scroll through instagram when sitting on your couch.

When we began live-streaming, I resisted greatly because the medium itself teaches us that worship is about consuming content, not offering your heart. I never wanted our virtual worship to replace our in-person worship gathering. It’s a lot harder (but don’t hear me wrong – it’s not impossible!) to offer your heart while sitting in your pajamas on your couch.

But I do think this is a test for us. I think we need to figure out ways to lead and engage people’s hearts through the virtual format and it must look different than a normal Sunday service. Innovation will happen. It has to*. After all, the words “virtual” and “communion” don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. This is actually an opportunity to teach some heart-shaping habits. Liturgy can be an anchor for us in this time of uncertainty. More on that tomorrow.

 

*I’m grateful for leaders who write thoughtfully about the role of the church and how to pastor people during this pandemic – see this article.

 

Lent Log Day 14: Things are getting weird

Glad I’m still writing to give myself a bit of an outlet to process all the crazy things happening on God’s good earth right now. I cancelled choir rehearsal tonight, and am also house-sitting / dog-sitting for some friends out in Framingham, so I’m feeling pretty lonely out here.

I have noticed in all my interactions with people that everyone is simply trying to process this massive uncertainty and talking about it together is certainly a good way to help process. The fact is so many of us have no idea what is happening, but we all process this information differently. Some process by repeating (or sharing on social media) the news they are hearing, and interpreting it for their lives. Others are more quiet, trying to digest everything that’s coming in and making guesses as to what will happen next. Some are criticizing leaders for not making clear leadership decisions.

The point is everyone processes this uncertainty differently. I am talking to this cute dog and skyping with friends and family.

I’m noticing that we all crave community. I feel myself getting anxious not only of the spread of the virus but of the social isolation. I missed having choir tonight. I will miss meetings and things being cancelled. I’ll miss seeing people. I suppose we’ll rely on technology to help us feel connected. I’ll get better at reaching out to people on the phone just to say hi and chat.  “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18a)

So let’s stick together, however possible. Make sure you’re reaching out to friends. Talk about how this is hard. Talk about your anxieties and loneliness. I think we’re supposed to.

Lent Log Day 11: Divinely Imposed Limits

…We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged…

Where do you boast? Perhaps a better way to ask the question is, “what makes you proud?” Paul is speaking in this passage in defense of his ministry. I can certainly relate to having to ‘defend my ministry’ to those who have reasons to critique it. We’re all armchair quarterbacks, really. Anyone who is in ministry knows that critiques come quickly and sometimes without much thought. In the eyes of some people, we never seem to be doing enough, or maybe simply that we could be doing so much better if only we did this one more thing.

But I think the point being made here is that Paul’s ministry is by ‘staying in your lane’ (I wrote a bit on this on day 2), we can keep the focus on the ministry to the people that God has assigned to us. It’s certainly overwhelming for me to think of all the things I could be doing, and am not. I could be recording that next worship album. I could be composing or songwriting. I could be preparing more leaders for small groups or training more discipleship mentors. But divinely imposed limits seem to be healthy and important for our flourishing. Our last Men’s gathering included a talk by Matthew Wilson titled “Taking Ownership while Giving Glory to God” (listen here), and spoke right to this idea of limits. Drawing from Aristotle, Matthew views virtues as the fine line of balance between two extremes. Temperance is the balance between the extremes of gluttony and asceticism; of over indulgence and under indulgence.

In regards to ownership, we can become overly invested  (over-attachment) or under-invested in a particular project. For many of us, the dangers of over investment are easier to slip into than apathy or underinvestment. The results can be painful and catastrophic. Emotions run higher, and we (I) can forget about the people we are working with under a single-minded focus on a project. We can be jerks.

A healthy ownership of a project, ministry, or job, is found when a balance is maintained between over and under investment. For me this means doing the next right thing and not worrying any more. I would imagine that as we complete projects or launch and grow ministries, God gives us more responsibilities, but this does not mean chasing after new responsibilities in order to gain recognition on our own terms.

“‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” 2 Cor 10:18

Lent Log Day 9: Rock Climbing progress – still afraid of falling.

I’ve been rock climbing for a bit over a year now, and am surprisingly still sticking with it. I’ve never been one to go to the gym, but for some reason this kind of gym keeps me coming back for more. I would never lift weights but I guess I will lift my own weight up a wall a few times for fun. It helps that they change up the routes every week.

The reason I like it so much is that it works your mind and body on multiple levels. Obviously there’s the physical strength component. Fingers are stronger, callouses form, arms, back, and shoulders all feel more sturdy. But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that strength alone was not going to get me to the top. The second component to good climbing is balance and body positioning. After a few months I realized that using one leg as a counterbalance (a technique called ‘flagging’, rotating your hips into the wall,  and focusing on getting your feet in just the right place made it a good deal easier on your arms. That’s cool.

But the third and final component, and the one that will be the most difficult for me to improve, is my mind. Two things in particular that can cripple a bouldering attempt: doubt and fear. When I am halfway up the wall, fingers are weakening from fatigue, it’s usually just a little thought that gets into my head, “you’re not going to make it this time” and I quit. (And if you’re worried at this point…quitting just means dropping a few feet off the wall onto the pads.). What’s a worse feeling is the fear. Fear is a good and healthy instinct but there are several times when I’ve really felt it. It usually happens near the top of a route I have never done before, and it often makes me forget to do everything else, namely, breathe and keep going. There are times when I’ve felt the sensation of fear and even after coming down off the wall it lingers with me for several minutes after. It makes the next attempt really hard to start and sometimes breaks my concentration for the rest of the session.

A single minded focus helps. So do other people cheering you on. I personally really like going to the gym without knowing anyone there. I just do my thing and nobody bothers me. Sometimes people do strike up conversations and I happily engage with them, but then they start to cheer me on on the wall, and I feel annoyed from the bit of pressure that I now have to finish this route to impress them. But sometimes it actually helps me do a route that I would have doubted I could complete alone.

Difficult things can be so rewarding when you finally push through and make it happen. For many months I was stuck climbing V0 and V1 routes (routes are rated from V0 – V10). When I finally got to V2 I was pumped. V3s seemed like an impossibility but just a few months ago I finished a V3 and couldn’t believe it. Today V4s seem impossible, but there’s always next week!

 

Lent Log Day 7: Dust and Mud

Everyone knows that Jesus performed miracles of healing in the Gospels. A closer reading of these miracles reveals that not every healing is the same. Sometimes, Jesus simply says a word and someone is healed. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus resurrects him to life after being dead for four days by simply praying, and then saying “Lazarus, come out.” In John 5, the invalid of 38 years is healed by the words “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Jesus needs nothing more than to speak, and healings happen.

John 9 shows us one example where Jesus does something more.

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:6-7)

Certainly we don’t conclude that Jesus “needed” the raw material of the earth to perform this healing. Just as we don’t think Jesus’ first healing of the blind man Jesus must have done this for a reason. Perhaps he was giving us a sign.

We know that Jesus often does things so that people watching can hear and believe in him (Cf. John 11:42), so perhaps his action of taking mud was to teach the people watching something about his nature.

Consider Gen 2:7:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen 2:7, KJV)

God is creator, and created man from the “dust of the ground.” As he spits in the earth and makes mud, he’s reminding those watching and us of his ‘creator-ness’, and has come into the world as re-creator. Remember, Jesus IS God. He’s not only God’s Son, he’s God in the flesh. He was there creating at the foundation of the universe and is now present with this man restoring his sight. But healing is not only restoration of this man’s sight, it is a signifier of the new creation that is happening through Christ.

Lent Log Day 6: Fast food

“My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you…

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.

– from Psalm 63

The trouble with feasting for me is that in my current station in life feasting has been rarer than I’d like. Actually, this semester has been pretty difficult in terms of getting time in the kitchen. I have been attending evening meetings for (ironically titled) the Great Banquet, which has kept me from spending my Sunday afternoons cooking Sunday dinners, which not only are my favorite sabbath activity and way to unwind after a busy Sunday, but provide me with leftovers for the beginning of the next week. I’ve also been up on the North Shore for class on Tuesdays, out Mondays for Bible study, Thursdays for choir, so there are very few nights each week when I’m actually home to cook!

The result is too much fast food than I’d like to admit, and a very understocked pantry which makes me sad.

So it makes sense that I’m compelled by all these food passages in the Bible. Psalm 63 talks about how our souls are satisfied as with fat and rich food – not fast food, but a slow roasted chicken perhaps. Fat and rich food prepared at home is not only immediately satisfying but I believe the feeling of satiation carries well into the next day. So perhaps God is trying to show us how he alone is the metaphorical ‘chicken soup for the soul.’ Everything else that we seek to satisfy our souls are like fast food – they may meet the caloric requirements, may make us feel good at the moment, but they just leave us empty. Basically, it’s reminding me 1) need to spend more time with God, and 2) need to make more chicken stock.