Trails of Tears

by Tim Mossholder

Photo by Tim Mossholder

Last month me and Dawn spent a few days in one of my favorite places. I was able to introduce her to Portland. We visited the spots I wanted to see with her.

We walked in the cold rain around Pittock Mansion and drove through several sprawling gardens, getting lost for a while or finding some place based upon my memory from the last time I was in town 2 years ago.

We ate well, having our first meal in a pod, outside, and complained not once the food was so good. Well, Dawn complained about one meal, but that wasn’t bad odds for the four days.

There was the Multnomah falls and all the other falls along the historic highway. We took pictures. We talked. And we both noticed how unseen the native (American) influence was.

I hadn’t expected it, but we lamented how Portland with all its culture and local emphasis did not have an equally outstanding something marking the history of first peoples. Perhaps we had to get to the Tillamook this or that. Admittedly, we didn’t see everything. But we were aware of the absence of that part of the story.

It seems common that we don’t tell our full stories. Our personal stories, our communal stories, our national stories. Is it because telling the shinier parts is easier? And is it also still honest?

The victor gets to publish his account. The last one standing gets to record her recollections. The one with connections gets to edit the final draft.

I wonder how differently the world would look to us if we saw it from the underside, from more sides. Even in my remembering our trip, I don’t want to recall the tough talks between me and Dawn or the time I got lost when I was alone coming from downtown because I refused to use my phone. I’d rather recall the nicer parts. But I wonder how it would be to recall more or what happened.

What if our conversations kept going until we listened for the feelings under the words and not just the words themselves?

What if we didn’t end a meeting until we heard from every person, even if the participants passed on using the floor?

What if our theology and our ethics and just a tad of our governmental policies were written from and championed for those under the bottom?

What if we stayed until we heard more from more?

What if we walked through hard paths and beautiful paths?

What if we guarded one another along both cliffs of joy and trails of tears?

Pneumatic Creativity

by Web AgencyTheological education at Garrett-Evangelical is not programmatic, propaganda, professional training (trade school); instead, it is about the spiritual reception of the prophetic ethos (salt), the priestly passion (light), and “obedience of faith” (faithful discipleship) of the Gospel in the world. The work…is precisely to realize that which cannot be taught but can be caught, i.e., to foster a theological pedagogy of pneumatic creativity in the classroom.

Professor K.K. Yeo in the January, 2016 issue of Aware

Healing & Trust

Photo Thanks to Jenelle Ball

Photo Thanks to Jenelle Ball

When a person has been injured or hurt or wounded, there are usually direct ways to heal. At times, that injured person knows the way forward. Something inside tells us that we should do this, refrain from that, be gentle here, be firm there. Our healing comes from an interiority which is directive and caring and insightful.

And then, sometimes the experts know that we should do specific things to recover. The experts are those voices which are outside ourselves. They may be soul doctors or medical doctors. The experts may be spiritual directors or therapists or significant others. They are usually, in one form or another, friends.

The experts are needed people who stand outside our experience and bring to us gifts from their knowledge and experience. Their wisdom is beneficial. But sometimes what they know contradicts what we know. They suggest a plan of care that is disagreeable to us.

The discernment is in doing what the caring others say even in the face of our internal conflict. “I believe that the plan should be this but I’ll submit.” Trust inevitably leads to submission, surrender.

It takes incredible trust to heal. Trust in oneself. Trust in one’s spirit or body. Trust in time. Trust that God and God’s creation is bending toward restoration where we are concerned.

But the other incredible trust is exhibited in others. Trust to believe that someone else is wiser or more informed about your healing even if they aren’t the right-now recipient of your particular pain.

Friends vs. Strangers

Photo Thanks to Kevin Curtis

Photo Thanks to Kevin Curtis

In a day I spend time working with three people: participants in mission at church; patients in a hospital setting, usually in medically intensive situations; and students preparing for continued ministry. All of those people are experiencing some thing in life that is calling out to them, emerging within them.

In the church, we are hearing and speaking to one another around an old and almost common event, reflecting upon the life of Jesus and what that life means now. In the hospital we are generally responding to the crisis of the medical moment and the myriad of ways hospitalization matters to people. In the learning environment (and I’m in three of them in one way or another), we are inspecting the materials available to us for preparation, refinement, and formation.

All those settings are identity shaping settings. In each place, we question—and I do this as a leader or caregiver or teacher—what’s happening and how those happenings turn us into the people we are. Jaco Hamman said, “Many of us live most of the time as strangers to ourselves” (From Becoming a Pastor: Forming Self and Soul for Ministry, p. 10).

When I read Hamman’s words, they struck me because they were a reminder that most of the time, we can be distant from our selves, strangers to ourselves. We can be strangers to the things that shape us and to who we are as shaped, identified people.

How do we get to know who we are? Where are the places in life that reveal, construct, critique, reform, affirm, and embolden identity? I’m paying attention to how my working worlds are more than places I go; there are places I’m made. The same is true for home and circles of friendship. Those are the contexts where identity happens. When we sit in those places with open eyes, we get closer to ourselves. We become friends to ourselves.

Estimates of Your Leadership

Skitter PhotoLast month I had the opportunity to visit my mentor and father-friend, Dr. Johnathan Alvarado, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. His wife, Dr. Toni Alvarado, invited a collection of colleagues, parishioners, friends, and extended family to a party. I stayed for the full weekend as we celebrated him. I had the chance to represent those who JEA have mentored over the years—in my case, nearly 25 years.

The weekend and the writing of my reflection ahead of it gave me an opportunity to bring to mind all the things which he’s been to me, to my marriage, and to my family. His (and their) exemplary ethic in the practice of wise, enduring, faithful, intellectually responsive, and Spirit-led ministry mark me in my attempts to do similarly. I’m part of the fruit of his life. I’m part of the estimate of his leadership.

Bishop Alvarado shares me with other people who’ve mentored me. He and they are regular parts of my growth. As I described his impact upon me, I couldn’t help but visit my own ministry, teaching, and service to the world. I couldn’t help but question my own family life when I heard his daughter (their youngest) speaking so lovingly about her dad.

Bishop Alvarado esteems others well, and to participate in a public affirmation of his life was splendid. To review–even in my own life–how his life mattered and how his effort provided a currency for our own development as a person was of double benefit. It underlined my sincere appreciation that he is alive.

Listening to earned tributes has that impact on a person. You hear and you want to emulate what you hear. I want the estimates of my leadership to sound and look and feel like those did in December. I want to be the husband, father, leader, pastor, educator, caregiver, and writer who loves well and is loved well. I want to see the estimates of my leadership as I lead and to count them worthy.

The Trouble & Beauty of Wheaton College

MlecezekI’ve been reading occasional media reports for two months as one of my alma mater’s has been in the news. Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian college, in a western Chicago suburb, has been on screen as some administrators and board members have tried to remove from the faculty Professor Larycia Hawkins, the school’s first tenured female African American scholar. She is a political science scholar who wore a hijab in an expression of solidarity with Muslims being persecuted in the political sphere. She also wrote on her Facebook wall sentiments about standing as a Christian with other people of the book, Muslims in this case.

The administration’s initial response, putting Dr. Hawkins on a forced leave, was on theological grounds. They quibbled with her theological articulation which included a quote from Pope Francis about who God is. Very recently faculty members responded by questioning those grounds, Bible and Theology faculty included. The faculty voted unanimously for the administration to revoke the leave and restore Dr. Hawkins. More information can be read here, here, and here.

There is trouble and beauty in what Wheaton’s done. As an institution, the place where I did my first master’s degree, has singled-out a sister scholar and chastised her for publicly showcasing the thing the college stands for: Christ and his Kingdom. They didn’t like the way she did it, of course. And they unfairly chose to punish Dr. Hawkins and not follow a similar course for other faculty members who made similar testimony of faith in relationship to political issues (i.e., theologically informed ethics in society).

Do something a black sister scholar, tenured mind you, and there’s theological and historical refuge. Overlook the white sisters and brothers doing the same, and it’s something else altogether. There’s trouble. I’m ashamed of Wheaton’s administration.

But there is beauty too. Students and teachers have reacted in Christian ways to an administration that in its hyper-evangelical consciousness lost hold to the message of evangelicalism. And I saw the name of the scholar who taught me principles of hermeneutics, which a class about how to read and apply the Bible. And what he said was freeing, moved me to actually write a quick blog.

Dr. Greene called Professor Hawkins’s gesture(s) beautiful. And he wasn’t alone. A unanimous faculty, in its own way and for its own collective reason, joined together to underline the beauty of Wheaton. If they hadn’t done so, I’d have a whole load more of trouble with Wheaton. And I do have stirrings for the school for sure.

Nonetheless, I pray for Dr. Hawkins, that her faith would not fail, that it would flourish. I pray for Wheaton, that the entire community would live deeply into the values and acts of the person of Jesus.

Letter of Intent

Photo Thanks to Jon Ottosson

Photo Thanks to Jon Ottosson

I have to send a letter of intent to sit before a committee soon. The template is on one of my desks. I see it everyday since I printed it out as a reminder that sending the letter is an important step in one of my growth processes.

It’s a simple form, but it’s a staple in my process and in the batch of materials which it indicates will follow. My committee is tied to it. My conversation happens after it. My effort in between is also linked.

I haven’t had time to blog the last couple weeks but I’m thinking about writing a letter of intent for myself for the new year. People write resolutions. I don’t. But here are some of my intentions in the random order I think of them.

I intend:

  1. To see something beautiful and memorable with my wife at my side
  2. To love the church, the class, and every context in which I serve others
  3. To write something that other people will use
  4. To keep that monthly meal with the Swansons for 3rd/4th year
  5. To become a supervisory candidate this spring
  6. To be accepted and to accept myself
  7. To create, to lead, to stay close to myself
  8. To be a better father with both my sons
  9. To watch Dawn cry when our second is born–ha
  10. To be a great son and brother
  11. To share and be generous while being more patient
  12. To help creative people become/stay grounded
  13. To be the friend who shows up when needed
  14. To cook more
  15. To advance in my physical care/exercise/training
  16. To be undoubtedly and unmistakably relentless, especially while loving
  17. To update my advance directives
  18. To revise my blogs
  19. To locate resources for a writing project
  20. To start something new

What about you?