Monthly Archives: September 2008

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working my way through Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace Volf explores reconciliation and forgiveness through the lens of identity, paying particular attention to the fact that our identities are social (constructed in relation to others) and that identities can be constructed in ways that lead to hatred and enmity between people-groups.   God must have a sense of humor, because for me the easiest way I’ve been able to understand the ways in which hateful senses of identity are created is through the analogy of the Colorado vs. Nebraska football rivalry.

CU Football fans hate Nebraska.  For example, when CU beat Nebraska 62 to 36 during my freshman year of college, we cheered when the television cut to a scene of a 4 year old boy dressed in a Cornhuskers shirt crying his eyes out during the fourth quarter.  Were football not a relatively trivial thing to allow to have such control over one’s emotions, we surely would have been more compassionate at the sight of a crying child.  But, no, we were not.  We rejoiced at his tears. 

How sick are we, that we create such powerful identities and loyalties based on things as trivial as football? Yet this is exactly what we do, to the point that many Coloradans look with disdain upon anything associated with the state of Nebraska.  A joke that’s told somewhat frequently by members of my family goes like this.  Q: What’s the best thing to come out of Nebraska?  A: Interstate 80.

Thinking of this joke the other day while I explained to Mike the Colorado-Nebraska rivalry, I exclaimed, “I mean, can anything good come out of Nebraska?”  Thinking instantly of John 1:46, Mike responded “Chris, Jesus was from Nebraska.”

Now that will take some time to get used to.

Since Mike was ordained on Sunday, our seed-group for The Upper Room will celebrate communion for the first time together tonight.  I’m excited.  So excited in fact, that I fell asleep last night thinking about it.  And now, as I get ready to leave the Carnegie library and go pick up the bread and wine for tonight, I just had to write out some quick reflections on the meaning behind what we’ll be doing tonight.

It will be a Thursday night, which already has echoes of Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, appropriate given the name of our group.  As I’ve reflected on the sacrament of communion today, I keep coming back to the theme of being united with Christ.  As we partake of the bread and cup, we remember that we are called to die with Jesus (Mark 10:38-40).  At the same time we celebrate that as we die and Christ lives in us we also experience newness of life now as we fellowship with the risen Christ (Luke 24:30) and the hope of resurrection to come (Rom. 6:10).    There’s more to the Lord’s Supper than can ever be expressed in words (see my attempts here at The Paradox of the Lord’s Supper and the sermon/theological-lecture I gave at Open Door last spring on The Holy Spirit and Communion), but union with Christ seems to be the best summary of its manifold meanings.

What makes me most excited about tonight, though, is the fact that in celebrating communion we’re not only united with Christ, we’re united with each other.  I think celebrating communion tonight will stand out as a milestone as our core group grows closer together in fellowship and in common vision for the church.  That fellowship and unity is essential for a new church and can only come by the grace of Christ.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses” (Life Together p. 86).  Though Presbyterians with our Word-centric worship services often forget this, I think the same could be said about communion.  Our fellowship will live as it receives its nourishment from Christ, together in prayer, in study of scripture, and at the table.

We have three exciting pieces of news to report regarding the church-plant from yesterday’s meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery .  (Warning, Presbyterian-ese is spoken in parts of this post. For translation, see notes at bottom). First, the recommendation that Mike and I be officially called as Organizing Co-Pastors of The Upper Room NCD[1] passed as an item on the consent agenda.[2]  Then, after tribute to both Open Door and Hot Metal, the Presbytery officially chartered[3] both of them and Philip Lotspeich of the PC(USA)[4]’s office of Church Growth and New Church Development gave a powerful speech about the importance of planting new churches if the denomination is ever going to start making disciples among the un-churched[5] and de-churched[6] in America.  Then, the Presbytery voted to release funds for us to use for the rest of 2008, until our grants officially kick-in in January![7] 

The third thing that we celebrated yesterday was Mike’s passing of his oral-parts-of-trial.[8]  Mike read his statement of faith (which was called “theologically bulletproof” by another pastor) and responded well to the four questions which were directed to him.  The vote to approve his ordination was unanimous.  Especially touching was the response of the Presbytery’s vice-moderator, an elder from Mike’s home church, who spoke of having seen Mike brought into church as a two week old baby and how proud he was to see him going into ministry.  Sunday afternoon, Mike will become Rev. Mike as he’s ordained at Parkwood Presbyterian Church. 

Thank you to everyone who prayed for us and prayed for the Presbytery yesterday.  After it was all over, all we could think to say was “Praise God” and “Wow”. 

Allelujah to the Lord of all creation, including Presbytery meetings.

[1] New Church Development.  More explanation of the name “The Upper Room” will follow at some point in the future . . .

[2] List of miscellaneous things that people think aren’t worth wasting time debating.

[3] Decided they’re actually a real “church”.

[4] Presbyterian Church USA –

[5] Those who have never set foot inside a church.  For practical purposes, this term might as well refer to some “Christmas and Easter” Christians as well. 

[6] Those burned by the church because it was intolerant, stubborn, judgmental, hypocritical, and generally unChristian.

[7] The Lord provides.

[8] Basically, the Presbytery has a chance to interrogate him about his statement of faith, decide if they like his theology, then vote on whether or not he’s welcome to be ordained and serve in that Presbytery.

I’m now at the end of my second week of working part-time for a great coffee shop in Sq. Hill.  Tonight will be my fifth shift and I’m looking forward to it for a number of reasons.  Here are five of them.

  1. Tips! –  Thank you to generous customers who tip when the receive a good drink.  On Tuesday, I even made enough in tips to buy a growler of East End Pedal Pale Ale to share with the OD men’s group.
  2. Music – in what other coffee shop would I have the freedom to bring my own music?  If you come by tonight, I’m planning on bringing a mix of Derek Webb, Blackthorn Project, and a few other similar artists.
  3. People – I love my coworkers.  I love the customers.  There’s definitely a feeling of community present amongst the staff and the patrons.  I can’t wait to get to know them all better.
  4. Simplicity – Things are so much simpler here than at the chain I worked at in Boulder before moving to Pittsburgh.   No uniforms, no thermometers, no complicated computer system to mess with – just good coffee and a much stronger sense of community.  And, I don’t think I will ever cease to be impressed by the resourcefulness of Keith (the manager).
  5. Coffee – We serve good coffee, some of which is even fair-trade, like the Rwandan brew I’ve been enjoying every time I go in.  Praise God for coffee! 

Watch this video about the persecution of Dalit Christians that’s taking place in Orissa, India right now.

Mike forwarded me an email about this last week.  In that email, it suggested that 5,000 people were now in a refugee camp outside of Orissa, having fled the persecution.  Roughly the same number was estimated to still  be hiding in the jungle between their villages and the refugee camps.  Fore information, see this article from Christianity Today and this thoughtful reflection on persecution by Michael Spencer. (Thanks Jordan for pointing me toward InternetMonk.) 

What can we as privileged, secure Christians in the West do when we hear about this?  The first answer I can think of is simply to pray.  On Sunday at Open Door Eileen and I led the song “Never Again” from the newest Enter The Worship Circle cd, singing it as a prayer for those experiencing persecution like this: “Wake up God, move Yourself.  Wicked men crush Your children. . . . We pray, we wait.  How long until You say ‘Never Again!'”  Keep them in your prayers . . .

9-10 UPDATE: Watch this video from Gospel for Asia for more background on the attacks.

As Mike and I are preparing to be ordained in the next few months, I’ve been reflecting on the theological meaning behind ordination.  So far the best explanation I’ve come up with is this: Ordination is a formal confirmation of a call to ministry and the presence of spiritual gifts necessary for that ministry, recognized by the Church in historical continuity with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in all ages and places.  It does not indicate a change in being or essence, but rather calls out and highlights the missionary identity implicit in our baptismal identity. 

In our Pastoral Care class at the seminary, we read Thomas Oden’s Pastoral Theology.  For Oden, ordination is similar to baptism in that it’s not repeated “since it has reference to a lifelong covenant relationship.”  This connection with baptism is implicit even in the ordination service, which includes a reaffirmation of baptismal vows.  Those baptismal vows include a prayer for the Holy Spirit to empower us to “proclaim the gospel to all nations and serve [God] in a royal priesthood.”  Hence there’s a missional element to baptism, and also to ordination.  This is why, in Daniel Migliore’s words, ordination should be “understood missiologically rather than ontologically” (Faith Seeking Understanding  p. 297).  It indicates a change in function, but not identity.  

Oden also connects ordination with the spiritual gifts imparted for ministry, which relates to the missiological change that Migliore’s talking about.   But those spiritual gifts come to someone who is already united with Christ in baptism, and thus do not necessarily change that person’s identity which already exists in Christ.  This is why I like Jurgen Moltmann’s connection of ordination to the missiological meanings of baptism.  As Moltmann writes, “Ordination can only display and emphasize in visible terms what is already implicit in baptism both as a confession of faith and a call” (Church in the Power of the Spirit p. 314). 

Our baptismal identity is the identity of a missionary.  Because of this, there is no further ontological change: only a specific commissioning related to that missional baptismal identity.  (Moltmann argues that only adult believers should be baptized because only they can do so in conscious response to God’s call to mission.  This is where I part company with Moltmann on baptism.  Jeremiah certainly didn’t have a choice to consciously respond to God’s calling on his life; he had been consecrated since before his birth.  As I understand it, baptism of both infants and adults is a sign not just of inclusion the the covenant-community of God’s kingdom, but of God’s call upon us to serve.)

But if this is true, then why is ordination necessary?  First, for the sake of order.  It formalizes the church’s outward confirmation of an individual’s calling to ministry.  To quote Andrew Purves from one of our Pastoral Care classes, the reason we only allow ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament to celebrate the Lord’s Supper is “purely for the sake of order.”  When Mike and I are each ordained, our callings to ministry (and particularly to new church development) will be confirmed by the church, and that means that within the “decency and order” of the Presbyterian church.  There’s nothing special about us that makes us righteous enough or holy enough to celebrate the sacraments, but within our denomination we will have been designated as people who may do so legitimately for the sake of order in the church.   

But there’s more to ordination than order: There’s also the idea of an historical or spiritual connection to the original apostles (Oden 31), a doctrine much more important for Catholic theologies of ordination than for Protestant, but still upheld to some point by most traditions.  And, though I don’t understand it, I believe there is an element of spiritual gifting that takes place in ordination: whether it is the actual reception of a new gift (as 1 Timothy 4 implies) or simply the awakening of something latent within the ordinand, the Holy Spirit does something.  But that something is a mystery, as far as I can tell.

Again, this is the best I can understand ordination right now, but I’m eager to understand it more.  Is anything missing in this picture of ordination?  What could be added from other parts of the Church’s tradition?

A lot of things have happened over the past two weeks that are worthy noting in a quick update on the church-plant.  First, we heard that our grant application was approved by the Presbytery’s NCD Commission.  Then we heard that the Committee on Ministry approved the commission’s recommendation to call Mike and myself as organizing co-pastors.  Mike’s planning his ordination for later this month, and I’m planning mine for early November, when I’ll be travelling back to Colorado for a Company of New Pastors retreat. 

Even with all that good news, it didn’t sink in to me that “this is really happening!” until later in the week.  On Thursday night we had our first gathering of the seed-group for the church-plant.  Munching on an assortment of snacks Eileen prepared, we spent the evening conversing, getting to know each other, and praying together.  Our next gathering is this Thursday, when we’re going to begin talking more about the vision for the church and start working our way through Luke-Acts together. 

Capping off a great week, I found out Saturday that I have a new job making coffee at one of the coolest coffee shops in Squirrel Hill: 61C Cafe.  My first shift is tomorrow and I can’t wait to get to know the staff and customers better.  While I will dearly miss the staff in the Dean’s Wing at PTS, I’m excited to be working a job in the community where we’ll be living and ministering, and am grateful to have been placed in such a fun position.