Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tracking that elusive Spirit

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:8; photo by byronv2/Flickr)
This Friday the NuDunker folks are hosting our second public conversation on the topic of pneumatology, which is the fancy seminary word for "talking about the Holy Spirit." You'll be able to watch the discussion live on YouTube and participate in live conversation over Twitter with the hashtag: #nudunker. If you've never done a Twitter live chat, let me know and I'll give you some direction there.

You can RSVP on Google+ if you're in that sandbox...
NuDunker discussion: Pneumatology
Friday, Feb. 8th 10am-11am CST

That event page will carry the live YouTube feed and we'll also use it in the days leading up to the discussion to post each of our preliminary blog posts. We'll also be posting those links on Twitter and Facebook all week (though Dana and I are fasting from Facebook this month, so you'll find us on our blogs, Twitter, or e-mail). If you can't make the live event, don't worry! It will be recorded on YouTube for posterity and (better) further discussion. It's our intention with these events to use social media to engage in good theologizing for the health whole church, Brethren or otherwise.

Okay, with that bit of business out of the way, the rest of my post consists of my thoughts around the Holy Spirit and how those thoughts relate to my ministerial calling, and how that messy journey has unfolded over the years...

"Breath on me breath of God"

"Elohim Creating Adam" by William Blake
In the biblical languages, "spirit" words denote breath - ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek. In the Hebrew, even saying the word has a breathy quality that sounds like the wind and the waves, such as God's breath/spirit hovering over the chaotic waters at creation. Picture God's breath animating the dirt/humus/adama giving rise to human/Adam. God's breath is life - all creation is breathed from it and is therefore imbued with it. God's spirit also takes other forms in biblical accounts - the dove descending at Jesus' baptism, tongues of fire at Pentecost, and also wind (cf. John 3:8 above). It is this last image of God's spirit that sits behind what I mean by "anarchist pneumatology" - which I described last fall:
The anarchist impulse of the Spirit...deconstructs our quixotic attempts to channel its will and work (cf. 1 Sam. 8:1-18) and reconstructs faithfulness for life in the body. Seeking to be in accord with the will of this Spirit in our midst occurs in practices (of  prayer, reading Scripture, corporate gathering, mutual submission, forgiveness, "seeking the peace of the city," care for the marginalized, among others).
I also see this untamable spirit at work in narratives of God's people, Israel, in the Old Testament. God raised up pagan kings and empires to chasten the unfaithful people, going so far as to call kings like Nebuchadnezzar "my servant." If we grow too proud of our status as chosen people of God, bad things are bound to happen to chasten us. We are chosen for a purpose, not for privilege...

Hearing & heeding God's call to ministry

I am a licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren, and have been for the past three years. Just this past weekend, my district board so moved that I should be ordained as a minister in the denomination. For years before I was even licensed, my wife and I patterned our lives toward my "call to ministry." This calling has had far-reaching implications for the life of my family, mostly good but oftentimes very challenging, sometimes troubling.

This past summer, right after graduation, I was offered a leadership position in an out-of-country organization whose past leaders had gone on to be seminary professors, published scholars, and university presidents. These grand positions were ones that I had heard people in grad school say that I was not only capable of attaining, but was perhaps gifted for and called to. These things always mess with my head because I am a person who is attracted to grandiosity, and sometimes I'm tempted to cloak this in "serious call to ministry stuff." So for this and a hundred reasons I won't go into here, we gave what we took (and still take) to be the most faithful response: No. This decision was a long time in the making, and was a very painful one to make when it came time.

Instead, we moved back to my wife's hometown in rural Iowa. It was her sense of being called back to this area to live, work, worship, and minister with/near her family and amongst the community which raised her - that is where we sensed God's spirit blowing us. Back home to the low rolling hills and fields of Iowa.

For my formal ministry this has presented some interesting challenges. We moved to a town with no established Brethren or Mennonite congregations that I could drop into as a professional pastor. Rather than placing my name and résumé in the denominational database and starting a search for empty pulpits for me, we committed to a place for us to minister, led by my wife's sense of call. (Reversing the trend of the previous 8 years.)

At my ordination interview last month, I expressed much of this same story, and was pleased that folks - including my district executive - "got it." They sense with me that God's spirit has indeed called me into a formal role of servant-leadership within the church, while still recognizing the informal ways that we've been called as a family to this local community to love and serve. What shape my formal role will take after ordination is still uncertain, but it includes an openness to church planting and community peacebuilding in our new nearby. We'll continue to discern together.

Yes, we Brethren have established bureaucratic structures and processes to put people "called to ministry" into the "pastor mill" - but the church in the U.S., including us Brethren, is starting to see how the foundations under those structures and processes are on shifting sands.

So this is my angle on thinking about pneumatology in light of my theological training and how I've seen God's spirit working through the process of a call to ministry and participation in God's mission, for me and my family. It's been messy, confusing, and trying ever since beginning to take the call seriously ten years ago. But God's people have a messy story, so this is perhaps as it should be. I'm looking forward to what my fellow NuDunkers have to say on their blogs, and how it all comes together for our live chat on Friday.

May we see clearly and move faithfully with the blowing of that untamable but life-breathing Holy Spirit. Amen.

NuDunker peeps on the holy ruach:

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