Saturday, February 19, 2022

Jesus, Wisdom, Church

References to wisdom in the New Testament are not insignificant. Wisdom is mentioned over 50 times.* Here are some gleanings from my search. Interestingly, wisdom appears in I Corinthians 17 times, mostly in chapters 1-2, where Paul contrasts the wisdom de jour with the deeper wisdom of God in Jesus Christ. 
  1. The totality of wisdom here, now, and forever, belongs to God. See Revelation 5:12, 7:12
  2. Gospel writers use "wisdom" to mark both Jesus' biography and teaching. This seems much more significant than I had previously thought. See Luke 2:40, 2:52, 11:29-32, Mark 6:2, Matthew 13:54 
  3. Jesus is the wisdom from God. I Corinthians 1:30-31
  4. Wisdom provides followers of Jesus a way out and guidance on what to say and do in threatening circumstances. See Luke 21:15, Acts 6:3
  5. Jesus' way is wise but not easy, clashing with the values and methods of the dominant culture and religious institutions. In light of this, we are counseled to ask God for wisdom. See Matthew 7:13-14, I Corinthians 1:27-31, James 1:5-6.
  6. Wisdom is the self-critical principle, equipping me to discern the spirits- what is good and beneficial, and what is wrong and harmful, in the unquestioned traditions I practice.** See I Corinthians 12:4-11 
  7. Just because religious rituals are used, it is not automatic that the choices and decisions will be wise or even necessary. See Acts 1:24-26.
  8. Wisdom poses the questions of purpose, sustainability, and justice. It is like a woman who is vindicated by her "children." See Luke 7:35.
  9. Just because an institution is religious does not mean that its leaders or members make decisions that are just or wise.*** See Luke 11:42. 
  10. The inaccessibility and mystery of wisdom is continued from the Old Testament. See I Corinthians 13:12.
  11. Part of the wisdom of the righteous is freedom from their own self- righteousness. See Matthew 25: 37-38. 
* 52 times. The NRSV, Oremus Bible Browser.
**I am indebted to Elaine Heath's insights in her book,  God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church. God's wisdom includes discovering the "tradition within the tradition." As an example, prayer itself can be used as cover for hypocrisy and to provide a favorable appearance. See Matthew 6:5-8. 
***Luke 11 compares the greatness of Jesus to the fame of King Solomon's wisdom, which reached to the Queen of Sheba in Africa. The text could refer to to Saba, a port city in Yemen. See Lawrence Goodman's "How Did the Queen of Sheba Come to be Known as Black? in the Jewish Experience, Brandeis University. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Wisdom in Clergy Career Decisions

I have served on United Methodist church staffs and specialized-extension ministry for almost all of my career.* The only time I did not was pastoring a rural church in North Carolina while a student in divinity school. I was unprepared and mostly unaware of my lack of  readiness. My only experience of church had been my home church, a multi-staff, suburban parish in northeast Ohio, where I also served during my college summers. 

I was a first time pastor, newly married, living in a defunct mill town, while commuting about 18 hours a week and taking a full load of classes at divinity school (my choice, to graduate on time). Once I was ticketed for having out of state plates. The trouper threatened to impound my car. Early on, a concerned lay leader and mill manager asked if I was going to start a labor union.  The DS just asked me to focus on caring for and shepherding the people. 

However, this was also a time when I gained a rare and hard-won wisdom about myself and my true calling. The experience was irreplaceable. The interaction between the classroom and the parish absolutely accelerated my learning. There were some accomplishments amidst the sojourn- interracial and interchurch gatherings, resource people provided leadership for marriage enrichment and stress management. A retired pastor and his wife became wonderful, supportive friends to us. 

Here's a list of considerations that have proven helpful to me:

  1. Have I made an effort to truly know and make known my gifts and talents? Now, Discover Your Gifts is an  excellent guide.** This assessment has assisted me in developing God-given gifts further, and in making weaknesses less glaring.
  2. Clarity about my gifts is my best guide. Is there a chance for a good fit between the church under consideration, its mission and gifts, and my proven abilities? 
  3. Does my path include a specialization or a particular area of expertise, such as serving on a church staff?  What are the benefits and shortcomings of specialized ministry? Do the advantages outweigh the limitations?  
  4. Have I considered my family an asset, a gift? What are their thoughts? They are the people who are most affected and will be there long after any others have moved on. 
  5. In addition to family, who comprises my support system? A mentor, a friend, a spiritual director? 
  6. Under what conditions do I make a first-refusal? What are the consequences? An unwritten rule is that a first refusal will net less compensation in a future move to another church.  
  7. I may need more than a 15 minute hard sell and 24 hours to think and pray. Is my decision sustainable? Does it make for peace within?
  8. It's my responsibility to do an accurate inventory of the prospective position. This is becomes more important if I am restricted from discussions with a prospective church.
  9. Gift-based appointments are often heralded in word, but, in reality, this is the ideal. Many in-time factors are at work among scores of clergy and churches in a wide geographical area. These factors are not my responsibility. 
* Governance of the United Methodist Church is assumed. 
**See Now, Discover Your Strengths, Clifton and Buckingham, 2001. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Wisdom 's Third Way- Using Shared Praxis

Thomas Groome's masterpiece, Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision, since its publication in 1980, has shaped the educational ministry of Catholic and Protestant churches alike. *

Originally designed for educational groups, shared praxis can be a method informing spiritual direction and making personal faith decisions. It can also can provide an outline for sermon planning and preparation. A hallmark of shared praxis is that it engages me in a process of self-critical reflection.** If I am never asked to think critically, then there is little hope of seeing or choosing a third way.

Shared praxis invites me to reflect on the whole of my life, here and now. What is my unexamined bias? My blind spot? My racial, socio-economic, educational, and religious assumption? What is my sense of wisdom and how does it function to reinforce or correct what I've always thought? Fully engaging Scripture and Christian tradition is basic to Shared Praxis. The assumption is that honest reflection on The Christian Story creates dissonance that leads to faithful action.    

Springing out of reflection on my life and exploration of the Christian Story, what's next? Is there a decision to be made, an action to take? Is there a new way forward? Is it time to wait and for how long? 

Shared praxis requires honesty, openness to reason, patience, and gentleness. Seeking the wisdom of the third way moves me beyond either- or thinking. Its gifts are clarity and faithfulness to what I know to be true of myself- and the shared Christian faith. 

*Thomas Groome, Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision, 1980. More information is available from his Boston College webpage. 

** See Christian Religious Education, Chapter Nine: Shared Christian Praxis.    The five steps in Shared Praxis are:

  1. Naming Present Action
  2. Reflection on Present Action: Sharing Stories and Vision 
  3. Presentation of the Christian Story and Vision
  4. Reflection on and interacting with the Christian Story and Vision
  5. Making Decisions and Choosing Personal/Communal Faith Response.

Oldies but Goodies