Three Weeks in Chicago

The past few weeks have been fun, challenging and rewarding.

In case you don’t already know, I traveled to Chicago for three weeks of classes as I work on my Doctor of Ministry in Preaching degree.  This program is a joint program of several seminaries in the Chicago area and brings together some of the best known preachers and professors for a unique program.

This marks the beginning of my second year and, so I have friends and colleagues who greeted me (and I, them).  It is a homecoming, in a way, and I feel blessed by the people who surrounded me over the past few weeks.

It’s funny, I’ve spent a few weeks with these other preachers and, yet, I feel very close to some of these new friends of mine.  I feel as though they know my life and yet they have only known me, in-person, for the length of six weeks, collectively.

Perhaps knowing a person is not about the length of time we have known them, but the depths we have gone with them?  Is it possible for two people who have been friends for just a few months to be closer than a brother and sister who have known one another for forty years?  Yes, I think it is possible that as human beings the best relationships we will experience are about depth, not length.

I hope to find opportunities to pursue deep and meaningful relationships and I hope you will join me in this journey.

Remembering Home.

Due to a housing shortage at the seminary where my Doctoral program meets (it is an ecumenical program with several schools including Garrett-Evangelical), I couldn’t stay in Hyde Park the first week of classes. I got a room at my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical (G-ETS), and I’ve been commuting to-and-from class this first week.

I was not looking forward to the commute. Something happened, though, the moment I stepped on campus: I felt as though I was home. It is not just a building. It is not just a landmark or even a person that I know.  It is the experiences that form my memories which make G-ETS feel like home and those memories are triggered when I see the sights, smell the smells, sit in the space.

When strong memories are triggered they can transport us.  Sometimes they transport us across time, sometimes across space, and sometimes both.  Each night this week I have gone walking by the lake.  When I go for these walks I am not walking down a physical path: I am walking in a different time.

What triggers your favorite memories?

Perhaps this week you can find some of these triggers that transport you to a different time and place.

Resurrection & New Life:  Pentecost

Meet Rev. Dr. Mark Fowler

Dr. Fowler is a professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  As one of his former students, I can tell you that he is just as much a pastor as teacher and as much a man of deep compassion as he is a mentor and role model.  He is the Murray H. Leiffer Associate Professor of Congregational Leadership and is the Executive Director of the Institute for Transformative Leaders and Communities.  He received his BA from DePauw University, his Master of Divinity from Boston University, and his Doctor of Ministry from Andover Newton Theological School.  Please warmly welcome to my blog, as today’s guest blogger, Mark Fowler!

Today’s Scripture: Acts 2

I have often thought of Pentecost and the activity of the Holy Spirit as wind and fire, of the birth of the church with thousands of folks swept up in the witness of Peter (although I have been amazed that the church does not utilize the scripture from Joel that Peter used in this “birth” sermon of the church, hmmm!)  It is a dynamic and dramatic experience that is reported at Pentecost.

In an age when we are drawn to the “big show”, the dramatic increase in numbers, the pyrotechnic displays and the moment-by-moment sensory overload so central to our consumer culture, the Pentecost story could be easily exemplified as a reasonable expectation.  Shouldn’t the people of God, using God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, use the craft and expect the results of Pentecost to draw the world?

In a time when the traditional church is in traumatic dislocation, loss of privilege, bereft of its traditional social influence and seemingly in disarray.  At the recent United Methodist General Conference, proposals for changing ecclesiastical structures are left on the table, traditional covenants of ministry are tossed aside for a more effective way in which “only the temporally effective pastors are allowed to stay on the bus” (without a similar capacity for assessment being placed on the unassailable Episcopal office) and a casual vote declares a rather sizable number of delegates have put a restraint on the prevenient nature of the grace of God, a distinctive principal of the Methodist movement and a hallmark of its proclamation and effective evangelism. And, we all will move forward to try to capture lightening and wind in a bottle as an assurance of the future survival of the denominations.  

For me this year, Pentecost has been preceded by a delightful bit of weather in Chicago.  It has drawn me to the lakeside to sit and relax, reflect on the future.  I have felt close to the experience of the disciples prior to the amazing events on Pentecost that gave birth to the church, a ten day retreat in the upper room.  My mind flew to John Wesley prior to the Aldersgate Street experience that renovated his soul and was the source of the regeneration of the church through the birth of the Methodist movement.  It came to clear memory that in a difficult turning point in my own ministry, that it was preceded by a time of wilderness in the desert southwest where I experienced the disorienting reality of my own life in the vast and unfamiliar landmarked desert.  

In this anxious time for the church, we cannot fancy ourselves capable of doing the work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of the church.  Nor do we exactly know what form it will take or what methods of evangelism and discipleship will be most effective to be embraced in the mission dei  toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the creation and the beloved.  We must discipline ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s presence and work among us and in the creation.  We must Sabbath intently and yearn for God and trusting the promise that “in these last days, God will pour out the Spirit on all flesh…and the daughters and sons will prophesy and the old will dream.”  And, the dreams and visions will be of a world re-born and the loving purpose of creation will be fulfilled in our experience!

Resurrection & New Life: Questions are okay!

Meet Rev. Troy Venning

Rev. Troy Venning was a classmate of both my wife and I at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where he graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity.  He is an itinerant Deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church serving at Bethel AME Church in Downtown Miami.  He received an MBA from University of Phoenix (Ft. Lauderdale) and received his B.S. in Psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana.  Troy says, “Love is and has always been the key and if we love one another like Christ loved us (to death) then the world will change.”  I hope we can agree with him on that and all will welcome him as my newest guest blogger during Eastertide!

Questions are really ok…I promise

Today’s Scripture: John 20:19-29
When I was in Junior High School, I remember my English teacher. She was a very serious lady, especially in the classroom. Of all the things that I remember about her besides her glasses with the chain on them, the two things that stick out most are this t-shirt that she would occasionally wear and this mug that she drank coffee out of. The message on both the shirt and the mug were very similar but expressed in different ways…That message…”because I said so!” Deep right…but doesn’t that speak volumes to the position that adult takes towards children most times? Children are to seen and not heard…right?
 Oh, I forgot that is just me…
However, if we dared to be honest, we would admit that most believe that children should stay in their place, and they dare not ask questions. That is, they should not ask an adult a question. I would assert that the church is like that. This is so because we have been taught that when it comes to one’s relationship with God; that we must remain like a child who better not ask a question.
Quiet often (not everywhere) the church teaches people of God that as life comes and you experience the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of life that we are just supposed to take whatever life throws us, not have an opinion and not question God one iota. But I mean is that really possible? Is it possible to be alive and not have questions about one’s daily experiences?  Life continues to happen and if you keep living, you will have questions. Sickness, poverty, death, failure, heartbreak, injustice, racism, hatred, classism, sexism, I could go on and on…but the fact of the matter is, that in life all of these things will come.
Thus I write today to remind you that when they come, that God is big enough to handle and is ok with any question that you may have. I know this because of Jesus posture and position Jesus to when addressing Thomas and the disciples after his death and resurrection. The disciples had questions; they had just experienced excruciating pain as they watched their leader get executed. They were afraid; for them all had been lost and because of that reason, I can attest that they had questions. The disciples all had questions, each one of them. Thomas and the others all had questions and Jesus new that. The difference with “doubting” Thomas and the others; he was bold enough to verbalize his questions. Whereas the others, simply operated in fear unable to say what was troubling them.
Maybe today as you are reading, you have unanswered questions that you are afraid to ask; know today that no matter how big or small…God is big enough to answer every one of your questions.  The Good news for you and me is that no matter your question, God will meet you right where you are. How do I know? Look at the way God reacts to our questions. What is Jesus’s response in the story of doubting Thomas? He sends the disciples a word that should set them at ease, when it didn’t, he went looking for them. When he found them he granted them peace and he gave them (the disciples as a group and Thomas individually) a tailor made response. Beloved God knows that you have questions even when they are unspoken like the disciples. Maybe you are bold like Thomas, guess what God is big enough to handle your questions…still not convinced that questions are ok…ask Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Elijah Jeremiah, Job, David and then there was Jesus and the ultimate question…My God, my God…why has thou forsaken me?
Beloved, know that questions are fine. In fact the ability to question is a gift from God. Read your bible, you will find out that you are not the only one that has questions. In fact, the beauty of the cross is relationship and restoration…at the end of the day God would much rather being in dialogue with you than for to be engaged in a monologue…Ask away, trust me God is big enough to handle all of your questions…In fact, God is waiting and ready to answer because God loves you.
Copyrights © 2012 by Troy K. Venning. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author. To contact the writer go to
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Resurrection & New Life: The Waiting Game

Meet Rev. Cynthia Wilson

Rev. Cynthia Wilson is the Dean of Students at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The Rev.Wilson is a native of New Orleans, LA. She is an Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church, a graduate of Dillard University and Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology and studied Liturgical Studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  She is a sought-after worship leader, gammy-nominated musician, and preacher and I am honored (and humbled) to have her share with us, here on my blog this Easter season!

The Waiting Game
In the workplace, from Monday through Thursday, most employees anticipate the weekend. Then finally, TGIF!! Thank God it’s Friday!! Yet, for Jesus’ followers, Friday brought with it a sense of utter dismay, rejection, abandonment and hopelessness. Jesus had promised to be with them always. Later, he would announce his departure…but had given no indication that he would be murdered… lynched! So what was so “Good” about this Friday?  And then there was Saturday! How would they get through this in-between day? Would Sunday EVER come?
According to John’s gospel (14:18), Jesus had already promised to send help in his absence; a Comforter/ Mediator, the Paraclete. However, after his departure, the disciples were to do one thing and one thing only: WAIT! Have you ever been put on hold? How do you respond when asked to hang on, holdup, take pause, be patient? It is a grueling period of time; a delay when one is expected to be on the lookout for something or someone to arrive. The disciples are instructed to wait for the Promise. What was this promise? “John was baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 1:4)
In retrospect, we know that from Crucifixion Friday to Resurrection Sunday, the disciples stood on the threshold of a new harvest. Yet, they still had to play the waiting game. It would be 50 days after Jesus was killed at the hands of the so-called powerful elite that his followers would truly recognize how good Friday had really been, and how Saturday had actually served as a bridge to a whole new dispensation. However, THIS time there would not only be the Feast of Firstfruits: Passover. Additionally,the Promise would yield a harvest providing power for those whom Jesus had called to help establish the Christian Church. This power would help produce the ultimate crop! In conjunction with the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost would call for a new table where “creators of justice and joy” could sit together irrespective of culture, creed, race, gender, economic status, doctrine, creed, pedigree, or political persuasion. This power would radically transform the world.
The disciples finally discovered how absence and presence are intricately woven together in God’s kin-dom. It is in the waiting game that God’s conspicuous absence efficaciously reveals God’s Divine Presence in our lives.
Let’s call an eyewitness to testify: “….we also have the Firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Rom. 8:23b-25
I don’t mind waiting……how about you?
…………to be continued!
Resurrection & New Life:  Hid In Christ

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I’d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Adrienne Trevathan.  She is the Director of Christian Education at Northminster Presbyterian (the church where I interned during seminary).  She is a 2009 graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where she attained a master of divinity.

Our lives are hid with Christ in God.
Scripture:  Colossians 3:1-3
There is a lot at stake when we talk about our beliefs about resurrection.  There are many different ways to speak of the resurrection of Jesus, and different meanings we attach to it.  What has struck me particularly this year is the idea that when Chrsit rises from death, we also rise with him.  In the same way that we observe Lent and remember the suffering of the cross, we ourselves “rise” in a sense as we welcome Easter.   There is something about our identity that is hidden in God, that we uncover (and continue to uncover) as we live as followers of Christ.

When we live as people with hope, who willingly follow someone who knowingly walked into death and danced right out of it, we come a bit closer to finding our true identity.

When we surround ourselves with others who join us in making this proclamation, “He is risen!,”

we are able to understand the deepest part of ourselves that God is preparing to use to address needs in the world; needs not only of our brothers and sisters, but of all creation.  The groaning of creation is matched by the longing within us to make meaning in life.  We have the responsibility of cultivating the Spirit in our lives so that we are able to recognize and respond those signs of new life when they spring up (often in unexpected places).

When Christ rises, we rise – together.  Our identity is no longer static or predictable; what we can become together is a mystery and possibility.  It is a reason to rejoice.
Resurrection & New Life: The Bloody Cross
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Today’s guest blogger is the Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale.  He is the E. Stanley Jones Assistant Professor of Evangelism at Garrett-Evangelical in Evanston, Illinois.  He completed his master of divinity at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. and his PhD in American History and Evangelism from Southern Methodist University in the Dallas area.

Scripture:  John 19:33-34 

33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

Many people are understandably uncomfortable with the bloodiness of the crucifixion. Specifically, theologians have grappled with the fact that the Father demanding that the Son undergo such a gruesome experience makes the Father into a monster, demanding the torture and anguish of the Son in propitiation for the sins of humanity. Certainly, if the passion and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was nothing more than a means of satisfying the Father’s need for blood to be shed, this would be deeply disturbing. However, a different perspective can be taken to this.

The world is a bloody place. Not a day goes by in which the news does not relate of some atrocity or tragedy that has resulted in the often gruesome deaths of innocent people. Bombs fall on civilians, children in their homes are shot accidentally in the midst of gang conflicts, murders, suicides, and torture abound. The sin behind this spilling of blood is truly monstrous. It leads people of all stations, ages, races, and religions to a terrible end and seems to attest to the fact that might ultimately triumphs over life. Life cannot withstand the violent assault – it must spill its blood and admit defeat.

God offers a different view of this in Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” The shedding of blood, stated God, was for the atonement of those who had sinned. The one killed carries the ultimate power of testifying for the redemption of the killer. This is the context in which Jesus suffered and died: He was not seeking to satiate a bloodthirsty God, he was voluntarily allowing his innocent blood to be spilled that he might claim the authority to forgive those who had transgressed the will of God. Moreover, in claiming the role of the victim, Jesus was empowering every victim of violence to stand over his or her killers with the power of forgiveness. Victims no longer, they hold the destiny of their killers in their hands and can offer them peace through their blood.

God’s demand for the blood of Christ was not to fill the divine desire for blood, but to declare the bleeding ones as the ultimate victors over those who made them bleed.