Monday, November 21, 2005

Starting Another Chapter

A week ago last Sunday, I resigned as the preacher for the South Road Church of Christ in Farmington, CT. I told the people that I didn't want them to assume for a minute that I thought poorly of the congregation and its ministry.

In fact, when I consider all this church does and what its prospects can be, I'm amazed. I have never known a congregation with a greater level of knowledge and zeal for the Word than they have. And when it comes to responding to a challenge--like conducting last summer's Vacation Bible School--they reveal how adequate God has made them.

But I've decided to leave Connecticut to become the next director of the Bible Chair in Amarillo, Texas. This ministry serves Amarillo College, a two-year school with over 10,000 students.

Having grown up among the Churches of Christ in Southwest Oklahoma, I've heard about Bible chairs since way back when. But I know it's not a familiar term to everyone.

"Bible Chair" refers to a fairly unique concept of Christian work that is carried out on a college campus. It offers courses in religion that are accredited by the college, and its teacher is regarded as a member of the faculty. The financial sponsorship for the chair comes from interested churches and individuals. So it operates much like an endowed chair of Whatever Studies at Anygiven College.

Bible chairs typically have a facility that is adjacent to the college campus. The chair at Amarillo is no exception. The building includes a large classroom, offices for secretary and director, a library, and a student lounge.

That part may sound a little bookish. But the work of a Bible chair is more than merely academic. It also has a spiritual and whole-life emphasis. Working from a list of purposes written by Jerry Klein, one of the previous directors, I would include the following goals as part of the holistic vision for the Bible Chair at Amarillo College:
  • To provide opportunities for intellectual and artistic self-expression in a Christian setting.
  • To allow students the opportunity to participate in intramural sports on campus, through membership in Kappa Chi, the college-sanctioned group associated with the chair.
  • To sponsor retreats, picnics, ski trips, and other activities designed to build friendships and a sense of community among the students.
  • To train and develop Christian leaders.

That's a tall order. But it's a mission that a Bible chair is perfectly situated to accomplish.

I have to say that a big reason that I feel positive about this change has to do with some people I've recently met in Amarillo. The first person I talked with was Kay Chism, the secretary for the San Jacinto Church of Christ, under whose auspices the Bible chair operates. Kay was friendly and helpful from the very first.

The search committee who contacted and interviewed me consisted of two good men: John Dannelley and Jerry Chism, Kay's husband. Whenever you look at another job thousands of miles away, you depend on those people on the other side. Jerry and John could not have been better.

Becky Hugg handles all sorts of administrative tasks at the Bible Chair. We've already met and emailed back and forth. I've been told by everyone that I will feel fortunate to have her as a co-worker.

I've known Ken and Jeanette Danley for many years. Ken and I both served churches in Connecticut. About the same time I came to the Ward Street Church in Wallingford, he began as the minister for the Whitney Avenue congregation just a few miles down the parkway from Wallingford. Years later, when he was working for the BIC Corporation, Ken was the deacon of education at Ward Street. From there, he went on to become the children's minister at Amarillo Central Church of Christ. When the Danleys moved to Texas a couple of years ago, I never dreamed I'd be reunited with them there.

Earlier I mentioned Jerry Klein. For many years Jerry served as the director of the Bible Chair. He's been handling the fall semester teaching responsibilities while maintaining his work as one of the ministers for the Comanche Trail Church of Christ. He's also done a lot to help me so far, and has pledged to lend his assistance as I get started.

What an array of great friends (present and future) and co-workers!

The immediate future? My plan is to continue with the South Road congregation through the end of the year. We'll make the move shortly after the first of the year. Then, school starts at Amarillo College on January 17th.

With a ministry to wrap up, a house to sell, a house to buy, a cross-country move to make, a new work to begin, and some major holidays in between, we feel overwhelmed. If you don't hear from me at this blog anytime soon, you'll understand why.

Finally, I want to ask you to pray for South Road, for the Bible Chair ministry at Amarillo, and for my family. So long for now.

You can check out the Bible Chair's website here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Getting ready for school

My older daughter is nearly halfway through her junior year of high school. So you know one thing I'm thinking about: college.

I came across an interesting set of figures for various colleges and universities. The list can help prospective students get a feel for where they stand when in comes to their SAT scores. By the way, only one school affiliated with the Churches of Christ appears in the list. That's because my source (the N. Y. Times) reports on only those schools that accept fewer than 50% of their applicants.

What follows is a short, representative list. It gives the following: (1) The name of the school, (2) the percentage of applications accepted by that school, and (3) the range of the middle 50% of SAT scores among those accepted (i.e., excluding the top and bottom 25% of the SAT scores). Take a look:

Boston College, 32%, 1240-1410

Emory, 39%, 1300-1460

Harvard, 11%, 1400-1580

Notre Dame, 30%, 1280-1470

Oberlin, 37%, 1250-1440

Pepperdine, 27%, 1110-1310

Rice, 22%. 1330-1540

U. N. C., Chapel Hill, 36%, 1190-1390

U. of Tennessee, 44%, 1000-1230

Vanderbilt, 38%, 1270-1440

Yale, 10%, 1400-1560

The school on the list with the most number of applications? U.C.LA. with 43,199! How'd you like to be at the bottom of that stack?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Decisions, decisions

A few days ago, I got an e-mail prayer request from a long-time friend. This person is thinking about going into a challenging ministry that would sometimes bring the threat of violence. The message included this statement: "I know that God is good; but I also know that He is not safe."

That very same day I came across this line by C.S. Lewis: "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

The idea that God's best might be the harder way, that it might even bring a cross . . . I struggle with that. There have been times when I've regretted being so tough on myself, seeing later that taking the harder way was more noble only in my mind. At other times I've been ashamed that I took the easier way, seeing later that I had dodged an opportunity to act like Christ in his unselfishness.

This is why we're told to pray for wisdom. We don't have the insight we need in order to make most subtle distinctions. If this is right, then praying for wisdom is sort of like the referee getting a look at the replay of a close call. After reviewing the play, the decision is usually a lot easier and is made with more confidence. I think that the passage of time, a good night's rest ("Let me sleep on it"), and talking with respected friends can also serve the same sort of purpose in our decision-making.

- - - - - -

"Think globally, act locally." Along that line, one thing that seems clear enough is that the future of Christianity will be increasingly eastern and southern (think hemispheres) and non-white. So I'm curious about what western, northern, Anglo churches should do or do differently in order to make the most of a sea change like that.

At the same time, it seems like maybe God is dropping the world on the doorsteps of the churches in America. I remember hearing Evertt Huffard talk about this. The other day, wandering around in a Hartford neighborhood, I came upon an all-Vietnamese video store(!)

I already knew that there were some Brazilians in Hartford. But I didn't realize how many. Brazilian flags everywhere, in the windows of apartments, hanging from rearview mirrors of cars parked in the street. Brazilian stores and restaurants. For a minute it seemed like an out-of-the way neighborhood in Sao Paulo.

Meanwhile, a huge percentage of Churches of Christ in the U.S. are almost entirely white and middle class, any immigrant status of the members left behind for at least a generation.

What to do? There's that need for wisdom again. . . .

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Spades, shovels, and a swimming good time

For a few decades now, evangelical Christians of all types have been moving away from the tack that says, "Let's authenticate the Bible with archaeology." But back in the heyday of William F. Albright--the real Indiana Jones--it was common to find Bible-confirming archaeological news in the pages of Christianity Today magazine, the vanguard of modern American Evangelicalism.

A lot's happened since then: Albright died in 1971. About the same time, social currents and political events in the United States cast a heavy shadow on previously-trusted authority. Perhaps never again will Americans believe something just because a father figure announced it. (Think: from "Father Knows Best" to "The Simpsons").

Maybe people at church began to notice that whenever a new discovery seemed to confirm some aspect of biblical history, unbelievers didn't rush in to be baptized.

Maybe some began to rediscover that, even in the first century, Christian faith did not depend on or wait for direct access to historical foundations: "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Peter 1:8).

And maybe the likes of William Dever, whose more-recent and influential writings on archaeology run counter to Albright's positive interpretations, have put a dent in all the enthusiasm over "something just discovered."

Whatever the reasons, the enterprise called "biblical archaeology" looks a lot different than it did in, say, 1965.

But I have to confess, as someone who grew up going to church and who's now come to some sort of grown-up orthodox Christian faith, I still get a kick out of the occasional story about a team that's recently unearthed evidence that what the Bible casually asserts is exactly the way it was. That is to say, while I don't trust in biblical archaeology news, I do like it.

And here's the latest: the Pool of Siloam. You know, Jesus said to the blind man, "Here's mud in your eye. Now go and wash in the Pool of Siloam"? Well, for a long time it was regarded by some as a metaphor only: the man was sent there by Jesus and, as John 9:7 explains, the name of the pool means "sent."

The strictly-metaphorical understanding of "the Pool of Siloam" fed the idea that John's Gospel has little connection to any real history surrounding Jesus. According to this view, the Fourth Gospel is not the selected biography that modern readers would naturally take it to be. Rather, it's more like a spiritual fantasy, a narrative about Jesus where, unlike in the Book of Revelation, the constant symbolism shows up incognito.

Hmmm. Meanwhile, it turns out that the Pool of Siloam really was there. And you can read about it here. Go ahead, take the plunge.