{Many Questions and Few Answers Along the Never-Finished Journey of Faith}

Reflections on a Mentor and a Friend

As I stated in my last post, my mentor and good friend, Rev. Joseph Roberson, was killed last Saturday in a car accident. This is a tragic loss for his family, the community of Columbus, GA, the South GA Conference, the United Methodist Church, and countless friends he had all over the world.

I met Joe 12 years ago when I worked at the first VBS his church had in over 30 years. Joe kept up with me over the years and when I was in need of a candidacy mentor for ordination he volunteered himself to the DS to be my mentor. Over the next year or so I learned a lot from Joe-directly and indirectly, spoken and unspoken. At the end of our meetings he would always remind me, “Ben, my friend, you know I’m just a phone call away if you need anything!” Below I would like to share in short bullet points some of those lessons for ministry he shared with me:

  • Never read your own press clippings- This was Joe’s way of saying that one should not spend too much time measuring their public success in ministry. He took a church of 40 members and turned it into a 700+ member church. the largest African-American church in South GA, in 15 years. He did this located directly across the street from government housing projects. He established day-care for working parents and provided many other services of noteworthy value to that community-one many in Columbus would consider the “ghetto.” But through it all he never spent too much time talking about his success. If he did, it was always in the context of the success of the community. A good lesson to learn for many of us in a society driven off celebrity status and a need to garner attention.
  • The Church’s problems are not unique; after all, the Church is nothing but a microcosm for the world- I would complain to Joe about how nasty people in the church could be. I always said the problems seemed to run much deeper in the church-maybe because of the passion of the conviction? He would give me trademark smirk and quickly inform me the church is not unique in its problems. It is a microcosm for the world. The problems of the world infiltrate the church every time the community meets. Maybe he knew this as an African-American pastor of people who life seemed to always kick when they were already down? Maybe he was right, after all, what is the Gospel if it does not address the very problems of the world around us?
  • I am here to be your cheerleader-Joe told me early on that the process of ordination was a painful one where many would see it their job to critique me to no end in the hopes that I become an effective pastor-at least to their standards. Joe, as my mentor, told me that was not his job. He felt he would better serve me by building me up instead of tearing me down. Now many might say that he was leaving out an important role of a mentor but during this process I needed it. On the one hand, I did have many who felt it necessary to critique me-often bordering on over-critiquing. I was already unsure of my call in that I didn’t feel worthy of such a task as the vocation of pastor. So when I went to see Joe and had him always tell me how gifted I was and how he just knew God had big plans for me and that God was going to take me far in ministry it meant the world. His edification held me up when I wouldn’t hold myself up sometimes.

I must admit that his funeral was an amazing experience. 4 hours of gospel singing, reflections, and a eulogy from Bishop James Swanson that lit a fire in St. Luke UMC that I have never witnessed in a worship experience was a tremendous experience. But I came back home, and my mentor and friend Joe is no longer a phone call away. I have learned the truly difficult lesson that it is often when life intersects ministry that being a pastor becomes tough. I thank God for Joe. And, in my honest moments, I am still deciding how I feel about all of this. This is not easy and, frankly, it’s not fair. Though I can now, in a new and fresh way, speak to how God will show up in the whirlwinds of our lives-even when we don’t really want God there.

Paralyzed Man in Vegetative State is Found to be Conscious

Coma Recovery Story

This story is about a man who was thought to be in a vegetative state and, after 20+ years, has come out and is able to communicate by guiding a speech therapist’s hand across a keyboard. What is also fascinating is the under-story here. Modern science seems to be in disagreement with itself. On the one hand, it was a modern form of a brain scan that revealed that this man was actually in a coma and not in a permanent vegetative state. They think for a good while he was actually conscious inside of a totally paralyzed body. Miracle? Well, the counterpoint is that modern science also says this is not possible and they are doing “guided communication”  with this patient.

I find this a bit intriguing that many in science are okay with science as long as it stays out of the miracle business. Or, at least if it does venture into miracles, it better be able to explain exactly how they happened. I wonder if this is not God demonstrating that science begins not with us as advanced humanity but with, dare I say it, with God. What if this was a miracle? Do we believe it? I’m guessing we don’t-it’s much easier to write God off then actually stop and try to unpack the depth of such a thing. Thoughts? Comments?

 

**as a side note I want to ask for prayer for the family and friends of Rev. Joe Roberson. He was tragically killed Saturday night in a car accident. He was a husband and father of 4. He was a leader and mentor. He was my mentor and my very good friend. I will be posting soon on some thoughts and feelings of losing someone close to you-I’m just not ready to do so yet.**

Emerging Evangelicals?

Last night my student group at school sponsored a lecture by Will Willimon. In the course of this lecture he illustrated various characteristics of what it means to be an Emerging Evangelical.

Emerging:

This refers to two main characteristics. One is that those born after 1980 are referred to as the Emerging Generation. This notes the age of many who are lumped into this category. It is a study of contrast when one compares many of the religious tastes of Emerging folks vs. Boomers or Gen Xers. Emerging Generation folks don’t seem to as consumed by that which makes us different. The idea of diversity is more than a buzz word for emerging folks-it’s often a reflection of reality. In terms of church, being ecumenical is also a reality and more than a mere program name as it is for those of older generations. Willimon pointed out to us that often this characteristic comes from the notion that Emerging folks know they don’t know it all.

The second connotation of this term refers to the reclaiming many of this generation are trying to do with the older, traditional liturgical styles. It’s often funny to me how many Boomers want to advertise “contemporary” worship in their churches and they are singing songs that are 20 years old. This is NOT contemporary. This is not hip or cool either. I am encouraged that many in the Emerging generation have figured out that the church should not be in the business of trying to be “relevant” in terms of music and worship. We know there is better stuff on MTV. We don’t come to church for a concert or to be entertained. This reclaiming of historical liturgy, I believe, comes from the compelling notion that we need something different in church from that which is found in society.

Evangelical:

I will not spend a huge amount of time writing on this term as it is a favorite subject of mine and I will be writing more and more on this over the coming months and years. I will say that Willimon pointed out (and I agree with him) that we are seeing a reaction now to what can be called Traditional Evangelicalism. The works of Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, and Jerry Fallwell have finally been disputed to the point their fallacies have outnumbered their merits. Being evangelical is becoming something, I hope, that is not exclusive both in polity and practice. Newer writings of William Abraham, Will Willimon, and others advocate a more inclusive sense of the term to better mirror the nature of Jesus Christ himself. People like Howard Snyder have reclaimed the notion of Missio Dei to link the ideas that mission and evangelism are intertwined and not easily separated.

All of this to say that I am encouraged that we may be turning the corner into a new day of theological reflection that would choose to reclaim traditional terms rather than merely concede and attach “neo” or “post” to the beginning of that word to denote a difference. I am biased but being evangelical (note the “e” and not “E”) is the very essence of living a Christian life. It is a life that seeks holiness A ND reconciliation with all that this life has separated by human sin. It seeks to live as something different from this world but not justified on the terms of being SEPARATE from this world. It is the idea that we are to GO and MINISTER to ALL who we come in contact with. It means we are to LIVE Jesus Christ just as much as we SPEAK Jesus Christ.

Adam Hamilton: "The Church offers what is desperately needed"

Hamilton does a great job expressing the relationship between the social and evangelical gospel as the total mission of the church never to be separated from one another. Great stuff. Reflections to come…