Thursday, January 21, 2010

Skool, Part 3 (Or, "Back to School, Back to School")

Skool is an (allegedly) on-going series in which I reflect on my experience in the Pastor's School of Sojourn Community Church here in Louisville, KY. Beyond that experience, I hope to challenge the mode of pastoral training in America, now exported throughout the world. As a former staff member of an undergraduate ministry training college (and an honors graduate of that same college), I want to write with sensitivity yet honesty, asking first, "Is our system biblical?" and second, "Is our children learning?" (;-), W 43). Previous posts can be found here, here, and here.

This morning marked the start of the second semester of the first year of Sojourn's Pastor's School.  I don't know if I've ever been so excited to be somewhere at 6 am.  (Usually for me, excited and 6 am aren't in the same sentence.)  Last semester's three modules of study featured eldership/leadership, preaching, and biblical counseling, with biblical theology reading being assigned throughout the semester.  We returning students had homework due today, a manuscript for a 5-15 minute sermon explaining the Gospel.  Pastor Nathan Ivey will teach us first, as our first module is Missions, Mercy, and Evangelism, the area in which he provides pastoral leadership within our body.  I expect to get my guts kicked in over the next five weeks.  I have a very convenient way of hiding behind my busy schedule, making excuses regarding getting to know my neighbors and preaching the gospel to them.  Nathan took that head-on today.  I can only expect more of the same over the coming weeks.

My training for leadership in the Church (something in the pastoring/planting/missions spectrum) will look a little different this Spring, not because of something new, but rather, something old.  As planned, I am returning from my grad work Sabbath and have re-enrolled at Southern Seminary, my once and future (Lord willing) alma matter, a school of no little importance.  I am also taking a further academic step by becoming Dr. Carlton's Garrett Fellow, grading for/assisting him in the Missions program at Boyce College.

Am I a hypocrite, then?  Am I abandoning the concept of church-based ministry training?  Am I biting the hand that's fed me for many years and now, yet again, will put me through school?  No.  I certainly hope not.  For starters, I've come to learn that blind loyalty is not loyalty at all.  It's a passive form of selfishness, seeking to serve oneself with a conflict-free relationship when good relationships call for open, honest, conversation that will often look like conflict.  Also, personal attacks and slander are sins that I desire to keep far from me.  The leadership of the school, including those who laid me off, are my brothers in Christ and I harbor no bitterness towards them.  That said, I have several thoughts on why I am returning to Southern Seminary and what I hope to gain from my experience there.

  • First and foremost, I hope to gain a degree.  I do believe that it is regrettable that the Master of Divinity has become a sort of prerequisite to pastoral ministry and work, especially since 1 Tim. 3:1-7 sets up a much more strenuous and exacting standard than any seminary could ever set.  But, there we are.   This is the system that is firmly ensconced.  The system must change if the church is to rapidly and powerfully expand.  Systems, however, are only successfully and sustainably changed from the inside.  Period.  The best revolutionaries are the ones who studied at the universities of their colonial occupiers and learned to see the defects in the system.  How much more so can Christians of differing viewpoints learn from each other?  
  • Secondly, I hope to gain helpful auxiliary knowledge.  There is no better place than the church to learn the preaching of the Word, to learn the inter-personal preaching of the Word that is Biblical Counseling, to learn evangelism, to learn worship, to learn leadership, etc.  Helpful things like biblical languages, Church history, and some of the finer points of academic theology, though, are more easily learned in the academy.  Seminary can help supplement, and it is a fine supplement.  The problem comes when people try to live off supplements.  Vitamins are not food!
  • Thirdly, I hope to enhance my experience of the church Catholic.  Christ's church consists of more than just mine, fortunately!  Many of (and some of the best) professors at Southern are elders in their churches, for instance, and many sweet people are students there.  I do hope to make (some) new friends, but I am ultra-wary regarding this as I'm not in college anymore.  Life is lived in the real world, and my relationships within the covenant membership of my church and with my co-workers and neighbors must continue to receive the priority.
With those goals, in mind, I have a few goals for myself, interpersonally.  
  • First, don't be a jerk.  This cannot be overstated.  While I don't think I'd go about intentionally insulting people, stealing lunch money, or stuffing nerds in lockers like your classic jerk might, I must be careful in how I speak in conversations especially regarding church life.  A friend of mine used to live in the dorms at Boyce.  It was related to me that he was having a debate with a hall mate over some issue, and the hall mate snapped at him: "Get off your Sojourn high horse."  While unequivocally condemning such an ungodly response, I must be careful to not espouse me and my viewpoints as being authoritative.
  • Second, don't over commit.  There's a thousand things to do at SBTS.  As Billy Madison would say, "I'm here to learn," and that means disciplining myself to avoid distracting student groups.
  • Third, do utilize the resources available.  Libraries, free gyms, beautiful scenery, all these things can be helpful and beneficial.
  • Fourth, don't overemphasize my seminary status.  My name is Paul Butterworth and I've been saved by Jesus Christ.  That is my identity.  My status does not come in any thing, and thus, I have no need to boast in being a seminary student.  I'm not ashamed of it, mind you.  It just doesn't need to be on the tip of my tongue.  I'm in grad school. Tens of thousands of Americans are in my same place, be it in law, medicine, business, education, et. al.  Being in seminary does not make me special.
So, there it is.  My schooling will continue in two fronts now.  The primary field of learning remains Sojourn Pastor's School.  As I was telling Pastor Mike the other day, I feel like I'm going back to school as a Sojourner going to seminary, not a seminarian going to Sojourn.  It's the difference that having a church family can make, and the difference from understanding God's plan for the world will be accomplished through the church.

More to come.  Seriously.  It won't be two plus months this time. :)

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

The 99 and the 1 (Problems)

One of my closest friends, Matt Gaylon, took the now former Sara Kandt to be his wife yesterday.  Although, I've known Matt since we were in college together, we first really started hanging out in the summer of 2007.   We were two members of a group of guys that began to bond closer than our previous acquaintanceship and the Epoch Crew was born.  It was in the course of one such Crew hangout that Matt quipped that a friend was having problems with his girlfriend.  Another friend (Jason Myhre, I think) proceeded to quote the poet, Jay-Z, proclaimed that "If you're having girl problems, I feel bad for you son."  "Man, I would love to have girl problems," Matt quipped.  Several months later, his pursuit of Sara would begin.

Since then, Jason and I often come back to the issue of the 100th problem (and my planned tweet, should I ever acquire one).  That has led me to ponder, though, what are my 99 problems?  Both things that afflict me and things that afflict others around me.  Here's what I have:
  1. My Flesh
  2. The World
  3. The Devil  
  4. The lust of the flesh
  5. The lust of the eyes
  6. The boastful pride of life
  7. Jealousy
  8. Covetousness
  9. Envy
  10. Fear of man
  11. Osama ben Laden
  12. State-sponsored terror
  13. State-sponsored genocide (including abortion)
  14. Oppressive states that prohibit religious freedom
  15. The New York Yankees
  16. The Dallas Cowboys
  17. The Liverpool Football Club
  18. The Chelsea Football Club
  19. The Los Angeles Lakers
  20. The San Antonio Spurs
  21. Mo' money
  22. Playa's
  23. Haters
  24. Playa-haters
  25. NBC dumping my favorite late night comic (#teamCoCo)
  26. The fact that The Office jumped the shark sometime after season 4
  27. The Star Wars prequels barely lived up to half of their potential
  28. The problem of evil
  29. The proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
  30. The Bowl Championship Series
  31. Cancer (specifically, that my mom's had it three times)
  32. Asthma (it afflicts both my parents)
  33. Gluten Intolerance (afflicts one brother and my father)
  34. H1N1 
  35. Bird Flu
  36. The proliferation of pornography
  37. The ready-availability of drugs and cheap booze in my neighborhood
  38. That I struggle to reach out to my neighbors
  39. I never got to see Bleach, Five Iron Frenzy, or Noise Ratchet in concert
  40. The Grammy's seldom recognize deserving artists
  41. The Recording Industry in America focuses more on money than music
  42. So many of my dear friends and relatives don't know Christ
  43. That I struggle to speak the Gospel to my friends and relatives who don't know Christ
  44. I haven't left the country since 2006
  45. Work can be a grind
  46. The majority of Americans drink bad coffee
  47. The tangled maze of Southern Baptist bureaucracy 
  48. The vicious political infighting of the Southern Baptist Convention
  49. Clinging to the traditions of men over the clear teaching of Scripture regarding issues like alcohol.
  50. Blaming it on the al-ah-ah-ah-al-co-hol
  51. Inconsistency
  52. My inconsistency
  53. Revenge
  54. Bitterness
  55. Passivity
  56. Laziness
  57. Grammar-Check on Microsoft Word
  58. Frustration
  59. Anger
  60. Busy work
  61. Reading secondary sources when primary sources are available
  62. That the MDiv degree is 90 hours long
  63. The increased professionalisation of Christian ministry
  64. Rampant egalitarianism in the home and church
  65. Tarring and feathering one's opponents on a given issue
  66. Elevating secondary issues to primary issues
  67. The Baptist Identity movement
  68. Racism
  69. Classism
  70. Sexism
  71. Narcissism
  72. Soccer not being embraced by a wider spectrum of the America public
  73. Square 1
  74. Winter's cold
  75. Occasionally breaking out in hives due to unknown allergies
  76. Communication difficulties
  77. Dissension
  78. Factions
  79. Natural disasters
  80. Legislating from the bench
  81. Big government
  82. That there are only 24 hours in a day
  83. That I can't really function off of < 5 hours sleep
  84. Poverty
  85. Violence
  86. Spam
  87. High Fructose Corn Syrup
  88. GMOs
  89. PACs
  90. Partisan Congressional Bickering
  91. The Republican Party
  92. The Democratic Party
  93. Catholic school girls who order Frappuccinos en masse
  94. The mothers of Catholic school girls who order half-caf sugar-free vanilla nonfat 1 & 1/2 Splenda lattes en masse.
  95. My iPod has been missing for several months
  96. Yoko Ono
  97. Congress has a vendetta against Djarum
  98. Dissatisfaction and discontentment
  99. My heart seeks satisfaction from idols, instead of the living God
There it is, in no particular order.  Some are deadly serious.  Some are comical or farcical.  Such is my life.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Baggage Claim": A Spoiler-Free (TM) Review of "Up in the Air" (2009, dir. by Jason Reitman)

A year ago (almost to a day) I was laid off from my primary job, beginning a crazy, hard, and at times, heartbreaking series of months.  Losing a job cuts to the core of a person, in part, because so often, we believe the lie that we are what we do.  Thus, losing a job means losing a large part of our identity.  Ryan Bingham's identity is being constantly in motion; essentially living on an American Airlines jet/in a Hilton Hotel, traversing the distance between the two in a Hertz rental.  He does the dirty work of HR, firing people on behalf of cowardly bosses.  Jason Reitman, Academy Award nominated director of Juno, directs George Clooney in a beautiful, artisan crafted motion picture that achieves that to which every Oscar nominated film aspires and presumptuously assumes - a quiet profundity.

Ryan Bingham adores the road and hates home.  He is the proficient model of efficient travel.  While sipping a drink at yet another Hilton bar, he meets Alex Goran, the model of feminist self-actualized libertine sexuality.  "Think of me as yourself with a vagina," she deadpans after some gratuitous (is there any other kind?) rear nudity.  The friendly skies now all the friendlier, Bingham has nothing to fear but SDF itself.  (Yep! He disses Louisville's airport!)  Enter Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick, apparently also in Twilight), the new girl in the office - 23 years old & fresh from Cornell - whose plans to revolutionize the industry mean the end of the world as Ryan knows it.

It's telling that this film, ostensibly about a lone wolf/lone ranger/lone star/lone eagle hatchet man, is amplified by a strong cast of backing actors, all of whom are especially terrific in character roles.  Jason Bateman (hero of Arrested Development, goat of Juno) is the opportunistic director of Bingham's company, J.K. Simmons (too many good parts to list, let's start with J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man) and Zach Galifianakis (my favorite subversive comic) are corporate drones removed from the hive, and Sam Elliott (Tombstone) dons his best Sully Sullenberg mustache.  I was especially glad to see Danny McBride (Rico, from Hot Rod, my favorite comedy of the 00s) as Ryan's future brother-in-law.

I said above that Reitman has made an artisan film.  From the vintage-feeling opening credits to the careful camera work, it's clear that this film is telling an important message that deserves to be heard.  As the story explores the baggage of relationships, loneliness, lust, wealth, and power, it offers some thought provoking reflections on the subjects at hand.  Ryan packs his life into his carry-on roller suitcase, a Gold-member of everything except his own life.  I would strongly encourage people to see this film, especially to watch it and discuss it in community.  It's the best film I've seen from last year, (better than The Hurt Locker and Up!, great films both), easily.  The only question is one, will you make the connection, and two, what will you pick up from the baggage claim?

91 out of 100.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Coming Soon to A Theater Near Me (Hopefully)

Oscar season is upon us, which is good news for people who like good movies.  It's also bad news for people who like good movies but often confuse pretentious with profound.  That said, the Academy has been on a tear of quality with Slumdog Millionaire (2008), No Country for Old Men (2007), and The Departed (2006).  The links are to reviews I wrote on this blog.  I have no shame in self-aggrandizement.  None.

So Paul, how have the flicks been this year?  Well, this year has mostly seen me watch a lot of popcorn fare, like Watchmen, and Star Trek.  Several films I saw this summer, though, are well worthy of accolade in their own right.  Pixar's Up and indie-Iraq war thriller The Hurt Locker were deeply moving films, while Inglourious Basterds beautiful and thought-provoking in Tarentino's own way.  Yes, that's another of my own reviews.

So, I thought I'd share with you what I'm planning to see over the next few weeks.  Two weeks ago, I celebrated the opening of Oscar season with Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  When I say it was fantastic, I'm not being cute.  When I think about it vs. Up vs. Ponyo (which I still haven't seen but everything that Japanese auteur Hiyao Miyazaki touches is solid gold) for Best Animated Feature (or is that Outstanding Achievement in Feature Animation?  Okay that's not a review I wrote.  Seriously, click the link and take a good long laugh courtesy of Christian Lander. Back to the sentence...), wow that's quite the throw-down.  I want to watch these films because they look beautiful, thought-provoking, bitter-sweet, or just plain sweet.

Invictus seems to have all the factors: Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, & Matt Damon.  Throw in rugby, Nelson Mandela, and an inspiring sports story that's based in real life?  It's almost too much.

Crazy Heart features a star ensemble cast in what looks like a charmingly made film about the rise and fall of stardom, and the wounds life leaves.

I haven't decided if I'm going to watch this or not.  I know that it's going to be ultra-intense, but, I think it depicts a reality that is more real than many of us know first-hand.  Precious tells the story of hope and fear in the midst horrific abuse.

Although I love the Fern Gully/Dances with Smurfs jokes, I hear that Avatar is truly mind blowingly beautiful.  I'd pay $8 to see beauty any day.

That's just a few examples.  What movies are you excited about?