Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

12/18 2017

The Fight for . . . Not Against

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prayers for healingIn the midst of polarizing political and denominational battles, the word “fight” may turn many of you away from reading this. However, the fight I’m describing has nothing to do with political rhetoric and is far removed from congregational committees and denominational commissions. It is a fight that no one will know I am in by looking at the smile on my face or by hearing the sermons that I preach. I am fighting for the life of our unborn daughter who was recently diagnosed with a critical congenital heart defect. I am not fighting the health care system nor am I at odds with insurance companies. I do not think that I am fighting with evil forces nor am I fighting with/or against God. Honestly, I have no idea exactly “who” my fight is against.

Perhaps, not having an enemy to fight against is what is keeping me focused. I don’t see “that person’s face” when I sleep at night. There is no awkwardness when he/she walks into the room. I have accepted that my fight is a fight “for” rather than a fight “against.” Simply put, I fight for our daughter to be born and to live. My fight daily brings me to my knees and I feel closeness to the Lord that strengthens me. My fight drives me to the pages of Holy Scripture to immerse myself into the Story that imparts hope. My fight pushes me to seek out the prayers of the saints who have allowed our suffering to become their own.

Simply put, I fight for our daughter to be born and to live.

I am not theologically naïve to believe that somehow I am wrestling with God or that my family is being tested. Instead, we are confronted by the frailty of the human condition that cannot save itself. Yet, at the same time, we are placing a degree of trust in human ingenuity that can operate on a baby’s heart soon after birth.

I believe that God is greater than critical congenital heart defects and human ingenuity. I believe that Jesus can heal. I believe that the Spirit is at work in this situation in ways we cannot see. I also believe that as I fight for my daughter’s life, I am called to fight for other children whose fate is uncertain. As I sit in different doctor’s offices, I now look at the faces of those who sit in anticipation of the “news” and pray for them. I no longer cling to my conscious ignorance toward those “sick” people who are all around me. This fight for our daughter’s life has opened me to the fight of others. At this time in my family’s life, these words of Jesus feel especially real, “ in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

The Rev. Keith Kaufold ’07/’12 is the lead pastor of a circuit that includes United Methodist Churches in West Homestead, Swissvale, and Millville; pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Aspinwall; and founding pastor of Eighth Avenue Place—a church plant and Christian community that confronts the ignorance that perpetuates racism and lives and ministers together in the name of Jesus Christ. Keith is currently enrolled in the master’s in social work program at California University of Pennsylvania.

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11/17 2017

Did We Really Do Things Better Back Then?

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On the Field

I got to the soccer field five minutes before the end of practice, in time to hear the closing strains of a plaid-skirted mother’s rant to her friend about the way they teach math these days: “So I said, why are you beginning with centimeters? How hard is it to carry the ones?” (I’m just reporting what I heard, folks, not trying to make sense of it.)

At first annoyed—get over it—I then dropped my stone and let it roll away, for I’ll admit it: I do the same thing. They did everything better when we were young.

In the Classroom

Take teaching a kid to play the saxophone.

My seventh-grade son plays the professional model saxophone my parents bought for me my senior year in high school, when they thought I was going to college to study music. That purchase was a few months before God started messing with my life, eventually inviting me to become a preacher. I played that saxophone for nine months; my mom thinks God still owes her $2,000.

But now my son plays the instrument. And I can’t believe how they’re teaching him to play. First, all the other saxophonists hold their horns between their legs, but I won’t let him. My son is going to position the thing to the side of his body, the right way—the way I was taught.

And don’t they teach kids to speak rhythms anymore? When I try to help him with a tricky rhythm, I say, “Speak it with me: 1, trip-l-et, 3-&, 4—da, one …

And he looks at me like it’s time to chat with his mother about my fitness for fatherhood.

The stone I drop hits my sore toe and tumbles a few feet away.

And in the Church Too

And we do the same thing in the church too, don’t we? It’s not just the schools that used to do it better.

I recently saw an article skipping through the fields of Facebook entitled, “Hymnals Are Back to Stay,” and all the people I know who know that singing out of hymnals is the right way to do it—the way they did it back when people still came to church—were smiley-emoji-ing the heck out of the comments section.

None of us, of course, can remember the time when hymnals were the new technology, and I can only imagine what the nostalgia-prone set was saying then. It might have gone something like this: “Remember when we all used to have the same seven hymns memorized, and we sang them over and over again? How unfortunate for the kids these days—they’ll have to sing something new almost every week!”

And now, having recently commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I can’t help but think how much better Christianity was back in the 16th Century, when Protestants really believed in sola scriptura (none of this consulting-experience-to-figure-out-the-truth stuff), and justification by faith alone was still fresh and exciting, and we actually killed the people we disagreed with rather than merely crucifying them online. I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about it.

We all do it, I’m sure, about one thing or another—reminisce about how we used to do things—so maybe we should all drop our stones.

And while we’re at it, maybe we should toss away the stones in our other pocket as well, the ones we’re saving for those poor, misguided people who actually think the way we do things now is just fine, even better than it used to be—however unimaginable that seems to some of us.

The soccer practice was wrapping up. The coach was giving the final pep-talk to the girls circled around her, and that gave the plaid-skirted mom time for just one more complaint, this one about the teacher’s eschewing flash cards in teaching multiplication tables.

“She just thinks they can use a calculator! And so I went out and bought flash cards, and I’ve been quizzing Suzy every night because I want her to know them like this,” she says, snapping rapid-fire to indicate the speed with which she learned her multiplication tables as a child. “When she sees ‘8 × 3’ I want her to think right away: ‘16.’”

Ah, those were the good ole’ days, weren’t they?

 

The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens is associate professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches courses in the MDiv, Doctor of Ministry, and Continuing Education programs. Before coming to PTS he served urban and rural churches for eight years in North Carolina as co-pastor with his wife, Ginger. He has written multiple books including The Shape of Participation: A Theology of Church Practices which was called “this decades best work in ecclesiology” by The Christian Century.

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9/18 2017

Seeing God in the World through Short-term Mission

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short-term mission trip participants, The Netherlands

WMI Netherlands 2017 mission trip participants at the community of Nijkleaster

WMI Brazil 2016 mission trip participants learn from church planters in Sao Paulo

In the fall of 2014, my wife, TJ, encouraged me to look into going on a mission trip through Pittsburgh Seminary’s World Mission Initiative. I was apprehensive in the beginning because this was my first year in seminary and I had never been outside the United States or Canada. After looking at the different trips offered in the spring, I joined a group that regularly met over lunch to share about their relationships with folks that they met while in Southeast Asia on previous WMI mission trips. Through the stories I heard and the learned reality of God’s people in this land, I had to go for myself and witness what God was doing in that place.

After receiving financial help from the World Mission Initiative, the Shortridge Fund, and many generous friends and family members, I was headed across the Pacific to meet these people and hear their stories and be with them in worship, study, and prayer. On a cold February day in 2015, a group of us departed from Pittsburgh and flew 12 time zones to experience life as a Christian in a completely different culture than our own. Through this one trip I was able to explain to others back home that the world is not at all what we have been conditioned to believe but instead the world is full of beautiful people that are made in the image of God.

Fruitful Ministries Around the World

My first trip to Southeast Asia also allowed me to see what it is like to have fruitful ministries in places that we would least expect. Most churches that we visited were either additions to someone’s home or simply someone’s living room. But the Holy Spirit was present in these places and God was moving through the church leaders that we met, and the Christian faith was growing.

In the following months as I grew spiritually, I was able to see that God was really pointing me in the direction of church planting. My experience that I had in the spring showed me that God does not need walls and a hymnal to show up; but God needs people connecting with other people. So I began to connect with others and listen to stories and hear how the Spirit was moving in communities and in relationships. Once again, I was able to travel with WMI to Brazil and continue my listening journey. As we traveled around the state of Sao Paulo, we met with innovators in church planting that were wrestling with their faith, listening to others, and finding a place to welcome their neighbors. That was what God was calling me to hear and I heard it—loud and clear.

God in the 21st Century U.S.

Just a couple months after our Brazil trip, my wife traveled with WMI to Kenya and was too introduced to a new culture and a new way of defining church. This experience sparked in her what I had been unraveling since I first started traveling. We talked about culture and faith and this helped us to better discern our future together in church planting. But for me, there was still a burning question: what is God up to in the 21st century U.S.? To discover this, I journeyed again with WMI to the Netherlands to see what God was up to in a secular society.

In the cold, windy, rainy countryside known as Friesland, our group met with a gathering of people that have called themselves Nijkleaster (translated: New Monastery). This project was based out of a nearly 1,000-year-old church and included folks from all walks of life and faith traditions. They gathered on Wednesday mornings and occasionally on Sundays to dive into Scripture, pray for each other and the world, and to experience God through one another and through contemplative practices. The most profound experience occurred Wednesday morning when we took a pilgrimage walk with the folks of the monastery. This was a time of reflection and prayer and allowed people to walk around the farmlands and be totally blessed by the presence of others. What I heard God say on that walk was that people desire to be accepted and loved. They do not want fancy solutions to their simple problems; people want to be loved, just as Jesus commands.

If there is one theme that goes throughout my journey of international travels with WMI it would be that God wants to show us something, and to see it we have to be attentive to the Spirit working through others in this world. Are you unsure about whether you should go on a WMI trip? I encourage you to go and see and hear what God has in store for you.

The World Mission Initiative is now accepting applications for the 2018 spring break trips to Egypt (Church Planting in Context), Colombia (Cultures of Violence, Culture of Peace), and Israel/Palestine (Listening to Palestinian Voices). Learn more about these trips!

Ryan Lucas is a senior M.Div. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He and his wife, TJ, are raising their daughters while both attending seminary and serving the churches and communities they love.

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