Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

2/15 2013

Ashes to Ashes

A few days ago Christians of both Protestant and Catholic flavors around the globe celebrated Ash Wednesday, or at the very least acknowledged it. This day is to serve as a mark, not only to the start of the Lenten season but also to our constant and continued dependence on God in our lives, for from dust we are and to dust we shall return, and dust we would still be if it were not for the craftmanship of the Creator.

At the service I attended on Wednesday, the pastor talked about having a choice.  He used the analogy of preparing plates of food, for a lot of time we may be tempted when dividing out the portions to put the better food and larger quanities on the plate we designate for ourselves.  But when it comes to serving the food, we then have a choice: do we keep the better, larger portion for ourselves, or do we serve that instead to the other person.

So we’re talking about something more than just a plate of food, even if it’s a plate of aparagus risotto with extra parmesan.  We are talking about this sculpted biological complicated heterogeneous yet functioning pile of ashes we call a body through which we facilitate and navigate this equally complex time process we call life.  And the question then becomes, what portion of life are we serving God?

To me that seems a strange question, like wearing a suit you know isn’t yours, so I sat at my computer and stared at it. As I grappled with this question, I realized the wording of dividing and portions in my brain brought about this image of shared custody, that some days I had control over my life and other days God had control.  Which is ridiculous, for I neither have the power nor the strength to be in control of something like that.  And giving of your life by assigning a specific portion to God doesn’t seem possible since the definition of all that equates to life is multi-faceted.

So maybe the question should be worded: Is our life serving God?

-Rebecca Dix, MDiv student


1/25 2013


Doxology and Amen

I keep a lot of the little notes of encouragement that students leave on my desk to look at when times are tough. They’re awesome:

Hi J…stay awesome. You are the coolest. Thanks for everything. I swear your prayers helped me.

And indeed, when times are tough I need only look just beyond my computer to my bookshelf to see the affirmation of students. It’s enough to lift me out of a funk. It’s enough to keep me moving. These post it notes, and this is saying something, can be almost as effective as coffee when I need a kickstart to my day.

These notes however have the potential to be deadly. I, being human, struggle a lot with pride. I struggle with the thought that I am in fact the coolest. That I am in fact awesome. I am tempted to run in this direction from time to time, which makes a much bigger deal out of ME than I could possibly be.

And so I added a new post it note to my bookshelf:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow Praise Him all creatures here below Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost.

The first line in the doxology seems particularly important. The blessings in my life aren’t my own. They’re not a result of hard work and dedication, hard work and dedication are the stewardship of blessing. I am not cool. Seriously, find my high school year book. I am not cool. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything. My world is not perfect. And that’s ok. God gives me all that I need to get through the day. God gives me all I need to survive.

I want my life to be more of a living doxology. I want to walk down the street and have people know that I am living an act of praise. I want to be different. I want to be content. I want to live like I know where my blessings come from rather than brag about how many blessings I have. I want to be that guy. I want to be that guy around the kids I’m honored to serve. I want to be that guy so much that they know what being that guy is like. I want to be a living doxology.

Who’s with me?

By Jason Freyer, an MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who is involved in youth ministry.

Follow this link for more blog posts by Jason: http://www.j-blog.net/


12/20 2012

Faith: As The Waters Cover The Sea

Advent lectionary on the PCUSA website has Isaiah 11: 1-9 listed multiple times.  The narrative is titled “The Peaceful Kingdom” in my NRSV Bible. The narrative offers an image of peace:  wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and lion, cow and bear. The powerful shall be led by a little child. A child can play alongside the most poisonous of snakes. In this vision—it will be a promised reality because the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth—like the waters cover the sea.

This is the stuff of Christmas cards, Christmas pageants, and simple songs. It is not the logo for living life too much of the time; rather, it is an ideal, as a sometime far-off hope, a gentle political vision; a day in December with candlelight and soft songs; careful drawings of lion in protective embrace of the innocent-eyed lamb. These verses shaped my identity from the time I was a small child. It seems ordinary to imagine in my little girl mind a lion and a lamb—mostly.  It seems still that is the primary relationship between animals recalled this time of year, though here in this particular set of verses—it is a lion and a wolf. Not so much the adder and child intertwined, or the bear and the cow, the leopard and the goat. Intriguing though to consider in my adult imagination—even now—less possible perhaps given the graphic video narratives of snakes of the world or the great grizzlies to the North or the gray wolf packs making their way through blizzard conditions. There is a tension in this tri-part book of Isaiah.

One of a poetic vision, like this text, and another one of enemies which impede the reality of the vision requiring a resilient hope of a kind we are not accustomed to consider. Enemies of our own making and enemies who see us with fear. This tension weaves back and forth throughout the book. When all else fails there is a possible possibility for a future not yet experienced because after all we know really how lions, adders, wolves and bears are driven by instinct. We need to protect ourselves from the enemies which abound all around us.

I have learned to assume nothing in this biblical text or in any other part of scripture.  I cringe when preachers are so certain in the preaching of a text. I’d rather not hear it for they assume a certainty and a quickness which is not present in Isaiah. Those who know this text intimately, have studied it for all their adult lives, are keenly aware of its patient and careful construction aimed toward a particular set of present moments to evoke the patient promise of participating in renewal and restoration. It is as one scholarly author titled his book:  prophecy and propaganda.

In Advent, if it is to be purposive, is it not to challenge? Lay the groundwork for the courage to consider a shift from constant fear and what feeds it to faith and what fulfills it? To do so requires of us courage and patience and vulnerability and honesty. From whence does faith come? The point is not an idealized lion and lamb in warm embrace—the point is facing the abyss and the terror—understanding the waters and the sea as one.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Susan Kendall, Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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