Leading from Abundance

From Theresa Latini

I’ve spent the past few days at Duke University Divinity School, discussing the topic of leadership with a diverse group of women and men serving congregations, denominational offices, colleges, and seminaries throughout the United States. Our “convocation of leaders” will gather throughout the next eighteen months for the sake of vocational formation, specifically to grow in our capacities to cultivate communities of faith and to create institutional structures that enable such communities to flourish. We’ve read an interesting array of books and articles in the fields of biblical studies, practical theology, and faith and health, and we’ve visited with an inspiring pastor whose leadership exemplifies an abiding trust in Jesus’ words: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10).  

The phrase, “leading from abundance,” captures well the central theme running through our discussions. Rest assured this is no prosperity gospel; this notion of leading, grounded in the promises of God and in the One who is God’s Promise fulfilled, won’t be found at the Osteens’ church (as best I can tell).

Leading from abundance begins with profound trust in God. It is a trust that the Spirit’s presence is already at work in our communities. It is a trust that Jesus Christ lives and therefore so do we. 


A Few Recommendations for Fall

From Jennifer L. Holberg

This week ushers in my favorite season: fall. And here in Grand Rapids that also means ArtPrize--which opens today. Since its beginning in 2009, ArtPrize has been an unparalleled opportunity to have community-wide discussions about aesthetics and culture and popular taste. What has won (and what hasn't) has occasioned praise and pans alike. When the hometown paper is publishing debates about artwork, something has to be going right.  With the inclusion of juried prizes this year, I think the conversations will only continue to get richer.

But ArtPrize isn't the only cultural event I'm looking forward to this fall. Here's a few things I'm anticipating (or beginning to enjoy already):

The book I'm most looking forward to is Marilynne Robinson's Lila, out October 7th.  Already longlisted for this year's National Book Awards, Robinson's novel is the third work to examine the lives of the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa. Here, she turns her attention to a character who remained quietly in the background inGilead and Home: John Ames' 2nd wife, Lila. Lila is a character who seems like she would be more at home, perhaps, in Robinson's first novel, Housekeeping, but from the sneak peek I read (and the fine reviews by Leslie Jamison in The Atlantic, "The Power of Grace," and Adam Petty, "The Quantum Mechanics of the Lower Midwest," for the Marilynne Robinson Appreciation Society) it seems that Robinson has triumphed again at showing the complicated, dense lives of everyone who lives in our towns, images of God everyone one.

I can't wait.  


Grandma's Baptism

From Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

“I’m going to baptize my grandkids this summer!”

These were the words of an Elder in my congregation, a grandmother, as she headed out for some vacation with her daughter and grandchildren in a faraway state.

We’d had several conversations about this before she left. She “knew” all the correct answers. Baptism didn’t change God’s awareness of or orientation toward her two little darlings. God loved them regardless, before and after baptism.

We talked about the importance of parental participation and church support for baptism to come to fruition in faith. Our grandma Elder’s daughter, the children’s mother, wasn’t active in any church. Really she wouldn’t identify as a Christian, but like everyone else her age she was “spiritual.”


“Emerging adulthood,” Part I

From Jessica Bratt

I really appreciated psychologist Laurence Steinberg’s article last week, “The Case for Delayed Adulthood.” He acknowledges that the societal ways we talk about the path to adulthood often end up disparaging and blaming the young adults who are on longer timelines when it comes to traditional definitions of adulthood. He makes a case, however, for the many benefits that can stem from the challenges and new experiences that often mark those years of exploration and transition. The neuroplasticity of our brains, a capacity that we lose as we settle into later adulthood, allows the novel experiences of our adolescent and young adult years to foster openness, creativity, and growth.


The sacrament of music, and the Maker of heaven and earth

Following the recent unveiling of their most recent gadgetry, Apple announced that they had an additional surprise for the world—or, more specifically, for their half billion or so iTunes customers—they were now proud owners of U2’s new album, “Songs of Innocence.”   

In the days following the surprise release of their album, U2 revealed that while the album arrived free of charge for iTunes users, Apple paid (and paid well) for it. In an interview, Bono quipped, “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament.”

Regardless of what one thinks of U2’s new album, or Apple’s surprise release of it, I was fascinated by Bono’s offhand affirmation. Many of even my most skeptical friends would affirm the same: there is something sacramental—something rich, sacred, and holy—about music… and, about a good bit of the rest of material, physical life. There is something richly good about the pop and hiss of Gershwin on vinyl, or the hum of an urban neighborhood at night; the plaintive fuzz of a My Bloody Valentine album, and the silence of a wooded hillside.  

This persistent sense that this material world is profoundly good is richly affirmed in the Christian credo. The living God is “maker of heaven and earth.” The universe, with its billions of galaxies, and our life in each of its moments, are a creation. The Christian vision of life in the material universe is stunningly unique- both in the ancient and modern worlds. Most parallel creation-myths in the ancient Near East see the world as a product of conflict between gods; Eastern religions see physical reality as an illusion; and the narrative of modern secularism sees the material world as a mere accident. The biblical story, on the other hand, sees all of life as an expression of the wisdom, ingenuity, and joyful creativity of the Creator.  

Moreover, being a Christian means believing that the living God loves the cosmos so stubbornly that he stoops into it and assumes the stuff of physical life in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And that through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, God has begun the work of repairing his creation. There may be no more this-worldly way of life than Christian faith!

Just last week, the church I serve bought a building. The sanctuary is a soaring, Byzantine-style structure, designed to echo the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.  Built in the 6th century AD, the Hagia Sophia is glorious, transcendent—and, in disrepair.  Beautiful mosaics, here and there, peek through the ugly of plain plaster. In the 15th century, the church was transformed into a mosque, covering all the ancient beauty of the mosaics.  But since 1935, when it was made a museum, piece by piece, restoration has begun: plaster is peeled, scraped, and chipped, and the old beauty returns.  

This is what the Creator is doing through Christ: repairing the beautiful and broken cathedral that is this cosmos.

Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).