Evil and the Board of Ordained Ministry

For seminary, I’ve been starting to work on some of what will one day be a response to questions in ordination paper work. Here’s my first go at the Book of Discipline’s question “What is your understanding of evil as it exists in our world?”

Here is my answer to the question of evil in an academic mode: Evil is the contradiction of good. It exists as a negation. It is a parasite. It is the darkness that is only visible in the presence of light. In an ontological sense, as Augustine taught us, evil does not exist.

This is the beginning of my academic answer. It is my bookshelf answer. It is not one that feels in any way adequate, however. Where life is lived, evil is real. I read this week a story about a man who bludgeoned a 3-year-old girl to death because she had an accident in her pants. You cannot retreat behind the cool, dispassionate pose of the academic musing on the nature of evil when you read such a story. Augustine’s argument about the non-existence of evil shatters in the face of such stories.

Or does it?

Augustine argued that evil does not exist because he knew that God is good. This good God created everything, and all that God created is good. Evil cannot exist as a thing because God could not have created it. God only creates good. This goodness is the light by which the darkness of evil becomes visible. We are repulsed by the story of a 3-year-old girl being beaten to death because we recognize that the world is not meant to be a place where that happens. Even if we in unbelief cannot name that place as God’s will, the grace of God whispers to us of a world in which such horrors do not happen. Evil can only be known as evil because we know of that other world, the world as God intends it to be. Evil is the gap between the world as it is and the world as God created it to be.

This is a world we both long for and resist. We resist it because it is the world in which our own will matches the will of God. It is the world in which we say, as Jesus did, not my will be done, but yours. We resist this because we are very much in love with our own will.

If you have ever read John Milton’s Paradise Lost, you know the real problem of evil. The real problem of evil is not that it is repugnant, but that it is so seductive. In Milton’s poem, it is hard not to admire Satan for his driving will, his resolution, and his declaration that he would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. Here is Frank Sinatra belting out his defiant “I did it my way.” Here is Katy Perry singing “Roar.” Here is the serpent in the garden urging Eve to think for herself. Evil comes to us in the disguise of independence and self-respect. It urges us to set up a false god called “my own thing.”

Of course, the real seduction of evil is that it takes things that are good – critical thought, perseverance in times of trial, determination, personal gifts – and uses them to shake us free of the God who is the source of all good. These things in service of God’s will are blessings. It is the way of evil, though, to take what is good and detach it from God, corrupting it. The evil we experience in our lives comes when human beings reject God.

Why not to go into ministry

Talbot Davis nails it.

 

For the love of the game

I’ve often thought that our trust issues in United Methodism would be helped with more public thinking by the men and women charged with leading our denomination.

This is why I have always valued Sky McCraken’s blog.

His latest post is a spot on example: A Pastor By Any Other Name — Revisited

The question that emerges for me after reading his post goes something like this: Would I be a pastor if there was no salary, no insurance, and no retirement plan? Would I do it because I was called and for no other reason?

If the answer is yes, then what would that look like?

The answer to my first two questions is “yes.” But I’m not sure what the answer to the third question would could be.

I wonder how you would answer.

Tales from candidacy interviews

This is one of those posts that I might live to regret the next time my dCom meeting comes around.

Here is the truth, though. I’ve been preaching in a United Methodist Church since April 2007. This year, 2014, for the very first time, I had someone in supervision of my ministry ask me to articulate my understanding of Wesleyan theology.

My answer that day was a brief walk through of the four alls of Methodism:

  • All need to be saved.
  • All can be saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.
  • All can know they are saved.
  • All can be saved to the uttermost.

I made sure to work in specific reference to Jesus Christ, as I’ve heard rumors of candidates for ordination not bringing up his name during interviews. Those rumors were confirmed a few minutes later.

One of the people interviewing me told me later — in response to a question of mine about how to prepare for the Board of Ordained Ministry in coming years — that one problem the Board encounters from time to time is candidates who cannot articulate a clear sense of who Jesus is and why he matters.

This still surprises me even as I type the words. Candidates for ministry who cannot talk about Jesus?

So, as a service to both our Boards of Ordained Ministry and future candidates for ordination, I’d be interested in hearing stories like these. Where to candidates struggle? What questions did you as a candidate never get that you expected to have to answer?

Has the ‘big sort’ come to the UMC?

Rev. Jen Stuart of First UMC in Austin, Texas, explains her decision to leave Texas and seek ordination in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. The short version: She wants to be ordained in a conference where she does not have to conceal her opposition to the Book of Discipline.

Several years ago, a book called The Big Sort made a splash. The thesis of the book was that Americans were clustering together into like-minded enclaves, which was leading to increased division and the polarization we’ve been seeing in our political system for a number of years. (Here’s a short article that captures the idea.)

Is the United Methodist “big sort” already underway?

How would you rebuild ordination?

A reader raised a good question in the comment thread about ordination.

That being said, the blog I read called for the UMC to not just make tweaks, but to completely overhaul the ordination system. So, at the risk of highjacking John’s blog since I don’t have one of my own, I have to ask what a new system of ordination would look like. If we stripped everything away and started from scratch, what would our priorities be?

Another way of asking the question is, what do we have to do to provide a pastor with basic formation? What priorities do we want that pastor to have and how will we equip that pastor to live those priorities out in the life of the church?

What do you think?