Reversal

To change the pace a bit, I thought I would share a
poem I wrote reflecting on the great meta-narrative of the Gospel….

Reversal

By Timothy C. Tennent

It is good, the first Day breaks,
It is finished, how it quakes.
In the garden, Tree does call,
Second garden, Life for all!

Life and breath he did bestow,
Given twice to us below.
Sin broke Day, defeating all,
Death is risen in the Fall.

Out of Egypt He did bring,
Covenant, and priest and King,
Temple built and ark secure,
Justice reigns and hope for poor.

Law is broken, idols reign
Back to slav’ry, infants slain
Waiting, longing, hope and fear,
Praying Yahweh will come near

Lo, He comes into our Time,
Second Man, oh how sublime!
On the Tree, he bore our gall,
Breaking chains, reversing Fall!

Life emerges, out of womb
Risen Life from empty tomb,
Lo, he comes, O how Hell shakes!
Life is ours, the Keys He takes!

Fire is falling, tongues set free,
Wind is blowing, loving Thee,
Babel’s broken, hear the sound
Praise and holiness abound!

On this rock, He builds us up,
Kingdom rising, lifted cup,
Twice born heralds, serving poor,
Praising Him forevermore!

Second coming, sky is rent,
Back to world, O He is sent.
On the throne, he reigns in sight,
Day has come, all is set right!

New creation, now with us,
City comes with righteousness!
Ever praising, sin no more,
His forever, we adore!
Meter:  77.77 D

Ordinary Time?

One of my favorite times in the church year is that period between the end of Pentecost and the beginning of Advent which is traditionally known as Ordinary Time. I know a few churches, including the UMC, prefer to call it Kingdomtide, and mostly for good reasons. However, there is something appealing to me about the phrase “ordinary time.” It reminds me that the lives we live are more often in the “ordinary” zone than in the “extra-ordinary” zone.

Being faithful to God means learning how to love, live and serve him in all the ordinary moments of life. One of the most fascinating realities of the rise of Twitter is that we have come to recognize how utterly ordinary much of our lives really are. A few recent “tweets” which have flashed across my iPhone have been:

1. Just noticed how beautiful the sky is.
2. Stuck in traffic! Arghh!!
3. Eating Indian food today.

It may seem, at first glance, like none of these qualifies as truly tweet-worthy. After all, isn’t there a cyber-commandment out there somewhere which says, “Thou shalt make thy tweets profound and pithy and, most of all, re-tweetable!?

Are tweets supposed to make you think and reflect, or are they just another sign of cultural self-focus and the collapse of the grand narrative such that all that matters is our personal narrative, however tiny and trivial? If the latter, then post-modernism has indeed cast a long shadow.

But what if tweeting can actually cause us to reflect? If so, then tweets can be like modern day koans. Koans, you may recall, are those ancient pithy phrases used by Buddhists to trigger spiritual awakening. They were like an ancient version of Twitter, because I don’t recall too many longer than 140 characters. Some clasics would be, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Here’s another, “What did your face look like before your mother was born?” Of course, don’t forget the ever popular, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” Perhaps the 21st century version of a koan might be, “If I eat an apple, but don’t tweet about it, will I still be hungry?”

The point: Even the most mundane things can provoke us to think – or to thoughtlessness. I’ll never forget the “enlightenment” I received when a great artist explained to me why a torn piece of paper hanging in a frame could possibly be considered artwork. He said to me, “Precisely because it is so ordinary – a disgarded, torn piece of paper we encounter ever day – we are prone to not think about it. When someone picks it up and frames it, we are forced to think about it, reflect on it and perhaps see something about ourselves and our society we never saw before.”

So I stood before the framed scrap of paper and tried to think better about it. I began to reflect on how important paper is to our society, as well as how much paper we waste. I admit I also wondered if the torn piece of paper in the frame was another example of a wasted piece of paper. Thought – and thoughtlessness – often coincide in mutual potentiality.

So, when I reflect on someone in twitterland reminding me that the sky is blue, that they are stuck in traffic, or enjoying biryani, I let it spark in me a reminder that we are in Ordinary Time. Daily life is filled with blue skies and grey skies. It is filled with traffic jams and long airport waits (I am writing this in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, waiting for a flight to Lansing, Michigan, – routine stuff for me). It is also filled with moments of eating Indian food, watching baseball games, enjoying a great laugh with friends, or listening to beautiful music. All ordinary – and all extraordinary – reminding us daily, and in our daily-ness, how great it is to be alive.

Timothy C. Tennent

Selah: and the close of the Summer

The summer is drawing to a close and students are already beginning to return to Asbury to start the Fall semester. I hope those reading this blog found time for rest and renewal this summer. Earlier this summer, I took a week just to do some physical labor around the house. I know, for many, the ultimate vacation translates into a cruise through the Bahamas. For me, a vacation is swinging a hammer.  It is amazing how renewing it is to build something, or bring some project to a close. This last week I took an entire week just to think. I know that may sound a bit bizarre in today’s world. Julie (my wife) and I headed up to Massachusetts and spent a week just thinking. I read quite a bit, and I did get some writing done, but I also just spent time thinking. Spending time thinking and reflecting is one of the most valuable things in my life. As President of Asbury, my life is filled with meetings, budgets, teaching, preaching and running between gates in airports. My schedule (last I had the courage to look) is booked out about two years in advance. So, it is not always easy to carve out thinking time.

One of my favorite words for “thinking time” or “reflection time” is that word which pops up in the Bible, selah. The word selah occurs throughout the Psalms. The precise meaning of the word selah is unknown, so someday I may find out that my association of the word selah is inaccurate. However, for now, many scholars believe that it signifies some kind of musical pause or interlude. This is precisely what I have in mind. Like any healthy heart, we must have a proper balance between the active pumping of blood (diastolic) and the brief period of rest (systolic) where the blood is being re-oxygenated and prepared to be pumped out in ways that give life and nourishment.  All of us need to find time for rest, for reflection and for a change of pace.  For some, this might be camping in the Ozarks, or scuba diving in the Ocean.  For others, it might mean swinging a hammer or, perhaps, swinging in a hammock. I admit I did climb into a hammock in July on the banks of Lake Hartwell, though it only lasted about five minutes. We all need to discover what it means for us to maintain long-term vitality. We can’t always put our finger on exactly what it looks like for each person. It is a bit like the word selah, in that it is ambiguous and no one knows precisely what it means. But, whatever it is for you, I hope you had a selah this summer, for Fall is coming fast and then…the real fun begins!!

A Lesson in Leadership: The Passing of David Barrett

For decades we have all read in books, magazines, and websites all of the amazing statistics about the growth of global Christianity. We hear about the millions of new Chinese Christians, or the explosive growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, or the remarkable church planting movements taking place in Latin America. Have you ever wondered where they get all of these amazing statistics? Who has time to count the Christians in China?  Are the Christians in China even countable? Well, the man behind all of these statistics is Dr. David Barrett, who passed away yesterday (Aug. 4). I can say that I had the privilege of knowing David Barrett. He was truly a genius and a master of statistical analysis. He understood demographics and the significance of growth trends for the church. Twenty years before Philip Jenkins made the global shift in Christianity popular through his book, The Next Christendom, David Barrett was quietly documenting the shift through painstaking research.

However, I am writing this blog to do more than mourn the passing of David Barrett. He was a wonderful, congenial, brilliant man. But, he was more;  he was a leader. He possessed a specialized knowledge in an area where he had no real peer. No one brought together his level of statistical expertise, with his profound knowledge of global Christian demographics. No one had the research materials he had collected over decades. But, he understood that a great leader does not try to consolidate his or her power, but raises up others to carry on the work. In other words, the mission is greater than the founder of the mission. It is quite rare – very rare – to discover leaders who deeply understand this principle of leadership. David Barrett understood it. During all of the years he developed his research and methodology, he was training up a younger successor, Dr. Todd Johnson. Today, even with the passing of David Barrett, the work of statistics and global demographics of the World Christian movement continues under the leadership of Todd Johnson. I also know Todd well. Todd is just like David. Todd has a small circle of young demographers who he is mentoring and training. For twenty years I have opened up the International Journal of Missionary Research, or the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia or World Christian Trends and read statistics about global Christianity. I do not have any doubt that I will be able to do that twenty years from now. The reason is leadership. David, we will miss you greatly. I feel the loss of your passing. But, I see you in Todd Johnson. I see Todd Johnson in the faces of younger leaders. Thank you for your leadership. Well done, thou good and faithful servant. The mission continues.

A Time for Re-orientation: A Christian response to Ramadan

Today is the first day of Ramadan. For the next 28 days (lunar calendar) Muslims around the world will fast from the early daylight until dusk. During the night Muslims will eat and drink and then resume the fast during the daylight. The purpose of this fast is to re-orient one’s life from worldly concerns to a focus (or re-focus) on Allah and his glory and sovereignty. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This month is used by Muslims for fasting and prayer (facing East) because it is the month when, according to Muslims, Muhammad received his first revelation of the Qur’an from Allah. So, Ramadan is a month to remember the glory and power of Allah and His Word to the world.

Muhammad, it should be remembered, first learned about the idea of an alternative “feast” and “fast” from Christian practice in 7th century Arabia. Lent, of course, is a 40 day period of fasting in the Church, but never included Sundays. Even during Lent, Christians feasted on Sunday. Sundays are not fast days in the church because Sunday is the day when Christ rose from the dead. The first day of the week marks the dawning of creation (let there be light), the dawning of new creation in the resurrection, and finally, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (inclusive Jewish counting of 50 days after Passover). May Ramadan remind us of our own need to pray and fast, and also to celebrate God’s sovereignty, glory and the gift not only of his written word, but the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

Make it a practice during Ramadan to include special prayers of grace and mercy for the over one billion Muslims around the world. Pray earnestly for them because they need to be truly re-oriented, not just physically facing the east, but re-oriented toward the greater East, i.e. Easter, the Risen Christ. And may we also be re-Eastered, i.e. re-oriented towards the great glory of our Risen Lord. May our faces reflect the true glory of the Risen Christ to a lost world.