My Friend Karl

As many of you know, I recently completed the monumental task of reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I kid you not, I read it start to finish in a little under two years. Karl become a very good friend over the course of these two years. After finishing Church Dogmatics, we needed some space and went on break to think and process where we would go from that point. About a week together, he and I got together again, mostly in the mornings over coffee as I went through Dogmatics in Outline.

As a point of clarity, Dogmatics in Outline is not a summary or the cliff notes version of Church DogmaticsBarth utilizes the Nicene Creed as the filter or lens in which to talk about Church Dogmatics in lecture form and it just so happens that it is more accessible than the 9,000 page plus English translation of Church Dogmatics. 

I found a nice little summary of Dogmatics in Outline on a blog called “Barth for Beginners.” There is also a guy who summarized each volume of Church Dogmatics in a series of tweets.

So, back to me and my friend Karl. Karl and I became good friends over the course of the past two plus years. We shared a lot of coffee and a lot of beer. We agree on a a great deal of theological matters and we disagree on a number of things as well. I’ll be the first to admit, despite all of our time together, he is very much an enigma to me as well. I know him well enough to know that I don’t know him as well as I or others might think I do. There are things I wish were different about Karl. I wish he didn’t ramble on so much. I really wish he used more inclusive language and was inclusive of certain communities of people. That’s a strange thing to say of someone often accused of being a Universalist.

I’m pulling a Karl right now and just rambling on. The purpose of this blog was to share a series of statements from chapter 22 of Dogmatics in Outline called “The Church, Its Unity, Holiness and Universality.” I am afraid I might be seen as one who is really down on the universal and/or local church. I promise I am not. As I have said previously, I love the church (universal and local) so deeply. However, I believe in and desire more for her.

The statements I want to share from Karl gave me hope today.

“To-day there is rather too much than too little said about the Church. There is something better: let us be the Church!” p141

“The first congregation was a visible group, which caused a visible public uproar. If the Church has not this visibility, then it is not the Church.” p142

“The truly ecumenical Christians are not those who trivialize the differences and flutter over them; they are those who in their respective Churches are quite concretely the Church. […] In Him, despite all varieties in the individual congregations, we shall somehow be bound up with one another.” p143

“In faith I attest that the concrete congregation to which I belong and for the life of which I am responsible, is appointed to the task of making in this place, in this form, the one, holy, universal Church visible.” p145

“Where the life of the Church is exhausted in self-serving, it smacks of death; the decisive thing has been forgotten, that this whole life is lived only in the exercise of what we called the Church’s service as ambassador, proclamation, kerygma. A Church that recognizes its commission will neither desire nor be able to petrify in any of its functions, to be the Church for its own sake.” p146

“There is the ‘Christ-believing group’; but this group is sent out: ‘Go and preach the Gospel!’ It does not say, ‘Go and celebrate services!’ Go and edify yourselves with the sermon!’ ‘Go and celebrate the Sacraments!’ ‘Go and present yourselves in a liturgy, which perhaps repeats the heavenly liturgy!’ ‘Go an devise a theology which may gloriously unfold like the Summa of St Thomas!’ Of course, there is nothing to forbid all this; there may exist very good cause to do it all; but nothing, nothing at all for its own sake! In it all the one thing must prevail: ‘Proclaim the Gospel to every creature!’ The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message.” p146-7

“Where the Church is living, it must ask itself whether it is serving this commission or whether it is a purpose in itself?” p147

“We may often have distaste for the whole of Church life. If you do not know this oppression, if you simply feel well inside the Church’s walls, you have certainly not seen the real dynamic in this matter. In the Church we may be just like a bird in a cage which is always hitting against the bars. Something bigger is at stake than our bit of preaching and liturgy! […] If we really hope for the kingdom of God, then we can also endure the Church in its pettiness.” p147-8

“The Christian hope, which is the most revolutionary thing we are capable of thinking and beside which all other revolutions are mere blank cartridges, is a disciplined hope.” p148

I’m grateful for my friend Karl. The thing I love most about Karl is he always points me to Jesus. He is perhaps best know for saying “The answer is Jesus. What’s the question?”

Thanks Karl.

“Semi-millenial rummage sale of ideas”

12439540_1135630789804954_8684460907992481954_nThis image has been floating around social media this past week. The caption says it all.

Earlier this week, I was texting with a good friend about Lesslie Newbigin. We met our friend while we were resident chaplains for Baylor and he was an undergraduate student at Baylor. He participated in two trips that we led to Ghana, is now a student at Truett Seminary, and is slated to co-lead the trip to Ghana for Baylor Missions in May. We could not be more proud of him and are honored to have played a small part in his journey.

For one of his classes, Biblical and Theological Themes of Missions, he is currently reading a book called “The Open Secret” by Lesslie Newbigin. This book and Lesslie Newbigin’s life and writings were the most influential voice during my seminary journey. I received permission from my friend to share this portion of our text conversation:

Friend: “In BTT today, we had Newbigin’s conversation about election and liberation theology. My brain hurts haha”

Me: “It hurts but it is oh so good and worth it yeah?”

Friend: “So good! It just hurts me that these conversations aren’t happening. Especially his dialogue on the Eucharist being the table for all people, oppressed and oppressors, but we’re too quick to throw it in at the end of the service a few times a year just to maintain tradition in the by laws of the church.”

Me: “Agreed.”

Friend: “But the stuff on election just completely flipped the whole argument of election on its head with a new way of talking about it.”

Me: “Told you. Election not as privilege but as responsibility. And the Church is to exist for the sake of its non-members.”

Friend: “To be elect is a fearful responsibility. Now if only people would truly understand that and not think the church is for them.”

The dialogue in the cartoon captures the disconnect in the mission of God and the focus of far too many local churches perfectly: “Basically, we’re looking for an innovative pastor with fresh vision who will inspires us to remain exactly the same.”

 

This past week I led a study on a chapter out of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” In this chapter she was talking about the dark night of the soul that individuals experience but said it can also occur in a community of people like a local church or the universal Church. In an extended excerpt she shares:

“While the dark night of the soul is usually understood to descend on one person at a time, there are clearly times when whole communities of people loose sight of the sun in ways that unnerve them. This seems to be what is happening to a lot of church people right now, especially those in denominations that are losing members at an alarming rate. While they experiment with new worship styles and set up Facebook pagers, most of them know that the problem runs deeper than that. The old ways of being Christian are not working anymore, not even for those who are old themselves. Something in the ways has died, or is dying — truly cause for great sorrow, even among those who know the time has come — and yet at the same time something is being born.”

She continues sharing: “Phyllis Tickle says that we are in the midst of a great rummage sale that the Christian church holds from time to time. Every age has its own accumulation to deal with, along with its own reasons for deciding what stays and what goes. [. . .] In Tickle’s terms, what many of us are taking part in, willingly or not, is Christianity’s ‘semi-millennial rummage sale of ideas.’ The last one was called the Protestant Reformation. No one knows what to call this one yet.”

She closes this section, sharing some thoughts inspired by Harvey Cox. “People have voted with their feet. Doctrines and creeds are no longer enough to keep faith alive. Instead, the faithful seek practical guidance and direct experience of the sacred. The new age we are living in is the Age of the Spirit, Cox says, already well under way in the global South. If this is a liberating moment for some people of faith, it is a moment of profound loss for others. Maybe you do not get one without the other, but age makes a difference.”

There is a narrative of fear being fostered in the political sphere and in our country right now. I would argue there is also a narrative of fear being fostered in local churches as well. Churches are afraid of change. It’s complicated but true. Whether it’s a pastoral search committee, influential church members, or even some of the pastors and church staff, self-preservation is too often the primary focus of the church, not the mission of God. Narratives are created and fostered to maintain the status quo.

My friends, this should not be so! I have a deep, deep love for the Church. I believe in the local church. That being said, I do not believe she is all that she should be. We get in the way with our own agendas. We are too busy with our stuff. And we are afraid of the great unknown.

The most often repeated phrase in Scripture is “do not be afraid.” Let us not be a Church who is held captive by fear. May we not inspire one another to remain exactly the same. Rather, may we be reminded that we have been called to be the Church. It is not a privilege but a responsibility. Our existence is not for ourselves or our own safety and preservation. We are to exist for the sake of the non-member as we follow the mission of God, God’s missionary spirit and movement in the world.

Good Good Daughter

My current favorite song is Good Good Father sung by various differnt artists. 

I have been singing it lately to Jimmie and I adapt the chorus this way:

You’re a good good daughter

It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are

You are loved by your daddy, it’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am. 

I can hardly sing these lyrics to her without crying. J woke up early this morning so we had a nice time together before everyone got up. I played this song over and over from my phone, I sang these lyrics to her adapting them as my heart led me, and I cried like a baby as my little girl laughed and smiled. 

It’s one of my favorite memories with J so far. 

I sing modern worship songs to J as often as I can because they are simple yet deep and help me teach her some of the most important aspects of who I believe God to be, that she is loved by God and so many others, and we are holding her in faith as a gift entrusted to us until she can (hopefully) begin a faith pilgrimage herself. Nothing in life brings me greater joy than being a partner with H and a parent to J. 

Jimmie, you are a good good daughter, it’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are. You are loved by your daddy (and mommy too) . . . 

Mustain Christmas Update 2015

Here is the update that we snail mailed out to many of our family and friends. I invite you to read it and to hold it in tension with what I shared last week in this blog post: https://themustains.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/honesty-helplessness-and-hope/

To our loved ones near and far-

As we reflect back on the past year, it was about this time in 2014 that we were overjoyed to announce the expected arrival of our first child. In March, we found out that we would be expecting a little girl and on July 30, 2015 we welcomed our daughter Jimmie Kathleen Mustain into the world. Her name typically prompts questions of its origins, as I suppose it’s a bit unique. Jimmie is named after my father “Papa Jim” and Heather’s mother “Grandma Kathleen.” Jimmie is approaching five months old and is a healthy and happy little girl who loves to go for walks, chew on her hands, and watch Baylor football.

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I don’t know what else we could really share about 2015 that could top the news of our little Jimmie (also affectionately called Jimmie Kat, Jimmie Jams, and J-Kat). It has been the year of new arrivals for our extended family as well. In September, my sister Joy and brother-in-law Caleb welcomed their second child, Hannah, into the world and in November Heather’s sister Esther and brother-in-law Sean welcomed their first child, Lincoln, into the world. Needless to say, all of these new arrivals are blessed with incredible grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

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In other news, Chad completed the provisional board certification process through the Association of Professional Chaplains in March. He also completed his second year of chaplain residency at Baylor University Medical Center in August and transitioned to a part-time position on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, allowing him to be the primary stay at home parent with Jimmie. December 1st was Heather’s two and a half year mark as the Minister of Missions at Wilshire Baptist Church. She continues to excel in her role as she helps lead the congregation in their participation of the mission of God and missional formation. She will resume travel both domestically and internationally in the coming year as she re-connects with existing mission partners and helps forge new relationships and opportunities.

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Happy Christmas to you and yours,

Heather, Chad, Jimmie and Maeby (the Boston Terrier) Mustain

For updates throughout the year follow our blog: www.themustains.wordpress.com

For more pictures follow us on Instagram: hmichaele15 and chadm02

Honesty, Helplessness, and Hope

I have much to be grateful for during this season of Advent and as I reflect on 2015. Let me be clear, I am grateful and see God’s grace, provision, and care in every corner of my life.

But may I be honest as well. 2015 has felt like one of the most difficult years of my life. Maybe it’s more accurate to say the last several months have been the most difficult months of my life. I probably shouldn’t blog when I am as tired as I am right now. Last night/this morning was another tough one as Jimmie’s acid reflux was acting up (I thought we had that under control!) and she was awake crying and fussing from about 1:00-4:00am.

Yesterday, Heather and I printed, stuffed, and labeled our 2015 Christmas update. They are just awaiting stamps on Monday. Of course, Jimmie is the primary focus of the letter. As I have been reflecting on the letter we put together, it doesn’t feel very honest. Maybe a better word is that it doesn’t feel vulnerable or fully truthful.

As many of you know, I have been very vulnerable about our experience as parents. There were nights where I didn’t know how we would go on. We have known exhaustion like I did not know was possible. I have drank more Red Bull and Monster energy drinks than is probably healthy or I would want to admit to my doctor. I have felt helplessness, jealousy, and anger reading about how easy parenting and new babies has seemed for others.

There is a blog post floating around social media called “The Brutally Honest Christmas Card.”  As I read it, I felt a strange level of comfort, of normalcy, of hope. I whispered to myself, “me too.” Although I know nothing of the author(s) or their experiences in 2015 other than that one blog post, I felt known and like I had made new friends. Just fellow pilgrims trying to figure life out one day at a time.

I blog personally and for our church as well. Did you know that my most popular post by views and shares was called “Parenting and Loneliness”? The second most popular post was called “The Pictures We Share: a moment of vulnerability.” I find that both discouraging and it also gives me a glimmer of hope.

In a moment of desperation somewhere between the night and the morning, I read a blog post by my friend Tim. “… but I don’t guess that Advent is necessarily a season about being good and right. It’s not a time to paint the world with a rosy shade; it’s a time of waiting, a time of longing. Advent is a time to take stock and acknowledge our loose ends, our unresolved issues, our broken relationships, our hurt, our need for help.”

This morning, Tim has carved out space for me to just feel what I need to feel and be who I am in this moment. I supposed that is what Advent is all about; waiting, longing, and hope that “we are being healed and growing stronger slowly but surely.” Amen.

Seasons of celebration and grief

As a new parent, one of the lessons I feel as if I am learning is that parenting is a continual process of celebration and grief. Every day I celebrate Jimmie’s latest development; discovering her hands and feet, learning to coo and use her voice, sleeping for longer stretches at night and being able to self soothe. 

Yet, every day I find myself also grieving; fighting to get Jimmie to sleep for 30 minutes and reading about how other’s babies nap for hours at a time, struggling to get Jimmie to finish a bottle and seeing posts about how easy breast feeding has been for someone else, being absolutely exhausted at 4am/4pm every day when all Jimmie wants to do is cry and seeing pictures describing how easy the whole newborn/infant thing has been for others. 

Learning to be grateful is both a daily choice and a daily lesson. Such is the whole of life right? Social media has made it much easier to stay connected with those we love but for makes it’s also easier for me to compare, complain, and be discontent. 

Alright, that’s my cue. J is fussy after yet another 30 minute nap.

10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)

I am settling in to my role as the primary stay at home parent. Each time I put Jimmie down to sleep, I sing her the same song (I have sung this song a lot over the past month or so). I picked a song I thought we could sing together one day, that teaches (what I think is) good theology, and that helps her get to know the God I know. There are lots of songs out there but I settled on 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord). Here are the lyrics and a video link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DXDGE_lRI0E

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name

The sun comes up It’s a new day dawning, It’s time to sing your song again, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name 

You’re rich in love and  you’re slow to anger, Your name is great and your heart is kind, for all Your goodness I will keep on singing, ten thousand reasons for my heart to find (I always tell J this is my favorite verse of the song)

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name 

And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come, still my soul will sing Your praise unending, ten thousand years and then forevermore, forevermore

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name

So, I sang this song to Jimmie about 20 minutes ago and I will sing with to her at least 5 more times today. Funny, I think I am helping her know the God I know but the more I sing this song, I am convinced that J is actually helping me.