For this final post in this series on the Habits of an Incarnational Presence, we asked two of our GFM staff, Tim Wang (University of Texas â€“ Austin) and Greg Ehlert (University of California â€“ San Diego) to give us a brief snapshot of how they have experienced the principles of Incarnational Presence in their ministries. [Read more…] about Habits of Incarnational Presence: Two Campus Stories
This week in our Practices of Incarnational Presence series, we come to the third of the “social imaginaries” that shape Incarnational Presence on our campuses. The imaginary is the jazz ensemble, listening together to the “heavenly music” and then entering in.
By Julian M. Reese with Teresa Hooper
â€œThen Illuvatar said to [the Ainur], â€˜Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Musicâ€¦. Ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, and each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.â€Â J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, p. 4
The purpose of Incarnational Presence is to awaken Great Beauty in the academic departments of the university as we encourage creative participation in what God is already doing. An Incarnational Presence exhibits awareness of an invisible transcendent realityâ€” the â€œmusicâ€ of the gospelâ€” and it encourages others to participate in making this Great Music visible.
As we consider habits that encourage participation in the present reality of the Kingdom of God, we use the jazz ensemble as an imaginary to cultivate this vision of â€œparticipating in the music.â€ We will expand this lens by using the ancient concept of the â€œmusic of the Spheres.â€
THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES: HEAVENLY JAZZ
We find in Jesusâ€™ metaphors and stories that there is a power in the imagination that points to a deeper, inarticulate Truth beyond our understanding. J.R.R. Tolkien understood that power of imagination and pictured it in his work. Behind all of the stories of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien imagined the Great Music of Illuvatar, invisible and inaudible but real and present. In his magisterial mythological world, he reflected the ancient concept of â€œthe music of the spheres,â€ a philosophical idea that the movements of the celestial bodies, the Sun, Moon, and planets made a form of music. This harmony, while inaudible, could be heard by the attentive soul, and some, like Johannes Kepler, believed this music to be the imitation of God.
An Incarnational Presence recognizes the work of the Gospel in restoring harmony in creation through the reconciliation of all things. We see this as a present reality that is inaudible and invisible, unless there is a presence that can hear the music. An Incarnational Presence cultivates the habit of awareness of the Gospel music and makes it known, even in a world devoid of transcendence.
HEARING THE MUSIC
Following Jesus, an Incarnational Presence â€œhears the musicâ€ of the light and life of God. His imagination is awakened and enflamed by the presence and voice of God. We do not create the music, but we listen to the music. Then we express it according to our understanding and skill. In the case of faculty ministry, we can think of the Music of the Spheres as more like a jazz ensemble: based on the overall theme of God, we â€œjoin in each with his own thoughts and devices,â€ striving to make harmony with the others in that sphere. In that way, we improvise like Tolkienâ€™s Ainur who sang before Illuvatar.
But improv to the music of the Spheres must always start with listening to the main theme. In the words of C.S. Lewis scholar Michael Ward, the purpose of the transcendent â€œMusicâ€ is to â€œawaken an unrecognized desire in the reader, which may be turned into a mystic experience of divine presenceâ€ (Ward, p. 228). We hear the music and are drawn into it.
Some years ago, I decided to let the prayers that Jesus prayed, the Psalms, inform what I prayed and how I prayed about it. As I read small portions of the Jesus story in the four Gospels, I would imagine Jesus praying the Psalm I was reading that day in his context. I would ask him questions like, how did he remember the author of the Psalm experiencing the content of the Psalm? What did he learn from the Psalm that informed how he prayed that day for his circumstances and the people around him?
I entered the memory recorded in the text of Scripture. I opened my imagination to the story. And I continued my spiritual apprenticeship to participate in the music of God. I would imagine myself present with Jesus as he prayed those words and ask the Spirit of Jesus to shape and reshape my prayers according to what I was learning. Participation in the life and prayers of Jesus became a way for me to â€œhear the music,â€ which in turn fed my mind and my imagination. An Incarnational Presence cultivates habits of listening to the music.
PARTICIPATION IN THE MUSIC
When Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was a present reality, he demonstrated the kingdom with evidenceâ€” healings, deliverances from unclean spiritual influences, forgiveness of sins. The recipients of these works of Jesus were participating in the kingdom but not necessarily choosing to enter it. Some were given the ability to choose to enter the kingdom. But some who experienced â€œsigns and wondersâ€ turned against their healer and turned him into the authorities who destroyed him.
As the Incarnational Presence reveals the presence of the kingdom of God in the department, the department benefitsâ€” and participates. Some of those who participate will respond in faith and â€œenter inâ€ to the kingdom by identification with Jesus. This begins the spiritual journey of movement â€œfurther up and farther inâ€ to the being of God because Incarnational Presence shows them the Way.
Theologian Hans Boersma uses the language of participation to explain how God draws us into the divine life: it â€œexpresses the way God graciously condescends in order to allow the created order to share in the reality of his lifeâ€ (Heavenly Participation, p.185). He finds this idea in the writings of the Church Fathers:
â€œFor Gregory of Nyssa, ever-increasing growth in purity and perfection is possibleâ€¦ â€˜because one already participates in a real manner in this good; an infinite growth is possible because this good in inexhaustibleâ€™â€¦ Since God is infinite, human progress must likewise be infiniteâ€¦ Gregoryâ€™s notion that participation allows for continuous (eternal) growth, is an answer to the idea that satisfaction of human desire would lead to weariness in the experience of God. (p. 83-84)
This is what we see in our departments. When Dr. G agrees to a Veritas conversation with a Christian speaker, Dr. G participates in the presence of the Kingdom of God. When Dr. N agrees to have a lunch with me, he is participating in the Kingdomâ€™s presence. When Dr. H introduces me to some of her recent faculty hires, she participates in the welcome of God in Christ that is appearing in her department.
The role of the Incarnational Presence is not just to announce the presence of the Kingdom of God and to demonstrate its power; it also shows others the Way of â€œperpetual progress,â€ â€œfarther up and farther inâ€ toward the fulness of Godâ€™s love, and goodness, and joy â€” all that God is for us in Jesus Christ.
JOINING THE ENSEMBLE
The purpose of an Incarnational Presence is to bring together the members of the academic community in partnership, much like the jazz ensemble, to participate in the music. They hear the same music, but as they improvise, they express and complement it in different ways. We envision jazz ensembles participating in the music of God in every department of the university. An Incarnational Presence invites the ensemble to come together and participate in the music. Sometimes we lead. Sometimes they lead. But every member of the ensemble supports the others when they solo, and each solos with an opportunity to showcase her talent.
Incarnational Presence shows the way of progress to those who want to experience the life of God more fully. It recognizes that the members of the academic community are already participating in the music of creation and renewal as they â€œstudy the great works of the LORDâ€ (Ps. 111:2). Â In their publications they â€œmake his wonders to be rememberedâ€ (Ps. 111:4).Â In their classrooms, they â€œtell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength and his wondrous works which he has doneâ€ (Ps.78:4).
Dr. D. sifts through the sands of Jordan and uncovers one of the earliest churches ever found. Dr. S and Dr. H study the history of Christianity and anti-Semitism. â€œMattâ€ unlocks some of the mysteries of fungi and how they might bring healing to humans. â€œLouiseâ€ looks at women preachers and the role that sponsors play in their professional success or failure. â€œAndrewâ€ participates in the 14 Grand Challenges of Engineering to improve life on the planet.
They are all sharing in the music of the spheres. The Incarnational Presence gives them further opportunity, helping these friends to see and to enter what is unseen and untested. Sometimes, they ask us in to support their melodies; and as we have seen in our Veritas conversations and elsewhere, sometimes they offer to support us while we improv our own melodies.
We imagine a Trinitarian Community, a Trinitarian Jazz Trio, if we may. And we are invited into that ensemble in never-ending movement of progress or, as C.S. Lewis envisioned in The Last Battle, a vision that points us to the land beyond the mountains. That vision is our Music, and He encourages us farther along that we might participate in the Music more fullyâ€” and so our lives may be full, and our universities might know renewal of their Song.
Next week’s article concludes the series with two campus stories of Incarnational Presence. Previous posts in this series are:
â€œWhen one buys the farm and moves there to live, something different begins. Thoughts begin to be translated into acts… It invariably turns out, I think, that oneâ€™s first vision of oneâ€™s place was to some extent an imposition on it. But if oneâ€™s sight is clear and one stays on and works well, oneâ€™s love gradually responds to the place as it really is, and oneâ€™s visions gradually image possibilities that are really in itâ€¦ Two human possibilities of the highest order thus come within reach: what one wants can become the same as what one has, and oneâ€™s knowledge can cause respect for what one knows.â€ (Wendell Berry, Standing by Words)
Julian M. Reese with Teresa Hooper
RENEWAL IN THE ACADEMY
George Marsden asserted in The Soul of the American University (1994) that campus ministry â€œhardly touched the anti-religious heart of modern academia.â€ I spoke before of how our campus ministry started planting seeds and subsequently witnessed a sweet fruit of welcome for a faith-informed perspective.
But in his 2021 revision, The Soul of the American University Revisited, he notes that â€œAmerican higher education has changed in some striking waysâ€ since 1994. Many thought that our marvelous welcome into academic departments was unique to our university. What we now know is that we were carried along in a stream we did not initiate, something outside of ourselves; and the unexpected fruits of that welcome have been part of a quiet, hidden movement across the country. We are now living in a moment where religious thinking is making a comeback in the academy.
Part of the Incarnational Presence ministry is the renewal of the ideas and conversation in the academy, but many years have passed since the Christian mind has had a seat at the table of intellectual conversation. Â That time has finally come. A faith-informed intellectual perspective potentially brings a fresh, potentially invigorating voice to the ideas of the academy.
But an incarnational voice must be earned. The soil must be prepared. Seeds must be planted. And we must be patient as we wait for God to enrich the entire conversation community. In this article we look to the imaginary of the farmer as we wait for the fruit of earning a voice in an academic community. We reflect on three values of the farmer and the habit clusters which contribute to the fruit we seek.
1. THE FARMER VALUES PLACE
To value the place of an academic community means that we come to stay. We are inhabitants, not tourists. We study the contours of the land and learn the soil. We listen to discover the interests and conversations of what is already present. We learn the culture and language of this place as we simultaneously deepen our own foundational commitments that we find in the Scriptures.
To value place also means a commitment to staying in one place over a long period of time, a discipline that the Christian community has historically called â€œstability.â€
Benedict of Nursia, 6th century father of Western monasticism, made stability the first vow in his â€œRuleâ€ for monastic living. According to Lynne Baab, stability means â€œbeing willing to look for God here in the constancy of this place in this rhythm of life, rather than seeking God in ever-changing places and varied routinesâ€¦ What was needed, Benedict taught, wasâ€¦ a commitment to trust in Godâ€™s goodnessâ€” that he was indeed there, in that very place; and that holiness, happiness, and human fulfillment were to be found, not tomorrow or over the hill, but hereâ€” today.â€
To stay put is to value place.
Our last post introduced the habit cluster of â€œMinistry by Walking Aroundâ€ (MBWA), a spiritual discipline of paying attention and learning to â€œseeâ€ as you study a place. Reading departmental bulletin boards can teach you what the interests and activities are of the people in the department. Walking through a department lets you practice the habit of â€œbrushes,â€ or brief encounters, with other inhabitants of the â€œlandâ€.
Attending events cultivates your own learning and shows respect to the work of the scholar. We may not understand it. We may not agree with it. But we can always respect it and find some value in the exploration.
In other words, being in a place means dwelling within it and learning its value. It means looking for and seeing the work of God already in the soil.
2. The Farmer Values Rhythms
A farmer values the natural rhythms of the weeks and lets them shape her life. She notes the changes of the seasons and the times for planting, confident and hopeful that, deep beneath the earth, mysterious transformations are at work which will develop into the fruit of harvest.
As we inhabit the academic community, we must also respect the rhythms of their week and seasons. When do they teach or write? When are office hours and committee meetings? What seasons of an academicâ€™s life are the most stressful? Â What goes into tenure, or publishing a book? Class preparation? Distressed students? Community service?
Gaining an incarnational voice means inhabiting their rhythms, but it likewise necessitates that we pay attention to our personal rhythms to make time for others. In other words, we must cultivate the habit of opening our schedules.
According to Eugene Peterson, most people are â€œtoo busyâ€ for two reasons. First, â€œI am busy because I am vain [italics his] â€¦ The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myselfâ€” and to all who will notice â€” that I am importantâ€¦ When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.â€
Secondly, he argues that â€œI am busy because I am lazy [italics his]. I let others write the agenda for my day because I am too slipshod to write it myself.â€ He concludes, â€œIf I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I donâ€™t have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet placeâ€¦ if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?â€
Wendell Berry reminds us that â€œthe good worker will not suppose that good work can be made properly answerable to haste, urgency, or even emergency. . . Distraction is inimical to correct discipline, and enough time is beyond reach of anyone who has too much to do.â€
Like the farmer, we must work steadily and deliberately according to the needs of the season, making time within those seasons to do the appropriate work.
3. The Farmer Values the FruitÂ
In Traveling Light, Peterson says that â€œThe personâ€¦ who looks for quick results in the seed planting of well doing will be disappointed. If I want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it will do me little good to go out and plant potatoes in my garden tonight. There are long stretches of darkness and invisibility and silence that separate planting and reaping. During the stretches of waiting there is cultivating and seeding and nurturing and planting still other seeds.â€
The farmer values the fruit that he wishes to produce. If the farmer wants potatoes, he plants seed potatoes. If he wants apples, he plants apple seeds, each in the manner and time that allows them to flourish. What kind of fruit do we dream about harvesting in the university? And what seeds do we need to plant to earn a voice there? Developing the habits of reading and listening are both vital to planting those seeds.
HABITS OF READING: Always carry a book, but it needs to be the right book. Read the books of academics in your department and ask them for recommendations. Look for things from an academic press. And find suggestions by reading book reviews in thoughtful journals like First Things or Hedgehog Review. Be sure to read things you donâ€™t agree with. And as you read, have questions about your reading ready.
HABITS OF LISTENING: If you work in campus ministry, you have to be able to â€œspeak in tongues.â€ Every discipline has its own language that must be learned. Hang out in places where the faculty and grad students hang out like favorite coffee shops, where conversations will be happening. Ask to participate in reading groups to learn more about the discipline. Attend department lectures. Sign up for symposia or conferences. Get an invitation. Pay the conference fee. Sit in the back. Take notes. And be prepared to introduce yourself as a Christian campus minister who is curious.
By inhabiting the imaginary of the farmer, we become followers of Jesus who value the place where they are sent, who love it as inhabitants rather than tourists. We want to value the rhythms of the community around us and within us. And we want to value the fruit of a Presence which earns an incarnational voice.
Next week we think about inhabiting theÂ imaginary of the jazz ensemble, along with habits to cultivate which lead to the fruit of encouraging creative participation in the life of God. Join us as we prepare to enjoy the music.
Last week, Julian Reese, with volunteer GFM staff Teresa Hooper, introduced the idea of incarnational presence habits or practices around three “social imaginaries.” This week, they discuss the first of these, the parish, and the habits that follow.
Julian M. Reese with Teresa Hooper
â€œWe are the people of the parenthesisâ€”at the end of one era but not quite at the beginning of the next one. Maps no longer fit the new territories. In order to make sense of it all, we must cultivate a vision.â€Â
Jean Huston (quoted in THE SHAPING OF THINGS TO COME p. 182)
Incarnational presence is a vision for ministry as well as a vision for following Jesusâ€” an imaginary. I first encountered the term â€œimaginary,â€ or â€œsocial imaginaryâ€ while reading James K. A. Smith and philosopher Charles Taylor.
The concept enhances the idea of worldview. It is not only how we THINK about reality, but it also engages our desires, our will, our emotions, our imaginative faculties. Our imaginaries encompass our loves and our longings, those things we imagine to be true without thinking about them as we go about ordinary life. It is the lens we use to look at things and to feel a â€œrightnessâ€ about our reality and our place in it.
An awareness of our imaginaries will assist us in resisting institutional or cultural pressure. Inhabiting the imaginary is where faith shapes our heart and our mind, where we step into life with a conviction that God truly exists, and that he rewards those who seek him.
In this post we develop the imaginary of the parish and discuss some practices or habits that emerge from this way of imagining our ministry calling.
This past July, my son-in-law, Jimmy, was installed as an Anglican priest in his first parish in Dorchester, England. As the bishop installed him, saying, â€œReceive this cure of souls which is yours and mine,â€ Jimmy stepped into a fresh vision to represent Jesus in a community within established geographical bounds.
This area is designated as his parish, an ancient concept of ministry largely lost to American evangelicals. We suggest that the parish is a useful imaginary for ministry on the university campus.
Jimmy understands himself to be the â€œpriestâ€ to the entire community, not just those who attend his meetings on Sundays or at other times of the week. With his words, the bishop is saying to Jimmy, â€œThese are your people, all of them.â€ Jimmy is to pray for them, visit them, learn their histories, their interests, their families, their worlds.
So Jimmy does a lot of walking these days, wandering around the village in his clerical collar. His goal, he says, is â€œto find out where the center of gravity of the community is, and to stick myself thereâ€¦ I want to have my finger on the pulse of whatever is happening in the community just by being there.â€ That is, he is establishing an incarnational presence.
In InterVarsity we talk about â€œevery corner of every campus.â€ A â€œcornerâ€ is a community of people, our â€œparish.â€ In GFM your parish may include all the people of an academic department: people of faith or no faith, religious or non-religious, whether they attend our ministry groupsâ€” ever. We are called to know them, to pray for them, to heal them, to care for them. We are sent by Jesus to be Jesus in their midst, making the invisible kingdom of God a visible reality. Our mission is to establish an incarnational presence in their midst.
Eugene Peterson points out in The Jesus Way (pp. 204-5) that Jesus chose Capernaum as his â€œbase of operationsâ€ a small town in the out-of- the-way region of Galilee, away from the political, religious, and cultural centers of influence. He did his primary teaching and preaching and miracles in communities small enough that everyone probably knew everyone else. Peterson says that â€œVirtually everything took place in a web of intimate personal relationships. Morals, meals, celebrations, marketing, business, politics, worship. Nothing was impersonal. Everyone knew your nameâ€¦. As you went about your life and work, you couldnâ€™t avoid people you knew and people who knew you.â€
This is what we mean when we imagine parish.
The Jesus parish included a diversity of peopleâ€” sick people, untouchable people, fearful people, the powerful and wealthy, the poor, pious people and people running away from toxic religion, and those deconstructing their childhood faithâ€” and he was priest to all.
He treated them all with respect and dignity. He valued them as human persons and honored their accomplishments. He was indiscriminate in his healings, available to people regardless of their status in the community or their agenda.
Our invitation is to step into the parishes of our universities. Leave behind fear and intimidation. Leave behind an â€œus and themâ€ adversarial mentality. And leaven the cultures and conversations we find in our academic departments without a need to control or dominate.
Hopes of the imaginary yield clusters of habits that produce the fruit of presence over time. We create and innovate according to our personal interests, context, training and personality.
The first priority of the parish minister is to establish a presence in the community of her parish. Two habit clusters we have found helpful for this are â€œHabits of Presenceâ€ and â€œHabits of Posture.â€
HABITS OF PRESENCE : â€œGET YOUR BUTT ON CAMPUSâ€
Some time ago I heard Harry Reeder, then pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Charlotte, NC, talk about breaking away from the demands of a church office and engaging in â€œMinistry By Walking Aroundâ€(MBWA). This is how he could serve the people in his community, beyond those who would attend his church meetings. He set aside time to get out of his office, leave behind his to-do list, and be present in his community.
For the parish minister on campus, the first principle of a ministry of presence is to â€œget your butt on campus,â€ and we cultivate our presence in a university parish through developing our own MBWA.
When we started our GFM work at the University of Tennessee, some of the first students we met were Christian PhD candidates in philosophy, so we adopted the philosophy department as our parish and began thinking about ways we might start showing up and making ourselves known in a positive way.
We then practiced MBWA in all the places where members of the philosophy department community could be found. I would have lunch in a visible seat in the coffee shop where department faculty members would have lunch. The vibe was different. It was not the place where the Christians were hanging out, but I could have a presence there.
When I learned that the department was having weekly â€œklatchâ€ gatherings where they took turns presenting their work in progress, I asked if I could attend. I showed up, took notes, and asked questions after the lecture to some of the faculty I had met.
I cultivated habits of MBWA: looking at bulletin boards and reading websites. Enjoying the â€œbrushesâ€ of hallway greetings or touching base in the coffee shop. These ministry habits gave me a presence in my parish.
HABITS OF POSTURE: â€œCURIOSITY WARMS THE HEARTâ€
Over time, we have found in our parish imaginary that our posture toward our parish matters. The secular academic community is not our enemy. The academics of a department rarely opposes us, nor do they merely tolerate our presence. On the whole, they welcome us instead. They are glad when they see us, and we value what they do. We try to find ways to encourage them and help them succeed in their mission.
We are curious about their work. We read their books. We celebrate their publications and awards. We attend their lectures. We become their cheerleaders, affirming them that their work matters. As alumna Teresa Hooper says, â€œIf you want to warm the cockles of an academics heart, ask them about their research.â€
And they share themselves with us, their expertise and knowledge, their academic culture, occasionally their personal lives. Sometimes these people who do not consider themselves religious allow me to be their pastor, even though they would never call it that.
Often, they become my friends. Through living as an incarnational presence, the presence of the Kingdom of God makes itself visible.
We hope the imaginary of parish will inspire us as we enter the parishes of our universities. We wish to consider our work in fresh ways and to awaken the imagination to new thinking about ministry and renewal of long-forgotten principles. We want to discern our parish, and to discover how we might establish an incarnational presence there.
In our next post, we will consider a further phase of developing communities of Incarnational Presence, earning an incarnational voice as we reflect on inhabiting the imaginary of the farmer.
Earlier this year, we posted a series by Julian Reese, UT-Knoxville Graduate and Faculty Minister, called “Incarnational Presence.” Having articulated a vision for Incarnational Presence in the last series, Julian Reese with Teresa Hooper discuss the habits or practices of an incarnational presence approach to ministry, proposing three “social imaginaries” that shape these habits.
Julian M. Reese with Teresa Hooper
â€œIvan Illich was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society. Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story.â€ Quoted in Frost and Hirsch, THE SHAPING OF THINGS TO COME, p. 33
CULTIVATING HABITS OF INCARNATIONAL PRESENCE
In our last series of posts, we introduced an alternative story of a way of seeing ministry to the academic community.
We call this vision â€œIncarnational Presence.â€ In this ministry paradigm we participate with Jesus to establish a presence in a community, to earn a voice in that community, and to encourage creative participation in the invisible Kingdom of Jesus in a visible way.
In this next series of five posts, we will think about cultivating clusters of spiritual habits emerging from three imaginaries, the imaginary of Parish; the imaginary of Farmer; the imaginary of Jazz Ensemble. The purpose of the imaginary is to provide an image that captivates the imagination and shapes the way we envision our work on campus.
We inhabit the imaginary. We cultivate the habits that emerge. Then, we watch for the fruit of presence, of voice, and of creative participation.
THE PARISH: ESTABLISHING AN INCARNATIONAL PRESENCE
Matt Canlis tells the story of how he wanted to learn how to be a pastor. So, he found himself a parish assistant in the Methlick Parish, Scotland. The first day in his position he turned up and asked the Senior Pastor, â€œWell, where is my office?â€
The older man took him to the front walk of the church building. â€œThere is no office.â€ Then he pointed down the street to the village, â€œThere is your office.â€ Matt began to learn a new imaginary for ministryâ€”parish.
To serve the parish as their pastor requires that you see yourself as a pastor to ALL the people in that place. You enter the world of their shop or business or family or play. You listen for the things that matter to themâ€” their work, their kids, their families. Their professional standing. Their health issues.
A ministry of incarnational presence in the university imagines the university as a parish. There are interlocking communities of people working there, and most of them will never come to one of your groups. But nevertheless, you are called to the ministry of a priest on their behalf. You are their shepherd, and the shepherd must know the sheep.
There is no office. The incarnational presence goes to them. The faculty department floors, the departmental lectures and reading groups, the campus coffee shops â€” these places are your office, wherever your â€œpeopleâ€ gather.
You show up. You listen. You pay attention. You pray.
FARMER: EARNING AN INCARNATIONAL VOICE
One of my literary mentors in pastoral ministry is Eugene Peterson. His understanding of what is means to pastor people and his commitments to the spiritual disciplines of prayer and study, have resonated deeply and shaped my entire ministry.
When I was a young pastor, just out of seminary, I found a Peterson reference to Wendell Berry, where he talked about how much he had learned about being a pastor from Berryâ€™s books. So, I found a Wendell Berry book in the library, and eagerly sat down to read it.
After reading a chapter or so, I closed the book in frustration, thinking that I had gotten the wrong book. The work I had been reading was about farming. I was looking for a book on pastoring.
Only years later did I find the answer to my confusion. Eugene Peterson writes of Berryâ€™s work, “The importance of place is a recurrent themeâ€” place embraced and loved, understood and honored. Whenever Berry writes the word â€˜farm,â€™ I substitute â€˜parishâ€™: the sentence works for me every time” (Under the Unpredictable Plant).
Eugene Peterson adopted the imaginary of farmer because farmers settle on the land and stay put. They bind themselves to the land. They inhabit the land and participate in the rhythms.
The farmer earns the trust and the respect of the people of his community, giving her a sense of authority in her words and actions. The farmer earns her voice.
Twenty-seven years ago, George Marsden published THE SOUL OF THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY. In his â€œConcluding Unscientific Postscriptâ€ he writes: â€œcampus ministries help many individuals yet, as presently constructed, hardly touch the anti-religious heart of modern academia.â€ (1994, n.7 pp. 441-2)
When I read that shortly after joining Graduate & Faculty Ministry, I circled it, and asked myself â€œWhy not?â€.
So, our campus ministry began planting seeds. We set about to establish a presence in several of our supposedly â€œanti-religiousâ€ academic departments, and to earn a voice in their intellectual conversation. We approached them as humble learners, gladly receiving what they had to offer, and were welcomed into their midst. We began planting seeds of Christian thought that was engaged in the things they were talking about. We sought ways to help these departments succeed in their mission. We found creative ways to encourage participation in dialogue around Christian thinking, and to facilitate relationships with Christian scholars.
Today, we enjoy sweet fruit. We are welcomed in their offices and their lectures. We are invited into their classrooms, and even have them ask us to arrange dialogue events with the secular department faculty, and the Christian campus ministers.
The farmer takes the long view. The farmer plants the seeds. And then she waits.
THE JAZZ ENSEMBLE: ENCOURAGING CREATIVE PARTICIPATION
The imaginary of the jazz ensemble displays the fruit of creative participation in the presence of the Kingdom of God.
There are good things happening in the Universityâ€”Kingdom of God things. Things where we can identify the Kingdom and participate.
Eugene Peterson reminds us that â€œChrist Plays in Ten Thousand Places,â€ and the Christian attempts â€œto provide structure and coherence by working from a scriptural foundation and with a Trinitarian imagination.â€
The Jesus Gospel is â€œthe Kingdom of God has come near.â€ (Mark 1:15). Christ is playing in â€œten thousand places,â€ including right in front of us in the secular university department. We do not bring the Kingdom of God. It is already a present reality. The music is already there, waiting to be recognized. What is needed is a witness, someone who can participate in the ensemble and perform a fresh beauty in the music.
The incarnational presence paradigm enters the conversation we find already ongoing in the academic community and participates with a fresh melody. The Gospel dynamic seeks to contribute to what is already there, and to help it flourish. Every member gets a turn to improvise while the others support their work. The conversations become richer, more fruitful. The music sweeter. The artistry more creative.
We take a place in the band. We participate in the music. We surrender our need to be the conductor, and we join together in making the music.
In our next three posts we will further develop these imaginaries and suggest some ministry habits that emerge to help us enter our parish, plant our seeds, and participate in the music. In our final post of this series, we will consider the fruit we wish to see, and how to discern the quality of our harvest.