Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Christian Work in Progress

I am a Christian. Despite the current hip dislike of using the word Christian and the preference for phrases like "Jesus-follower," I am just fine with "Christian."

"Christian" is not a word that describes my upbringing or ethnicity or country of origin or culture. I wasn't born into it.

"Christian" suggests the union of two things about me. "Christian" first represents a collection of propositions that I believe to be real and true; so to say that I am a Christian is to say that I sign on to these basic propositions. Second, to to say that I am a Christian speaks of a personal engagement with and commitment to the One whom I believe to be represented by those notions. So, one could say that I believe that certain things are true about God and the universe and human beings and creation and so forth, but also that I seek to be personally committed to this personal God.

Life, even life including this personal commitment, is a long road, sometimes bumpy, and always a little messy. It is indeed a process, this being a Christian in this real and messy world.

When I was a pastor I was supposed to be some sort of expert on things Christian and theological. I find myself now - post-pastorate - not as the "professional" Christian but just me as a person who is a Christian. And it is challenging to try to learn again what being a Christian is in the normal every day sense.

Back when I was a professional Christian I was supposed to be very committed to a particular set of principles and propositions about God and the Christian faith as embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith. What I found over time was that that vow of commitment hindered me from being honest about things I was thinking or wondering or discovering as I studied and prepared for sermons and so forth. Our Presbytery changed in my 20 years there from relative indifference to such commitment to very vigilant concern about such commitment.

I have nothing against creeds mind you. Everybody has one, even if it just to say that they have no creeds. I like creeds and find them most helpful.

When I was blogging a lot in Greensboro and interacting with folks who held all sorts of beliefs about all sorts of things, and yet writing and interacting as a Christian, I decided that it was best for me to find my place in the larger general stream of the historic orthodox Christian church - especially as represented by the three "Ecumenical Creeds" - Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. This meant that I stood in a theological stream much wider than that of the particular creed I had vowed to uphold. Rather, I would indeed stand with and find common cause with all orthodox Christians of the Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. As time went on, I found myself being deeply impacted by Catholic and Orthodox writers as well as Protestant writers.

I found too that it was really not OK to start to reevaluate certain ideas. I had already gotten used to this of course. I remember the look on people's faces when, for example, I would say that I really didn't believe in the "secret rapture" which is a common often assumed idea in American evangelicalism. I mean, for real, could I even be a Christian and not believe that? Maybe I was a "liberal." There were many examples of such things - many such cases, many such issues. As I began to get a better feel for the larger story of the Bible, the almost exclusive focus of American Protestant evangelicals on individual/personal salvation started to bother me. And then suddenly I started seeing a different sort of narrative in the gospels and epistles than that suggested or preferred in Reformed circles, though to me this narrative was a whole lot more consistent with the progressive outworking of the biblical covenants and thus Reformed covenant theology.

None of this has anything to do with why I left the pastorate which is another story for another time - but what I find interesting now is that as a regular non professional Christian I am finding myself comfortable continuing to identify with the larger stream of Christianity as represented by the Ecumenical Creeds. I am and will remain a Protestant, not because I like the name or identify with it but personally but because it more or less describes me. But I will continue to seek to find my way unpressured by expectation to uphold the letter of more definitive creeds. Most of all, I don't want my ability to make a living ever to be dependent on whether I can sign on to Chapter VII, Article I or whatever.

The historic Christian faith is under attack from so many directions at once that I'd rather focus on more general matters, and as best as I can as a Christian kindly defend the most essential core principles as I have opportunity to do so.

But much more important than that I want and need to find my way with the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ. It's hard rebooting as non professional. It's a challenge rediscovering the life of faith as a regular Joe.

And as regards the most intimate aspects of life and faith, well, I am seeking to find my legs and it's taking a while, all the more since I am not where I anticipated being at this stage of life - as one friend put it - needing to work on a plan B (or C). I haven't fully found my legs but I am working on it. The story that began with God starting a work in my Columbia family through my sister mary, the faith that came through the ministry of TEAM, the peace and assurance that came through L'Abri, the opportunities to grow that came in my time at Regent College, the grounding at First Pres in the 80's, life in the trenches as a pastor for 20 years in Greensboro, and of course mostly the joys and sadnesses of family life, well it's all going somewhere, I am just not sure where, except, in the end, in the New Heaven and New Earth, where the curse will be no more and the tears will be wiped away from our eyes and will be as we were supposed to be and will longer make a mess of things. Meantime there is much beauty and joy to keep to me going despite, well, plan B and all.

I am and will remain a work in progress.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

National Champ Loblolly

Congaree 10-10-10 Giant Loblolly

Congaree National Park, 10-10-10

Check Out on Flickr

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Looking for Jobs

As many of you who know me are aware, I am in a transition time in life vocationally and otherwise. In this period between my last career as a pastor and my next one (still formulating) I still have to pay the bills, and though it is humbling in many ways I have come to realize that I was in a position to help others for a long time and will be once again, and now I need help, in the form of work. There is not a great market out there for former pastors and school teachers and it seems best at this time to work for myself. God has provided a lot of gardening work the last several months but that is winding down as winter approaches. So I thought I’d put this out there for my friends in the Columbia and Greensboro areas. I tagged several folks so that this would show up in different places - feel free to remove it or untag yourself if you want it off your wall.

Here are some things I can do and of course I am willing to provide resumes and references if needed.

Garden Cleanup – I generally do what one friend calls “jungle taming” work – mostly on the other side of the border grass and mostly with overgrown but otherwise established yards and gardens. Fall is not the ideal time to prune but is a good time to get rid of vines, unwanted trees and other things growing where they shouldn’t, replace old mulch, and plant. I can do pretty much any kind of gardening work that does not require power equipment. Not keen about chemicals.

Tutoring – I taught high school science back in the day and have tutored Physics, Chemistry, Physical Science, Biology, Math, and English Composition over the years. Maybe you know of a family looking for a tutor.

Preaching/Teaching – I am not in a place in my life where I can pastor a church on an ongoing basis, and maybe never will be, but I am ordained and can competently fill in in a teaching/preaching capacity if a need is there. I can do simple verse by verse teaching or if needed I can address thorny issues in a measured way if it would be helpful to a congregation or group of leaders.

Windows Computer Degunking – I have done a lot of it and can get your machine running cleaner and faster. Really, I can.

Photography – I am NOT a professional photographer but I do a credible job at family pictures outside where special lighting apart from the sun is not required – fall family pics and so forth. OR, if your organization or business needs a base of solid photographs for web site and/or promotional items I can provide a large quantity of good photographs to get you rolling.

Writing – do you have an important letter you just can’t seem to get right? Do you have a technical matter you need to articulate? Do you have a crucial report or paper you need edited? I am your guy. Writing is my specialty. If you need editing I am experienced at that as well having been managing editor of a biblical theological journal – oh, and having kids in high school and college!

Web Sites – I can set and manage web sites/blogs using the Word Press platform, and can host such sites on my server. Word Press is a great versatile user friendly platform. I am not a coder, and have limitations but I do currently manage several sites, and would love to manage yours. I am also experienced at integrating web sites and social networking tools, and can be your social networking “meister.”

Genealogy - Give me a couple of days and I can get you jump started on that long neglected genealogy project you've wanted to do but haven't

Counseling – I know, “teacher heal thyself” and all that…I am NOT a licensed counselor but have 20 years experience in pastoral counseling. I am available. Believe it or not I do a good job with vocational and pre-marital counseling too. I know, I know…

Digitizing Photos and Documents – I have excellent high end scanners of all kinds and can work with prints, slides, film, old letters, personal records, and so forth. I can get you jump started on that BIG project you have been putting off for so long.

I am sure there are a hundred other things one may need doing that I could possibly do - idea? Try me...

PS - Feel free to check me out - links are below - references available on request

Joel Gillespie
6442 Bridgewood Road
Columbia SC 29206
blog 1:
blog 2: