Discover more from Ben Simpson's Faith & Formation Newsletter
This week our family has been in Captiva, Florida. Molly’s parents invited us to join them along the southern Gulf Coast. We’ve had the pleasure of being within a few hundred yards of the beach, staying in a house that is truly a dream, letting our kids play with their cousins, and taking an abundance of time to read, rest, relax, exercise, write, and refocus as we look forward to the school year. For me, this is the last opportunity I will have to truly take a break. On Monday morning, I will set my face like flint toward the semester that lies ahead. There is good work to do. But not yet.
Captiva is known for shelling, and this is a close up of a pile I came across while walking on the beach. The coastal water here is green, the sand is heavily textured by the remnants of innumerable shells. We’ve had short bursts of rainfall every day. Some of the storms have been mild and passing, others have brought thunderclaps and flashes of lightning. The vegetation here is lush, the wildlife diverse.
I’ve made it a point to exercise, to get out of my head. I often use vacation to read and write, but also to get out from behind my desk and away from my screens, to get back in touch with my body. This trip is different, in that when I go back home, life will look different. This is a liminal moment, a change occasion, an in-between, a middle.
When I make it back to Waco, I’ll transition to a full-time role at Truett Seminary. My responsibilities will increase, not so much in terms of what I do, but in how much will be mine to bear. It has been such a blessing to serve the seminary, to work alongside such a fantastic group of people, and to be in community with a wonderful student body. I’m amazed I’ve been given a bigger role, and humbled, too.
When I was in my early twenties, I would tell people that when I grew up my dream was to get a PhD and to return and serve at Baylor. I do not have a doctoral level degree. But I do serve at Baylor. That’s a dream come true. God answered that prayer.
As I serve at Baylor, I serve the church. That’s also an answer to prayer. I serve the church by serving those who believe they are called to serve as pastors and other roles of ministerial service, and also those who are congregants that have entered the seminary to receive further education. I often tell students the calling we all share is toward maturity in Christ, and that the more mature people we can have as part of our churches, the better off we may be, with God’s help, as a body.
You could say that it is a strange time to serve in higher education, and a strange time to serve the church. Some go so far as to say that we now exist within the ruins of a dying Christendom. That may be so. There are many critics of the church, of institutional Christianity. God may be pruning the vine. God’s judgements are true and righteous altogether. In my readings of church history, however, it seems to be that the church is always in cycles of both decline and renewal, that there are always priests within the tradition and prophets standing just on the periphery, and that God is always up to something bigger and more mysterious that can only be perceived clearly in hindsight, with the passage of time.
The God of the Bible is one who can command forth life from a valley of dry bones, and who himself passed through the grave on the way to resurrection. The story of Elijah tells us that God’s ongoing faithfulness is not always evidenced by what is taking place in the power centers of a culture, and that instead God may be quietly working in the shadows and in remote places, heard only in the silence. Faith, as the writer of Hebrews says, is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. While I might be able to envision scenarios that I think would be better, or more promising, for my particular line of service, that is inconsequential. I am limited in my perceptions. The story line is larger than I can fully grasp or comprehend.
But I trust the Author. I have full confidence in where the story is going.
When I travel I read a lot. It’s also been three weeks since I issued a newsletter. I completed a long march through Chloe Sun’s study of Song of Songs and Esther, Conspicuous in His Absence and Iain Duguid’s commentary, The Song of Songs.
I finished David Benner’s Opening to God, which I highly recommend. It is a book about what prayer is, how to do it, and why it is central to the life of faith. I also read Os Guinness’ The Magna Carta of Humanity and David Byrne’s How Music Works.
I’m two-thirds of the way through Stanley Hauerwas’ Minding the Web. It has been a while since I’ve read Hauerwas. My thought has been formed by reading Hauerwas; my disagreements with him have become more pronounced. Nonetheless, Hauerwas is pleasurable to read, not only when I find myself agreeing with him, but also when I find myself arguing with him.
I especially enjoy reading his sermons, which invite me to think afresh about the craft of preaching. A lot of preaching is entertainment, more flash than substance. I wish that were not the case. That’s because many preachers fear that if they present substance, the congregation will find it boring. I disagree. The sermon can be substantive and enjoyable, much like a good meal. The sermon should draw our attention beyond the preacher and toward the reality of God. When it does, we’re given the opportunity to behold the lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world.
Sights and Sounds
Amazon’s The Tomorrow War is a fun, pro-family film. It’s also science fiction and involves a time travel plot line, so you have to suspend disbelief even a little more than usual to enjoy it. I like Chris Pratt. I liked this movie.
I thought Black Widow was okay. My family enjoyed it. My daughter enjoyed it. Florence Pugh was the star of the show. David Harbour had funny moments.
I also watched Mallrats and Chasing Amy. Those movies are markers in time for me now. The writing is so very smart. Some of the dialogue was prescient, some timeless. Kevin Smith is sharp.
I’ve been on a steady diet of podcasts while on the road, and when I’ve been listening to music, its ambient stuff for writing or Talking Heads on walks. Reading Byrne’s How Music Works led me to dive into their catalog.
A lot of new stuff on the blog last week. You’ll have to go check it out.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P. S. - Sunset in Captiva.