Jonah Sawyer Mitchell Locke

As of today, Baby Locke 3.0 is no longer in beta!  Jonah Sawyer Mitchell Locke was born this morning at 9:58am, weighing 9lbs 2oz, and measuring 21 inches long.  He was born on Friday, December 16th (the last day of final exam week in the fall semester of my last year in seminary) at Princeton Medical Center, in Princeton, New Jersey.

Things were touch and go for a little while at first. When Amy went into labor, Jonah was still pretty high up in the womb, and then his umbilical cord came down before his head did.  In order to prevent his head from getting caught in the umbilical cord, doctors held his head in place while Amy was wheeled into the operating room for an emergency C-Section.

Everything worked out ok, though.  While Amy was being stitched back together, I got to hang out with Jonah in the nursery, where I read to him.  I started out with two Old English poems, read in Old English, of course:  The Wanderer, and one called Hwæl or “The Whale.”  I thought these were rather appropriate, considering his name.  Next, I read some selections from John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, followed by a little bit of Isaac Asimov’s novel Foundation.  Later, after we were back in our hospital room and after Amy and Jonah finally got to spend some quality time together, I read him J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of the Book of Jonah from the 1966 edition of the Jerusalem Bible.  Somewhere in the midst of all that, I also recited Lewis Carrol’s Jabberwocky to him.

Jonah’s older siblings are excited to get to meet him tomorrow–I called Grady at his school this afternoon to tell him the news, and Abby got to see a picture of her new brother on Grandma Linda’s cell phone.

Right now he’s sleeping in his mother’s arms (although technically he’s supposed to be eating).  Welcome to the world, my youngest son. There’s so much I want to teach you, and so much you have to teach me.   Most of all, your mother and I, and your brother and your sister (and lots of other people across the nation) love you very much, and we’re glad you came.

Two Songs Rescued from Obscurity

I finally managed to convert a couple old songs of mine from cassette tape to MP3. It wasn’t easy, and the quality isn’t as perfect as I’d like, but they still came out quite nicely. I wrote and recorded both of these songs on a Roland Synthesizer the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college. The first is a short, upbeat song I call “One Hundred” that I mostly just wrote to test the capabilities of the synthesizer. The second is a longer instrumental arrangement of a song I had previously written for Amy, called “Forever.” I think I had the genre of “movie soundtracks” in mind for both of them. Basically, I remember locking myself in my room for several days when I got hold of the synthesizer (which I had borrowed from church), going nuts with capabilities that (at the time) blew my little Yamaha keyboard out of the water. But still, all the tracks are my own, entirely from scratch, including all the percussion. Ever since I recorded these, I’ve always dreamed about someday recording versions of them with a full symphonic orchestra. Anyhow, here are the songs.

One Hundred:

Forever (Instrumental Mix):

As with all my music, they are published under a Creative Commons license — so feel free to share, copy, download, distribute, remix, rearrange, redistribute or whatever else you feel like doing with them. Enjoy!

Prosperity Gospel and the Singularity

Despite the fact that my alma mater has strong historic ties to the seed-faith movement and its offspring the Prosperity Gospel — I have always viewed these sorts of theologies with suspicion, if not downright contempt.  But while reflecting today on the intersection of theology, singularity theory, and the future of the church, it dawned on me for the first time that perhaps the prosperity gospel is a natural outgrowth of western technological and medical progress (and a necessary one, at that).  This is an outgrowth that is still only in its earliest phases, and may eventually come to dominate the church and assimilate itself into orthodox Christian thought.  Of course, that’s probably a mouthful to swallow for people who, like me, tend to view the Prosperity Gospel as borderline heresy.  So how did I get to this point?  Allow me to play Charles Dickens for a moment and walk any skeptical readers (you’d be Ebeneezer Scrooge, of course) through the three ghosts of Church Past, Church Present, and Church Future… Continue reading

What Does It Mean to Be Presbyterian?

[Part IV of my application for Candidacy in the PC(USA) Ordination Process]

To modify a famous quote often applied to the state of Texas, “I wasn’t born a Presbyterian, but I got here as fast as I could.” That said, I don’t think that the awareness of what it means to be a Presbyterian always grows out of participation in the life of a particular church alone. For me, it has grown out of participation in many Presbyterian communities—particular churches among them, but also camps, conferences, retreats, seminary classes, online communities, missions, and general assemblies. There are, however, some common threads that weave through them all:

To be Presbyterian is to be Confessional—I was tempted to say “biblical,” but this seems to be an abused concept in many churches today. Most churches claim to be biblical, when what they generally mean is that they subscribe to is a particular understanding or interpretation of the bible, or that they emphasize certain parts of it while largely ignoring others. Presbyterians are guided by the historic confessions of the church, which are in turn grounded in scripture and the combined wisdom, tradition, and experience of our forbears. Our confessions lead us, teach us, but most importantly unite us—in our theology, our polity, and in our worship when we recite them together. Individually, each speaks to a crisis or an occasion in the history of the church, showing us that the church is contextual and local. Cumulatively, they show us that the church grows and changes, but remains universal and continuous. I became aware of this at the feet of Dr. Ellen Babinsky, in participation with a classroom community at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Continue reading

Jesus, Technology, and the Church

[Part III of my application for Candidacy in the PC(USA) Ordination Process]

In my personal statement of faith, I make an interesting word choice in describing the methodology of Christ:  I refer to him as “using the technology…of his day to convey God’s love and reign to all.” It may seem anachronistic to link Jesus and technology. But boats, roads, coins, bread, wine, and letters written in sand are all human technological developments, albeit ones that no longer impress us as much as contemporary machines, chemicals, and computers. Jesus did not hesitate to make use of them for the purposes of God. Likewise, the Confession of 1967 says that “the church calls every man1 to use his abilities, his possessions, and the fruits of technology as gifts entrusted to him by God for the maintenance of his family and the advancement of the common welfare” (9.46).

The nature and uses of technology are an important part of my identity and my sense of calling. But what does technology—specifically Jesus’ use of technology—suggest about God, humanity, and their interrelationships? It points to the incarnational nature of God. Not only did God become flesh (biology itself may be viewed as a divinely instituted form of technology) in order to dwell among us, but God also (through Jesus) used tools in order to communicate, teach, travel, and spread the Gospel message. If Christ’s incarnation in bodily form is an affirmation of our bodies and their “goodness” as part of God’s creation, then Christ’s use of technology is an affirmation of our propensity for tools and instruments—the synthesis of our God given minds and bodies with the resources God has placed at our disposal. Indeed, if all created things are from God, and inherently “good,” this must include technology and technological developments.

There is, however, another example of technology in the life of Christ: The cross upon which he was crucified was a horrific and powerful technological development in Roman execution methods. The wood of the cross, likely fashioned with the same tools, from the same trees that framed local homes and synagogues, reminds us that although all creation is good, humanity is broken and fallen. We take the gifts of God—technological and otherwise—and twist them to our own desires and selfish ends. In our use of technology, as with all things, we are dependent upon God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

But the story doesn’t end there: The cruel technology of the cross became for Christians the very symbol (and the use of symbols for communication is a form of technology) of redemption. For two thousand years we have used our tools, instruments, and now even our digital technologies to replicate and reproduce the cross of Christ and raise it as a beacon (yet another technology) for the world to see and follow. My hope for ministry, reflected in my faith statement, is that when I—and we, the church—encounter new technologies, rather than resisting, denouncing, or ignoring them, we will affirm them as part of God’s creation and therefore inherently good, resist their uses for selfish and harmful ends (and resist those who use them in this way), and follow instead in the example of Christ, who used all technology (even the image of the sword!) to teach, to communicate, and to spread the Gospel.

 

1Were I to personally use the Confession of 1967 for teaching purposes, I would revise it to use language that addresses women as well as men. I presume this was the intention of the authors, and that our linguistic customs have changed since the time of its writing.

My Personal Statement of Faith (for now…)

[Part II of my application for Candidacy in the PC(USA) Ordination Process]

I trust in one God who is the creator and sustainer of all worlds. I trust—even when I do not necessarily understand—that this one God is also somehow three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, God reigns over all; God loves all.

I trust in Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, sent by God to walk among us. He gathered crowds and small groups, using the technology and familiar images of his day to convey God’s love and reign to all. He particularly embraced those labeled by society as outcasts and unbelievers. He visited the sick and comforted the suffering. He challenged powerful institutions, calling them out on oppressive bureaucracy and legalism, and back to the heart of their best traditions. Ultimately, he was subjected to betrayal, torture, and execution. He willingly accepted a fate he did not deserve, so that we might know mercy and grace, and through this act be once and for all awakened to God’s love, saved and redeemed. I trust that God raised Jesus from death into life, giving hope and reassurance for the life to come, and the life today: We are a resurrection people.

Jesus promised that his presence would remain, even when his physical form did not. Because of this, I trust in the Holy Spirit, who comforts, guides, and binds together God’s people in all places. I trust that God calls together faithful believers in every age to be the church: To worship, pray, fellowship, study, and serve one another and the world. Through the teachings of the church, I recognize two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which serve as the signs and seals of my faith.

I read these things in God’s written word, the Bible, which testifies to Christ, God’s living word. I trust in the scriptures and the church as faithful guides to direct my paths closer and closer to God’s Kingdom.

Christian Vocation in the Reformed Tradition

[Part I of my application for Candidacy in the PC(USA) Ordination Process]

I have long believed that all of God’s children are called, as related by the Westminster Confession,

out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ: enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. (BoC 6.064)

This confessional statement implies, and I affirm, that Christian calling of any and every vocation is truly a “full-time job” encompassing all aspects of life and work, drawing on the resources of mind, heart, and will. For this reason, I resist the sometimes popular linking of Christian Vocation solely with the work of the pastor, the chaplain, the Christian educator, or other positions traditionally within the employment of the church. Plumbing, accounting, programming, parenting, military or government service—all of these are Christian vocations when undertaken by God’s children.

The confessions also speak of vocation in relation to the church (8.23, 9.45). In this light, it is a shared task, done in community with other Christians in order to fulfill God’s purposes and usher in God’s Kingdom. I believe that this particular communal aspect of Christian vocation, affirmed in the confessions, is under-represented in most discussions of Christian vocation.

The statements above reflect my priorities in understanding Christian vocation: It encompasses the entirety (mind, heart, will) of individual Christians of any profession or occupation, and it is to be done in community. Within these parameters, however, there is still a place for the Minister of Word and Sacrament. The Second Helvetic Confession notes that God “has always used ministers for the gathering…establishing…governing…preservation”of the church, and “always will…so long as the Church remains on earth” (5.142). This is appropriately tempered a few paragraphs later with the enjoinder that “we must beware that we do not attribute too much to ministers and the ministry” because only “God moves the hearts of [people]” (5.144).

My own sense is that we live in a culture where individuality is a virtue—where CEOs, athletes, and film stars are accorded celebrity status for their roles in what are actually “team” endeavors. This has filtered into the church as well, where “successful” pastors become best-selling authors, “professionals” in the art of church building, revered, studied, and imitated apart from their teams (congregations). A corrective is in order, and the cautions of the confessions must be heeded once more. Fortunately, the financial difficulties in which many contemporary churches find themselves play a helpful role here: Increasingly, churches must rely on the diverse vocational/occupational talents of congregants to do many of the things (and typically not those things enumerated by the Confessions as the realm of the minister) once done by full-time ministers who have dropped to part-time status. Ministers themselves are also increasingly becoming “tent-makers” and pursuing vocational roles outside the employment of the church.

Within this context—clinging to reformed tradition while acknowledging contemporary culture—my own ministerial calling is to be the proverbial “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.” This does not necessarily mean I will not pursue full-time employment in a church setting, and it does not excuse me from providing leadership and vision within any congregation I serve. But it does mean I am called to be flexible and open to creative employment arrangements. It also means a large part of my role will be to help individuals in a congregation to see themselves in the light of their own Christian vocations, and to contribute my own unique gifts and talents alongside them as we fulfill our Christian vocation together in community.