Saturday, March 4, 2017

Green Lights Aplenty, Yet I Still Only Hope for Hope

 This morning a friend, who has played basketball at levels higher than I ever dreamed, likened my recent increase in ministry and employment opportunities to the momentum a team experiences when there has been even a brief series of successes on defense and/or offense. A few three-pointers, or a couple of steals in a row, or any number of other combinations can propel one side forward. What had been a close contest moves toward a seemingly inevitable victory. When one player is finding a great deal of that success, it has been said that they have a “green light” to take whatever shot they choose.

Eavesdropping on conversations in the publishing and motion picture production industries, I have also learned what it means to “green light” a project. Here are some of the green lights that have recently begun falling into place for me.

One of those green lights this week was the scheduling of my dissertation defense (also referred to by some as the presentation of my ministry project paper) for April 4. Because this really is a presentation, and not the kind of defense you can “lose,” I now know that I will, in fact, graduate from Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon on Friday, May 12. Four years of work will have culminated in being a Doctor of Ministry. (I’d use the abbreviation, but some enjoy pronouncing it “demon.” So, well…no.)

Any discussion of green lights has to
eventually get to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Another green light, in the sense of getting the go-ahead with other aspects of my ministry, is the invitation I have accepted to serve Multnomah Biblical Seminary as an adjunct professor this fall. I will be teaching one course, being on campus in Reno for just two Friday-Saturday face-to-face sessions with students, and covering the rest of those responsibilities from the internet-connection (which interestingly has failed yet again while I type this) here in my office at the house in Fall River Mills. That means I get to continue being pastor of The Glenburn Community Church, and be a seminary professor as well. Gravy!

Still another green light comes from being part of the faculty for Right On Mission Vocational Seminary. I accepted an invitation this week along with others from the faculty being funded (as in “all-expense-paid”) by Church United. We will be participating in a conference in Washington D.C. entitled “Watchmen on the Wall” late this May. This is a great opportunity to better understand some of the priorities and perspectives of those within our government and from within the Evangelical tradition’s church leadership.

The view from Jay's dock?
Finally, this last “green light” borders on irony, if not the sublimely ridiculous. As some of you may remember, there had been a number of hateful misrepresentations made about me to the faculty and staff of my three-time alma mater,[1] Simpson University, where I was serving at the time as an adjunct professor, preparing to teach “Old Testament: Kings and Prophets.” In short, the President, Provost, and Board Chairman had all suggested, recommended, and requested (though not respectively in that order) to the new dean of the seminary that I be relieved of my responsibilities. To shorten a long story, I did teach my class that following Spring. But I have not had a similar opportunity since. And yet, this past Thursday, I was blessed to guest-lecture in that dean’s Pastoral Care course on what I refer to as “pastoral thanatology”—encouraging and equipping our students to serve our dying and bereaved neighbor. Following that morning’s session, we discussed how we might go about getting similar training into the hands, hearts, and minds of others throughout the Central Pacific District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (my ordaining denomination).
Neil Hilborn - conveniently attired.

So, I am seeing a lot of green lights.

And that brings two others into view. Some of us who paid more attention in high school’s American Literature class may only need to Google the second reference. Others who are more attuned to social media may only need to Google the first reference. Those of you who immediately recognize both—well, you are doubly blessed, indeed! I do hope, though, that all of you take the time to fully understand what these last two green lights mean to me.

It has been nearly forty years since I first read about Jay Gatsby’s green light, and all the hopes for future success and satisfaction that distant glimmer represented. Gatsby’s green light, of course, never fell fully within his grasp. I have fears about that green light, and the attractive illusion that somehow there is a point of arrival, after which I can say, “I am done.”

Don't blame the fixture.
It's just letting you know it's there.
It has been a much shorter time since I became acquainted with the work of Neil Hilborn. Because the signs at each door of my office’s building glow green, I think of his “exit sign” as another kind of green light. I have fears about that green light as well. It is, for me, no illusion at all that there could be a point of arrival, after which I could say, “I am done,” even though, lately, in the words of Mr. Hilborn, the show has “never been quite bad enough to make me want to leave.”

So, for all those who imagine that all we need is for a few things to go well, to go right, or to go not-quite-so-badly, and we’ll be feeling much better shortly, I’ll tell you this. For all the other green lights I have seen so recently, it is my fear of these two others, Gatsby’s and Hilborn’s, that dominates my thoughts, even now.

[1] To refresh your memory: I hold a bachelor’s from Simpson College, a master’s of ministry in pastoral counseling from The Simpson Graduate School of Ministry, and a master’s of divinity from A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary. In total, the four members of my immediate family have earned four bachelor’s, three master’s, and two teaching credentials, and all four of us have been employees of the college/university/seminary, some among us on multiple occasions. 

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