Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

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It’s All Over

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College Park Presbyterian Church had their congrogational vote this past sunday. I am going to be their new Pastor. The long road is finally at an end.

There will of course be a few more hoops to jump. Examination by presbytery. Instalation and Ordination. But i will not be able to openly reflect on these as they happen. Perhaps an addendum is in order but that will be much later, maybe a year from now.

In the meantime I appreciate those of you who have read some of my journey, and helped facilitate and motivate me to write my half baked ideas for years and years. I thought a bout starting a new blog, a middle blog about starting in ordained ministry, or transforming this one. But i doubt I will have time. I’m going to have to use what I have practiced here for curricula, and newsletters, and other orderly church communication.

Thank you again.


Written by RyanGaffney

February 7, 2017 at 1:28 pm

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Only about Ten Heresies

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A long long time ago I was in college and had a very clever college pastor. Things didn’t work out, it’s a long story told during my first year of blogging, but he had one very good idea that I keep coming back to.

”There are only really about ten heresies” He said. They just keep coming back once everyone forgets we already condemned them. I think he has an incredible point that clariefies much of christian history.

I don’t claim to have the athouratative list bit i’ve been working on it. Basicly you go one way or the other with one of a couple important parts of the faith, like:

TRINITY: Denying the Oneness
If you think that one of the parts of the trinity is more important than the other parts, or that they all work together for form God like voltron instead of being God in and of themselfs, you done goofed. We have silly names for it like Tritheism and Pneumatomachianism, but basicly they are all various ways to fail to aknowledge God is one

TRINITY: Denying the Threeness
If you feel like being wrong about the trinity, but counting to one is not a problem for you, you may liket to deny God’s Threeness. Call it Modalism, or Patripassionism or Oneness Pentecostalism, it’s all one thing and it was condemned in Smyrna long long ago.

JESUS: Denying the Goditude
Maybe Jesus was a mortal man who was adopted by God, or maybe he was the union of word and flesh, but distinct from and lower than the “Son of God”. Maybe he’s really just a symbol and not a real thing we should actually look for in history. Whatever dude. I don’t need to memorize a new name for this mistake. It’s wrong.

JESUS: Denying the Manitude
So If that’s wrong that maybe we should go the other way. Maybe gos only “appeared” to be Jesus and his earthly form was an illusion, or maybe he was so perfect that he kinda metaphorically hovered a quarter inch off the ground. Maybe his divine nature totally usurped and superceded his human nature and made it irrelevant. Nope. None of those are true. Christ was fully human.

SALVATION: Denying the Law
This one is popular (and popularly condemned) right now. Sort of a Universalist “noncondemnationalism” I can do whatever i want, believe whatever I want, God forgives anything and everything for everyone all the time. There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus… But the bible, and all of church history has some pretty concrete things to say about those that are not in Christ Jesus, whether they go to church or not.

SALVATION: Denying the Gospel
This one is even more common, and frighteningly rarley condemned in the subculture. Orthodox Christians profess salvation by Grace alone through faith alone but nothing. So if you have a belief that “you are not saved unless you ____ “ it does not matter what you fill the blank with, you are a heretic. Because you are not saved unless Jesus saves you, and what you do has nothing to do with it. It used to be called “Pelegianism” not it’s more commonly called “Legalism” but while the former was clearly denounced as a rejection of Jesus and everything he lived died for, the latter is usually meant to mean someone should lighten up. Legalists should not “lighten up” they should repent and believe the good news. They are wrong.

I honestly can’t think of any more off the top of my head.

What do you think?

Does that cover it?

Should I make room for something about Eschatology? Being obsessed with the bay or hour, vs denying the parousia?

I thought about some behavorial heresies like antinomianism, but honesly I think those are covered under salvation.

You tell me

Written by RyanGaffney

January 11, 2017 at 12:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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roasted-broccoli-horiz-close-1200I like broccoli a lot, but didn’t always like broccoli.

It used to be something that I tolerated, because I knew it was good for me.

I didn’t hate it or anything. I just considered it palatable only when covered in gobs of ranch, or cheese.

Then one say everyting changed.

I found a recipie, that sugested roasting brocoli with olive oil and garlic on high heat for a short time.

It was an absolute game changer in my relationship with brocoli.

Suddenly i could eat broccoli as a main course, center stage in a dish, and really enjoy it for what it is! This recipie even helped me appreciate other dishes with broccoli in them, because I feel like I know what the broccoli flavor is really all about now.

Why an I telling you this?

I feel like a lot of people have a relationship with scripture that is like my relationship to broccoli. We know it is good for us, but we don’t enjoy it. We stuff it down when we can, by serving it alongside worship songs and didactic sermons. We read “devotionals” instead of scritures, and we tell ourselfs they count because they mention scripture verses in them, but we don’t stop and ask ourselfs why the scriptures cannot be the main course.

We don’t like the taste.

That’s the reason. And it’s a legitimate one. We find it boring, or confusing, or irrelevant, or bitter. So we make sure to cover the taste with something sweet or cheesy, and then show off our clean plate.

But I think there is a way to serve scripture as a main course that people authentically love, and don’t have to pretend be fine with. I thinks that’s how scripture got to be scripture in the first place. I think that if we dispense with the search for dressings, and set about figuring our how to roast it right, we will change people’s relationship to the Word of God.

I just haven’t figured out what it is yet.

This analogy, more than anything else, closley describes what I hope to do with my life of ministry.

Find that broccoli recipie for every book in scripture, and teach it to people.

Written by RyanGaffney

January 4, 2017 at 11:53 pm

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2016 Has Actually Been Great For Me.

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A few days ago we all said goodbye to Carrie Fischer, perhaps the actress I most beloved in childhood. Prior to that were the deaths of Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, David Bowie, and the Great Barrier Reef. This combined with a grim election season, a increase in poliece shootings, and several crises on top of one another like the Flint water crisis, the Dakota Pipeline, and last but not least, the Syrian Cival War, have lead many to decry the year 2016 as the worst in history, and announce that they cannot wait for it’s end.

Which is why I feel a little guilty admitting it has been the best year of my life.

15683274_2947533485963_176916484_nThe year started for me, when I asked Tiffany’s parents for her hand. In Janurary, I took a whirlwind tour of Turkey following Paul’s Missionary Journy on scholarship. My last semester was incredibly challenging, and I rocked it! Preaching regularly, planning a wedding, and ultimatley graduating above my goal of a 3.5 GPA with a Master of Divinity Degree.

Then came the wedding, the honeymoon, and the begining of our lives together in a new apartment, with a new car, and a new dog “Obi Wan”.

As the news around us internationally we were working to build community and fight isolation in our home of San Marcos. And saw the development of a new gaming group, a weekly coffeehouse meetup, a pubnight, two biblestudies, ane three potluck events with our new neighbors.

Things look broght for 2017 as well, with new employment and ordination prospects, It looks like Tiffany and I will be able to write out own ticket.

All this, as usual, has beconed me to reflect. And to wonder why it is that I celebrate while so many suffer. Am I insulated from their suffering? And if so, is that a result of privlege or hard work? Is it all going to start paying off because I have built my house on the proverbial Rock, or did I just luck out?

So often in the past as I worried about the future I rolled my eyes at the suggestion that closeness to Christ and faithfullness to his call would result in some kind of emotional security and temporal blessing. Repeatedly throughout my life I have reflected that things were just below “fine” and religiosity was absoltutely not helping. Is this just another up that will lead to another down?

Only one way to find out!

Written by RyanGaffney

December 28, 2016 at 3:45 pm

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Merry Christmas, The Characters of RENT are Horrible People!

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It’s Christmas, so I am rewatching a number of Old holiday favorites: Die Hard, First Blood, Elf, you now, the classics.

I happened upon RENT this year, which I watched and enjoyed in theatres when it first came out. It’s a holiday musical about young people, alternative lifestyles, and telling Christians they are doing it wrong. So it’s pretty much the total package as far as I’m interested. Only trouble is, I’m not as young as I used to be, the story made more sense this time, and these bold cultural rebels have started to seem a lot more like horrible people that deserve everything that’s coming to them.

Imma show you what I mean.

First of all: The problem is not that a lot of the characters are queer. I’m fine with that, I certainly don’t think that liking members of the same sex means you deserve to die in poverty. Things like refusing to work, committing crimes, and being irresponsible in handling infectious diseases however to have a tendancy to make one poor and dead.

Homosexuality has become a smokescreen for these characters. Anyone who criticises them just doesn;t understands, and is really homophobic. They do something horrible and then kiss, “Hey mister, she’s my sister” they respond to the shocked faces. “Ooooo” the audience responds. Look at those bad judgemental peole who cannot appreciate love. Unfortunatley, I’ve seen this attitude played out in real life too.

The plot of the play begns with Mark and Roger, neither of which is gainfully employed but who nevertheless live on the lower east side. Mark is a filmmaker who has never made a film. Roger is a guitarist who hasn’t played in a year. This arrangment is possible only because their former roommate Benny is the landlord and has allowed them to become a full year late on rent. They steal power and burn things indoors without a chimney, but they are mad that they might have to pay anything at all. He tells them that if they don’t pay he Image result for rent Bennywill have to kick them out. They sing about how hard their life is for a while before resolving into a musical crecendo that they are not going to pay rent… ever.

How is this okay? Who is okay with this? How are we as an audience supposed to expect and cheer for any resolution to this besides eviction?

Enter Angel who kills Benny’s dog for money, and uses that money to buy booze for everyone. He’s therefore a hero and we all like him, but it’s not kindness, he makes it clear in a long sont that he expects the favor to be returned “Today for you, Tomarrow for me”

Oh and there is also a bi-girl who cheats on everyone while pretending to be monogamous. She is an “actress” who puts on disjointed and masterbatory shows that nobody would ever pay for tickets for. She is also mad at Benny because she wants the performance space rent-free just like the boys apartment and he won’t give it to her.

It’s not that these characters have no moral code. It’s just that their moral code is terrible and wrong. These characters identify the following things as immoral in the movie

  1. Expecting payment for services (with Benny obviously, but also the server at the cafe)
  2. Accepting a paying job with artistic flexibility (this was called “selling out” and Mark felt guilty for it)
  3. Ever not having sex with someone (Roger told Mimi “another day” and it was a big deal)

It’s worth noting concerning #3 that both Mimi and Roger had aids, neither knew about the other one, and neither told the other one they had it as a reason why whe might not want to have promiscous sex right now. This is not considered a valid excuse, and the Roger is very sorry he refused to infect what he thought was an innocent girl with a fatal disease, or contract a fatal disease from her. His bad.

And the strangest thing about all this, the strangest thing is that Benny is right there as a member of the main cast, making all the sense in the world about how fucked up this all is, and serving as a foil to the horrible characters.

They make fun — yet I’m the one
Attempting to do some good

This dude has a POINT!

I don’t know how I ever watched this with a straight face.

Oh. And one last thing. There are 525960 minutes in a year. Can’t these people do anything right?

Written by RyanGaffney

December 21, 2016 at 6:23 pm

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Failure Experienced

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Last week I opined on the importance of failure in generating success. I alluded to the fact that it isn’t taught or discussed enough. This week I want to talk about how I learned the truth of it, if noone taught me.

I learned it the hard way.

I’ve never failed harder then when I left Kansas. Of course I cringe, even today, to use that word. There are ways in which I wonder if it’s accurate. Good ministry took place in the years I spent there. Yet my Job was to plant a new ministry, and I left with that work unfinished. And that was because of certain things I did wrong.

The truth I can say now that I coulden’t say then is that I was pushed out. The Regional Director (My Boss’s Boss) who hired me was promoted away soon after I started (he’s actually been promoted again and is now President of InterVarsity) The person that replaced him and I never really saw eye-to-eye.

I neglected fundraising for as long as I could, and depended instead on the endowlment that had been built up by previous donors. As much as I intended to, I wasn’t good at communication with supporters.

Finally, I made cultural mistakes. Having never been an IV student, I didn’t know all of the uwritten rules. I believed it when I was told that the annual retreats were opportunities to rest. In actuality those were the most important times to demonstrate compotence. My bosses rarely saw my work on campus, they only saw how excited about IV I was at staff retreats.

All of these things formed a perfect storm, and I wasn’t fired, but more and more of my supplemantary funding started being taken from me, while at the same time I started to be scrutinised more closley, while at the same time I saw staff begin to distance themselfs from me socially. I saw the writing on the wall.

I remember walking alone on dark train tracks after submitting my resignation. Manhattan Kansas was a new place. It was no longer my ministry context, it was just my home. I lamented aloud, and wondered how God had allowed this to happen. After all my students were reporting good things, I was growing as a person and as a minister, my work on campus was solid. How could I fail? What happened to my subbosedly God-given vision to start something new?

How could I fail if I had been doing something God wanted done?


I still don’t have a great answer for all that. I can say that the pat Christian answer is wrong. It’s not so simplisticly true that if we are faithful we will succeed at everything we attempt. Instead I am living proof that you can do your best, try your hardest, and devote years of your life to something righteous, and that’s still no guarentee. Sometimes Shit just happens. Sometimes obstacles you didn’t expect and coulden’t have expected get in your way.

And in that place, God is with you. In that place there is grace and love. And the fact that sometimes we fall down can actually serve to encourage us that falling doesn’t make us bad or wrong, and can give us the confidence to get up and try again.

Written by RyanGaffney

December 14, 2016 at 8:00 pm

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How To Fail

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"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." – Samuel Beckett

I don’t talk enough about my failures.

It’s a complicated situation to talk about. Many Christians don’t understand failure, and think failure and faithfulness do not go together. All of us, even me, have a tendancy to wonder what a failing person did wrong. So it becomes dangerous for leaders to talk about their failures. So leaders don’t. So the misunderstanding never gets fixed.

The truth is that most ministry fails. What’s more, the ministry that succeeds does so for a number of factors that are complicated, and usually unknown to us. The reality then, is that the best way to create a successful ministry, is to create unsuccessful ministries until one fails to be unsuccessful. That’s my method.

I can’t count the number of small groups I’ve worked with, projects I’ve started, dreams I’ve invested time and money in, that have ended in failure. Some died in the womb, some did not survive implementation, some lasted a long time before eventually turning belly up. All of them offered lessons and insight of course, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the lessons learned are always useful. Save one.

They all taught me how to fail.

Every other field knows this. If you ask a writer how to write well, they will tell you to write every day, get all the bad writing out of your system, one day you will realise it’s gotten good. Ask a game designer how to make good games, you make a prototype, playtest and fail. You ask a salesman how to sell, It’s a numbers game, get 100 “NOs”… Why then, when you ask someone how to minister do they tell you to continue in steadfast prayer and fasting?

Let’s fail boldly into the future.

Written by RyanGaffney

December 7, 2016 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized