Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister


leave a comment »


One of the really frustrating realities of writing a blog about one’s life is that anyone could read it. It’s not anonymous, and therefore the juciest, most compelling bits, must always be left on the cutting room floor.

Anytime I write about a frustration I am currently experiencing, I risk making that frustration a lot worse. Because the people that are frustrating me could read it. This of course is compounded by my theory that Blogs are supposed to be half-baked because I’m not even prepared to stand behind what I write! I’m just processing here!

When I left InterVarsity I had plenty of material towrite on and think about regarding failure. I felt like I had let my students down and was being edged out of ministry, and I wanted to talk about what that felt like in the moment. I was also looking for a new Job, and It didn’t make any sense to have a series of articles about all the mistakes I had made. So I let those ideas simmer and wrote on more disposable media.

Again in seminary I had thoughts and feelings about community life and about progressive theology and the ways people on the left fail to practice many of the good things they preach. Again I felt it was better if I continued to be able to live at peace in my dorm, as opposed to having more scathing content for the blog.

Even now, as I deal with the ordination process, and work on planting, I have content begging to be published about how to help planters and not hurt them, or about effective and ineffective ministry expectations… and yet, I want to be ordained.

This is all to be expected, this happens in all forms of writing to some degree. And this is a blog after all. It’s not a priority in my life and it shoulden’t be. And yet years later those articles about failure and community life still beg to be written, and I mourn for the fact that whatever form they take, they will never be as raw and authentic as if they were written back when writing might have cost me something.

I’m going to try anyway. Next week!


Written by RyanGaffney

November 30, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Action

with 2 comments

It’s that time again.

Time for another Dang meta-post where i blog about blogging and talk about what I expect this to be.

I don’t know why I keep doing these. I can’t imagine people really wanting to read them, and yet I can’t seem to get myself to return to talking about interesting ideas and processing thoughts until I adress in some way the fact that It’s been another couple months since I’ve posted anything at all.

Travel SelfieI have a good excuse. I got married. And I moved, and I graduated with a Masters Degree, and I Bought a car, planted a church, left two jobs, and traveled to California, Florida, and California again. I’ve been BUSY.

In the midst of al of that the finish line has been running away from me.

I wrote in my last meta-post that this blog may be coming to an end. It’s really about my preparation for ministry, and I was thinking I’d ordained and installed by not. Nope. There are more hoops, more complications, more obsticles.

I’m trying to be medatative about that reality, and think deeply about the fact that ten years ago I considered myself a minister, and everything I have done since then has only made me feel like more of a chatecumin. Maybe the journey never ends. Maybe i will never feel to myself like a “real” pastor.

But I have people in my life now who are calling me Pastor. I’ve been preaching regularly for years now. When that finish line does come I don’t know what it’ll look like anymore.

Written by RyanGaffney

November 23, 2016 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


with 5 comments

I don’t really believe in demons. At least, not literal persons that pester the human race. I do however think the Bible was talking about something very real and very important that Jesus healed people of. I’ve recently been working on a new way to read those passages, and it’s serving me well. It makes sense to me both on a logical and an exegetical side. Here’s what I have so far.

In the ancient near east, particularly in the Hellenized world it was very common to personify ideas as a way to make them easier to talk about. Gods and goddesses were already personified, and represented certain needs, forces or virtues. When something which was not already a god was needed for discussion, say Pistis (faith) or Liberty we simply personified it. Nay, we personified "Her".

16_aphrodisias_museum_2The ancient world is full of depictions of gods and goddesses in the same plane with Caesars and soldiers and even personified land masses like Britania and Anatolia. All fighting, or falling in love, or interacting with one another in representative ways.

If we used the same system in the US today, we would talk about the Spirit of Trump, and of Socialism, and of Feminism, and Progress, and Liberty (some things never change) and these small gods would speak for themselves and squabble with each other and influence people.

When Jesus entered the scene as "The God" there was considerable consternation in the early church about the ramifications this would have on the other gods, or other spirits or “diamons”. (That’s the Greek spelling)

That word was used in ancient Greek documents to describe a kind of these small gods. One that might visit for a time and help you with your housework or your writing. Another, similar being was a "genius" who would come upon you suddenly and give you a great idea.

It did not make much sense for the early Christians to just deny these things these things. They could not imagine a way to talk which would describe these spirits as "not real". They are very real. They influence people. Some people are desperately paralyzed by them even. Socialism is real, Wisdom is real, Caesar is definitely real and present even to subjects who have never seen a royal parade.

So what’s an author to do? How do you make a theologically correct statement about Jesus among the Diamons. Is he prince of Diamons? No. But he has power over them and they respect him. And let me tell you about the people he helped….

When a child is raised in generational poverty they can be said to be oppressed by the spirit of that situation. When a person is subjected to so much violence and injustice that they see nothing else they may be possessed by that violent spirit. And yes, when a person has a debilitating irrational fear, it is not incorrect to pray that it be expelled or exorcised.

Those exorcisms may happen by prayer alone. They may come with application and administration of love, with welcome into community, or in some other way. “The Hunger” for instance is expelled with food. I think this is why you see so much variety in Jesus’ healings, it prevents us from trying to imitate Jesus exactly as a ritual, and invites us instead to do the right thing for the right person at the right time.

Written by RyanGaffney

April 27, 2016 at 6:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Reading the Bible for Fun and Prophet

with one comment

How should one read the Bible? Should one study a little piece at a time? Should the whole thing be read cover to cover? If so, Where does one begin? Actually it’s a trick question. The Bible is not one thing, and for optimal enjoyment, you should not read it all the same way.

You need to consider the particular books of the Bible as individual documents with particular identities and not approach them each the same way. Some books There are best read and enjoyed in one sitting and become confusing when parsed apart into verses (Esther, Job, Revelation) are other books in the canon (like Proverbs) that become dreary and incomprehensible when read all in a lump. Most of the books are somewhere in between. Like Psalms, where one psalm has little to do with the next, but certainly needs to be read in it’s entirety as a psalm. The canon order puts all the historical together, and all the prophets together, and that makes reading them a slog. That means it’s generally not advisable to go in order for the same reason you wouldn’t eat all the beef in your monthly diet on the same day, and then all the vegetables on the next. You wanna mix it up.

Then there are the genre’s of the text. Is this text primarily for instruction, is it for inspiration, for encouragement, for reproof? Is it just an interesting character study or a funny story? Is it a dispassionate statement of historical fact or a stirring morality tale wrapped in allegory? The answer to those questions depends entirely to which part of the Bible you are talking about.

So where to start? That depends. And it matters. Where you start will lay your foundation and set your bias for your reading of the rest of scripture. If you start in Romans, you will be inclined to read the rest of the Bible through the lens of salvation by grace alone like me and the protestant reformers, and you won’t be able to get it completely out of your head when you open Isaiah. If you start with The Torah like many in the Messianic community suggest, you will understand Jesus as a Rabbi much better than you will understand Jesus as Lord the first time you study the Gospels. Wherever you start, it will become important to come back again and reread the text with new eyes, being open to the new things the spirit says to who you are as a reader that time.

If you are new to ancient Jewish texts, I recommend Mark. But I do so pretty arbitrarily (it’s nice and short, narrative). You can read it for as long or as short as you want, but remember that this is supposed to be fun and interesting. Stop when it’s not, and move on. Easy peasy

Written by RyanGaffney

April 20, 2016 at 3:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

“Don’t Think, Just Believe” -WHAT???

with one comment

Sometimes I encounter people who claim to approach the bible in a childlike manner, and invariably, that so should I! Just have blind faith and do what it instructs. Do not question God. But I just have a really hard time with that.

char_38694I mean, I disagree, but that’s besides the point. I don’t think it’s biblical, but most things aren’t. I have a hard time with it because I cannot even understand what those words are meant to imply, or how a person can think they think those words are true. Let me explain”

I understand theoretically how someone can approach the Bible in a trusting and blind sort of way. "I’m just going to blindly follow this" they would say as they begin to read the book.

But after you DO IT for a while it has to become less blind. What happens when the Bible makes allusions to Greek Mythology and expects you to be familiar with them? What about all the references to other books we don’t have like Paul’s "earlier letter" in First(!?) Corinthians or the "Annals of the Kings Of Judah" in First Kings? Did you read those? The Bible told you to.

And what about all the stuff that is not instruction? Or did you somehow manage to get through Psalms and Revelation without being the least bit curious why we needed that many words for God to say "Be good". If indeed, those books do a poor job of that, then what are they for? That requires thought.

Also, Leviticus is a thing. Do these people "blindly follow" Leviticus? If do do they also at the same time blindly follow the totally different organizational structure that it laid out in the Pastoral Epistles? How?

The Bible makes you think. It FORCES it. Trying to "Just believe" the Bible is like trying to "Just Believe" Shakespeare, or Mozart. It’s not just wrong, it’s incomprehensible.

Written by RyanGaffney

April 13, 2016 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Talk To People

with one comment

Almost three years ago I wrote an article here condemning the trend to “Raise Awareness” as an alternative to actually making a difference. I challenged my readers to think of things to do to make the world a better place other than fundraising, marketing, and shopping.

It’s a tough challenge to rise to. It seems there are two levels of involvement. Either I become Rambo and save the child soldiers myself with my homemade bow and arrow, or I just like Rambo on Facebook. We are not presented with a lot of “middle” level challenge options to participate in the healing of the world. But here’s one:

Talk to people.

Break down the walls of separation that insulate you and your life from the lives of people who are different.

Service-Suggestions-Visit-Senior-Citizens-2012-10-08Go to the place where we hide the old people (Retirement Home) and talk to them. Listen to their stories from recent history, learn from them about their lives and how they wish they had lived differently. Comfort them in their loneliness and fear of death. Sometimes just listen to them ramble even if you can’t understand. Be there.

Go to the place where we hide the sick and dying (Hospital). Talk to the people there. Volunteer to walk with the chaplain and help the chaplain with anything they need done. Many chaplains make "rounds" to all the patients, but really wish they had time to spend with the one or two in crisis who really need attention. Volunteer to cover the rounds. While you are there think about your own mortality. Affirm what the patients say about their feelings.

Go to the place where we hide the poor (Shelter) Talk to people. Bring some food or something if that helps your guilt, but don’t let it excuse it. Feel your guilt. Know that everything you have was given my God and the roles could easily have been reversed. Learn from them about their exciting stories of survival in the jungle that you call a comfortable home. Treat them as people for what will probably be the first time. Ask them where their friends who are not in the shelter sleep and then go there, because only a select group go to the shelter.

Go to the place where they hide people of color (Ghetto) Talk to the people there. Realize they are mostly Christians. Seek their instruction in the ways of Jesus. Their context as a culture is different from yours and sees different things. Their context as a people who are not in power resembles the people of the bible more closely than your own people.

When you talk to all those people (and any others you can think of). As they express felt needs, apart from the need to be heard which I promise you they feel. Then and only then should you begin to up the challenge level as you craft service projects to begin to meet those expressed needs.

Written by RyanGaffney

April 6, 2016 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Suddenly, She Bears!

leave a comment »

One of the worst stories of the bible is found in II Kings 2:23-24 I want to do some work on interpreting it in a positive way. it goes like this

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

Many of the passages of the bible that seem violent or unjust put us in defensive-mode exegetically. We start looking for outs. “Maybe it’s a metaphor!” we say. Or perhaps the opposite “Maybe the point is simply to know it happened”. The same questions are asked with Joshua’s conquest, or with Jacob’s two wives. Etc.

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b0177442c0236970dI suspect many ancient readers would take this story at face value, believing this to have actually happened historically, and believing it to be justified on both God’s and Elisha’s part because the kids were evil and deserved it. The sort of skepticism about whether or not stories really happened exactly as described is a later development.

Therefore, while assuming it happened, believing it happened would not have been of special importance to them. The book of Kings repeatedly tells you that if you are looking for complete historical records you should look elsewhere! So the question becomes "What would it mean to ancient readers that this story took place?"

It would mean God is mighty, that Elisha is empowered through Gods and all of God’s prophets by extension are so empowered. It would mean that God and God’s prophets do not abide being mocked.

Throughout Kings, there is a tension between Kings and Prophets. Who has the real power? This passage says Prophets do. Kings may control armies and political structures, but those things are useless against a person who does not need agriculture to eat, because they are fed by ravens, who can fight using obedient wild beasts, for whom the earth itself is subservient.

Kings therefore, had better listen to prophets, or they will see their empires split and their armies fall.

But now that the historic prophets and kings have fallen away, What does that mean to us? How does it impact out lives of faith?

I think the passage still speaks to alternative forms of power. In the age of Eric Snowden and Chelsea Manning, bloggers and street artists can bring politicians to their knees. Police might brutalize young people of color, but young people of color equipped with video cameras and a firm moral backbone can fight back and win. The prophets of our age will not be mocked. They possess the sway of the crowds and the voice of the truth and against them no political or institutional power can stand!

The false ones will fall of course. God is not with them. But if you find yourself on the wrong side of a true prophet. If you find yourself mocking a person speaking truth to power saying "bald and powerless young idiot, give up" well then you had better watch out. You better look behind you. They have more power than you know.

…or something like that.

Written by RyanGaffney

March 30, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with