A Pentecost Update from the Clemmons, on Mission
Year One Down, Miscellany May, More Scenes
Dear friends and family,
Today we come to the close of the feast of feasts, the week of weeks, the end of Eastertide. Christ is risen, Christ is ascended, and the Holy Spirit—the Lord, the giver of life—is come down to dwell with and in the Church.
Before his Ascension, Jesus makes some promises. It’s one of those things he does, making promises. The apostles are still reeling, still coming to initial terms with the explosion of joy and new life that burst from the vacuum-ed tomb. “Lord, will you now at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
One more time, they’ve misunderstood. “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority,” Jesus explains, and then adds the promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
As Jesus indicated before his Crucifixion, his trajectory was always back to the Father, that we might follow him—through death, through resurrection, to the joy of the heavenly Kingdom. But it was not for Jesus’ small band of disciples to follow him immediately. Jesus’ rescue mission wasn’t meant to conclude with the apostles’ drawn up to safety in a holy fast-rope helicopter extraction. The New Testament doesn't stop after the crucifixion and resurrection. After the disciples see the resurrected Jesus, the music may swell, but the credits don't start to roll. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the just the beginning; the firstfruits.
The Holy Spirit is not new on the scene, he’s been brooding and guiding and quite literally inspiring since the first stirring of creation. And yet like Jesus, whose death and resurrection established a new covenant, the Holy Spirit now appears—in rushing wind and tongues of flame—to do something new.
Compared to the scale of history as a whole, a group of some 120 Jews huddled together in Jerusalem babbling early in the morning doesn't seem all that significant. If even a congressional candidate holds a political rally and only 120 people show up, that guy's not getting elected. But it's biblical typology, not campaign wisdom, that shows us the true scale of what happens at Pentecost.
Pentecost is a new creation—the breath of God which first animated the dust now fills the room and the apostles themselves, signaling a new climax in God’s work of re-creation.
Pentecost is a new Mount Sinai, where Moses ascends to God so that God might descend—in great noise and smoke and fire—to establish his covenant with his people who will be a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Pentecost is a new Levite judgment (cf. Ex 32:28)—but instead of 3000 slain in judgment, the apostles prophecy and 3000 "are cut to the heart" and "added to their number."
Pentecost is Ezekiel’s vision—the valley of dry bones given life by prophecy from Spirit, the hearts of stone replaced by God’s own Spirit.
And my favorite flourish: at Pentecost, we see Babel reversed.
Instead of humans attempting to touch the heavens by their own ingenuity and power, we see God descend from heaven in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Instead of confusing a single tongue into many, we see the Holy Spirit causes the manifold languages to be united into a single speech, namely, the praise and worship of the living God.
Pentecost is another building project, but this time, instead of men trying to build their own unshakable city and tower, to make their name great, God is initiating His own building project—the Church, the true ark—where His name is made great.
For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord. (Zeph. 3:9)
May you know today the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, whose ministry is ever to point us to Christ. May you join in His mission to make Christ known, and in your obedience know that God is nearer to us than we are even to ourselves.
Peace of Christ,
Year One Down
This is the way the semester ends
This is the way the semester ends
This is the way the semester ends
Not with a bang, but with a whimper
—grad student T.S. Eliot, probably
At the beginning of May, I completed my first year of seminary. In most ways, it was an anticlimax. Not everything has to be cinematic, I suppose. The actual finals I took were relatively easy. The final papers were relatively strenuous. I was pleased with the work I did, but there wasn’t much in the way of closure.
For anyone interested, my writing at the end of the semester focused on two rather different but basically related themes:
The nature of the Church’s institutional and doctrinal authority as expressed in Article XX of the 39 Articles, particularly as it was interpreted in the thought of Richard Hooker (I might try to develop part of this paper into a little essay for a contest, which I’ll also post on the blog).
The nature of the Church and the sacraments, especially as each relates to faith, and how the Church’s understanding changed from the late Medieval consensus to the early Reformation changes (especially in Luther, Zwingli, and the Radical Reformers).
After turning in my final paper, I went with a group of students in the Institute for Anglican Studies (basically my group of friends) on a short retreat to Destin, FL. It was bizarre. Imagine, if you can, the uncanny contrast between the Mississippi State greeklife™ groups and our goofy band of Anglican seminarians following a septuagenarian British church historian around. Imagine the same historian talking in detail with a Romanian waiter about late-80s Romanian culture in the fake chapel/wine-cellar of MacGuire’s Irish Pub & Pizzeria. The optics alone were hilarious.
I also got to visit with my Mimi a couple times while down in Florida, which was a delight.
On the drive back, we stopped in Montgomery to visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which was a grave and bracing experience. The Memorial itself is brilliantly designed, a sort of labyrinth of monuments to the victims of lynching from the era of Reconstruction until post-WWII. You wind through slowly, counting county-by-county a history of violence and oppression, realizing this is my own country, my own county, a history from which I could not extricate myself if I wanted to. The labyrinth opens into well-kept lawn and garden on a hilltop over Montgomery, which stands starkly in the late-Spring heat. These tragedies of human sin and terror and fear and violence happened in this very world, blood seeped in these soils. The Memorial, for its unflinching remembrance, does not despair. It rather exhorts its visitors, the people of the nation, to a renewed pursuit of virtue, private and public, cardinal and theological. To acknowledge, to confess, to resolve, to trust, to sacrifice. The whole experience has the effect of a good sermon, a sermon in concrete and iron and water and soil. I’d definitely recommend a visit if you ever find yourself near Montgomery.
With the semester completed, and before I start Summer Hebrew, we’re left in May with a grab-bag of rest and activity. If anyone out there has figured out how to properly rest when it’s time to rest and properly work when it’s time to work, and how to tell the difference between those times, please teach me. I end up resting uneasy thinking of all the things I could get done, and working without focus because I just want to rest. Add to the ambiguity the feeling of malaise that descends upon me each summer, and I’m just not that good at the off-season.
But the month has not been without joy and progress.
House projects which were put off in the semester have been taken up again, albeit reluctantly. Trees needed cutting, plants needed planting. We’ve built a couple raised beds using only materials we harvested or found in the construction-junk piles buried on our property. Eleanor and Ames got a bunk bed, which only needed a four-hour assembly. We’re about 1/4 done with painting the house.
Some new projects cropped up, too. Attempting to identify a problem in our attic, I slipped and fell through the ceiling. (I caught myself, but not before I put a neat hole in our ceiling drywall.) So I learned how to drywall a ceiling.
My part-time position as the new church janitor remains in a sort of limbo. The presently-contracted company—which has been in breach of contract for months now—is holding on to the ingenious technicalities of the contract, which make them near-impossible to let go. So I’m on-call, basically. I could start this week, or it could be November. Which means it’s also odd job season: I’m working with a Samford professor to develop his forthcoming book into a series of blog posts. I’m talking with a local repair company to help do some handyman work. I’ll run the sound and clean up at a wedding in a couple weeks. Erin did a small market last week to test out some of her new wares.
I’ve been able to live more and more into my diaconal ministry at Christ the King: comforting, meeting with folks, serving liturgically, praying regularly, helping to form a new college group (which is presently in-between the planning and outreach stage). And I’ve just received the green light to begin a new chapter of the Hall of Men, which will start up in August. (I’m also on the church softball team, which has long been a dream of mine, haha.)
As Erin let me go to Destin, I took sole charge of Eleanor and Ames so Erin (and Virgil) could enjoy a bird-watching, nature-walking trip with Erin’s mom and sister, which was a refreshing weekend for her. And this afternoon we’re driving up to Cedar Hill for what might be the final family reunion at her childhood home, before Nana and Papa move this summer.
Eleanor and Ames have been thriving—gardening with Mama, reading every book in the library, going to a nearby playground and Splashpad, meeting and playing with friends (especially at Erin’s Thursday morning Bible study).
And Virgil has become just the best baby—content, predictable, squishy, smiley as can be. We’re grateful he’s made life easy on us.
More Scenes Cont.
More scenes from Cahaba, Eastertide 2021.
Reading: After finishing the semester I wanted a good, strange novel to get lost in for a while. Piranesi, by Susannah Clarke, delivered. A strange tale of an austere, almost-allegoric world, with an endearing narrator and a mysterious through-line. Worth the read on a couple summer afternoons.
Listening: Not much. Cory Wong, who also plays guitar for Vulfpeck, makes funky good-time summer music, and kept my spirit up and my head nodding as I wrote final papers. It’s always an encouragement to know that someone out there is just having fun. His album Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul is great in the background, though songs like “Cosmic Sans” are groovy enough to demand your attention.
Watching: If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend Chloé Zhao’s latest film Nomadland (which just won best picture at the Oscars, but don’t hold that against it). It’s a lightly fictionalized story about modern-day American nomads. I’m a big fan of Zhao’s filmmaking (in both this one and The Rider), which really sees the arid beauty of the West, has a unique doc-adjacent tone and casting, as well as a Malickian fixation on the magic hour. It would be a great film to watch in the company of Stegner and Steinbeck.
Food & Drink: Big shoutout to our friends JonMark and Heather who capped their family’s delightful Cahaba visit by taking us (that is, Zack and Erin) out to a genuine steakhouse, the kind of prodigal treat we’d never otherwise allow ourselves these days. Sweet chili calamari, perfectly rendered pork belly over goat-cheese grits, a precisely cooked ribeye… it feels cruel to write this.
The best way to support us is to join with the Son in remembering us before the Father. If you’d like to pray with and for us, here are some things you can remember:
we thank God for bringing us through this first year of seminary in one piece: all our needs provided for, a community of friends and neighbors, much learned
that I would be diligent and successful in learning Hebrew this summer, that I might better read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, and proclaim God’s character and work through the Old Testament
that we would have the space and actually devote the time to some deep reflection on our trajectory one year in to our “life on mission,” and as we think through the year to come—spiritually, familialy, habitually, financially, &c.
that our habits—all of them—would be submitted to the will of God
that Erin would continue to find rejuvenation and joy in her work in the studio & garden
that Eleanor and Ames would continue to develop good friendships with children at church
that Virgil would continue to grow healthy and strong
that God would go before us to begin preparing our post-seminary ministry
We’d also like to pray with and for you! If you’re reading this, you’re probably already in our prayers, but we’d love to know more specifically what we can pray for. You can text us, of course, or you can email us prayer requests at email@example.com
We’re the Clemmons family–-Zack, Erin, Eleanor, Ames & Virgil–-living & studying & working in Birmingham, Alabama for sake of God’s Kingdom.
If you’d like, you can support us financially as we navigate this season on mission, without regular incomes.
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