An Overdue Update from the Clemmons, on Mission
St. Basil on Abundance | Erstwhile, in Summertide | Semester III | SummerScenes
Dear friends and family,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s been too long.
Specifically, it’s been about four months since our last update. I apologize sincerely for the delay. I realize none of you set your calendars by these updates, you don’t refresh the mailbox each morning in anticipation, but I do still intend to give regular updates on the life of our family.
Not least to keep us accountable. We moved to Birmingham as a family intentionally on mission. But I’ve felt the temptation, as I suspect many mission-ers do, towards mission drift. You set out with a clear sense of purpose, and then the practicalities and vicissitudes and plain distractions of life obscure and fade that sense until suddenly you find yourself living day-to-day, blinders on, no longer enlivened by the original animating vision. The overarching goal has remained clear: continue my theological education and pastoral formation in Beeson’s M.Div. program while we establish sustainable practices of family discipleship for a life of common ministry. And I’d like to think we’ve been faithful to that end, though of course there’s room for improvement.
Nevertheless, I know well the temptation to lower the bar, to compromise, to abandon the high calling for a lower one. To look dejectedly at the mountain of tasks which needs to be scaled each day and to settle for a does-this-really-need-to-get-done?-let’s-just-run-out-the-clock attitude. How often I feel acutely the piece of daily confession which seeks God’s forgiveness for “the things left undone.” Human limitation is real; I’m a finite creature; God knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. But I know my inertial tendencies; I don’t want to use “human limitation” as an excuse for sloth.
That said, I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately about the way the Spirit equips the church. Basil the Great reminded me recently that God’s economy (which is, incidentally, the true economy of the world), is the only economy not based on scarcity, but on abundance. God is profligate; He’s made a world of fecundity, which despite humanity’s worst efforts still produces life. We may be limited, finite, butter stretched over too much bread—but God has given us the this world and, moreover, has given us one another to supply need from abundance. Especially in the church.
I have scarcities (as do you), and I’ve been given abundances (as have you), and my abundances belong to you and yours belong to me, and God is supplying it all from the inexhaustible spring of His goodness. We’re creatures with limits so that we might recognize, acknowledge, and give thanks to God for his unflagging provision, even as we supply one another’s needs.
Anyway! For now,
Peace of Christ,
Erstwhile, in Summertide
Where did we leave things last time? I think we were in the midst of an overfull summer. Well, that summer finally closed. I learned Hebrew, at least to an intermediate-ish level, and continue to exercise those skills in my present Hebrew Exegesis class. Suffice it to say I have a long way to go to full competence.
I finished out both my furniture-reboxing job and my book-editing job, bidding an unceremonious adieu to the overheated Calera warehouse and, for a while at least, the frustrating world of faith-and-science conversation. Meanwhile, Erin was doing the more creative and beautiful work of growing a flourishing flower garden and making ceramic sculpture.
After my class ended, we squeezed in a bonus trip down to Florida to see Mimi and my immediate family, which was refreshing. A busy ministry week ensued, at the beginning of which I narrowly avoided a Super Serious Injury in our final church softball game (an outfield collision had me flying through the air and landing squarely on my back). Shortly thereafter we spent a week in Georgia homestead-sitting for Erin’s sister, where we penned chickens and fed pigs and milked a goat and I wrote a sermon for Faith Anglican Church near Memphis, TN. (We also squeezed in a trip to the Chattanooga Aquarium).
Fall took its sweet time to arrive, and when it finally did it came with historic flooding in our city. What started as an uneventful evening quickly devolved into hours of desperately fending off the flood rising in our basement. Thanks be to God, we were spared from serious damage! But here’s what the end of our street looked like:
What of those studies for which we’re putatively here? They continue apace. Fall Semester II has been significantly busier than FSI. Which is meet and right, of course. We've been here a year+ now, and we've formed attachments and habits and have obligations. Many of those obligations are practical—I'm working each week as church janitor, and those hours have to fit somewhere, Erin is putting in the hours for her pottery business. classes and preparation for classes are genuinely full-time, we're tacitly committed to hosting friends and fellow parishioners each week. Many others are more explicitly missional--commitments at church, opportunities to preach, and we’ve had the inaugural meeting of the Hall of Men: Christ the King chapter.
My classes this semester are another grab bag—heights and depths. Two classes in particular have challenged and enlightened me. My Hebrew Exegesis class is a most welcome re-entry to the world of super-close-reading the text which God has graciously provided and preserved for us. I'm also taking a course on the Cappadocians, a 4th-century crew of Very Trinitarian theologians (siblings Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Macrina, plus their loquacious friend Gregory of Nazianzus). Basil's reflections on the language we use to speak of and worship God (particularly as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has been especially illuminating, and I’ve got a decent ten-page paper on the subject if you’re interested! ;)
Eleanor, Ames, and Virgil have started in on their own new semester! They’ve taken a leave of absence from Clemmons Academy to matriculate for a year at Hunter Street Day School. This is to say, they’ve started attending, for three days a week, a Mother’s Day Out program at a massive church just down the street from our house. Three days a week for four hours at a time Eleanor and Ames go to Mrs. Melissa’s and Mrs. Bridgitte’s class, respectively. Erin had to talk me into it, but it’s been a wonderful gift—for Eleanor and Ames as they make new friends and learn to navigate the interpersonal world, and for Erin as she gets a few more hours a week to devote to her vocation as an artist (about which, stay tuned).
Images from Birmingham, Alabama, Trenton, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennesse, July-October 2021.
Reading: Erin’s been more faithful than I have at sticking with the 100 Days of Dante—a massive online reading group through Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’d encourage you to give the project a look!
Listening: For Erin's birthday, I secured tickets to the Bahamas tour, and we went on Monday night. We're far from "concert people" these days, but it was a delightful show. He forewent the band and played solo, which would've been a disappointment were his guitar-skills not so playful and virtuosic.
Watching: More than I’d care to admit, and nothing I can recommend without reservation. We’re looking forward to watching a few games of the World Series, and then this infernal machine is going back into storage indefinitely.
Food & Drink: I feel bad about this one, because I alone got to enjoy it, but I stopped by Terry Black’s Barbeque on a recent trip to Dallas (to rep Beeson at the RadVo conference), and the brisket was choice. I also spend a quarter-hour talking with the pitmaster, which convinced me that, someday, I’ll get into smoking meat.
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:
this week, pray that God would give me a word to speak and safety in travel as I travel back to Faith Anglican in Cordova, TN to preach
that Erin would meet with success at the upcoming Moss Rock Arts Festival
that we would submit our habits to the Lord, especially regarding prayer
that God would sustain us through the semester in health and diligence
that Eleanor would desire to learn more about Scripture, and would delight in prayer
that Ames would learn obedience, and we would know how better to teach it
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, with part-time income.
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