This week is a convergence. It is Memorial Day, and I’ll share the video “Identity and Place,” a story of Fr. Stephen who is a military chaplain and Orthodox priest. And we are also happy to be hearing from author, professor and ethnomusicologist, Dr. Nathan Myrick this week. To start this episode, I want to offer a brief personal reflection and prayer for military chaplains. And interestingly what holds this all together? Spiritual writer and advocate for nonviolence, Parker Palmer. He shows up in each segment of this week’s episode.
A Reflection and Prayer for Military Chaplains
Today is Memorial Day.
As an adult I came to a conviction that non-violence is the path I must choose. This creates in me a deep ambivalence about all things militaristic. I hope and pray for a world where violence is no longer considered a path to anything good.
And I must also be honest about the fact that I have benefitted from the military. My dad worked was an Air Force officer during the Vietnam War. He did not see combat directly, but he filled important support roles. The G.I. Bill allowed him to settle in Tennessee and earn a master’s degree and complete further studies.
This move brought me into a place where I could experience a kind community of moderate Southern Baptists. That in turn allowed me to take the best of what Baptists offered at the time. And from those experiences I could envision a calling for myself. This path of mine is in addition to the income and mobility that the military gave to my dad and our family. We are all implicated. And in complicated ways benefit in a military society that depends so much on the industry and income of war.
One of the gifts my parents experienced while my dad was deployed in Europe was connection with the base chapel and a military chaplain and his wife. They gave my parents support and friendship in an otherwise isolating time. That is also the time in which I was born. I feel some anxiety about the relationship between church and state when it comes to military chaplaincy. Yet I know chaplains who also hold that tension with thoughtfulness and creativity. All people of faith need to be holding these complex tensions about the implications of our lives.
Here is my prayer today for military chaplains.
— Three Minute Ministry Mentor (@3MinuteMin) May 31, 2021
Identity and Place
Chapter 20 of my new book Pastoral Imagination focuses on identity and place. In it I raise important questions about how we understand ourselves in relationship to the places where we come from and where we serve and where we aim to go.
The story central to this chapter is about military chaplain and orthodox priest Father Stephen. Watch or listen to today’s video to take in his stories about struggling with identity and place. And try to imagine what it might be like to serve communion from the bumper of a Humvee in a war zone.
As a pastoral theologian and ethnographer, it is my job is to begin where people are. And I consider my work a gift to learn about the suffering, struggles, traumas, and losses that people live in. I also consider their joys and their callings. Thus, I cannot forsake the important and difficult work of military personnel and the chaplains who care for them. Many situations and circumstances that I study bring up concern and ambivalence for me. When I wrestle with them, those stories are often the ones I learn the most from.
I thank God for Fr. Stephen. And for all ministers who are willing to hear God’s call to be with those who suffer and to give so deeply of themselves. They bring life and love to many situations.
Listen also for the quote from Parker Palmer!
How do the places where I serve impact my identity as a minister?
Learning in practice with Nathan Myrick
Our guest author today is Nathan Myrick, Ph.D. (he, him, his). Dr. Myrick is Assistant Professor of Church Music at the Townsend School of Music, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He earned degrees from Fuller Seminary (MA) and Baylor University (PhD) in ethnomusicology.
Dr. Myrick is the lead researcher in a project, “to discover the ways that music participates in human flourishing and well-being in Christian communities,” he said in an interview last fall. The research is funded by a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship. He and his team are exploring the ways music functions in the worship life of multiple congregations. Among other questions, they will explore the role of music in the last 15 month of pandemic church life. He says about the past year, “Here are real deep injustices and evils that have forced themselves into our consciousness in a way that they have not prior to the pandemic.”
In 2021, Myrick published two new books. He is the author of Music for Others: Care, Justice, and Relational Ethics in Christian Music (Oxford University Press, 2021). And he is the co-editor with Mark Porter of a collection of essays, Ethics and Christian Musicking (Routledge Publishing, 2021). Over at his website you can find a discount for Music for Others.
What questions do you live by?
NM: What should I do? This may sound exasperated and defeatist, but I mean it more positively and actively. It is a question borne out of my identification with Pilate in asking “what is truth,” and with the Lawyer in asking “Who is My Neighbor?” It follows closely on the heels of “Jesus loves me, this I know, but what makes me so goddamn special?” The answer to that is, of course, I’m not, and it is not that God fails to bless others, but rather that I am uncomfortable accepting the grace that is given to me. So, now my asking “What should I do” is becoming “what can I do in this time and space to participate with God in the renewal of all things and the restoration of just relationship?” What does it mean to be for others? From Music for Others – “Being for others violates the rules of self righteous[ness]… and insists instead on something far more radical: a life of committed action on behalf of others.”
What question do you wrestle with in your practice of ministry?
NM: What is caring justice in this moment for these people?
How have you experienced any “Aha Moments” in your teaching, research or ministry?
NM: The most recent “Aha Moment” for me was when the weirdly diverse strands of life experience up to this point started to cohere and support each other. When I realized that my traumas were assets to my teaching. First, because I could identify and empathize with the traumas my students were encountering. And second, that I had something to offer them. This built on a previous “Aha Moment” when I realized that I didn’t have to be right in order to be effective.
How has your practice of teaching or ministry changed over time?
NM: As I’ve accepted that I need to teach from who I am (Parker Palmer), I’ve found that I am much more able to meet my students where they are. And I help to connect the material I’m trying to teach to their life at that moment. So, instead of trying to make sure they “learn the information” I’m offering, I try to help them see how that information connects to their life. This means improvising a good bit. And it also means being okay when students do not fully “getting it.” Additionally, it means being open to what they do get and evaluating that instead.
What is on your must-read list right now?
NM: God Rock, Inc, by Andrew Mall; Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical Community, by Monique Ingalls; Ecologies of Resonance in Christian Musicking, by Mark Porter; Church Music Through the Lens of Performance Theory, b Marcell Steuernagel; Debt: the First 5000 Years, by David Graeber; Loving Music Till it Hurts, by Will Cheng; and Flaming?: The Peculiar Theopoetics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance, by Alisha Lola Jones. And for fun, I really enjoyed The Birth of Loud, by Ian S. Port.
New in the 3MMM shop this week!
We are so excited to offer the journal in a fillable electronic format for those who prefer to keep it all digital!