I dedicate this poem to all who have gathered courage to climb a mountain, look out over the world, and speak—and then, startled by strange echoes, wondered who the speaker really was.
“HOW DO YOU KNOW ME?”
John 1:47-49; 2:24-25; 21:17
The more I post my words abroad
For hearers near and far,
In true attempt to share with other souls,
Athirst or not,
The meager growth in understanding I have felt
And feel we want still more;
The more my words, as arrows blown beyond my sight,
Are heard by those who know me not
And cannot weigh with knowing minds
The heart and mind from whence those words took flight.
From distant minds more words return,
Words launched in echo to my own,
Each bearing freight of praise unmerited
Or censure crisply drawn.
My words are weighed on varied scales.
And not my words alone:
Hearts that I cannot measure well, or fairly,
Do not wait to weigh my own,
Assigning mental skill,
Or motive liberally.
How shall I weigh these words?
They rightly rouse me to appraise my heart, and yet
Unequal weights abominations are,
And mock the truest scales.
For even love paints me with double tongue:
Its words of thanks and warning fall
In overlapping strokes upon my ear
Until a muddled portrait now appears.
Unless I am two men at once, or more,
I cannot be the man of whom all speak.
By Judge, not jury, we’ll at last be tried
(Though judged as mutual jurors, side by side)
One word alone I long to hear,
The word of Him who spoke this spinning sphere in space—
Whose words I must proclaim, no more, no less—
Who needs no witness, knowing what’s in man
(And knowing all, you know I love you, too),
Who underneath the fig tree saw my soul
Before I knew his name—
May He, the King, proclaim:
“An Israelite indeed, in whom there’s no deceit!”
—Dwight Gingrich, December 2015
For most people, self-identity is largely rooted in community. When our community offers a coherent and consistent reading of our souls, our confidence is bolstered. We know who we are, and we speak who we are. (This is a very biblical reality. For only one example, see Romans 12:3-8.)
But when our community expands, multiplies, or otherwise changes, divergent readings of our soul may be offered, and our self-identity can be shaken. At worst, such inconsistent echoes threaten to unhinge us mentally, destroying all confidence in our own ability to hear, to assess, to know anything at all for sure. Who am I,really? And dare I continue to speak, when speaking only increases the echoes that lay claim to my ears?
We are not competent to weigh our own hearts. But One is. He will weigh both our hearts and our words. In him we rest, and for his sake we speak—and will continue to speak, God willing, in 2016.
Writers, speakers, teachers—anyone: Have you ever experienced what I express in this poem? How do you process the diverse feedback that your words awaken? How do you discern when and how to let this feedback change your future words? How do you write and speak for an Audience of One without disregarding the needs and perspectives of your audience of many? And how do you learn from your audience of many without letting your Audience of One lose command of your words? Send me more echoes in the comments below.
PS: It was a lot of fun for both Mom and I to exchange normal roles and have her give me feedback as I made final decisions about this poem. I thank her for her help, yet any remaining flaws are entirely my own. One line in particular gave me no end of grief. My wife couldn’t make sense of it, Mom wasn’t sure about it, and I tried well over a dozen variants before I finally settled half contentedly on one, only since it was time to publish. So I’ll leave you with the explanation I gave my wife: Sometimes it’s good to have a line or two that leaves the reader completely stymied, with no sure way of knowing exactly what the author intended. This forces the reader to consider multiple possible readings, each with its own moral implications. Thus the reader enjoys multiple opportunities for moral improvement. 🙂 So puzzle and reflect—and let me know if you think you know which line robbed so much of my time.
A lot can happen in one year. By God’s grace, one year ago yesterday I launched Dwight Gingrich Online as a vehicle for sharing the biblical and ecclesiological concerns stirring in my 40-year-young heart. While I can’t say my feeble blogging efforts have turned the world upside down, my own world, and the world of my family, has been radically changed.
This post shares some of my reflections on my first (and hopefully not last) year of hosting a website and blog.
Total non-blog web pages: 31 Total blog posts: 94 (plus 52 historical posts copied from Facebook) Busiest month: November, 2014 and January, 2015—12 posts each Slowest month: February and June, 2015—4 posts each Average blogging time per post: 4.936 hours (based entirely on unverified personal perception, authorial weariness, and keyboard wear)
General Traffic Statistics
Total views: 51,970 (This includes maybe 1000 prior to launch.) Total visitors: 20,884 Busiest month: May, 2015 or October, 2015 (In May 3,278 visitors made 7,937 views, attracted mostly by a series of posts on Anabaptists and tradition. This month has already seen 3,518 visitors, and may also break records for views.) Busiest single day: October 8, 2015 (1,116 visitors made 1,404 views on the day I posted “In Which a Strange Plan is Hatched on Facebook.”) Busiest day of the week: Monday (25% of all views) Busiest time of the day: 7:00 a.m. (CST, I think!) Total comments: 732 (Minus 302 by Yours Truly. Award for busiest commentator goes to Wayne Horst.) Blog subscribers: 149 (plus various Facebook, Feedly, and other followers)
I shared several series of posts, including a 6-part series called “Giving to and through the Church” (see here), a 7-part series called “Ecclesiology of the Reformers,” based on a book by Timothy George (see here), and an informal “series” of posts on Anabaptists and tradition, beginning roughly with this late-April quote from David Bercot and ending with twin posts entitled “Tradition in the NT: Bad Examples” and “Tradition in the NT: Good Examples.” (By the way, I have been secretly disappointed that my “bad examples” post has been viewed more often than the “good examples” post, since it is in the latter that I gave my best shot at explaining what the NT actually does teach about tradition!)
One of Mom’s poems, “Jesus in the Room”—about sexual sin and/or abuse, surprised us both with the positive response it rapidly received. It has been a great honour (Canadian spelling for the moment!) to share one of Mom’s poem’s each month (see here). To the extent that I have some writing ability, you now know I’ve come by it honestly.
It was also a special honor to share a post about my father-in-lawAlbert Mast’s memorial service, complete with obituary and the sermon I was invited to give. This was a great opportunity to share on one of my favorite, world-framing truths—resurrection!
Things I’ve Learned (or Re-learned) while Blogging
Good writing is hard work and takes a lot of time.
Posting a good piece of writing takes even more time–adding links and tags and categories, preparing the post for search engines, making it easy for people to comment, etc. Since my goal is to have a website that is searchable and indexed as an ever-growing resource and not merely some here-today-gone-tomorrow musings, these things take time.
Falling short of your goals is better than not attempting any goals at all. I’ve written fewer book reports than I’d hoped, I haven’t kept the “Events for Bible Students” calendar up to date, I’ve failed to post Linford Berry’s videos on sermon prep, I haven’t started that series of guest posts about the value of training in Bible interpretation, my family photo is now 2 years old, and I’ve never had the time to launch a “Q and A” feature as some have wished. But what God has accomplished through DGO has encouraged me!
It is really, really hard to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). The post where I was perhaps most specific in my “prophetic assessments” was the one about the Anabaptist Identity Conference (actually, there were a few). The response to this post was mostly positive—based, at least, on what was said to me! I even had a church leader I’ve never met call me up to thank me for the post. But I also discovered in personal conversation with one of the AIC organizers (a dear brother in Christ) that my post was painful for him, and that we don’t see eye-to-eye on some significant secondary matters about church life. I love this dear brother and deeply respect his testimony for Christ. And I love all my brothers and sisters with whom I disagree. Family disagreements are no fun at all. I made one or two minor edits to the post and left it standing. Maybe in the future one or both of us will make further edits to our understandings? My deepest desire is to help build up the church of Christ (Eph. 4:16), yet I wrestle with how best to do that.
We conservative Anabaptists, unlike the scholarly academic guild, have no widely-accepted protocols for how to disagree with each other in print. We are not used to the public assessment of each other that happens in, say, the book review section of a peer-reviewed journal. How do those ways of assessing each other’s ideas fit with an Anabaptist focus on brotherly love and one-on-one Matthew 18 confrontation? And especially when your primary interaction with the brother at hand is via publicly-shared books or recorded sermons? And when the disagreement is about secondary doctrinal differences and not moral failings unlike in Matthew 18)? Again, I want to learn more about “speaking the truth in love.”
Both truth and our response to truth are important. That’s one reason I’ve been excited to include Mom’s poems here—she brings an element of reflection and worship that my posts don’t always directly include, but which is important to me.
Lots of people are really hungry for solid biblical answers. Blogging is connecting me with people all over whom I’ve never met. Some of them have sent private messages with theological and practical questions. There continues to be a need for careful Bible study and clearly-articulated answers.
The church is bigger than I know. Blogging has connected me with Anabaptists of many kinds from all over, and also with others beyond (such as Anabaptist-watcher Arthur Sido and Baptist author/missionary Dave Black).
I enjoy tracking blog stats, am capable of spending too much time doing so, and have a daily need to surrender the popularity of my blog to God.
You never know who is reading what you share online. (I’ve been surprised when an author commented on a review I wrote of his book!)
You often can’t tell beforehand which posts will gain the biggest response. So, in faith, you keep throwing your words to the wind…
Only about half of your subscribers will actually read each post. So, in faith, you keep throwing your words to the wind…
There is a lot of noise online. Fewer quality posts are often better than many shallow ones. And addressing current events and controversies isn’t always the most important thing to do.
Blogging can change your life…
How Blogging Has Changed My Life
This could be a long essay, but I’ll keep it short: Who would have every guessed a year ago that this blog would lead us to pick up roots and plan a move to Atlanta, GA? God alone knows what this move will bring. (Or even if it will actually happen—oh the joys of house-hunting and waiting on God’s timing! No, we have not given up.) But I’m amazed and blessed that God can use a series of ordinary “coincidental’ events to guide his people! You can read about this here.
I wonder how blogging might change our lives in the next year…
I give my hearty thanks to each of you who have supported me in my blogging efforts! You have greatly encouraged me.
As I look ahead to the next year of blogging, I want to give this website again to God. May he bless it for as many days as it brings glory to his name!
Finally, despite an unusually large number of recent posts that are personal in nature, the purpose of this website remains the same: This website exists to build up the Church of Jesus Christ by helping her listen carefully to the Scriptures.
I repeat my invitation to help hold me accountable to this end.
For Christ and his Church,
I welcome you to join me in reflecting on the past year of DGO. Was there a specific post I didn’t mention there that especially helped you? Do you have any advice to give me for the next year? How do you think a website with the goals I’ve identified can best help build the church, Anabaptist and beyond? Share your insights in the comments below.
God willing, our family will soon be moving to Atlanta, Georgia. In my last post I dropped some hints about us moving to “really bad farmland,” so I thought I should share the news here. Continue reading for a rambling post full of theological and personal reflection.
Five years ago this month we moved to Iowa from New York City, after about seven years in The Big Apple. We came here to support my wife Zonya’s parents as her father’s health declined. Since Albert died in December, we have been “in transition mode,” asking God what’s next for our family. Many options and invitations came our way. Of the many, The Big Peach (aka “Atlanta”) gradually claimed center spot in our thoughts.
I’ve never felt good at making major decisions, but I have learned (slowly, repeatedly) that we can fully trust God to to care and to guide as he sees fit.
There is much mystery in how God guides our steps. I do not believe that it is normally the case that God has one detailed, perfect plan for our lives that he is keeping secret from us, a plan that we must beg him to supernaturally reveal lest we fall short of his perfect will. When we read about God’s will for us in Scripture, it is a much deeper matter: His will is that we be conformed to Christ in all dimensions of our character. In the specific “accidental” choices of life, he usually gives us much freedom. For example, in the choice of a marriage partner, we are to marry “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39) rather than to look for Mr. or Ms. Right. So the normal call in decision-making is a call to walk in wisdom within the moral boundaries God has provided.
But then there are also times when God speaks dramatically into our lives, giving very specific guidance: “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Often such special guidance comes unexpectedly, both in the sense that we aren’t seeking special guidance at the time and that the content of the guidance surprises us. Yet Scripture also records multiple cases of God’s people specially seeking him during times when important decisions are made: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for us Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them'” (Acts 13:2).
To sum it up, it seems we should follow the example that Paul shares in passages such as Romans 1:9-15, Romans 15:18-32, and 1 Corinthians 16:5-9. Garry Friesen summarizes Paul’s approach in six bullet points:
Purposes: Paul adopted spiritual goals that were based on divine revelation.
Priorities: He arranged his goals into wise priorities determining what should be done first, second, third, and so on.
Plans: Next, he devised a strategy for accomplishing his objectives.
Prayer: Through prayer, he submitted himself and his plans to the sovereign will of God…
Perseverance: When providentially hindered from accomplishing his plans, he assumed that the delay was God’s sovereign will. This conviction freed him from discouragement…
Presentation: Paul explained his decisions on the basis of God’s moral will and his personal application of wisdom. 1
I—like some other people whose decisions I have respected—have found Garry Friesen’s book Decision Making and the Will of God to be freeing. I might tweak Friesen’s discussion in a few spots, such as his understanding of special guidance through spiritual gifts such as prophecy. But I think his approach sets a strong biblical foundation for making decisions that please God. (For a very similar approach in a much shorter span, see Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will.) Turn your heart passionately after God and trust, child-like, that he will guide you.
So how has God been guiding us toward Atlanta? I’ll give the “short” version in another series of bullet points:
We began intentionally praying for guidance immediately upon Albert’s passing in December, and we began asking counsel of long-time friends and advisers early this year.
God began working much earlier. I’ll start with my shoulder problems which began about June, 2014—though I could trace God’s sovereign hand back to my birth and before. These shoulder problems drastically reduced my hours at work for over half a year—which gave me much more time to launch this website.
A “Steve Smucker” sent me a Facebook message in mid-February that included this:
Dwight, I’ve been following your posts for a short while now and have been thoroughly enjoying your thoughts and writings… I am curious about a statement you made a while back that seemed to insinuate the possibility of you relocating to another area… [A friend] and I have been in discussions for the last few months about the possibility of starting an Anabaptist church here in the city… Last week your name came to my mind for some reason. My wife and I have been wishing for several years to have another couple or two join us in ministering to the community. We have contacted two other couples in the last year but it has not worked for either. Obviously there would need to be a lot of discussion to see if we are compatible both in our spiritual understanding and vision as well as general life. As I mentioned before I have found many of your posts resonating strongly within me… I know this is abrupt and as far as I know you don’t really know myself or my wife. We do see a lot of opportunities to serve and witness throughout Atlanta and see it as an area that is needing a rebirth of genuine Scriptural teaching as well as authentic Christianity in our lifestyle. Please prayerfully consider this. I completely understand if you already have somewhere God is taking you and your family, if there is hesitation about us due to not knowing us or any other reason, so if this is something you know right away is not for you feel free to let me know.
This message led to some written dialogue, followed by several long phone calls.
By May, Zonya and I felt peace about reducing our many options to a short list of three, one being Atlanta. (I’m leaving out some really significant pondering and dialogue regarding other options.)
In June we visited Atlanta. I think it was my first time in the city. It was certainly our first time meeting Steve and Christy and their family. On our way there, I told Zonya that this felt a bit like going on a first date: We might walk away from this never to return, saying “Well, that was interesting!” Or it might be all fuzzy and unclear when we’re done. Or it might be instantly life-changing. Which was it? Well, all ten of us (they have three young boys, we have three young girls) hit it off famously and immediately during our four-day visit. Within minutes the children were happily playing by themselves, and we adults spent long hours comparing life stories and personal convictions and biblical understandings and visions for church and ministry. By the time we left, we knew we had at minimum gained new friends.
The rest of June and July we communicated more with the Smuckers and also followed up on our other short list options. (One of these is part-time teaching at a Bible school. We have applied and are awaiting a response.)
August arrived and we still felt peace and desire regarding Atlanta. So we specially gave the month of August to God, inviting him to say “no” or “not yet” regarding Atlanta if he saw fit. We told him we would say “yes” to Atlanta if he didn’t send an orange or red light before September 1. During this month Zonya and I took time each week to fast, pray, and listen. Steve and I also exchanged character references. All the references that Steve provided spoke highly of his character, and I also had a really good phone visit with his dad, Elmer (formerly a bishop in Lott, Texas).
It was a bit hard to sleep the night of August 31, and not just because I was sleeping in a tent in the backyard with my family. When we woke up in the morning, we finally made our decision: We were moving to Atlanta!
We’ve had some interesting conversations with our children in the past few days. Several days ago our oldest (six) asked me, “So, what church will we be part of in Atlanta?” I told her that Steves and us will be a church together. “What, a ten-person church?!” But a smile peeked around the surprised look. I assured her our goal is to invite others to join us as a church and follow Jesus together. “Dad, are there any other churches in Atlanta?” “Oh, there’s a lot, over 100.” “Are there any Mennonite churches?” “Yes, I know of two. But I’m sad to say that in some ways they don’t obey the Bible very well.” “Maybe some of them will decide to join our church.” “That would be wonderful.”
Last evening our middle daughter (four) asked me earnestly, “Dad…? Did God say Yes?” (It took me a moment to confirm she was asking about our move to Atlanta.) Well, what is the right answer? Though I have a lot of peace about our decision, I can’t point to any undisputable special revelation from God telling us he wants us to go. So I told her that, yes, I think God will be very pleased if we move to Atlanta to learn to live in love and truth with Steve and Christy and their family and invite others to help us follow Jesus. She seemed content with this answer, and so am I. God will redirect if he so chooses.
I’m excited to think of raising our family in a new church in Atlanta! History shows that most Christian organizations, including churches, go through a common life cycle that has been summarized as Man –> Movement –> Machinery –> Monument. God can bring revival that rescues us from this “death cycle,” but look around and you will see a lot of churches where most participants have long lost the vision of the founding generation. Yes, God can certainly deliver us from this death cycle. And I think one of the very best ways he prefers to do this is by sending many of us out as men and women to begin new movements—new ministries and churches that express in fresh ways the Great Commission heart of God. (This sending vision can also rejuvenate the “old” church.) So it excites me to have the opportunity to raise a family in a setting that is decidedly not at the “Monument” stage—to give them the chance to be part of the first (or second) generation in the life cycle of a church. Yes, new churches bring great challenges and dangers. But none greater than those facing old churches! (For more on these ideas, see Historical Drift: Must My Church Die? by Arnold L. Cook.)
So, that’s a peek into some of the decisions our family has been making in recent months. Now we’re facing many more: Which Atlanta neighborhood should we move into? Which house? What about employment options? Ministry options? And what about learning to make decisions as a fledgling two-family church? At this point we expect to move as soon as we settle the housing question (perhaps already this year), and I expect to continue writing for Open Hands and to seek new piano students. Much else remains to be discovered as we and the Smuckers learn to seek the Lord together.
If you think of us, please pray also that God will meet the needs that we did not say “yes” to. Pray especially for our dear friends here in Leon, Iowa. There are church needs and loved ones here that tug on our hearts. We long for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done ever more fully!
If you want to know more about Steve and Christy, you can visit one of Christy’s excellent websites—which are way more attractive than mine, by the way:
See “Moving Out in Faith” for Smucker family adventures—including recent visits to urban churches in Philadelphia, Boston, and (soon) New York City.
And what will a move to Atlanta (God willing) mean for this website? Here are some things I expect:
My posts may be more sporadic during the months of moving.
The challenges of learning to live as a new local expression of Christ’s body will affirm and sharpen my focus on ecclesiology. What constitutes a church? What does a church do when it gathers? How are church leaders chosen? How are decisions made? Who is a church member? How do churches share the gospel? How do they make disciples? How do they serve their communities? How do they live as a community? How do they relate to other congregations in the neighborhood?
Sooner or later (probably sooner) I will need to gain a firmer grip on some tough issues like responding to divorce and remarriage.
My idealism will be further tested on the anvils of real life and real life will issue new cries for ideals worth living.
Urban living and cross-cultural relationships will reduce my exposure to traditional rural Mennonite concerns and increase my ponderings about welcoming all peoples to the gospel way.
I will likely want to read books like House Church and Mission and The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission and A Light to the Nations and King Jesus Claims His Church and Divided by Faith and Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church and Our God is Undocumented and books by John Perkins and a host of others I haven’t yet seen…
My computer may overheat when The Big Peach cooks next summer, and that might be the end of Dwight Gingrich Online.
It’s a bit hard to think that my children might never learn to properly skate, let alone play hockey. Our oldest shed tears over this recently, and I nearly did, too.
But I’m excited that our family is moving into new adventures with God. He’s led the way from The Great White North to The Big Apple and The Corn State. Now it’s on to The Big Peach—and someday to the New Jerusalem on the New Earth!