Tag Archives: Princeton Theological Seminary

Clarity of purpose trumps knowledge: Clayton Christensen

christensenDisclosure: I had never heard of this man, Clayton Christensen, until my daughter noted his obituary and said that he had had a big influence on her life.

When I read this excerpt of his words in the Weekend Reader* — the fact that Christensen  is so devoted to God’s purpose for him, and that he has managed to impart this to the secular business community, ‘blew my mind.”

For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential. But it was something I had to think long and hard about before I understood it  … Clarity about (a business person’s)  purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces…

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most…

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works. 

I also really liked this principle, one that I learned from Rev. Paul Couch when he pastored Redeember Moravian Church:

The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place. 

Rev. Couch said over and over again — if you slip once, it will be easier to do it again.

My daughter, Susannah Fox, posted about listening to Christensen in 2014. 

Then, his remarks targeted health care.  Her comment: “Great thinkers can … take you on “a helicopter ride and point out new patterns in a familiar landscape.”

Perhaps that is because he was, by definition, humble. (May I point out that great spiritual leaders, from Paul Couch to Fred Rogers are, by definition, humble?

Said Christensen:

 And if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited.

My interpretation of how teach humble is to offer good preschool care. Self esteem matters.

Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too. When we see people acting in an abusive, arrogant, or demeaning manner toward others, their behavior almost always is a symptom of their lack of self-esteem. They need to put someone else down to feel good about themselves. 

Here’s the takehome, for both business leaders and the rest of us.

Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.   

 *Note: Maxwell Anderson, who blogs as The Weekend Reader, is a Princeton seminary graduate and can be counted on to take a God-centered view of every issue. If curious, subscribe here.  I borrowed the image from his blog post.

Nancy Duff: adding her Christian voice

Nancy J. Duff, associate professor of Christian Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary, speaks at the United Methodist Men’s breakfast at the Princeton United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall on November 13, 2016 on “Called by God”

Nancy J. Duff quoted Leonard Cohen’s Anthem yesterday.

I can’t run no more/with that lawless crowd/ while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud/ But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud/ and they’re going to hear from me.

2016-november-umm-duffDuff, the Stephen Colwell Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary, had a warm reception from old and new friends at Princeton United Methodist Church. (Her husband, David Mertz, had been the assistant pastor here.)

She talked about how Christians are ‘called by God to glorify God in all that we do,” quoting the well-known saying about how a shoemaker can make shoes to glorify God. “We are called into being for a divine important purpose — and we are called to make a space where others can glorify God.”

But, she cautions, if we go to far in claiming a divine calling, ‘this could keep us from being self-critical.”

Her response to the election turmoil — her call —  is to establish her own public voice.

She writes: I know that lots of Christians who are afraid of the policies that are about to hurt people – and are already hurting people – are going to find their voice. But we need to speak individually as well as collectively.

Here is the link to her very first post on her brand new blog, Speaking Up. 

Christians who disagree with those  radically conservative evangelicals who support Trump need to speak up. This blog will be my effort to add my Christian voice to the public realm.

Some write, some discuss publicly, some engage privately, some protect, some  demonstrate — each of us, no matter what our faith, can find a way. We all crave a community.   .

Black Prophetic Rage in the Age of Ferguson

2015 11 10 black rage
“I will not submit to be charged with praying, nor do I accept the righteousness of the some 60 charges laid against those participating in the Moral Monday protests during Ferguson October,” said Reverend Osagyefo Sekou, pleading not guilty last December at Ferguson. “The only signs of Assault, Disorderly Conduct and Disturbance of the Peace I saw that morning clearly came from the garrison of riot police protecting the state citadel from a group of singing, praying, peaceful clergy, seminarians and members of the community.”
He will speak at a conference organized by The Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Seminary, “Black Prophetic Rage in the Age of Ferguson,” on Tuesday, November 10th at 7 pm in the Theron Room at the Princeton Seminary Library. Yolanda Pierce directs the center. The roster also includes Dr. Brittney Cooper, Ph.D. and Minister Janisha Gabriel, MA, responders, and Candice Benbow, MA, M.Div., Moderator. Yolanda Pierce directs the center.

Writing as Sacrament: Frederick Buechner

Surely I am the only writer at this week’s Frederick Buechner writers’ workshop who had never heard of Frederick Buechner until nBuechnerow. More than 200 other writers are attending the four-day workshop at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Even without the event, Buechner had enough Princeton connections for me to write about him here. He graduated from Lawrenceville School  in 1943 and, after a hiatus for military service, from Princeton University in 1948.

Virtually all the other attendees, mostly clergy or retired clergy, are avid fans of Buechner, who influenced several generations of seminarians. One attendee described him as an American C.S. Lewis. Buechner did not achieve Lewis’s phenomenal popularity, yet somebody found the money to establish a Frederick Buechner Institute, based in Tennessee at Kings College.

Belatedly curious, I wondered how the attention to Buechner is being funded. As a business reporter, I feel impelled to answer that question. The puzzle became clearer when I discovered that Frederick Buechner’s father-in-law was the son of the founder of the American branch of the pharma company, Merck. The source was my favorite trove of personal information about business executives who omit personal info from their biographies: a wedding announcement in the New York Times. 

Perhaps the institute and the workshop are funded solely from royalties and not from a Merck legacy. Doesn’t matter. Either way, I am profoundly grateful for the insight that, in Buechner’s words, spiritual autobiography is a form of prayer. 

Craig Barnes: The Writer and the Whirlwind

seminary photoDespair is always at hand and it is the demon most difficult to exorcise.

Words haunt you from the basement of your soul. Angels or demons make their way into the souls of your readers, carried by your words.

In the encounter with Job, God took Job’s preoccupation with Why and replaced it with WHO.

God refuses to be accountable to us. God is determined NOT to give us hope. Hope comes from the turn in the plot, because we have dropped the question Why — because our hearts are so full of WHO.

So said Craig Barnes, president of Princeton Theological Seminary at the opening worship for the Frederick Buechner writing workshop at Princeton Theological Seminary. He used two texts (Job 38: 1-7 and Psalm 119: 105-112) for his sermon entitled “The Writer and the Whirlwind.” Several at this workshop asked for my notes, so here they are, as much of what Barnes said as I could write down. (Corrections welcome). Barnes’ audience was 250 plus writers (some clergy, some lay people) from around the country. 


Job has two chapters of narrative followed by 35 chapters of lament. When it is your life that is interrupted, the chapters are long. Grief, hurt, anger returns.

Words were used by the . . . .

Messenger: disaster

Friends: judgment

Elijah: anger at bad theology

Job: wanting to prove his integrity, Job asks “why?”, complains he does not deserve this fate, he is devoted to a capricious God who makes no sense.

When YOU write, yours are not the first words people encounter.

People are hurt by words, people are inspired by words.

Angels or demons make their way into the souls of your readers, carried on the backs of your words.

As children, we learned that “Sticks and stones don’t break my bones.” What a crock.

Words haunt you from the basement of your soul.

Writers know the power of words.

Ps: 119: words have power to lead us to hope and to salvation.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,  a light on my path.

But even God’s words have a modest intention: lamp to feet, light to path — he gives us just enough to take the next step. Mary at the Annunciation — it was Grace that she did not know the future. Job did not have much light.

Job lost everything, including his former vision of God. But he is not in despair — he refuses to curse God and live (despite the encouragement of his wife!)

Despair is always at hand and it is the demon most difficult to exorcise.

 There is a “designer despair” shown by Tarantino, Manson, Jerry Springer, and the models for J Crew who seem to show “all the cool people are sad.” Versus the old-time Sears catalog with a model that smiled, selling jeans.

Message to teens: “there is no such thing as a bad idea” is one of the worst ideas. Despair is a bad idea.

Someone who knows how to write needs to interject words of hope and light that can take on despair!

In the desert, the Hebrews could not go back. They had to move forward to the Promised Land, but they needed a new vision of God.

Where is your own Promised Land? Do you have wrong numbers, wrong expectations, walls crumbling or at least leaking? What God most wants to give you — and your reader — is God!

God talks. God does not answer “why.” God says ‘remember who you are, remember who I am.”

In the encounter with Job, God took Job’s preoccupation with Why and replaced it with WHO.

So much of what people need in 35 chapters of WHY is, they need a better question. Job drops the Why. Explanations, justifications of integrity, don’t matter. Salvation — especially from despair — requires a new vision of God.

But the human side of it is that you have to struggle through it to be authentic. The story curve, is down, then up. After two chapters of telling how Job got there, the rest of the book is the recovery plan, a reoriented life and  anew vision of God is the turning point.

God refuses to be accountable to us. God is determined NOT to give us hope. Hope comes from the turn in the plot, because we have dropped the question Why — because our hearts are so full of WHO.

African Women Extraordinaire: March 6

Princeton Theological Seminary stages a one-day symposium on March 6: about church, health, and women’s development. The full-day workshop is $50 and is being planned by Dr. Elsie A. Mckee. Princeton Seminary’s professor of Reformation Studies and History of Worship. She is also the International Liaison and President of Women, Cradle of Abudance, a North America-based organization that promotes the work and ministry of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance. She is also on the board of United Front Against Riverblindness and co-chair of the March 1 African Soiree.
One of the keynoters is AWE 2014 Mukuna Monique Misenga Mukuna is President of Femme Berceau de l’Abondance, an ecumenical Christian group of women gathered in response to the systemic poverty and violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mme. Monique is based in Kinshasa.

Also participating: The Rev. Muriel Burrows, pastor of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.