Sunday, August 27, 2006

Methodist Blogger Profile: Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker of Christian Conversations

I am a 39 year old pastor, husband, and father of three. My wife, Denise, is a saint for putting up with me for the past 18 years, and I am grateful for her love, support, and correction. I believe marriage is one of God’s vocational laboratories for growing into perfection in love, and Denise has never shied away from her Christian duty to “speak the truth in love” (thank God). If I have grown in discipleship at all over the past two decades, a large part of it is due to the Holy Sprit working through my wife and family.

My children are making me feel old these days, but that feeling is only surpassed by a good dose of pride and increasing doses of respect. All three of them are quickly approaching birthdays: Sarah (16), Zachary (15), and Rachel (12). I am an elder in the United Methodist Church, a graduate of Duke Divinity School (’94), and am one of two founding pastors of Reconciliation Church in Durham, NC, where I have served for the past 9 years. It is an intentionally multicultural, multiracial congregation that is committed to living into God’s call to be “agents of reconciliation.” My first appointment prior to Reconciliation was a three point charge in rural North Carolina. In the spare time that I don’t have, I also write for the UM Publishing House and serve as a teaching assistant and summer instructor at Duke Divinity School.

Why do you blog?
I love to write and I welcome any discipline that can help develop that passion. I started out with a weekly email meditation years ago, and have since written several things for publication. Blogging is different and the audience is immediate. I can write on current events and concerns and have immediate feedback (and a file of what I wrote in case I ever want to develop something further).

What has been your best blogging experience?
Having blog topics spark deeper theological reflection in small groups, studies, and hallway conversations.

What would be your main advice to a novice blogger?
I am a novice blogger. Ask “John the Methodist.”

If you only had time to read three blogs a day, what would they be?
Novice bloggers like me don’t read blogs every day, but if I were able to (and besides my weekly dose of MBWR?):
The Ivy Bush – by Jonathan Marlowe
Accountable Discipleship – by Steven Manskar
Kyrie Eleison – by Sky Lowe-McCracken

Who are your spiritual heroes?
 My mother (who has been through so much in her life that she should be canonized before death. When I hear of “prayer warriors,” she always comes to mind).

 Sabra (A former member of my first charge, now deceased, who was limitless in her generosity, her kindness, and her unconditional love. She never had much, but whatever it was she shared it freely regardless of race, creed, or worthiness)

 Peter (had his mind blown by Jesus at work while fishing, and on a roof while praying – I can relate)

 John Wesley (Among many things, he had a radical commitment to the poor – no holiness that is not “social holiness.”)

 Martin Luther King Jr. (Was able to engage the public square as a patriotic American without succumbing to blind nationalism and idolatry. Also became convinced of nonviolence, as more than a means to an end, but a way of life. A preacher, first and foremost before he was anything else)

 Oscar Romero (Loved books and reading; a life that was transformed by encounter with Christ among the poor; martyr for the cause of righteousness)

What are you reading at the moment?
In addition to “searching the Scriptures”:

Considering the Great Commission: Evangelism and Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit edited by Gunter and Robinson;

Making Disciples: Faith Formation in the Wesleyan Tradition: by Sondra Higgins Matthaei

Eat this Book: by Eugene Peterson

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition: Christine D. Pohl

What is your favorite hymn and why?
“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” by Charles Wesley. It is a majestic poem of praise that paints a vivid picture of Jesus’ transforming power breaking into the lives of the poor, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the sick, and the sinful. I am always reminded of the “tongues” of Pentecost and the gift of language that accompanied the disciples in Jerusalem. The original has 19 stanzas with gems like:

Harlots and publicans and thieves
In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Can you name a major moral, political, or intellectual issue on which you've changed your mind?
I could actually name several, though in retrospect the changes seem less of an about face and more of a maturation in thought, theology, and discipleship. War and capital punishment are at least two examples – changes that came from taking seriously Jesus’ teachings on love for enemies. I had difficulty with what Wesley would call the “plain meaning” of these New Testament texts, and could not reconcile why Christians were so quick with all the footnotes and the “yeah, buts …” When I transferred into the United Methodist Church from the Nazarene Church, I was impressed that the UM stands on both issues more readily reflected Biblical teaching (at least on paper).

What philosophical thesis do you think is most important to combat?
Generic individualism

If you could effect one major change in the governing of your country, what would it be?
Where to begin? – It would be a nice start to have a president that is not a white male. (We certainly can’t use the excuse that there are no other qualified candidates)

If you could effect one major policy change in the United Methodist Church, what would it be?
Consciously move every local church towards weekly Eucharist in their main Lord’s Day services (Word and Table).

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
Foster holy friendships, which Greg Jones describes as people who: “affirm the gifts you are afraid to claim, challenge the sins you have come to love, and dream dreams with you that you thought were impossible.”

What, if anything, do you worry about?
Keeping a healthy balance of work, leisure, and family time – and avoiding the subtle, but insidious ladder climbing scramble so prevalent in our appointment process.

If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything that you'd do differently?
Hindsight is only good for changes in the present and future, and I have certainly learned from foibles and failures. The short answer is, no.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do now)?
In the mountains next to a good trout stream.

What do you like doing in your spare time?
Most of my spare time is spent with family. Otherwise, reading, hiking, and playing b-ball. I have to admit that physical labor feels like Sabbath renewal to me now that I am a pastor (so working in the yard and garage should be included).

What is your most treasured possession?
An extremely large tea glass that my Grandfather used to use and that I now drink from every evening. (probably worth about 10¢ at Good will)

What talent would you most like to have?
To play the piano like Kent Brooks (gospel) or sing like Fred Hammond.

If you could have any three guests, past or present to dinner, who would they be?
King David, St. Francis, and Bishop Leontine Kelly (for different reasons)
As someone else has said before, I eat with Jesus all the time.

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