The place where Faith and I found God’s people is, I suppose, where they are always to be found – at the very bottom of things – the low point – the pit. There are people who put you in pits and there are those who rescue from the pit. It is sometimes hard to know which are which until one group has thrown you in the pit and the other is pulling you out. Faith and I were choking on the dirt until this fine group of saints dug us out. The resulting ministry is something of a pit rescue team. A Christian community has come together (I cannot determine exactly how) which is seeking to do life together and to share love and learning locally and beyond.
As Forging Ploughshares celebrates its first year and as we plan to open Ploughshares Bible Institute (PBI) I want to celebrate the people who make up this special group. There is an inherent dishonesty in this exercise as it would be impossible to convey how much Faith and I have come to depend on and love these people (without at the same time embarrassing them). For this reason, some will remain anonymous and others I will tell half trues about. In the next series of blogs, I want to introduce some of the individuals who meet here locally and those who are at a distance but still very much part of this community.
On November 1st, we are opening the Ploughshares Bible Institute and so I want to introduce Jason Rodenbeck, who is directing the curriculum, design, and delivery of PBI courses. Jason has years of experience as an academic director, directing online, hybrid, and non-traditional higher education programs at the university level. He has taught theology, biblical studies, critical thinking, and biblical interpretation in those programs. He is the finest of friends with whom Faith and I have shared a long journey together.
The first time I saw Jason, he came walking at me out of the darkness outside of a Mexican restaurant. He wanted to dialogue – prior to introductions – about theology – in the parking lot. He said he had heard I was in town. Clearly here was someone who recognized my importance – a quickly fading thought. He said something like: “I hear you are well informed on Open Theology.” Since I think at about the same speed I talk – I did not formulate an answer before the conversation ended.
Everything about this first meeting, the apparent intellectual isolation, the desire for dialogue, the emptiness of the little town and school, the movement which drew us together, figured in the friendship this encounter sparked.
I had only just arrived in this country when we met. We had spent the past twenty years in Tsukuba Science City, with more Ph.D.’s and scientists concentrated in one town than anywhere else in the world. I had missed the turn the American church had taken. I had never encountered the peculiar blend of implicit anti-intellectualism, explicit anti-theology, and the bewildering incompetence I was about to. I did not yet understand, but I would soon figure out, Jason was one of a kind at our shared little Bleak House.
In my first year back in this country I was living alone, as my family waited for me to set up house. Meanwhile, Jason saw to it that I got an occasional meal and lots of conversation. Along with John Fuller we began a Bible study. It may not have boded well for our development of a pacifist ministry that we ended each evening with an episode of 24.
When Faith and the family arrived, Jason and family moved in a few houses down from our old brick house. Our families played board games together and went on outings, easing the transition from Japan. We have had a rich and enduring friendship since – no minor thing in this world of feckless pseudo friends. He has proven to be a fierce and loyal friend who has suffered with us and been by our side through the best and worst of times.
I realized long ago Jason has gifts I find in short supply in myself – high energy, competence, and efficiency. He once built an entire deck faster than I could ponder the prospect. If we were boy scouts his tent would be set up, the fire started, and dinner cooking while I was trying to figure out the tent poles. He has brought this energy and efficiency to building the PBI courses and to his own teaching.
In the 12-year journey since our first meeting we have come to similar conclusions about the future of the Church and Christian education. Jason was among the first to share and shape the vision of FP and PBI. We recognized that peaceful Christian living in community would be the only way to disciple and raise up others in the peace of the Gospel. “Peaceful Christian living and teaching are inherently linked,” he has written. We are attempting to share the love, peace, and learning sparked more than a decade ago outside a Mexican restaurant.
 That evening two halves of my life briefly passed in the night. My oldest friend, Glen, was with me when we met Jason – it was their first and last meeting as Glen, soon after, died of heart failure.