So, Judah started preschool a few weeks ago. It has been a pretty tough time of transition for him. He has been waking up in the middle of the night… a lot. Because he isn’t sleeping as well and is playing hard at school he has been consistently tired and cranky. However, when we pick him up every day he has great stories about playing and learning with his friends.


When we signed up for the preschool program, the director of the school warned us that “The three-year-old teacher is really good with the kids but isn’t that great with parents.” She was suggesting that the teacher would be hard to communicate with and possibly a bit difficult socially.

So… after a few weeks Leah and I had a discussion about what the director may have meant. Neither of us could think of a time that the teacher could have been considered difficult or bad with the parents. But we have a theory… 

The most important part of the transition from parent to classroom is the drop off. When the child goes from parent to teacher a transfer of trust occurs… it is no longer my parents that I go to for help… it is my teacher. Judah’s teacher is fantastic at that transfer. The moment we walk in the door she begins to engage him and practically ignores us.

The ignoring of the parent is the key. If the teacher acknowledges the parents, it draws the child’s attention back to the parent as well. This lack of communication can, surely, be off putting to some parents… especially those that feel the need to know every last detail of their child’s day. However, the step of ignoring the parent is important for a smooth transition from parent to teacher. 


In the garden

I have been working in a community garden at Concord UMC for the last two months. If you know me you know that I: 1) hate being outside when it is hot and 2) hate being dirty and itchy. Those two preferences have been crushed, and I am so happy about that.


My time at the church has been split about 50/50 between working in the garden and doing pastoral-type things. In the garden we do things like: pick bugs off of potato leaves, tie up tomato plants, turn the compost pile, prepare growing beds for new planting, and harvest lots of great fruits and vegetables. The members of the garden take home whatever they want form the harvest and the rest (about 40% of the total harvest) gets donated to a local food pantry.


In addition to the physical gardening, I have had some really great conversations with the garden members. There are so many wonderful people with incredible stories. They have shared their joys and concerns with us and we have been able to pray for each other.


On Sundays I have been able to be involved in things like reading Scripture, praying, and serving communion. I will be a part of leading the church’s Vacation Bible School this upcoming week. The other Duke intern and I have been doing some crazy amounts of arts & crafts to prepare. Also, coming up on August 4th I will have my first opportunity to preach at the church.


This has been a really wonderful experience for me. The church is lovely and the pastors that I have been serving under have been incredible.


Also… Leah and I will be starting classes at the end of August! … and Judah will be starting pre-school.


Please continue to keep us in your prayers are we navigate the next few months of preparing for the Fall semester. We could really use it!


Much love.

Irby Update 5-23-13

Hello Everyone.

Tonight I am getting geared up to watch Game 4 of the Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers playoff series… I’m hoping to see the Bruins sweep the series in 4!

At the beginning of May I finished up my first year at Duke Divinity School! The Spring semester this year absolutely kicked my butt. I worked harder than I ever have in school and, honestly, got some of the worst grades on assignments I’ve ever seen. It was very challenging, but I learned so much. Fortunately, my identity is not found in my academic performance.

This Sunday I will be starting my Summer Field Education placement at Concord UMC in community of Eli Whitney, which is about 15 miles west of Chapel Hill, NC. It is a small rural congregation that has a very active community garden where the community works together to grow food. I’m so excited to be a part of the church for a few months! I will be doing everything from preaching and teaching to leading VBS to sitting in on meetings and visiting the sick of the community. 

In other news… Leah got accepted to Duke Divinity School for the MDiv program starting in August! She wants to get a theological degree as a foundation for a future in counseling. We are both extremely excited about the Fall! Judah will be starting pre-school (already!) when Leah goes back to school. So… the entire Irby family will be in school at the same time.

Please keep us in your prayers!


In our culture,…

In our culture, we imbibe a positivistic understanding of language. That is, we believe that the function of language is only to report and describe what already exists. The usefulness of such language is obvious. It lets us be precise and unambiguous. It even lets us control. But it is one-dimensional language that must necessarily be without passion and without eloquence and indeed without boldness. It is useful language, but it is not the language we have in the Psalms. Indeed, it is not the language in which we can faithfully pray. Such language is useful for managing things. But it makes no impact on how things really are, for things would be the same even if there were no such speech.

By contrast, in the Psalms the use of language does not describe what is. It evokes into being what does not exist until it has been spoken. This kind of speech resists discipline, shuns precision, delights in ambiguity, is profoundly creative, and is itself an exercise in freedom. In using speech in this way, we are in fact doing in a derivative way what God has done in the creation narratives of Genesis. We are calling into being that which does not yet exist.

Walter Brueggemann Praying the Psalms

Irby Update 2-13-13

Hello everyone! Happy (or, sad, I guess) Ash Wedesday!

First of all, I would like to say that I love going to school. It has been incredible. Back in January I started my second semester at Duke Divinity School. I am taking Part II of my Old Testament class, Part II of my Church History class, New Testament, and The History of the Crusades. The last class is particularly grueling, but is incredibly interesting.

Let me tell you… this semester has been killer. I have been reading about 500 pages per week every week while writing papers and taking tests. 500 pages a week might not sound like much to avid readers, but it is a big push for me… especially since most of it is about biblical interpretation or the history of the Crusades.

I am also working about 16 hours per week at two jobs. I work about 12 hours at a Starbucks and another 4 hours at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. I check out video and photography equipment to undergrad students who need it for projects. I used to check out equipment from a similar place when I was in undergrad… so I feel right at home.

Needless to say, that is why I haven’t written a blog post in a while. Things have been crazy.

This time in school has proved to me once again that I have an incredible wife. Seriously. She puts up with so much of my nonsense. She is always there to take care of me when I make bad decisions or have long days. I completely trust my wife… and that is invaluable.

I would also like to add that the NHL lockout ended back in January. I have been watching as many Boston Bruins games as possible. I really got into hockey while we were living in Boston last year. Watching the games definitely makes me miss the city… even though they got hit with a blizzard last week. Leah and I went to see the Bruins play the Carolina Hurricanes a few weeks ago with a friend of ours from Maine that is studying at DDS. It was wonderful! (and we won!)

Please keep us in your prayers. Even though we have two years to figure out what is going on after school, we are praying for discernment and guidance for the future.

Much much much love.

Recommended Reading

I wanted to share a few interesting books that I have had to read for school.

I’m not one to tell people that they shouldn’t read “dangerous” books. With that said, some of these books contain theological and biblical interpretive assertions that I don’t agree with. By suggesting them here I am not endorsing every word that is written in them. However, I have taken some very interesting things from them.

All titles have links to view the books on Amazon

Gregory of Nyssa The Life of Moses

Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 CE) was an early church father. He and his siblings/friends are known in Christian history as the Cappadocian Fathers. Many modern Protestants only read Augustine (354-430 CE) and neglect the diverse theological discussions that were going on in the first 400 years of the Christian church. This book offers a very interesting take on biblical interpretation and emphasizes the use of allegory, especially through the story of Moses’ life.

Peter Enns Inspiration and Incarnation

I have already posted on this book. It is a great overview of some of the difficulties that come from reading the Old Testament from a modern perspective. Enns acknowledges that there are some parts of the Old Testament that contradict themselves or are clearly influenced by other near-Eastern traditions. He asserts that God is sovereign over these “problems” and left them in the Christian Canon for a reason. Enns suggests that we should look into what God is telling us through these difficulties rather than simply trying to explain them away.

Abraham Heschel The Sabbath


Abraham Heschel writes a very engaging and beautiful text on the Jewish understanding of the Sabbath. Honestly, I have never read anything that so greatly stirred my affections for the day of rest. Though he is writing from a Jewish perspective there are many foundational ideas that can be helpful for the Christian.

Anne Lamott Bird By Bird

So, this is kind of an oddball on this list. Anne Lamott is an author. This book is about writing. However, there are some really interesting (and inappropriately hilarious) thoughts about constructing stories and reaching inside yourself to communicate your heart. I read this for my Intro to the Ministry of Preaching class. This is the most vulgar book I have read in seminary that wasn’t written by Stanley Hauerwas.

Jacques Ellul The Politics of God and The Politics of Man

I’m really not sure how I feel about this book yet. It is really interesting and has some really thoughtful things to say about how Christians should interact with the state and politics. However, I definitely don’t jive with his theology. I find myself writing an equal number of excitedly positive and dramatically negative comments in the margins. Also, Ellul is a French Christian Anarchist. So… just know that before you read it.

Football at a Basketball School

The other night I went to the Duke vs. Clemson football game where the Tigers beat the Blue Devils 52-20.

For the first time in a very very long time Duke has a mediocre football team. We are actually going to a bowl this year. There is even a chance that we could go to the ACC title game. You could really feel the excitement in the stands. The stadium was mostly full and Duke fans seemed to outnumber Clemson fans, which is not always this case with this matchup.

Having attended Florida State for my undergrad I found going to this game to be a very different college football experience than I was used to. Here are a few anecdotal stories to illustrate my point…

I walked to the stadium with another Duke seminary student. We started following a large crowd of Clemson fans because, well, I had never been to the football stadium and I wasn’t sure how to get there. After following them for a while, they turned around and said to us, “Hey! You guys go here! How do you get to the football stadium?” I kind of laughed and said, “I honestly have no idea. I was following you. I can get you to the basketball stadium…”

The stands had the kinds of fans only Duke could have. I saw one guy sitting alone reading a book. I saw another guy wearing a Cornell T-shirt. The fans had no idea when to cheer. The Clemson fans would cheer loudly when we were on offense to distract us. Rather than understanding that we needed to be quiet so that our QB could communicate with the team, the Duke fans felt the need to respond to the Clemson cheers. So, we were the loudest when we were on offense…

And the football team was (bless their hearts) not great. They only had two quarters in them.

Highlights of the game:

  1. Getting in free because there is such a low demand for football tickets
  2. Hearing an incredible cheer: “Start up your tractors. Go home, Clemson.”
  3. Deciding that the next time I go to a game I would make a sign that says, “Oh yeah, well we won a Nobel Prize.”

Sermon 1

So, here is my first attempt at preaching. Let me give you a little bit of background information. First of all, the text is Mark 10:35-45:

 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ 36And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Though I do not read the text within the body of the sermon, it is assumed that the text was just read before I began preaching.

The second thing is that I was given a time limit of 12 minutes. I have never been in a church that had 12-minute sermons. That seems really odd to me. However, my professor insisted that his sermons are usually 12 to 15 minutes and never over 20 minutes. I found this very limiting.

Here are some of my critiques of the sermon:

1. I would have loved to walk through the text a little bit more. Though I like the things that I said, I would have rather told the story and made my points within the context of a verse-by-verse analysis. Part of my not doing this was the time limitation. Part of it was just getting caught up in my own thoughts and not focusing on the letter of the story. I definitely don’t want to get in the habit of doing that.

2. I talk way too fast on several occasions and don’t leave enough time for dramatic pauses. As I am learning, a pause feels much longer when you are the one causing it. I need to be more disciplined about letting my thoughts sit and sink in… especially in a sermon about waiting.

3. I haven’t figured out what to do with my hands yet.  I noticed that I am big on digging my fist into my open palm like I am preparing to punch someone.

If you have a comment about my sermon, please email me. I don’t really want to turn public blog comments into an open-air discussion about my preaching. I’m still a bit timid about all of this and would rather make the discussion personal.

Song of Songs

I have this problem where everything I write comes out like a conversation or a sermon.  I write in the same way I would like to talk.

The problem with this is that I have to write academic papers now. You can’t write conversationally in papers discussing the history of biblical exegesis.

So, I started writing this paper about how church fathers (or parents, as we are required to say in our inclusive, gender-neutral writing regulations) read the Song of Songs… and I came across this quote from Origen about the Song of Songs… and I wrote something really cool but totally unusable academically….

So I thought I would share it here…


In the Song of Songs, the narrative is driven by the Bride and the Bridegroom’s longing for each other during a period of time between their betrothal and the consummation of their marriage. The couple is separated by physical distance. The Bride longs for her future husband and says “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” (20) Origen draws a direct connection between the desires of the Bride and the anticipation of the church as it waits for the return of Christ. Writing in his own voice he says:

“…for this reason I beseech you, Father of my spouse, and pour out my prayer, that you will look with pity upon this love of mine and send him, so that now he may not speak to me any longer by way of his ministering angels and his prophets, but may come in his very own person and kiss me with the kisses of his mouth…” (21)

Origen seems to be affected by the words of the ancient story. He uses very strong phrases such as “I beseech you, Father” and “look with pity on this love of mine”. He is not a passive exegete that is engaging the text only with his intellect. I would suggest that, much like the Bride in the Song of Songs, Origen is experiencing something real and moving. When he reads the Bride’s words he hears the echoes of his own heart’s desire to stand in the presence of Jesus and see his face and be wrapped up in his loving arms.

academic tension

In light of my previous post, I wanted to share something else that’s been stewing around in my mind.

There is this tension in biblical interpretation where, on one hand, the Bible must be understood within an exploration of the cultural context, philosophical understandings, trends in ancient literature, language, and a number of other things. However, on the other hand, one of the important themes in the Bible is the making of small things into great things, simple things into wise, and poor things into rich.

When I get caught up in an extensive study of ancient languages and literary devices, I can’t help but wonder what this means for someone who hasn’t had the same educational opportunities as I have… not to mention someone who is illiterate. Do they not get to experience the Bible fully? Surely not! 

I know that part of the role of the pastor is to be an intermediary between the people and the intellectual approaches to Scripture. I know that as I pastor I will have to synthesize information so that more people will know what I’m talking about. What I don’t understand is what I should tell people with legitimate questions who can’t engage with the Bible like I can because of economic or academic limitations. I want my parishioners to read the Bible on their own… but I don’t want to insist that they read an overview of Greek philosophy so that they can fully capture the essence of the letters of Paul.

With that said, I don’t believe that we can simply throw out scholarly approaches to the Bible. It is important to take many things into consideration when reading the Bible. However, at this point, I just don’t see how to balance that out with universal accessibility. Anyone have any thoughts?