Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent Waiting

Advent is a time of waiting.
A prepared waiting.
Formed in ages past.

By sorrow.
Wrong turns and bad decisions.

By prophetic words.
Dreams and fancies.
Promises and hopes.

All of it, a preparing.
A shaking and a shaping.
Molding the spirit.

Advent waiting.
Pondering what has been.
Ages past, and just last year.

Everything counts in the shaking.
The shaping.
The molding.

Nothing lost.
All is used.
The good and the bad.

We learn in Advent.
To give thanks.
For everything.

Not because everything is good.
It isn't.
Some of it is downright evil.

But nothing defeats the work of God.
Everything is a tool.
To prepare the soul.

Advent invites Thanksgiving.
For the preparing and its pain.
For the journey and its joy.

And when thanks is given.
When, with love, we receive what has been.
When, in humility, we dare to see the preparing.

The future opens before us.
A star shines from on high.

And in a nearby stable, small and warm, the Christ is born anew!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Where Is God?

Where is God?

There is a huge difference
Between "Here" and

Religion, at its worst,
Says, "Here"!
"Here is God."
"Here and now."
In our systems.
Our preaching.
Our music.
Our books.

Religion, at its best,
Says, "There"!
"There is God."
Not in our systems, but
In our yearning.
Not in our preaching, but
In our striving to speak.
Not in our music, but
In the upwelling of the heart.
Not in our books, but
In our wrestling with words.

Religion tempted to remove the Distance
Between Here and There.
Is deadly.
Of reality.

Because God is always There.
Before God is always Here.
Only then.

If we begin There,
We never make Here the
Idol of our thoughts and
We never grow too confident.
That we have god tucked away in our
Pocket or purse.

A god who is always Here,
Is a god of our own making.

But a god who is always There,
Becomes and is, the
God of challenge.
Not always comfortable.
Beyond predictable.
Never manageable.
Refusing to be used.

The God who is always There.
Is Here, too.
But the God who is Here.
Dances away from our hands.
Tells us: "Don't hold on to me."

"Let me go."
And then,
"Follow me."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Immigrants and the Christian Family

A lot of Christians apparently ignore the fact that most of the multitude of immigrants from Mexico and other nations to the South are Christians.

Ignoring this reality violates what Paul wrote to the Galatians: "So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith" [Galatians 6.10].

It seems that the "family of faith," for some, has borders with fences and guns. Some family, huh? "Send 'em packin'; we don't want 'em. Who cares - they're illegals!"

At what point, does a Christian affirm "citizenship in heaven" over citizenship in any given land. American Christians do well to hear Moses in Deuteronomy 15. For the people crossing our borders are part of the family, if not the family of faith, then the human family, a family created by God, loved by God and welcomed by God.

In my mind, talk of borders and guards and illegals with regard to "keeping people out" should never pass the lips of a Christian. Never! From the God who adopted us, not for any reason inherent in us, but only out of love, comes the message of welcome.

I will not worry about our border - there are plenty of folks who do. And this I affirm: where there is love and welcome, there is the blessing of God!

It's high time that folks began to ask again: WWJD.

This I know: He wouldn't send anyone away!

And for those churches that display both the American and the Christian Flag, let the Christian Flag, the banner of self-sacrifice and peace, trump all other flags!

God's Peace for those who are open to it for others ... and a troubled heart and mind for those who love boundaries and defend them with guns!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Have a Very Good Friend

I have a very good friend.
A writer.
A poet.
A preacher.

Whose life is an open book.
Every word.
From the heart.
With the mind.

He always inspires me.
To see words.
For what they are.
Puffs of light and delight.

At least as I see them.
As they appear.
For a moment.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Faith Is Always a Crooked Pathway

Christianity, like nature itself, abhors the straight line. Though a straight line might be the shortest distance between two points, allowing for speed, faith is filled with curves and more than enough ups and downs, requiring a slower pace. Christianity, like nature, is gloriously crooked!

I think of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem - he didn't take the direct route but detoured through Samaria. I like that, and what a bounty that detour brought - the woman at the well.

If my faith is too straight, so to speak, its life is diminished. But when it runs true to course, that is, crooked all over the place, it lives, brightly, mysteriously, with plenty of detours into unknown lands and strange places. But what bounty awaits in such twists and turns ... maybe a small discovery, or maybe a life-altering experience.

For me, I'd say: "Don't look for the straight lines, at least when it comes to faith."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Salute to Preachers

Short ones.
Long ones.

Which ones to use.
Try it aloud.
Sounds okay?
Might just work.

What's in between.
Holding them together.
End of thought.
Maybe a semi-colon.
Or the teasing ellipsis ...

Beating around the bush, sometimes.
Getting right to the point, mostly.
Making the difficult easy to swallow.
Expanding the simple into reality.
For nothing is ever simple.

But complexity isn't the proof of value.
Clarity is.
Clarity can be complex.
So is beauty.
And love.
Not to mention.
Faith and hope.

And then the paragraphs.
Enough sentences.
We have paragraphs.
Three, four pages worth.
Maybe five or six.
Or more.
More comes easily.
Less demands discipline.

Depends on font size.
But size doesn't matter.
Small or large.
It's meaning.
The meaning counts.
The sequence.
Going somewhere?
We can always hope.

And then the speaking.
It has to be spoken, finally.
Sunday morning.
Some other time.
High pulpits.
Tiny podiums.
People galore or just a few.


Sweep of the hand.
The glance at the choir.
A dramatic pause.
Tapping the pulpit.
For the Spirit.
For thoughts to take shape.

Eyes wide.
Brow furrowed.

A voice of one crying
In the Wilderness.
Make the crooked straight.
Clear away the debris.
A good road.
For God to travel upon.
To meet us.
In the holy moment of

When the heart is open.
The mind is eager.
For a blinding moment.
All is light.

Glory to God.
Amen and Amen.

Greetings at the door.
"Thank you pastor."
Thank YOU!

Oh, the car looks good.
Close the door.
Start engine.
Head on home.
A nap?
A drink?
A little TV?
Evening comes.
It's been a good day.
Or a hard day.
Or a terrible day.
Or a little of all of it.
G'night Dear.

Monday morning.
Thinking about yesterday.
Maybe some regret.
What didn't get said.
Or was said poorly.
Did I really say that?
Or maybe it was gold.
Solid gold.
Truth spoken.
I'm satisfied.
Or maybe not.

Oh well.
Get on with it.
Thank God for another Sunday.
Try again.

How to say it again, anew.
The inexpressible.
The glory.
The hope.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Salute to the Faithful!

Let there be no doubt that in American Christian Institutions, there are lots of odd, if not harmful, pastors and ministries. Hardly a week goes by without some revelation of abuse, arrogance and downright evil, and to the worst of it, we're drawn. It's like driving by a hideous auto accident, we turn away and at the same time fixate on it. And so with the media of the day - there's a fixation on the bizarre, the harmful, the odd and the destructive elements of religion - and of such, there's more than enough to go around and keep the media busy.

But all of this is misleading, for we miss the thousands of faithful moments and even noble efforts played out daily by women and men of good faith, with a universal sense of things, a sensitivity to the immediate, to the neighborhood, to the people around them, the people they seek to love, even as they find love waiting for them in every human being.

I've been affected by negativity - it's easy to be critical of everything associated with religion and church, it's easy to dismiss all of it. And I've done that a time or two. But such dismissal is inaccurate - like plowing down a field of corn because parts of the field are overrun by weeds.

Yes, plenty of weeds, and some parts of the field have been, or so it seems, overrun.

And it's easy, then, to get all worked up about the weeds - who and why and how come ... and maybe the whole crop is lousy, the whole field isn't worth it.

But I do myself a disservice with such thinking. Something more is needed, something more nuanced, something honest that sees the weeds for what they are, but also celebrates the essential health of the whole field, the crop that feeds so many with wholesome awareness - the strength of faith, hope and love, the stuff of grace, mercy and peace.

With that said, I salute the work and faith of the church - the good it represents, the love it shares, with most of it unseen by the world at large, ignored by the media, but so appreciated in the local setting, adding to the welfare of the world with its care for justice and its ways of kindness in a corner of the world.

Whatever the religion, I salute those who live and work out of the deepest impulses of human kindness and hope.

I write as a Christian, for that has been my world, into which I was born, in which I reared, and in which I have lived my life to this very moment. Not only a Christian, but a Protestant Christian, and of that, of the Reformed Family.

I grew up with fine pastors and strong churches, models for much of my work over the years.

I have known and continue to know religious people of great faith, great hope, great justice and kindness and mercy, willing to work long hard hours for the welfare of others, devoted to God, tirelessly working, and sometimes, often times, working bone tired, to realize something good in someone else's life.

To the women and men today who have worked on a sermon and will today give it to a congregation - in a mighty cathedral or in living room ... to those who gather to sing and pray, in the ageless quest for meaning, for hope, for encouragement to keep on keeping on ... to those who lead choirs, who play organs and make music, who manage the sound, who take up the offering, who teach Sunday School, who pour the coffee and slice the fruit, who hang around to talk with one another, who greet the stranger, who put on a smile for others even when their own heart might be tearful ... to all those who grasp the best of things and embrace the world.

To all of them, my gratitude ... and a simple prayer: that they will not give up on the venture ... and will serve with integrity and humility. The integrity of the faith given in the Cross and Empty Tomb, in the life and words and ministry of Jesus ... and the humility of knowing that every human expression of that faith falls short of its ideal, yet trusting the ideal to be revealed all the more.

Have a good Sunday! And like my beloved father-in-law always said to me upon parting, "Tom, preach the gospel!"

Monday, October 6, 2014

Let's Not Say Anything ...

Let's not say anything about race - we don't want to offend Uncle Buck and Aunt Jenny who live in Central Pennsylvania.

Let's not say anything about war - we don't want to offend our neighbors who have a daughter in the military, serving in Afghanistan.

Let's not say anything about the social safety net - we don't want to appear to be bleeding-heart liberals.

Let's not say anything about the hyper-wealthy - we have family members who love the prosperity gospel.

Let's not say anything about gun violence - we have friends who own guns.

Let's not say anything about poverty - we don't want to sound soft on the poor.

Let's not say anything about public education - our neighbors send their children to a charter school.

Let's not say anything about Universal Health Care - we have relatives who are devoted to the free-market system and hate all things "socialized."

So, let's just talk about Jesus.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Little Help - from Wine?

A glass or two or more
of Ampelos Wine
feeling good

It's a good world
Oh yes, I know
all the junk

There's lots of sadness
and suffering
and hurt and

But I'm not giving up
I'm not turning away
I'll press on with

Does the wine help?
Perhaps it does
But who doesn't need, now and then, some

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Missing Out on the Sermon on the Mount

I grew up in a mostly evangelical environment, Dutch Reformed specifically.

It was very much about salvation, but with a clear intellectual dogmatic foundation. Folks weren't afraid of thinking, but it was clearly determined by boundaries, beyond which one didn't go, because there was no need for anything more than what was already available within the tradition. We had the answers, and we knew how to read the Bible.

One of the ways of reading the Bible was how the Beatitudes were read - primarily as something quite ideal and beyond our reach, of value for reminding us how much we're sinners, and how badly we need the atoning death of Jesus - who, having died for our sin, puts us right with the Father, so that we can have eternal life. To safeguard our eternal God, we're careful not to violate the essential and personal moral strictures that have mostly to do with alcohol and tobacco, theater attendance, card-playing, and sex. Making money, as much as you can, was just fine. If you had money, you gave to your favorite charities including the church, to maintain buildings and programs and missionaries - locally, perhaps, a rescue mission, retirement homes, colleges and seminaries.

The fact that the Sermon on the Mount is the longest discourse given by Jesus doesn't register with evangelicals - fact is, much of the Gospels fail to register, drawn to Paul as evangelicals are, and if they're reading the Old Testament at all, drawn primarily to the historical books dealing with conquest and war, temple building and priest-craft, kings and queens, power and punishment.

By sidestepping the Sermon on the Mount as an ethical discourse for daily life, evangelicals relieve themselves of a tremendous ethical burden, and if pushed, will often reply, "Well, no one's perfect."

True enough, but Jesus, who seems to understand that rather well, yet proceeds with the Sermon, even saying that one might be as "perfect" as the Father in heaven is perfect, or complete; meaning: that one can ethically love others, be fair and decent, and treat all with kindness. In other words, as the word in Greek rightly means, one can be "complete" - i.e., one can have all the components of divine benevolence - not on the same scale, but with similar intensity and broadness.

Granted, we're not perfect, not even complete, whatever that means, but lack of perfection shouldn't stop anyone from trying. I mean, is this not what we learn in school, in sports and music and painting and marriage? Just because we're imperfect is not reason to give up, but rather reason all the more to persist.

Yet in the evangelical community, the lack of perfection becomes, when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, not an encouragement to try, but a reason to simply "flee to Jesus for mercy and salvation."

I missed out on the Sermon on the Mount when I was growing up ... I was clear that I was a sinner in need of grace

I learned that fornication and Onanism were sinful, and so was drunkenness. I heard plenty of sermons about sin and salvation and Jesus "dying for my sins." And likely these days, I would hear plenty about homosexuals and abortion. But I never heard anything about justice, poverty and war; I remember hearing a bit about Communism, but never a question raised about Capitalism.

I never learned the great ethical lessons of the Christian faith, rooted in the Prophets and given new meaning in Jesus, and, yes, even Paul, when read finally in the light of Jesus, and not the other way around, as was the custom in preaching and Bible Study.

It was only years later that I discovered how important is the Sermon on the Mount and that Jesus offers this ethical discourse with a full realization that it was not going to be easy, but that it was possible "to be perfect as our Father in heaven."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Views" - are all "views" created equal?

Someone on another's Facebook thread mentioned "views" - that it's all just "views" we have ... but is that true?

Here's what I wrote:

"Views" are one thing ... heck, some folks view the moon as made of cheese, and the world flat, and the earth no more than 6000 years old ... what's one view vs. another? How about Hitler's view of things and that of Churchill? Or Stalin and Truman? Or how about Lincoln and Davis. Mandela and Botha? Governor Wallace and ML King, Jr. They all had their views, but history makes it clear that some views are closer to the moral character of the universe.

If we're gonna yak about "my views" vs. "your views," we need to talk about the moral character of the universe - creation isn't neutral. Though Cain kills Abel outta jealousy, and God graciously protects Cain afterward, God sees to it that Seth comes along, to sustain the moral universe that Cain killed. The powers-that-be, the wealthy and the religious, pretty much always join forces with Cain to kill Abel. But there's always Seth; God sustains the moral bent of creation.

There are views, and then there are views - not all are created equal.

So, what's your take on the moral bent of creation?

I think the moral bent of creation favors the poor, not the rich. Favors helping folks, not putting 'em down. Is kind and generous toward the needy, not judgmental and scornful. Favors giving things away, not piling 'em up in off-shore bank accounts. Sides with peace-makers, no war-mongers. Has no borders instead of steel walls and armed guards. Welcomes all, and turns none away.

How I see the universe is how I read and receive the news.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Black Friday, Women's Suffrage, England, 1910

From the pages of English Suffrage History:

Black Friday, November 18, 1910, London ... when a bill to allow at least 1 million wealthy women to vote as denied time for further consideration, a delegation of 300 women demonstrated in front of Parliament. In an attempt to run past police, at least 200 of the women were assaulted and arrested, and two women were dead. 

While the Press was generally on the side of the women, many a politician distanced himself from the effort, even as the British public was generally against the enfranchisement of women.

It's been a hundred years since these terrible days in England, but sometimes I wonder - there is still within certain religious and political elements in America a deep resentment toward the rights of women, seen as a violation of "god's eternal decrees about the sexes, home and family values." And a certain romanticism: "If only women would stay home, be quiet, cook, sew and rear children, all would be well with America. Remember, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world."

This, and a lot of other poppycock about the role of women in society, was written mostly by men who, I think, wrote this claptrap to quiet their conscience, even as they witnessed the women in their lives denied the basic rights of life and liberty enjoyed by every man. But shout a lie loud enough, and soon folks come to believe it, and even better if the lie is rooted in something so "sacred" as being a mother.

That we should still be fighting about these things strikes me as absurd, but, then, what do I know?

Jesus and His No-Borders World ... and the Children

Jesus and Paul demolished forever the reliance upon borders to define God's People.

One God, one world, and we're all sisters and brothers, one to another.

Let the little children come unto me.

This is not some spiritual thin soup, but realty - how many times Jesus watched adults push children away.

For me, I say, LET THEM COME ...

I bet our brightest people and most compassionate of leaders will find solutions.

I'm willing to say that if we can fly to the moon and mount trillion dollar wars, we can find ways and means of providing for these children and their families, and maybe doing something constructive for the economies of Central and South America that our crazy trade-practices have ruined.

As for "God's Christian People," here is a place for us to make our Christian voice heard - defending borders is the talk of war and violence. In Jesus' world, there are no borders - when some would have gone around Samaria, Jesus went through it, and met the woman at the well.

His bold hometown sermon talks about God's prophet's crossing borders for widows and healing the foreigner. No wonder the hometown folks, who thought he was pretty cool, suddenly turned on him when he dismissed their beautiful boundaries.

In a world where borders were everything, Jesus makes it clear: he has no borders, nor should there be any for those who follow him. For God so loved the world ...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Having "Fun" with an Evangelical

If you wanna see an evangelical turn into a pretzel, quote, first of all, what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "You must be born again" (not all translations put it this way, but for evangelicals, this is the touchstone verse of the Bible).

They nod their heads in agreement - this is it. This is the truth. This is the heart and soul of the Christian life.

To be taken at face-value. Literally ... without question. No ifs, ands or buts - this is the gospel, this is the warning, this is the chance, the command, the opportunity, God gives to all.

Okay ...

Now quote what Jesus said to the rich young man: "Sell everything you have and give it to the poor" as a condition for following Jesus.

And out comes the hermeneutical bag, and every linguistic tool that can be mustered to make it clear that Jesus is only speaking spiritually, metaphorically, NOT LITERALLY.

Oh well ...

Hey, we all have our interpretive tricks, but what's needed is honesty in what we're doing. Yes, we all read the Bible selectively, through our own personal filters of culture and circumstance. But let's be honest with one another and simply say, "This is how I see it," or maybe, "This is how the community of faith to which I belong sees it."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Our Presbyterian History - a Bumpy Ride!

Biloxi, Mississippi, 1984, I attended General Assembly with a great deal of hope - the two major branches of American Presbyterianism had only recently merged, and one of the tasks before the Biloxi GA was to settle upon a new headquarters for the reunited church.

As well as all the other tasks before the church, including a new moderator.

As it turned out, I “lost” on three votes:

My choice for moderator was defeated.
My choice for headquarters was defeated.
And one other issue, that seemed important at the time, beyond my recall these days, was defeated.

I went home chuckling, sort of, thinking of baseball, with a miniature Louisville Slugger in my tote bag, one of the promo items used to persuade GA to move to Louisville, rather than KC (which had my vote, and to this day, I think would have been the better choice).

There was no doubt in my mind that I had “lost” and so had the church, on this one, as I saw it. The moderator? O well, that would be of lesser consequence (I don’t even recall who who won or the candidate I backed), and the other major issue, not a clue, now lost amid a welter of ups and downs for GA.

And of ups and downs, plenty over the years - though what some label as “up,” is likely a “down” for others, and so forth.

Or, call it a see-saw struggle, or even battle, as first the church is pulled (by God? by the Devil?) in one direction, and then the other.

Charles Augustus Briggs
Stop by 1892, the Presbytery of New York City, as it charged Charles Augustus Briggs of Union Seminary with heresy; the case was appealed to GA where Briggs was suspended from ministry in 1893. As a result of this decision, Union Seminary withdrew from the Presbyterian Church to become independent. 

A generation or so later, another epic struggle resulted in Princeton professor, John Gresham Machen, leaving Princeton (1923) when the GA appointed two Auburn Declaration signatories as seminary trustees; Machen joined forces with others to organize Westminster Seminary. 

John Gresham Machen
Later, in 1933, he and others formed the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which was then declared “unconstitutional” by the next GA - the ministers involved were given an ultimatum to cease, and when they refused, were suspended. Ultimately, Machen withdrew from the Presbyterian Church to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The Briggs and Machen periods are but two examples of the epic struggles in which we Presbyterians have engaged (not to mention the Grandaddy of them all, the split of the church into northern and southern factions prior to the Civil War, and before that, Old School-New School and New Light-Old Light). 

If one wants to push back even further into church history, all the way to the Jerusalem Council and the split between Paul and Barnabas, so much is at stake, and we’re so frail in mind and heart.

None of these were easy, all resulted in tears and anger, and fractured the church.

So, now with Marriage Equality and the decisions of GA. 

Some feel the joy of victory.

Others feel the sorrow of loss.

With all the subsequent fallout …

I have no immediate answer, but our history has always given me some hope - we have gone through terrible storms, we have seen the church shattered, splintered; we have fought tooth and claw for the spirit of the church. 

But the church goes on, sometimes limping (as Calvin suggested for how we go through life), yet the church goes on.

Never as it was, and in those periods of great transition, no one could foresee what it would be like.

And these days, as always, the world changes, too … everything around us, values and modes of communication, music and art and literature. And along with all of this, a fading Christendom. What the church will be like in fifty years, or a hundred, who can say?

For me, when I’ve been down for the sake of the church, I’ve found solace in this:

We limp on, having gone through the storm, until the next one hits. Jesus continues to build his church, and we continue, mostly in fractured ways, to love one another as he loves us. 

Voices of hope are lifted up in the wilderness, justice is done, lives are transformed by the gospel, churches are planted, folks get ordained, children go to summer camps and enjoy mission trips, people pray and study their Bibles, and we sing the great hymns of faith, sometimes thrilled by all of it, seeing beyond seeing, the hand of mercy and the glory of God!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Some Folks Just Disappear

Google's a remarkable device ... put in a name, city, whatever.
And a host of suggestions appear.
Often just right.

But, sometimes ...
No luck.
It seems that some folks.

Just disappear.
Zip, nada, nothing.
Maybe a misspelling?

Try a few alternatives.
Not that.

What happened?

It was a long time ago we knew one another.
A visit in our home, and later a camping trip, early 70s.

Not so long ago if measured in dinosaur time.
But for us us.
Human time.

Why didn't we stay in touch?
That's always the question.
Time munches on.

Pretty much eating us all up.
And then, wipes its mouth.

And we're done.
So it goes.
Wonder where he went!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sometimes We Get Along, Sometimes Not

It doesn't take long in the #PCUSA to see what a diverse group we are. Much of the time, we manage to get along; some of the time, we don't.

Diversity pushes and pulls us, and sometimes pushes or pulls us beyond where we're comfortable ... and sometimes challenges us to rethink, to reconsider, review those things we deem "essentials."

We love to quote authorities, and, of course, THE Authority, Scripture, but even that seems to fail us finally, leaving us without resolve, and all those pesky Bible verses that refuse to fit into our otherwise neat and tidy systems.

If we take sin seriously (as Presbyterians, we have too!), then we're stuck with a curious kind of humility toward one another, and toward those views that either challenge us or strike us as even heretical.

We'd all like to claim that "our system, our version of things, our take on God and the Gospel, are bigger, brighter and better" than all the other competing versions.

But history refuses us such a claim.

All we can do, and humbly do, is put forth our view of things, and try to apply the best tools of scholarship and science, engaging in steady prayer and the practices of humility (often saying, "I don't know" or "I'm not sure"), bringing to bear upon our ideas the best of Christian scholarship, the vast and often contradictory traditions of the church, including hymnody, social justice practices over the centuries and the day-to-day learning from one another - in other words, all that God provides us in and through the church and the larger world.

In reality, we're mostly on target, and sometimes not.

Who can contain the whole counsel of God in any system of thought?

Who dares to say they comprehend the will and character and purpose of God throughout the ages?

If any of us muster the "telling Bible verse," someone else offers another verse.

So we serve one another best of all when we raise critical questions for one another, and provide ample room and time for one another to express his or her views.

If we come to the #PCUSA or to a particular congregation to have all of our a priori notions confirmed, we may well find a congregation that suits us perfectly, but not likely the entire denomination ... which is why some are so eager for schism - as if the balkanization of the church could lead to greater purity of thought. It never does, and never will. To seek purity at the expense of fellowship is to sacrifice the very purity so eagerly sought.

Anyway, much of the discussion here is thoughtful and kind ... God be praised.

Perhaps we might take Jesus at his word in John: "I am the way, the truth and the life" ... not Calvin or Knox or Kuyper, not the Book of Confessions or the Book of Order, neither Aquinas nor Barth, certainly not Jerry Falwell (God rest his soul) or James Dobson, nor Rob Bell or Max Lucado. But from all of them, we learn about Jesus, yet Jesus does us the favor of "walking through our midst," lest we crown him(John 6.15) or try to kill him (Luke 4.29).

Our systems are all approximations ... and we humbly bow down before the LORD of all ... honoring the Holy Spirit in each and every believer who utters the name of Jesus in faith, hope and love, fragmented as every heart is, with but a fragmentary grasp of Jesus, whose grasp upon us is sure and certain, unto the end of the age, and then some.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Notes for March 23 Seekers Class, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Preparing for the Passion - Lent and the Apostle Paul
Seekers Class, March 23, 20014 - Rev. Ryan Steitz, facilitator
Notes prepared by Rev. Tom Eggebeen.
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Climbed to the roof of my home to adjust the TV antenna …
Fixed my 8-track tape deck …
Recorded a TV show on my VCR …
Bought a new 33 ⅓ record album featuring Bing Crosby …
Took my car in to repair the floorboard dimmer switch …

Transitions …

Share transitions we’ve made …

Paul’s transition: began on the Damascus Road … it took time to work it out, and he’s still working it out in his correspondence … and we are, too (but that’s for later).

Paul … 
From specific location (the land promised to Abraham) to the world … the larger promise of God to Abraham … from a physical center in Jerusalem, the Temple, to a spiritual center en Christo … in Christ … (this is what the Book of Hebrews is all about) … remember: Greek Christos means Messiah, Anointed One.

From practices to ideas …
From circumcision, dietary laws, social restrictions and Temple
To …
Great theological ideas of Judaism: monotheism, election, eschatology.

Reworking Jewish beliefs about God around Messiah and Spirit … 

From survival to mission … from inward to outward bound ...
Crossing all kinds of boundaries … building bridges ...
Daring in his thought and work … 
Willing to endure hardship (2 Corinthians 11.22ff) ...

Keep in mind … whenever we read Paul, read something from the Gospels, too … when we’re well-anchored in the Gospels, then we can read Paul with success, without getting trapped in an all-too-common cul-de-sac, taking our eyes off of Jesus and trying to figure out what Paul meant - mostly leading to dogmatism and bitter debates. Churches divide and families splinter, not on what Jesus said, but what they think Paul said.

We read Paul best when we read Paul in the light of Jesus and Gospels … 

Know the Gospels through and through … when we have a sense of Jesus and his world … and why Rome and the Jerusalem establishment decided to forgo their differences and collude with one another to arrest Jesus, try him and publicly execute him … then we make our move to Paul … and why Paul was willing to throw his life into the ring, to proclaim that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah who proclaims the original promise of God, to make all things new, to reconcile the world to God and the peoples to one another … and how Paul’s proclamation changed the world as its spread throughout the Mediterranean world, and challenged the powers-that-be - both religious and political - ultimately costing Paul his life.

With that, to keep in mind: the biggest questions we can frame? The bigger the question, the more fun we have with Jesus and Paul … and I mean fun, as in delight, discovery, joy and wonderment. 

The Gospel is, after all, Good News … as Paul says in Romans 5.1 - We have peace with God!

Herein is God’s purpose - that humankind might have peace with God, and flowing from this divine-human reconciliation, peace with one another. For this Jesus came to be one with us, as like us, and to proclaim the love and will of God … and of this, crucial pieces: the Beatitudes and Jesus and the Temple … grasp these two pieces of Jesus, and we have a good hold on him, and how all of this came to be worked out for Paul.

Let’s read some of Paul’s correspondence … Romans 4.1-5 (6-12), 13-17

Romans 5.1-11; 12-19 (20-21) … key question: What does “faith” mean here?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Earth is 6000 Years Old!

The earth is 6000 years old!

That’s what I’m told by learned men of much faith and the women who love them, but the women are pretty busy having babies, so they mostly just nod their heads, in a distracted, impatient, helpless, sort of way, and then rush off to do more diapers and wipe runny noses, praising the LORD as they dash down the hallway, fixing their hair on the way and planning the next dinner when the preacher comes over for a visit, a strategy meeting, to coordinate the culture wars and fight all the bad people who refuse to believe the truth. I mean to tell you, it’s all out war. If we’re not careful, pretty soon there won’t be any Christmas left and heathens will be in the White House, if not there already.

Anyway, getting back to the age of the earth ...

Maybe the earth is 8000 years old, some learned men of much faith have said - so, what’s a few more thousand years in this whole business when what really counts is that the whole of it, all of it, every bit of it, from top to bottom, is stage decoration for you and me, the crown of creation, the image of God, the sum and substance of it all, sinners, most surely, but for the chosen of God, no problem. Of this sin business, no big deal, because God sent his only Son to take care of it, to wrap it up on the cross, and tuck it way in the tomb, and then rose up on Easter just to dust himself off and get on with the task of ascending to heaven to prepare the way for us, because this world isn’t our home; we don’t really belong here. We came from the heavenly celestials, and we’re here for awhile to make this earth behave and produce a mighty crop for us, and then when we die, we’re wafted off to heaven to be with Jesus. What a grand idea. You’d think we’d all be eager to get there, but if we can afford it, we buy long-term health care. Go figure. Oh well ...

Now about those sinners ...

Not everyone will make it, of course, and that’s okay … we pray for them and do some good for them, but mostly, to hell with them. That’s just the way it is. How good it is. All glory to God.

But getting back to the age of the earth ...

The whole thing is a set up to showcase us, the image of God, as the Bible says so, and the learned men of great faith and the women who love them. Just us, the crown of creation, as I said a moment ago.

Now there are learned men who say something different, and their women offer a different image as well, but for now, all that we need to know is that they’re liars, servants of Satan, men and women of evil intention; as best as I can figure it, they’ve been deceived by studying the rocks and fossils and the stars above and the deeps of the seas. 

Why, any fool can look at this stuff and see the mighty hand of God setting it all up for us, and God was in hurry to see us, to admire us, the crown of creation, so God didn’t waste any time putting it together.

Millions of years?


No way … didn’t take that long, because God was in a hurry to see us, and from the 6th day of creation, or if you’re reading Genesis 2, the first day before most everything else, we’ve been here, having things pretty much our way, and if any thing gets in our way, we move it; if it’s a buffalo, we kill it. If it’s one of them sinners, not chosen by God, we go to war and bomb the hell of them, or at least try. But hell is tenacious - kinda makes me angry when I think about - it seems that all the bombs in the world never quite finish hell off. What a pity, though its fun and patriotic and deeply spiritual to give it a try. I suppose one of these days we may just build a bomb big enough to bomb the hell out of the world. Oh, what day of rejoicing that will be.

Anyway, here we are - 6000 years old, or maybe 8000, but no more or no less, as learned men of great faith tell us, and the women who love them.

Perhaps the reader has already discerned the inspiration behind this brief essay about the age of the earth: Mark Twain's yummy little "The Damned Human Race," part 1, "Was the World Made for Man?"