Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting Rid of the Cherry Coke - by the Rev. Bob Orr

I was on my back from Indiana when I stopped at a large box store and bought a case of Cherry Coke. There were more than twenty four cans . . maybe thirty six. I have a weak place for Coke and have almost weaned myself. But this was a bargain and I was weak so I bought it.

Back home in Michigan I put the whole case in the downstairs "second" frig and only one or two cans upstairs in the convenient frig. I told myself that way I'd have to work at getting them. Well as it turned out I was drinking one or two a day and had consumed about a dozen when Kathie said, "You know that's empty calories." She was right, of course. And I knew it. At the time of purchase I had gone back and forth several times in my mind whether to buy the Coke, before I fell off the wagon.

Now was the time to remedy the situation. What to do? How to get rid of it? We had made food donations a couple of times to a soup kitchen located in a Baptist Church nearby. That was the place. So I stopped a day or so ago, feeling good about getting rid of the rest of the Coke but also realizing that I was "passing on" the empty calories to others. I went ahead anyway. I found the church, knocked on the door during lunch time and a woman answered who was directing the program. She graciously accepted my donation.

I took a quick look around and saw twenty or thirty men sitting at four long tables eating their lunch. As I walked to the exit, one of them, bearded and missing part of one finger on his hand, stood up from his meal, extended his hand to me and said "thank you". I had delivered "empty calories". That was no cause for thanks in my mind. But I was moved by his gratitude, shook his hand and vowed to myself to return with a "real food" donation next week.

"And when you do it to the least of these, you do it to me", Jesus said. I know I can "do" better by the man eating his lunch in the Baptist Church and to me and to my Lord. Abba, forgive me.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Mile Wide and a Mile Deep

“He’s so narrow in thought that when he turns toward the sun, he doesn’t cast a shadow. But his friend is so open-minded, his brains fell out.”

I heard this years ago and continue to chuckle about it.

Having recently visited a church’s website, I wrote: “religion, a mile wide and an inch deep” … and, then, while reading Calvin, noted, “a mile deep, for sure.”

And then wondered, “Is it possible to be a mile wide and a mile deep, too.”

To be a mile wide in love, as God so loves the world, and to be a mile deep in knowing the Bible and Christian doctrine.

Presbyterians have a decent track record on this point, though we’re often tempted to knock off one for the other – love a mile wide and knowledge an inch deep, or knowledge and doctrine a mile deep and love an inch wide.

When I survey the world, I’m glad to be a Presbyterian. We’re not the only voice, obviously, nor do we have an impeccable reputation, but on the whole, we’ve held up our end of the bargain rather well ever since Calvin proclaimed the grace of God in Geneva and John Knox brought Calvin’s vision to Scotland, from whence came our Presbyterian spiritual mothers and fathers.

If our tradition has any merit, and I believe it does, it’s the holding together of both vectors – love a mile wide and knowledge a mile deep.

Dear Presbyterians, and those who may be wondering what a Presbyterian is, we are those who love God and neighbor with the passion and compassion of Christ, and who burn the midnight oil in our studies!

I’m glad to be a Presbyterian! A faith-tradition of heart and mind, service and study, a vigorous and a rigorous life, a mile wide and a mile deep.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Simple Words of Faith

Simple words of faith …

I believe …

Life is good at its core, though bad things happen, and happen to good people.

God loves the world, and that’s why God won’t change things with the snap of a finger – it would violate our freedom, and more precious than anything else that God created is our freedom, though we often use it for the worst purposes.

God has done and continues to do, a mighty work in Jesus the Christ for all the world – his teaching is the way we need to proceed, his love is the truth that makes all of our lesser truths less important, and when wisdom and love are united, that’s life – Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

God has provided through Christ a multiplicity of paths – not everyone knows the name of Jesus, but Jesus knows everyone’s name, and however history and culture play themselves out, Christ is there, for everyone – with all the goodness of his Father’s love.

The church is at its best when it’s welcoming and receiving of all.

You are important to God’s work.

You are capable of great love!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Updike, my Dad and Me - by Robert Dahl

Bob Dahl and I have been friends for 40 years. In this remarkable essay, Bob muses on a Father who took him to church, and the coffee shop for a donut ... how those memories shape a life, and prepare someone to "shoulder" something of the faith. 

Recently I read this: "It is difficult to imagine anyone shouldering the implausible complications of Christian doctrine...without some inheritance of positive prior involvement."  That was from an essay by John Updike quoted in an article in the March 24th issue of The Christian Century.  Earlier in the essay, Updike described one such positive prior involvement.  It was attending a Wednesday evening Lenten worship service as a fourteen year old with his father.  It was a good experience for him. Years later he would look back upon it as formative.

I almost cried. It is much the same for me. I have shouldered implausible complications of Christian doctrine for forty-three years, thirty-nine in ordained ministry and four in seminary.  But the memories that penetrate the ponderings and reach deep into the marrow of my spiritual being are of going to church with my dad, especially the evening services because it was always and only me and my dad.  My mother stayed home and by this time my sister was married and out of the house.

He professed the Christian faith as I approached adolescence.  I made profession of faith when I was twelve. I had asked to join the church.  I guess it was my low church, protestant version of a bar mitzvah.  Our congregation didn't have confirmation classes with required attendance.  The pastor and the elders believed it should be a personal decision.  They thought I was a bit young to be making profession of faith, but I guess it took.

My dad became one of those elders.  In time, I became the president of the youth group.  He started a scholarship fund for members of the congregation who felt called to ordained ministry.  By the time I had chosen to give seminary a try, I had forgotten about the scholarship.  In fact, I don't think I even knew about it.  The pastor told me I would be receiving monthly checks to help support me through school.  I received those checks every month for the four years I was in seminary.  The fund was named after my dad.

When I was in high school, he made weekly journeys to downtown Chicago to the missions on skid row to preach love to “the bums,” who sat through the service only because it was required to get the soup that followed worship.  My dad had been "on the bum" hopping freight trains around the country during the Great Depression.  A little of himself was always sitting on the folding chairs opposite the pulpit behind which he stood.  Sometimes I went along.  I sat in one of those chairs thinking about the donut I would get when we stopped at the same coffee shop we always stopped at on the way home.

When I was seventeen, my dad died.  I'm 64 and I still miss him.  Sometimes he sits in one of the pews while I am standing behind the pulpit getting ready to preach.  I hope I preach as much grace as he did.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A God-Centered Life

To see our life under the loving hand of God, and to give God the glory, all the glory, every bit of it, for the love we have for Christ and the impulse we have for worship, prayer and virtue.

With untold mercy and infinite grace, God has saved us, from our selves and the wiles of the Devil, and brought us into the kingdom of light and into the realm of Christ.

Did we do any of this on our own? Even a little bit?

I think not.

Nor does Paul the Apostle who rightly suggests that if we could claim any responsibility, even a smidgeon, for our status with God, we’d quickly be inclined to boast, which always leads to unhealthy distinctions among believers (as if one believer could be superior to another) and worse: to look with disdain at those outside the realms of faith.

As you know, 2009 is the 500th birthday of John Calvin, the spiritual granddaddy of the Presbyterian Church. As Luther is for Lutherans and Wesley is for Methodists, so Calvin is for Presbyterians.

Calvin wrote clearly and passionately about the glory of God – that we would see our lives under the loving and guiding hand of God. To painfully (only at first) admit that we bring to the table nothing but our relentless self-interest, our confusion and an improper pride. That even our instincts for good are driven by self-interest in much the same way that an animal seeks its own comfort and desires the wellbeing of its offspring. Painful at first for the “old humanity within us,” such confession becomes joyful release as we grow in the grace of God.

Calvin seeks to create an attitude that is finally and firmly focused on the goodness, grace and glory of God. This is the “peace with God” of which Paul the Apostle writes and the foundation for love – to love God with all that we are, and with that selfsame love, to love our neighbor as we, now rightly, for the first time, love ourselves.

This is a God-centered life. To God, and to God alone, be the glory!