Sunday, December 28, 2014


I must say ...

Friends ... 

How you bless me ...

In you laughter ...

And with your tears, too.

Life isn't always easy ...

Maybe never easy ...

But you manage to live it well.

Creatively, which amazes.

Honestly, which humbles.

With humor, which entertains.

With courage, which inspires.

Glad to be a part of your life.

I'm better ...

Because of you!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I have very few answers, about anything.
But it's not answers the world needs.
Answers never seem to quite fit, anyway.

Maybe it's your answer.
It may not be mine.
And mine can't be yours.

Is there anything beyond answers?
A vision?
A calling of sorts?

I'd like to think there is.
I like Isaiah:
"I saw the LORD, sitting on a throne, high and lofty."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Freedom of Conscience and Matters of Justice

We have mostly welcomed "freedom of conscience" ... even when that may have lead a pastor/session to "refrain" from just behavior, though firm lines were drawn leading up to the Civil War on slavery, and in the early 1970s, with regard to the ordination of women. On both of these matters, it was believed that a "house divided" could not serve the LORD or bear a faithful witness to the world.

With regard to the ordination of LGBTQ persons, it was saddening to me to note the numerous charges filed against pastors/sessions who, for reasons of conscience and Scripture, "violated" the "no ordination" ban for LGBTQ persons - those opposed to LGBTQ ordination were not willing to grant merit to "conscience," though now, at least on the matter or ordination, now allowed for LGBTQ persons, we grant "conscience" allowances - since ordination to local office is a matter of the local church, it's highly unlikely that any charges would be brought for not electing and ordaining an openly gay person. It will be interesting to see what would happen if a congregation nominates and elects a gay person, contrary to the wishes of the pastor. Would the pastor relent, or would the pastor invite in a neighboring pastor to preside for the ordination?

Should marriage equality become the law of the church, no pastor would be compelled to officiate at a same-gender marriage (in spite of the fears raised up on this matter by those opposed).

As you rightly note, it is a justice issue, though the opposed see it as a "biblical/tradition/theological/faith" issue. Because of the seriousness of their resistance, there's no need for them to be compelled to ordain an LGBTQ person, and if marriage equality prevails, there will be no mandate to officiate at same-gender marriage ceremonies.

I think time will take care of this, though not entirely eliminate it. After all, we still have pastors who resist the ordination of women, would not allow the knowing ordination of a gay person, and we have still church that continue to practice an institutional segregation. 

Those who cannot abide by such things have options, of course. Folks/churches can always leave. Many a pastor, lots of members, and some churches, left for the UCC to find freedom of faith and life. Others left for the PCA and EPC to find theological safety and congruence. And now, on the conservative side of things, ECO offers refuge for those opposed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church.

In the matters of local ordination, and in the matter of marriage equality (should that come to pass), "freedom of conscience" is operative, in spite of the fact that those who favor ordination and marriage equality see it as a matter of justice. And why? It's a matter of kindness, recognizing that the "purity" of the church is hard to define, but the "unity" of the church isn't.

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Days for the PCUSA

Pondering, pondering, pondering ... I do that a lot in the early morning hours, and it was earlier than usual this morning because of the storm, that came like a freight train, roaring winds and pounding rain.

So, here I am ... the storm has settled down into a steady rain ... and I'm still pondering ... encourage by the latest Presbyterians Today Magazine and a few stories about renewal, recovery and hope.

Looking back over my years of ministry, I think the #PCUSA spent a lot of time apologizing to the world (nothing entirely wrong with that), but much of it, I fear, was driven by the evangelical onslaught constantly throwing into our face "our many failures" ...

Membership loss, a sign of apostasy.
Preaching that doesn't save souls.
Confusion about Scripture.
Uncertainty about Jesus Christ.
Failure to support international mission.
Disregarding Scripture, first with women, and then homosexuality.
A left-wing social gospel prompted more by Marx than Mark.
Secular humanism.
A general abandonment of all things godly.

We can learn from our critics, and there are things here to ponder.

But this I know, we were knocked for a loop, and we felt bad. We felt bad about our losses, our confusion and our many sins. We hung our heads and moped around. We read books about "evangelical success" and wondered where we all went wrong.

The evangelicals were relentless in their criticism, and with each decade, some found one more reason to leave the PCUSA, to affiliate with a more conservative group or to start a new denomination. And we hung our heads and moped around, wondering what was wrong with us.

These days, though, I think we're pretty much done hanging our heads and moping around. For a lot of reasons, we've taken a deep breath and are finding ourselves again ... and learning that we can't be all things to all people. We can't ordain women and not ordain women. We can't ordain gays and lesbians and not ordain them. We can't be interfaith and reject other faiths. We can't welcome the latest in biblical scholarship and reject biblical scholarship. We can't read Genesis 1 and 2 literally and metaphorically. All of these are mutual polar opposites. After the last 50 years, we're learning that our "sins" weren't so sinful after all, and as much as some would love to see the "uneasy coalition" of interests and purpose remain intact, the settling out of the PCUSA is healthy and good.

There comes a time when some have to go this way and others that way.

It's all right.

In the PCUSA air I breath these days, heads are held higher and hearts beat with fresh hope. Yes, we have our issues, and that'll always be the case. But fresh winds are blowing, the sky is clearing, and the storms have passed.

It's a new day for the PCUSA ... and I affirm these essentials:

At our best, we are a tradition that:

Affirms and welcomes biblical scholarship ...
Resists fear and despondency ...
Affirms and welcomes everyone ...
Supports marriage equality and civil rights ...
Rejects the harsh rules and values of consumer capitalism ...
Affirms the role of government in the welfare of the people ...
Stands in solidarity with other faiths and celebrates the goodness of Jesus the Christ ...
Sings hymns, psalms and praise choruses ...
Welcomes missional, emergent, traditional and progressive insights ...
Works all around the world with faith, hope and love ... not afraid of the world, finding more friends than enemies, never threatened by other traditions and philosophies, eager to learn from all and eager to share what God has kindly given to us.

There's more to the story, I know ... and we'll discover more of ourselves as God shapes us for the remaining 21st Century ... learning by the love of Christ, to walk with heads held high enough to see the Christ lifted up, and to walk gladly in this world of ours, humbly because our sins are many and there's still so much more to learn, and gratefully, because God's grace is greater still.

The storm has passed, at least for now, and the rains are gentle. God's peace to the PCUSA, and in all things, "let our light shine before others, so they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Two Kinds of Knowledge

How does one know anything?

That's a great mystery, actually.
One for philosophers and theologians.

I guess for some, it's rather clear.
If I know how to drill a well,
I get oil.
That's what might be called "controlling knowledge."

If, on the other hand, I love someone.
And want to know them.
They remain elusive.
I can't drill into them.
I can't extract anything.

I can know them only
By receiving them.
Into my life.
It's called "receiving knowledge."

The former requires distance.
Even coolness.
A sense of overcoming.
To study and ascertain.
To conquer in the controlling.
To make something.

The latter needs closeness.
Trust and desire.
A willingness to surrender.
To ponder and enjoy.
To give in the receiving.
To love someone.

Woe to the one who confuse
These two kinds of knowledge.

Who hasn't tried the former when
The latter was needed?

Who hasn't regretted
All that was lost
When the control
Blew up?

But blessed are those who receive.
Who surrender.
To know the unknowable:
The Mystery of it all.
The life and wonder:
Of a lover.
A child in one's arms.
A friend across the table.
A stranger who really isn't a stranger at all.
Even God, for that matter.

Who cannot be controlled.
But only received.

"Here I am, LORD,
Said Mary!
And so it was!

A receiving knowledge,
Her glory.
"Blessed are you among women.
And blessed is the fruit of your womb."

Friday, November 7, 2014

Psalm 148 - Healing and Truth in Praise

Just read Psalm 148, the Psalm of total praise - let everything, anything, the whole of the universe, and all of the earth, praise the LORD.

And why?

Because God is some neurotic being that needs constant praise in order to survive?


Rather, it's a function of truthfulness and healing.

There is healing in praise, especially for human beings who are so easily centered within themselves, so easily convinced that we and our efforts are mighty and grand, that the world is beholding to us, and we can do with it as we please.

Praise opens our eyes to the glory around us - glory we didn't create, and glory given to us by the hand of the Creator, and in praise, we ponder our relationship to the world around us. It's not ours, but we're certainly its caretakers, and if caretakers, than we acknowledge that it belongs to another. And that recognition, that acknowledgement, is healthy for us, as it puts us into a mutual relationship with all creatures, great and small, and the mountains and the seas and deserts and the wind and the rain, that yearn within themselves to praise, to sing joyful and freely in their realms.

And if the whole of creation belongs to another, then we're accountable to the Other who has been kind enough to entrust creation to us, trusting enough of us to put what's precious into our hands, and we might, from time-to-time, ask ourselves: What does the Creator require of us? What does care for the creation look like? What are our daily tasks as we care for this world - from the stones beneath our feet to the creatures of the hills and to the persons beside us?

And herewith a sobering realization - how can the earth praise God when it's pillaged and spoiled by human disregard?

How can air and water praise God when they're despoiled and fouled by our irresponsible behavior, driven, as it often is, by our greed, our fear, our rapacious spirit, our drive to own and make it our possession?

Praise liberates us from the illusions of our own grandeur and power and places us into direct and responsible relationships. Praise is healing for our troubled spirits, too long drunk on our own power and presumed place. Praise lifts our spirits to another level where the wind blows free and clean. Praise is truth: we are not our own, but belong, to a faithful Creator who gives this to us all, for our caretaking and our use, a careful use that promotes the welfare and fecundity of the world.

It's good to offer praise to another human being - who knows, they may need it now and then to lift their spirits and encourage them. And we need to offer praise, to step outside of ourselves, to see beauty and goodness, and to simply say, Thank You!

There's healing for our soul in such moments of simple acknowledgement, and it's the truth that sets us free!

Thank You, O LORD. Thank You!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"In God We Trust" ... I Dare You!

"In God We Trust." Heck, every "Christian" nation has made that claim. But it's obvious, I think, that "God" has a lot of variety. The God of the Germans told them to kill the French. The Russian God told them to kill Germans. The British God said "Kill." And so did the American God. And kill they did in countless wars to this very day. These days, Muslim nations also express "trust in God." Hindus and Buddhists in India claim divinity, too. How we love to kill in the name of God, the Gods, our divinities.

I've long felt that America's claim befits a nation burdened with self-righteousness, as if we could do no wrong, because "we trust in God." But, then, so do so many other nations and movements.

Even in America, the God of a right-wing NRA supporter is rather different than the God of a life-wing Occupy Wall Street advocate. And what about those who have no God? Oh well ...

All across the battered landscape of God-trusting history, defeat, death, disease, and victory, too, and gloating and pride, and parades and bunting. But

With all these "Gods" floating around, which God shall it be?

I guess the one with the biggest army and the most bombs.

Yet, there's another story here ... a deeper, darker one, an ironic element. Yes, trust in God - go ahead, I dare you.

The God of the Prophets who allowed the Assyrians to destroy the Northern Kingdom and then allowed the Babylonians to destroy the Southern Kingdom. They trusted in God for victory, but such was not the case.

Or the God of Jesus, who allowed Rome to level the city of Jerusalem and end all claims to land.

Beware of this God - not owned or manipulated by any earthly power. At no one's beck and call.

Trust God - go ahead.

I dare you.

Monday, November 3, 2014

What's On My Mind Today

What's on my mind?

1. Global warming.
2. Wall Street profits.
3. War.
4. Women's right.
5. Poverty.

Yes, I'm a positive person, and I believe in love and peace and all things good and wonderful.

And just because I'm positive, just because I believe in love and all the rest, I see clearly everything that threatens what's good and decent.

Ever so often, I try to hide ... in the love of my family, but when I see my granddaughter's laughing face, I want to give her a safe world.

Ever so often, I try hide ... in my faith, but when I see the face of Jesus, I see the face of the poor, the dispossessed, the excluded and the denied.

Ever so often, I try to hide ... in reading - history, novels, biographies, but there's no safe place to hide in any of it.

Try as I might, I can't hide anywhere.

So, here I am. In a world of troubles, with a giant positive hope that good people, and the LORD of heaven and earth, are hard at work. There will be losses and victories, there will be moments of utter despair and overwhelming joy. There will be days of dreariness and disgust and days of roses and wine.

And so it goes.

Some of what's on my mind.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reading the Book of Daniel This Morning

I read the Book of Daniel this morning ... it's not a long book, and quite readable.

I found myself chuckling at any number of places, as, I'm sure, the original author(s) might have done, and surely those who heard it read.

The kind of chuckling one does ironically, or with the shake of the head ... a grim sort of chuckling, as the Book of Daniel lays out before the reader the vanity, the foolishness, the cruelty, the arrogance of the powers-that-be. "No, none are righteous."

But chuckling as well about survival - "Be clever," says the Book to its reader. "Know your stuff ... learn from your enemies ... don't waste your time wishing your were living somewhere else, or in another time - you're not. Be where you are, and God is with you!"

But don't think your life will be easy.

Life isn't easy for anyone - surely not the powerful: they live in fear, constant fear, of being upended by someone more powerful than they. And they're right. There is always someone more powerful coming along the pike, and they will win the next round. Until someone else, more powerful, comes along.

So it goes ... until the end.

As for the end? Don't worry about it ... just go on your way ... do your best ... remember the Covenant ... be mindful of your sins, and if your wise, good and faithful, you'll find a place, even in a strange land; folks will see your abilities and come to rely upon you.

But don't ever rely upon them - they're loyalty is a passing fancy. They quickly forget their promises; they live in the land of lies.

Life will be good, life will be hard; God is faithful, but no guarantees are given.

I love the Book of Daniel ... a simple treatise, if you will, on how to be faithful in the worst of times, how to survive, mostly, if you can; how to compromise, but not go too far. How to get along, and even thrive, but not be fooled by the gods of gold and power.

As a person of the Holy Covenant, you have skills to make a difference; you have insights that can guide and offer sane counsel to the confused and frightened. You may well get thrown into a fiery furnace, and maybe you'll make it, and maybe you won't. You may be thrown into a lion's den, and maybe you'll make, and maybe you won't.

But don't give up!

The times and the places of all such things belong to God.

And so do you.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Do I Know Me?

I don't know
Me or
I am.

Always the stranger.
Sort of.
Yet, I know.
I'm of value.

Yes, I am.
That I know.
So, I think.

I've made the

So it
Piece by piece.

I know that.
But as
For the rest.
Who knows?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Believing Deeply ...

It's the music.
Always the music.

Hymns to the glory of God.
Choral music rich and Latin.

Pipe organ wealth of sound.
Minor and major, somber and playful.

Great words of God's love.
God's faithfulness to creation.
Grace abounding.
Forgiveness unconditional.

My heart is moved.
Tears unbidden.
choked throat.

Faith, hope and love.
Something True.
Without a map.

It's the music.
Always the music.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Flurry of Thoughts

A flurry of thoughts

Time is so short.
Young, time is forever.
Older, time hastens.
Old, time is nothing.

Death is the final.
Life ends.
Life is done.

Can we hope?
Religions offer it.
Is it true?
Truth counts.

For a Christian:
Will we be with Jesus?
It's a good idea.
Maybe it's true.

Could be.
Maybe not.
A promise?

Do I need this?
Does anyone?
What if this
Is enough?

For many
Maybe not enough.
Maybe enough.

Hard to say.
Some religious folk
are greedy for eternity.
Some, not so.

Who knows.
I love God.
God is life.
For sure.

I'm content!
Who knows?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Past

The Past ...

Is always present.
Always there.
Though perhaps forgotten.

But easily recalled.
Sometimes too easily.
Sometimes wantonly.

Pays to visit the past.
Now and then.
Things to be learned there.

But it makes no sense
To live there.
It's but a dream.

A scattering of:
old friends
dear friends
enemies, or so we think,
and maybe they were.

And they wounded us.
Maybe because we were stupid.
Maybe because they were mean.

Maybe we needed a good
Maybe they had an angry leg.

Whatever ...
Pays to remember
now and then.

But it pays to
keep the visit

God be with ya'.
Take care.

So long, it's been good to know ya'
Or maybe not.
Good riddance.

And off we go.
To the present.
To what's good and what ain't.

And even the future.
In bits and pieces.
A move here or there.

And time moves along.
And it's good thing
To tag along for the ride.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sheep Led to the Slaughter???

On my morning walk today, saw folks going into a church ...

first thought that came to mind:
"Sheep led to the slaughter."

Which reminds me,
people are willing
more than willing
to believe.

And just about anything
will do
when presented
with conviction or
authority or

And, no doubt,
it's been a slaughter

The landscape of
church history
with bodies.

But ...
not always ...

And I'm hopeful
that the gift
of the sheep
will always be
with respect
by pastors

Who know something
of the human spirit.
The Spirit of God.

To believe.
A wonderful gift
an ability
a sweetness
"I'm ready to believe"
something - holy and
good and rich
and profound.

Something about:

"I believe" are some
of the most precious words
in the world.

So treat it well.
Treat it as the
rarest of rare

Lift it up.
Handle with care.
Bless the sheep
who come
to believe!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Justice or Judgment - PCUSA Decision on Marriage Equality

This year's General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided that pastors living in states that have legalized marriage equality can now officiate at all marriages, without fear of sanction.

For some, this is a day longed for, a day of justice, a day sought with prayer and tears.

For some, this is a dreadful day, perhaps day of judgment, wherein God allows evil to win, for a time, to reveal the depravity of humankind.

Which is it?

Both sides prayed fervently ... citing Scripture, the Confessions, tradition and various clinical studies.

Lincoln wisely noted this in his Second Inaugural Address:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.

To read how well Lincoln dealt with this matter, please read the entire address - it's a stunning example of clear-headed thought and moral review.

So, where are we today in the PCUSA?

A day of justice or a day of judgment?

For me, it's a day of justice, but for sisters and brothers of other persuasion, a day of judgment.

Will we ever know?

For sure?

History, of course, is a mess ...

What we do is move on, as best we can.

Limiting our worst instincts of either gloating in "victory" or despairing in "loss."

Finding solace in Lincoln's closing paragraph:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Brave Man, a Brave Woman

A brave man, a brave woman.
To leave behind old ideas.
Old places and solid habits.
To set the face toward other places.

‘Tis only a fool who believes that 
Yesterday holds the answers.
And a greater fool who believes
That a new day is easy to achieve.

God said to Abram and Sarai:
May I have a few moments of your time?

They should have said, No!
They should have turned around.
And run away.
Like Jonah did a few years later.

But we all know how it turned out for Jonah.
Perhaps Abram and Sarai suspected the same.
Or maybe there were just too naive.
And what’s wrong with that?

Naiveté gets us into trouble, for sure.
But it also is the grease of greatness.
Too naive to see the trouble ahead.

The naive says, Let’s do it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sin: A Realistic Understanding

Are we always destined to be ruled by fear and hate?

While the church surely trivialized sin into simple categories of misbehavior and moral failings (like drunkenness and cussing), so as to avoid the larger categories of power and abuse and war and greed (which would have upset the Ruling Class of Clergy and Capitalists), the concept of sin needs to be maintained and revived!

For many people, to even mention the word "sin" conjures up images of Medieval Priests, candles, incense and bells ... or at least, sawdust trail preachers whooping and hollering and threatening little children with hellfire and damnation.

Yet ...

The Genesis stuff of Adam and Eve hiding (fear) and Cain killing Abel (hatred) are part and parcel, it seems, of the human story, and we're not likely to get rid of these twin evils any time soon.

If Christians hope to have any voice in today's world, this might just be it. We've got to talk about sin.

To call things as they are ... the great evils of greed and war and class inequality ... things that respond to and generate fear and hate ... as well as the deeper reality, the mystery ... that humanity fears many things that go bump in the night, and we easily come to hate that which inspires fear.

And with enough hate, violence erupts - Cain kills Abel again and again, and the Ruling Classes send Jesus to the Cross.

Slobbering preachers going on and on about the evils of "demon rum" and tobacco, have done great harm to the truth of sin, and when sober society rejects such stuff as nonsense, as it truly does, society sadly denies itself a tool in understanding itself - though "understanding" is always qualified by the reality ever so much larger than our intellectual and spiritual abilities to grasp it.

Sin is a mystery ... in the classic sense, sin is our four-fold alienation from self, from others, from the natural world around us and from God ... four fundamental alienations that cripple the human race and leave a wake of destruction in their path.

Denying these alienations, or at least trying to sugarcoat them, doesn't help one bit.

And continuing to preach about lesser things as sin is even worse ... better to not even mention the whole thing if we're not prepared to come to grips with it for what it is. Though preaching about "getting ahead in life" and "Five Steps to a Healthy Family" doesn't help either. Turning the pew into a therapy couch cheapens those who sit there, and those who preach such nostrums.

We do well to maintain the word "sin" and the mystery it represents ... a deep and penetrating darkness of spirit and mind - best described in the words, fear and hate.

These exist, abundantly.

In all of us.

Rich and poor alike.

No sense denying it.

No sense pretending that:



Bible reading.



Charity and mission work.

Will expunge it from our DNA.

Honest and forthright confession helps: the Jesus Prayer, for example:

"LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me

A Sinner."

And with some such awareness, to keep ourselves vigilante against the perennial forces of hate and fear.

Honest reckoning and clear-headed thinking will help ... and one of the sources of good reckoning and thought remains Christian Theology ... when humbly held and offered with kindness and sympathy.

Christians, at this point, have something terribly important to offer ... keeping in mind how easily it has been corrupted by cheap preaching and shallow thinking ...

Sin ... that which so easily fears and hides from life, and sooner or later, erupts in hatred and violence.

And what parts of it we cannot understand, at least to say, "There is it ... in all of its ugly reality - fear and hate."

For Christians, then, to be reminded of the angels who counsel mortals, "Fear not" and when hatred raises its ugly head, to choose the Beatitudes and the ways of love - with Jesus clearly in mind, "Take up your cross [the truth about sin] and follow me."

It's not easy to deal with sin ... but failing to deal with it only heightens its power to instill ever-greater levels of fear and hatred into our heart and into our life together.

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

"Once to Every Man and Nation" - James R Lowell, in the Bos­ton Cour­i­er, De­cem­ber 11, 1845. Low­ell wrote these words as a po­em pro­test­ing Amer­i­ca’s war with Mex­i­co.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Special and General Revelation

As a life-long Calvinist, I have lived peaceably with special/general revelation categories, and haven't thought much about it, until reading this article ...

... and asking myself some questions, like: what is "special" about special? And do not all coherent groups have some sort of "special" source for self-definition and ethics? Does Christian "specialness" trump all others? The article ends with an encouragement to broaden, I suppose, and reaffirm "general revelation." And again, some of the same questions - what does "general" really mean? Does it carry sufficient weight, or, in the balance of things, is it found wanting, and, thus, in need of something "special"?

As I sit here this morning, suddenly these words lose all of the traditional meaning, especially when it comes to claims of moral or theological superiority, or having some kind of an inside track to the truth and reality of god - "my god is bigger and better and brighter than your god because my god has chosen to reveal truth to me, in a very special way, and, sorry, not to you. I'l be more than happy to share my special part of it to correct and finish your general stuff."

Perhaps, in truth, it's all just revelation ... and no one group can claim its share of the prize as "special." Or maybe, it's all special, which is why folks can so profoundly experience the "divine" in movies and other sources. And who's to say, then, that "my experience" in church is of a more profound quality than that found in a movie, or a novel, or a symphony, or on a hike? Which is to say, finally, that we do well to listen to everyone's story and to celebrate the power and the glory that comes our way, in all sorts of media, ways, times and places.

Ever since Constantine, the Church has sought to bolster its claims to power with all sorts of theological tricks, and this morning, it suddenly seems that claims to "special revelation" are just one more example of those tricks, played upon ourselves (to drive away doubt) and thrown into the face of the world (to shame them, and then perhaps convert them), ultimately meaning that the church has something up its sleeve that no one else has (which is partly true, if all forms of revelation are special), but if it's all just revelation, and if humanity both succeeds and fails to understand and live up to its own truth, then whatever share of the prize we might have can never be used to trump anyone else's share.

This is a fine article that raises more questions that need to be answered if the Western Church is going to find humility before the Creator-God who loves the world and walks within the many gardens seeking humankind in both its glory and its shame, and via the Creator-God's own suffering, passion, love, to tease out the frightened, the lonely, the battered, to give them to them God's own hand-made clothing.

If history tells me anything, it's this: the Church has no more or less succeeded with its revelation than any other group. Our claims to "special" revelation crash on the rocks of history! We are but one group among many, and what we have in Christ is worthy to know and to love, there's no need to play our cards as if we held all the trump cards.

But rather to live our lives as musicians - each playing an instrument whose unique sound is needed by all the other instruments in order to produce the fullest possible sound - and encouraging each instrument to play a solo now and then, or join in a duet or trio, but knowing that the greatest sound of all is when every instrument has joined in, making a joyful noise to the LORD.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Friendship on Facebook

I have some friends who see the world very differently than I do ... we've been friends long enough to know that we've learned from one another just about all there is to learn. In that respect, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have nothing in which I'm interested - that was determined a long time ago. For my fb friends who find Limbaugh and Beck of value, so be it. You can read my stuff and simply say, "I don't agree!" and that'll be fine. But don't post the usual conservative jibber-jabber rebuttals - I'll delete most of them, and maybe all of them. 

If I want to hear what a disgrace the President is, how wonderful Gingrich and Reagan and Bush are, how terrible Nancy Pelosi is and how wonderful is Sarah Palin, I'll go to Fox News. But when it shows up in my threads, it'll be gone when I see it.

A lot of other friends are more than willing to raise good questions and challenge things I say, often adding substance to what I've written. And when I've learned greater things, that's added to my world. If I've lacked accuracy, then I'll remove it, or rewrite. Heck, as a preacher, I've done that all of my life.

From good friends, comments and interests are constructive, coming from a compassionate heart, and a mind seeking the larger truths that have shaped this nation at its best and shaped humankind's aspirations for justice, from the beginning. 

I've got some wonderful friends, and we stand together for a better world. And those are the friends I listen to, carefully!

Friday, July 25, 2014

"How's Your Soil?" - Matthew 13


(A personal reflection on  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 by Robert C. Orr, July 2014)

Here’s the way the first book of the Bible, Genesis, speaks of our beginning . . .

 the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.  Genesis 2:7  CEB

While not to be understood literally, still we are to see the profound connection of human life and the earth on which it was born.  We, you and I, are living, breathing animated topsoil! 

And a bit later in the story of our beginning in God we learn of how we’ll live and how our end will be. 

    by the sweat of your face you will eat bread—
 until you return to the fertile land,
 since from it you were taken;
 you are soil,
  to the soil you will return.” 
Genesis 3:19 CEB

Then in the New Testament, the apostle Paul is teaching about who we are in God and how we are to live. 

19 Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? 20 You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.      1 Corinthians 6:19-20 CEB

Before Paul, there was his Lord, the Messiah. It’s to him we look now. 
Jesus tells a story.
There’s a sower, 
And there’s soil.
God’s the sower.
God’s word is the seed.
We are the soil. 
We’re receivers (that’s another way of defining grace).
We’ve always been the receivers,
And we are today.
We may have many questions about this parable/story Jesus tells.
His first listeners did for sure.
Some of their questions may be ours also.
Here’s the bottom line -
    Because of God’s extravagant grace, and profound generosity, we are given in the 
course of our life, dozens, maybe hundreds of chances to hear, respond to and 
share what God gives us.  What do we do with those moments?  

How’s your soil Adam?
How’s your soil Eve?
There’s hard soil,
There’s rocky soil.
There’s soil where there are so many weeds and choking vines that we can hardly see the soil underfoot.
Then there’s the rich soil with all the right nutrients and minerals, with sunshine and shade, with rain and gentle breezes - in short, perfect growing conditions.  

I was on the coast of Maine once and had a conversation with a local man about garden fertilizer.  I had heard that old-timers gathered seaweed.  I asked about it.  He said that he did a little gardening and after a big storm, he’d go down to the shore with his wheelbarrow and gather  seaweed the storm had broken loose and thrown up on the beach.  I asked him if it helped his vegetables grow.  He bent low then gestured with both hands and arms in an upwards manner, and said it nearly made the plants jump out of the soil!

How’s your soil Eve?
How’s your soil Adam?
Anything growing?

I want you to think of a time, a person, an experience when you were be able to say “God gave me something in that moment, through that person, when that happened and look where I am now . .  because I listened, I responded, I took it and ran with it!”

 When I was in my last year in college I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  Going to graduate school or seminary or the Peace Corps were three options.  
I learned of a weekend program at a nearby Presbyterian seminary for college students like me. The invitation was to come and meet some faculty, share some time with men and women my age who were preparing for ministry, listen to panel discussions, ask questions.  I went.  I listened. I questioned.   One of things I heard was a professor tell of going on personal retreats at a nearby Catholic Trappist monastery.  I heard the name Thomas Merton mentioned,   He came to be know as the 20th century’s most celebrated American monk.  The Abbey of Gethsemani  in Kentucky was where he lived his life in community with other monks embracing a vow of silence but writing many books, carrying on a correspondence with hundreds of people around the world and keeping a  voluminous journal. 

The summer after I graduated college, seminary was not my choice.  I took a different path, but even that changed and by the end of August I was enrolled in seminary in Chicago.  As I look back on it,  was that a monastic “seed” God planted in my life?  Maybe.  I didn’t think of it that way at the time, however I can report to you today,  forty-seven years later that I went off to seminary, was ordained as a teaching elder and practiced ministry for thirty five years.  I can’t count the times I’ve been back to that monastery,  mostly for silent,  solitary retreats but sometimes taking a friend along to introduce them to monastic life. That “seed” has grown in my life in ways I never expected.

I speak of my own life only to invite you to think today about seeds you have received, people who have guided you in the way of Christ, times you have been shaped in God’s way.  

To be honest, there  were  other  “seeds”  which came into my life.  Did I respond?  Sometimes,  but sometimes not at all.  There were times I didn’t even recognize a seed.  Other times I recognized a  seed, watered it, tended it for a while but it withered.   

Robert Frost (1874–1963).  Mountain Interval.  1920.
1. The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

What kind of soil are you Adam?  Eve?

Being prepared, being fertile, being receptive is what this story is all about. 
What makes your soil hard as stone?
What makes the path that is you full of rocks?
What chokes the life out of you?
What can we do to prepare our soil, ourselves for God’s grace?

God’s plan is still sowing. . .  hundreds of seeds,
Thousands of seeds. 
Blowing in the wind . . . of the Spirit. 
Don’t allow the stones, the weeds, the boiling sun, the torrential rain,
and the distractions of modern life to take your eyes off the prize. 

“All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’ “
Catherine of Siena and John 14:6

The pathway you’re on today, if it’s the path Jesus invites you to travel is one filled with hope, opportunity, life, and heaven on earth.  

How’s your soil Eve?
How’s your soil Adam?
Never forget God made you, and God is the Master Gardner.
What’s growing in your life today?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Living in Fear - Christian Reflections

Been having a "chat" via Text Messaging ... he's expressed a lot of fearfulness about the times. I'm uneasy with such fearfulness because it distorts the way we see our world.

So, I sent this note off today ...

Living in fear is a choice we make ... and history makes it clear that our times are no different than ever - what we have is the news, the constant play and replay of world disorder. But WW1 was hideous and millions died across the world ... and WW2 ... the Boer War in S. Africa ... the Colonial Wars ... British in Afghanistan (1839-42) - horrible and hideous ... tens of thousands dying ... nothing different ... so to choose the Christian Way for me  is what counts - to tell the fear-peddlers to take a hike - they're not telling the truth; they're playing upon our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and they want us to be afraid - fearful people are not likely to think too well. 

Americans are the safest people in the world - war, famine and disease are rampant, but not here; not even close. 

Nothing new under the sun - Ecclesiastes 1.9 - what's new is us; we've never been here before, but our situation, the human condition, is what it has always been - war and rumors of war. So, the angels say, "Fear not!" because fear is the enemy of love ... and a perfect, complete, love casts out all fear - 1 John 4.18. 

Like God said to Elijah - (my translation): "Get outta your cave and get work! There is no room for fear in my Kingdom and those whom I call." - i Kings 19.15. 

Like Elijah in the cave, it's fun to shake our heads and talk about how bad things are - makes for great pulpit chowder, but it's hardly the Word of the LORD. Yes, things can be bad - as they were for Judah in Jeremiah's time, but fear is never the right response. 

And the times, well, they're neither worse nor better than any other time ... so, we get up in the morning with a smile on our face, and hope - because in Christ, all is becoming new, love prevails, and whether we're at the Table with the LORD or carrying our own cross to a sure and certain death, we do so in faith, listening to the LORD with all our heart, and not the fear-mongers in our midsts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Jesus Died for Our Sins" - Misleading

To simply say, "Jesus died for our sins" removes the offense of the gospel.

If "dying for our sins" is the whole sum of the matter, then Jesus might have done well to let the hometown folks throw him off the cliff - "Here, we have some stones we'd like to introduce you to."

Or, better yes, follow Satan's advice and jump off the temple pinnacle, because he knew full well that, in spite of what Satan said, no angels would come to his defense, and he would die.

Or why not simply join up with John's denunciation of Herod and gone to prison to lose his head with John.

If "dying for our sins" is the sum of the matter.

But, if we say, accurately, that he died "because of our sins," then we might well have to ask: "What were the sins that killed him?"

If Rome killed him, for what reason?

For being a nice guy?

Saying nice things about love?

No, for raising serious questions about Rome itself, and how some in Israel had simply become a client state of Rome, enjoying Rome's largesse, settling for the god of mammon and adopting a cruel life style - like the forgiven servant who refused to forgive a fellow servant ... or the disciples who wanted to send the hungry away to fend for themselves.

It was the sins of Empire that killed him ... the power of the Empire to show who's boss, and the sins of those who signed on with the Empire to enjoy its benefits.

To say, "Jesus died for our sins" retains the offense of the gospel and opens up doorways of understanding that can only service to both humble us before Jesus and compel us to think serious before we say, "I'm a follower of Jesus."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Cauldron of Little Places

A dear friend of mine wrote a poem about a small church wherein it just kept bubbling a way ...

So I wrote the following as prose ... he suggested I put it into a poetic form ... which I did:

sometimes the cauldron of little places, 
with little people fussing around 
with little things becomes an impossible soup … 
best to push the bowl of soup away 
and let it cool, 
or maybe just congeal …

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Psalm 37 - A Gift for My Heart and Mind

Psalm 37 - from Common English Bible

Of David.

1 Don’t get upset over evildoers;
    don’t be jealous of those who do wrong,
    because they will fade fast, like grass;
    they will wither like green vegetables.
Trust the Lord and do good;
    live in the land, and farm faithfulness.
Enjoy the Lord,
    and he will give what your heart asks.
Commit your way to the Lord!
    Trust him! He will act
    and will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
    your justice like high noon.
Be still before the Lord,
    and wait for him.
Don’t get upset when someone gets ahead—
    someone who invents evil schemes.
Let go of anger and leave rage behind!
    Don’t get upset—it will only lead to evil.
Because evildoers will be eliminated,
    but those who hope in the Lord
    they will possess the land.
10 In just a little while the wicked won’t exist!
    If you go looking around their place,
    they won’t be there.
11 But the weak will inherit the land;
    they will enjoy a surplus of peace.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
    grinding their teeth at them.
13 But my Lord just laughs at them
    because he knows that their day is coming.
14 The wicked draw their swords and bend their bows
    to bring down the weak and the needy,
    to slaughter those whose way is right.
15 But the sword of the wicked will enter their own hearts!
    Their bows will be broken!
16 Better is the little that the righteous have
    than the overabundant wealth of the wicked.
17 The arms of the wicked will be broken,
    but the Lord supports the righteous.
18 The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the lives of the blameless;
    their heritage will last forever.
19 They won’t be ashamed in troubling times,
    and in a period of famine they will eat their fill.
20 But the wicked will die,
    the Lord’s enemies will disappear—
    disappear like the beauty of a meadow—in smoke.
21 The wicked borrow and don’t pay it back, but the righteous are generous and giving.
22 Those blessed by God will possess the land,
    but those cursed by God will be cut off.
23 A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
24 Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand.
25 I was young and now I’m old,
    but I have never seen the righteous left all alone,
    have never seen their children begging for bread.
26 They are always gracious and generous.
    Their children are a blessing.
27 Turn away from evil! Do good!
    Then you will live in the land forever.
28 The Lord loves justice.
    He will never leave his faithful all alone.
    They are guarded forever,
        but the children of the wicked are eliminated.
29 The righteous will possess the land;
    they will live on it forever.
30 The mouths of the righteous recite wisdom;
    their tongues discuss justice.
31 The Instruction of their God is in their hearts;
    they don’t miss a step.
32 The wicked, on the other hand, target the righteous,
    seeking to kill them.
33 But the Lord won’t leave the righteous
    to the power of the wicked,
    and won’t let the righteous
    be found guilty when they are judged.
34 Hope in the Lord and keep his way!
    He will lift you up so you can possess the land.
        When the wicked are eliminated,
        you will see it for yourself!
35 I myself have seen wicked powerful people,
    exalting themselves like a stately cedar.
36 But when I came back, they were gone!
    I looked all over for them,
    but they couldn’t be found!
37 Observe those who have integrity
    and watch those whose heart is right
    because the future belongs to persons of peace.
38 But wrongdoers will be destroyed all together;
    the future of the wicked will be cut short.
39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their refuge in times of trouble.
40 The Lord will help themand rescue them—
    rescue them from the wicked—and he will save them
    because they have taken refuge in him.