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.