Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Re-staking Out a Difficult Position



To be the Church of Jesus Christ is always to swim against the prevailing cultural tide of one’s time.  In this day and age, that cultural tsunami appears to me to be the self-isolating power of technology, and our slavish surrender of our humanity to the illusory self-comfort of our own noise.  We have been entertaining ourselves to death for fifty years, and we have now perfected the delivery devices for this powerful narcotic to the point that it is now painfully difficult to interact with other human beings.
Love is the first and greatest casualty of a life lived inside a techno-wall of defense, because love can only be known in real human contact, dangerous and painful as that contact can be.  We in our time have now labeled that pain as “aggression” or “evil”, when it is simply the encounter with the other.  Love always has brought pain with it—but now, by defining that pain as somehow wrong or evil, we have defined the whole enterprise of truly loving as off-limits.
The Church of Jesus Christ is struggling with issues of the nature of human sexuality.  There can be no denying this if we have even the most liminal connection to parts of the Body beyond our own.  One doesn’t have to wander far in the world of opinion to find a voice that disagrees with one’s own.
The striking thing is that the Church is cooperating with the self-isolating impulses of Western culture rather than trying to fight them.  It is easier to declare those who disagree with one “evil,” classify their disagreeing as “violence,” and then ask them to “apologize,” than it is to understand or love the one who is our neighbor and too often our enemy.  G. K. Chesterton reminded us long ago, “Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, and to love our neighbors, because so often they are the same people.”
I have lived my whole life in the Church in the midst of this struggle.  I have sought to understand those with whom I disagree.  Conversation has often brought me to be more nuanced in my interpretation of events; and while it has not always or often changed my sense of what is True, it has demonstrated to me over and over again that we are all in the same search for Truth.  The fact that in this shattered world of shattered people we have arrived at conclusions that cannot be harmonized is not new or surprising.
But the culture which teaches us that all pain is bad, that discomfort is the sign of the presence of evil, and that we are entitled to live in a world where each of us feels good about ourselves all the time, keeps on finding its inroads into the people who are called by their Lord to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow.
In this day and time, this cultural captivity of Christ’s people shows itself most powerfully in our demand for release from the discomfort of disagreement. Those who agree with me are playing the classic Protestant game of dividing—taking our marbles and going home.  Without judging their actions, I simply confess that I believe this is error.  Love is not about cutting connections. Those who disagree with me now want “justice,” or “truth and reconciliation,” which looks to me an awful lot like “vengeance:” comparing their pain and discomfort in the midst of disagreement to the torture and killing of people in South Africa, and other places.  To disagree with them now is to become a perpetrator of evil.
I will not leave the PC(USA).  I believe that Jesus Christ planted me here for a reason.  I am fully aware that my mere presence is now an insult to some, and my sense of what is true is now classified as “violence.”  But I will not divide the Body.  I will stand and seek to love even if no one will stand and love with me.  I stand against the culture of my birth, against those who see as I see, against those with whom I disagree.  I have no illusion that such a place to stand will not result in pain and violence toward me; in fact, I already experience this pain regularly.  But Love is stronger than death—stronger than pain.
So, I choose to seek to connect, and to love.  May Christ give growth to the seed of my faith in Love’s power to raise the dead, and raise the PC(USA) to new life again.  But if not, I still will not bow down and worship my own comforting self-generated noise.  I will die trying to love.

Breaking our Captivity

I am hard to pigeon hole in the Presbyterian classification system.  I don't really fit in any camp, but those who disagree with me always seem to be sure that I do.  I am not comfortable with the Americanized Gospel of the Evangelical world; Jesus Christ was not a CEO, nor was He an entrepreneur.  The Church is not a business; its true product is not measured in numbers.  One can have a successful marriage and have no children, or one can have a successful marriage and have 20 children.  But the marriage's success is not in the number of kids.  It's in the quality of relationship.  That quality is lost on the Evangelical church.  Jesus Christ wants us to grow up into Him, into maturity as disciples.  Jesus only took on twelve.
I am not comfortable with the Progressive Gospel; too often I feel like Inigo Montoya: "I do not think that word means what you think it means."  Trust and Truth can be stretched, but each has a breaking point. I have never been thought of as being a Progressive Christian; I will leave whatever log I can see alone and concentrate on the beam I know so intimately in my own eye.
But this dichotomy drives the ugliness of our denominational life.  Entrepreneurs tend to sneer at authority; Progressives tend to stick their nose up at the infantile stench of traditional piety.  Pride confronts pride, and each engenders a fear that hardens into a hatred that has destroyed so much of the community which we inherited from those who disagreed every bit as deeply as we do, but who grew up in Christ enough to be able to keep the bonds of communion whole.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Those Whom God has joined, Let No One Separate, 5 Years Later

A little over five years ago, in the exhaustion that is the General Assembly experience, two years of life together with my brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I disagree came to a conclusion with the adoption and publishing of the fruit of our years together, the Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage.
Having just reread a lot of our work-- Emily Anderson is the world's best proofreader! I couldn't find a single wince-inducing oops!-- I thought it was appropriate to look back and see what's become of our gift of love, life, and worship to the Church.

So much has occurred in my life in this short span of time.  Everything that I thought was solid in my life has given way; everything I knew was trustworthy and true in my personal life was destroyed.  I walked through the death of all things that mattered to me-- even my own identity, my own virtue, my own life.  In the span of 24 hours in March of 2011, all was set alight, and no matter how I tried to stop the conflagration, everything went up in flames, and burned to the ground.
Divorce is sin.  Anyone who has walked through it can tell you it is a "gift that keeps on giving," so to speak.  Like every form of death, it forms an impenetrable barrier between past and present for everyone it touches.  And we are all caught in sin's death grip.  No one gets to God alive. But resurrection is an amazing gift!

So much has occurred in our life in such a short time!  Everything that I thought was solid in my faith life has given way; I am practically alone in a PC(USA) which used to have a place of honor for we who disagree with the current majority of people in the USA.  Everything I knew was trustworthy and true in my vocational life was destroyed; I will never be as comfortable as I was inside the Body of believers where my Lord planted me.  We cataloged the slow burning match that would change the law of this land in one decision, and the diametrically opposed reactions that still burn among us because of it.  There appears to be no stopping the firestorm until everything I have loved is burned to the ground.
I must still confess that I believe that homosexual practice is sin, and I have suffered, and will suffer, for that belief.  I will be, and have been, told that I hate because I say it.  In a time where complex issues of relationship are distilled down to bumper stickers most useful for judging and persecuting, there is no room for disagreement.

I refuse to play that game.  I do not condemn, I confess what I believe.  I do not seek to hate or exclude.  Sin is sin; I have sinned.  I will live for the rest of my life with that sin, and with its effects.  But I believe that my life, whatever remains of it, no longer belongs to me.  It belongs to Christ!  My hope is not to dodge the consequences of living nor to escape from this life, but to give this life to the One who through relentless undying love does not lose a soul that He claims as His own.

Five years later, I believe even more strongly that “We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: "What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity."

So while the church we all loved burns-- and while some of us have chosen to leave her-- I will stand, love, confess, and accept whatever pains and humiliations come with that call.  I cannot stop the conflagration.  I can only stand beside, weep as beauty burns, and know that somehow the Christ who claims us as His own will make something beautiful of what remains in His time.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Our Present Crisis



Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are different ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.  I Cor. 12:4-7
                As the days have passed since the momentous passage of amendment 14-f, which transformed the PC(USA)’s definition of marriage, I have read and witnessed signs of our continued sickness, and have seen more than a few diagnoses for what ails us.  One thing that is distressingly common about these diagnoses is that they demonstrate our cultural blindness to what was once widely acknowleged, but today is lost: the common good, or “the benefit of all.”
                The Body of Christ is, was, and probably shall always be a mess.  From the first day, even among the original twelve, there has been backbiting and jealousy, struggling for position, resentment, even vengeance for perceived slights and pains. Original sin mars us to the bone—down to the chromosome. Yet God brings light, love, and peace through the mess.  On the cross, Jesus Christ opens up a way that no sin can shut, no pettiness can diminish, no pride can stop.  Jesus Christ accomplishes much more despite us than because of us.  We are each blind (selectively), naked (overclothing  our nakedness with shame), and afraid.
                That humility is largely unacknowledged in a culture and time that promotes Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no such thing as society,” and that enables us to reshape reality to our liking.  We no longer know how to deal with people whose ideas we do not like, and who have the effrontery not to be persuaded by our inescapable logic.  We find the humiliation and pain of learning to be too much to bear, and promote an understanding of the good life as a life without any kind of pain.
                Loving is painful, hard work.  It doesn’t change the beloved as much as it changes the lover.  We can see just how hard and daunting the task is as we look at our current state—because it seems to this observer that love is the first casualty of our attempts to come to grips with this insoluble  divide amongst us.
                I have read and seen triumphant posts from Millienial Christians urging a purging—to make “progress” towards a “purer” church by continuing on.  It is a blindness that discards the wisdom of age and experience, and too easily believes that previous generations failed to clean up the earth from a lack of skill or will that the young now possess.  Sadly, every young person has made this same mistake, and only come to see it with age.  We need each other, old and young.
                I have heard demands from Progressive Christians that the Church become more Progressive in its theology, that this change is too little, and somehow those who see it otherwise are cultural captives, not Christ’s own.  Our pride has led us to perpetrate much violence; it is the humiliated often who most enjoy humiliating others.  The role of victim does not ennoble the one who claims it as he/she picks up the mantle of power.  Power corrupts, and corruption in the Body of Christ closely follows division of it.
                I have heard claims that the PC(USA) has now left the bounds of the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.”  The Scriptures define the opposite of love not as hate, but fear.  Fear and love cannot exist in the same space at the same time.  For too long, we have relied on fear to bind us because it is swift, effective, and easy.  Fear costs the instiller of it nothing, and gains that one all that they desire if it works.
                Love costs the lover everything, and often seems to gain little for them in return.
                Enough of fear.
                Enough of pride.
                Enough of underestimating the problem.
                Beloved, let us love one another.  Let us love one another if we cannot stand what we hear the other say.  Let us love one another even if we weep for the danger we perceive for the other’s soul.  Let us love even if we chafe at the injustice of this broken world, and believe our brother/sister to be in some way responsible.
                Whether you applaud this day or grieve it, pray for the one who doesn’t think like you or act like you. Pray for the Christ bled into each of us to be more powerful than the blood shed from the shards of the broken image of God within us.
                Jesus Christ is Lord.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Feeling Our Way into the Future

I feel somewhat hypocritical in this posting, because the Christendom organization known as "church" has kept me pretty well-fed and well-provided for for most of my adult life.  But I do believe that we are watching every single part of that organization disintegrate before our eyes.  The higher levels are, to be sure, in a much more dramatic freefall.  But even congregations, the most basic building blocks of all denominational/church organizations, are disintegrating, too.
The difference is that congregations are shedding a skin; the higher levels of the the organization are what by and large makes up that skin.
By the time I retire, the only communities that will be going concerns will be groups of people who are committed to Jesus Christ, and to His increasingly alien understanding of life, the universe, and everything.  They will be places of service and mission.  They will also be resource-starved for the most part.
I am not sure that there will be many who are graduating from seminary now who will have the opportunities I have had.  Ministry, like all forms of this new church, will be a service, not necessarily a financially rewarding one.
Each Christendom organization will leave a "rump" behind, a financial echo of a former presence.  Empty churches kept up by dead people's money will not only be a European phenomenon.  But the people who are about Jesus Christ's business will probably not be in them. A congregation will become a place/people with whom and through whom others can experience Christ's presence, come to understand Christ's perspective through Bible Study, and grow strong and mature through persistent and constant practice of obeying all that Christ commands.
No one in power or in a place of privilege may take that Church seriously-- or if they do, their response may not be different than the ancient world's response to Paul and Barnabbas. But that church, just like Paul and Barnabbas, can change the world.
I see great hope in growing Christians all around me in this part of the Vineyard.  While things will never be what they were, this culture will not remain in the sorry state it finds itself.  Christ's people are rising.  Take heart, and join us.  It's the adventure of a lifetime-- and beyond!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Danger of Big Pictures
Albert Einstein wasn't the first nor the last man to try to find a theory of God, the universe and everything.  The discipline used to be called systematic theology.  Systems give us the comfort of predictability; they help us to feel that the world is a safe place in which to live and move.
But every system is the product of the human mind-- flawed mind produces flawed system.  And systems produce an even more toxic and evil byproduct-- the system expert, who is proud of his/her mastery of the system.  Those who master systems need to believe that that mastery converts to mastery of the world around them-- otherwise, why master the system?
It is the system masters who rise to prominence and power in this world-- and with their power, they prove once again that law (systems) can do nothing but kill.  They can stop life-- they cannot give life.  Life is a gift that God alone can give.  Only God's living Word speaks good things (life included) into being.
We in the church are so busy perfecting the system that we forget that God does not need it to do His work.  We forget that there is another Hand at work in all the puzzle pieces we are trying to sort-- and ultimately, it is HIS puzzle.
As we in Grace Presbytery head into another called meeting to impose the system on this quarrelsome and tragically troubled time, I am reminded that Grace has no discernable system other than the look in Jesus Christ's eyes.  What would happen if, instead of imposing order on this time, we all just looked in His eyes, read His word, prayed with all our might and took our best shot at obedience in this moment-- and then just did that again, and again?
We might still end up right where we are.  But we might end up there less willing to destroy the enemies of our particular system of thought.
I'm tired of arguing about predestination, or ordination, or theophany, or Q, or whether one part of God is of the same substance as another.  I want to let someone see Jesus Christ in my eyes-- I want to live out the love I was given the best that I can. Do likewise, keep your criticism of the log in my eye to your beamful-eyed self, and maybe this world would begin to change a little faster.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Back at it Again
It has been a year-- the worst of times, and the best of times.  I remember the pictures of the man facing the Christmas tsunami on the beach in Thailand, realizing the wave that would hit in seconds would kill him, turning away from it and just bracing for what would happen.  I understand how he felt now.
I am divorced.  I never thought that it would be possible to write those words; then I never thought that it would be possible for the woman I loved to do what she did.
I am amazed to find myself not drowned, but riding the wave to a new and better life, by the grace of God.  That last terrible anniversary of our wedding, May 10, was also the day that G-6.106b was erased from the Book of Order.
But I preached all the way through the ordeal, and Christ was faithful through each stumbling step.  As I watch what is happening in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I am reminded of the terrible pain and rancor of this year, and the desperate sense of inevitability in our separation.
I will not leave the PC(USA), but I cannot in all truth say that I know the day will not come when the PC(USA) will want me to leave.  But I know that Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church and I will survive the wave that is crashing relentlessly through this time of our lives.
Trust God, love Christ, do the duty that lies nearest, and we shall see what the Lord intends to do when the wave subsides, and the landscape is rearranged.  Pray for the commissioners to General Assembly this year.