Thursday, December 17, 2009
It is time for us to stand up and dare to believe that Jesus Christ knew what he was doing when he called us to come and deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Christianity CANNOT bill itself as very good for your self-realization-- that's like saying something is very good for developing heart disease.
We do not peddle a better drug-- we represent the cure! And the cure is hard-- "Come and die to yourself, and understand that you cannot realize who you are, or who you were made to be, until you are surrendered to me," says Jesus Christ.
Dr. Hauerwas sees the negative-- I see the opportunity. If we will stop mouthing the cultural mush that passes for "spirituality" or even Christianity, we can stand and open the door for this nation of addicts-- to work, sex, drugs, alcohol, exercise, status, shopping, _____-- to find REAL life, REAL freedom, REAL peace.
We are not, religiously, in a buyer's market. We must live with the fact that not everyone, perhaps not anyone who we want to, will hear what we say, or do what Christ asks. If we stopped caring about the results and consequences, and just LIVED in the freedom Christ has given us, the Lord will lead those whom He is calling to the light.
Life is pain-- anyone who tells you something different is selling something (The Princess Bride). We have nothing to sell. We are bought, and that at a very high price. It is only Christ's freedom that leads us out of the imprisoning intoxication with self.
Maybe Tiger Woods needs a call from that kind of friend these days. He is legion; the field is ripe for harvest, but the laborers are few. Shine, and watch what Christ can do.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Anyway, Bruce Reyes-Chow on his Moderator's Blog asked for questions. Here are mine, some of them as old as my presence in the PC(USA)-- that's 30 years. Yikes.
Here are my 3:
1)Being Presbyterian in the PC(USA) seems to have been reduced to political rugby, with the ones who have the power making the rules. How do we change the game? How do we get back to the work that Jesus Christ called us to do?
While I would hate to generalize that everyone in power right now does not have God's greatest hopes of us at heart, I do agree that it seems as if we are still locked in a battle that will require a winner or loser regardless of the outcome of theological or ideological polity issues. The game must simply be played differently by those that wish do to so. The hard part is that until enough see and live a different way of being church, there will be a huge amount of tension and resistance. At that point I suppose it comes down to really knowing what we are fighting over and if it is worth it for anyone, because in the end, if we are taking away any power of the collective presence of the Body of Christ in the world, all of our energies for any of this is for naught.
2)How do we build bridges on issues that are NOT salvation issues, instead of raising our disagreements to become salvation issues?
Hmmmm . . . interesting question. Again, it will take people willing to step outside of traditional ideological camps and take some risks to be in community with people with home we disagree with those things that, at the end of the day, are NOT salvation issues. Again, intriguing question.
3)Why is it so hard for Presbyterians to talk about Jesus in the second person familiar?
I am not sure that is true in some parts of our church. The bigger issue is whether we do that individually or corporately. I think the most healthy congregations are ones that can unabashedly and faithfully do both.
I'm supposed to put his answers here when they come, so stay tuned. I will try to pick up a little bit more on the blog as other commitments wind down to a close. If anyone out there is still reading, thanks for checking in.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Our questions focus on us-- on what we can see and touch and measure. It seems funny that we never see Jesus struggling with goals and objective statements. "So... my first year of ministry is behind me; what's next...hmm... give me a pad of post-it poster paper and let's figure this out."
For Jesus, all that was necessary was constant communication with His Abba. Whatever came from his intimate contact with God is what He knew to do. Could it be that THIS is the real reason we are to "pray without ceasing"?
We are so busy with our slide-rules trying to figure out where the ball will hit next that prayer becomes a distraction. I will admit I do this all the time, and God is slowly convicting stubborn me of it-- my teenage children will come and sit down on the couch, and start talking to me just when I've gotten absorbed in some silly TV program. God help me, I almost always make the wrong choice, vacantly saying to them, "uh-huh, uh-huh" while trying to keep up with what doesn't really matter, but has captured my interest.
In our trying to figure things out, are we so captivated by our plans, by the intricacies of our strategizing and the drama of our situation, that all God gets from us is "uh-huh"?
I am tired of hearing that the Presbyterian Church (USA) must split, has split, by the arm-chair quarterbacking of what so-and-so ought to do next, by hashing and re-hashing old stories as if we will finally find the missing clue that will tell us what to do next...when God is speaking NOW. How many of us are listening? What would it take for us to listen?
I think that there is a path God would have us walk, that is not on any affinity group's map. So, I guess I will walk where I believe God is leading. It will be interesting to see what happens next-- all I know is that it will come from God's hand.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Reconcilation is not about understanding the other; it is not about warm feelings. Justice is not about the world living up (or down, as the case more usually would be) to my standards of fairness. Neither reconciliation nor justice mean anything without their defining referent: in Christ.
Reconciliation in Christ is not about being proud of my identity; it is losing my identity, and being solely identified with Jesus Christ. I am not a white Christian; I am a Christian who happens to be white. I am not an Anglo-Saxon Christian; I am a Christian who happens to (predominantly) be Anglo-Saxon. The fact that our identity puts Christ LAST should tell us about His true place in Christendom; for reconciliation to be real, Christ must be FIRST. Christ must be ALL.
So many of our problems as a denomination come from this most toxic vestige of the church as a social policeman-- that Christ is only an appendix to our cultural identity, rather than the identity which leads us out of our own culture, and into the Kingdom of God. Instead of celebrating what we were, reconciliation is a recognition that culture is our identity no longer-- that Christ has transformed us so that there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. If we are ever to be one, it is only oneness IN JESUS CHRIST.
This is the radical reformation of our time in Western culture-- to preach that the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse all sin, heal all divisions, and unify all peoples. The blood of Jesus Christ is God's plan for the fullness of time, to bring all things back together in Him. That radical reconciliation is only possible through the Savior-- but if the Savior owns us, we are that reconcilation's ambassadors.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
What we found out today is that nobody is absolutely sure what actually happened to Nell in December after the surgery-- which makes me feel a little bit better about the intern doctor who tossed us down the fast chute to hell that midnight after Nell's stroke-like symptoms surfaced. Two doctors seem to see a "residual deficit"-- a weakness that would say that what happened was not transient ischemia, but actual damage-- a stroke.
Dr. Sacco explained more of what neurologists are looking for in some of the arcane tasks they give to the person they are examining. From his description of what he would be looking for, what the other doctors claim is "residual deficit" may just be relative strength of each side of her body, and not a deficit at all. So, maybe she had a stroke-- maybe she didn't.
So with that clear as mud, we go to the pictures...which show beautiful new arteries forming a fern-like pattern out of the artery that now lies on the top of her brain. December, that half of her brain is dark-- no arterial flow at all. Now, it is almost as bright as the right. It's beautiful. As we left, I gave Dr. Sacco a compliment-- it turns out surgeons aren't any better at receiving them than I am! He had obviously been in surgery that morning, and was tired-- but he explained all that we needed to know. Whether he will accept it or not, he's pretty amazing. Thank you God for David Sacco.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Six months flies by quickly. It's time to find out how Nell's surgery is working, so tomorrow we go in at 7am for the next MRI, and then have doctors read the results. What a blessing it is that now the scans are all electronic, not film. So, we turn another corner tomorrow, and we get to see where the path leads this time.
Everything we see is good, but...I've been surprised too many times turning corners to let my guard down too far. Tomorrow, we will see....
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I think that's the reason most of us leave the intractable problems alone-- we fall into despair. One of my heroes was a captain in the Royal Navy early in the 19th century, after Britain outlawed the slave trade. His life was spent in the frustrating reality that laws do not actually govern human behavior. Just because selling people into bondage was illegal did not mean that the merchants stopped doing it; slavery was, and still is, one of the most profitable trades. All his working life, the captain attempted to stop and seize ships engaged in this evil trade. Some he stopped, but many were too swift for him to catch; and he knew that there were many whose sails he never even spied. In this thankless task, he drove his crew on with a simple motto: "Nil Desperandum"-- No Despair.
This is a time for thankless work-- for clearing ground, laying foundations, digging ditches for a new Church that will rise from Christ's work in later generations. Nobody signed on for this; we all have grown soft from the sordid luxuries of Christendom. But it is time to work-- to again declare that Christ is a new identity, trumping race, glass, gender-- trumping EVERY other identity. And if we are in Christ, then we must be about Christ's business, and we must begin to find Christ's way to be one voice with one Gospel proclaiming one Hope and living out one Love across all the boundaries which have too long clung so closely to us that we have forgotten how to run the race set before us.
No one may follow-- but that cannot stop our preaching. No one may approve-- that cannot stop our obedience. No one may believe that such a future can exist-- that cannot stop us from working toward it. However long it takes, however many generations work, whatever comes of my life given to the work-- even if it is nothing-- the Word prods on: "Do not be afraid. No despair." For we work not for the reward from the work of our hands, but for the reward that is ours, given from His nail-scarred hand-- "take my yoke upon you, learn of me, and you will find rest for your souls." When I see Christ, that will be time enough to rest. On with the next meeting, the next paper, the next Bible Study, the next sermon. Nil Desperandum.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. We are watching a venerable-- perhaps in American history, the venerable-- institution of Christendom slowly evaporate. The Presbyterian Church (USA) and all its preceding branches once represented the strong Christian current that de Toqueville said flowed through American life. As that stream abandons its former course, venerable stone piles become nothing more than available real estate, thousands of bright-eyed young folks bankrupt themselves to discover that there is no institution ready to embrace their dearly-bought pastoral skills, and many middle-managers in the gleaming GM corporate superstructure at 100 Witherspoon and 173 presbyteries find out that there is no place for them.
But do not be deceived. The vast current that de Toqueville described is still present-- at the moment it flows underground. But there are places where, like an Artesian well, the Living Water is bubbling to the surface. Serving in such a place, with such a people, is an amazing privilege. Christ is still opening hearts and minds, healing lives; the Holy Spirit is still breathing through the Word into homes, offices, schools(!) and communities.
The PC(USA) is unwinding-- it will take years, maybe decades. We, who did not enjoy the heyday will spend our working lives in the dusk and night that have succeeded it. But even now, glimpses of dawn are visible on the periphery, here and there. You reap what you sow-- "preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words," as Francis of Assissi put it. The opportunity to obey Christ and to sow seeds of eternal life is always right in front of us. The Holy Spirit that created the vast current on which we have lazily floated is still moving. Join Christ where He is active around you on this Pentecost, and trust that when harvest time comes, neither Christ nor you will be disappointed.
Friday, May 22, 2009
I have the privilege of watching this both in the larger part of the Church to which I have been called, in the congregation, in our city, and even in myself. I am trying to find a way to connect Christian folks to one another across theological divides in the PC(USA), across racial divides in Dallas and in OCPC, and trying to find healing for my own sin-stained soul. In each case, there is plenty of evidence to support the case that despair is the only logical outlook.
We talk happy talk while presbyteries, congregations, and pastors continue to die in the midst of these calamitous times. I have sat through six months of meetings on how to improve our neighborhood, happy talk and hope that somebody will rain money down on us and make everything better being our preferred solution-- when the pastors in our neighborhood won't talk to one another unless there is a camera or some other form of reward present. Black and white, the congregations just keep on doing what they did, telling Jesus that talking to the other person is somehow Christ's work, not ours. The old truism that"there's a black Oak Cliff, and a white Oak Cliff..." is just crushing my ability to shout back, "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, black nor white..."
We talk love, and we live comfort. We talk reconcilation, and live out-- at best-- measured revenge and isolation. We praise Jesus Christ for taking the weight of our sins, and then decide He won't mind if we add a little more to His burden. We thank God that we are right, and at best pray for the miserable sinner who disagrees with us, "Lord I thank you that I am not like other people, like that....there." We continue in the pastors' union to, as William Sloane Coffin put it, "assuage the conscience of the law-abiding prosperous" and to measure ourselves by their self-satisfied happiness.
In the face of all this, what is the faithful Christian to do? Faith which finds its reward quickly is rarely ever genuine. Faith in Christ leads to the cross, not the throne. Yet we are constantly needing Peter's reminder, "do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." Like it or not, running into reality with your heart filled with Christ's love always feels strange.
This world's power to hurt and destroy will never cease to take our breath away. Our job is to not stop breathing. This world will always have an uppercut that can put love on the mat in one vicious, powerful contact; our job is to get up again, and let the world land the next blow saying as it has said to all of us, and to the One Whose path we follow, "Prophesy! Who is it who struck you?"
Christ alone can clean this miserable sin-stained world. Christ alone cleansed my sin-stained soul-- He alone can keep it that way. So, I get up, catch my breath, and go out to help a young man who has mountains to climb before he can reclaim a life on this earth, and an old man whose son he cannot help as the son's wife struggles with a cancer that may shortly take her from this earth. And the only thing I have is, "be not afraid...Christ is here," and to say with Him, "Take courage, and be of good cheer-- in this world you will have tribulation. But I have overcome the world."
That's all I need. Saddle up your horses, as Steven Curtis Chapman sings. We've got a trail to blaze.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Waiting in the waiting room today for a young man (21 years old) in stage 4 congestive heart failure after a virus left his heart mortally wounded, I was reminded of 6 months ago. We waited for hours, and then, a person calls on the phone who has so honed the gifts of heart, mind, and hand to routine habits of sight, thought, and action that they can reconstruct hearts. In simple graceless fact-filled sentences, they hand a life back to an astonished family grateful beyond words. It is just another day for the surgeon and the nurses, but for Eddie it is a new day-- a whole new life.
I sit listening to the blogosphere, reading and trying to process all the churn of information and analysis that I swim in every day, and I wonder where the quiet resurrection is happening in me, and around me today. Preaching on the parable of the sower at Grace Presbyterian Village ( a retirement home nearby), then visiting those who cannot get out of bed to come to the service has a way of opening my eyes. So, a sower goes out to sow... quiet miracles.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
A spiritually minded man will never come to you with the demand - "Believe this and that;" but with the demand that you square your life with the standards of Jesus. We are not asked to believe the Bible, but to believe the One Whom the Bible reveals (cf. John 5:39-40). We are called to present liberty of conscience, not liberty of view. If we are free with the liberty of Christ, others will be brought into that same liberty - the liberty of realizing the dominance of Jesus Christ.
Always keep your life measured by the standards of Jesus. Bow your neck to His yoke alone, and to no other yoke whatever; and be careful to see that you never bind a yoke on others that is not placed by Jesus Christ. It takes God a long time to get us out of the way of thinking that unless everyone sees as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God's view. There is only one liberty, the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right.
Don't get impatient, remember how God dealt with you - with patience and with gentleness; but never water down the truth of God. Let it have its way and never apologize for it. Jesus said, "Go and make disciples," not "make converts to your opinions."
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
This blog has been enlarging on this subject for the past few months. So, now I will attempt to define the opportunity in front of us. The structure of this definition is: thesis, illustration, application.
THESIS:We have an opportunity to prove to this culture that those who have every reason to fear/avoid/antagonize each other can live in the love of Christ together. We can be one Body, even when we are unable to be of one mind.
ILLUSTRATION: In the early 1970's, Federal courts ordered the desegregation of schools across the USA by forced busing. In 1975, the first African-American family walked through the doors of Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church. Protected and discipled by their pastor, Tom Currie, they rooted in the congregation, and soon were joined by other African-American families that were moving into the neighborhood.
As people yelled epithets at each other, whites literally gave away their homes to escape "them," stores closed, malls failed as whites "gave up" on the south of Dallas, kids-- both white and black--endured gauntlets of abuse entering strange schools they were told to attend, Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church continued to become more colorful. Sure, there were times when a black man walked into the men's room to catch the end of a "n---- in the woodpile" joke; there were people who left because "they weren't comfortable anymore," or "it's too long a drive" from where they moved up north.
As Dallas, like every other city in the US tore itself apart in the whirlwinds of social change, OCPC prayed together, worshipped together, ate together, cried together, rejoiced together. After 35 years, the congregation is still stably 45% African-American, 45% Anglo, and now 10% Hispanic as the neighborhood begins to change yet again. It is a lighthouse of hope to all who look to education as a leg up, to all who need the love of family in Christ. We are an anchor of hope and stability for those black neighbors who now fear the new folks moving in-- we can say to them, "it can be done. The blood of Christ really does cleanse all sin-- so what if they speak another language? We can find a way to be community together. We've done it before, we can do it again."
No one was asked to betray their culture; the only assimilating power was the love of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a higher allegiance than culture or clan. In that higher allegiance, we have found not only hope for us, but for all of our neighbors-- we have found Good News that is good news to anyone with eyes to see, or ears to hear. Walk in to worship with us, and you can SEE our mission.
APPLICATION: What if we could find a way to live and worship, to love, cry, rejoice together in Christ our highest allegiance? What if, instead of dividing as this "Big Sort" set of generations prefers, we held on to one another, even--ESPECIALLY-- when we cannot agree with, or even understand one another? What if, instead of leading the yelling in this culture, we prayed with each other? What if we trusted one another because we trusted Christ, not because it was logical or easy?
SO, the next presbytery meeting you go to, (if you're like me) find someone wearing a rainbow stole, and share your heart with them, and ask them to share their heart with you-- and then pray. Look at the face of the person who is speaking ill of you and love them as Christ loves them; don't water down what you believe, but speak it in love, and expect to learn something from what you hear in return. In humility, regard the person who disagrees with you as better than yourself.
We have a magnificent opportunity to be Christ's witness in the way that we love one another. Is that clear enough, Viola?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The problem with this approach in real life is that life is not a novel; the narrative is not ours; we each just have a bit part in it. But we have become so arrogant in our belief in "spin" that we really believe that we write what is by the way we "package" it.
The other day, when we were out picking up trash, I had my first face-to-face encounter with TV journalism. The reporter showed up in the TV van, and somehow I got appointed to be team spokesperson. I came up to the reporter and told him what we had found: a small homeless encampment in the woods. I asked him if he wanted to see it. Horrified, he exclaimed, "No!"
He had his piece in his head, all he was looking for was pictures and a couple of sound bytes to go with it. I tried to tell him why we were out, what we were trying to accomplish, but he kept shaking his head. He asked some question about the President, I responded, he said, "well, we have our sound byte for the day," and left. He got to talk about President Obama for 1 minute 20 seconds, and we provided the pictures. But the two actually had nothing to do with each other.
So much of the conflict over human sexuality in the church plays out on this same line. Both sides declare victory, work on their narrative story lines, spin results, push for the next step. Perhaps we have made such a hash of the PC(USA) because God keeps refusing to follow our story lines. It does not yet appear what we shall be-- God is working on us.
Maybe it's time to shut up, to start listening to each other and to God, and to see what step God would have us take next. The results can't be worse than our work so far, and they could be a lot better. "Be still, and know that I am God."
Friday, April 24, 2009
The Big Sort effect of our herding behavior protects us from having to work hard at listening to others, and enables us to simply identify, as small town folks still do, those who "aren't from around here." Human beings seem to have a need to draw small circles, and to be able to identify the stranger as an alien-- a danger.
Christ preaches against this human instinct with real power and devastating force, just as God in the Old Testament rails against Israel for neglecting the stranger and the alien. Both sides of our current bout of culture wars are guilty of this behavior, while claiming to live out Christ's love/justice/ultimate purpose.
What could happen if we could learn to talk, rather than yell? What paths could we see if we stopped living with shark-like eye protection rolled over our eyes and our jaws wide open? I'm not talking namby-pamby kum-ba-ya campfire happy feelings. I'm talking honest and truthful discussion. I don't know where it might lead-- it might lead nowhere. But my point is, nobody who claims the name of Christian seems to be willing to try it. Christ must weep at that.
Enough wrestling; we have thought and fought and manipulated ourselves and Christ's Church into this mess. Maybe loving and obeying Christ might show us Christ's way out. What this means:
- Choosing to be patient and kind
- Refusing to allow pride to control us, approaching one another in humility
- Rejecting rudeness and anger toward those we identify as "them"
- Refusing to keep a record of wrongs done to us or to those we love
- Losing ourselves by bearing all things, hoping all things, believing all things
What could happen if we committed to Paul's prescription for the Corinthian church?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
1) Conservative/Evangelical confidence in inevitability. Walking in, I think most of us assumed that rejection would be a slam dunk-- that the total would go up from 2001, and that we could assume that the PC(USA) had found a form of stasis: General Assemblies go wildly liberal, and the presbyteries stay solidly conservative. We could just wait until the liberals died off, and then it would all be over. WRONG.
2) Liberal/Progressive confidence in inevitability. This is still thrashing around, but it's throat is cut. Hegelian dialectic philosophy notwithstanding, it is impossible to look at this vote without seeing that the PC(USA) is hopelessly divided. Liberal/Progressives read the increased vote as a sign that they have almost achieved their goal of having the PC(USA) to themselves. WRONG. Next time it will not be over, even if the votes change some more. Conservative/Evangelicals will still be here-- and will still be half of this denomination.
3) The Book of Order is the means to a solution. One would think that this would already have been obvious to everyone after at least vote #3, but no. Why this dumb idea won't die is beyond me. Who thinks that we have managed to solve anything by this waste of time, other than to squander dwindling resources of public esteem, and our time, attention and treasure to prove to ourselves that those who disagree with us really do disagree? Does ANYONE actually think that anything has been accomplished, for all the blood spilled?
Let's spend some time outside of our own echo chambers, not acting like this is a football game and we are just "fans" of our side. Instead of figuring out a strategy of beating "them," why don't we find out who "they" are, and what they want? Why don't we act like we are not competing for some prize, but that we are trying to be faithful to Christ? The voting is over-- let the learning begin.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Only, Bishop and Kruse don't quite get to the heart of the error. Like attracts like is a natural truism in sinful humanity-- using it to bring people together does not necessarily lead to the disastrous spiritual condition of the Church in North America. The statement that "mission morphed into marketing" is closer to the heart of the problem.
Marketing became the last "iron lung" for the paralyzed Christendom Church to be able to exult in its empty gospel of fellowship, numbers, and influence. But like all drugs, its efficacy was short-lived in treating the symptoms of what has been killing the Church. Worse, it not only has not treated the underlying disease, it has metasized it, making it worse by several orders of magnitude.
Christendom had already divided the Church into competing shops, each subgroup with its own "brand;" marketing took this to its logical extreme by enshrining it as gospel. Sam Saddleback and Sally Saddleback are the only icons in Saddleback Church. Before, it felt vaguely wrong to separate from those who were different from us; now, after marketing, it is a commandment to separate. What was once vaguely wrong has been transformed into the ultimate good.
Whoever disagrees with you is now a roadblock--an obstacle. Success, justice, happiness, growth (whatever your word for the ultimate good is) requires that the obstacle disappear. This is the same spirit that breathes through our debates for when we win, "and it will all be over." Those who disagree with us will simply spontaneously combust, or the ground will open underneath them, and all will be well. Marketing took a broken Church and turned it into a childish broken Church, where fear of differences is the actual organizing principle.
But the Church that Christ founded was built on a different principle: "love one another as I have loved you," Jesus said. That love has nothing to do with whether we agree or not, whether we look/dress/act alike or not. Christendom, even hepped up on marketing steroids, is a weak and dying thing. But the Church that loves with Christ's love ("greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends") has transforming power that can change the world with 12 people. Nothing-- not the fall of empires, the death of languages and cultures-- can stop the love of Jesus Christ.
What would that Church look like in this culture at this time? What would happen if we put aside marketing, and our own control-oriented anxieties, and did what Jesus Christ commands us to do? The big mistake is not irrreversible, if we get about our Father's business.
Friday, April 17, 2009
The Church dies when it settles paradoxes that Christ means to be unsettlable-- and there is no greater paradox than the one of a Holy and Righteous God in relationship with sin-filled, sin-defined, sin-confined humanity. There is no easy way to keep these two opposites in the same place at the same time-- someone's going to have to die. To make the way to hold both, Jesus died; to proclaim and live into the way that Jesus opened, we must die-- die to self, die to pride.
In the conflict over homosexual practice, both sides are standing in path of lightning bolts when we settle on a solution of law or love. Law by itself kills, and has no ability to give life; love by itself rots, and fosters the corruption of the soul. Law AND Love practiced together are the narrow way-- rocks can fly from both sides. But life flows from those who walk the narrow way.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
We on the evangelical end of things are sure that the time is out of joint; as Noel Anderson puts it, the Barbarians are on the sofa! As Viola Larson reports it, even young children are being dragged into the debate. What then are we to do? Set it right? And exactly how does that work, Hamlet? The Big Sort becomes an even bigger one; the divides already huge just get bigger. Christ weeps.
Noel can say that if others had done what looks clear to us with 20/20 hindsight should have been done 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in this situation. That may be true, but here we are. Viola may feel for the parents who now have to take the point for their faith in a way that we didn't when our children were in 1st grade, but here we are.
We can weep, object, that the time is out of joint-- but remember Who is the keeper and maker of time and history. God is in this somehow. What would happen if we stopped crying out to heaven about how out of joint our times are, and started obeying God into witnessing in the midst of them?
My brother BW can say that it is hopeless-- that the only thing that can come out of these conflicts is more conflict. But it is important to remember that the spiritual powers that be in Birmingham, Alabama and across the South (Black AND White) said the same thing in 1955:THINGS WILL NEVER CHANGE. That's why they pushed a young preacher to the front of the local racial disturbance-- he was sacrificeable. And he knew it; he told all around him that he wouldn't live to see 40 years old. And he didn't.
But because he, and a quiet bookish worker, didn't move when they were required to move, thousands of people found the courage to walk to work rather than ride the bus-- to pray outside their pastor's bombed-out home rather than riot. Martin Luther King, Jr. basically spent his life talking and walking. Rosa Parks only refused to get up. And because they did, we live in a different country.
So, now is our time. We may not enjoy comfort and status. Following Jesus could push us down the socio-economic ladder rather than propel us up it. Perhaps it is unfair that older generations didn't deal with this before we had to; perhaps no one will respond, and this is a fool's errand to stand for Christ in Love and in Truth. What difference does that make? The time is out of joint-- no tolerance for spite. Only Jesus Christ can set it right-- and whatever He tells me to do, I will do. Call me a fool, I don't care.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Big Sort that is characterizing this era in our history is a continuation of the conflict set in motion by the upheavals of the 1960's, which shook us loose from almost every steadying anchor in every part of our communal life: Christendom, Victorian morality, Post-War Bipartisanship, rigid family life and sex roles.... One part of America shook loose, and another part of America hung on for dear life to each anchor; other parts did a little of both. Now these fragmented Americas are struggling to find a way to live in the same country together. The preference at the moment seems to be another form of "separate but equal," where we have places that one part of America can live, but other parts are not welcome. My favorite picture from Bill Bishop's work on The Big Sort is a picture of a woman in full angry protest mode holding a sign that says, "I moved here to get away from people like you!"
And we, mainliners but especially we Presbyterians, are caught in the middle. We are being torn by each side. I have a response to Carol and to the not-so-civil discussion in the comment thread: it is our negative responses (fight or flight) to this conflict that have killed mainline churches all these years. Congregations ebb and flow, yes-- but 50 years of ebbing is more than a natural life cycle. We have not come up with a creative response to the conflict that is more and more rapidly balkanizing us into self-affirming echo chambers of cultural, educational, and socio-economic homogeneity.
This is the time to think and act anew. Not everyone will understand or appreciate it, but it is time for the Church to do what Christ did-- not to run! Not to fight! Stand, love, and take the punishment-- open our hearts and hands, and let them be scratched, bitten, nailed, broken. We must speak and live out love into the face of the whirlwind. We must hang on to each other-- whether we think the other lacks passion or that they lack intellect; whether we think that progress is on our side, or that time will prove us right.
What a witness a church that stayed whole while its native culture divided would be!
Thursday, April 9, 2009
We know this joy as children-- when we assume our dependence, and the dependability of those who love us. But knowledge is a dangerous thing-- we learn that we cannot depend on those who love us-- they fail us; they are human, after all. And we retreat into an impossible search for safety-- security-- insurance that somehow this world will not destroy us.
But Jesus says, we must enter into the Kingdom as little children-- assuming our dependence, and the dependability of Him who has proved His love for us. It is in that joyful, expectant letting go that worship finds its passion and power; it is that absolute dependence that keeps our hearts open to Christ and to one another.
It is no accident that so few in this society know what it is to love, and to be loved. We are not mirrors for one another, so that we can regard ourselves in another's eyes. We are not valuable because we can protect, provide, or get the right answer. Our fear of the stranger, our need to surround ourselves with those who agree with us, our never-ending battle with the chaotic consequences of time are all searches for what we most need, and do not know how to find.
Watching Keith Green, I was reminded of what we can be when, like little children, we leap into the abyss, knowing that somewhere in the shadows are the strong arms of Christ, who never fails to catch one of His own. Jesus's invitation is simple, and almost impossible for American ears to hear anymore: "Come and die with me."
You cannot preserve, or even really protect your life. Stop trying. The highest walls you can build do nothing more than leave you alone with the beast that you most fear: death. Die with Christ. Let your life go. If there is any better day to die, I don't know what day that would be. Jesus lives! What do you have to lose? Sinners of the world unite-- all you have to lose is your chains.
Friday, April 3, 2009
I write this to mention the unmentionable, and think the unthinkable inside the merry-go-round of retribution, anger, fear, and violence that is our current all-too-comfortable home: there is something radically wrong with our motivations on all sides of the current church wars.
We watch the presbytery count, and despair or exult; we lobby and cajole, press and spin to try to manipulate "victory" for our side, longing for the day when "it will all be over." All this action has one central statement that shouts more loudly than the smoothest maneuvering: "THERE IS NO GOD."
All of this debate is about us; even though we all say it's about "us" and "them," it's really all about us. We are the central and most dramatic actors; our actions shake the foundations of the church. We have become so mindlessly, arrogantly self-referential in our dealings with creation and with Christ's new creation that we truly believe we have the power to create or destroy it. Timeframes collapse into the panicked present; history is only useful if you can find a good bat in it to beat "them" with; and the future is nothing more than a confident projection of what we want/hope/expect it to be.
Where is God in all this? Nowhere. Perhaps that is why people are continuing to leave our congregations, drifting into a more sincere form of the atheism or agnosticism that our narcissistic actions of these last 30 years have preached to them.
Is being in Christ's hand more important than proving that I am right? If I truly trusted that I was doing what Christ commanded, and that Christ was leading me to do it, would I be worried about whether it "worked" or not? If Christ is Lord of my life, doesn't He set the standards for my success as a disciple, and not the membership roll/Book of Order/seminary? If Christ is Lord, am I not called away from all these good, but lesser, things?
What would a church that lived out the agony of this disagreement without violence look like? What would happen if I gave up trying to control the present and the future, and actually ACTED on my supposed belief that this is God's world, and that God holds all history-- individuals, denominations, worlds-- in His hand? What if I don't know what's going to happen, and THAT'S OK, because I trust that the plan God has for me is not for my destruction, but for my welfare, to give me--and you!-- a future with hope?
Is it any accident that these "new thoughts" in our control-obsessed "battle for the church" question every action, every overture, every argument that has characterized our life together in the PC(USA) for lo these 30 years? Is it any wonder that those who have read the motivations for our actions have walked away from Christ for these 30 years?
I have no solution for our disagreement-- that's not my job. I have no idea how this is going to end-- that's not my job. I know that no human being or group of human beings can kill the church, anymore than we could kill Christ and keep him in the tomb. I am called to love my brothers and sisters, who sometimes look like Samaritans to me-- whose skin is different-- whose take on life is different-- whose hopes for the future are different than mine. Christ holds me, so I reach out to you. That's all I know-- and brother, sister, that's all you know, too. Why don't we try it, and see what happens?
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Grace Presbytery gathered ready to fight on Saturday morning-- I know because I seemed to always be crossing the road when one of those loaded on a mission roared up and ran over me. But standing with them, insisting I would not fight, but I would not run, slowly they all-- left and right-- ground to a halt and noticed that those weren't speed bumps that they had been thumping over. They were people-- left and right.
The vote went as it did-- and facebook friends, please be clear, my hurt was not the result. My hurts came from being run over before the vote ever happened. And they were worth it-- because by allowing them to hit me, I forced them to see me as a person. Because they hit me, they went into the room less willing to hit each other. The hurt was more than worth it.
We shall have to deal with each other as brothers and sisters. If we cannot do that, we do not deserve to survive as a part of Christ's Body-- if we cannot love our brother and sister whom we can see, how can we possibly love the God Whom we cannot see? What is destroying the PC(USA) is an unbridled willingness to treat each other as things. This is not the church. Means determine ends in the economy of Christ-- and the means which we have used these 30 years, no matter who was winning and who was losing, lead to one end-- death.
Sunday night, Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church was packed to the ceiling-- not a seat left empty in the sanctuary-- balcony full-- parking lot full. People had come from miles away to hear one thing-- the witness of 34 women at the closing worship service of Oak Cliff Great Banquet #18. They heard one woman confess her faith in Christ for the first time, many who had let go of burdens, and all of whom had been born again into a life full of hope by Christ's rising from the dead, and His risen presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. They stood before us different people than they had been just 72 hours before. And the world was beating down the door to see it.
One day, I hope and pray that when Grace Presbytery meets, the world make take notice for the same reason-- as Tertullian said the Roman world took notice of us: "see how they love one another." We will not solve our differences. We must learn to die to self, to rise in Christ, and live with our differences. Saturday, I hope Grace Presbytery began to learn how to become the Body of Christ again. Sunday night, Christ animated a group of women and the world saw and heard Christ speak in power. Arise, bridegroom of Christ. Arise, shine, for thy Light is come!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I believe that I am neither-- and that there is a true middle way through the bloodbath that we have endured for these 30years. That middle way is not a "harmonizing" that the pollyanna optimists of 1978 thought would happen-- it is a combination of two mutually contradictory truths:
I cannot agree that homosexual practice is not sin.
I cannot agree that those who believe that homosexual practice is not sin are not my brothers and sisters in Christ.
The poverty of the PC(USA) shows in our need to control and understand outcomes. We too often are functionally atheistic, making our determinations on what we analytically deduce without leaving room for the God for Whom nothing is impossible. I wait for that God-- in the middle.
I stand in the middle, reaching out to those who disagree because Christ calls me to; I will not move from the middle, because Christ called me there. The middle way is not a shrugging "I don't know" but a determined holding on to the stranger in Christ. It is the place of crucifixion, not a safe seat with those who have power to crucify.
The middle way is the way of suffering. William Sloane Coffin years ago said that Christ was not on any side of any war-- He was in the middle, and every bullet and shell tore through His body before it reached its intended target. The middle is the place of witness to a Way the world cannot understand, Truth beyond my comprehension, and Life that no suffering on this earth can destroy.
I stand in the middle, ready to speak the truth as I understand it in love, ready to listen to what is said to me-- and ready to stand there even if I do not, or cannot agree. What an opportunity we have wasted in these 30 years to be a witness to this my-way-or-the-highway culture! Whatever the rest of the PC(USA) does, I will not let the opportunity go by anymore. I love you, brothers and sisters hurt by the decisions of this Body. I cannot agree with you, but I recognize that I cannot be the witness Christ has called me to be without you. If beating on me will assuage your anger, have at it. I accept that as the cost of standing where I stand. But I can do no other, God help me. I will not leave. I love you as Christ has loved me. I will not move.
Friday, March 20, 2009
As the exponential pace of change continues to accelerate in our culture in this time, a lot of Christians are getting motion sickness. We are scanning for a horizon that can't be seen through clouds whose movement seems to deny a coherent direction or purpose. The one sense that we have always used to guide us is leading us astray.
We Presbyterians are proud of our education: one of the best lines of A River Runs Through It is when the pastor/father's prejudices against other Christians are exposed: Norman narrates that "my father said that Methodists were Baptists who could read." We talk of the mind-- we worship the products of the mind-- we are always looking for the "new idea" that will improve every situation and reinvent humanity.
But the mind is easily fooled by too much information. When ideas are flying a thousand different directions and there is no fixed point of reference, it is possible to think to the point of sickness. It amazes me to think that I have already lived through three technological worldshifts-- and the last two were only a decade or so apart. How do we maintain our sense of who and Whose we are?
We cannot think our way out of our current muddle; when we stumble in our relationship with Christ, we think ourselves deeper into the morass. The only way out is to obey-- to do what we are commanded to do, whether it makes sense or not, whether we fear the consequences or not. Do the duty that lies nearest.
So, I love Christ and I choose to trust my brother/sister who says they love Christ, too-- even though I may not be able to make sense of that. I choose to look to Christ Who has me under His wing, and Who is setting the course and speed for my life-- even when I like neither what I see of the destination nor what I perceive of the speed.
My college professor used to say that faith is a way of knowing. The psalmest heard it better from the Source:
"Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted in the heavens; I am exalted in the earth." The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
It's been coming for a long time-- it is a wonder that we didn't see it (a lot like the mathematical geniuses who brought us credit/default swaps didn't see what was coming.) We have raised two or three generations in Materialistic Therapeutic Deism, which promotes the ideas that belonging to Christ means being nice to people, putting in time and effort to stay awake in worship, and being happy; and that God is our Cosmic Jeeves to provide us means to those ends. The Monitor piece lays out the reasons for the evangelical collapse with devastating simplicity-- but the best line is this: We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.
Warren Buffett says that the economy has fallen off a cliff-- perhaps the Church has fallen off a cliff, too. Maybe for both it was about time. We can't pass on a prosperous economy to our children if we never say no to our appetites, and save; we can't pass on a faith relationship with Jesus Christ without suffering anything for being willing to say something.
It is time to see some horrible truths: that this culture now sees Jesus Christ as a promoter of hate; that they see that hate as centered in churches, personified by pastors; and the most important fact-- they see NO DIFFERENCE between Baptists at worship and Unitarians at worship (remember the shooting in Tennessee?). We are all seen as the same target, no matter how many times we have anathemetized each other. Church is church is church, and all of it is bad.
In both falls, there is a rising, but rebuilding is long and slow. I saw a commentator asked when we would return to valuations that we last saw in 2000, and the commentator suggested that values would not reach those heights for 40-50 years. It may take two or three generations, but the Lord will raise up a new church centered in the good that will stand as the wind and waves turn against us:
- Denominational lines will fall-- believers in Jesus will see that the space between us (no matter how much we disagree) is not even close to as large as the chasm between us and the world. God who made us, Christ who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through the Scriptures binds us into one living Body.
- Jesus Christ lives-- we are not promoting a dead ideology, or simply acting as curators in a museum of what Christ has done. He is still doing it-- and where Christ lives, there is liberty. Free men and women will come together to witness-- and to suffer for that witness.
- Privilege is a comfortable prison-- but a prison nonetheless. Perhaps, when those who follow look back, they will give thanks that we were expelled.
Thankfulness for suffering always rings false, or crazy. But crazy times call for crazy responses. Perhaps what is happening to us, which comes from the hand of God, is good-- even in its sufferings. For Fred Winters's wife and kids, and for the people of First Baptist Church in Maryville, ILL I hope and pray that it is, and will be.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
So, I'm off on a new (old) trajectory, asking questions and suggesting answers that seem to bother a lot of people older than I am. I see a mission field that is desperately in need of Christ's love, God's redemption, and the Holy Spirit's direction through the Word, and I see those who claim to have meeting that need as their purpose getting their kicks from kicking each other, pointing out each other's weaknesses and taking their ability to criticize the other's weakness as a demonstration of God's strength.
I see children, now not just one or two, but five or ten or fifteen, with no one in their corner-- no one who will help them learn, no one who cares when they fall, too many of them with no one who feeds them physical food, much less emotional or spiritual food. And all the adults are on diets.
I see a culture, a church, obsessed with entertainment and distraction while we send young men and women to die for us, we allow the state to kill for us, we watch as we kill ourselves with booze and pills, and babies unborn never see the light of day. Death is all around us, but we are too busy playing to pay attention, much less to see what we can do to alleviate the suffering, much less to sacrifice, to die for another. "Greater love hath no man than this...." Where is that greater love?
Where is it in the Church? Is that greater love in Robert's Rules? Is it in our debates? Is it in our fine buildings filled with good people who are afraid of the little one who hasn't had a bath in a week, or the man who is strung out? Each of us called by Christ has a purpose-- a mission, and that mission will never involve gold dust and a spot light. Follow Jesus and you will end up in cold, dark, desperate places-- that's where the need is.
My mission at the moment seems to be to find someone who thinks I'm an idiot for opposing Amendment 08B, and to love them. Yours may be to find someone who is a banana peel away from the edge of death, and to love them into life. But following Jesus doesn't keep your fingernails clean. Service for Jesus doesn't leave you laughing and relaxed, saying, "that was a good show." Loving Jesus means that I am ready to be emptied, not to be filled-- to understand, not to be understood-- to love, not to be loved.
So the voting, the posturing, and the positioning go on; they will always be with us. Follow Jesus, and don't be afraid of what the posers think-- follow Jesus into the places and to the people you fear, and watch Him wipe away your fears as He dries their tears. There is work to be done. Let's get to lovin'.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The words of James Weldon Johnson still echo; but their power is in their vision. In the midst of the time when black soldiers who had tasted the basic dignity given them in France but denied them in the land of their birth were being lynched in record numbers, Johnson still saw that progress had been made. The path was hard, painful, and marked by the blood of those who had died walking it-- but Johnson directs our eyes not to the path, nor to the cost, but to the destination, "where the white gleam of our bright star is cast."
There is a bright star-- the brightest star in the sky-- that is still guiding us, even through the stormy night of these days of dissension, decline, and depression. We all want to be like the children in Johnson's hymn, coming to the place for which those who went before us sighed. But as I look, I think we are the generation that has sighing to do-- longing for a new and different church, a changed culture and world.
I sigh for Christ in the center of us-- Christ in our hearts and minds, where all those of us who have watched human love fail and die love one another as brothers and sisters from the heart, not with human sympathy, empathy or compassion, but with the love of Christ Himself. I sigh for a day when I will greet everyone who acknowledges Christ's claim on them as family, even if we do not worship the same, we do not look the same.
I sigh for a day when this culture will look at those who follow Jesus Christ and say, "see how they love each other!" I sigh for a day when every man, woman, and child who encounters the Church will experience a radical love, a clear eye, an open hand, a living sacrifice. I sigh for a day when we will argue our disagreements and dissensions on our knees before the cross, with hands and hearts open to God and therefore open to one another.
If my life's blood is only useful for being poured out to mark the path that others behind me will tread, so be it. I want my children's feet to come to the place for which I sigh. The journey will be long and hard-- and its hardness is already pretty well impressed upon me.
I've only ever seen one Broadway show-- but it is my favorite. At the end of Les Miserables, all those who have sacrificed their lives for something, Someone greater than themselves sing behind the veil, and it lifts, and they sing to the audience: "Who will join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?"
Can we not put Christ so in the center of our lives that we can join in His work-- that we can see the place for which we sigh? Is it not enough to spend a lifetime struggling, suffering, sacrificing to move one step closer? Who will walk that path with me?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
1) We shall have to live with one another, no matter what happens. There is no escape from the conflict over human sexuality. We cannot create hermetically sealed churches and denominations where we do not have to acknowledge one another's existence. Even if we could do this, we are only feeding the secularizing atheism that our intransigence spawned in this culture in the first place. If Christians can't love those who say they are Christians, how can we love the drug addict-- the prostitute-- the sinner looking for love, not knowing they are looking for Christ?
2) We are too proud to stop feeding our anger. Mark Twain said, "temper gets us into trouble, but pride keeps us there." No one wants to be the first to admit they don't actually have all the answers, are not just victimized, but also victimizer. We hang on to our bloody shirts, recounting the wounds inflicted upon us, and will not accept the simple truth that the bloody shirt waved in our faces by the one arguing against us is as real as ours is. Pride keeps us asleep so that the nightmare simply plays on. No one wants to wake up.
3) No side will "win." If anything should have taught us this, the reawakening of the Gnostic heresy after almost 2 millenia should have. One side "won;" the other side buried their texts rather than doing as they were commanded and destroying them. But Gnosticism never totally died because it appeals strongly to human pride and human thought. Even if the church police had burned every copy of the Gospel of Thomas, its basic teachings would still be knocking around the churches of the world. If a conflict 2,000 years old in the church is not solvable by law/violence, how likely is it that this conflict can be erased with the same tools? Those who hope for triumph constantly point to slavery, and say, "see, we passed a law and it stopped. The Bible is wrong-- slavery can be eradicated." And there are more slaves in the world right now than there were in 1860-- when millions in Brazil, the United States, and Russia were still in legal servitude. The fight against slavery will go on as long as there are three human beings on the planet-- slavery is a fundamental expression of human will and human power. No law can perfect the human heart. Those whose hope is in a conclusion will always be disappointed until Christ returns.
4) Since the Garden of Eden, there never has been an era of easy peace. We keep harking back to good old days, when it seemed that conflict wasn't there. But the golden age of the 1950's is the era of Joe McCarthy, of the ramped-up violence of those who tried to nip the Civil Rights movement in the bud. Those years only look peaceful and happy because the 50's were compared to the 30's and 40's-- and almost anything would look peaceful and happy in that comparison. Living out our faith in Christ is a constant daily struggle individually and collectively. It has always been thus, and it always will be.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Church can be a lot like high school-- only you never graduate: peer pressure rules all, and leaders are simply those who have the natural or delegated authority to enforce what peer pressure decrees.
Maybe that's why this course of being a minority comes more naturally to me-- I never fit into the mold of my peers. Every minority struggles with this same reality. We are the natural exceptions to the rules-- rule-breakers by our just being who we are. And in a culture where breaking the rules is the worst form of behavior, we easily find ourselves on the outside looking in.
This experience is frighteningly new to the good little boys and girls of conservative/evangelical conviction in the PC(USA). It is rather like the quarterback and the head cheerleader being shunned-- those who have without a thought assumed a position of power are forced to think by such turns of events.
The major mind shift that must occur is to embrace the gift of being different, even if--especially if!-- the majority shuns you. I had a chance to visit a foreign land a couple of months ago at a very prestigious country club north of the Trinity. The co-chair of the PNC that called me to OCPC had been invited, and as usual gave me a chance to go with her. She loves to introduce me as her "other" son, and watch the confusion as people look at me (so caucasion my skin is almost transparent), and look back at her, beautiful and black.
We walked into a group of people I would have rather run away from, and she simply began introducing herself. In each pair of eyes read the words, "who are you and what are you doing here?" And Opal simply smiled and talked normally to them, meeting their unspoken peer pressure with the assurance, "here I am. I am me. I am different, and I'm proud of being different." She didn't ask their permission-- she didn't need it. We weren't there to disrupt anything; we weren't trying to cause a scene. We were just being who we are.
So, conservative/evangelical brothers and sisters, it is our turn to be different. There's no need to make a scene, or respond to the spoken or unspoken peer pressure around us. Just smile, take your place at the table and be who Christ is calling you to be.
It's amazing how liberating it can be, even for good boys and girls, to learn that conformity is just another passing human power. If we just take responsibility for our own discipline and demonstrate a different way of living in the midst of people who do not like it or understand what we are doing, we may have done more for the cause of Christ than all that we have ever preached or taught.
Our real witness to Christ is not what we say or what position we hold. Our real witness is who we are. Christ has made all the difference in my life-- I am not who I was. If that makes me stand out awkwardly, I hope to be able to summon Opal's grace and calmly BE what Christ has made me.
Friday, February 13, 2009
There are a couple of things to clarify about yesterday's post: one person said, "I do not agree with your conclusions" because that person stands in the "other camp." I am not drawing conclusions; I am walking out into no-man's land. You can doubt my motives-- but you cannot doubt my action. I am seeking a means to move forward, and stepping out to a place in the middle where I can stand. All I am asking is to see if you can step out to where you can stand, and if we can reach each other across that distance.
This is not a fix-- it is not a resolution. It is a means to go forward together. Resolution may not come for generations, just as it will not come quickly or easily across the scarred divisions of race in our country. Someone's got to begin the healing process. It is the task of our time to begin-- my children's children may have the joy of seeing the conclusion, whatever God will ordain that to be.
Another person said, "but the shouters will keep shouting, the litigators keep litigating..." Yes, yes. This work must be begun in the midst of much verbal violence. It is not the first time, nor will it be the last.
My hero is Connie, and all those like her who were willing at 8 years old to walk through a wall of hate to find a new future for themselves. In his book, "The Spiritual Life of Children," Robert Coles lets her tell her story: "I was all alone, and those [segregationist] people were screaming, and suddenly I saw God smiling and I smiled. A woman was standing there [near the school door] and she shouted at me, 'HEY you little nigger, what you smiling at?' I looked right at her face and I said, 'at God.' Then she looked up at the sky, and then she looked at me, and she didn't call me any more names."
Both sides have their yellers-- both sides have their names to call each other. There are segregationists of left and right in this conflict-- those who want to impose their way on the whole. I'm going to walk down the middle toward the future that the Lord has in store for us-- finding that future is the only thing that will make God smile. All I'm looking for is someone who can step toward me close enough that we can hold hands and walk the gauntlet together. Any takers?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
- We must accept that we are a minority-- ALL of us, whatever side we take in the current disputes-- inside this culture. The culture and the church are no longer coexistential, if they ever truly were. We follow the Christ the head of the church, not the culture.
- None of us truly knows what God is up to in this time. We all have our guesses, our timelines, and our storylines that prove that we were right all along. But no one really knows God's timeline or storyline. God is going to have to sort this out in God's own time.
- We have to start finding ways to move toward each other, instead of doing the easy thing, which is lobbing bombs and rallying "us" to fight "them."
So, a path to coexistence probably has a good chance of being rejected by both Left and Right; it will not necessarily be acceptable culturally. The only people who will find it are people who are willing to look for it; the only way to look for it is to look together, "us" and "them;" and both the looking, and the uncomfortable coexistence, are going to last for an indeterminate amount of time. I am ready to accept these realities, coming from the evangelical side of the PC(USA).
So, with those ground rules, I move toward those who disagree with this idea: let issues of sexuality and ordination be issues of church discipline; and let us make our peace that church discipline will be exercised at different levels in different cases in different places.
What does this mean? It means an acceptance of the people shaped by the culture that we live in, without making undue accomodation to that culture. An example is divorce. We accept that people divorce in this culture, even though Jesus is overtly condemning of the practice. But that acceptance of divorced people into ordained office is done person-by-person, not always with the same results. There are persons who will be ordained despite being divorced, and there will be persons who are not ordained because they are divorced. Decisions are made pastorally by those upon whom the spiritual responsibility of deciding has been placed. In some places, divorce may never be seen as an issue in ordination, while in others, it is always an issue.
But if the Church should declare that a service celebrating divorce shall be offered, that divorce is a gift of God, and that there is no sin in divorce, the issue of divorce has moved from a matter of church discipline into a question of whether divorce is a positive good. If the PC(USA) were to mandate such a change, I-- and I believe a lot of others concerned with following the Scriptures-- would not be able in good conscience to comply.
Let differing bodies exercise their responsibility to discipline and decide as God leads them; let those who disagree with their decisions have a place at the table. Let conscience on both sides be held in peace, and let Jesus Christ the head of the Church judge the work of each in His time, as He will. But for this path to work, issues of sexuality and ordination must remain matters of church discipline.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
But the point of talking about looking at life from a minority status is not only relevant for evangelicals in the PC(USA), it is also the future for all Americans, no matter what pidgeon-hole the census puts you in. Within 20 years, there will be no majority culture in the USA; our country will, for the first time in its history, become a marketplace of minority cultures.
And the people who are most unready for this transition are the keepers of Anglo culture-- the mainline and other traditional churches. We are being challenged at the very base of who we believe we are: are we white/gay/black/hispanic Christians, or Christians who happen to be white/gay/black/hispanic? And the whole history of the church in this country condemns us to living out the same hyphenated existence, with Christ on the wrong side (the second-priority side) of the hyphen.
The test of whether Christ is on the right side is what we are willing to give up of our cultural heritage to live for Jesus Christ. Because of Christendom's poisonous compromises, most white Christians still make the same deadly assumptions so many missionaries did in the last centuries: surrender to Christ means that others become like us. It is this toxic majoritarian mindset that is killing us. To become like Jesus means that I, too, just like everybody else He calls, must leave home.
So, what would YOU be willing to give up to follow Jesus Christ with your brothers and sisters who don't look/speak/act like you? Is there any identity that is more important to you than your identity in Christ? Can you let that identity go?
That is the question that is before us-- shall we become once again "the third race" of our apostolic beginnings, neither Jew nor Greek, yet both Jew and Greek-- ONE in Christ Jesus?
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I marvel at my heroes and heroines for their self-control in the face of persecution-- for their smiles at hate-filled faces, their kind words spoken into the high-decibel screaming of the culture they were born into. There are a few synthetic strands in their learning and their teaching, and the power of self-control is one of them.
To exert such self-control, one must know who one is; one must be able to stay within the bounds of what one can stand, and one must at the same time not cease to reach out to the offender, no matter how they respond.
The only way for a minority to win at the zero-sum games of worldly power is not to play-- and if one is forced to play, not to play by the world's rules. Jesus Christ taught this first and best (Thoreau, Ghandi, and King were only good students). Asymmetrical response throws off the plan of the aggressor, and forces thought to occur before violence can continue. Self-control defends that silent space/time for the aggressor to fully appreciate the humanity of his/her victim, and the true moral character of the action. Turn the other cheek is not simply a way of giving a new target-- by refraining from retaliation, the person who is the target gains the moral upper hand. To hit again, the aggressor must own the aggression.
This doesn't stop aggression-- Christ was crucified, after all. But in God's time, the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of a renewed Church.
We are willing to speak for Christ, but we are not willing to bleed for Him. We are willing to give of ourselves in His service, but we are unwilling to give ourselves wholly to His service. Jesus does not need new members of His Church-- He needs witnesses to His glory. The word "martyr" comes from the Greek word, "witness." That is what Jesus Christ is asking us to be.
My heroes and heroines were raised to be witnesses to Jesus Christ. The harsh majority could not strip them of the noble dignity with which He clothed them. Victor Frankl wrote that everything can be taken from a man except one thing: his response to the insult or injury. That cannot be coerced or controlled. There is nothing in being a minority that can strip from us our ability to witness to Jesus Christ.
Nothing will stop me from declaring His praise, from preaching repentance as preparation for His coming Kingdom, or from loving every person as He has loved me. No one ever will stop me, as long as there is breath in my body.
Friday, February 6, 2009
The fact that these posts are incoherent to someone who does not know the struggles of the PC(USA) I think pretty clearly demonstrates where all our energy has gone these last 40 years. It is no accident that there are half as many of us as there were 40 years ago. We have so lost the ability to cohere that we have not even noticed that the world has changed. We are a 21 st century Rip Van Winkle, tripping over a beard that we're not used to being there, angry that the people whose names we are calling are gone, the customs of dress and conversation make us feel as if we are strangers in the land of our birth.
We conservative/evangelicals in and beyond the PC(USA) seem the most incensed and uncomprehending. We react in fear and anger to the world's bewildering ability to dismiss and belittle us, to walk its own path and ignore what we say. The temptation is to pull in behind strong walls, to rigidly enforce conformity within, and to expel and shoot those who look like/sound like they are from without. Groups, like individuals, have a survival instinct. Minority survival instinct is to pull in and defend the perimeter. Better to be safe than sorry.
But there is no future in safety. The walls built for safety harden into a shell that cannot be penetrated, and the Gospel meant for the whole world becomes the idiosyncratic cultural tic of a group of people whose oddity makes them incomprehensible to the vast majority of the world. Minorities walled off from the majority simply become new variations on the Amish theme.
To be African-American in America is to live with the tension implied in the hyphenated word. It is to be part of what easily can become two entirely separate worlds: a cultural world which, at 10-15% of the population, is and will always be a minority, while also being among those who by simple seniority (the average African-American family has been here almost 200 years longer than the average European-American family) have the deepest claims to the identity of the whole.
To reach out to the majority requires a confidence in common identity that enables the group to know what can be compromised, and what cannot. It requires a courage that masters the fears that never truly subside: fear of the group's death, its loss of identity-- that mixing will dilute it into oblivion.
The strength of these fears is the real reason why, as Martin Luther King, Jr. preached in his last regular Sunday sermon at the National Cathedral, that "11:00 on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America." It takes an intense courage and a deep faith to trust enough in the love of Christ to give up one's identity to culture and pick up one's identity in Christ.
I stand in awe of my heroes and heroines here at OCPC, who were willing to challenge us to meet them in the middle; I give thanks to my fellow Anglo faithful, who were willing to let go of what was the native cultural inheritance of this part of the Body of Christ to meet them in the middle. My hope and prayer is that somehow, we can do the same thing with the cultural/theological conflicts that beset us now. But both sides must be willing to reach out, recognizing that relationship requires both to lose in order to love.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
When we were in construction phase in 2004, one of the last subcontractors I had to deal with came to put in a condenser unit. He was no more than 25, with red hair and an aggressive attitude in dealing with people he didn't know. His conversational tic was that he called all men he ran into "young man" when he encountered them.
Now, at 40 years old, I wasn't wild about being called "young man." But I wanted the job done, so I just smiled and went on with showing him what he was dealing with. We were in the kitchen, looking at the main breaker panels in the storage room, and Crumpton walked in to tell me something. Our subcontractor looked at him and said, "Hello, young man--" and Crumpton spun around on his heel and walked very quickly out the door.
The only alternative was to tear that young man a new hole. There are a few boundaries you don't cross with my heroes, especially. Don't ever even get close to calling any of them "boy." It is too painful and angering to live with the memory of being diminished for so long, that anyone who gets near that wound will set off an explosion of anger that is not containable.
Crumpton not only left the kitchen, he left the building. He knew that he needed time and space to recover, because a boundary had been mindlessly violated. When he returned, no discussion was had; he just went on with what he had to do, and he stayed away from the real young man who was now outside the kitchen working.
Living as a minority means that self-care is the most essential component of self-control-- we have to know what we cannot tolerate, and push back from it before we explode. The majority is not responsible to care for us; they will not, human beings being what we are. We must care for ourselves enough to be able to set and keep boundaries that enable us to be constructive when we can, and absent when we cannot.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
It was in that world that so many of my heroes and heroines here at OCPC grew up. They are the generation that made Barack Obama's life possible. And everywhere, they were a minority, surrounded not by an indifferent, but a hostile majority.
And each of them tells a similar story of what they internalized in the midst of real persecution, and emotional and physical intimidation and violence: you cannot let white people tell you who you are. You have to know who you are so deeply, so strongly, that no person however important, powerful, or intimidating, can change it. You must know who you are no matter how many people deny it, no matter what facts they have to prove it.
Every one of my heroes knows who they are. In the world I grew up in, knowing who you were was a minor obstacle: it meant that you weren't pliant enough to fit into the environment. Majoritarian thinking is always asking, "what does everybody else think/feel/want?" This is death for the minority; the majority always believes it is right/beautiful/normal/appropriate. The minority must be the exception to their rules.
To be an exception, and to be an exception for a lifetime, one must be exceptional. One must be willing to be a living infraction of the rules, and one must be able to do that with grace. That grace is receiving from an internal source all the approval one needs to be able to face the world and look the majority in the eye.
Do you know that Christ holds you in the palm of Your hand? Do you know that your name is written down in the Book of Life? Does Jesus walk with you? Listen to the heart conversation inside my heroes and heroines, and in everyone of them, it is the triumphant and certain YES! to those questions that is the essential spine of their lives. It doesn't matter what the majority says-- it doesn't matter what the majority does. It doesn't matter what the majority wants. I know who and Whose I am, and therefore I know what I'm supposed to do-- and I know what I want. And that's all I need.
Never, never, never compromise yourself. Never give anyone or anything any inroad to who you are. No one but Jesus has the right to say.
This is not something that will happen if 08B passes-- this is happening already, and it has the approval of General Assembly without the vote of the presbyteries. Western North Carolina has massively reversed course, and other presbyteries with thin margins in 2001 may do the same. If the world is defined as the place where evangelical positions hold the high ground, then that world truly is coming to an end in the PC(USA). Being an evangelical now in the PC(USA) means that one must embrace minority status, or leave.
There are some amazing gifts that come with being the pastor of OCPC. One of the best is this: when I came into the office today, I was explaining all this, and my beloved older brother Crumpton had the patience to listen. Crumpton rose in the world through the only institution that would let him rise: the U.S. Army. He and his family were the second neighbors who crossed a lot of barriers to open the doors of OCPC to African-Americans in 1975.
Crumpton looked at me and said, "some of us know all about being a minority. It's not the end of the world." So, for Black History Month, I'm going to let them do the teaching. We who hold to the faith as handed down from the saints have much to learn about being a minority from them.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Because we had had a big shindig that day, the door was unlocked and many people were coming and going. One of them came to the door, and let the two young men in. Watching this unfold behind the elders' backs, I looked at the circle of elders, and I said to them, "someone needs...." Before I could get the call to serve out of my mouth, one elder was at the door, going to them. She began to talk to them, and one of the young men began to cry. She took them to the library; we could hear her telling them, "we need to pray for you." I said, "Jesus sent us out two by two..." and another elder jumped up and followed her to the library. Our parish associate went with him.
Our meeting continued, wheels were greased; but I was watching as person after person went by loading their cars, hearing the cries, dropping everything, and heading to the library. Within a few minutes, piles of bags had stacked up at the entrance door, and I could just see through the cracked open door of the library young and old, new and veteran Christians, black and white, on their knees with their hands on the backs of the two young black men.
At the end of the meeting, an hour later, they were still there; I went in and prayed with them, and heard their story. Abandoned by their parents, raised by grandparents who had recently died, fathers of children they did not really know and could not really help to raise-- they were little boys in men's costumes, trying to act like they knew what they were doing, when they were totally lost.
It had finally gotten bad enough that they simply started walking, looking for the doors of a church that would be open at 3:00 on a Sunday afternoon. Our building is on a street of churches, but we are a ways north of most of them. They had started at the southern end of the street-- we were the only door that was open.
This is a parable for our time: I have never felt more joy as a pastor than I felt that day, watching Jesus Christ use this community to hold on to those two young men, and help them to get their bearings in a world that did not seem to care if they failed or succeeded.
While we are inside arguing, a generation of young men is dying all around us. While we play at spiritual things, a generation is growing up ignorant of them. This is the real challenge of this time. It is time to as they say, "man up:"
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16