"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Isaiah 64, Thinking about Peace, and devotional insights....

Today in our newsletter I wrote about Advent lists.  Making a list of people to help, prayers to pray, or outcomes to hope for as Christmas approaches.  I tried to "google" Advent list and nothing came back.  Maybe it's my first original idea ever?  Probably not.  Wiser pastors than me long ago passed on that all of preaching and teaching is "borrowing" -- meaning that most of what we do and say has been done and said before.  Note this, though:  repetition is never a bad thing in and of itself.  Our society values the "new and improved" so much that we forget that our hearts and souls need the discipline of repetition from time to time.  So we tell once more this year the "old, old story" of Jesus and his birth.  We tell it from the mountains, the hills, and everywhere!  I do think that amendments, the friendly kind, are good though.  And amending our Advent disciplines so that we hear the story in a new key seems a fine practice to me.

One Advent discipline I am following is to read my friend Kerri Hefner's (@k9kerri) blog each day.  Kerri is the Presbyterian Campus Minister at ECU and on staff at First Presbyterian Greenville.  I think you'll find her perspective refreshing and appreciate her good writing.

On thought I did have as I was jotting notes down for this blog today is that I am well aware that for some of us the Christmas story and the Advent waiting might feel shop-worn.  The repetition more tiresome than comforting.  I wonder though:  what would happen to us, to our spiritual lives, if Christmas didn't repeat and renew its promise each year?

Thinking about promise, I was moved to tears to read this profile of Fred Craddock on CNN.com yesterday:

I am not sure why they did this profile on Fred, I couldn't discover the reason in the piece, but I am glad they did.  Be sure to focus on the part about story telling, narrative, and heritage.  Read the testimony from his mother, and the way he remembers her, and about the promise she made.  As I type this I am so grateful for the prayers of our mothers, our fathers.  Academically speaking, Fred Craddock is a titan in the preacher's world.  He wouldn't want that title, but he is.  Not many people write a magisterial book, a landmark reinterpretation of a field of study.  Tom Long's words in the piece are true:  Craddock's As One Without Authority (published the year I was born) shook the homiletical world to its foundations.  I found a used copy online a few years ago.  It sits on my shelf as admiration for the achievement that it was.

I have been thinking about peace a lot this week.  It is after all a week to hope for peace as Advent rises and falls around us.  I think of that text from Sunday, Isaiah 64: 1 - 9.  God allowed me to hear with new ears this week, and I am grateful.  Verse 8:

O Lord, you are our Father,
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

How lovely.  How challenging.  If we are to know peace it seems to me that this knowledge comes first from God.  How had God brought peace in our lives?  How have we made conflict where God desired peace?  Is the old hymn right, that if there is to be peace on Earth it has to begin with me?

My prayer then for today is something akin to the prayer in our church-wide Advent devotional for today:  that our hearts would be open wide.  Open for God to shape our lives.  Open for God to mold us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In "defense" of goats and an interesting question with a great link....

The Future of the Church...

My colleague Carol Howard Merrit blogs about the future of the church quite often.  When she is not blogging she writes about it.  Her book The Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation is a must-read for those yearning for Young Adult ministry.  Those who hear me preach often know that I strand convinced that church is changing rapidly.  Not so much theological forms, but functional forms, worship forms, polity forms, and structural forms.  Which is a way of saying that I think that Reformed Theology, or reformed thinking, or the baseline of our theology as Presbyterians is a cogent and relevant theology for the 21st century.  I'd argue that it will be the theology of the next century (even as I readily admit that such an argument is transparently self-serving).  What I wonder about is if our forms of theological communication - the way we communicate the gospel and the way we "do" church -- will continue to be relevant.  What do you think will become of the church in the next decade?  What are your dreams for church?

Here are Carol Howard's thoughts, I'd love to hear yours...

(photo from christiancentury.org - connected to Carol's blog post)

Concerning goats....

Or, should I write, in defense of goats?

The sermon on Sunday concerned Matthew 25 and several folks have said, "you sure were hard on goats," or, "we had a goat once and it was the sweetest animal," or, "you know I am a capricorn," or something similar. 

In defense of goats several added that there were terrains in the world that only the goat could master.  That the goat had something that the sheep would never have.

All these points are valid even as they are varied.

Let it be noted that I did not create the metaphor, Matthew 25 did.  And while I did have some fun at the goats expense, it was only fun in so far as I was able to compare them to sheep.  Sheep and goats are very different.  Each having their strengths and weaknesses.

The goat for example will eat anything and is frankly too stubborn to die.  That is why it masters terrain where few other creatures can survive.

I think the point of the parable, of the sheep and goats and the son of man, the king of glory, though is something akin to the fact that sometimes we can be so stubborn, so set in our ways, that we miss the opportunity to truly live.  Too stubborn to let the old life die so the new life God offers becomes who we are.  If we do this we play the goat at our own expense.

For the record I am a capricorn, too.

Happy thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Three Links Not to Miss

First of all - don't miss the new White Memorial Presbyterian Church Website.  Thanks to our staff -- BIG THANK YOU to Karen Hanelin -- for your hard work in seeing this web project to a quick conclusion.  Be sure to visit and let us know what you think - and remember, we'll keep adding, updating, and expanding as needs arise.

I hope you all got to see Penn Holderness' excellent piece on NBC 17 about our Career Transition Support Group at White Memorial.  CTSG helps folks who can't seem to find work.  It is a wonderful ministry and our great thanks goes to Anna Rainey, Bob Gates, Al Rankin, and John White for the tremendous ministry they are doing with CTSG.  Watch the story here:

Lastly, I was so proud of my college last night, leading at half time on a night of celebration at Duke.  Davidson is scrappy and I would not want to play the wildcats come February.  Here a link to the Charlotte Observer story on the game:

I'll post some photos somewhere of us at the game.

Hope to see you in worship, in service, in study or in prayer....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Truth in in order to goodness...or marginal thoughts about Penn State

I shudder to type this.  I don’t want to type or write about this.  But it is everywhere, all around in the headlines so some comment is required whether I want the requirement or not.  There is nothing darker than the suffering of a child.  And the suffering suggested in the indictments around Penn State and a former coach, now indicted as a pedophile, is of the worst kind.  It shatters lives for years.  Shatters institutions, trust, and…well, everything.   It appears as though there are victims whose pain we can hardly fathom.   And it appears that people of stature, standing, power, and influence turned a myopic eye toward the suffering and pain at expense of the victims themselves.  It is a moral failure when (what appears as) incontrovertible evidence is ignored.  It is an inference, but one of the implied requirements of Jesus’s “welcome the children, let them come to me, for to these belongs the kingdom of heaven” is that the children be safe enough to feel welcome.  While we dare not rush to judgment the call to pray for the families traumatized thus far is one we cannot deny.

I was at Davidson last week at an Alumni Association Board meeting, and the new President, Dr. Carol Quillen, was asked about Penn State.  She reported that she was at a meeting of College and University Presidents and Penn State was, understandably, the consuming conversation.  Then she said she had the responsibility to continue to ask whether or not all visitors, and especially children, were safe at Davidson.  More importantly, she talked about creating an environment where people were not afraid to share bad news, or foul news, or even terrible news.  Jesus says that the truth sets us free.  The truth is all that protects us from evil, be it the truth in God, the truth in Christ, the truth in Spirit, or the truth about one another.  No matter how bad the news, we must first share the truth and then do our best to respond accordingly.

As Presbyterians we share an old part of the Book of Order (part of our constitution) which says that “truth is in order to goodness.”  This is a way of saying that there is no goodness without truth.   Ever wonder why we confess our sins near the start of our worship?  Because in telling the truth about ourselves we are able to hear God’s call because our lives, “made clean,” are renewed in self-truth confessed and in God’s truth professed.   When we are not honest we always suffer something.  And usually, when we are not honest, other people suffer too.   We may be powerless to change the suffering or the circumstances, but we can resolve to observe and tell the truth even when it is bad news that we’d rather not heard or known.

At our Session meeting last weekend, we adopted a new Safe Sanctuary policy.  This has long been in the works – long before headlines of recent days.  It is an update of a policy we have had for many years that simplifies the rules to ensure child safety here at our church.  There is nothing we take more seriously.

There is much more I could write and much more that will be written because the headlines from the past few days will be processed and probed from every imaginable angle.  Let us resolve to make our lives and our church safe because we are first committed to the truth, and truth is in order to goodness.

Reformed and Always Reforming

             When I was a young boy, growing up in the Episcopal Church, I never heard the word "reformed" very much.  If I did it was attached to school, as in "if you keep behaving that way, you'll end up at reform school."  Carrying a negative connotation, I wanted no part of that trouble.

                Is it trouble to be reformed?   If you break the word down into its parts, really study it in the pages (or on the website) of Mirriam-Webster,  a discovery is quickly made.  To reform, to be reformed, to be reforming , is a troublesome and complex process.  It can mean to improve condition through the removal of faults or abuses (that's hard work!).  It can mean to put an end to evil by applying a better method or charting a new course of action (that's even harder work!).   Or it can mean to be changed for the better (seems easy but success depends on what is meant by 'the better').

                Laws are reformed.  Churches are reformed.  Sports teams can be reformed.  Sometimes people are reformed.  Sometimes institutions are reformed. 

                But just as it is hard to make something, or to form something, it is hard to reform something.  It is hard to change.  Change threatens as much as it invigorates.  Change challenges our assumptions, it can threaten our memories, and it can make us uncomfortable.  Almost any time a change is introduced there are camps of equal excitement:  one in love with the innovation and in one devoted to nostalgia.  Human beings seem caught in a conundrum of sorts:  too little change feels like stagnation and too much change feels like instability.

                The Presbyterian Church (USA) inherits its theological core from the Reformed Church, a way of being church that grew out of the great Reformation of the 16th Century.  In our collective memories are names like Calvin, Knox, Witherspoon.  We emphasize a church ordered by representative and elected bodies, deliberate decision making, a theology that is devoted to a sovereign God that elects, or chooses the people of God in the grace of Christ Jesus, and an understanding that the Holy Spirit is energizing compulsion behind all we do to seek the great ends of the church.  We proclaim the gospel, nurture the people, work for justice, serve our neighbors, fellowship with one another, and teach the scriptures and the faith not only because it is the right thing for the church to do.  We make these witnesses in the world because it is God's will that we do so.

                The tension arrives in the fact that reformation was never supposed to stop.  We were never supposed to get too comfortable with the way things had become.  The past was supposed to ground the future, not define it.   The church reformed was supposed to be the church always reforming.   And as I wrote above, too little changes feels like stagnation, too much becomes instable.

                Three weeks ago we marked Reformation Sunday, when we remembered those brave women and men who took a stand for the faith in some incredibly courageous and inspiring ways.  They risked life and limb in order that the church would be true to the gospel of grace.  They took stands:  some of them difficult, unpopular, and misunderstood.  In some ways I think that much of the tension in church and culture today is that greater global awareness, greater economic tension, greater technological abilities, and greater social unrest are causing a conversation which is starting to sound like a "new reformation."  Scholars and preachers are starting to discuss this possibility.  I think they are right.  Change has washed ahore.  Now what to do?

                Here at White Memorial, as we look towards 2012, we're going to redesign our church website, we are going to revisit the Holy Conversations report, and we going to pray about strategically positioning ourselves for the next decades of ministry in Raleigh and New Hope Presbytery.  This might mean reforming a thing or two.  May God grant us grace and confidence as we explore what it means to be reformed in the decades to come.