"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

Thursday, December 29, 2011


                Is anyone out there big on New Year’s resolutions?  Resolutions are about resolve, which is determining a course of action and seeing it through to its end.  As in, “This is the year I am going to clean out the garage,” or, “this year I am going to lose the extra pounds,” or even, “this is the year I am going to spend less money and time on frivolous pursuits.”  Resolutions are goal oriented, forward thinking, and at their best, hopeful.  I have heard of very few circumstances where someone was adversely affected by an abundance of hopefulness.

                Isn’t that the best part of a new year?  There is hope in a fresh start.  Hope in a new calendar of opportunity.  Hope in the coming of new days ahead.

                Among the challenges of our present time are the dire predictions of impending doom.  To be sure, ours is a conflicted age.  There are real problems out there.  Problems that demand prayerfully guided, well-conceived, and appropriately thoughtful approaches.  There is no 30 minute fix.  But dire predictions about the end of the nation, the end of the church, the end of the family, or the end of…well any dire predictions as though the future were already determined seem to serve little but the fear that inspired the prediction in the first place.  Fear left unchecked by faith, hope, and love only creates more fear.  We can become wiser through service; wiser through knowledge; wiser by faith; or wiser by trust.  I doubt we ever become wiser through rampant fear.

                Yesterday was December 28.  My birthday.   I’ll not write about my age again or speak of it very often.  But I wonder as I look at the calendar:  what kind of resolution(s) should I have for the next half of my life?  What should I do differently?  What should I seek from God through prayer?

                The truth is I don’t know what the future will hold.  What I believe is that the future belongs to God.  And maybe this is the most faithful resolution that I, or we, can make:  that we will live into the future as we are called by God.  Trusting in God, I resolve to pray that this year to come will be a year of joy and blessings, even in the midst of all that is conflicted and which defies simple resolution.  I resolve to trust the angels and our Savior who say consistently throughout the New Testament:  “be not afraid.”  My resolution is to invest even more of energy and effort into loving God and neighbor.  It is the 1st Letter of John which teaches that “perfect love casts out fear.”  And in this way, living beyond my fears, trusting an uncertain future to God, I may begin to acquire the wisdom which I lack.

                Brothers and sisters:  if we have no confidence in the God who shall rule the days to come, then our efforts today might be null and void because we make our poorest decisions when we are afraid.  My prayer is that 2012 will be a year of growth and renewal for you, for our church, and for our community.  And may our resolution be to take the faith of this Christmas season into the year to come and beyond.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Highs and Lows

(clipart from royalty free clipart)

It's almost Christmas.  It's almost here.  I had a Christmas high this week when I stumbled upon a gift given to me years ago by a friend named Frances.  Her father had been a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. R. E. McClure, and had written a book of Christmas verse called When Christmas Comes.  It was a lovely and thoughtful gift.  The opening, titular, poem reads like this:

When Christmas comes, my heart's aglow,
With memories sweet of long ago.

When Christmas comes, my heart grows warm,
With knowledge of God's circling arm.

But Christmas brings a touch of gloom,
For those who have for Christ no room.

No room for Christ, in Bethlehem's Inn,
No room for Christ in lives of sin!

No room for Christ on Christmas Day,
No room for Him, the life, the Way!

There's room for Him in hearts whose beat
Is quickened from His mercy's seat.

When Christmas comes, be this my prayer,
"Lord, Help me live to make men care."

When Christmas comes, my voice would say,
"My heart is open Lord, this day."

The poems were written from the 1930's to the 1960's.  I am touched that she gave me one of her few remaining copies.  Touched by her thoughtful gift.  And as I read the above poem again, I am reminded that our hearts should be ready to receive God and God's love wherever they might be found.  Sounds a little like the verse from the Christmas carol,  O Little Town of Bethlehem, that says: 

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.

One more thing to mention - before I get too high on my better than deserved Christmas this year, I am reminded of others for whom Christmas is a real stretch this year.  I am thinking about those in need, the underemployed and the unemployed.  For many Christmas time, because of pressures to buy gifts and presents, is a stressful time.  A time to worry about this Christmas and next Christmas - when a job is elusive and the stress is taking a tremendous toll indeed.  For some in our church family and in our community, Christmas is a low this year.

A columnist from the News and Observer, Barry Saunders, ran this column today about our Career Transition Support Group at WMPC, a group which meets here every Tuesday.  We have great lay people -- Al, John, and Bob who work with CTSG, a truck load of volunteers who give their time, and one of our pastors, Anna Rainey, who works with this valuable group.

You can read the column, here: Holidays Strain Jobless

Take some time to pray this week for somebody who might be in the Christmas lows this year.  These folks need all the prayer and help they can get.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Links to make you think....

or at least chuckle a little today.  And then think.  This first one should make you chuckle.  Be sure to get to the part where the reporter says, "the host on the toast."  A better question might be:  would you buy one?

The Jesus Toaster

This is also on the CNN religion blogs section.  It is about pastor's who do or do not talk about greed.  Very interesting read.  For whatever it is worth, my Doctoral work was about pastors and how we talk about money and greed.  Might be a good Lenten series here or there sometime?  This blog suggests that maybe people of faith would rather not hear about money?  Maybe, maybe not?   My work was all in Luke's gospel.   Just for the fun of it, go to an online Bible concordance sometime and look up how many times money, greed, wealthy, etc. appear in the Bible.  It is more than you think.  I remember as I began my study how surprising it all was.

How do Pastors talk about greed in the great recession?

My good friends Michelle Thomas-Bush and Kerri Hefner have written some tremendous Advent Blogs and devotionals in the past few weeks.  You can read what they have written here:

Follow the Star

Weeding and Feeding

And finally, an update on Heath Tuttle from his mother.  One of the bravest and most faithful families I know.  I hope you'll join Carrie in this sentiment:  Thank you for helping to give us the strength to be brave for the past 3 years.  Thank you for continuing to pray that our wonderful guy will be brave in midst of all that comes his way.  And don't forget, in the craziness of this time of year, to take a few minutes to hug just a little longer, pay a little more attention than you'd probably like to, help a few more who really need it, and to relish in the sacred moments. I don't think you'll regret it.

Baby Heath Updates

Indeed, it is like Tiny Tim says -- God bless us everyone.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beginnings in Hope

Photo found on the Massachusettes Bible Society Blog-site

One of the biblical texts we'll be using a lot this year for Advent and Christmas is the beginning of the gospel of John.  Sometimes called the preamble of John, or the pre-history of John, this is a powerful and profound section of the Bible.  Several years ago I shared as a new year message what I wrote in late December or early January of 2001.  As we mark ten years of conflict, recession, and challenges facing our nation, state, and church since 2001, I thought I would share it one last time as our church prepares to hear Christmas music this Sunday and prepares to hear God's word preached from John Chapter 1.

Beginnings in Hope - John 1: 1 - 15

And so, in faith and love, but most especially today, Hope, I stand before you to say that despite all the suffering around us here, all the grief and anxiety, we are hopeful that the days to come will be easier and we are hopeful that God will stand by those who grieve and mend their hearts and renew their lives.

Some undoubtedly are thinking right now that I am crazy. I have a few friends who describe themselves as atheist who immediately say, “how can you believe in a God that allows suffering like that?”

Others accuse us Christians of being Polly-Anna's. Of having rose-colored glasses. Of not seeing things as they really are.

This is because as Christians we see the world differently. We find our very beginnings in hope. Here at the first Chapter of John’s Gospel we find a confession in the Lordship of Christ that stands as one of the great texts of the New Testament. The beginning is not an accident. It is a word, a word of hope. A word of hope that is a light that shines in the darkness. A word of hope that shone so brightly it became flesh in Christ and dwelt among us. We, the people who find our beginnings in hope, are the people of hope. It is how we see the world. It is what we do in the face of tragedy. Our Bible, our Gospel, our Christ, our faith would have it no other way.

For John’s gospel, the beginning is hope. And that in and of itself has changed everything. Hope allows us to see the possibility in someone or something as much as we see his or her or its limitations. Hope allows us to take comfort that a friend suffers no more but rejoices with the angels. Hope allows the woman trapped in addiction the luxury of knowing that something other than her disease is possible for her. We need hope like we need breath.

Unfortunately there have always been detractors – the super intellectual nihilists, the fundamental realists who say that life and being are nothingness and that there is nothing to hope for or really to even hope in. An attorney in New York in the 1890’s once said, “Hope is only universal liar who never loses his reputation for veracity.”

Hope does not lie when we put our hope in God. God can indeed tell us no, but we are never unheard and never ignored. “Hope springs eternal,” wrote the poet Alexander Pope. He’s right. Hope is our strength. Hope is our light that shines in the darkness.

Most Presbyterian ministers are fascinated by Shakespeare in some way – perhaps because the works are so very human, the problems the characters face so very real. I like many, have always been moved by King Lear, the tragedy of a noble and honest king whose daughters kill and fight and drive the king mad with their lust for power. Lord Gloucester is the character I most enjoy, despite his tragedy. He loses a son to power, and a son to shame, and his eyesight at the hand of the king’s daughters. He resolves to kill himself, but his son, Edgar, disguised as a beggar for fear of discovery, stops him in his act of suicide, and in hope tells him, “Stop, for Thy life is a miracle.” Reality would have the son see a father who was blind and almost useless in a ancient world. Hopeless would see a man half bled to death being helped by a beggar. The eyes of hope that see with the light that shines in the darkness saw instead a father who still had much to give.

There is a light that shines in the darkness. If only we’ll let the light of Christ shine upon us richly. We are the people of Hope, and though God does say no sometimes, it is our hope and our belief that God is ever with us.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 5th chapter wrote these famous words --“Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into us.”

The light shines in the darkness my friends, and thanks be to God that the darkness does not over come it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Music Ringing

From time to time on Tuesdays, I'll post the newsletter article here on PastoronPoint.  That is the first offering this week, only here on the blog it will have live links.  Hope you enjoy.

What is your favorite Christmas carol?  The last few years I have really enjoyed In Bethlehem A Babe Was BornIn Bethlehem A Babe Was Born (number 34 in our hymnal).  My favorite for many years was Once in Royal David's  (number 49 in our hymnal) because the tune is easily sung and the hymn itself is a remarkable balance between the humility of Jesus’ human birth and the totality of his cosmic redemption.  My favorite Christmas performance piece was written in 1956 by the African-American musician and actor, Jester Hairston – Mary’s Boy Child.  Hairston was born in North Carolina and if you have never heard Harry Belafonte, Charlotte Church, - - - Gladys Knight (a calypso version with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - proof that the internet is incredible), or Andy Williams  perform the song then you have missed something indeed (special blog link - click here to see and hear Tom Jones perform it at the Vatican in 2001).

There is one verse of one Christmas carol, however, that has made me pause, caused my eyes to well with tears, and has captured my imagination as no other.  Written in 1847 by the Frenchman Adolphe Adam, O Holy Night (Cantique de Noel) has undergone more revisions and endured more poor performances perhaps than any other Christmas carol.  But the revisions and the remakes can neither improve upon, nor detract from the power of the song and the depth of its incarnational theology. Near the end of the carol, the text proclaims these words:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
Noel!  Noel!  O night divine!

For me, those words embody the power of Christmas.  They look back into the promises of the prophets and of John the Baptist as they look forward to coming hope, peace, and joy that the Savior shall bring.  I never get tired of hearing the promise expressed in that text.  Indeed, let all within us praise!

I hope you will find the time to worship with us the remainder of the month.  We will share wonderful and powerful music the next two Sundays here at White Memorial.  On December 11 we will hear the music of John Rutter in morning worship and sing carols and songs of joy with the children of our church at the Joy Gift service in the afternoon.  On December 18 we will share in the service of lessons and carols.  It would be hard to have Christmas joy without Christmas song and these weeks coming will find our worship ringing with Christmas music.

I also hope as we prepare to end the year 2011 that you will join me in prayer for our church.  Will 2012 be a year for the renewal of your commitment to God, gospel, and our common ministry?  Will it be a year when “all within us” praises God for the wonderful things God has done?  We trust that it will be.  I ask that each member of our church consider the year to come by praying for our ministry, by making a financial commitment to our 2012 budget, and by recommitting to the projects and groups which are held dear.  With Christmas music set to ring, that is my prayer this day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coming After Me: Mark : 1 - 8

image of John the Baptist found at www.catholicism.org

Coming after me?

Usually we see “coming after me” and we think of money we owe or a person we have wronged or a loose end left untied and might be coming to find us. He, or she, is “coming after me” often connotes something bad.

But not always. 

Sometimes it can suggest forethought, foresight, or even planning.  Sometimes it can show concern or trust.  As in:  “I am less interested in what is happening to me today than I am in what is coming after me.”  Or, “not so much for myself, but for my children who are coming after me.”

The former connotes fear.

The later demands faith and devotion.

I have no doubts as to which one is better.  (Too vague?  Always go with faith over fear.  That is a rule which will serve you well!)

The text for this week is the first 8 verses of Mark’s gospel – words that we will read together on Sunday morning.  If you read it you’ll see that it begins with an assertion that this testimony is good news, that it is gospel.  Then it quotes Isaiah, grounding itself in a tradition, a voice older than itself.  Then it introduces us to John the Baptist – he is the messenger of Isaiah’s dreams, he is the one who stands in the Jordan, raising fist and voice against the hypocrisies he perceives to be all around him.  Mark tells us that “all of Jerusalem” was coming out to the Jordan to be baptized and to be cleansed:  cleansed from sin and sorrow and disappointment. 

I wonder – how much did the crowds, the “all of Jerusalem,” praise him?  How special did they tell him that he was?  How much adoration did they heap upon his head, kisses on his brow, tears rubbed into his lapel (which was made of camel’s hair)?  How much did they praise him?

I have always imagined quite a lot.   

And then John the Baptist, according to Mark, does the next to impossible.  He resists the praise.  He downplays the spectacle.  He expresses humility, servant hood, and self-denial.

He says, “I am not the one you should be praising.  The one coming after me – that is one you should be praising.”

Coming after me.

Not me.

Somebody else.

How many of us, with the crowd chanting our name, hoping we’ll lead the team to victory, the people to freedom – how many of us wouldn’t want the ball?  How many of us, just when it was all on the line would tell the fans that the next guy in, like the backup quarterback, is going to be better.  “You think I am good, wait ‘til you see the next guy?”

I know you are thinking it, this almost never happens.   When the crowd goes wild, humility is nearly always the first causality.

Not so with John the Baptist.  John really is the patron saint of Advent.  John is the the one who waited and deferred.  John is the one who sat uneasy with the praise and passed the mantle to the “one coming after me

What have we passed on?  What should we pass on?  Do we defer out of fear or expectation?  It may be that these questions lie near the heart of Advent faith, and close to unlocking the theological brilliance of John the Baptist.

Coming after us?  What is it we want to leave behind, and to who is it that we want those who shall follow us to go?

One more thing…

Be sure to check out the Advent Devotional at www.d365.org and be sure you are following along with WMPC’s Advent Devotional book.