"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, December 18, 2012

Glorisously, or Really, Again, Really?

Note:  the following is the sermon I preached on Sunday.  It is also available on the WMPC Website in video or written format.

The link to the video is here:  http://www.whitememorial.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=168214&programId=140090

Sermons change names over time


This sermon was first called: “Meditation for Music Sunday.”


Then, this title became “Gloriously” because we are singing glorious music in church today and the Isaiah text says that God acts gloriously.  “Gloriously,” which is much more inspiriting, is printed in your bulletins.


But that was all before Wednesday, the day when we learned of the death of a child of our church, only in his mid-twenties.  We fulfilled our Baptismal promise to him and to his family as we celebrated his memory, and testified to the strength of the resurrection.  That was Wednesday. 


And then Friday came.




I have a child in kindergarten. 


So small, trusting, and innocent. 


A friend of mine who teaches at the law school in Chapel Hill wrote me that she did not envy me trying to make sense of what we saw in Connecticut on Friday.  But that it is true of all of us.  This is hard to take much sense from….


So if I could retitle this sermon this morning, it might be – “really, again, really?”  Really we have to bury one in this community too young to have to bury?  Again we have to hear the story of another killer who wages a personal war on the innocent?


Today, the third Sunday of Advent is joy Sunday, so these remarks were supposed to be about joy for its own sake:  joy, glorious joy!  Joy which gloriously allows and inspires the people of God to let joy, joy, joy, joy, joy get down into their hearts (just like the children’s song echoes).


But then last week happened. 


Then we heard a chaplain in Connecticut talk about how there are families there who have had joy ripped away from them.  How do we share joyfulness and talk about Christmas in the face of such terror, where nothing seems unsafe?


Because it is hard to feel very safe anywhere when the safest place in the world, kindergarten is no longer a haven.  As a father of children their very ages, I don’t want to imagine a day in our nation when the curriculum for our little ones includes survival skills training.  The lessons in kindergarten are about milk and cookies, about letters and numbers, about stories and sharing.  Terror and death are supposed to be kept far, far away.   


Today I lend my voice to the rising chorus of voices, many of us religious leaders, who are calling us, each of us, to look deeply at our own lives, our own community standards, and our own national practices and ask “what is wrong?”  I lend my voice to those who declare it is time we examined our relationship to the myth of redemptive violence, and I decry acts of violence against those who are weakest among us. 


Each time I baptize a child, I say in the words of one of my mentors, “we are called to build a city and make a society which is safe for all of God’s children” – and so I have to wonder if that is what we are doing?  Are we building a safe world for the kids?


I am not in a position to offer solutions today, and I do not want to demagogue when the grief is still so very raw, but I will say this:  whatever it is that we are (or are not) doing isn’t working.


A society that cannot keep its children safe is one that has no hope for a future.


Even more so, it is impossible to imagine much joy in the world, it is hard to imagine much glorious rejoicing in any society until the children are safe and they are whole and healthy.


So, today’s sermon was supposed to be about joy, joy for its own sake.  But as soon as the headlines broke, and the governor of Connecticut said what we all knew, that his people had been visited by evil, this sermon and this worship became a vigil for the presence of God in all goodness and a moment to proclaim joy in the face of evil itself.  I realized this yesterday as I was leading a Witness to the Resurrection service, a memorial service, and we were singing the great hymn by Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  The third stanza caught my soul off guard, and I began to weep as we sang:


“And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.”


We have no choice as a people of hope and joy, but to proclaim God’s truth and gifts even in the face of unimaginable evil.  No matter how great the evil confronting us, we must press on because if we don’t then evil wins.


And no matter how dark the darkness gets we are the people who proclaim the light that overcomes all darkness.  It is a light of hope.  It is one of peace.  It is one of joy.  Yes joy.


And wherever there is joy, evil cannot be present.  This point is made by C. S. Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters – in the book Lewis reminds us that the devil, the personification of evil itself, has many tools at its disposal:  envy, shame, spite, malice, anger.  But the devil can’t use joy, evil cannot employ it…joy is one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit, which means that joy belongs to God!


I do not know what evil dwells in the hearts and minds of men who do violent things.  I only know that I think their lives must be devoid of joy.  It is hard to be evil when one is joyful.  It is hard to hurt someone else when there is joy in the heart.


Joy is a spiritual antidote to scorn and shame, to despair and lament, to the very things that fuel evil’s fire.


My friend, we know joy comes from God, and as God’s children we are called to pay witness to it.  We are called to know, who and whose we are as children of God, as creatures made for joy, wherever and whenever we experience beauty.  To let joy come and go without acknowledging that it is a divine gift is a mistake too great to make.


In 2007, following the terror at Virginia Tech, the editors at the magazine the Christian Century offered these profound words– “In the story of Jesus Christ …the two mysteries of good and evil converge in the deepest way.  Jesus Christ is the One who engages evil at its worst and can be trusted in any event, no matter how terrible.”


 “For in the story of Jesus,” they wrote, “we find a story about how God’s son engaged evil and found a way through to where we can find our own story.”


So we must stand by the prophet Isaiah, whose own people knew something of terror and shame and evil – a people exiled and suffering – we must stand by Isaiah and gloriously proclaim:


With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

4And you will say on that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.

5 Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known* in all the earth.


So we must give ear to the apostle Paul who though imprisoned, could write the great hymn of joy of the New Testament in Philippians 4.  We must listen to him, lean in close, and drink in the words of praise:


Rejoice* in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. *5Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


In the promise of Christmas we have a cause for joy.  No it is not a joy that will bring back those lost in Connecticut, nor will it bring back our innocence (whatever is left of it).  It will not allow our illusion that our smallest children live outside the bounds of adult things like pistols and rifles, or adult problems like mental illness.  No it won’t do that.  But the joy we proclaim today can give the tears we cry a purpose and it can remind our hearts that we are NOT built for fear or evil, but we ARE built for faith and joy.


A longing for joy in the wake of evil will allow our hearts to hear the choir in a few moments as they sing in the next anthem,


Ageless the holy promise, God’s word will come to pass,

Fleeting is human nature, like withered, fading grass.

Ageless the holy promise, God’s word will come to pass.

And with a shepherd’s arms, God gathers and sustains us

Close to God’s heart so vast.


On the front of your bulletin is a remnant image – a stump with one branch going out.  Our Christian story is one that says from this remnant hope the world can be changed.  So we hold onto joy today, even if it is a remnant.  Yes, we hold on, even if a remnant is all that remains.


And what of those who feel no joy today, whose loss is too deep?  Well, then those of us one step removed from the most intense pain, we must keep joy.  We who possess the remnant must preserve it for them.  We must hold onto joy for them until they can find it and be held by it again.


Joy is a miracle.  And we need a miracle.  And I am ready for a glorious miracle.  I am gloriously ready for the miracle of joy.  I really, really am.  So again we are called to seek the manger and behold God’s miraculous joy there.


Joy that the Savior comes to give to people.


In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.






[1] I have since learned the children affected were 1st graders. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pray and listen....

I had prepared a string of Christmassy blogs for the next 10 days or so...

But I have just heard from many sources of death in Connecticut.  If there is a working definition of a hell-on-earth scene, surely something like this must be it.

I'll confess it is terrible, and as the father of three it at elementary school it gives me a chill and a tear in the eye that I will not easily shake.

So, I had prepared a string of Christmassy blogs for the next 10 days or so...

In light of what has been a tough week at our church already, and what is a terrible day for our nation, I ask all members of our church, White Memorial Presbyterian, to pray today. 

Pray and turn to grace, listening for a voice of guidance as to how and what we might do as a people of faith to confront these tragedies which keep befalling our children and our people.  Pray and listen, friends. 

Pray and listen....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Pastoral Letter: Enough. Enough! Enough.

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity! Psalm 133

Over the past two weeks, since the elections of November 6, there have been several people who have mentioned to me a pastoral concern.  "Give me some advice," they have said, "our family is not having Thanksgiving this year becaue our family is in a fight over the election."

Wow.  That is truly sad.

I told a trusted friend of my concern -- I asked her if my sampling of a handful was indicative of a larger problem.  In her opinion, where there lots of families and friends who had been divided by the vitriol of the election season?

I'll get back to her answer in a few minutes.  But I will say this:  as I look back at most of my preaching it speaks either directly or indirectly to anxiety and cultural angst.  I was ordained in 1999 - just two years before 2001.  As my church has heard me say several times, the past decade has been very hard:  wars and rumors of wars; bailouts and washouts; peaceful revolutions and outright civil wars; health care debate and massive unemployment; and then tough, divisive elections on the back end of everything else.
Anxiety, anger, and emnity are at all time levels.  And worst of all -- it seems to be driving friends and families apart.

Back to my friend, who said, "Yes, I think it's happening all over (people divided over the election).  I heard a radio program about it the other day." 

She sent me the link.  I listened to it here.  From This American Life it is a wonderful radio essay about divided towns, families, and friendships.  Some of the people in the piece are really angry.  Some of them are really afraid.  All of it because of political debates gone out of control and people who have let political discourse become personal conflict.

There are two moments in scripture that leapt to mind immediately.  One was Psalm 133, which is above.  It is Godly and lovely when we live peaceably with one another.

Another was Galatians 5, which describes the "works of the flesh." When we see "works of the flesh" think this: passions run amok.  Run amok like road rage.  Galatians lists 15 of these passions, and 8 of them are these:  enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,envy.  

My fellow Americans, that list should get our attention.  Especially when at the end of the section Galatians it says this:  those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Those who have the above 8 things in their lives will not inherit the peace of mind, the ease of joy, or the loveliness of kindness that the kingdom of God implies and assumes.  Read that list of 8 things, again and then ask a very direct question:  do any of those add anything -- anything of beauty or quality -- to our lives?  I say no.  So does the sacred text of faith.

Imagine the cost if we let them, those 8 things, take root in our families, on our streets, in our communities, and in our churches?

Enough of the stories of signs being taken down in front of peoples homes.

Enough of the stories of cars vandalized because of bumper stickers.

Enough of character assasinations of people we know, love, or once respected.

Enough of divisions and strife.

To be sure, there are real issues, real debates, and real decisions to make.

But do we need to demonize the "other side?"  Weren't we called to more than that?  It was Jesus who talked about loving enemies and praying for those who persecuted and tormented us.  Let's remember that spiritual discipline instead of letting passions run amok in our lives.  Anxiety should not get to have the last word, but for many of us it seems to be getting the only word.

Friends, politicians and political systems will come and go.  There are already those who are handicapping the next governors and presidential elections. 

In contrast to the multiplicity of candidates, parties, and systesms, we only get one family, a few really good friends, and one faith to share.

If your home is divided, your community fractured, your family split -- then say with me:


Instead, speak a word of peace.  Make amends.  Be a family, forge a friendship.  No matter how loyal we are to a party or an ideology, no political party ever loved anybody back.  Once the check has cleared they have moved onto the next victory to win or argument to supply.  But families love us back and God is faithful still.

We know there is anxiety and that many of us are divided.  Let us stop our easy assumptions and easy accusations at those we assume are not like us.



Tuesday, November 13, 2012


There is a ‘trendy’ thing going on in the social media world during this month of November.  It seems that people are listing one thing a day they are thankful for – 22 days of thanksgiving from November 1 to November 22.  First off, I think the idea is wonderful.  Secondly, I think it is theologically wise.  Perhaps even much more wise than some folks may realize.

                Much of what I know about healthy relationships – with God, with self, with others like friends and family – is related to gratitude.  Often when I am working with couples who are planning for and praying about and working on their marriages we talk about the aphorism:  “we never say thank you enough.”  Theologically one of the bedrock concepts of Reformed thinking (which is the theological foundation for what Presbyterians believe) is the interrelatedness of grace and gratitude.  Grace is what God has done and is doing.  Grace is God’s love and forgiveness.  It is God’s gift in Jesus Christ.  Gratitude is our response to grace.  It is expressing thanksgiving through the choices we make, and through the lives we are living.  All that we have comes from God, and all that we are is to be a hymn of gratitude for all that God has done.

                This brings us back around to the theological wisdom of 22 days of thanksgiving.  What have I noticed by watching the posts and comments from my friends?  What does an unscientific survey reveal about what we are thankful for?  It runs from the incredible and the overwhelming to the simple and the sublime.   Some of my favorites:  grandparents, health, friendships, fall colors, veterans, God’s love,  decaf coffee, Oreos.  A friend who is a Youth Minister at a church here in North Carolina closed the theological circle when she wrote last week simply:  “Day 6:  I am thankful for grace.”

                 A few years ago I wrote about an idea that I had based around a made-up word – “thanksliving.”  I wrote:  Thanksliving would be a way of living so rooted in grace and gratitude that we would always be writing spiritual thank you notes, always acknowledging blessings, always giving thanks as an hourly, daily, weekly, life-long practice.  Saying thank you whether or not the gifts arrive broken, on-time, or properly wrapped.  Imagine writing thank you notes to God, neighbor, friends, whether or not the gift was received or even anticipated – like saying thank you before the gift is even given, and then continuing to say thank you even if the gift never arrives.“  In two decades of theological study I am resolutely convinced:  we never say thank you enough.  The Psalms suggest that every breath is thanksgiving and they are correct to do so.

                Be sure to read this newsletter closely.  Thanksgiving is a little different this year at White Memorial – we are not having a Thanksgiving morning service.  Instead, I hope you’ll join us on Sunday afternoon and early evening, this Sunday, November 18:  either at Hot Dish and Hope or at the Oberlin Road Community Thanksgiving Service at St. John’s Baptist.  I also hope you’ll be with us at White Memorial during Advent and Christmas.  Mostly I hope we’ll be a church which practices an ethic of thanksgiving so intrinsic to who we are we are a community of thanksliving.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Prayer for the Nation on Election Day

God of all grace, God of all power, God of all wonder and height:  today we pray for our nation…


We give you thanks for the right and the freedom to vote,

To have voices heard and to participate in the process of sharing in our collective future.

As we pray we’ll confess that the system seems imperfect,

That campaigns seem hard, and that debates are heated.

We’ll also confess that this has been a challenging decade in our nation

And we pray for those who will be elected to lead for this is an age of conflict,

Economic uncertainty, and concern.  Help us each to discern a faithful direction for the future.

By your grace, may we will find productive and respectful ways to speak to one another

About our nation and its political future.


May we always remember that there is no perfect candidate,

But there is an eternal perfection in you, your Son, and your Holy Spirit.

You will be God, your nature will be love, and we will be your people no matter

How the tides of elections should turn.


We pray for winners and losers, for our city, our state, our nation, and our world.

We pray that those who should lead would lead with a generous spirit, a wise mind, and an

Unflappable commitment to integrity, justice, and goodwill for all your children.

May justice rain like waters, may righteousness flow like a stream,

And may your grace, always, abound in these United States.

We make this our prayer in the confident, certain, and blessed name of our Savior.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Response to W.'s question...

I teach a Bible lesson most Tuesday mornings.  It is typically about the text for the sermon the coming week.

This week I am looking Jeremiah 1, which begins in part like this:  "Now the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah..."  And so we began our discussion of the text with a conversatino about what it meant when the "word of the Lord" comes to a person.   Who could we remember, biblically speaking, some of the people to whom the "word of the Lord" came?





And the other Joseph.

And Jonah.

And Miriam.

I asked a good question:  is it an easy thing when the "word of the Lord" comes to a person? 

Why did I ask this?  Because typically, though with exception, once the "word of the Lord" comes to a person that person's life becomes much more complicated.  There is nothing easy about the "word of the Lord" - just read Jeremiah's 52 chapters, or his book of Lamentations, or follow the trajectory of Abraham from chapter 12 of Genesis until chapter 22.  The "word of the Lord" while a blessing and a gift is also a gift and a call that comes with a huge obligation and a lot of risk.  The prophetic life is not an easy life.  My colleague in Charlotte, Pen Peery, preached from Jeremiah last week and said, "no one really wants to be a prophet."  And he was right.  It is hard.  It is tough.  It is a one-way ticket, the prophetic call, to unpopularity and discomfort.  The "word of the Lord" might be good news, but it is rarely easy news.

Tuesday morning was a good and rich theological conversation.

Then W, a good friend and faithful attedee at the breakfast study raised his hand:  "That is like you pastor's, you get the word of the Lord. Right?"

"Not exactly," I said.  And then I told him, "W, I am going to dodge your question today.  But I will answer it sometime."

Like a lot of questions I get asked, it has stayed with me all week.

So W, here is what I think I would like to say:

Most pastor's do not get the "word of the Lord" in the way Jeremiah or one of the other prophets did.  What I think we possess is the ability to interpret the poetry of theology (a phrase I first heard from my ethics professor, Doug Ottati).  What I think we have is a heart for deep study.  What I think we possess is a great trust in God and a heart for scripture which causes in us a childlike-wonder and deep devotion to the Bible and its wisdom and revelation.  What I think we do is listen to the "word of the Lord" as it comes in scripture and then we listen for echoes, or variations on its themes, in the church and world around us.  And then I think a passion to share what we have discovered possesses us, and we share it in sermons and Bible studies and in conversations we have throughout the week.  I think our calling is to study, and interpret, and preach about the "word of the Lord" as we best can articulate it and share it.

Craig Barnes wrote a book a little while back where he describes the pastor as a minor poet.  On page 75 Barnes writes, "As a minor poet, the pastor first has the calling to honor the major poets of the Bible.  Only then can the Word of God be found for the unique people the pastor serves.  This is what we mean when we say that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible.  It is the Word of God because it draws us to Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Any text can do that, revealing the Word to people as diverse as an Indonesian farmer and a New York attorney -- if it is being rightly handled by a skilled minor poet who knows how to find a particular congregation just beneath the surface of the ancient text.  What pastors are always searching for is kerygma.  That means we are looking for the point of contact between the text and the congregation."

I think this is how I would have answered:  I don't possess the "word of the Lord" so much so as it possesses me. 

Then, Holy Spirit driven and Lord willing, I share my understanding of kerygma  for that given week at that given moment.  I am an interpreter of the "word of the Lord" and my interpretation, I pray, directs people back into the source of grace and life.  Back to God as we best understand God through what we see and know in the Christ.  It is not that we pastors and preachers don't have anything to say.  We do.  It is that whatever we do say is colored, tempered, and framed by what Jeremiah, or Jesus, or Isaiah, or Mary said -- it is always in relation to and in reference of what they said or what they did.

So, W., I am only a little sorry I dodged the question.  But I needed to study your question.  I needed to listen to it a few days.  I needed to listen for echoes, look at some books on the shelf and find the poetry of the Spirit in both your question and in my answer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Anniversaries...bitter and sweet...

Except as a television witness from North Carolina, I played no part in 9/11.  In the days that followed I learned of friends and neighbors who were in New York or Washington.  I have since learned of close-ish connections we have to a few folk on flight 93.  But I had little to offer that day but tears and prayers.

My dear friends Inez and Stephen lost nearly everything, but through fate and grace and the mysterious divine economy of faith and life they live and love and play and pray and work even until today.  It is one of the sacred treasures of my ministry to have baptized their children, and I think of them and pray for them often.  Inez is one of the most poignant writers I know, last year she wrote this:  http://inezsays.com/how-do-you-say-goodbye.htm .

Anniversaries - bitter, like the 11 years since everything came tumbling down -- and sweet - today is my one year anniversary at White Memorial, the official 1st year has come to its close -- mark time, shape memory, and cast impressions into our faith and souls.  There is very little so powerful as memory. 

Memory defines us.

What do you remember?  About this date?  About a friend lost in NYC, or DC, or Pennsylvania?  About the college classmate who died in Afghanistan (Joshua Harris, Davidson College Class of 1994) or in one of the conflicts since?

This has been a great age of conflict, my prayer is that peace will prevail.  Always has been.  With God's help, always it always will be my prayer.

11 years ago my wife was carrying our first child.  We held hands and prayed for friends and family near and far.  Then I stayed up just about all night and wrote a sermon for Wednesday, September 12.  From Isaiah 40, verse 8, I concluded it like this:

And it is by that Spirit we shall walk, for the Word of our Lord endures forever.  The endurance of the word is the promise of God that long after terror at the hands of others has reigned, long after the evil-doers have gone, long after the grass has withered, the flowers have faded, long after we have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, long after we have been to the mountaintops, long after we have each fought our good fights and finished our races, long after the walls have tumbled down, yes, long after all of those things our God and His word and our duty as the people of the word will endure.  In fact, they will endure forever.  And they will do so because they have despite the forces of evil that have sought to squash them for 2,000 years.  They will endure because behind them is a truth and hope that is so beautiful the words to depict it escape most who try to capture them, but not all.

In July I witnessed the capture of these beautiful words when I received an E-mail from a woman in our congregation:  a woman whose husband struggles with cancer.  After I had read the new testament lesson, from Matthew’s 28th chapter, that concludes with the words, “And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the ages,” her young son asked her, “What does to the end of the ages mean?”  She responded to him like this, “I whispered to him that it meant forever and ever.  He thought for a minute and then asked me if God ever dies.  I said that no, God doesn’t, and that’s the most wonderful thing about God.  He thought about it for a moment and his eyes teared up.  He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t even know why I am crying, but I think it’s because I’m happy.’”

Friends, when the walls come down, know that the Word of our Lord endures forever.  Indeed, now is the time to mourn the dead, to say goodbye to innocence, and to want and desire justice for what has occurred.

But it is also the time for something else – a something else characterized in the words of my second hero.  He is a farmer named Wendell Berry, who also happens to be a poet.  In one of his most read and famous poems he writes this two-word imperative mood sentence:  “Practice resurrection.”

Let us, our nation, our city, our communities, our churches, and our families be the people who practice resurrection.  For now is the time to do nothing less.  And may that resurrection be rooted in the word of God that endures forever.  A word that is stronger than death.  A word that raised our Christ.  A word that sent pilgrims across oceans and into continents.  A word that throughout the modern era has sought to build and raise, rather than to tear down and destroy.  A word that professes that love is stronger than hate, pain weaker than recovery, anger secondary to neighborliness, and death a pale afterthought when compared to the beauty of life. 

We have seen evil.  No one can deny this.

But we have also seen hope and providence because we possess the promise of the enduring word.  And even though walls built strong do fall, we have a great God with a great word who is able to be the balm for our wounds, the healer of our hearts, the restorer of our courage, and the builder of new walls.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our Lord endures forever.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Open Letter to Youth and Their Families - White Memorial Presbyterian Church

Dear Youth and Parents of White Memorial:

                Peace be with you!  When I arrived in Raleigh one year ago, it was apparent to me that we had a tremendous opportunity for youth ministry and we also faced some significant challenges.  Years ago I read a book called Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries.  It was about helping youth build authentic relationships with God, helping them encounter the ministry of Jesus Christ, making space for the youth to feel integrated into the life of the church, and building a program that maximized the gifts of staff and volunteers in a manner which was sustainable.  It contained ideas and strategies for building a youth program where youth, adults, and staff thrive as they experience ministry together.   When I arrived in Raleigh it was apparent to me that no matter how many staff we hired, what configuration we hired them in, or whom we might bring in for the future, the youth ministry program we were running was not long-term sustainable.  We needed to make changes. 

                As the fall approaches, I believe that we are on a good path.  We have brought in consultants from Youth Ministry Architects who have helped us devise a strategic plan for renovation.  We are operating with a Renovation Team, a team of lay leaders who work side-by-side with staff on planning activities, recruiting volunteers, and cultivating the future of the program.  We have reconstructed our Sunday nights and Sunday mornings in a way that we believe will allow for greater impact and energy.  We have undergone a months-long evaluation of our Confirmation program and have developed a transition plan which will take effect over the coming year.  And we have asked, and will be asking, many more of you to partner with us by way of volunteering and assisting.   The call is direct:  if everyone does their part, whether that is hosting one meal a quarter or serving as a weekly advisor (or any other number of ways to serve our church and our youth), then we can share a sustainable ministry which connects to our youth, engages them in the ministry of church, and supports them as they grow in faith. 

                I pray you’ll come and join me as I lead a discussion about our Youth Ministry at our Fall Kickoff Event on September 9.  I pray you’ll read the attachments in this letter.  There is still work to do, and staff, Renovation Team, Youth Committee, advisors, and currently engaged volunteers are dedicated to seeing this plan through.  I pray you’ll help us live into this new vision for sustainable youth ministry, a vision which I believe God is calling us to share as we love one another, grow in devotion, and serve our Lord with creative joy.


May Grace Abound,





Christopher H. Edmonston

Strategy, Promotion, and Keynote


            This is a big week at White Memorial.  A week I have praying about and been planning for quite some time.  Let me tell you about it.

            First of all, on Wednesday night, September 5, we will be convening two new opportunities for study and leadership.  Early in the evening the Committee of Chairs will meet.  This is a group of people, who each serve as Committee chairs in our church, who are tasked with strategic planning at White Memorial.  For the last year we have been talking to you, listening to you, reading your work done in 2007 and 2008, studying the best practices of sister churches, and reading pertinent literature.  This group will develop a strategic planning process, a process which will seek to answer four core questions, questions which shall define and shaper our future as a Presbyterian congregation in Raleigh:  What is our vision?  What space will we need?  How will we worship?  Will we be equipped to tell the story of our faith and our congregation?

            Later on that same Wednesday night we’ll begin our Feasting on the Word Bible study.  Each week, on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, those of you who are not involved in a Bible Study or a regular Church School class are invited to join sets of rotating teachers as we explore the lectionary texts for the week.  Studying the scriptures before we worship – either in personal study or in a group study – helps prepare our hearts and minds to hear the height, and depth, and breadth of God’s revelation in scripture to us.

            Then on Sunday, September 9, we hope you’ll join us in prayer about a most important and critical day.  On Sunday morning, we’ll celebrate promotion Sunday.  Sunday morning is a rally, a rally for education and the beginning of our fall program at White Memorial.

            Sunday night I will join our Youth staff and our Youth volunteers as we host our Fall Youth Kickoff .  This is a very important meeting, and I hope you’ll help us get the word out to our Youth and their families.  We’ll share our new vision statement and give our church family opportunities to learn about our new scheduling.  I will lead a keynote conversation with Youth, parents, and volunteers about our hopes and dreams for Youth Ministry – sustainable Youth ministry – at White Memorial.      

            I hope and pray that this week, a week of strategy, promotion, and keynote – an exciting and vital week in the life of our church – is a week we can build on.  I hope and pray it is a week we can look to as an opportunity to grow in the directions where God is calling us to grow.  In coming months we’ll be praying and working on initiatives for pastoral care, community service, and adult ministries.  I invite you to pray for our staff, our Session, and our strategic planning committee in the weeks to come.    

If indeed the past is prologue, then the future will be bright:  bright with the light of grace; bright with the hope of forgiveness; bright with the call to faithfulness.




Saturday, August 18, 2012

First fruits or leftovers?

Hymns have a way of saying things well.  Take for example the hymn, As Saints of Old Their First Fruits brought, penned by Frank Von Christierson in the 1960’s.
As saints of old their firstfruits brought
of orchard, flock, and field
to God, the giver of all good,
the source of bounteous yield;
so we today firstfruits would bring:
the wealth of this good land,
of farm and market, shop and home,
of mind and heart and hand.
In a handful of lines this poetry, sung poetry, sums up so much of what our scriptures, our confessions, and our Lord teach us about being generous.
                This week we continue our 2012 Summer Forum.  As many of you know, we are focusing our worship and our forum discussions around Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.  The practice we narrow our gaze upon Sunday is extravagant generosity.
                Generosity is, of course, the practice of giving to and of sharing with others.  Hopefully, we do this all the time.  Extravagant is a modifier.  It is a marker of degree.  Is our attitude, “I gave at the office,” or something else?  Something like, “giving is joyful for me, a spiritual practice of mine, a response to God’s goodness in my life?”  As Schnase writes, extravagant generosity “describes lavish sharing, sacrifice, and giving in service to God and neighbor.”
                The truth is that we are always giving something:  time, advice, money, or energy.  But there is also an even greater truth at play in our lives:  we receive so very much more than we might ever give.
                The Biblical example is resolute.  From Abraham in the very beginning, to Jesus and Paul in the New Testament, generous living and generous giving abound.  Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and it is God who is calling us to give.  When we ignore this calling, we are always left unsatisfied and wanting.  The hymn above though begs a tough question:  are we giving to others and giving to God with our first fruits or our leftovers?  Let us not forget God gave the best that God had to offer:  in the gift of creation and the gift of salvation. 
                The final stanza of the hymn says it well:
In gratitude and humble trust
we bring our best today
to serve your cause and share your love
with all along life's way.
O God, who gave yourself to us
in Jesus Christ, your Son,
teach us to give ourselves each day
until life's work is done.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why I am registering for NEXT church in Durham...


sparking imaginations, connecting congregations, and offering a distinctively Presbyterian witness to Jesus Christ

Today, I want to invite anyone who follows my posts or blogs to consider joining the regional NEXT event in Durham next month.  August 18, to be precise.  To learn more or to register go to the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Durham website:  Register for Next Church Durham

I am going because I want to be part of interesting, missional, and vital conversations with colleagues in this region who have compelling ideas, expertise to share, and a witness which inspires.

I am going to hear Franklin and Amanda tell the story of Durham Presbyterian Church.
I am going to listen to Howard Dudley share his love of music.

I am going to hear Erin Mills talk about Youth Ministry.

I am going to hear Mary Katherine Robinson and Katherine Cooke Kerr speak about pastoral care across the generations in our churches.
I am going to hear John Cleghorn tell the story of Caldwell Presbyterian in Charlotte.
I am going to learn about centering prayer from Katie Crowe.

I am going to listen, pray, and seek God's will for my church and our church.

I am going and I hope you will join me.

Some of you may not be sure if you will be welcome there; at least not yet.  Let me tell you that I belong to no affinity group.  I belong to no special interests groups in our church.  I have been to both national Next events and have yet to hear one stump speech supporting any special interest group or any one party at the expense of another in our church.  I don't subscribe to binary conversations about good Christians and bad Christians, liberal Presbyterians and conservative Presbyterians, or us Presbyterians and them Presbyterians.

The deep truth is there is no us and them.  There is really only us.  Disciples of one Lord.  Stewards of one church.  Proclaimers of God's infinite grace.  I truly think that the Spirit of unity, God's Holy Spirit, is calling us in the mid-Atlantic to draw close in prayer and really listen to discern God's future.

My best guess is that we have a better chance of hearing the still small voice, catching a glimpse of whatever new things God might reveal, if there are lots of ears in the room and lots of eyes joined in looking.  Another guess I have is that our ears are tuned for different melodies:  some of us long to hear orthodoxy, some long for service, some for evangelism, some for altruism, some for unity, and some for church growth.  If all those ears with their specific and relative tunings will all join in worship and learning together, well then I suspect we just might hear or see what it is that God is likely to do.

Will it be a perfect conference?  Nope (at least I don't think so - I have directed too many conferences to think it will be seamless).

Will there be moments of uncertainty?  Probably (at least I think so - I have directed too many conferences to think it will be seamless).

Will there be a faithful call longing for a faithful response?  Surely (because that is the promise of Jesus -- 'wherever you go, I go.'  And wherever Jesus might go, we are called to follow.).

I do hope you will join me.  There are no votes taken.  There are no debates held.  You will not hear once more about what makes us different.  But instead, we will learn once more about how we can, through our practices and shared knowledge, be a more inspiring church together.

Fruitful practice: Passionate Worship

Passion is a word that gets a lot of use.

It can, for Christians, allude to the crucifixion:  as in “passion play.”

It can have romantic overtones and under notes:  as in “passionate love story.”

Passion can refer to purpose, vocation, or deep meaning:  as in telling a group of people that the purpose of life is to “find your passion.”

Or, it can refer to commitment, deep commitment:  as in passionately investing and participating in an activity or an event.

When we talk about passionate worship, we are referring to this final usage.  Being invested in worship of God.  Not focused on what is happening around us, but focused upon our activity of devotion.  The words we say.  The prayers we pray.  The songs we sing.  The sacraments we share.  Are we waking up, getting dressed, and thinking -- “Another Sunday, I guess I have to go to church today?”  Or, are we thinking, “I cannot believe I have been given the gift of the opportunity to worship the God who made me, preserves my life, and offers me the means of grace.”  Not simply motioning our way through the experience, but fully, passionately participating in the liturgy and activity of worship as if it were the most important thing in the world to us, right then, right there?  Why do I ask this question?

Well, because worship really is the most important thing we do in any given week.  It is time devoted and dedicated to God for saying “thank you,” “we love you,” and “we honor you.”   And shouldn’t our worship to God be invested, passionate worship?  Robert Schnase writes, “Without passion, worship becomes dry, routine, boring, and predictable, keeping form while lacking the spirit.  Passionate describes an intense desire, an ardent spirit, strong feelings, and the sense of heightened importance.  Passionate speaks of an emotional connection that goes beyond intellectual consent.  It connotes eagerness, anticipation, expectancy, deep commitment and belief.  What each person brings to worship shapes the experience for everyone as much as what he or she finds there.  Passionate worship begins with each worshipping individual.

Worship is something that we all do.  Each of us prays the prayers of worship.  Each of us sings the hymns.  Each of us hears the words of faith and the music of the choir.  And, we hear it as individuals who participate as one body.  Which is a way of reminding us that when we each invest ourselves in worship, our entire church benefits.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Marcia Mount Shoop - Theologian in Residence in the New York Times

I hope and pray you enjoyed our Theologian in Residence, Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop.

In so many ways, we are a richer congregation for her being with us.  Last weekend, Samuel Freedman from the New York Times was with us, following Marcia, speaking with her, and listening to her theology of incarnation and divine embodiment.  

His article about Marcia was published today.  Here is a link if you are interested, and the title suggests the angle he take and the testimony that Marcia gives:

A Rape Survivor Now Ministers Body and Soul

Thanks to Marcia for sharing with us and inspiring us to find the spirit and see the Lord in some new ways.

Thanks to Mr. Freedman for telling a part of her story well - may others finds the redemption and power and renewal that Marcia has found.

From the point of Oberlin and MacDonald,


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Just thought I would share this link.  Are these encouraging signs or signs of tougher times to come?  What would your ideas be to reverse these statistics and trends?

2011 PC(USA) Statistics

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Thin Places

My friend Pete Perry calls Montreat a thin place - where the distance between heaven and earth is small.  Where the distance between the Spirit and the people is small.

Where are your thin places?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Darkness, Light, and the Decision to Shine

I was asked to speak at Broughton High School at the interfaith candlelight service on Sunday night.  It was a daunting task, to say the least. 

The topic was:  "The Decision to Shine."

I got to speak between Rabbi Raachel and Imam Oliver.  I hope I held up my place on the program.

Church member and friend and member of Broughton High's class of 2012 Shelby Snedecor read Isaiah 60 : 1 - 7 for us before I spoke, and that text formed the basis of what I said.

Several friends and church members have asked that I post what I said.  Here it is.  Forgive the typos and the errors.  Any oversights are unintensional.

Broughton Candlelight Service

May 20, 2012

Christopher H. Edmonston

Text Isaiah 60: 1 - 7

Darkness, Light, and the Decision to Shine

Thank you to Shelby Snedecor (for reading that text with all those strange names), also to Megg Rader, to Emily McNair, to Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, to Imam Oliver Muhammed, and to Father Ryan Carnercer, it is an honor to be part of this service with each of  you. 

To the Broughton class of 2012 – thank you for extending me this invitation to speak and share.  You are part of the wonderful and warm welcome that my family and I have received since we arrived in Raleigh last August, and because of your hospitality we are feeling more at home with each passing day.

If the members of White Memorial will allow for repetition, I want to tell a story that I told on Christmas Eve, one that I think instructive – one that I think will help to ‘shed some light’ (hmmm….) -- on our theme and to our purpose here tonight.  It is a story that sets a metaphorical framework for speaking about Darkness, Light, and the Decision to Shine – one that gives us a metaphor for both the challenge and the opportunity of Sharing the Light Within. 

That is after all the question:  will you, will each of you, as you live beyond your days at Broughton, will you share your light? 

That is the question I suspect that I wish that someone had asked me when I was 18 –

will you shine?

The story:  several summers ago we took our family caving. We paid for our tour, and hiked up the path to the top of the hill, where we were met by 21 year old tour guide.  “Hi, my name is Jordan,” she said and with her red plaited hair, horned rimmed glasses, L.L.Bean boots, small black flashlight, and Steve Irwin-like coveralls, Jordan looked the part of the would-be geologist.  Bear in mind as we began the tour, it was only me, my wife, and our six, four, and 1.5 year old children.  With the smallest child on my back in a back-pack like papoose contraption, we opened the door and plunged into the cave with Jordan a few steps ahead of us.

Imagine if you will a would-be geologist and a little family of five deep within the earth.  Just imagine the sound of a shouting 1.5 year old, echoing throughout the cave.  Imagine what you would do if you were this young person leading the family of five.  You might make the all but obvious choice to cut certain parts of the tour; skip a few of the canned jokes; bypass the boring areas of the cave.  Not our Jordan.  Every joke was told.  Every crack was exposed.  Every legend conferred.  She left nothing out!

Inevitably Jordan lost patience with us – she had to keep telling our boys not to run ahead, and not to throw rocks, and not to touch the walls – and the screaming our youngest, a daughter protesting the confining papoose frayed her nerves to their last desperate limits. When I realized we were really in trouble was when Jordan declared not allowed to touch anything, as the entire cave was a trust of the state of Virginia.  No touching of the stones.  No touching of the walls.  No touching of the pools of water.  No touching.

Our oldest son’s hand shot up.  “We are not allowed to touch anything?” he asked.  “Well my feet are touching the floor, am I breaking the law?”  I guffawed.  My wife giggled.  The baby screamed.  Jordan looked flummoxed and pressed on the children mostly ignoring her.  My wife and I began hoping that she wouldn’t press charges because our kids were still hurling rocks into the edges of the cave.

There was one moment, though, when she held the attention of the children and managed to produce silence.  When we were near our farthest point from the mouth of the cave she struck a match and lit a candle, a small candle, and she told us about how people used to tour the cave by candlelight, then like a magician she threw a large switch on the wall, killing the lights.  The flame, this tiny little candle flickered in the dark.  One light, one small shining ember in the pitch dark surrounded by six faces and 12 blinking eyes.  And then almost with no warning, she blew the candle out.


Total darkness. 

Absolute darkness so dark it hurt – complete absence of hope darkness.  Black hole darkness.  500 feet below the ground darkness. 

The children fell silent – the only time all day they weren’t yelling.  The baby squeezed my hand as though even at 1.5 years she could understand the power of the silent, still, darkness all around.

Jordan then whispered something that I have never forgotten.  She said scientists have discovered that after only two days in that darkness our eyes would begin to lose functionality.  After a very short time, that is, we would begin to go blind.  After only two days our eyes would assume the darkness was normal. So used to the darkness that the eyes simply stop holding out hope, they simply stop wasting energy, stop looking and longing for light.  Darkness becomes the norm and we stop seeking anything else. 

We just “get used” to it. 


Now Isaiah, which was read a few moments ago was not written to people in a cave.  Isaiah was a very real person writing to a very real people who were in a darkness: the darkness of exile.  An exile so dark it hurt:  their lives and histories and memories and language stolen by an empire (Babylon) half a world away.  The people to whom Isaiah is speaking were removed from homeland, family, homestead, and well…everything they knew.  They had no hope of returning home, no hope of proving they had once on the land, no hope of finding their children or their parents or their sibling who they had been forcibly separated from.  No hope of finding them on Facebook or Twitter or in the register of deeds.  In the 6th century B.C. if you were exiled in an empire far, far away you might as well have been in a galaxy far, far away.     If that is not darkness then I do not know what it is.  The might as well have been in a cave, deep underground, deep in the earth.  Their situation was hopeless and listless – like a boat on the sea with no wind in its sails they were not going anywhere. 

And here’s the rub the part of Isaiah’s story I cannot escape.  Do you remember from my story of being in the cave – where it only takes two days before the darkness starts to affect us?  Well the people of Israel, those to whom Isaiah is writing and speaking, had been exiled, had been far from home, in the veritable cave of barrenness and despair for years and years and years.  They had been in the darkness of despair for decades not days.  It was a hopeless situation that left them wondering where is God?  Where is hope?  Where is light?

And what I love is how the tension of that very real historical reality shows up in Isaiah’s words – listen for the tension – words like darkness and light, words like cover and arise, words like glory.  And then listen to how it ends – it is with light and with dawn itself.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Talk about faith and courage, class of 2012!  Isaiah, in the midst of intense and unimaginable darkness says that light is on the way.  Like a single candle holding back the darkness in a deep, deep cave, Isaiah tells them that light will shine and it will shine in such a way that everyone will take notice – it will beat back the darkness of the exile and the whole world will give witness to it as nations and kings, peoples and leaders, and you and me see what good things God and God’s light will do.


The connection between them and us?  Well the question for Isaiah’s people is this:  are they going to continue to look for the light?  Or will they just “get used” to darkness?  Will they choose, when the opportunity comes, to shine?

Class of 2012 we live right now in an age and a time and place where darkness, hopelessness, and fear of the dark seem to reign.  But  even in the face of uncertainty, when we choose to walk in the light, when we choose to proclaim the light, when we choose to stand for the lights of hope, faith, and trust in our fellow woman and fellow man –

when we stand with the outsiders and the easily forgotten,

when we work to do what is right from no profit motive but from moral imperative,

when we live our lives with integrity,

share our dreams with intention,

and open our tables and homes through the principles of inclusion then we are making a choice to shine.

We are choosing to live in the light. 

Choosing to shine from within. 

I think this is what Jesus was trying to teach his followers in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 5: 14-16) – “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

Which is an ancient way of saying (and remember that Jesus lived in an ancient time) that you can choose to shine and light the house!  Or you can choose to hide, and shrink into the shadows!  Whether or not people are from a tradition that follows Jesus, I think that this teaching of his is one that bears a truth we can all adhere to:  we are called to let our lights shine.  So 2012, I ask again, will you choose to shine? 

Honestly, what do you get as you become an adult, as you leave high school behind?  I mean besides a lot of bills?  More than anything else what you get from the world and as a gift from God is an ever growing power to choose:  mature people have the power to make choices and the successful ones among us are those who have chosen well.  What will you choose?  Will you choose to shine? 

I saw an article recently in the Wall Street Journal from Dr. Charles Wheelan, from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.  He said to a class of graduates:  “You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that ‘changing the world’ also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.”

So will you choose to shine?  Or will you get lost in the darkness.  Will you spread hope?  Or apathetically spread hopelessness?  Will you stand out?  Or get lost in the shuffling?


There is no coincidence that we begin to see light in the womb as infants – we will need light to survive and prosper.  We are not creatures who are created nocturnally.  We must have light.  In the world in which we live, light has become a precious commodity.  Not because of its absence but because of the presence of darkness.  The darkness of war.  The darkness of famine.  The darkness of disease.  The darkness of terrorism.  The darkness of poverty.  The darkness of racial struggle. 

Don’t give into the temptation to see adversaries in every corner and obstacles down every hall.  Let me warn you of this:  as you grow into greater adulthood there will be those you meet who only see darkness and will try to convince you that there is no way for the light to achieve, that enemies are everywhere, and that the world has lost its bearing and is mostly hopeless.  The prophets of doom are real and they specialize in naming those not like them as the cause of their hopelessness.  They will tell you that there is no light.  But the light is there and it is precious – it may be scarce at some times and in some places – but it is always present.  That is what Isaiah is telling his people – arise and shine and give glory to the God that keeps you safe on the darkest night and gives you the power to shine!

When we choose to shine it is a glorious thing – and it is the kind of thing that becomes contagious, the kind of thing that everyone can note because you will become an inspiration to others.  Not even the animals – the rams, and camels according to Isaiah – will miss the wonder of radiance that happens when we choose to shine (that is, why I think the prophet includes all those animals from all those faraway places in Isaiah 60: 5 – 7).  Shouldn’t we want to use our gifts to even “inspire” the animals?  By virtue of the fact that you have graduated from Broughton, you are among the elite of the world.  What you choose to do will go a long way in determining the course of the world – will you sit on the sidelines, or get involved?  Will you give time to others, or hoard it for yourselves?

Will you stick to the shadows, or will you shine?

Back there in that cave in Virginia, Jordan said it only took two days before we adapted to a different state of being – before we “got used” to the darkness.  It may take even less time for our souls.  And the only defense against the dark is light.  Sweet, treasured, blessed light.

I asked some members of my church what to say to y’all tonight:  what do they need to know in order to shine with and through their lives?  One who graduated 50 years ago from High School wrote this:  “Remind them that God has a plan for you but he will not text or tweet it nor will he force you to follow it.   To know it you need to pay attention and listen carefully.”

Broughton 2012:  want to find where God is?  Want to know where God might be leading you as you leave Broughton?  Pay attention.  Listen. And look for God’s light.  That is where inspiration is.

Think about it:  if just one candle can hold back the darkness in a cave, then what can a lot of candles do?  Could it be that one willing light, one candle, can in turn light others if they are willing to be lit?  Can one life, choosing to shine, heeding the light, can one life make a difference in the midst of challenged times?

I say yes.  I suspect one light can do a lot.  One light can do a great deal, even.  But to do anything, to become anything, to be anybody you must make the choice to shine.   

Sharing the light within begins with your decision to shine.

Will you?  Will you shine?  Amen.