"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

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.