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

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

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

Tuesday, November 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.